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Ice hockey season gets underway with larger league

Mark Streit has been lured back from the US to play for Zurich. Keystone / Urs Flueeler

The Swiss ice hockey season gets underway on Saturday, with 12 teams in the top division - two more than last year.

Chur and La Chaux-de-Fonds have joined the top flight but neither are being given a chance of winning the title. Indeed, they are expected to struggle for survival.

The favourites are last season’s champions, Zurich’s ZSC Lions, and the team they beat in the play-off finals, Lugano. Two other teams, Zug and Berne, are seen as having a chance of winning the title.

If Zurich become champions again, they will be the first team since Kloten in the early 1990s to win the title in consecutive campaigns.

Zurich and Lugano, which have unofficial budgets of over Fr10 million ($5.6 million), have been adding to their squads over the summer months. Zurich have secured the services of the NHL player, Mark Streit, while Lugano have signed on Flavien Conne and Jan Cadieux.

Berne and Zug have also added foreigners to their ranks in a bid to stay among the likely leaders.

National team coach, Ralph Krueger, estimates that 90 per cent of the Swiss team’s players come from the top four clubs, and that the quality of the coming season’s play is likely to be better than in 1999.

A lot of clubs have been hit by senior players either returning overseas or trying their luck elsewhere. The loss of several key players has hit Ambri who were seen as having a chance of making the semi-final play-offs.

Davos are another club hit by defections. Reto von Arx (Chicago Blackhawks) and Timo Helbling (Nashville Predators) were among the latest to seek their fortunes elsewhere.

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SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR

SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR