It was a strange scene outside of the Hallenstadion Tuesday night, as fans of the Zurich Lions filed out of the arena with a sense of anguish.
They had won the Victoria Cup, but "this is not Swiss hockey," as one local cuckoo clock maker said. "In our league, the goal of the match is to tie. This preserves the national character of the Swiss nation, and separates us from non-neutral countries like Germany, France, or Russia."
The game started out very well for the visiting Chicago Blackhawks
. Cam Barker put the 'Hawks ahead with a hard shot from the blueline at 6:13 of the first period.
The crowd responded with the traditional Swiss hockey chant of "ausgleich, ausgleich, ausgleich." Most of the stunned American fans did not know that "ausgleich" is German for "tie."
John Poselski of Morton Grove, IL, was at the game, and said afterwards, "I just thought they were cheering for their team to win...I had no idea they just wanted to tie...I mean...are you serious...what the [bleep]?"
The Zurich fans were rewarded when Patrick Bartschi tied the game with 7:35 left in the opening frame. Colorful streamers and smoke from flares blanketed the Hallenstadion as the fans celebrated the all-important equalizing goal.
"This was really special. It was a chance for me to show my young son what being Swiss is all about," noted Leonhard Kopp, a candy manufacturer from Zurich.
From that moment on, the mood was very cheerful among the Lions' fans until Lukas Grauwiler gave Zurich the lead with 5:16 left in the second period.
"You never want that to happen," Grauwiler said. "We always go out there with the idea of putting the puck on net, without letting it cross that red line. I was trying to get it into Huet's glove, but I couldn't elevate the puck. This is something I have to live with."
Incensed, the Zurichers let out a thunderous "Let's Go 'Hawks, Let's Go 'Hawks," hoping Chicago
could even the score. Their pleas fell on deaf ears as the 'Hawks lollygagged their way to a 2-1 loss.
After the game many Zurich fans waved goodbye to the Chicago players getting on the bus, while others held up signs saying "we're sorry" and "hope you had a nice time."
Chicago captain Jonathan Toews offered some remarks on the Swiss tradition: "It was a little weird. Obviously, we respect the customs and traditions of every country we go to. It was a learning experience. We got to see a group of fans that doesn't want to see anyone go home unhappy.
"Switzerland is big on neutrality. That's the way they've been for a long time, so we just need to move on, and get ready to play Florida."
Philippe Gaydoul, President of the Swiss Ice Hockey Association, has called a special meeting to consider relegating the Zurich Lions to the Swiss National League B on charges of what they are calling "conduct detrimental to Swiss neutrality."
A spokesman for Mr. Gaydoul said, "We cannot let this type of aggression go unchecked. Hundreds of dairy farmers, knifemakers, confectioners, chocolatiers, watchmakers, and others watch these games in fondue restaurants all over the country. We need to maintain our standards."