RAPPERSWIL, Switzerland – It was 1965 when the IIHF started European club competitions. And in 2009, a team from Switzerland, the hockey world’s number seven, finally won one of those major European events, the CHL.
Two third-place finishes in the European Champions Cup and a semi-final appearance in the European Hockey League were the best Swiss finishes in major Euro tournaments. Now, the ZSC Lions have topped that. After beating teams from the Czech Republic, Finland and Sweden, they dethroned three-time Silver Stone Trophy winner Metallurg Magnitogorsk with a 2-2 draw in the road game and a 5-0 victory on home ice.
Did anyone think Zurich would be hoisting the trophy at the start of the season?
“Nobody believed that we could make it but we worked very hard to achieve this," Zurich forward Jan Alston said. "We have a very special group, that’s why we had success and won with such a margin.”
“We needed discipline to have this success. It’s such a special thing we accomplished and the biggest success of my career,” Domenico Pittis said after the game. “The key was our preparation and defence. It starts with our coach, who had a new strategy for each opponent. Now we want to be back but we can’t enjoy the success too much. We have a lot ahead of us in the Swiss championship.”
“This was a historic success but the championship continues and there’s nothing for free. The CHL was a really good experience and platform for players,” defenceman Severin Blindenbacher said. “It surely helped me to get a contract in Sweden.”
“Why not?” was the slogan of the ZSC players when they started the CHL campaign. Oliver Kamber proudly showed the motto on the back of a shirt the team produced. “The Champions Hockey League is one of the greatest things you can win,” the centre said. “Our teamwork was very good and our system caused Metallurg some problems. It was an advantage for us to have the return match on home ice. And we had a great goalkeeper with Sulo. This guy already won so many national titles, the World Championship, and now he deserved to be European club champion.”
Ueli Maurer, the Federal Councillor of Defence, Civil Protection and Sports, was one of the first to congratulate the team. “Today, they did not only write hockey history, they wrote Swiss sports history!” the ZSC Lion fan said.
Swiss national team coach Ralph Krueger stressed the hard work behind the success. “The Russians wanted to play beautiful but they did not do the tough work that was necessary as the ZSC Lions did,” the 1998 Silver Stone Trophy winning coach said.
“I’m really proud to be the coach of this Zurich team. The way they played in the whole Champions Hockey League – it’s unbelievable!” Sean Simpson said after the historic success. “When you have a team that believes so much in itself, miracles can happen. Nobody thought that a Swiss team would win the first Champions Hockey League.”
The 5-0 defeat was a tough moment for coach Valeri Belousov and Metallurg Magnitogorsk, usually blessed with success. “I congratulate the ZSC Lions for the victory, they deserved it,” the Russian coach said. “We played rather well in the first period but after that, we made mistakes. Two of them led to penalties and twice, the opponent scored. If you play such an important game, you cannot afford to make such mistakes.”
Metallurg had only one loss this season that was more lopsided, when they lost a KHL game at Avangard Omsk 6-0 on September 10. Metallurg’s biggest loss in a European club competition was the first-ever European Hockey League game of the club when they lost at home against Sparta Prague, 7-4, on September 15, 1998.