BERNE – In an attendance record-setting final series the ZSC Lions Zurich claimed the Swiss championship winning game seven at SC Bern 2-1. Steve McCarthy scored the game winner with two seconds left in regulation time of the seventh game.
“I’m speechless. As a team we went through a lot this year. It was a lot of work and it’s great to see the guys rewarded,” the Canadian defenceman and former first-round NHL draft pick said into the TV cameras after the game. “I don’t score many goals, but it feels pretty good!”
It was the first post-season goal for the 31-year-old former captain of Canada’s junior national team who was signed by the Lions after a successful try-out.
Swiss national team forward Andres Ambühl sent a pass from behind the net and Bern goalkeeper Marco Bührer didn’t bring the puck under control in the scrum in front of his net. The puck somehow got back and McCarthy capitalised.
The goal was subject a video review as Ambühl clearly was positioned in the goal crease, but referee Danny Kurmann correctly allowed the goal to stay as the national team forward did not interfere with the goalkeeper.
Ambühl played a game seven already the eighth time (seven with HC Davos) and the power forward has always ended up as winner, also on Tuesday night.
For golden coach Bob Hartley it’s the fourth championship in four different leagues after he had joined the team ahead of this season.
At the beginning of his coaching career he led the Laval Titan to a QMJHL title, in 1997 he won the AHL’s Calder Cup in his first season with the Hershey Bears and was promoted to the parent team, the Colorado Avalanche a year later, leading the team to the Stanley Cup in 2001.
After five seasons each with the Avalanche and the Atlanta Thrashers the French-Ontarian left coaching in 2008 and was working as a hockey analyst for French-Canadian sports channel RDS.
His comeback in Switzerland after three years eventually became a successful one for Hartley, who has one more year on his contract, although his name appears regularly in rumours with various NHL teams in the North American media.
“That’s the image of our season. We win it in the last two seconds,” Hartley said. “What a crazy team we were. They battled hard all year and they believed that they can do it and I challenged them that we would shock the Swiss hockey world – and we did!”
However, the beginning didn’t look as encouraging for Hartley. His hard-working attitude he wanted to see reflected on his team didn’t fit well in the beginning in a club that has been troubled by changing coaches since Sean Simpson had left it in 2010 for the Swiss national team.
Simpson led the Lions to the surprising Champions Hockey League triumph in 2009 and the Victoria Cup against the Chicago Blackhawks later that year, but on the national stage the team was in decline already then.
The team didn’t gel well with its mix of established veteran players and the ones coming from the country’s biggest youth program that had got only limited roles in the years before. But Hartley didn’t shy away from decisions that earlier were unfamiliar in the club.
After the first pre-season game against the farm team, GCK Lions, he made Luca Cunti, a former third-round draft pick of the Tampa Bay Lightning that was on his way of becoming a fallen prospect, switch sides. Cunti became the arguably most creative forward during the course of the season.
Hartley also benched national team forward Thibaut Monnet for a game and disciplined players who took practice too easy.
The result wasn’t impressive in the regular season where the ZSC Lions finished in seventh place. But all changed in the post-season when the key players elevated their performance and Hartley’s game plan began to pay dividends.
The Lions upset defending champion HC Davos with a sweep in the quarter-finals and they were also able to stop the best offensive team of the league, EV Zug with league top scorer Damien Brunner, with another 4-0 series win in the semi-finals.
SC Bern didn’t have an impressive regular season either. Coach Larry Huras was fired midway through the season because fifth place was seen as insufficient and the club’s leadership determined his style of play as too unspectacular.
The team went up to first place and back to fifth before the end of the regular season under former assistant coach Antti Törmänen, but in the playoffs it defeated the Kloten Flyers and archrival Fribourg-Gottéron, winning both series 4-1.
The final series was played according to the “offence wins games, defence wins championships” principle. It was not the most spectacular final series for those who expected a galore of goals, but the tight scores brought excitement through all the games.
It was a clash between Zurich as the biggest city and financial metropolis against the club from the capital city that has been Europe’s best attended one for the tenth consecutive year.
The final series set a new Swiss attendance record with 102,124 fans after the 2010 Bern-Geneva finals had brought 90,130 fans to the arenas. The number is believed to be a new European record for a final series as well.
The series started with home wins. 4-2 for Bern, 2-1 for Zurich and 3-0 for Bern.
On Easter Monday, however, SC Bern broke the deadlock winning 2-0 in Zurich to take a 3-1 lead in the series. The team coached by former Finnish world champion and Olympic medallist Antti Törmänen had three chances to claim the championship, but the momentum switched in game five when the ZSC Lions won 2-1 in overtime on the opponent’s ice.
The ZSC Lions continued their streak and won game 6 at home 6-3 thanks to three goals within less than three minutes in the second period to tie the series and dampen Bern’s optimism.
Already in 2001 the Zurich team won the championship after having trailed from 3-1 in the final series, then against Lugano.
Mark Bastl opened the scoring for the ZSC Lions Zurich in game seven, but Swiss national team veteran Ivo Rüthemann tied the score shortly after the first intermission. The game remained open and teams were approaching overtime until the Lions besieged the opponent’s net with the quick attack in the dying seconds of the third period.
McCarthy scored the golden goal after the scrum and led the ZSC Lions to their seventh national title and a long night.
“We showed people a great lesson of life: do never quit!” Hartley said. “We work hard every day. It’s a simple recipe of life.”