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Rule the Roost

The playoffs are the most beautiful time of the hockey-year because it seems like nobody keeps calm and composed anymore. All actors (players, coaches, staff, fans and media-guys) seem to be on “cocaine” and act like volcanoes. They forget about respectful behaviour and – of course – know all the time why this team lost and that team won. Heroes and scapegoats everywhere (players, coaches, refs, judges, federation-staff, you name it).

By Thomas Roost

Remembering the quarterfinals in the Swiss playoffs, I noticed that in game 1 Geneva was noticeably better than Zug but lost in the end. Lausanne completely dominated Davos in the early going but in both series the clearly weaker team in the very beginning eventually won the series with a sweep. Bern was slightly better than Biel, Zurich lost to Lugano although they played a bit better than Lugano. A lot of rah, rah, rah in terms of referees, judges and with Philippe Furrer even a player raised his voice and complained about weird decisions on and off the ice. Entertainment-level 10 out of 10. Level of composed analysing with a cool head and a warm heart: 1 out of 10.

Here’s a small recap of what I read and heard:

Zug, the team that was called too soft with a weak and too friendly, emotionless, conservative coach hired some big, physical players and won the quarterfinal vs Geneva and this although some people thought this series will be a bye…for…Geneva. So, this weak coach with a “bye-team” just managed a sweep vs Geneva. The coach now gets some praise because of his composed style, calm and relaxed behaviour and because he always has his emotions under control…;-) The no-emotion coach was the hero because he stayed calm, composed and relaxed, also in the hottest game-situations.

Zurich, the team that was called too soft, also hired some bigger and more physical players, very similar to Zug, and completely failed in the playoffs. They also have a composed and no-emotions-head coach but in this case he got criticized for not shouting, not showing emotions, for not kicking the a.. of his players, you name it. The no-emotion coach was a scapegoat because he didn’t shout enough.

The majority opinion was that Geneva is a typical playoff-team with a typical playoff-coach: Strong, physical, sneaky and a coach who knows all the clean and not so clean tricks to win games and series. A coach who always inspires his players with his highly emotional behaviour on the bench. But now…after losing…he is also a scapegoat. “He lost control and this also influenced the behaviour of the players”. “His choleric way of coaching destroyed the cool heads of the players” and “this hot temper is counter-productive in the relation with the refs…”

Lugano was always heavily criticized for just recruiting high-maintenance star-players without warrior-mentality and routinely firing coaches. However, now they got praised exactly for this…“they bravely blocked much more shots than Zurich”, “Greg Ireland outcoached Hans Wallson”. By the way: It’s always the weaker team who blocks more shots. If you always have the puck you can’t block shots, you don’t need to block shots…

In Davos there is now euphoria everywhere and this so much so that even bad players get praised with the support of some sort of weird stats. It seems that if you win, everything, really everything, is just fine and if you lose everything is bad and this atmosphere is sometimes even pushed from people I usually respect as really bright brains. In the playoff-emotions even the smartest guys seem to lose their cool heads…but – of course – nothing is better than this in terms of media-entertainment.

The coaching-god in Lausanne (please don’t get me wrong, I really like him!) with the best power-play all of a sudden has to explain why they allowed a sweep and the winners of course know exactly why they won: They worked harder, they wanted the victory more, they showed more character and tons of word bubbles like this… And in all comments we will always find the most fashionable word-creation “Leistungskultur”. I can’t really translate it into English, I guess something like “performance-culture”... Means a team, a coach has to bring a Leistungskultur into a club. Well…100 out of 100 coaches will declare and honestly believe that they do exactly this. Of course with different explanations as to what they mean with a “Leistungskultur”… The loser – of course – didn’t have a “Leistungskultur” but the winner of course had… Life seems to be sooooo easy sometimes …;-)

Zurich, Lausanne and Geneva were lacking leaders. Hmmm…Zurich probably has one of the best leaders you can imagine: Mathias Seger. But – of course – he couldn’t play his role anymore now because he carried too many problems with himself… And in Bern, Lugano and Davos we immediately declare “grey-mice” players as successful, quiet leaders. Of course only “experts” notice their leadership-qualities…;-) They are mostly players we have difficulties describing because they usually hide their performance a bit or are simply…yes, you’re right…not very good players ;-)

So, of course, all wins and all defeats have a certain logic. Everybody always seems to know exactly why these teams won and that team lost. Just strangely enough, these “logics” get always presented after the games and never before… In a way it’s very funny: Some of the players, coaches, sporting-directors and also some of the media-people and of course tons of fans want to make us believe that a completely unclear world is very clear, year after year. That’s why not successful playoff-teams will change their coach from a soft, so called “player-developer” to a “my way or high-way shouting hardliner” or the other way round. I would bet some money that the Lions’ next coach will be in the mold of a Kevin Schläpfer type of coach and after this a NHL-coach again, followed by a soft spoken Scandinavian guy… In Geneva it’s now time for a soft spoken gentleman and in Zug they know now that it was the right decision to fire Harold Kreis after two disappointing seasons and replace him with an outgoing, wildly acting bench-coach… Oh sorry, I might have mixed up something, I guess Zug didn’t change their coach after two disappointing series…but please quickly forget about this, this doesn’t fit into our simple world of “hockey-wisdoms”… ;-)

So, I now did a little bit of bashing with winking-eye comments of players, coaches, sporting-directors, fans and media-guys. This would be unfair if I didn’t give my readers the chance to bash me, too. That’s why I present you my opinion about all these quarterfinal-results but if you look for simple explanations then please stop reading here – there won’t be any.

