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Winter games start early for Swiss

Bern (in black) would like to take over the champion's mantle from Davos (yellow) Keystone

Switzerland's top ice hockey clubs are beginning their season on Friday with just one question on their minds - who will be Davos' successors?

This content was published on September 14, 2007 - 08:20

The 2007/2008 season promises more games, fewer foreign players, more fair play and the chance to qualify for ice hockey's future European "Champions' League".

This season, the 12 teams that make up the country's top division will play 50 matches before the playoffs, six more than last year. While providing more entertainment, the extra games are unlikely to bring about changes in the ice hockey hierarchy.

"In Switzerland, the richest clubs usually get richer," said player agent Gérald Métroz. "Extra games will favour the wealthiest clubs because they have more resources."

The possibility of choosing your opponent for the playoffs has been dropped and teams can now only select four foreign players per match.

These changes could herald even greater ones. Second division club Biel recently challenged the championship formula when it failed to get promoted up a division.

Biel claimed that a playoff between the worst first-division side and the top second-division club was against Switzerland's cartel legislation.

While it failed to make any legal headway, the move has prompted the Swiss Ice Hockey Association to discuss the championship formula next year.

Déjà vu?

Sportswise it could very well be a repeat of last season. Fribourg, Langnau, Ambri-Piotta and Basel will all be looking to avoid the relegation round and to retain their standings among the top flight clubs.

Geneva, Zug and Rapperswil are not tipped to make any waves and will probably finish in the middle ranks.

Davos, the 2006/2007 champions, look on the other hand to be in a strong position to retain their title, but can expect to be challenged by Lugano, Zurich, Kloten and especially Bern.

The transfer period was quiet for Swiss players, with the big teams opting to stick with their players from previous seasons. But Bern scored a coup when it hired Czech centre Patrik Stefan, whose previous employers were the Dallas Stars in the National Hockey League (NHL) in the United States.

The Bern team lost the previous final to Davos. This time round it wants to finish first in the league and win the title.

It needs to reach at least one of these goals if it wants to qualify for ice hockey's new Champions' League, which will begin during the 2008/2009 season.

Modelled along the lines of football's showcase club competition, it will be worth SFr1 million ($840,000) to the winner along with an invitation to face off against a NHL team in the Victoria Cup.

"If this competition is a success, Swiss clubs will want to be involved," Métroz told swissinfo. "But taking part will be expensive and will force teams to take on more players like the big football clubs so they can be competitive at home and abroad."

swissinfo, Mathias Froidevaux

The Swiss in the NHL

This season, eight Swiss will be taking part in the NHL, among them five goalies.

Forward Patrick Fischer and goalie David Aebischer will playing for the Phoenix Coyotes.

Defenceman Mark Streit (national team captain) will play again for the Montreal Canadiens, while Tim Ramholt will try to get a place on the Calgary Flames' roster.

Goalies Martin Gerber (Ottawa Senators), Jonas Hiller (Anaheim Mighty Ducks), Tobias Stephen (Dallas Stars) and Daniel Manzato (Carolina Hurricanes) all face uncertain futures with their clubs and will have to fight for time on the ice.

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