On the 23rd September 2017 the new ball hockey season in Switzerland started with nine teams. For the last two years, the highest Swiss division counted but seven teams. When Switzerland changed in 2015 from the old 4 vs 4 system without offside to 5 vs 5 with offside not all teams playing in the national league A had a rink big enough for the new style of playing. Other teams felt unfit for the challenge and decided to play in the national league B. Now, two years later things have changed for the better. New rinks were built, often with the support of the local community or town. Clubs have being restructured to get ready for the 5 vs 5 version. The National League A will reach its target size of ten teams most likely in one year’s time.
But let’s have a closer look on the championship that kicked off just a few weeks ago. The difference between the teams in the top league is huge. The best Swiss teams are not much weaker than the best Czech or the best Slovak teams. But there are not that many top teams. The weaker teams in the National League A would probably have problems to make the second division in Czech Republic or in Slovakia.
The Oberwil Rebells, Switzerland’s best team
The most successful team in Switzerland are the Oberwil Rebells. The team from the host city of the 2015 World Championship has won eleven of the last twelve championships. The club has an excellent junior program and some of the best ball hockey players of the world have played for the Rebells or play for them. This season, top Czech players Tomáš Kudela and Adam Roušal are wearing the colours of the reigning Swiss champion. More or less all Swiss players do play or played for the national team or belong to either the current U18 or U20. Even though the distance between the Rebells and the other top teams shortened over the years, whoever wants to win the Swiss championship has to beat the Rebells.
Oberwil started strong into the new season, winning against Bettlach and at La Chaux-de-Fonds. Then the Rebells lost their next game at home vs Grenchen before celebrating the third win at Wettswil.
Three teams with the potential to overcome the Rebells
Three more teams have the potential to win this year’s championship: SHC Grenchen-Limpachtal, Sierre Lions and SHC Belpa 1107. These three teams have been the main opponents of the Rebells for many years now. All of them can rely on two foreign players and on top Swiss players. Czech national team player Michal Slanec plays for Grenchen, Slovak world champion Matúš Lipták for Sierre and former Czech national team player Lukáš Hudeček for Belp. All three teams are able to beat the Rebells on a good day and have proven this in the last years. But are they able to win a playoff series against them? We will see next spring…
The Lions lost the opening game in Belp. Then they won their next four games including a huge 9 to 3 on their home rink vs Grenchen. They are the current leader of the Swiss national league.
Grenchen started with a win at Bettlach, lost its home game vs Belp and won again in Martigny. This victory was followed by the above-mentioned defeat in Sierre. However, the Whales rehabilitated themselves in their next game in Zug vs the Rebells.
Belp is the only unbeaten team in the current season. The scorpions won the opening game vs the Lions and turned the away game vs Grenchen in the last minutes. In the third game, they needed quite some luck to win at La Chaux-de-Fonds.
Three interesting teams: Two newcomers and an old one with a new coach
The SHC Martigny and the SHC La Chaux-de-Fonds are back in the National League A. The SHC Martigny has signed Slovak world champion Lukáš Maděra and Czech player Jakub Kolařík. Together we some experienced Swiss players and some motivated young players, Martigny has the potential to become a serious opponent for everybody, though the team will most likely need some time to adapt to the 5 vs 5.
The same thing can be said for the SHC La Chaux-de-Fonds. The team from the canton of Neuchâtel has invested a lot into the junior program in the last years. It relies on its own players. While playing in the second division, the club tried to stay fit for the National League A. They did this by flying to the UK once a year to play vs team Great Britain. And they did very well there. A 5 to 1 win vs Bonstetten-Wettswil in the first game shows that La Chaux-de-Fonds is on the right path. A third team that can be dangerous for every team – with the probable exception of the Rebells – is SHC Bettlach. In the last years they were somehow struck in the limbo between the four top teams and the two other teams. With a new coaching team the SHC Bettlach tries to shorten the distance to the top. Even though the first game at Zug was not exactly successful, one should not write them off too early.
The Bees from La Chaux-de-Fonds are at 2:2. They won at Martigny and Wettswil and lost at home vs the Rebells and vs Belp.
