HELSINKI – At age 34, defenceman Mathias Seger is among the most senior members of the Swiss national team.
Incredibly, since debuting in the IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship in 1998 on home ice in Zurich and Basel, Seger has only missed one world tourney when he had a bad season in 2006/2007. He was also part of Switzerland’s Olympic teams in 2002, 2006 and 2010.
He has been a pillar on defence for ZSC Lions Zurich, whose colours he’s been wearing since 1999. Since 2006, when Mark Streit left for the NHL, he’s served as a captain.
This year, however, he got some extra headlines after leading his team to the Swiss championship. Unintentionally, because the native of Ermatingen isn’t the kind of guy who’s looking for headlines.
It was a Wednesday morning, around 7 or 8 am, when he left the celebrations after the 4-3 final series victory over SC Bern and took the trophy home by entering a tramway and sitting next to a lady.
Of course people recognized him and gawked. A fan took a photo and sent it to a newspaper. It went on the internet and became a hit in the world of social media.
The photo was also a perfect fit for Zurich’s public transportation organization’s campaign: “We bring everybody to work. And back home.” And there it was – Seger and the trophy were on the posters (see picture, courtesy of ZVV/20 Minuten).
“Why should I take a taxi when I can take a tram home?” Seger was quoted when the newspaper published the photo.
“I was surprised that it created such a reaction, but it was a good one and I was happy that they gave me a one-year ticket, even though I often go to practice by bike,” the humble defenceman said.
While some of his teammates prefer luxurious sport cars, or one of the robust Skoda cars around the arenas here at the IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship, Seger remains more modest.
“I don’t think I’m exotic. I live in the city and would have ten traffic lights within two kilometres, so it would take me 15 minutes,” Seger said. “By bike it takes me five minutes. But we have other players on our team who go by bike or public transportation, too.”
But Seger does have a vehicle at home. It’s an old, classic Volkswagen bus he calls his “darling.”
“Unfortunately it didn’t pass the last inspection anymore due to rust, but luckily a member of our team staff has a garage and he repaired it,” said Seger. He added confidently: “This time it will pass!”
“We sometimes go on vacation with the bus. Especially with having a daughter, it’s cozy to stay in the bus overnight. We often go after the World Championship when it’s not high season. There are many nice places in Switzerland – you don’t have to go that far. But we went to Croatia last time, and Elba [in Italy] is also very nice.”
As down-to-earth he is in his private life, he’s equally so as a player. He’s a humble character player, who has never been too tired to represent his nation in the World Championship in 15 years.
“I’m looking forward to every World Championship,” Seger said. “Sometimes people ask me if I get tired of going every year, but I don’t. It’s something different every year. The team is different, the tasks are different, the cities are different. It’s always a great time to be there with the guys. You also go to other cities each time. We’re lucky in our job that we get around a lot.”
With his vast international experience, he has been in Finland before, but there’s always something new to experience.
“I haven’t been in Helsinki for so long before,” he says. “It’s a nice and interesting city that can also offer something from the cultural perspective. I try to see the city, sights and museums.”
His best memories come from the events in which the Swiss have had success, Seger said: “My international career started very well with the fourth-place finish in Switzerland [in 1998] with all the great atmosphere and euphoria we created in and around the arena, but also for Swiss hockey in general. It was also great that we were able to beat Russia on their home ice [in St. Petersburg, 2000].”
Since 1998 the Swiss have never reached the semi-finals again, and last year they missed the quarter-finals. That’s what the team wants to change.
The Swiss national team did what fans expected in the first two games, defeating Belarus and Kazakhstan. Then they challenged Finland and Canada, but weren’t able to earn points from their performances.
“We have played well here,” Seger said. “It’s unfortunate that we didn’t earn any points in the last two games. We create scoring chances, but could do better in scoring. We made small mistakes that cost us points. But now we have an important game against France. They’re a good team – we shouldn’t allow ourselves to be misled by the results they’ve had.”
As of the day off yesterday, Seger didn’t know yet if and in which position he will play. After losing three forwards due to injuries, coach Sean Simpson has only 11 healthy forwards left. That’s why Seger has suddenly been practising as a forward.
“I don’t know yet whether I will play or not, and whether I will get ice time on the offence,” Seger said. “I sometimes played as a forward on the club team, and also at the Olympics [in Salt Lake City, 2002]. It’s something completely different when you’re used to playing on defence, so it’s good I have practised as a forward now.”
We will know the answer when the Swiss face France at Hartwall Arena at 16:15. On Sunday and Tuesday Switzerland will conclude the Preliminary Round with crucial games for cracking the quarter-finals, facing Slovakia and the United States respectively.