Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Hockey road trips: Swiss Hockey - Zürich region

It's an exciting time to experience Swiss hockey.

In the Cinderella story of this year's Men's World Championship, the Swiss national hockey team made it to the Gold medal round.

ZSC Lions hockey - photo courtesy of Corsin/Flickr
While they "only" came home with Silver, the 2013 Swiss men's team did something nobody else in their country had done for sixty years: medaling at the World Championships or Olympics. It was a huge achievement for Swiss hockey, and bodes well for the future of the sport in their country.

Last fall, when the NHL locked out its players, many big name players headed overseas to play, and 27 players from 17 different NHL teams ended up in the Swiss leagues. The majority of them played in Switzerland's top national "A" league.
Hockey has been around in Switzerland for a long time. The sport's governing body,  the Swiss Ice Hockey Association (SIHA), was founded in 1908 and was a founding member of the International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) in 1908, along with Belgium, France, Great Britain, and Bohemia (now Czech Republic). The IIHF is headquartered in Zürich. 

Swiss hockey has two leagues: National League A and National League B. For North American fans, perhaps the most interesting thing about Switzerland's two-tier system is that at the end of their seasons, the bottom four teams in the "A" league play in a regulation tournament, where the loser goes on to play against the champion of the "B" league in a best-of-seven series. Should the B team come out the champion in this series, that B team is promoted into the A league the following season, and the A team gets demoted into the B league. This gives teams something to strive for right through their very last game.

Switzerland is a lovely country to visit, and due to its compact nature, it is easy to take in hockey games while you're visiting. When to go will depend upon what else interests you in the country; there's far more to explore than simply mountains and chocolate.

The peak tourism season in Switzerland is, not surprisingly, June through late August/early September, which means higher prices on everything from accommodations to food.  Swiss teams begin playing in mid-August, and their season ends by mid-spring. September is a marvelous time to visit Switzerland, because the land is vibrant with fall colors and the weather is still at its best. If you enjoy winter sports, you may want to hold off until mid-December, when the ski resorts start opening.

Over the summer, we'll discuss the various Swiss hockey cities, breaking them down into five regions: Basel, Bern, Genève/Lausanne, Ticino/Graubünden, and Zürich.


Many international visitors to Switzerland begin their trips in Zürich, so that is where we will also start our Swiss journeys. Zürich is a vibrant, fun, modern city, and there is so much to see and do that you could easily spend a week or more here, day tripping via Swiss rail to other places in the country. Zürich's extensive commuter rail network will make your journeys around the Lake Zürich region quite easy; Swiss trains always run in a very timely manner.

Zürich is home to the ZSC Lions (National A) and GCK Lions (National B). Three more teams call the greater Zürichsee (Lake Zürich) region home: EV Zug, Kloten Flyers, and the Rapperswil-Jona Lakers. Additionally, HC Thurgau is only an hour northeast of Zürich via train.

ZSC Lions - photo courtesy of _becaro_/Flickr

Team: ZSC Lions
Twitter: @zsclions
Tier: National A
Stadium address: Hallenstadion Zürich, Wallisellenstrasse 45, Zürich
Public transportation stops/stations: Closest stop: Zürich - Messe/Hallenstadion (trams 11, 12; bus 63, 94); Other local stops: Zürich - Oerlikon station (Commuter trains S, S2, S5, S6, S7, S8, S14, S16, SN5, SN7; other trains ICN, IR, RE; trams 10, 12, 14; buses 768, 781, N6); Zürich - Leutschenbach (trams 10, 11, 12; bus 781); Zürich - Hallenbad Oerlikon (buses 63, 94); Zürich - Dorflinde (buses 61, 62); Zürich - Sternen Oerlikon (trams 10, 11, 12, 14, 15; buses 61, 62, 63, 94, N6)
NHLers who played here during the lockout: Dustin Brown (Kings)

