February 24, 2024

Will they storm to a tenth championship title with their amazing goalscorer?

ZSC board members Walter Frey and Rolf Dürig, two political SVPs, would prefer to join the Labor Party rather than lose the Lions direct qualification to the play-offs. It paid off for them that the coach once snowboarded in Canada with eleven-year-olds.

Canadian Derek Grant found his attacking flair again in Zurich.

Christian Merz/Keystone

Mark Crawford’s coaching career began 35 years ago, and the Canadian had experienced too much to allow journalists to lure him out of his reserve with cheap tricks. But you can try it.

The ZSC Lions needed just twelve minutes on Saturday night to secure their fifth straight win. The 4-2 win over suddenly fallen champion Geneve Servette was so secure that one could wonder if the old champion wasn’t competing with the new one. But this thought game made ZSC coach Crawford smile mildly. He replied that it was not advisable to look so far ahead, as life had taught him that.

However: There is plenty to suggest that ZSC will be able to celebrate its 10th championship title in the spring; It is not only the generous budget that is the envy of the competing Zurich organisation. First and foremost, Crawford has a team at his disposal that knows no weakness. There are good reasons for this; Perhaps most importantly, the depth of squad that ZSC currently has is perhaps unparalleled in the nearly 40-year history of the playoff era.

On Saturday, National League veterans Simon Bodenmann, Chris Baltisberger and Phil Baltisberger sat in the stands. They are players that coaches from Kloten or Agwe will take from the Swiss Life Arena for a ride on their backs with tears of gratitude in their eyes for being used with them.

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It should also be taken into account that ZSC has already handed over three players to other clubs: Jerome Bachofner (Biel), Ken Suba (Agui) and Enzo Gibbi (Davos). Surprisingly, there are still a number of players in the GCK Lions farm team who have National League form and who could play for the national team in the future, such as center Joel Henry, for example. “Competition is a tough sell because everyone wants to play,” says Mark Crawford. “But that’s a good thing, it increases the intensity of the game.”

The Lions have so much firepower that Coach Crawford can regulate playing times

ZSC’s attacking balance has also been impressive in the first half of the season: with Derek Grant, Juho Lamiko, Denis Malgin, Jesper Froden and Den Kukan, five players have already produced twenty or more scoring points. This is an isolated peak; in Kloten and Rapperswil-Jona, for example, no one has reached this plateau yet. Crawford has so much firepower across the four lines that he can orchestrate playing time. This will pay off if the more important powers are not hopelessly outmatched in the playoffs.

Grant, who won Saturday’s game with two goals, is one of the positive surprises of this season. The 33-year-old, who has played 446 games in the NHL, is 191 cm tall and weighs 95 kg. Such guarded crowds have been a feature of ice hockey for a long time, but the game has become so fast that the big giants are finding it increasingly difficult. But surprisingly, Grant is ZSC’s top scorer. If this surprises no one, it’s Crawford.

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Because Crawford and Grant have known each other for more than twenty years. Grant grew up in Langley, Canada, and played on the same team as Crawford’s son, Dylan. Crawford, then the head coach of the Vancouver Canucks, regularly attended their games and sometimes helped with coaching. This must have been a big deal for a group of 11-year-olds: skating with Stanley Cup winner Crawford. Last summer, Crawford had his son, now a video coach for the Canucks, ask his old friend Derek if he could imagine moving to Zurich.

Standing in front of the ZSC locker room, covered in sweat, Derek Grant says: “I knew my time in the NHL was coming to an end. July came and there were no shows. ZSC has such a good reputation that it was easy for me “Accept it.”

The hangover from a bad play-off in Biel and Geneva

In the NHL, Grant was disruptive and specialized in playing in the box. At ZSC he found his attacking talent again: he scored 11 goals and provided 11 assists in 26 matches. Crawford says his former student’s value goes beyond statistics. “I can evaluate his character well. Derek is a leader who leads the way and can be put in any situation, even in the final minutes of a close game. He’s very valuable to us.” In fact, Grant only has room for improvement in one part of the stats: faceoffs. A center with his resume should have a better success rate than a dismal 46 percent.

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He complains at a high level – but that’s how it is at ZSC these days: he can devote himself to taking care of the details. The difference over seventh place is already more than fifteen points. ZSC Board Members Walter Frey and Rolf Durigtwo SVP politicians, join the Labor Party rather than lose to the Lions in the direct qualifiers.

Crawford still warns against being too careless: “We shouldn’t stop, the league is too balanced. Just look at Geneva or Biel.” The spring play-off finalists are suffering ill effects and are sitting in 10th and 11th place. Both teams are struggling with personal problems, and it doesn’t appear that Servette has been able to cope with the departure of performers Linus Omark and Henrik Tomernes.One long-time Geneva observer says underdog star striker Teemu Hartikainen looks like a fish on land without his chemistry partner Omark.

These are the fears Mark Crawford doesn’t know: Anyone running behind his form at ZSC takes a seat in the stands. This is how a healthy performance culture works.

ZSC coach Mark Crawford.

ZSC coach Mark Crawford.

Christian Merz/Keystone