Pioneers - A 50-year leap - Servette in the NLB - Geneva in the NLB - The Swiss Cup in 1959 - The merger - Swiss NLB Champion 1963 - The end of a dream - A time for experiments - Difficult times - A breath of fresh air - Tribute to Honorary President Claude Barbey - Return to the top division - 2010/2011 Season - 2011/2012 Season - 2012/2013 Season - 2013/2014 Season - 2014/2015 Season
1905/1906… Over 100 years ago! It is easy to think of those who launched the movement and those who followed as pioneers, especially since the sport they introduced into a city in the plain was traditionally considered as fit for big mountain resorts only.
Pioneers, because even if ice hockey slowly continued to develop in Geneva (with some highs and lows), it shouldn’t be forgotten that, after this creation in 1905/1906, almost 50 years passed before artificial ice was made available and the city could make a fresh start, on 21 November 1954. This meant not having to depend on the vagaries of a mild or harsh winter and not having to depend on other cities’ ice rinks. Indeed, since natural ice in Florissant or Les Tuileries was nothing but a distant memory, Geneva teams who played ‘at home’ usually had to play visiting teams in Lausanne or Le Pont.
They’re all pioneers: the people who, for 50 years, didn’t give up; those who started it as well as those who followed; those from 1910 as well as those from 1920, from 1930 or 1940. A collective tribute should be paid to them, without naming them, without mentioning one rather than another.To the top
A 50-year leap
Forge ahead, yes, but in which direction? In 1906, no one knew and it didn’t matter. They ploughed forward until that night on 21 November 1954 when, for the first time in Geneva, an ice hockey match was played on an artificial ice rink.
Truth be told, a private group had been talking for some time about building an artificial ice rink in a new development on Chemin Krieg, where Florissant’s natural ice rink was situated. It was a great project, which thrilled the hearts of ice hockey enthusiasts, but it never saw the light of day.
At that time, the City of Geneva adopted a proposal by Lucien Billy, Administrative Councillor in charge of Sports, and André Blanc, Head of Sports Services, and agreed to the creation of a so-called ‘experimental’ artificial ice rink in what was then the Sports Pavilion (the one on Boulevard Pont d’Arve). ‘Experimental’ because it was meant as a temporary solution until the indoor ice rink in Les Vernets was built.
An important step had been taken. And even if, for three more years, this provisional ice rink had to be disassembled in the spring and rebuilt in the autumn, the impetus had been given – an impetus that would turn the beautiful Patinoire des Vernets into Geneva’s very own temple of ice hockey.
21 November 1954: a milestone. On an ice rink that didn’t totally comply with regulations but that was nevertheless approved exceptionally by the Swiss League in order to facilitate its launch, an inaugural game took place between Servette and UGS. The final score: 7-2. Incidentally, the game almost never took place, as a disaster nearly happened on the night before the inauguration: A fire broke out, which André Blanc, fire extinguisher in hand, brought under control in extremis.To the top
Servette in the NLB
But that’s not all. Two Canadian player-coaches came to strengthen the teams: André Girard at Servette and Ray Dinardo at UGS. As a consequence of various circumstances and after defeating UGS in a crucial match, Servette was in the final – the regional final at first, and the national final afterwards.
The harsh 1956 winter helped the ‘Grenats’ (the ‘Garnets’, a reference to the club’s colours) achieve their objective. The first national final against Basel was set but the ice rink in the Pavilion had to be disassembled since it had to be handed over to the Motor Show. In that respect, there was no possible compromise. The show took precedence. To hell with ice hockey!
Would they have to play in Basel or on neutral ground? No. It was bitterly cold during this Olympic winter and the ice rink in Florissant was suddenly remembered. A sweet revenge for this good old natural ice rink that the demolition workers hadn’t got to yet. In less than two days, and with the help of the City’s Sports Services, boards were set up, lines were drawn, the ice was polished and Servette beat Basel 9-0. The first step was taken.
A second match had to be won, against Veltheim, a team from the suburbs of Winterthur. The game was played on a natural ice rink with low boards. It was prehistoric hockey. Servette made the most of it and won 4-1 against a team that featured a player who would become Servette’s coach, Ernst Schneeberger. The team was promoted to the National League B.To the top
Geneva in the NLB
Born under the name Genève HC before becoming HC Tuileries due to its ‘ice rink’ (i.e. a pond in Les Tuileries in Bellevue that would sometimes freeze over), the club became the ice hockey section of Urania Genève-Sports (UGS) in 1952. Its first president was Otto Bill, the father of Pierre Bill, former director of Genève-Servette and former player for HC Tuileries. Like Louis Barillon, former president of Servette, he too had played in the team. After Bill senior, Félicien Buzzano and Fred Wenger took over the club’s responsibilities, and its problems too. At the same time, at Servette, Claude Barbey held the Presidency in partnership with Georges Bourgeois.
