Ice Hockey

Columbus Blue Jackets Nationwide Arena

Shorter NHL Season Raises Columbus Blue Jackets Play-Off Hopes

Columbus Blue Jackets Nationwide Arena

This season was shaping up to be yet another one to forget for the Columbus Blue Jackets. After finishing 2011-12 with the worst record in the NHL, the team lost their talisman Rick Nash to the New York Rangers in the lockout-extended off-season.

For a franchise that has made the play-offs just once in the 11 seasons it has existed, it wasn’t exactly surprising to note a lack of optimism around the Nationwide Arena. The one consolation was that the suffering would be brief and the reward at the end of this shortened season would be a good first round draft pick later this year.

But five straight wins and a first ever season series victory over the Detroit Red Wings has transformed spirits and an unlikely challenge for the play-offs might not be out of the question.


NHL: Rick Nash’s Big Chance Is Columbus’ Last Roll Of The Dice

On Monday night, the Columbus Blue Jackets traded their star player, Rick Nash, to the New York Rangers for three players and a 2013 first round draft pick. Nash’s departure was not unexpected. He’d handed in a trade request in March, but the failure to negotiate a trade meant that he stayed until the summer.

Since he was selected as the first overall pick in the 2002 draft, Nash has been a contradiction. While the Blue Jackets stumbled from one disappointment to another, Nash regularly featured in the NHL All-Star Game and was a key member of Canada’s 2010 Olympic Gold Medal team. In nine seasons, Nash scored 289 goals and 547 points, scoring more than 40 in two of those. He is the sixth highest goalscorer in the NHL since the lockout in 2004-05.

The only time the two seemed to be on the same page was Columbus’ brief maiden voyage into the post season which ended with a 4-0 whitewash at the hands of the Detroit Red Wings. Hopes were high for a repeat at the beginning of last season, with the arrival of Jeff Carter a clear signal of intent, but even for Columbus, last season was atrocious as the team finished last overall in the NHL.


Home Sweet Home: EV Zug move to the Bossard Arena

PIC: Stephen McCaskill
In the summer of 2010, EV Zug completed the move from theirhome of over forty years to a brand new, ultra-modern arena. The need for a newstadium had been apparent for some time as the Eishalle Herti, in which EVZhave played since 1967, had not aged well and plans were made to move. The endresult was the 7,015 capacity Bossard Arena which is billed as the most modernhockey stadium in Switzerland, and after my first visit, I am inclined tobelieve the hype.
The old Herti could be best described as a giant shed withan ice rink inside. Seats were cramped and uncomfortable while standing areaswere even worse. Every facility within the stadium, be it turnstiles or foodstands, felt squashed and compacted. While some fans have bemoaned the loss ofatmosphere, there is no doubt that the old arena was unsuitable for atop-flight hockey team in the 21st century.
The Bossard Arena improves on the old stadium in almostevery conceivable aspect. Firstly, the seats are spacious and easily accessiblewhile standing areas exist for both home and away supporters. A giant LCDscreen above the rink replaces the archaic scoreboards while modern lighting createsa sense of spectacle. Entering and exiting the ground is no longer a chorewhile areas inside the stadium are much bigger, ensuring that facilities don’tfeel like an afterthought.
Hospitality has also been improved dramatically. While thisis probably of no concern to those cheering on EVZ in the stands, the newfacilities will surely increase revenue. As one of the wealthiest towns inSwitzerland, if not Europe, Zug is host to a number of multinationalcorporations and the new dining and hospitality areas will hope to attract agreater number of corporate events. A new restaurant overlooks the ice andallows diners to eat while watching the game and a private room is availablefor functions. These facilities are a drastic improvement on the previoushospitality tent, which although offered great service, was situated outside ofthe stadium.
I was fortunate to be able to sample these facilities duringmy visit to see EVZ face local rivals Zurich. EVZ are enjoying a good seasonand are currently in 3rd position in the NLA having alreadyqualified for the post season play-offs. Games between these two teams areusually feisty encounters and this was no exception with a number of penaltiesissued by the match officials. The ZSC Lions barely troubled EVZ who emergedcomfortable 3-0 winners in front of a capacity crowd, who were delighted asseeing their team defeat the 2009 European and Victoria Cup champions.
While there was great sadness that accompanies any suchmove, the move to the Bossard Arena will hopefully be a positive one for theclub as they aim to add to their only championship, which they won in 1998.Some fans may miss the old ground, but if it’s good enough for Kimi, it’s goodenough for me.

Match Photos: EVZ 3-0 ZSC Lions

Zurich’s time to shine

It truly has been a golden 24 hours for Zurich’s sporting teams, and indeed Swiss sport. In the last two days, ZSC Lions beat the Chicago Blackhawks of the NHL to lift the Victoria Cup and tonight, FC Zurich did the unthinkable and beat Italian giants AC Milan in the Champions League group stage.

ZSC earned the right to play in the Victoria Cup after lifting the inaugral Champions Hockey League and took their chance with a superb 2-1 victory against Patrick Kane and the Blackhawks while FCZ reached the group stages after winning the Swiss Super League last season. Switzerland have a great tradition in winter sports and Roger Federer has put Switzerland on the world sporting map and FC Basel have also performed well on the European stage. In 2002/03 they shocked Europe by reaching the second stage of the Champions League, knocking out Liverpool in the process before eventually falling short. Yet despite these successes, this has to be the most succesful week in Swiss team sport.

Switzerland remain competitive in hockey and football on the international stage with both of their teams competitive in World and European championships but surely one cannot recall its club teams performing so well. The NLA, Switzerlands premier hockey competition ranks among one of the best in Europe but is overshadowed by the Swedish, Finnish and Czech leagues as well as the NHL and Russia’s KHL. The Swiss Super League is also dwarfed by neighbouring countries with regards to football.

The NLA has produced the European Champions, ZSC Lions and is a thoroughly engaging tournament. The atmosphere at matches is awesome while tickets (certainly at EV Zug) are affordable. This means games are well attended by teenagers whereas trips to Old Trafford and the like are often out of reach of many in England. Hockey of course is much more popular in Switzerland than in Britain, with the Elite League being its equivalent.

The Swiss Super League is very different to football in England. The stadia have places to stand and while the standard of grounds are improving,  the charm that these venues have will hopefully not decrease. On the occasions I have been to the Hardturn to see Grasshoppers Zurich play a European tie, the fans have been vocal and it was refreshing to see fans of both clubs in the same stand, even if the Leeds fans who perhaps should not have been there weren’t as polite as their Swiss hosts.

Sport in Switzerland is different, yet that does not mean it is necessarily inferior. Sure, watching the likes of FC Luzern or FC Zurich may not be as impressive as Manchester United or Chelsea, but the Swiss hockey and football leagues offer something equally entertaining and after this week’s successes, they deserve their moment in the spotlight.

New Stadia: A Tale Of Two Very Ordinary Towns.

This weekend, the injury-hit Maidstone United lost 2-1at “home” to AFC Wimbledon in the Ryman Premier League. The inverted commas are necessary punctuation as although this was a home fixture for the Stones, it was played in Sittingbourne.

Maidstone United have been without a home in the county town of Kent since the original club sold their ground in 1988 to MFI. The club assumed, perhaps naively, that they would have council support to build their new ground and even went as far as to purchase the land on which the proposed new stadium was to be built. However the planning permission never materialised and the club went bankrupt in 1992.