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SC Bern fans celebrate from start to finish

Tuesday, 09.30.2008 / 4:00 PM / NHL Premiere

By Dan Rosen - NHL.com Senior Writer


BERN, Switzerland – They packed themselves into "The Wall" like sardines, waving flags, banging on drums, chanting and singing songs throughout the entire game.

When SC Bern defenseman Travis Roche scored one minute into the third period, the fans on their feet in the cavernous standing room only section in the upper bowl were so loud it was piercing.

Even after the New York Rangers took a commanding lead Tuesday night en route to their 8-1 victory against the Swiss club, they still banged on those drums, waved those giant flags, chanted those chants and sang those songs.

"They were non-stop," Rangers center Scott Gomez said.

When it comes to atmosphere for a hockey game in Switzerland and perhaps all of Europe, every SC Bern player will tell you nothing even comes close to what the Rangers experienced Tuesday night inside PostFinance Arena.

Not to knock the NHL fans, but some of the Rangers said there isn't a North American arena that compares to the SC Bern experience either.

"The thing that sets them apart from some of the crowds in the NHL is they just keep going," Rangers center Brandon Dubinsky said. "It doesn't matter what the score is, they keep beating the drums and yelling and cheering for their team. It's pretty refreshing to see and certainly pretty awesome."

The buzz around this city has been palpable all week. The fans, excited for the NHL to come to Switzerland for the first time in history, gobbled up tickets so they could finally see the NHL in person, not on the television or computer.

"I took my credit card right out and got five tickets," Bern resident Thomas Oeschger, who was somewhere on "The Wall" with his sons, Steven and Yannick, said before entering the arena. "Now, it's finally here."

Two hours before the game, the buzz began to reach a fever pitch. Fans wearing all kinds of hockey paraphernalia, from NHL team jerseys, jackets, hats and t-shirts to SC Bern gear, lined up outside the arena entrances, pining for the gates to open.

Once inside, they filled up most of the arena -- 16,022 of them -- but all eyes were focused on that large section aptly named "The Wall."

The drummers banged away at the nine drums that are built in over the entrance to the concourse at center ice. The chants grew louder and louder as the minutes continued to click off the clock until 6 p.m., anthem time.

"It's just a party with young people there," said Ella Brunisholz, a 23-year-old hotel receptionist from Bern who has been coming to SC Bern games since her childhood. "It's crazy."

When the starting goalies, Stephen Valiquette of the Rangers and Martin Buhrer of SC Bern, were introduced, the chants grew louder and louder.

Gomez, the first Rangers' skater to be introduced, stared up at the raucous upper deck patrons as he skated onto the ice. He looked bewildered, a big smile on his face. He even let out a laugh.

When each SC Bern player was introduced, the public address announcer said only their first name. In unison, "The Wall" screamed out his last name.

"This whole week we have heard so much about the people up there," Gomez said. "They lived up to their reputation. It was great to be a part of it."

"This whole week we have heard so much about the people up there. They lived up to their reputation. It was great to be a part of it." -- Rangers Scott Gomez

The fans never stopped.

They roared when the Rangers staked themselves to a 2-0 lead after the first period, when they outshot SC Bern, 10-3. They roared when the Rangers scored back-to-back power-play goals just 27 seconds apart early in the third period to go up 4-1.

All the way until the end, the bitter end for their beloved hockey club that gave up six power-play goals, the fans banged on those drums, sang those songs and chanted those SC Bern chants.

Fittingly, both the Rangers and SC Bern players saluted "The Wall" once the game was over, raising their sticks before banging them on the ice, hockey's famous stick salute.

At this point every fan inside PostFinance Arena was on his or her feet, giving a standing ovation to the two hockey teams.

"They basically cheer for every play in the hockey game and that's what makes it really exciting," said Valiquette, who made 21 saves. "We have to do something special most nights (in the NHL) to get a good crowd roar and here they cheer for everything. It makes it very easy for us to stay in the game that way."

The thing is, the fans weren't doing anything special for the Rangers. They're this loud and passionate for every game.

“This is the only rink in Switzerland where we have so many fans. It's packed and it's great. That's the reason I'm here playing hard every night in front of those people. It's a great feeling. I love it here. I've been here seven years and I wouldn't change. I wouldn't go anywhere else."
-- SC Bern captain Christian Dube

"This is the only rink in Switzerland where we have so many fans," SC Bern captain Christian Dube said. "It's packed and it's great. That's the reason I'm here playing hard every night in front of those people. It's a great feeling. I love it here. I've been here seven years and I wouldn't change. I wouldn't go anywhere else."

Added Trevor Meier, an SC Bern forward who grew up in Ontario: "I have seen it many times now, but every time it's still amazing. It looks like they can fall right over. When you skate here for the first time and look up, it's an amazing scene."

Oeschger, whose sons were each wearing Rangers jerseys, said the fans yell at anybody who gets tired and just wants to sit down for a moment. It's unacceptable when you're part of "The Wall."

"It's crazy," said Oeschger, who was wearing a Mats Sundin All-Star Game jersey. "During the playoffs we have a flag that goes 20 meters and you see it flying and it's like a wall. Fans are standing all the time. It's like the playoffs in the NHL."

Only it's not.

Maybe it's as loud as an NHL arena during the Stanley Cup Playoffs, but even then there are no drums, no chanting, no singing and most of the time, no flags.

Heck, Tuesday night a couple of creative fans even waved around a cardboard cutout of the Stanley Cup with an SC Bern logo pasted on it.

"People tell you about it, but you're not prepared for it," SC Bern coach John Van Boxmeer said. "It is wild, just wild."

The Rangers had heard all about it, too. The hype is certainly justified.

"It was special to play in this game," Gomez said, "because we don't get to see that every day."

Contact Dan Rosen at drosen@nhl.com.
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