After entering the ice rink at the Sports Pavilion, UGS temporarily entrusted its technical direction to the late Kurt Hauser, a former player and international referee. After that, coaches and players came and went, the team trying every campaign to reach the NLB with new players but no success.
At that point tough decisions were made, and Lelio Rigassi, who competently and skilfully coached the club’s juniors, took over the first team. All he had was the skill and experience he had acquired while patiently training the juniors for a couple of years.To the top
The Swiss Cup in 1959
The competition was then cancelled to allow greater emphasis on the Championship, the structure of which did not allow for a parallel competition. It’s a shame in a way, since the Cup gave ice hockey a chance to develop and opened opportunities for the National League B teams, as shown by UGS and Servette. Indeed Servette won the Swiss Cup in 1959, with its NLB team, led by the famous Canadian hockey player, Chick Zamick.
What an unforgettable game, the final of the 1958-1959 campaign, in front of a record crowd of 11,820 spectators at their home rink, the Patinoire des Vernets! Supporters were nestled in every nook and cranny, hanging on to whatever they could. There would never be such a massive crowd again, not even for the big World Championship games in 1961. How did they all get in? It remains a mystery. Servette, the underdog, went on to win the game 7-3.
Four years later, at the end of the 1962-1963 campaign, a young Genève HC team was once again in the final at Les Vernets, and once again it was against the Young Sprinters. Genève had defeated Gottéron (NLB, 7-2) and three first-tier National League A teams to get there, Ambrì-Piotta (9-7), Basel (7-2) and Zurich (4-2). The final score was the same, 7-3, but in favour of the Neuchâtel team this time.To the top
The history of hockey has its share of important milestones, crucial periods and goals achieved. A few have been mentioned already. Let’s look at those that led to the ‘merger agreements’:
- Beginning of the 1954-1955 campaign: the artificial ice rink at the Sports Pavilion is made available for Servette and UGS, who play in the Swiss 1 Liga.
- End of the 1955-1956 campaign: Servette is promoted to the National League B.
- 28 November 1958: inauguration of the Patinoire des Vernets.
- End of the 1961-1962 campaign: Genève is promoted to the NLB, which means two Geneva teams would compete in the NLB, in the same regional group, in the 1962-1963 championship.
Genève entrusted its technical direction to a Czechoslovakian coach, Bohuslav Rejda, while Servette called on French Canadian Jean-Jacques Pichette. Genève put its trust in the young players who came up through the ranks, while Servette had a formidable team. Of course, their goals were not the same: Servette aimed for the National league A, while Genève hoped to stay up in the National league B. Servette ended up winning its group but was defeated by the winner of the other group, Grasshopper, and that was that.
Around that time, the idea of a merger came up. It was mentioned cautiously at first, as it was a sensitive subject. But time was running out: Both clubs were struggling and the financial burdens were getting heavier. An approach, however prudent, had to be made. Meetings took place between Claude Barbey and Georges Bourgeois for Servette and Fred Wenger and Félicien Buzzano for Genève. Lucien Billy, Administrative Councillor for the City of Geneva, and André Blanc, Head of Sports Services, provided support and advice. Eventually, at the end of spring, a protocol was presented to the two General Assemblies who ratified it.
Nothing came easy, not even the future club’s name. Servette Club had to give its blessing for the name ‘Servette’ to be kept in the new club’s name but, with some good will and a little pressure, an agreement was finally reached, and Genève-Servette HC was born at the end of the spring of 1963.
Would all this have happened if, a few weeks earlier, Servette had beaten Grasshopper to the title and gained promotion to the NLA? Yes, say officials from both clubs, the same who obstinately completed the merger, which they saw as inevitable. Still, we have our doubts…
Swiss NLB Champion 1963
Genève-Servette HC was born. It was now time to act. First a choice had to be made between the two coaches, Rejda who came from Genève and Pichette from Servette. Rejda’s contract was valid for another two years and had to be honoured so Pichette left, remaining friends with all involved. Friends he would later meet up with again more than once, in Canada and in Switzerland.
