I was fortunate this month to have a few days off, and decided to take a tour to see ice hockey in a few different places I hadn't been before.
I contacted the Zurich Lions, who I had seen play in the Champions Hockey League, knowing they had a good team and also an intriguing player named Auston Matthews. I thought it would be interesting to get an interview with Matthews after a game, and Mr. Roger Gemperle from the Zurich Lions was kind enough to help me out with both accreditation to the game as well as a short interview with Matthews, limiting it to a few questions as the pressure on one of the team's best players from both domestic and international media is quite extensive.
A short (80-minute) flight from London had me to Zurich Airport, where conveniently located tram service took me to my hotel. One of the first things I saw on that ride was a hockey player, albeit a PR mannequin, and another within five minutes. At my hotel they gave me directions by telling me to "just follow the fans towards the arena" once I'd arrived at the proper stop.
The staff of the Lions were very helpful, especially Mr Gemperle who collected me at the media entrance and showed me quickly around the modern (and cold) Hallenstadion arena There was a loud section of home fans up in one corner, and another smaller section of away fans in another corner. The pre-game intro was as good as something in NHL, and better than the ones I have seen in Sweden.
As Martin Réway has said in his interview, and some fellow journalists agreed, it was a locked-down game controlled by Zurich, and Fribourg-Gottéron would have needed the first goal to have made it a more interesting contest. Nevetheless, the quality of the game was good, with high skill on display, if not at a high tempo.
Matthews lost the opening faceoff, but that was about the only negative result he had during the game, being the standout player of the night. It was difficult to believe that he is only 18 years old, both because of his size (listed at 6'2", 194 pounds on Zurich's site) and his maturity.
At one point he controlled the man avantage by setting up like Wayne Gretzky with the puck behind the net. On that same shift he scored one his two power play goals of the game by moving in from the boards and launching a water-bottle-popping wrist shot.
He scored his second goal by drifting to an open spot and taking advantage of some good play from his linemates.
The Zurich Lions won the game 4-1, and I had the chance to ask Matthews a few questions about it afterward:
Zeb: Thanks for taking the time to speak with us. It was a great game with two goals. Do you feel that the play in the NLA has forced you to develop your game further?
Auston Matthews: It's my pleasure. It has been great to come over here. It's a highly skilled league and I have had to adapt as the game here is faster and quicker compared to a junior league in North America. Today my game was good, I benefited from my teammates and the power play goals are a nice thing.
Zeb: You play against men and in, as you say, a highly skilled league, would you recommend this approach to others?
AM: It has worked for me so far. My game has gotten better, I have developed all aspects of the game I think. It could definitely work for others.
Zeb: How has the relocation to Switzerland gone?
AM: Team has been amazing. I am well taken care of. Quite a few people speak English, so that helps.
Zeb: The American WJC nominations just came out, and you are on the list. You will play the week out here in Zurich and then go to the American camp? What are your expectations on the WJC?
AM: We can't take any team lightly, all teams go there to win and there are some high quality squads coming. It will be good and I am looking forward to it.
Zeb: Zurich doesn't expect you back until after the final, so I wish you all the best. Thank you again for the time.
AM: Thank you!
This article would not have been possible without the help of the Zurich Lions and Mr. Roger Gemperle. The response I had from the team's personnel was nothing but positive. All of us at EOTP would like to thank the Zurich Lions for the help, and personally, I thank them for the wonderful experience.