Playoffs – like when it was first introduced to hockey

Most Swiss fan curves reject the introduction of playoffs.Image: keystone

Eismeister Zaugg

Play-off yes or no? This question will heat up football. This “culture war” was also in ice hockey more than 30 years ago. But the internet didn’t exist yet.

Another world, another sport: Even in ice hockey, the start of the playoffs was not so simple. But compared to football’s modus operandi, it was pony farm sports politics.

During the 1982/83 season, the start of the playoffs was seriously discussed for the first time. Sweden was the first European country to introduce a play-off in 1974, followed by Finland in 1975 and Germany in 1980. So it’s clear that the system is working.

Playoff mood among EV Zug fans in the final this spring against ZSC Lions.

Playoff mood among EV Zug fans in the final this spring against ZSC Lions.Image: keystone

The North American National Hockey League (NHL), the most important league in the world, also owes its magic to the Stanley Cup playoffs. When the playoff regime is implemented in ice hockey, it benefits from much higher acceptance and international appeal than in soccer. Which is also related to the fact that the playoff is more suitable for hockey than for football.

What drove clubs when the play-offs were introduced: the search for balance, excitement and higher income.

At the beginning of the 70s, the championship team still costs around one million. By the 1980s, the development of semi-profits had already tripled costs. The championship usually ends quietly in February and the title is decided long before the last round. It needs more games, spectacle and excitement.

Low point: In the spring of 1984, HCD won the championship in the eight-team NLA by 16 points. There are only two points for a win. It is practiced with intermediate rounds, championship rounds, bisecting the point. Nothing will bring excitement and balance back to the league. It’s time for a revolution. Time for the start of the playoffs.

Peter Bossert is the man who makes this revolution possible. He is committed to EHC Arosa as president. But he never loses sight of the overall interest in our hockey. The manager of an international service company organizes a revolution in his office in the Zurich industrial district almost as Lenin organized the beginnings of the October Revolution in Niederdorf.

Peter Bossert on a 2003 recording.

Peter Bossert on a 2003 recording.Image: KEYSTONE

Unforgettable is the saying from this turbulent time that our hockey policy is made “behind the seven tracks” in Bossert’s office (it’s an allusion to a Swiss film). Peter Bossert once said with his subtle sense of irony, “There was hardly a decision in our hockey at that time that did not cross my desk.”

It’s a different time. Another world. It goes without saying that there is opposition to the playoffs. Mainly from traditionalist circles, which tend to be even stronger in hockey than in football. There is talk of selling the soul through “Americanization” (the playoffs were invented in North America in 1894). Switzerland is not America. No one wants to see games “about nothing” from September to February, i.e. just about a place in the playoffs. It is a huge disadvantage for weaker clubs when rich, powerful clubs can exclusively decide the championship between themselves at the end of the season and play more attractive home games. The championship became a farce. To the circus.

All these fears will not be confirmed. The number of spectators also doubled during the qualifiers, the league grew from 10 to 14 teams. Play off as a success story.

Today, this revolution would probably no longer be possible. Because the opponents of the modus idea, meanwhile, have at their disposal completely different means of communicating their opinion to the public, mobilizing the audience and putting pressure on decision-makers.

In the mid-1980s, there was no internet or cell phones. A small group of men, deftly led by Peter Bossert, give their opinion. If he, Kloten’s gray eminence Jürg Ochsner (who supplies material to almost the entire league and to whom almost everyone has unpaid bills), Lugano president Geo Mantegazza, HCD chairman Gery Diethelm, league president Samuel Burkhardt and the head of the association René Fasel from one If you are about the idea convinced, then it will be implemented. Burkhardt led the league from 1983 to 1990 and, as secretary general of the Justice Department, later proved himself in turbulent political times when his boss, Elisabeth Kopp, resigned. Born in 1950, Fasel is the youngest president in the association’s history and still loves the revolution. In 1994, he took over the presidency of the international association for more than a quarter of a century. The league is independent in terms of regime, but the president of the union is important for opinion formation.

Geo Mantegazza belonged to the men's group at the time.

Geo Mantegazza belonged to the men’s group at the time.Image: TI-PRESS

There has never been such a unity between the league and the union and the opinion-making clubs in this form since. In personal interviews, Peter Bossert also convinces the most important journalists about the great lunches “behind the seven halls”. So there is no real controversy in the media, in public. Those who oppose the playoffs are largely left with only the pub table and letters-to-the-editor columns as channels of communication.

In the end, this is “behind the scenes politics” in the best sense of the word for the benefit of our hockey, which would not be possible today in this form. Another time. Another world. Even in ice hockey, the unity of the pioneering days of the playoffs has long since disappeared, and such a profound revolution in the matter of fashion would hardly be feasible.

This may show how difficult the issue of playoff mode is for football. For a game sport that has no playoff culture and acceptance that is even remotely comparable to ice hockey.

PS Irony of history: After the first playoff season, Peter Bossert voluntarily relegated to the first league with Arosa in the spring of 1986. Just four years after last winning the title, a team in the top division in Arosa can no longer be financed.

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