This season will be forever remembered as the one that had to end without a new champion. That said, last season’s champion will still be SC Bern. But aside from the Covid-19 virus, what are the key facts of this shortened season?
Imports Still Play a Huge Role
Even if Switzerland won two silver medals in the past five years at the World Championships, the gap between the best teams and the bottom four is still huge. As a result, the league’s import players are more than just an extra player. They need to be leaders, goalscorers and good team players.
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Not all imports fulfill those requests. Some had to leave their team earlier than expected. Miika Koivistu came from the KHL team, Dynamo Moskva, to Bern. After 15 games he had to go and signed with the Vaxjo Lakers in Sweden. With a minus-5 and two assists, he was not the blueliner that Bern expected. The same goes for Atte Ohtamaa. He was not lucky in Lugano and the club let him join the KHL team Barys Nur-Sultan.
On the flip side, you had the imports who did fulfill the clubs’ requests. Czech forward Jan Kovar from EV Zug was only two points behind the club’s topscorer, Grégory Hofmann, with 47 points. Kovar joined Zug from the Czech Extra Liga club HC Pilzen after he had a short run in the AHL with the Providence Bruins.
For the first time in their contracts, the two imports from Geneva, Daniel Winnik and Tommy Wingels, could play the entire season with Geneve-Servette. Last season, both had injuries and therefore only came back for the playoffs. This season, they showed what a huge value they add to the Eagles’ attack. Together they were able to combine for 83 points and were one of the reasons why Geneva ended up in fourth place.
If You Don’t Have a Great Goalkeeper, You Will Lose
If you don’t have a great goalkeeper on your team, you may not win a championship. That’s old wisdom in hockey, and, especially in Switzerland. The ongoing champions SC Bern can stand behind this statement. They started with two Swiss keepers but had to quickly turn away from that experience and gave away Niklas Schlegel to HC Lugano and gave Tomi Karhunen the number one spot in the crease. This did not help Bern to claim a playoff spot at the end of the season but shows how important goaltending is.
Karhunen had a better goals-against average than Niklas Schlegel and Pascal Caminada combined. Last season’s goalkeeper in Bern, Leonardo Genoni, was just slightly less successful than Karhunen. However, he played 12 games more then the Finn did.
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After Schlegel joined Lugano, he played better and in nine games had a save percentage of .931. This could lead to the question of whether Bern did not fully support their keeper or did not have enough faith in him.
Four Coaches Fired
This season, teams replaced their coaches at an above-average rate. One-third of them were replaced during the season. It started out in Fribourg. The Dragons fired Mark French after eight games. Former New York Ranger forward Christian Dubé took the helm and never looked back. He got help in former Swiss National Team coach Sean Simpson and his long time buddy Pavel Rosa. He managed to sneak into the seventh place after two hard-fought final games in which they needed every point to hold of HC Lugano and SC Bern.
Speaking of Lugano, they were the next club that got rid of their new coach, Sami Kapanen. He was the 14th coach since their last championship win in 2006. Since then, no coach has held long enough to rebuild the team. He was replaced by Serge Pelletier. The Canadian also coached Ambrì and Fribourg in former tenures.
It came to no surprise when Bern fired Kari Jalonen. The results were not as expected. Bern already had changed the keeper and added two new imports but struggled defensively. Too often, the Bears lost games in the last period or lost because of mistakes in the goal. But new coach Hand Kossmann did not have a chance to claim the eighth place. Again the defensive play was key to that.
The last coach who had to leave his team was a former assistant coach in Bern with Jalonen. Ville Peltonen had to leave Lausanne just two games before the end of the season. He was replaced by Craig McTavish and former Swiss Junior National Team coach John Fust. They gained a playoff space by finishing sixth.
In the next couple of weeks, I will walk you through each team of the Swiss National League and how their season unfolded and what each team needs to address in the upcoming six months.