I am kicking off my series of “Get to know…” posts this morning with a league that is rumored to be getting one of my favorite players while the NHL is locked out (I’m lookin’ at you, Steve Stamkos). That’s right folks, we are headed to Switzerland! And yes, in case you are wondering, that is a Swiss cow. Turns out that when you type “Switzerland” into google images it turns up mountains and cows and that’s about it…
Here are some fast facts on Switzerland’s top-tier league, National League A:
- Countries with NLA teams: Switzerland (12)
- 2011-2012 Champions: ZSC Lions
- Year founded: 1916 (has gone under several name changes since then)
- Number of regular season games: 50
The structure of the league is different than anything you’ll find in North America. At the end of the NLA regular season, the top eight teams go on to compete for the championship. The bottom four teams play against in a relegation tournament, and the loser plays Switzerland’s top team in their version of the AHL (National League B). If the NLA team loses against the NLB in a best-of-seven series, the NLB team is promoted to the NLA and vice versa. To put it in North American terms, it would be like the Columbus Blue Jackets losing to the Norfolk Admirals in a best-of-seven series and then having the Admirals join the NHL and the Blue Jackets join the AHL (which I think I speak for many when I say that is probably a good idea for those flailing Jackets…)
In my opinion, the NLA is the most underrated league in all of Europe. Generally speaking, people will answer “KHL” when you ask them to name one European hockey league. Interestingly enough, the NLA has the most attended hockey club in all of Europe (SC Bern) and ranks second among Europe’s most attended leagues (in case you are wondering, Sweden’s Eliteserien holds the #1 spot). SC Bern has one of the larger arenas in Europe as well, as the PostFinance-Arena compares to NHL arenas with a capacity of 17,100 (which, mind you, is almost 7,000 more people than the second-place ZSC Lions Hallenstadion that holds 10,700).
Like most leagues in Europe, the NLA is getting a healthy dose of NHL talent during the lockout. Big name players like Tyler Seguin, Rick Nash, Joe Thorton, Jason Spezza and former Milwaukee Admiral Roman Josi have already signed with Swiss teams, while guys like Steve Stamkos are rumored to be signing in the next few days.
I did a little digging but was unable to find anywhere online to watch NLA games from North America. If you know of anywhere, please paste a link to it in the comments section so that other readers can enjoy the NLA live in all its glory!
There you have it folks. Now you can confidently join dinner table conversation about the NLA with a smooth “Oh, the defending NLA champion? You must be referring to the ZSC Lions, a team from Zurich who is coached by Canadian-born former Milwaukee Admiral Marc Crawford”. And then you can show them this picture of a cow with a fancy Swiss hat to really bring your statement full circle. Boom.