Hockey romantics to a city without hockey romance

Kevin Schläpfer, here as coach of EHC Kloten, will return to his parent club.Image: KEYSTONE

Eismeister Zaugg

Kevin Schläpfer will be the sporting director of EHC Basel from next season at the latest. He left the bridge at sinking hockey titan Langenthal and returned home to his regular club after 34 years as the prodigal son.

Klaus Zugg

So there is still a bit of hockey romance here. The prodigal son returns home. Kevin Schläpfer (52) will become sporting director of EHC Basel on a permanent contract with the option to terminate. He left this club in the summer of 1988 to conquer the Swiss hockey world. After internships in Lugano, Olten, Zug (1990 to 1992), Lausanne, Langnau, Chur, Biel and Langenthal, he is now returning home to Basel after 34 years.

Basel is close to Kevin Schläpfer’s heart. When he says how much he’s looking forward to this new challenge, it’s not just friendly words that come in handy at a time like this. He means it.

Over the years, in melancholy moments, he repeatedly described “his” Hockey-Basel, just like the famous poet Joseph Roth about the lost provinces of old Austria. In Basel, he is convinced that something should be done. The infrastructure is excellent. There is an even worse potential that could be awakened.

Anyway, Kevin Schläpfer only left his ennet dem Hauenstein homeland temporarily during his time abroad. The Basel area remained the center of his life. In Sissach he had a beautiful house built on a sunny slope. On the way from there to work in Biel and Langenthal, he regularly got caught in speed traps. That too is part of the hockey romance.

EHC Basel was promoted to the Swiss league this year.

EHC Basel was promoted to the Swiss league this year.Image: www.imago-images.de

Kevin Schläpfer is one of the last hockey romantics: he lives by hockey. No theory man. He despises computers. Office work is the ultimate punishment for him and he doesn’t like all the modern laptop stuff. He prefers to trust his instinct for people, his enthusiasm, his charisma.

To this day, as head of sports, he has rarely been wrong in recruiting coaches and players. That is, the right man to change something in Basel, where there has been no first-class hockey since 2008.

When Kevin Schläpfer leaves SC Langenthal (and the Bern area) by the end of the season at the latest, there will be a settlement. What did he bring to Bern hockey? He rose with Langnau (1998) and with Biel he went a long way from the NLB to the top league and from a dilapidated stadium to a hockey temple. He was a cult player in the NLB in Biel, later a sports director and coach, and sometimes both. He will always be revered as the “hockey god” in Biel and his 21-year-old son Elvis is now a regular at EHC Biel.

Kevin Schläpfer, still a

Kevin Schläpfer, still a “hockey god” at EHC Biel.Image: KEYSTONE

But the question must be: What does Kevin Schläpfer owe to Bernese hockey culture? It could only have become what it is today in the Bern region, perhaps even only in Biel. Because especially in Biel, hockey is lived in a very special family way. Where a man who wears his heart on his sleeve finds support and trust and brings energy, dynamism and emotion to the hockey organization as a dynamo. It was no accident that he failed as a short-term standby coach in Kloten’s relegation season.

Will Kevin Schläpfer work in Basel like in Biel and Langenthal? Basel put him in an impossible position. How is he supposed to do his job at Langenthal until May 1, 2023 as a “double sports director”? Sign Langenthal the player he would rather have in Basel next season? Or get the underdog as a Trojan horse in Langenthal’s locker room to weaken a league competitor?

He says, “That’s not a problem. I can tell that very well.” He will conscientiously see the job in Langenthal to a good end. “I have a lot of friends here and they stay out of hockey.” This unwanted temporary “dual mandate” of head of sport in Langenthal and future head of sport in Basel is certainly a problem.

Langenthal President Gian Kämpf regrets the departure of Kevin Schläpfer. But he was somehow relieved that his sports director, with whom he gets along very well, found a job. It would be difficult for him to resist an immediate transfer to Basel and thus solve an actually unsustainable situation. Especially since Basel chief executive Olivier Schäublin says: “It’s actually an impossible situation for Kevin Schläpfer. He’s someone who doesn’t do half measures.” So rather the whole Schläpfer in Basel than the half in Langenthal and Basel until the end of the season.

Kevin Schläpfer in a match against Basel in 2003 - 20 years later he is back in the EHCB.

Kevin Schläpfer in a match against Basel in 2003 – 20 years later he is back in the EHCB.Image: KEYSTONE

Everyone who is malicious says about Kevin Schläpfer’s departure to Basel: Rats are leaving a sinking ship. The friendly ones say: The first officer leaves the bridge of the Titanic with his head held high if the engine room is not already full of water. SC Langenthal was once the sports Titanic in Oberaargau. But now it is not certain what will happen after this season.

Back in the fall, Gian Kämpf announced that by the end of the season, a decision would be made as to where the path would lead: back to amateur hockey, a move to Huttwil, a merger with Olten (crazy, but he actually said it) , a role as a purely farm team or even a resolution. He still stands by these statements: “We will develop the future scenario among the common shareholders and have it approved in the first quarter of 2023 at the extraordinary general meeting of shareholders. We will definitely finish this season. But whether it will continue is open.”

The hopelessness stems in part from the uncertain future of the Swiss league. A visibly disappointed Gian Kämpf says: “The question is whether next season will be the Swiss league as we knew it.” But the key trigger of the depression is the unresolved stadium issue. Meanwhile, in Langenthal, with an administrative budget of 100 million, significant tax increases are beginning to show. The new stadium project has become as hopeless as the comprehensive restoration of the dilapidated cult arena in Schoren.

There is no doubt: Kevin Schläpfer will do Basel a lot of good and will soon awaken dreams of promotion to the National League. But will Basel do well for Kevin Schläpfer? Will he find passion, support, trust as before in Biel and a few months ago in Langenthal? Maybe. But maybe not.

One of the last true hockey romances comes to a town that lost and never found its hockey romance in the late 1950s. When one fine evening he looks out from the terrace of his house in Sissach towards Bernbiet, he sighs now and then: “Oh, those were wonderful times in Biel and Langenthal…” And Gian Kämpf will remember nostalgically those times they remember when SC Langenthal in the second highest league could still afford to pay a “hockey god” like Kevin Schläpfer.

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Kevin Schläpfer will be the sporting director of EHC Basel from next season at the latest. He left the bridge at sinking hockey titan Langenthal and returned home to his regular club after 34 years as the prodigal son.

So there is still a bit of hockey romance here. The prodigal son returns home. Kevin Schläpfer (52) will become sporting director of EHC Basel on a permanent contract with the option to terminate. He left this club in the summer of 1988 to conquer the Swiss hockey world. After internships in Lugano, Olten, Zug (1990 to 1992), Lausanne, Langnau, Chur, Biel and Langenthal, he is now returning home to Basel after 34 years.

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