Team: GCK Lions
Twitter: @GCK_Lions
Tier: National B
Stadium address: KEK Kunsteisbahn Küsnacht, Johannisburgstrasse, Küsnacht
Public transportation stops/stations: From Zürich, take commuter train S6 or S16; connect to the 919 bus outside the station; Itschnach - Fallcher or Itschnach - Dorf (buses: 912, 919)

Team: EV Zug
Twitter: @evzug
Tier: National A
Stadium address: Bossard Arena, General-Guisan-Strasse 4, Zug
Public transportation stops/stations: Zug - Schutzengel (commuter train S1, less than one block from arena); Zug - Schutzengel (bus NFB); Zug - Stadion (bus NFB)
NHLers who played here during the lockout: Rapheal Diaz (Canadiens), Henrik Zetterberg (Red Wings)

Team: Kloten Flyers
Twitter: @KlotenFlyer
Tier: National A
Stadium address: KOLPING-Arena, Schluefweg, Kloten
Public transportation stops/stations: Kloten train station (commuter train S7); Kloten - Schluefweg (bus 731); Kloten - Neubrunnenstrasse (bus 732); Kloten - Bramen (bus 735). It is less than a 3/4 mile walk (1.1 km) from Kloten's main train station to the stadium. If the weather is bad, you can connect to the 731 bus at the station, which will cut the walking portion by slightly less than half.
NHLers who played here during the lockout: Brooks Laich (Capitals)

Team: Rapperswil-Jona Lakers
Twitter: @lakers_1945
Tier: National A
Stadium address: Diners Club Arena, Walter-Denzler-Straße 3, Rapperswil
Public transportation stops/stations: Rapperswil train station (commuter lines S, S4, S5, S7, S8, S15, S16, S40, SN5, SN8; other trains IR, R). It is about half a mile from the main station to the arena. Bus 991 can be taken from the station to the Sportanl Lido stop in front of the arena.
NHLers who played here during the lockout: Michael Del Zotto (Rangers), Jason Spezza (Senators)

Team: HC Thurgau
Twitter: @HCThurgau
Tier: National B
Stadium address: Güttingersreuti, 8570 Weinfelden, Weinfelden (Thurgau)
Public transportation stops/stations: From Zürich, take a commuter train (commuter trains S, S5, S7, S8, S11, S30, SN; also trains IC, IR, R) to Weinfelden, then connect to bus 92428 to Güttingersreuti stop, next to arena. Güttingersreuti is about a mile east of the train station.

Zürich has been permanently settled for over 2,000 years; today it is a major international financial center as well as one of the wealthiest cities in Europe. Many surveys over the past several years have consistently ranked Switzerland, and Zürich in particular, as having some of the best quality of life in the world. Although this region of Switzerland is German-speaking, you will have few if any problems getting around, as most people speak English as well.

The Swiss National Museum is located right across the street from Zürich HB, the main railway station in the city. The museum actually is comprised of three museums: the National Museum Zürich, the Castle of Prangins, and the Forum of Swiss History. Between them, you will get an extensive look at Swiss history and culture.

Zürich - photo courtesy Pedro Szekely/Flickr
Zürich's skyline is framed by three major churches in the heart of downtown: Grossmünster's heavy twin spires are perhaps the most notable downtown landmark. According to legend, it was founded by Charlemagne. Across the River Limmat is the Fraumünster; both churches were important in the history of the city. If you are a fan of Marc Chagall's art, you will want to stop by the Fraumünster for a look at the stained glass windows he designed in 1970. And appropriately enough for Switzerland, St. Peter's Church, not far away, has the largest clock face in Europe.

If art and design are more your style, the Kunsthaus is one of the most important art collections in the country; it has an emphasis on Swiss art. The Museum of Design, part of the Zürich University of the Arts, is worth a stop for modern design and pop culture.

A few shopping areas are clustered close together in the Altstadt ("old town") district. The Augustinergasse is a colorful, narrow historic street, worth a stroll off the nearby Bahnhofstrasse, Zürich's busy main shopping street.

