NLA’s Fribourg-Gotteron Fired Mark French After 6 Games

Head coach Mark French was recently fired by Fribourg-Gottéron of Switzerland’s NLA after six games into the 2019-20 season. The former Calgary Hitmen head coach still had a valid contract for this and the next season. Former New York Ranger Christian Dubé and former Los Angeles Kings forward Pavel Rosa are now behind the bench.

The Dragons, so the nickname of Fribourg-Gottéron, had a bad start in the new season. Of the first six games, they lost five, had only two points and are last in the Swiss National League. Therefore, it was a normal move to dismiss the coach from all his duties and move on to a new face behind the bench.

Well, kind of. It was the first time in a long time an NLA coach did not hang onto his job until the first international break in the first week of November. Traditionally this is the best time to fire and hire a new coach. All the European teams have a week off and the general managers have enough time to find a substitute.

The Dragons, however, did not seem to have that time. The front office must not have believed that French could turn the sinking ship around and motivate the players anymore.

New Coach – Arno Del Curto, Lars Leuenberger or Hans Kossmann?

The question is, who will be the next coach?  There are some names to throw in: Arno del Curto (former HC Davos coach ), Lars Leuenberger (player development coordinator for SC Bern), Hans Kossmann (unemployed) or even Chris McSorley ( GM Servette Geneva).

Arno Del Curto, NLA
Former HC Davos head coach Arno Del Curto (Photo Courtesy of PPR)

It could be that one of those will get the job. But it is also possible that GM and interim coach Christian Dubé will find another solution. It will come without surprise if Dubé brings in another Canadian to coach the team. However, it needs to be one who is familiar with Swiss hockey already.  

But what happened and what led to this firing so early in the season? First of all, it was the bad start to the season. The team did not seem to find an identity or chemistry between the four lines. So much was just patchwork. There was no real system, no clear roles set out for each player.

Then there were the injury to captain Julien Sprunger. Sprunger was drafted in 2004 by the Minnesota Wild in Round 4, 117th overall. But he never played in North America. He has a lengthy injury history. In 2016-17, he missed 30 games, in 2012-13, he missed 18 games. All were mostly due to concussions.

This season he was sidelined in the second game of the season. He likely will not suit up until after the international break in November.

There were also some new players coming into the Dragons lineup. After their disastrous 2018-19 season, where they finished 10th and did not made the playoffs, all the import contracts were dissolved and replaced.

In came defender Ryan Gunderson (Lowell Devils, Houston Aeros). He should help to stabilize the defence and take some playing minutes from Philippe Furrer. Furrer made an “impact” at the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver when he scored a goal against Russia. Except that it was in his own net.

Also, Swedish forwards Viktor Stalberg (Ottawa Senators, Carolina Hurricanes, New York Rangers) and Daniel Brodin (drafted 2010 by the Toronto Maple Leafs) got a fresh start with the Dragons. Each had in the first six games one goal. Not enough for their salary.

With former Ranger David Desharnais, who played for the Dragons in the lockout-shortened 2012-13 season, there is another new face. But, like his teammates Stalberg and Brodin, he has also only one point.  

For the Dragons, who have never won the NLA title, there is much more on the plate. They need success, and immediately.

The Dragons Need Success

They can’t afford another season without reaching the playoffs. Fribourg spent too much money on their top team. They increased the budget over the last four years from approximately 7 million CHF (Swiss Franc) to over 13 million CHF. In Switzerland, that’s like changing from a normal car to a Porsche with all the newest accessories.

HC Ambri Piotta, HC Friborgo Gotteron, NLA
HC Ambri Piotta and HC Friborgo Gotteron (PPR/Ti-Press/Alessandro Crinari)

Will the players respond to the move behind the bench? As for now, it looks like that has happened. The Dragons won their first game under the new coaches 4-1. But this was against the SC Rapperswil-Jona Lakers, a team that has one of the lowest budgets in the league.

The next game will be this Friday at home against EHC Biel. This will be more interesting. Biel was in the semifinals last season against NLA champion SC Bern. Biel are not the Lakers. They are one of the favorite teams to win the championship this season. Should the Dragons win, then there is a chance that they will hang onto their new coaches until the international break.