Martschini scores big in CHL
by Derek O'Brien|10 JAN 2023
EV Zug forward Lino Martschini shoots at Red Bull Munich goalkeeper Mathias Niederberger during the Champions Hockey League playoffs.
photo: Philipp Hegglin / EV Zug / Champions Hockey League
The four remaining teams in this year’s Champions Hockey League include the competition’s top seven scorers of all time, which dates back to the 2014/15 season. Not surprisingly, five of the seven play for Frolunda Gothenburg, which has won it all four times and only once failed to reach the semi-finals. 

Coming in at number three with 55 points in 54 CHL games is Lino Martschini of Swiss champion EV Zug. 

“As an offensive forward, you want to provide goals and assists and that’s what I love doing,” said Martschini, 29, who as of this week also has 469 points in 580 career regular-season and playoff games for Zug in Switzerland’s National League. 

“From Day 1, I’ve always loved playing in the Champions League. To me, it’s a chance to compete against international players, new faces, new teams, which is something different from the league. I’ve been fortunate to play for Zug, and we’ve been in the competition for several years.” 

Indeed, Zug has made the CHL in all eight seasons that it has been played in its current version, but this is the first season that Martschini’s team has made it to the semi-finals. As a result, despite playing the same number of seasons, Frolunda’s Ryan Lasch (131 points in 81 games) and Joel Lundqvist (68 points in 86 games) have had more opportunities to accumulate points. 

Martschini said of Lasch: “I know him as a player because he played in Bern and in Zurich a few years ago. He’s got some amazing stats so I’ll probably never catch him, but it’s fun. I like competing against the best players possible and it helps me kinda push myself to keep scoring and keep helping the team.”

In the quarter-finals, Zug defeated Czech club Mountfield Hradec Kralove 5-4 in overtime on aggregate score after two 60-minute tied games. 

“They were extremely close,” Martschini said of the two games. “The first game was tough for sure and it was important that we got at least a draw. They were really fast, strong, good on the forecheck but we managed to keep it tight and our goalie made some huge saves. I thought we played really solid in front of our own net, which helped us to limit their scoring chances.”

In the first game in Hradec Kralove, Martschini opened the scoring on a quick shot off a faceoff. Zug’s 1-0 lead held up until late in the third period, when a flurry of goals resulted in a 2-2 tie. 
“We’d tried that faceoff play before but it never resulted in a goal, but I guess it was about time it finally worked,” Martschini laughed. 

Working as a studio analyst on TSN’s telecast of the game on Canadian television was Dave Reid, who happened to be the general manager of the Ontario Hockey League’s Peterborough Petes during the time when Martschini played there from 2010 to 2012. 

“When he played in Peterborough, he was just ‘Lino,’ we never used his last name,” Reid said in the first intermission of the telecast while breaking down the goal. “He came to us when he was 17 years old and he always had that fantastic shot. It’s a deceiving shot for a smaller player – he shoots BBs – and he did it there, got his team going on a great faceoff play.”

On bringing Martschini overseas, Reid said: “I drafted him in the (2010) CHL Import Draft. At the U18 World Championship in Minsk, Belarus, I watched Martschini against Russia and he dominated on the power play at 5-foot-5, 125 pounds (165 cm, 57 kg). We traded down and dropped a couple of spots because we figured nobody was gonna want a 5-foot-5 player.”

“We got in contact through my agent and through him, I was finally able to get closer to my dream,” Martschini said of his first meeting with Reid. “It wasn’t the NHL – it was junior – but it gave me the opportunity to play in North America and I owe him a big thanks. We still talk now and again.”

Using his lethal shot, Martschini recorded back-to-back 20-goal seasons in Peterborough. Then with a year of junior eligibility still remaining, he decided to return home to Switzerland. 

“I was planning on staying a third year because I really enjoyed my time there,” Martschini explained. “But the thing was, we weren’t very successful and missed the playoffs twice. I had the feeling a lot of guys would be leaving and it would be completely different, and at the same time I got this chance with my hometown team. I hadn’t been drafted (by the NHL) and I talked with my agent and my family, and we agreed that it was probably best if I turned pro in Europe.” 

Martschini was born in Lucerne, just 20 kilometres from Zug, where he started playing hockey and regularly attended EV Zug pro games. In his first season playing in Switzerland’s top league, the 19-year-old recorded 30 points in 39 regular-season games and then 14 points in 14 playoff games. He was awarded the league’s Rookie-of-the-Year award. 

“It’s my 11th season now and we’ve been very successful the past few seasons, which has made it even sweeter,” he said. 

Indeed, Zug has won back-to-back national titles in Switzerland. Martschini played a big role on the team’s triumph in 2020/21 but then had to watch from the sidelines last season after undergoing back surgery and missing the playoffs. With Martschini cheering them on, Zug overcame an 0-3 deficit in the finals to win four straight games against ZSC Lions Zurich.

“I’ve been lucky for most of my career that this was the first time I’d really been injured for a long period of time,” he said. “It was hard but, at the same time, I saw the game from a different perspective. It was very educational for me to watch and I was with the team all the way, in the dressing room and talking to the guys, and they were unbelievable.”

Martschini credits the club’s ascent with the winning culture instilled by Norwegian coach Dan Tangnes, who has been at the helm since 2018.

“We’ve always been a pretty decent team in the regular season – usually in the top four, five, six teams – but we never seemed to get beyond that until a few years ago,” said Martschini. “We’ve had a great group of guys for a long time but we now have the mentality that ‘good’ isn’t good enough and losing isn’t acceptable. 

Scanning Zug’s lineup reveals several names that are familiar to followers of international hockey with a wealth of World Championship and Olympic experience, including Swiss netminder Leonardo Genoni and forwards Fabrice Herzog (Switzerland), Jan Kovar (Czechia), Peter Cehlarik (Slovakia), Justin Abdelkader and Brian O’Neill (USA). 

However, despite Zug’s success in the CHL this season, the team puzzlingly sits ninth in the 14-team National League. 

“We had a little bit of a rocky start it’s been up and down,” said Martschini. “We’re in the middle right now and trying to work our way up in the standings. Hopefully, our success in the Champions League can help us build some momentum there.”

Looking ahead to the semi-final matchup with Tappara Tampere from Finland, he said: “They beat Rogle, the defending champion. We played them a couple years ago, so we know they’re a very good team but we’re looking forward to the challenge.”

If Zug manages to win, it would be the first Swiss club to reach the final since Zurich won the European club title in the CHL’s previous incarnation in 2008/09.

“At the beginning of the year, we made it our goal to make some noise in this competition and make a statement,” said Martschini. “It’s been a little disappointing for Swiss teams so far, so we want to do something special this year and we’ve had some of our best games all year in the Champions League, which is a really good sign. We’re excited to be in the final four and looking forward to facing Tappara, and hopefully we go even further.” 

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