While the NHL has been in full swing for only a month and a half, European hockey has been played since mid-September. Within Switzerland’s Nationalliga A (NLA), a combination of old teams and young talent is making for a thrilling league just past their season’s halfway point.
The Old Guard Reigns Supreme
As is annual tradition, the top two teams in the NLA German-speaking titans ZSC Lions and SC Bern. ZSC Lions, based in Zurich, and SC Bern have been swapping titles back and forth between one another for the better part of seven years, with two notable exceptions with HC Davos snatching the Swiss crown twice.
While ZSC Lions is currently in first place, they have played two more games than SC Bern and only lead them in the standings by a lone point. Accordingly SC Bern has been earning a higher percentage of points from their games than ZSC Lions, so the current standings could soon change.
What’s more exciting is that the NLA is not the only league that these two teams are still trying to win, as both ZSC Lions and SC Bern qualified for the Champions Hockey League, a competition among the best teams in Europe. It works similarly to the UEFA Champion’s League. For those who may not quite be acquainted with European soccer, the format is that the best teams in each European country’s league qualify for a 32-team knockout tournament. Domestic games are typically played on weekends, sometimes back-to-back Friday and Saturday contests mirroring college hockey here, and international hockey is played on Tuesdays and Wednesdays.
Both ZSC Lions and SC Bern have made it to the quarterfinals of the Champions Hockey League. Should they both advance past this round, they will face each other in the semi-finals in a truly colossal contest. To put the grandeur of these clubs within Swiss hockey into perspective, Bern draws over 17,000 fans to their games, while Zurich draws over 11,000. No other rink in Switzerland seats over 8,000. It’s a great year to watch traditional rivals in Switzerland.
OHL Deserters Returning to Form
Looking at some of the younger talent in the league, two players in particular have been lighting up the league: Vincent Praplan and Lino Martschini. Ironically, both players used to play in the OHL, but left to finish their eligible Juniors years back in Switzerland.
Vincent Praplan of EHC Kloten has been taking off this season, building on his 33 point campaign over 50 games last season to 27 points in only 30 games thus far. The 22-year-old winger’s scoring touch is nearly the only thing keeping EHC Kloten above the relegation playoff zone. Praplan has yet to be drafted by a NHL team, but perhaps he is giving himself a chance. The clip below is from two years ago, but his quality has only increased since this amazing goal.
The other young gun making his mark is 23-year-old Lino Martschini, who has 32 points in 30 games for third place EV Zug, who only trail ZSC Lions by three points. Martschini is by every definition an undersized forward who lacks physical strength, but makes up for it in his positioning and dynamic movement. In the past two seasons, Martschini has posted 47 and 54 point campaigns, so he is averaging over a point per game for three seasons now. Nevertheless, Martschini remains undrafted. Perhaps a large reason why is Martschini’s lack of size and strength, but it certainly is not due to a lack of talent.
All in all, the Swiss NLA is shaping up to be a thrilling battle of ZSC Lions and SC Bern with some young, skilled forwards keeping the title race interesting. It remains to be seen if, or when, any NHL clubs may take a look at Praplan or Martschini.