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Martin Steinegger takes over from Matikainen

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Martin Steinegger takes over from Matikainen

The EHC Biel resorts to the tried and tested method in the crisis: the sports director is supposed to get the team back on track. But the shadow of the popular former coach Antti Törmänen is still present.

Coach Petri Matikainen failed with his methods at EHC Biel.

Peter Klaunzer / Keystone

The end of Petri Matikainen as head coach of EHC Biel did not come as a surprise, at best it came surprisingly late. Practically from the first face-off of the season, Biel had difficulties that the club had never seen before. An almost scary series of injuries, the additional strain on players and staff caused by the Champions Hockey League and, probably more important than all of that, the new face on the boards, the new tone in the dressing room: all of this threw the well-rehearsed team off track.

The 57-year-old Petri Matikainen is, in a sense, the opposite of what his popular predecessor Antti Törmänen stood for and still stands for. The two just share the same nationality. The Finn Matikainen is loud, demanding, sometimes almost aggressive. In his home country, he once appeared in the dressing room with a chainsaw to make his players understand the seriousness of the situation.

Matikainen lacks empathy and tact

Matikainen is a former police officer. He lacks empathy and tact; Characteristics that have made Törmänen a kind of super-figure in Biel. The leadership around managing director Daniel Villard and sports director Martin Steinegger did everything they could to support Matikainen and his assistant Juha Vuori and make the task easier. Last summer, Törmänen was even asked to stay away from the team and no longer be near the dressing room.

It was also a very difficult personal situation for the person suffering from cancer again. Törmänen told the NZZ in the summer that withdrawing from the team and handing over the team that he had built together with Steinegger and led to the seventh game of the play-off final to someone else was one of the most difficult decisions ever have faced him so far in his career.

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Törmänen continues to live in the Biel region with his wife and younger son. But a return to the gang was not, at least immediately, up for discussion. He continues to recover from chemotherapy after his second bout with gallbladder cancer. The blood values ​​are not as they should be.

That’s why Martin Steinegger takes over for the final spurt of the season. He is assisted by the Swede Anders Olsson, who worked as an assistant coach at EHC Biel from 2017 to 2021 and was most recently the head coach of Martigny in the Swiss League. His success in Valais was manageable. Martigny missed the play-offs under Olsson.

But he was also chosen because he already knows the team and Martin Steinegger. This is not the first time that the former top defender has stepped in on the boards. He last did this in the last play-offs, when Törmänen had to undergo chemotherapy again.

The decision for Steinegger to climb down from the stands to the boards again was made relatively quickly on Saturday on the journey home from the away game in Rapperswil-Jona. The Biel team lost 5-0 there. On the club website there was talk of a “shameful performance”. Villard says: “The performance is definitely one of the top 5 weakest performances I can remember during my time as managing director.”

The Biel team had previously lost 2:4 against HC Ajoie and thus broken their own upward trend again. In the remaining three rounds, the Bielers will play at home against Davos (Thursday) and Lugano (Saturday) as well as the qualifying final in Geneva on Monday. Previously, the club seemed to have found its stride again and had moved closer to the top six positions, which will be rewarded with direct play-off qualification. The Bielers have now fallen back to 11th place and are even in danger of missing the pre-play-offs, even if the SCL Tigers’ lead is only one point.

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The slap in Rapperswil-Jona was too much for the club, which had recently been so patient. Stéphanie Mérillat, the co-president of EHC Biel, is quoted in the media release as saying that the club had no choice but to take this step: “In particular, the way the last games played left little confidence that we could “We can achieve the minimum goal of qualifying for the play-in round without any changes in the coaching staff.”

Mérillat says the season was challenging from the start. Törmänen’s shadow is still present at the club. In addition, the many expiring contracts caused unrest in the team and the environment. It was already announced in the fall that four players from the extended circle of the national team, the goalkeeper Joren van Pottelberghe (to Lugano), the defender Yannick Rathgeb (Fribourg-Gottéron) and the strikers Tino Kessler (Davos) and Mike Künzle (Zug). will leave the club at the end of the season. Beat Forster is ending his career and will be assistant coach in Biel next season. In addition, up to nine strikers were temporarily missing due to injuries.

“All of this did not go unnoticed on the performance on the ice,” says Daniel Villard. That’s why the clocks in Biel are at five to twelve. The euphoria of last season has ebbed. Economically, EHC Biel is still in a safe area. But even among the loyal supporters, dissatisfaction with performances like those in Pruntrut or, most recently, in Rapperswil-Jona is increasing. After difficult years, the club and its surroundings have gotten used to success again. The first championship title since 1983 seemed within reach. Instead, EHC Biel currently has to worry about qualifying for the play-offs.

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Steinegger is a proven crisis manager – but when is one time too much?

That’s why it’s now said again: “Martin Steinegger, please take over.” The once edgy defender has already proven himself several times as a crisis manager in Biel. When he stepped in after Mike McNamara was fired until Törmänen was signed in the fall of 2017, the team won three of four games under him. Last spring, Steinegger and Törmänen led the club to the seventh game of the play-off final against Geneva/Servette.

But how often can this story be repeated? When might it be one time too much? Villard says: “We discussed that too. Nobody wants Martin Steinegger’s image to be damaged. We still need him as sports director.” But Biel needed a quick and pragmatic solution. Martin Steinegger and his team don’t have much time.

The sports director himself doesn’t waste too much thought on the possible failure. Nothing is without risk, he says. «I like situations like this. I would have been more hesitant if I had taken over the team in the middle of the season. But there was no reason to part ways with our coaching team prematurely. We were on track for a long time. The slump in the last few games caught me completely unprepared.” He was probably not alone in that.

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