The Swiss ice hockey season gets underway on Friday with a schedule that promises to squeeze the utmost out of the club's coaches and their players.
As well as domestic demands, the 2001/02 schedule must make room for the Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City and for the world championships in Sweden. For the first time ever, the Swiss calendar seems likely to match the rigours of North America's NHL.
Last season's league runners-up Lugano must also take into account a programme which includes qualification matches for the Continental Cup, the finals of which are to be held in Zurich. In total, the Ticinese club could find themselves playing around 100 matches over the course of the next seven months.
Zurich chasing hat-trick
Even with that burden Lugano, under new trainer Sinetula Biljaletdinow, are once again expected to be the Zurich Lions' strongest challengers in the chase for the title. The Lions will be pursuing their third consecutive Swiss crown.
Bern and Davos are among the other favourites hoping to break the duopoly of Lugano and Zurich, but it's thought that up to seven other teams will be putting up a strong fight for the remaining four play-off places.
As well as being more congested, the new season promises to be faster, more interactive and hopefully cleaner.
Following the ugly scenes at the end of last season when Lugano supporters disrupted the Zurich Lions' victory celebrations, the national league is to launch a new campaign, entitled "R! Respect my Game", aimed at improving fan behaviour.
Lugano's punishment over those unwelcome scenes will also continue into the new season, with their opening fixture against Rapperswil-Jona being played behind closed doors.
The planned increase in tempo is being brought about by a change to the regulations which now state that the puck must be put back into play within 15 seconds of an interruption. The new law, already in force at international level, is expected to cut overall match times to around two hours.
Greater interactivity for fans who can't make it to their favourite team's matches is also being promised by the league, which has modernised its website to enable up-to-the-minute score reports from all the matches in the top two divisions.
Round one, Friday September 7: Davos v Ambri, Kloten v Bern, Lugano v Rapperswil, Langnau v Chur, Zurich Lions v Lausanne, Zug v Fribourg.
Round two, Saturday September 8: Ambri v Langnau, Bern v Zug, Chur v Lugano, Fribourg v Zurich Lions, Lausanne v Davos, Rapperswil v Kloten.
swissinfo with agencies