Bob Hartley will be remembered in Zürich, Switzerland for a long time to come. The former Colorado Avalanche and Atlanta Thrashers coach performed a miracle in the Swiss NLA championship, taking a decent ZSC Lions team, who were still in a rebuilding stage and turned them into Swiss Champions in a dramatic 7th game final after only one year in charge.
Hartley was named ZSC Lions coach on March 14, 2011 taking over the reigns from former Team Sweden coach Bengt-Ake Gustafsson. Despite having the experience of ex-NHL players such as Jeff Tambellini, Cory Murphy, Steve McCarthy and Domenico Pittis, the Lions did not have a dominating season by any means, playing sporadically good hockey and at one stage even looking like they may miss the playoffs completely.
After ending the season with a 19 win/19 loss record (minus extra-time and penalty wins and losses), the Lions secured 7th spot in a 8 team playoff race and were dismissed as contenders after drawing last year’s Swiss Champion HC Davos in the first round of the NLA playoffs. Enter Bob Hartley.
ZSC defeated the 2nd placed HC Davos in an empathic 4-0 sweep, winning games 1 and 3 at the difficult-to-play-in Valliant Arena, high in the mountains of Switzerland and then continuing that winning run for home games 2 and 4 to demolish the Swiss Championship record holders.
The reward for fine play? … A date with 1st placed overall, regular season champions EV Zug. With Zürich’s win over Davos seen as pure luck by the Swiss media, Hartley worked his magic again, not only winning the second round matchup but again sweeping Zug in 4 unbelievable games.
Surely this run could not continue for a team that finished the regular season with a .500 win/loss average! After 8 games undefeated in the playoffs, the Lions had achieved the seemingly impossible, a Swiss championship finals appearance against the heavily-favoured SC Bern, a team from the Swiss capital that averages around 17,000 fans in a very intimidating Post Finance Arena.
ZSC lost their winning streak in game one of the final series with a 4-2 loss, followed by 2 more losses in the next 3 games, setting up a 3-1 Bern series lead. Enter Bob Hartley again. Two wins later, the Lions found themselves in game 7 with one hand on the trophy. Naturally to add some more drama to their season, Zürich won the game with 3 seconds left in the 3rd period through a Steve McCarthy goal to hand them their first Swiss Championship since 2008.
Hartley has a record of 49 NHL playoff wins with 35 losses and has already won the Stanley Cup while the head coach of the Avalanche in 2001. With a coach like Miracle Bob at the helm, Calgary need only to find a way to make the playoffs and the rest should take care of itself. Vegas odds anyone?