David Abischer congratulates Andrew Rowe for scoring a 2-1 goal against the ZSC Lions last Friday.Image: Keystone
The sad have definitely become respectable. The SCRJ Lakers confirmed last spring’s semi-final qualification in the current championship. How high will they go?
19.10.2021, 02:1119.10.2021, 13:42
The Lakers lost 1:5 at Langnau on April 9, 2015. This is the fourth consecutive defeat in league qualification. Zero Hour. The Lakers have been dropped for the first time in seven lean years in their history. Seven years have passed since then and the grieving people have been honored. Returning to the best teams in the country has its own logic.
Ice hockey in St. Gallen? There is nothing here. In the country, the Rapperswil-Zona Lakers are more – like Kloten – assigned to the provincial Zurich hockey culture.
The Lakers live in a “hockey Disneyland” slippery national media. Unlike many of their competitors, they are not driven from one error to another by impatient financiers, proud supporters, or controversial reporting, and continue to be underestimated. On and next to the ice.
The Lakers are not a team of big names. Goalkeeper Melvin Kneffler is the only Swiss player with World Cup experience. But seven players have contested one Junior World Cup in the last three years. The dynamism, tactical intelligence and playful substance of this team are still underestimated. Economic stability is also undermined. Nobody associates billionaires with the Lakers.
The only Swiss with World Cup experience: goalkeeper Melvin Knyfeller.Image: Keystone
But Hans-Uli Rihs, brother of YB owner Andy Rihs, who died in April 2018, has been a member of the board of directors for several years. The economic zone around Rapperswil-Zona, this “golden triangle” at the foothills of Zurich’s Golden Coast, at the interface of the cantons of Zurich, Schwyz and St. Gallen, is one of the richest regions in the world.
Hans-Uli Rihs has been on the Lakers’ board of directors for several years. Image: Keystone
But it wasn’t a patron’s money that made it possible for the Lakers to make a comeback. More important to this marvel of hockey in the “Golden Triangle” are patience and a full range of decisions, along with the calm and grit that enables financial stability. Also a little luck.
After relegation, the Lakers appoint longtime player Marcus Butler as managing director. He still is today and is considered the architect of the renovation work. After completing your doctoral studies, you don’t just spend a lot of money on retrofitting and upgrades. Rather, the team’s renewal and further development is successful while maintaining the black numbers. The two most important positions are being filled correctly. Goalkeeper Melvin Knyfeller comes from Goteron and Jeff Tomlinson takes over as coach. The Lakers failed twice in the NLB Finals. On the third attempt, they manage to rise again at the expense of Klotten.
In the summer of 2019, Janick Steinman will be at the head of the game. At this time, connoisseurs are sure that the next instructor will be Stefan Hedlund. Lo and behold: the Swede has actually and successfully coached the Lakers since this season.
Coach Stefan Hedlund at a Lakers game against HC Friborg Götern on September 10, 2021.Image: Keystone
In spring 2021, Janick Steinman has the courage not to renew coach Jeff Tomlinson’s contract after six successful years (promotion, cup wins, NL semifinals). In Bern, Davos, Fribourg, Zurich or Lugano, a sports director could not afford to dump a successful coach. This is only possible in the very special world of the Lakers. But the decision is correct and has a logic: As a former assistant to her new coach, Janic Steinman is aware of her merits.
What Helps the Sports Director: As a former scout, he can assess players’ potential. An example: in Davos, Nando Eggenberger is closer to the end of his professional career than a contract extension during the 2019/20 season. He is now the second best scorer with the Lakers and the fifth best Swiss player in the league. But defender David Abieser or strikers Nico Dunner and Marco Lehmann are also talents that the competition has overlooked. So the luck of the Lakers doesn’t depend on the big names. Only goalkeeper Melvin Knyfeller is irreplaceable and he has already extended until 2026.
The depth of the squad now is amazing. Jannik Steinmann has laid a solid foundation for further progress. The team is better qualitatively and quantitatively, but not more expensive than last season. And so that in the future the news of the formidable work in Rappersville-Zona will reach west of the Bereg Tunnel and also south of the Hirzel Pass, the “propaganda department” is strengthened: the well-known TV reporter Stefan Bürer is the new «PR + communication Chief”. As a speaking historian, he accompanied Roger Federer on his way from jack-up to global champion. With the Lakers, he no longer has to start at ball jack level.
How high will the Lakers rise? Is it possible to win the NL Finals or Championship title for the first time in history (since 1945)? Well, the final stage is one of the most difficult for a well-rounded team. Infinitely more difficult than the step from sad to respectable.
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