HC Ambri: 5 Takeaways from 2019-20 National League Season

HC Ambri, located in the south of Switzerland, had a hard season. They finished 10th in the 12-team league. Here are five reasons why and what they should change before the 2020-21 season.

Goaltending Needs a Boost

Ambrì had to start the season with Daniel Manzato in the crease. In the plans of head coach Luca Cereda, he actually was the backup to Benjamin Conz. After a few games, Manzato was replaced due to an injury. Ambrì recalled Czech goaltender Dominik Hrachovina who was assigned to the HC Biasca Ticino Rockets of the Championship Hockey League where he was at his best. With a goals-against-average of 1.5, he was hot there. But in the National League, he could not hold on to that performance.

HC Ambri-Piotta
HC Ambri goalkeeper Daniel Manzato (KEYSTONE-ATS/Ti-Press/Samuel Golay).

The management attempted to address this problem. With Damian Ciaccio from the SCL Tigers, they signed a new goaltender. Therefore Manzato had to leave the team. With Conz and Ciaccio, Ambri has two good goalies. It will be interesting to see how both will develop and if this gives Conz the needed boost to win the number one position.

Shots on Goal vs. Goals Scored

When I look at the shots on goal (SOG) and the goals Ambrì scored, there is a huge gap between these numbers. In SOG, the team ranked fourth. However, if I look at the number of goals scored, the team miserably fails. There they are last. To put this in proper perspective, you should know that the last-place Rapperswil-Jona Lakers was seventh in goals scored. That’s with Ambri having more opportunities to score (1490 SOG) than Rapperswil (1421 SOG). This leads to the question of why the scoring was so terrible.

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A pearl of old wisdom tells the hockey player to shoot the puck as often as possible. But to also go after rebounds every time the puck bounces back from the keeper. Ambrì had a problem with that part of the game. They shot often but did not often go for the rebounds. To address this problem, Ambrì needs to find a quarterback to man the power play. Also, the defence needs an update. But finding the right defender in Switzerland is not easy. The market does not offer a high-end player and Ambrì could not pay him anyway. The solution will be most likely an import. It would be no surprise if general manager Paolo Duca will look for someone from a Scandinavian country.

Home Vs Road

Never underestimate the home arena advantage. In the Swiss National League, this is a huge factor, especially in Ambrì. The Valascia was built in 1978. It is the coldest one in Switzerland. If you would like to see a game there, you need long underwear, and to stay warm, from time to time, a good schnaps. But only if you don’t participate with the home fans. They chant, clap and yell the whole game, even if their team is losing. The highlight will be when the team wins. You will hear the hymn ‘La Monatnara’. Goosebumps are a guarantee.

Luca Cereda, HC Ambri-Piotta
Luca Cereda (PPR/Alessandro della Valle)

It comes to no surprise that the team wins more games at home than on the road. In the finished season, Ambrì won 13 games and had 70 goals.

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On the road, the team is a different one. Only seven games won on the road and only 50 goals scored. That’s not enough to advance to the playoffs. To change this for the upcoming season will be challenging.

Defence vs Offence

The balance between the offence and the defence was not present. Too often, the attacking offence lost the puck at the opponent’s blue line. Then they needed to rush back to be on their defensive position. This was a huge disadvantage.

On the other side, too often the defence couldn’t make the deadly pass to the attacker. Too many players liked to make the first move out of their own zone to the teammate in the neutral zone and from there jump into the attack. And to be honest, the so-called “axe of the game,” good goaltending, speedy, deadly playing defenders, and fast centres who can backcheck to defend, was only given on the first line and pair.

Cheap Imports

Speaking honestly, Ambrì had no other choice to play with cheap imports and only pay Matt D’Agostini and Brian Flynn “normal” salaries. But the salaries in Ambrì are, in general, lower than most of the other clubs. The team has struggled financially since the beginning of this century. Donation requests were common. Oftentimes, the fans and regional companies helped the team out. It is a wonder how Ambrì still has its hockey club.

Brian Flynn, HC Ambri-Piotta
HC Ambri’s Brian Flynn (PPR/Alexandra Wey)

This may not change in the next season. Until the club has the new arena, scheduled to open in 2021, the club may need to operate with one of the lowest budgets in the league. It is rumoured that the team has a payroll of approximately 7 million Swiss Francs per season. This leads to problems on the imports side.

Finding the Holy Grail

Until the holy grail in Ambrì is found, or someone who is financially healthy and has millions in their pockets and can take over the club and pay average salaries, there will be no change.

But maybe this will change at some point. As was seen in the 2018-19 season when Ambrì made the playoff, qualified for the Champions Hockey League and played at the Spengler Cup. From a marketing perspective, it was the best thing that could happen to the club.

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One thing still remains the same for Ambrì. They need to get the big teams in the league angry, steal points from them, and play as an outsider. This was and still is the best way to play hockey. And maybe 2020-21 will once again be a season of surprise as it was in 2018-19 when Ambrì finished 5th, their best ranking since 1997-98.