BERNE, Switzerland – Another place in the 2009-2010 Champions Hockey League goes to... SC Bern. A familiar club will return to Europe’s most prestigious circle for hockey clubs after SCB won the regular season in Switzerland.
The situation is familiar to the capital team. One year ago, they won the regular season and had a spot in the CHL qualification. This year, Bern again has the best European club attendance with an average of 16,172. It’s the first time that the 16,000-mark was surpassed as the previous record was Bern’s 2005-2006 average of 15,994.
However, last year’s post-season was less than stellar as Bern lost to underdogs Fribourg-Gottéron. This year, the first round opponent is also strong as Zug grabbed the last playoff spot after trailing by ten points late in the season. Zug is the hottest team with five consecutive wins but Bern is also hot with 13 points in the last five games.
SC Bern had high hopes for 2008 but the team’s start on international stage wasn’t as successful as they hoped. While it came as little surprise that Bern lost the first-ever game of a Swiss against an NHL club when they fell to the New York Rangers, 8-1, the team’s poor CHL showing in the first group-stage game (6-2 at HV71) was a bit of a shock. Bern earned a CHL spot after winning the qualification tournament but then finished in last place in the CHL group stage.
The rocky CHL showing started weeks of inconsistency in the domestic league. For example, the club lost a road game against last-ranked Biel, 6-1, but beat them 10-2 just six days later. Despite the ups and downs, Bern was in third place for most of the season.
It wasn’t until a six-game winning streak around Christmas that Bern moved up the standings. Winning seven of the last eight last games ultimately secured first place.
After last year’s quarterfinal mishap, head coach John Van Boxmeer has just one big request for the team: Nobody is allowed to talk about the final. He wants the team to be fully focused on the next opponent, EV Zug. And to beat them.
Zug had bad news on Monday as national team forward Paul Di Pietro suffered a torn Achilles tendon during a warm-up. He’ll be out for the remainder of the season and also be missing the 2009 World Championship.
The other three pairings also have promise.
CHL winner Zurich faces last year’s upset team Fribourg-Gottéron. In this series, the underdog is on a roll with just four losses since the New Year. Zurich hasn’t fully recovered from the CHL party but managed to edge their opponents in most games.
The Kloten vs. Geneva series could be an interesting duel but neither team is hot right now. Kloten lost the first-place run with four losses in the last five games and fell to third place. The punishment is a quarterfinal meeting against last year’s finalist Servette Geneva. But Servette has seven losses in the last eight games. The imports are currently not in shape and number-one goalie Gianluca Mona suffered a knee injury, bringing 17-year-old Benjamin Conz into the spotlight.
The fourth series, between Davos and Lugano, is a classic pairing in the Swiss playoffs. When they met the last two times, Lugano won the championship in 2003 and 2006. Davos has a long-term philosophy with coach Arno Del Curto in his 13th season while Lugano changes the coach regularly. However, Lugano can count on high-calibre players like former NHLers Petteri Nummelin, Patrick Thoresen, Hnat Domenichelli, Randy Robitaille and goalkeeper David Aebischer.
The talk of the league in the last weekend was the fight for eighth place. The SCL Tigers Langnau failed to make the playoffs for the eleventh time in a row and despite having a large lead late in the season. Now they are in the playouts with Biel, the Rapperswil-Jona Lakers and Ambrì-Piotta. The loser will play the champion of the National League B where Lausanne is favoured to challenge for the right to skate in the A league.