ZURICH - The ZSC Lions of Zurich released coach Colin Muller on Wednesday and he was immediately replaced by Bengt-Ake Gustafsson, who led Sweden to Olympic and World Championship gold in 2006. What a difference a year makes.
One year ago the ZSC Lions had just defeated the Chicago Black Hawks 2-1 to win the Victoria Cup, a win on the heels of Zurich’s sensational victory in the Champions Hockey League (in January 2009).
That winning machine was led by Sean Simpson who left at the end of last season to take over the Swiss national team. The ZSC coaching job was taken over by Simpson’s assistant Colin Muller, a Canadian who has been coaching in Switzerland for many years.
The step from assistant to the one in charge proved to be not an easy one for Muller. After losing at home to Rapperswil-Jona on Tuesday the team seemed to be going nowhere and stuck in seventh place in the Swiss league, with 20 points in 16 games, trailing leader and local rival Kloten Flyers by 18 points.
The decision by the ZSC Lions management was made already on Tuesday night and announced on Wednesday morning. Muller and his assistant Bob Leslie are let go per immediate and replaced by Bengt-Ake Gustafsson, the only coach in the history of international hockey who has won Olympic ice hockey gold and the IIHF World Championship in the same year (2006).
Gustafsson, an IIHF Hall Famer, is by no means a stranger to Swiss hockey. He was an assistant to Ralph Krueger on the Swiss national team 1997-2002 and he coached Swiss league club SCL Tigers, Langnau 1999-2001 before taking on the head coaching position with Swedish giants Färjestad 2001-2005.
“It will be a challenge,” said Gustafsson to the Swedish daily Expressen on Wednesday. “ZSC is a club with great tradition and high ambitions.”
“I have missed being around hockey after leaving the Swedish national team,” said Gustafsson. “I wanted to be back, it didn’t matter so much where. But Switzerland is an excellent hockey country where I have good connections.”
As a player Gustafsson won two IIHF World Championship gold medals, one silver, one bronze and he was Austrian club champion on five occasions. He was inducted to the IIHF Hall of Fame in 2003.
The Lions’ next game is on Saturday, November 23, against Geneva-Servette away.
UPDATE: The ZSC Lions announced on Thursday that they have signed former NHL star and Olympic winner Owen Nolan to a one-month contract. The Belfast-born Canadian played for the Minnesota Wild last season but didn't find a new NHL team.