Worldstars taking it too easy

TERRY JONES -- Edmonton Sun

, Last Updated: 8:09 AM ET

BERN, Switzerland -- It was probably better this way. I mean, you wouldn't have wanted 8,221 fans to have laid down in front of the Bern Bears' bus after the game, if their team had been embarrassed by the visiting Worldstars.

That happened here to another Swiss team, the Langnau Tigers - a team that Tim Connolly is playing for this year - when they lost a fifth-straight league game last weekend.

Fans in Switzerland tend to travel short distances in large numbers to watch their teams play on the road. And when Langnau lost their fifth straight, their travelling fans decided to lay down in front of the Tigers' bus in protest.

"The fans were very angry," reported Connolly, the Buffalo Sabre, of the game that resulted in coach Dave Chambers being fired Monday.

But the travelling team of NHL stars went so far out of their way not to make Bern, the eighth-place team in the 12-team league, not look bad that they damn near lost the game.

BRIERE WORRY

Maybe Daniel Briere, the locked-out NHLer who now plays for Bern but had played for the Worldstars two nights earlier in the Czech Republic, had convinced the tourists that he was worried his Swiss club would be blown out in their own building.

It was the biggest barnstorming tour in the history of hockey playing the town with the largest attendance outside of the NHL.

You'd have thought that would have made for something special, but this was the one stop on the 10-game tour that really didn't have the sizzle of the first four.

Mostly, it was absolutely awful hockey.

It's not that there wasn't any atmosphere. The crowd, almost all of them standing in the 80% seatless arena, made enough noise singing and banging drums all night to convince you that you were at a soccer game.

"The crowd was pretty amazing," said Martin Brodeur, the goaltender who had missed the sensational scene in Pilsen in the Czech Republic when he stayed in Russia for the Igor Larionov going-away game.

"After a while, that constant noise and all that drum banging began to get to me. For that reason I don't think I'd come to play in Switzerland if there's no season.''

Briere was hoping to show the NHLers the atmosphere he experiences for every home game in Switzerland. "It's too bad there wasn't a full crowd. It was only 70% of the atmosphere we usually have here."

Bern, the gateway to the Jungfraugh 'Top of Europe' area where the famed Wengen and Grindelwald World Cup ski races are held, has averaged 14,000 a game to lead all of Europe in attendance (narrowly beating Germany's Cologne) each of the last three years.

"It was a 'friendly,' not a regular-season game," it was explained to me.

The Swiss, you see, like their hockey Swiss. Attendance hasn't dramatically changed since 20 NHL players signed up to play in the Swiss League and one, Marc Savard, was sent home for playing lazily.

In Switzerland, NHL means No Hit League. You can watch several seasons of Swiss hockey and not see a single bodycheck.

"Joe Thornton, who is playing in Davos with Rick Nash, was slashed in one of his first games and hit Marlin Skittegger so hard on the next shift it made him fly about three feet in the air," said longtime Swiss scribe Klaus Zaugg in the media lounge before the game.

"That's the only hit we've seen in the league."

Zaugg says it's been an interesting season.

"Martin St. Louis is playing for Lausanne and he didn't score in his first game, then scored into his own net in the second game," Zaugg said of the Stanley Cup-winning Tampa Bay star.

"You remember Michel Riesen?'' he said of the 'Swiss Miss' the Edmonton Oilers picked in the first round a few years back.

"Last year he only scored 16 goals. This year he said 'I will not talk to media, I will only score.' He already has 16 goals. But no quotes.' ''

Briere was the guy with all the quotes.

"We know their guys didn't play 100%," he said of the exhibition in which the travelling team of all NHLers scored the first two goals before letting up and watching the Swiss score four in a row.

Two goals in a span of 16 seconds by Sergei Fedorov and Brendan Shanahan got it back on track for what turned out to be a 7-6 Worldstars win, in which Ray Whitney and Shanahan both scored twice.

FEAR OF EMBARRASSMENT

"We didn't get embarrassed. That's what worried us," said Briere.

Eric Lecompte, a former Quebec Junior star, was borrowed from elsewhere in the Swiss league for the game, along with goalie David Aebischer and forwards Andreas Johansson, Shean Donovan and Michal Grosek.

Lecompte was set up for three goals by Briere.

"For the rest of his life he'll be able to tell people he scored three goals on Martin Brodeur," said Briere, who fetched the puck out of the net when Lecompte completed his hat trick.

"Hey, got to look after the French-Canadian guy," joked Brodeur.

Briere was stopped twice on breakaways by Canada's national netminder.

"There's a limit," he laughed.

Next stop, Sweden.


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