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Lions snatch title in overtime

Overtime goal scorer Morgan Sameulsson (right) celebrates with his Zurich team-mates Keystone

The Zurich Lions have retained their Swiss ice hockey title in dramatic fashion, winning the deciding match in their series against Lugano with a goal in overtime.

“That’s what hockey’s all about,” delighted Zurich coach Larry Huras told swissinfo after seeing his side come from a goal down to break Lugano hearts for the second year in succession. “They’re going to make a movie about this in 50 years – ‘Remember the Lions!'”

Zurich’s performance throughout the finals has certainly had a make-believe feel to it. Trailing 3-1 in the best-of-seven series after losing 4-0 at home seven days ago, Huras’s men staged the biggest comeback in playoff final history, winning their next two matches to set up Saturday’s seventh and deciding encounter.

That too was to offer a Hollywood-style finale. After falling behind in the seventh minute to a Christian Dubé goal, the Lions only got themselves back on level terms with 11 minutes of regular time remaining, when Michel Zeiter fired in a powerplay pass from Swedish forward Morgan Samuelsson.

As the drama moved into its final scene, it was Samuelsson who would emerge as the obligatory screen hero. Upset at his lack of first team action, the Swede had recently asked to be released by Zurich, only to be recalled to the side for two match-winning performances in mid-week.

On Saturday, with the deciding match 11 minutes into sudden death overtime, Samuelsson pounced on a Zeiter pass to slip the puck past a helpless Christobal Huet in the Lugano goal and complete the fairy tale.

“It’s been very difficult for Morgan,” Huras told swissinfo. “He was almost going to go, but I told him to stick around, because we’d need him for the playoffs. When the chance came, he ran with it and that’s the mark of a great player.

“I’m sure he wanted to show me too that I’d made a bad choice in leaving him out in the first place,” Huras conceded. “Maybe he shot that puck in anger, but if he was angry at me, that’s okay. He’s a champion today.”

For Lugano it was the second time in 12 months that their championship dreams had been cruelly snatched away by Zurich. In last season’s finals the Lions, under former coach Kent Ruhnke, scored the winning goal with just 10 seconds remaining in the sixth match.

But even by Zurich’s own standards, this year’s turnaround beggared belief. A week after that 4-0 humiliation in their own stadium, the Lions have now become the first team in Swiss playoff history to come back from a a two-game deficit.

The only villains in Saturday’s epic drama were the dozens of Lugano supporters who marred Zurich’s post-match celebrations by hurling fireworks and objects onto the playing area. The planned trophy ceremony had to be hastily cancelled as the Lions left the ice under fire from umbrellas, buckets and even chairs.

A handful of rival fans then fought with each other on and around the rink, providing a disgraceful end to an otherwise spectacular night.

by Mark Ledsom, Lugano

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SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR

SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR