Perhaps it was the experience gathered while guiding the National Hockey League’s Coloardo Avalance to the coveted Stanley Cup title a little over a decade earlier. But SC ZURICH losing its first seven Swiss National League A contests at home to start this 2011/12 season never did get imported trainer BOB HARTLEY down. Neither did finishing an unimpressive seventh in the regular season standings nor even even falling behind to SC Bern 3-1 in the best-of-seven playoff final.
A decisive Game Seven to be played on the road at the imposing PostFinance Arena in Bern? No problem. Apparently, in retrospect, nothing would be allowed to rattle the unflappable Hartley and prevent the 51-year-old Canadian from adding a third championship title to an already-distinguished coaching resume.
Hartley had been out of hockey since being released by the Atlanta Thrashers shortly into the 2007/08 NHL campaign and had been employed as an analyst for French-Canadian television channel Reseau des Sports when the call came in from Switzerland last spring. SC Zurich had recently let go of Swedish trainer BENGT-AKE GUSTAFSSON, the former NHL center for the Wasington Capitals who had steered Tre Kronor to the Olympic gold medal in 2006, after only just one term. A seventh place finish in the regular season coupled with a first round exit from the playoffs was not acceptable so far as ZSC Lions management was concerned.
A touch of class from the ‘rookie’ Canadian trainer in Switzerland, then, as the long-serving Finnish netminder ARI SULANDER skates out to replace SC Zurich starting goaltender LUKAS FLUEELER (30) in the very last minute of Game Six at the Hallenstadion during the dramatic National League A final playoff series. It had been, of course, the 43-year-old veteran who backstopped the ZSC Lions to three national titles (in 2000, 2001 and 2008) previously. Although named the Best Goaltender at the 1998 IIHF World Championships hosted by Switzerland, Sulander will be, perhaps, best remembered for his work when Finland defeated Wayne Gretzky and Canada in the Bronze Medal Match at the 1998 Winter Olympic Games in Sapporo, Japan.
Hartley, who claimed his first professional championship piloting the Hershey Bears to the 1998 American Hockey League’s Calder Cup title, had two players follow him across the Atlantic Ocean to sign with SC Zurich last summer. Swizerland national team veteran defenseman SEVERIN BLINDENBACHER was returning home after a season skating in the AHL for the Texas Stars. JEFF TAMBELLINI, the one-time Los Angeles Kings’ first round pick from the University of Michigan, had just departed the 2011 Stanley Cup runners-up Vancouver Canucks.
As has been hallmark of his teams throughout his career, Hartley installed a conservative, defense-first system upon arriving at SC Zurich. But not every move made by the native of Hawkesbury, Ontario, worked out exactly as planned. The attempt to recycle 39-year-old Swedish veteran MICHAEL NYLANDER, who notched a career-high 83 points for the New York Rangers during the 2006/07 NHL campaign, was abandoned just before Christmas after the two-time Olympian was injured following 15 National League A appearances (5 go, 5 as) for ZSC.
Hartley did, however, do very well with the signing of veteran NHL defenseman STEVE MCCARTHY to a try-out contract this past October. The defense corps had been surrendering too many goals and the team were struggling to win even a single game at home, so the first-year SC Zurich trainer turned to the former 1st round NHL Draft pick whom he had coached previously during his time in Atlanta. And McCarthy, for his part, more than certainly rewarded that faith at the end of the day.
SC Bern’s imported Canadian center BYRON RITCHIE, the 35-year-old veteran who contested 342 NHL games for the Carolina Hurricanes, Florida Panthers, Calgary Flames and Vancouver Canucks before originally signing in Switzerland with HC Servette Geneva in the summer of 2008, jostles with SC Zurich defenseman STEVE MCCARTHY (3), who twice earned bronze medals representing Canada at the annual IIHF World Junior Championships.