NHL Lockout: The Allure of Playing Hockey in Switzerland

Vaillant Arena, the home rink of HC Davos. Photo by Abercio via Wikimedia Creative Commons.

So many NHL players have sought refuge from the lockout by playing in Europe. You have guys in Sweden, Finland, Russia and the Czech Republic among other countries. But arguably the best place to find exiled NHLers these days lies within the Alps.

Switzerland, the little landlocked melting pot of language and gooey cheese, is now home to several of hockey’s biggest names – Tyler Seguin, Patrick Kane, Patrice Bergeron, John Tavares, Henrik Zetterberg. The Swiss National League has welcomed them with open arms, and its fans couldn’t be happier to see them play. So what draws players to this place?

There are practical reasons for choosing the Swiss League. Swiss games have no TV timeouts like North American ones, so the action is over in about two hours. The hockey is less physical, with more emphasis placed on puck skills and speed. For a player like Seguin, the attention to that coupled with the wider rink surface can work to his advantage. It’s most likely why he leads the NLA in points.

Another advantage is travel time for games. Instead of being gone for days at a time for road trips, it’s a bus ride to and from opposing towns. No need to fly across the country or stay in a hotel.

Then there are personal reasons. When asked why he chose to play with EHC Biel, Kane cited the Blackhawks’ 2009-10 season, which started with Premiere League games in Switzerland. Because that was the season the team won the Stanley Cup, he felt that playing in Switzerland was lucky for him, and he wanted to capture that luck again. It seems to be working, as he already has seven points in three games.

For Rick Nash, his current stint with HC Davos is familiar for him, as he played with them during the 2004-05 lockout. He and Joe Thornton were some of the first NHL players to skate in the Swiss League back then, even helping the team win the league championship. They returned to Davos almost immediately after the lockout became official in September.

No, I’m not forgetting the obvious reasons. You’re never far from the mountains or lakes. If you’re worried about the language barrier, most people there speak English. With the exception of Swiss German, you can probably pick up some French or Italian and use it. And hello, there’s chocolate.

Depending on who you ask, it’s these reasons and others that make hockey in Switzerland so special. But there’s no doubt that the hockey there has something that’s bringing the NHL boys to the rink.

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