Make the brief climb to Lindenhof for lovely views across the city. Stop by the Schipfe area, where you can find boutique and craft shops tucked among the neighborhood. Make your way across the river to wander among the twisted historic streets of the Niederdorf, and get lost among the wide range of shops, or come back in the evening to enjoy the nightlife in this area.

Has all that sightseeing and shopping (and attending hockey games) worn you out? Switzerland is famous for its spa treatments, and you can begin indulging in them starting here; try Zürich's Thermal Baths & Spa.

If you rather indulge in one of Switzerland's other famous products - specifically, its chocolates - then search out a Teuscher or Sprüngli shop. Sprüngli's main shop at 21 Bahnhofstrasse has a tremendous selection of Luxemburgerli (light, petite macarons) available in more than a dozen flavors. The company exercises such a high demand on the quality of their product that all the milk they use is locally sourced in a small radius around Zürich, and their products have tightly prescribed shelf lives. (Get their Criollo de Maracaibo -- it is an incredible chocolate that you will never forget!)

Should your trip to Zürich coincide with the third Monday in April, you will be in town for one of the city's best festivals, the Sechseläuten. A parade of the city's fourteen historical Zünfte (guilds) is held, and at the end of the celebration, the giant Böögg (the effigy of Winter), is burned as a sign that spring has arrived. Tradition has it that the time between lighting the Böögg fire and its head exploding is indicative of what the coming summer will be like; a shorter time is more favorable. (The record is 5 minutes, 7 seconds.)

Where to stay in Zürich

Hotels marked with this were awarded Prix Bienvenu 2013 from the Swiss tourism board for being one of Switzerland's Top 100 "most welcoming hotels". 
 No matter your budget, you can find something to suit your tastes.

If you want to stay in one of the best historic hotels in Zürich, and enjoy top-end luxury accommodations, the Hotel zum Storchen (Weinplatz 2, Zürich) is a wonderful place to stay. Located on the River Limmat in the heart of old town, the Storchen has been offering accommodations to visitors for over 650 years, but the current rooms have all the modern conveniences a traveler could want. It is Swiss hospitality at its finest.

The following hotels are also within walking distance (within 1/2 mile) of the Zürich HB; broken down alphabetically by price range.

Luxury ($250+/night)
Business/tourist/boutique class ($125-$250+/night) 
Best Western - Hotel Montana | Hotel Altstadt ‡ | Hotel California-Schifflande | Hotel City |Hotel Franziskaner | Hotel Kindli ‡ | Hotel Limmathof | Platzhirsch Hotel 
Budget/Hostel ($40-$125+/night)

City Backpacker Hostel - Hotel Biber | easyHotel

Getting around

Swiss public transit is outstanding; there are few places in the country you cannot reach via train or bus. Additionally, car rentals are expensive, and public parking is limited; you're better off sticking to public transit!

Zurich HB - photo courtesy of Blake Johnson/Flickr
Zürich's main train station is Zürich Hauptbahnhof, also known as Zürich HB (Bahnhofplatz 15, Zürich). All "S" commuter trains (S and S2-S16), as well as IC, ICN, IR, and RE train lines go through this station, as well as several other train lines and Swiss high-speed connections. Zürich HB is also home to a variety of shops to keep you occupied between connections!

Swiss Federal Railways offer a wide variety of fares, including multi-day passes, to help ease your travel around Switzerland. The best bargain to get around the Zürich region is the ZürichCARD, good for either 24 (CHF24/€20) or 72 (CHF48/€40) hours. It not only offers unlimited transportation via bus, rail, boat, tram, and cable car around the city and the local area, but also gives you free entrance to many museums, plus other benefits.

If you fly into Zürich International Airport, the S2, S16, IC, and ICN trains all connect to Zürich HB; you can be downtown in under 15 minutes.

Rapperswil-Jona: In addition to the local train connections, ferries operate year-round between Zürich and Rapperswil-Jona (located on the SE shore of Lake Zürich), offering a chance to get out on Lake Zürich and enjoy the beautiful views. The town's sites include a castle, extensive rose gardens, a Capuchin Friary, and the Polish National Museum.

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