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Geneva/Servette with a power play double to win the title

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Geneva/Servette with a power play double to win the title

Thanks to a strong first third, Geneva beat Skelleftea from Sweden 3-2. It is the culmination of a targeted structure.

Geneva/Servette and its Les Vernets Hall are once again a force in international ice hockey.

Salvatore Di Nolfi / Keystone

2009 has become an important milestone in the history of Swiss ice hockey. It was the year when the ZSC Lions won the Champions Hockey League in the final against the Russian team Metallurg Magnitogorsk. The Zurich team celebrated their triumph in a home game that took place in Rapperswil-Jona. The final qualification came as such a surprise that the Hallenstadion, the Lions’ home stadium at the time, was occupied and not available at short notice.

On Tuesday evening, Geneva/Servette did the same as Zurich. With a victory over the Swedish team from Skelleftea, the Geneva team were crowned European champions. Their qualification for this year’s final was almost as surprising as that of Zurich fifteen years ago. It was the first time since the competition was relaunched in 2014 that a Swiss team qualified for the final. HC Davos and Fribourg-Gottéron had reached the semi-finals twice and were defeated by Frölunda Göteborg. Otherwise, the Swiss representatives regularly left early.

The winning teams have always come from either Sweden (5 times) or Finland (2 times). The Russian teams from the Continental Hockey League no longer took part in the competition before the outbreak of the war in Ukraine. The prize money of a total of $2.5 million is not lucrative enough. The winner receives a check for $240,000. You can’t generate much more than the ominous black zero. If Servette had not reached the final, participation would have been a loss for the French-speaking Swiss due to the high travel costs.

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Participation is more important than the money

In the Champions Hockey League, participating is actually even more important than winning, at least in terms of economic success. In order to increase the sporting value of the competition, the league reduced the field of participants this season from 44 to 24 teams and implemented a new mode. The organizers hoped that this would attract a little more attention and prestige.

Until a year ago, Geneva was not one of the top addresses in Swiss ice hockey. Last year the club won its first league title in its 118th year of existence. This triggered a real ice hockey euphoria in the most international city in Switzerland. The usually distant Geneva audience followed suit. The 7,235 seats for the final game were sold out in minutes. Les Vernets, Geneva’s aging home stadium, has once again become a place where people like to show off.

The Canadian Chris McSorley put Geneva/Servette back on the national map of top ice hockey at the beginning of the 2000s with the help of the American Anschutz Entertainment Group. Servette reached the final three times under McSorley, but always lost. The club only achieved its real breakthrough after the foundation of Rolex founder Hans Wilsdorf got involved, which generously supported Geneva sports and invested a lot of money in expensive foreigners such as the Finnish Olympic champions and world champions Sami Vatanen, Valtteri Filppula and Teemu Hartikainen.

Two hits with the same exclusion

Under the new leadership, Servette developed step by step from an outsider to a top club in Swiss ice hockey. In the national championship, Geneva/Servette has not yet really found its stride this winter. Before the last six qualifying games, Geneva are only in 8th place and are still fighting for direct play-off qualification.

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Internationally, however, the team coached by Jan Cadieux usually shows a different face. Servette also started the match powerfully in the final against the Swedish top team Skelleftea. Geneva took the lead in the sixth minute through Eliot Berthon. But Servette laid the foundation for the success that is writing Swiss ice hockey history shortly before the end of the starting third, thanks in part to a special feature of the competition. Unlike in all other competitions, in the Champions Hockey League a penalty does not expire automatically after a goal is conceded, but continues. Sakari Manninen and Daniel Winnik took advantage of the same two-minute exclusion from Swede Oscar Lindberg to score twice within 57 seconds.

As the game continued, the Swedes got into the game better. They were forced to take the initiative. But the people of Geneva defended themselves cleverly and passionately. The fact that they held the lead until the end is the culmination of the twenty-year-long build-up.

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