The allegedly impossible happened a week ago: Tuesday evening, April 17th, 2012. Steve McCarthy, defender of the ZSC Lions took the decisive shot for a goal that would make his team the Swiss hockey champion two seconds before the end of the regular game time and the logical announcement of a subsequent overtime. He scored. The game was over. The Lions from Zurich were declared champions in Europe’s largest hockey arena, home of their competitors SC Bern. Why is the happening worth mentioning? Because it is one of the most fascinating and impressive stories in the history of Swiss hockey. And because it offers a simple recipe of life.
Looking back at the regular season, the Lions had been struggling hard for long periods. Not only didn’t they find any effective ways to compete against formally stronger teams, but they also indulged themselves in too many mistakes against real underdogs. Throughout the year, they collected 77 points out of 50 games, which put them at risk of not even qualifying for the playoffs, the crucial knock-out stage where several teams play for the actual championship title. Nobody would have been surprised if the Lions dropped out at that point, but they managed to qualify just barely. The playoffs began. And this is when the underdog from Zurich started to shock their opponents one by one.
After eliminating the reigning champion (Davos) in the first round and the winner of the regular season (Zug) in the second round, they had to face Bern in the finals. Experts were in agreement that the Bears from the capital city had the league’s best roster at their disposal, which became evident once the two teams started to play against each other. The first team with four victories would win the championship. Bern led with 3-1. At that point of the series, nobody would have even put one penny on the Lions. Too many factors suggested an easy win by their mighty and forceful opponent. But everything came out differently. Zurich managed to turn the tables and decide the series with a strong morale, an iron will, continuous persistence, and three consecutive victories. Such a rise, from an abortive season to the most unexpected champion in decades, wasn’t even expected by some of the most optimistic and enthusiastic Lions supporters.
Here is what Bob Hartley, the winning trainer, had to say after the already mentioned final game: “That’s the image of our season. We win it in the last two seconds. What a crazy team, but that’s who we were. They battled hard all year and they believed that we could do it. And I challenged them that we would shock the Swiss hockey world, and we did. I’m very proud of my boys. The ones who believed were in our organization and that’s where it matters. Hopefully we showed people a great lesson of life: do never quit, do always persevere. And you know what, two point some seconds left, that’s unreal.”
The only place where success comes before work is in the dictionary. The young team from Zurich understood the performance culture Bob Hartley has been known for in a long time. A friend of mine told me recently that some of the best things are found from tempered persistence and level-headed practicality. The Lions demonstrated this thought in an impressive way. I have never been an enthusiast for idealistic quotes and overdoses of optimism, but this example shows that Winston Churchill used to share a good amount of truth with the world: “The positive thinker sees the invisible, feels the intangible and achieves the impossible.” He can’t be too wrong about that.