Bern had a terrible season. The club with the biggest audience other than the NHL failed miserably and finished ninth in the Swiss National League. The list of failures is as long as your grocery shopping list will be after COVID-19 is over. I did a break down on the teams’ needs and how they need to be addressed.
Average Age Too High
Only Fribourg and Lugano have an average age higher than Bern. With 29.63 and 29.30 years old, respectively, Bern lands third with 29.20. That said, the much-needed turn around to a younger, more dynamic team is a must to address in this offseason.
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Unfortunately, former general manager Alex Chatelain seems to be aware of that problem but did not find the right players for a change. Even if Bern has some new faces on the upcoming roster, this does not help to overhaul the team with fresh blood. Thierry Bader (HC Davos), Thomas Thiry and Miro Zryd (both from EV Zug) are all three under 25 years old, but don’t count as real enforcements on the team. All three seem to be just additions for the third line.
What makes matters worse, Chatelain extended the contract of grizzled veteran Beat Gerber (who will turn 38 in the offseason) for one year and also extended the contract of Thomas Rüfenacht (35) for two more years. Don’t get me wrong, both extensions kind of make sense. But the message is wrong to players that would like to join Bern: “We don’t count on younger players. We like to stay with the core group we have.”
Over-satisfied After Three Titles in Four Years
The last time a team won three titles in four years was in the late ’80s and early ’90s. And it was Bern who managed that. After that, the club had to wait four years to regain the champion title. Will this be the same for the feature?
It could be. The parallels are equal. The team was too old. Important players left the team after the fourth title and the replacements did not click right from the start. The imports were weak and the core of the club did not see the signs that pointed to the problems ahead.
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Same situation, same scenario right now? Not accordingly to CEO Marc Lüthi. At the helm of the team and part owner since 1998, he declined any thought about this. In an interview with the local newspaper Berner Zeitung, the CEO said that they will look at those problems more closely and will take on some corrections. But if I look at the new players that former general manager Chatelain signed up to this point, I can’t see any evidence that the club took any measurements to address exactly that.
No Blockbuster Import on the Horizon
After the departure of Marc Arcobello to arch-rival HC Lugano and the contract conclusion with Andrew Ebbett, there is no blockbuster signing of a new import on the horizon. With the signing of Swedish center Ted Brithén for two years and the signing of Dustin Jeffrey from Lausanne HC, there is no real upgrade to the import position. With goalkeeper Tomi Karhunen under contract for one more season, Bern is left, theoretically, with only one more license for the import position.
This position should be manned by a defender who has the ability to be a playmaker. Calle Anderson, who plays with a Swiss license, and Ramon Untersander, Bern has some playmakers on defense. But that’s not enough — there should be one more playmaker to share the workload with the two mentioned players. Untersander was the fourth most-used defender in the league on the power play and Andersson came in 13th.
That leads new general manager Florence Schelling to some head-scratching duties. Should she look for an import that gives the team depth on the blue line or should she go with two more forwards? For me, she should look for one defender who can play the blue line and be responsible on the back end as well as on the power play and penalty kill.
No Big Bad Bears Anymore
The Bears once were the toughest team to play against. They had Gaetano Orlando, Yves Sarault or Alan Haworth in the team. Players who did not shy away from physical play. Those days seem to be fading out. That’s one of the reasons Bern still has problems with their identity. With only 471 penalty minutes, Bern was 10th league-wide. That said, the team was too soft.
Sure, with the “new” enforcement of the rules, holding, hooking and interferences are called more often. But this does not mean you can’t check or throw some good punches to an opponent who gets too close to your goalkeeper. That said, Bern needs to find an answer and play again with fierceness. The opponent should not have the feeling that they are welcomed in the arena.
Stay or Leave
Former Finnish national team coach Kari Jalonen was fired in January and was replaced by Hans Kossmann. The Canadian could not help the team and lost the last game against Lausanne HC, 2-3. The irony of that loss was that Bern and Lausanne had the same situation in 2015-16. Then the Bears won the deciding game with the same result and won the championship. Lausanne had to play the classification round and only had to do this because of their goal differential.
The question if Kossmann will stay or go is not yet resolved. As rumoured in the Swedish News Paper Expressen Sam Hallam from the Växjö Lakers could be the replacement for Kossmann and Jalonen. Hallam still has a valid contract for two more years with the Lakers and does not comment on those rumours. As he said to the Expressen, speculations about players and staff members is part of the business during that part of the season.
To find a new coach will be a tough task for Schelling. Canadian play or more European? Should the game be more like chess (European) or more open and more physical like in Canada? If you would ask the fans, the latter one would be the favourite.
Who else could be a good fit for Bern? I personally would like to see a Canadian bench boss with the good, old Canadian style that I mentioned earlier. Not necessarily a grizzled NHL general, but more likely one that can educate the younger players, demands more from the veterans and has the ability to move the whole team the extra mile. Unrealistic? Maybe. But hope never dies.