Swiss Hockey; a Canadian perspective. 

So we’ve had a solid amount of time as part of the youth hockey program here in Switzerland. I’m starting to think that I’ve figured things out, getting into the groove, mostly. 

There was an unfortunate incident with the hockey bag on a tram yesterday which left me splayed out on my arse on the floor of the tram while my children looked on in horror. “Holy crap, Mom just  fell down!” (True story, I have marks to prove it!)

Pre-tram episode. Enjoying the beauty of Zurich on the way to the rink.

I’m pretty sure that we are in the minority; those families who choose to take all public transportation to hockey events are pretty rare. As in we may be the only ones. 

Most public transit is incredibly accessible which is fantastic. Yesterday’s tram was not which meant there was just a tiny space in the door, up 3 steps to try to squeeze the giant hockey bag through. The push pull that insued eventually led to me being popped, unexpectedly, into the tram with the bag on top of me. There was a collective gasp from the other transit users as they all tried to help me by picking up my phone, my sun glasses, my purse and my dignity which had all gone sailing. 

Mortifying moment notwithstanding, getting to and from our hockey events by transit is great and simply adds to the adventure for us. We are used to having to leave home a good hour and a quarter before the game begins so this is all in stride for us. 

Saturday’s rink. Amazing real tree decorated in the adjacent public skating rink. See D on the ice? Black helmet, Bragg Creek Bears socks…

There are 3 games per weekend over the Saturday & Sunday in various Swiss towns. On Thursday you find out which game your child will be playing in. This makes weekend plans awfully tricky as whichever day is your hockey day pretty much becomes a write off for anything else. For a highly organized nation, this last minute planning seems highly unorthodox. 

So we set out by bus, to train, to tram, to funicar to the rink. Upon arrival D joins his teammates for 1 hour of dry land warm up. They run up hills, do jumping jacks, lunges, etc.. Then they gear up for the game, or should I say, games. They play 3 games. 30 minutes each facing 3 different teams. 10 minutes between games to go to the dressing room for sweet tea and snacks. 

European rinks are 15′ wider than a North American rink. They set up the kids to play across the ice, rather than the length of the ice. So it’s really quite a small surface for a game. They reduce the number of players to 4 on 4 to keep it less crowded. Shifts are 1 minute which changes at the sound of a buzzer. No face offs unless there’s a goal. 

Two games happening at once across the ice. The centre acts as the bench for players not on shift.

I asked a family why they don’t play the full ice and it was explained that it’s just too much for the kids. Hmmm…

Having watched Tykes (5,6 & 7yr olds) play the full ice back home, I’m pretty confident that 9,10, 11 yr olds could handle it here. Pretty sure if we ditched the one hour warm up, played only 1, 60 minute game, rather than 1.5 hours of game time, the kids would manage that ice just fine!

Also, after having experienced 2 insane rain events, I’ve asked “so what’s up with that?” to be told “oh no, the Swiss NEVER cancel/postpone an event. No matter the weather, it will proceed. You never change the schedule.”

Good to know. This has a substantial impact on how we pack for the game. Knowing Helena and I may be forced to sit through 2.5 hours of horrible weather means I must be prepared for everything adding one more sizable bag to wrestle with on the trams. Clearly the choice to not travel by public transit has been an informed choice by most families. 

The gentleman’s rule we are familiar with at home of no player scoring more than 3 goals during a game also doesn’t exist here. (At home, said super-star kid will begin to focus on setting up his teammates after scoring his 3rd goal. Makes for a nice team-work feel.)

Yesterday we watched one of D’s teammates score 18 goals over the 3 games. No hyperbole, he literally scored 18 goals. He is a skilled, speedy little thing! Quite something to watch when he’s on your kid’s team. You’d want him taken out pretty hard if you were from the other team! Luckily he wasn’t on D’s line or D wouldn’t have stood a chance to score. 

Post game everyone strips down and gets into the shower. Everyone that is except the wide-eyed Canadian kid who flees the dressing room like it’s on fire. In Canada the outdoor rinks aren’t equipped with showers so the whole getting naked with all your teammates (male & female) isn’t something we’ve experienced yet. I get that it is totally a part of sport culture (perhaps less the guys & gals together) but we prefer to take our stink back home to shower alone.  (No photos to share of the nakedness in the dressing rooms for obvious reasons.)

So far I have yet to witness anything that even comes close to a crazy parent. No one yells, no one bullies the coaches or the refs. It’s all very civilized. And to think, this all happens at rinks where booze is readily available for all spectators to have. 