The team was put together during a training camp in Villars where 32 players were gathered. Eventually, the core team was formed and the championship began. Genève-Servette was a favourite for its group but stumbled twice and finished with the same total points as Martigny. A play-off match had to be played. President Claude Barbey and treasurer Georges Bourgeois had a good case and Martigny came to Geneva where they lost 4-2. The worst part was over. In the Swiss national final, Genève-Servette met Bienne, the champion of the Eastern group. They won 7-0 in Bienne and 8-1 in the return match in Geneva. It was done. Genève-Servette had gained promotion to the National League A. The merger, completed nine months earlier, had produced the desired effect right away. From the 1964-1965 campaign onwards, Genève-Servette was a NLA team and remained in the top-tier for another 11 campaigns, becoming vice-champion five times and winning the Swiss Cup in 1972 (the last edition after a five-year break for this competition) before beginning a slow descent which, at the end of the 1974-1975 campaign, saw the team drop back into the NLB.To the top
The end of a dream
Nevertheless, it is at the head of a team that had just dropped back down to the NLB and that was finding it hard to make ends meet that Michel Rossetti was appointed, along with a few new board members. The goal of the new board? An immediate return of the first team to the NLA. Efforts were made during the transfer campaign but no one will take offence (we hope at least) if we say that the goal soon appeared beyond the team’s reach.
The team did finish first in the Western qualifying group, which helped maintain a few illusions, but the play-off soon set the record straight. Even if the goal had not been achieved, however, at least the championship had gone smoothly. The future of Genève-Servette was in no way jeopardised.
Yet, although the situation was not jeopardised, the goal (however daring) had not been achieved at the end of this first campaign in the NLB, meaning that the torments of purgatory were far from over. It’s almost commonplace to repeat it: All club leaders know how hard it is to control the consequences of relegation and to address the priorities that enable a return to the NLA. Many a great club that belongs to the wonderful and glorious tradition of Swiss ice hockey has experienced it: Arosa, Lausanne and Davos, to mention but three striking examples, will ease any anxieties.
These difficulties would arise in the following campaigns but it was another problem that blighted the 1976-1977 campaign. A charming and quiet Soviet coach, Ramil Valiulin, was now coaching the team. Unfortunately, he had arrived in Geneva too late and some had already taken their stance, even before the championship had begun, within the team as well as on the outside. If the worst was avoided (the team was for a moment seriously threatened with another relegation) and if the end of the championship thankfully unfolded relatively smoothly, it is thanks to Michel Rossetti’s boards, which resisted promises that weren’t always driven by a desire to serve the club above all else.
Let’s summarise the period that followed relegation to the NLB, a period that began at the end of the 1974-1975 campaign, when Genève-Servette dropped out of the NLA:
1975-1976: Expectations set are beyond the team’s real technical abilities.
1976-1977: A troubled campaign, on the ice as well as in the wings. The worst is feared although serenity eventually prevails thanks to some order being restored. No glamour, no drama, but considered resolutions.
1977-1978: There is hope again, with overall efforts and substantial financial risks being taken. Some glamour returns to the team with a few stars arriving in Geneva, preceded by their excellent reputation. But reputation is one thing and efficiency on the spur of the moment is another and it is soon a bit of a reality check for some. Despite all this, it is quite a good campaign even if the goal of getting back up to the NLA fails miserably. The worst is that this team of disappointing stars is soon cut off from its public. Between that Genève-Servette team and the Geneva public, there is no love lost.
A time for experiments
Very soon and before the championship was banished to the archives, the board drew a line that it would keep from then on and with which it would take no more liberties. First an option had to be determined, namely building a local backbone for Genève-Servette by calling on the club’s forces systematically and continuously.
First concrete action: calling on Jean-Pierre Kast, head of the juniors’ movement, to coach the first team. With this offer to Jean-Pierre Kast, a former Geneva player, trained in Geneva and a pillar of the first team of Genève and then of Genève-Servette, a deliberate choice had been made. Preference had been given to a certain type of hockey: an attractive style of play that focused on teamwork. The type of game the public in Les Vernets had loved and that it had been robbed of with its previous star-studded National League B team.
By accepting this offer, Jean-Pierre Kast knew what he was getting into. He knew he would have to recruit within the club and that this would bring stability and security. All he needed was time. Eventually, a complete agreement was reached.
