ZURICH – Although coming back from Sochi empty-handed, Roman Wick has had a heck of a regular season, and has reset his sights to winning his first championship in Switzerland with the ZSC Lions Zurich.
Wick closed out the regular season by nearly becoming the scoring leader of the Swiss National League A but was overtaken in the last few games by long-time NHLer Matthew Lombardi of Genève-Servette.
However, his team finished the regular season in first place by a mile. The Lions ended up with 18 points more than its next follower, Fribourg-Gottéron, and will play the quarter-finals against Lausanne HC, which became the first promoted team to reach the playoffs in its first season since Basel in 2006. They achieved this miracle at the expense of SC Bern, the first defending champion that missed the playoffs.
“We have never before reached the playoffs by such a margin,” said Wick. “But Lausanne has shown that they can play hockey very well. They have an incredibly good defence and a good goalie [in Cristobal Huet]. It will be anything but an easy series. They are strong on home ice and have a great audience but our fans will also be crazy during the playoffs.”
The 28-year-old is in his second season with the ZSC Lions Zurich. Hardly anybody would have thought a few years ago that he would be there and that he would be the team’s scoring leader.
After all, he’s a kid from the regional rival Kloten Flyers where he spent his junior career and six NLA seasons, and where his father Marcel was a legend.
But two years ago the club was in severe trouble after many years of overspending. As one of the most expensive players he was asked to accept a severe salary cut. Take it or leave it. He left and crossed the border from the suburb mainly known for hockey and the international airport to the city of Zurich.
“I definitely wouldn’t have thought to play for ZSC some years ago. Now it’s like that. Life is full of surprises,” said Wick, who extended his contract on Thursday. “The transfer was good for me. I’m happy and I’m looking forward to work there for several years. I’m also happy that [coach] Marc Crawford extended recently.”
In an annual, unofficial voting organized by newspapers, the captains and head coaches of the league named Wick Most Valuable Player of the regular season and Best Forward.
Being among the top players of the Swiss league Wick could also soon be back on the radar of NHL teams, like Damien Brunner was two years ago, if his development continues. But Wick doesn’t have too big hopes for now, especially after a mediocre Olympic campaign in Sochi for him and the Swiss men’s national team that ended up in ninth place.
The winger tried the big league after a strong showing in the Vancouver Olympics but he only played seven NHL games with the Ottawa Senators while spending most of the 2010/2011 season with the AHL affiliate Binghamton Senators where Wick won the Calder Cup.
“For now that’s nothing we discuss. First of all I’d need to get a concrete offer. But I don’t want to play in the AHL again,” Wick said.
Instead he will continue playing in Zurich. He’s looking forward to the start of the playoff after the strong regular season and to the next season with the comeback of the Champions Hockey League after a four-year break with the Lions as reigning European club champion. In 2009 the Zurichers surprisingly defeated Russian powerhouse Metallurg Magnitogorsk 5-0 in the second game of the back-to-back final after a 2-2 tie in the Russian steel city.
“We’re looking forward to it. It’ll be exciting and we’ll see how it will turn out for us on the European stage,” Wick said.
He was not part of the team yet in 2009 and also missed last year’s World Championship with a foot injury. He had to see his colleagues win a historic Worlds silver on TV. Now he’s motivated to win in domestic play and for more history at the 2014 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship in Minsk.
“Being among the top teams in the world is a question of willingness. Sometimes we are very close and sometimes far from the top countries,” Wick said. “In hockey everything can go very fast. We saw that with a good tournament we can get a silver medal.”
But for now the focus is on domestic gold.
The best-of-seven quarter-finals start on Tuesday with the following pairings:
ZSC Lions Zurich (1) vs. Lausanne HC (8)
Fribourg-Gottéron (2) vs. HC Ambrì-Piotta (7)
Kloten Flyers (3) vs. HC Davos (6)
Genève-Servette (4) vs. HC Lugano (5)
SC Bern, EV Zug, EHC Biel and the Rapperswil-Jona Lakers have to play in the relegation round. The last-placed team will have to play a promotion/relegation series against the champion of the National League B.