The semi-finals of Switzerland's ice hockey playoffs get underway on Thursday with last year's finalists Lugano and the Zurich Lions strongly favoured to see off challenges from Kloten and Bern.This content was published on March 7, 2001 - 12:27
Lugano won three of their four matches against Bern in the regular season, the Ticinese team storming to the top of the qualifying standings while the side from the Swiss capital could only manage sixth place.
Bern have the upper hand in more long-term history, though, with a 16-10 lead in head-to-head meetings with Lugano over the last five years.
Pekka Rautakallio's side can also look back on some unexpectedly strong performances in the quarter-finals where Bern completed a shock 4-0 sweep against Davos. In contrast Lugano had to struggle through five narrow contests with Fribourg before eventually winning through 4-1.
Despite being in charge of the only team that needed five matches to reach the semis, Lugano coach Jim Koleff is only too aware that a smooth passage to the finals is no guarantee of ultimate success.
"Last season, we won all eight of our matches en route to the finals, and then we lost to Zurich," Koleff has pointed out. "So I'm not at all unhappy that we had to fight hard in the quarter-finals to knock out Fribourg."
Bern's greatest strength in the quarter-finals lay in an impressively tight defence which succeeded in stifling the formidable forwards of Davos. But on Thursday the team will be without two of their most influential defenders.
Finnish star Fredrik Olausson (a veteran of almost 1,000 NHL matches) was ruled out for the rest of the season after an injury in the last match against Davos led to him having his spleen removed. Swiss defender Rolf Ziegler is also set to miss out after breaking a bone in his foot.
The Kloten Flyers also have a couple of injury problems going into their semi-final encounter with local rivals and defending champions, the Zurich Lions.
Kloten's goalkeeper, Reto Pavoni, is almost certain to miss the opening match in the series, after tearing a thigh muscle during the quarter-final victory over Zug. At the other end of the rink, forward Martin Plüss is also unlikely to figure after aggravating an old rib injury.
Pavoni was a major factor in Kloten's surprise win over Zurich in the playoff quarter-finals two years ago. His deputy Patrick Kucera has already shown himself to be an adequate stand-by, though, after helping Kloten hold the Lions to a 2-2 draw earlier in the season.
The two sides' other three encounters in the regular season ended in two wins for Zurich and one for Kloten. The results of recent Zurich derbies also suggest that the semi-final series could involve some hard-fought contests, with the Lions and the Flyers registering seven wins each from their last 15 clashes.
swissinfo with agencies
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