The first team of Genève-Servette couldn’t enter into the fray with a Geneva contingent only, that was obvious, but still it went in with its own spirit, the one instilled by its coach, and with the unanimous approval of the board and the strong support of the public.To the top
It is only after the 1994-1995 campaign, after a victory over Luzern in the play-off, that the Geneva hockey players re-established themselves in the NLB. Despite a limited contingent, Genève-Servette had a very good campaign for its return to the NLB. The team qualified for the play-off but were eventually defeated in three matches by Grasshopper, then considered as the group’s major threat. The next campaign was far less glorious. Despite a strengthened team, GSHC never got off the ground. They even fired their coach during the campaign. There was nothing to it and with the structure of the championship changing they finished second to last in the Western group. They then failed to qualify for the play-off, finishing fourth in the second round.
The play-out that followed, in which they were paired with HC Ajoie, were calamitous. The team lost the first game at home, which did not bode well, but the Grenats reacted well, going on to win the next three games. Players celebrated staying in the NLB and everyone left Les Vernets. Unfortunately, no one had expected HC Ajoie to lodge an appeal, which the League accepted and which saw Genève-Servette’s second victory overturned in favour of HC Ajoie. The club urgently called its players back, who were already away skiing. The following match was explosive. Indeed, three minutes from time, Ajoie was leading by three goals to nil when the Eagles suddenly clawed their way back in a final surge. They even went on to win in overtime. This time, Genève-Servette had really saved its skin.
Hoping to avoid any such repeat, club leaders recruited heavily but, because of internal problems, the team never reached its peak and once again had to battle against relegation. Thankfully, Genève-Servette didn’t find it too hard to stay up this time around.
Stuck in a downward spiral, the 1998-1999 campaign was once again calamitous and, this time around, the Grenats only managed to stay up thanks to Martigny and Herisau’s withdrawal. Over the course of these three campaigns, the Geneva team knew no less than four coaches.To the top
A breath of fresh air
This incredible campaign brought some credibility back to Genève-Servette and, a few months later, president Marco Torriani signed an agreement with American group Anschutz (AEG), giving the club fresh ambition.To the top
Tribute to Honorary President Claude Barbey
The history of Genève-Servette, from the merger to the present day, was imbued with the presence of the late Mr Claude Barbey, Honorary President of the club.
After the merger, the withdrawal of Genève HC’s president, Félicien Buzzano, left a trio of leaders in charge consisting of Claude Barbey, Georges Bourgeois and Pierre Bill, commonly referred to as ‘the Three Bs’.
Their succession at the end of the 70s saw a host of charismatic presidents until the arrival of Marco Torriani in 1991. Thirty years after Barbey’s presidency, Marco Torriani would still contact our Honorary President for his help to tackle the club’s various difficulties.
Without Claude Barbey, this club might not exist today and these pictures are here to express our respect and gratitude.
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Return to the top division
With the arrival of the Anschutz group, Genève-Servette was finally able to achieve its ambitions. The first decision that would eventually lead the team to the National League A was the signing of Igor Fedulov for the 2000/2001 season. It was followed by the decision to sign coach Chris McSorley in the summer of 2001. After an almost perfect campaign (a total of five defeats, playoffs included!), the Grenat returned to the Swiss top division, 27 years after dropping into the minor leagues.
But the Eagles’ achievements did not stop at promotion. In their first season back in the NLA, Chris McSorley’s men took everyone by surprise by reaching the playoffs – a unique feat since the introduction of playoffs in 1986! Geneva spectators were certainly aware of the fact and filled Les Vernets, which averaged the fourth largest crowd in Switzerland – a top-four Geneva has never left since.
The Servette club managed another feat in their second season in the top division, climbing to third in the regular season and reaching the club’s first semi-final in the playoffs. The club was clearly ambitious and Geneva started dreaming of a first national ice hockey title. The NHL lockout in 2004-2005 did not help GSHC, since it now belonged to the same owner as the Los Angeles Kings. NHL players had to wait until November to come to Les Vernets, while several Swiss teams had, since September been able to count on several NHL players. Despite this, the Grenat still reached the playoffs again.
In the summer, the Anschutz group pulled out. Chris McSorley and Hugues Quennec bought the club back and offered the presidency to Jean-Michel Barbey, Claude Barbey’s son. The 2005/2006 season was a moment to forget however as the Eagles finished 11th in the regular season, eventually saving their place in the NLA in the play-outs. Jean-Michel Barbey left and Hugues Quennec took over the presidency.
A breath of fresh air came in 2006 when Chris McSorley built a new-style team and the Grenat fought tooth and nail in every match, which eventually paid off. Twice in 2008 and 2010 Genève-Servette reached the finals of the Swiss championship after finishing second in the regular season. First against ZSC Lions and Bern two years later, the Geneva team were narrowly beaten, although they won the growing support of their fans as well as the respect of other Swiss hockey teams. Unfortunately, the title that Servette HC, HC Genève, and now GSHC have always coveted still eludes them. Will they finally capture it in the next decade?