I wonder what the difference is. Maybe the thought of “making it big” hasn’t crossed the minds of the parents here. Maybe it’s the soccer teams who have bat-shit parents. That’s the sport with big aspirations. Or maybe it’s part of the civilized culture that comes with European living. Who knows?

How’s this for civilized? Padded cabana style chairs to watch the game.
Make no mistake, once the sun went down it was Canada-cold! So wishing I had packed better winter coats!

Hard to believe hockey isn’t a big deal here considering how much effort they put into it. On top of the marathon game event every weekend there are 4 practices each week. 4!!

We’re a hockey loving family (well 3 out of 4 anyhow) and even for us that is too much. Monday night, 2 hours, Tuesday 6:00 am for 1 hour, Wednesday afternoon 1.5 hours, Thursday 1 hour. We opt for 2 out of 4. Monday & Wednesday. That’s doable. 

And for all the intensity of the practices, and they are intense, the games have little structure. There are 8 different trainers working with the kids at practice, serious drills. Even my sister, the goodess of youth hockey & all things sports, was impressed. And yet the games have a bit of a free-for-all feel. Once that buzzer sounds to indicate shift change, you race out there after the puck with no sense of a position or strategy other than “get the puck!”

It’s odd. 

In our, always humble, Canadian opinion. 

But we’ll put up with odd as long as wine & fondue, overlooking the incredible, real Christmas tree on the rink is a post-game routine always. 

The offerings at the rink cafeteria. Someone needs to start this back home!

Fondue was amazing, complete with special fondue sized bread bites.

And, the rink we were at this weekend is just up the hill from Zurich’s version of the Banff Springs. (The Dolder Grand – a mere 10 yrs younger than the Springs.) It’s a “holy crap” kind of hotel. 

A. Maz. Ing.

Such a peek into the lives of the truly upper crust. Once Manolo joined us at the end of the day we popped in to take a look. We like to bring down the socioeconomic value of a room whenever we can. 

The Dolder Grand. Whoa.

Jackpot for super cars. Like a real life episode of Lifestyle of the Rich and Famous.

Smile like you know you belong here!

One of the very best parts of hockey back home of course are the friends. The buddies on the team and the mom’s you grow so fond of while shivering together in the cold. This part is definitely missing here. D is slowly starting to make friends on the team; he gets the odd fist bump here and there. He’s come through with a goal at the last few outings so that helps too. 

Hockey for me has been far lonelier but recently I met another Canadian mom; their family relocated from Montreal permanently a year ago. Her son is on another team but we’ve crossed paths 2 Saturdays in a row now. It felt so good to giggle with someone who understands and appreciates the absurdity of it all. There is hope for me yet to finally have a friend of my own in this lonely world. 


7 Comments Add yours

  1. Heather says:

    I’d suffer through almost any weather watching a game if that fondue and wine were waiting for me afterwards!! Yumm! Miss seeing you on the side of the rink 😉


    1. Think we could convince Black Diamond to add this to their menu!?
      Is Lucas loving being on Atom? I bet he’s killing it!


  2. Robin Pharo says:

    We have been contemplating a move to Switzerland when my son moves to 9th grade for a year. His big goal is to live and play professionally in Switzerland. We thought a year abroad there would be a great family adventure. Your post here (and the whole blog that I have since read lol) makes me want to give up that plan. It also makes me want to do it more. Thanks for the great insight and good luck on your adventure.


    1. Hi Robin.
      You MUST do it. Or at least some sort of grand leap into a new adventure. It is certain to be much more than you expect – both good and bad. It is tough, but worth every challenging moment!

      The hockey has been bitter sweet. My son would never contemplate life without hockey – that would be like life without sunshine for him. And yet being the new kid on the team, not speaking the language, has been hard. But finally finding buddies on the team has been so rewarding.

      We are 6 months in to our year and feel so torn. 1 year might not be long enough. There is so much we have yet to discover but we also miss home like crazy. Glad to have done it when the kids are young. They are so resilient.

      Feel free to ask me questions. Every family should do something bold like this. You won’t regret it.


  3. Claudette says:

    What an amazing article, I’m glad I stumbled across this! I am a Canadian hockey mom now to my son (GTHL Peewee) and a ringette rep girl (age 10) and never ever heard of hockey other than in passing while growing up in Switzerland (near Zurich, for 10 years). Huh! So this was extra special for me to read. 🙂

    Cheers from Toronto


    1. Ever consider giving your kids the Swiss experience? My son would love a Peewee-aged-english-speaking hockey buddy!
      Funny that our lives are a flip-flopped. My first years in Canada were in Toronto!
      Thanks for reading.


      1. Claudette says:

        Well hockey is expensive, and the other kid is in two Ringette, not a lot of money left over for travel….


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