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Pittis, Zurich welcome Blackhawks, competition

by Shawn P. Roarke
ZURICH, Switzerland -- According to Domenic Pittis, ZSC Zurich is ready for the Chicago Blackhawks.

Zurich, the winner of the Champions Hockey League Cup last spring, earned the right to play the Blackhawks in the Victoria Cup Tuesday at Zurich's Hallenstadion. The New York Rangers defeated Metallurg Magnitogorsk, 4-3, in last year's inaugural event.

Pittis, a former NHLer from Calgary, has played for Zurich for the past three years and believes his team is ready for whatever the Blackhawks can muster in their final game before kicking off the NHL regular season three nights later against Florida in the first game of the two-game NHL Compuware Premiere Finland series being played in Helsinki.

"Chicago has always been in the back of our mind this season," Pittis told "The guys want to put on a good show. A lot of guys haven't been to North America to play hockey or play at that level, so they want to see how they stack up."

Pittis, who spent years with in the Buffalo Sabres organization, has had NHL cups of coffee with the Pittsburgh Penguins, Edmonton Oilers, Sabres and Nashville Predators before leaving full-time for Switzerland six seasons ago.

Zurich's leading scorer so far this season, Pittis is one of two Canadians on the roster, joined by Jean-Guy Trudel. Zurich's other imports are also recognizable to NHL fans.

Slovakian forward Peter Cejna played 49 games with the St. Louis Blues after a stellar career at Colorado College. He has been with the Lions the past three seasons. Slovakian defenseman Radoslav Suchy, meanwhile, has six years of NHL experience with Phoenix and Columbus. He has also been with Zurich for three years. Backup goalie Ari Sulander never played in the NHL, but the staple of the Finnish national team for more than a decade is one of the most recognizable goalies in Europe. He has been with Zurich for a dozen years.

So what can the Blackhawks expect from a team of mainly Swiss players, bolstered by a few key imports?

"It's a skating game over here," Pittis said. "It's more on the technical side than the physical side here. It's fast-paced and it's a lot of offense. Guys aren't as big or as strong, but everyone here can skate."

Shawn Simpson, the Zurich coach, has been around pro hockey for almost three decades and he has coached throughout Europe. He says that the Swiss are among the best skaters in all of Europe.

"It's an up-tempo league here," Simpson told "Really, everyone in this league can skate well and the Swiss are known for that ability."

But, he doesn't think that his team's ability to skate will pay many dividends against the Blackhawks. Maybe against another NHL team, but not against the young and talented Hawks, who made it to the Western Conference Finals last season.

"I think Chicago has one of the best skating teams in the NHL," Simpson said. "I have to say, we are really looking forward to the experience."

So, too, are the Blackhawks.

Chicago coach Joel Quenneville suggested this is just not another exhibition for his team. The Victoria Cup is an opportunity for the NHL to represent its level of skill in Europe and Quenneville says his team will take that responsibility seriously.

"I think no matter what type of a lineup you have out there, there's a lot of incentive across the board for players looking to make your lineup," Quenneville said. "Everybody wants to do well. Everybody wants to have success. As a coach, you're playing to win every hockey game.

"But, I think that we're getting down to the short strokes here. I think getting your team on top of its game, prepared to play the first game of the season, I think most NHL teams have a real good dress rehearsal their last exhibition game and usually go with their lineup they anticipate starting with. And they give it that type of attention, which we're going to do."

And, the Zurich Lions want to see nothing less than Chicago's best.

"What a great experience for us this is going to be," Simpson said. "For a Swiss team to win the Champions League, against all those teams we were not supposed to beat, to get the opportunity to play the Chicago Blackhawks, an up-and-coming team with a chance to win the Stanley Cup, is all we can ask for."
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