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The Eagles aimed to do as well as they did in the previous campaign. Strengthened by players whose profile fitted Chris McSorley’s vision, Genève-Servette Hockey Club was nevertheless faced with a problem, namely injuries. Despite the team integrating several youngsters from the Genève Futur Hockey Association, the Grenat couldn’t avoid difficulties in the first part of the regular campaign.
The players actually needed something to happen for the penny to drop. Luckily, over the holiday season, GSHC was invited to the Spengler Cup. The Grenat did well and finished fourth after loosing to the eventual winner of the Swiss tournament, SKA St-Petersburg, in the semi-final.
After returning from the tournament, the Eagles ended the campaign on an incredible high, going from candidates for the play-out to fifth in the table. Despite resisting well, the team eventually went out in the quarter-final to EV Zug, who were playing in their brand new stadium.
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During the summer, a wave of changes hit Les Vernets and the transfer market saw several older players leave to make room for younger ones. This didn’t stop the Eagles from showing some ambition with the aim of finishing in the top part of the league table.
Unfortunately, as in the previous campaign, an even worse avalanche of injuries hit Genève-Servette Hockey Club, forcing Chris McSorley to reshuffle his lines and to use players in new positions. As a result, the team struggled.
For the first time since the 2005-2006 season, the Grenat were below the bar. The rare times the team was almost at full strength, it showed it could move mountains, as it did in January for example. Unfortunately that didn’t last and every new high ended with more defections.
Eventually, the Eagles finished a point away from safety and were condemned to the play-out. Since they weren’t able to prepare as they should have for this relegation battle, the team was beaten by Rapperswil before turning around to beat Ambrì-Piotta in the next round (4-0).
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The Eagles began the campaign exceptionally well, with nine victories out of nine (and a total of 26 points out of a possible 27). It was a new record for Swiss ice hockey and a heady time for the Geneva club, which spent more than half their campaign in the lead (from the second to the 28th day).
The campaign was also marked by a new lockout in the NHL. Several players moved to Europe, such as Logan Couture (San Jose Sharks) and Yannick Weber (Montreal Canadiens) who ended up wearing the garnet jersey until the end of the dispute (6 January).
After their explosive start, the Grenat secured their place in the play-off but failed to consolidate their strong start, having to settle for a seventh place finish. As a result, they faced Bern in the quarterfinal for the fifth time since 2002-2003. The Eagles began well, leading 3-1 in the series, but luck wasn’t on their side and success eluded them. The ‘Bears’ won in the seventh game after twice staring defeat in the face.
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Thankfully, the Eagles got over the disappointment of the previous spring. The beginning of the campaign was complicated, especially as the team struggled to integrate new foreign players, but in October, the Grenat were above the bar and managed to stay there during the whole season.
As in 2010, GSHC took part in the Spengler Cup. This second appearance was synonymous with success: the Eagles defeated the Rochester Americans, CSKA Moscow, Team Canada and the team from Moscow once again to lift the trophy with four victories out of four. This achievement fired up the team, who ended the regular season well, finishing fourth, one point in front of Lugano.
In the playoffs, the Eagles faced the Ticino team for the first time ever, eventually winning after five matches, thanks to a final penalty scored by the club’s 17-year old revelation, Noah Rod,. In the semi-finals, GSHC came face to face with ZSC Lions for the fourth time. The team fought well but ended up capitulating in the decisive seventh match against the eventual champion.
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The new campaign was shaping up to be an exciting one for the Grenat. Indeed, aside from the NLA and the Spengler Cup, where they defended their title, they featured in the Champions Hockey League (the new European competition) as well as the Swiss Cup, which returned for the first time since 1972 when GSHC had won it.
The Geneva team successfully competed in all four competitions, even though their results were a little uneven during the regular season. In the three other competitions, the Grenat represented Geneva with pride, reaching round 16 in the Champions Hockey League, the semi-final of the Swiss Cup and, better still, successfully defending their Spengler Cup title with a perfect score sheet.
Once again, the Eagles reached the play-offs where, as 12 months before, they again crossed paths with Lugano. Although they did not have home advantage, they still managed to defeat the Ticinese team. For the first time in its history, GSHC beat a higher-ranked team in the play-offs! In the semi-final, a depleted Geneva squad squared up to Zurich but the Lions ended up winning in the sixth match.
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