My opinion (my opinion is based on 45 years of experience as a hockey-observer, 20 years of experience as a hockey-scout and on reading a lot about hockey and discussing hockey with people I learn from a lot):

Bern deserved the win vs Biel. They were slightly better but the 4-1 series-outcome is a too clear result. Following the games, a 4-2 or 4-3 series win for Bern would have been the more logical outcome. Some unlucky plays and one unlucky call influenced the results in favour of the favourite. Bern played solid but to be honest I’m not really excited yet with Bern at this point. I have the feeling that Bern was in the regular-season and now also in the quarterfinal a bit overrated. But of course, they still remain one of the contenders, they have solid goaltending and a solid defense plus probably the best import-player-package in the league. Bern won the series because of 50% having the better team and 50% puck-luck.

In the series ZSC vs Lugano, Zurich had the slight edge; they were a bit better than Lugano and should have won this series. Compared to last year, Zurich suffered a significant loss of skills. Ok, you can’t blame anybody for not being able to replace Auston Matthews, but the too easy goodbye of Cunti was an unnecessary risk. However, if the key-players stay healthy, they still had a good, skilled team. But then happened exactly what was not allowed to happen: Robert Nilsson got injured… So Zurich was without Matthews, Cunti and Nilsson and they did lose tons of skills. Yes, the trivial rhetoric started to come in now: “Other players have to step up”, “in the playoffs you don’t need fancy players like Cunti or Nilsson, we need warriors and we have them with Baltisberger, Schaeppi, Marti, Kenins, Sjögren, Geering and the experienced Seger and many more”. In addition, Zurich made the huge mistake not to hire a 5th import-player. I really believe this was a big and not easily explainable mistake. So Zurich made mistakes but was still slightly better but the lacking puck-luck ended their season too early. Lugano didn’t impress me too much except Merzlikins. He played a pretty poor regular-season but was besides Zug’s McIntyre the star-player of the quarterfinals.

In the Zug-Series, Geneva would have deserved the win in the first game but completely faltered after that. Zug was very unlucky in the series vs Lugano last year early on and now exactly the opposite was the case…and if Saul Miller makes them mistakenly ;-) believe that this first win was not because of luck but because of their mental strength – they will now ride on a very positive momentum-wave. I really like McIntyre and I just love Martschini plus it was clear that the return of Diaz will push them further ahead. He was probably the most important transfer in the league this season. Zug has a very good team and good coaches.

I was surprised that Davos swept Lausanne, I expected a tighter series. That Davos will win in the end has a certain logic, they simply have the better players than Lausanne. Davos has the best Swiss players on the roster of all teams besides the ZSC Lions if Nilsson is not injured. In addition, they have at least average goaltending, which you need to be successful. They play a simple, attractive, clear style of hockey, which brings them on a very high wave in positive momentums but makes them vulnerable in negative momentums because they usually can’t adapt their style. Right now, they are riding on a positive wave and this makes them very dangerous. But there is also criticism: Besides Lindgren they just have an average import-player-package at best. What about Lausanne? There were so many explainable reasons why Lausanne was that good. Ok, maybe they just looked explainable at first sight because in the playoffs most of these reasons seemed to have just disappeared. This is hockey, this is the not so clear world! But yes, don’t overrate playoff-analyses. A smart analysis covers the whole season, so don’t worry about Lausanne.

What will come in the semifinals nobody knows. The puck-luck-factor is too big to ignore. In games between these four teams, who play on a similar level, it even becomes again more important. So, I come to my very “brave” prediction: The luckiest team of the trio Zug, Bern and Davos will be champion. Lugano is slightly behind in my eyes and needs even more luck to win.

To explain my “wisdom” in small words: Players, coaches and sporting-directors are not being paid and judged according to their performance. They are being judged because of their success. And success in life is performance plus luck. In a hockey league I would guess it’s 30% performance and 70% luck, at least for teams with similar budgets. I know that 95% of the readers don’t agree with it, they still might think that the world is clear and we can control it…but it’s not…

One final sentence to the referees and judges: They often have to take decisions in unclear situations where it’s actually impossible to decide…but they have to…plus: Forget about the claim of justice, justice is a word bubble that no one can really match. So please be nice to our refs and judges, appreciate and respect their job.

So, time to bash me, my helmet is on :-)

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About the Blog

Rule the Roost

Thomas Roost, CHRO and Executive Board member in a intl. tourist company, NHL-scout for Central Scouting Europe since 1995, scout for SC Bern from 2007-2010 and EHC Biel since 2010.

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