Martigny has just three games. They won vs Kernenried and lost against the bees and the Whales.
Bettlach had a tough opening program with the Whales, the Rebells and the Lions. They only won their fourth game vs Kernenried.
Two teams under reconstruction
When a team is successful over some time, it happens that the key players are getting older and older and there is no replacement. The SHC Bonstetten-Wettswil is such a team. Once one of the best teams behind the Rebells, the change of generations did not happen in time. When the top players retired, the team dropped to the bottom of the league. Bonstetten has a good youth program and is working on the way back into the top teams. This will most likely not happen this year, but nobody should take the team of the Zurich province too easy.
Kernenried is a tiny village in the province of Berne, but the Kernenried Bulldozers have one of the best junior programs in Switzerland. However, until now the club was not able to transfer the success from youth level to the men’s level. One aspect of the problem is the relatively high density of top clubs in the region, so top youth players tend to change to one of these clubs when getting adult. The Bulldozers play at the bottom of the National League A and it is not very likely that this will change this season.
As it was in the past, those two teams were so far not able to win points against the other seven teams. So Bonstetten-Wettswil lost all games so far including the encounter vs the Bulldozers. Therefore, after four games each, Kernenried totalises three points while Bonstetten is still waiting for its first one.
More information on Swiss Ball Hockey
www.swiss-streethockey.ch Klick on “Meisterschaft” and find the leagues, games and stats. At game days there are live tickers. National league A games normally start on Saturdays and Sundays at 2pm CET.
Myths and Facts about Swiss Ball Hockey
Switzerland has a semi-pro league. False, but… Switzerland has an amateur league. Nobody is paid to play. Nevertheless, the situation for North American players is somewhat special. Contrary to players from EU-countries, North Americans are not allowed to work in Switzerland without visa, neither are they allowed to stay longer than 90 days in the country. So if a North American player comes to Switzerland, he does so as a tourist. He normally gets his flight and his accommodation paid, plus some pocket money. The things are slightly different if such a player comes as a student or if he has beside his North American citizenship a European one.
Switzerland attracts many foreign top players. True. Citizens from European countries are allowed to come to Switzerland and work. So if a Czech or Slovak top player wants to come to Switzerland the Swiss team will normally help him to find a job and accommodation. Additionally such a player may get some financial support for the first weeks.
Switzerland allows only two foreign players per team. Partly true. You may have as many licensed foreigners in your team as you like. But you can only dress two for a single game. However, not every person not being a Swiss citizen counts as a foreign player. All players who started organised ball hockey in Switzerland are regarded to be Swiss. Just foreign players that had their first license or their first registration in another country are regarded as foreign players. Such a player will become ball hockey Swiss, if he plays five seasons in a row exclusively in the Swiss league; though exhibition and tournament games for non-Swiss teams are allowed. If such a player plays at a WC for Switzerland the waiting time is reduced to three years. For this reason e.g. Sierre’s Mario Paulík no longer counts as foreign player but as Swiss. A hand full of North American player became Swiss over the years, because of a gap in the past regulations. Basically the former rules did not take into account the fact that there is no system of licensing similar to the Swiss one in North America. The gap has been closed, but the following North American players count now as Swiss: Brant Cook, Andrew Hildreth, Kevin Marchuk, Tyler McFadden, Sandro Morello and Jim Nistas.
The Swiss league is bilingual. True. Three out of the nine teams in the national league A come from the French speaking part of Switzerland. This makes the Swiss league the only officially bilingual league of a Level IV ISBHF member.
In Switzerland, ball hockey is played in smaller towns and villages. True. While the biggest city in Switzerland is Zurich with 400,000 inhabitants, the biggest Swiss city with a national league A team is La Chaux-de-Fonds with 40,000 inhabitants. Zug, home of the Rebells, has 29,000, Martigny 17,500, Sierre and Grenchen 16,500 each and Belp 11,500. The two villages of Bonstetten and Wettswil totalise 10,500 inhabitants, Bettlach 5000 and the tiny village Kernenried 530.
Swiss Ball Hockey Federation