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“Returning to the National League as a coach is still a problem.”

“Returning to the National League as a coach is still a problem.”

We could imagine a return to the ranks of the National League team: Kevin Schlaepfer.Photo: Keystone

Ice Cream Master Zug

Kevin Schlaepfer was once a junior player at EHC Basel, and today, as the club’s sporting director, he is the most charismatic figure in Basel’s hockey culture. He says whether EHC is benefiting from Bayern’s crisis, explains his vision for returning to the Premier League and still has the confidence to be a Premier League coach.

Klaus Zug

Top County Hockey Player: Kevin Schlaepfer (53 years old) conquered the world of national hockey from Basel. Although it was never enough to become a National Player (212 games / 59 points in the NFL), he enjoyed a cult status in the league’s second highest (598 games / 538 points). It was only in 2006 that he achieved national prominence as sporting director and coach at Biel. Until his resignation on 14 November 2016, he led the club from the NLB to the Premier League playoffs.

In the fall of 2016, the federation wanted him as coach of the national team. He canceled in tears. Because he couldn’t let Bill down. Patrick Fisher got the job. A few weeks later, the “Schlafer era” at Biel ended due to a sporting crisis. Since then he has been sitting at the table: at Kloten he was fired during the relegation season, and at Langenthal his job as sporting director ended with a voluntary relegation last spring. So now he has returned home to Basel, the place of his destiny.

When will EHCB be more popular than FCB?
Kevin Schlafer:
UI, UI, UI, this will never be the case again in my life. It would be arrogant to pursue this goal.

What are you aiming for with EHC?
We have a vision for the National League. We want to go back there. It should be possible for Basel to become a city like Bern, Zurich or Geneva, with clubs in the top leagues in football and hockey.

Basel's Arnau Comas leaves the field after receiving a red card, in the Premier League match between FC Basel 1893 and FC Stade Lausanne Ouches, SLO, at St. Jakob-Park in Basel, on Sunday, October 1.

Things are not going well with our big neighbor at the moment – can EHC Basel take advantage of this?Image: Cornerstone

What is the time horizon?
Within three years, we want to become a top team that can aim for promotion. Once we reach this point, we need Basel Economics to commit to the EHCB so we can take the step to the top.

Do you have the economic conditions to be one of the best teams in the Swiss League?
no not yet. We are currently operating on a budget of $2.8 million. To become a top team, we need a budget of five to six million, and in the National League, ten million is the absolute minimum.

“I don’t see any problem working with SC Bern.”

Basel is one of the richest cities in the world. It should actually be possible to find that money.
This is the goal. But we also have to see where we come from. In the past ten years, EHC has played mostly in the top amateur league. We are still working on laying the foundations for first place in the Swiss League. It is up to us to create conditions that encourage the investor to join us.

The important point will be to move away from dependence on the big brother, the Savings Credit Bank.
No, I don’t see a problem with that. All Swiss league teams work with National League clubs, even with a promotion candidate like Olten.

Bern's Nick Mele skates on the ice before the National Ice Hockey League championship game between SC Bern and Lausanne HC, Tuesday, January 31, 2023 at Postfinance Arena in Bern.  (Corner stone...

Nick Meile was part of the EHC Basel squad, but was called up by the Bernese squad.Image: Cornerstone

But you have to expect SCB to bring back the players they have now placed in the EHC at the crucial stage in the spring.
Yes, but only in extreme cases. For example, with several players injured in Bern.

SCB have already brought back defenders Lewis Vollmann and Nick Meili.
Yes, because Jesse Zgrajn is injured and Mika Henauer has moved to Kloten. But this is an exceptional situation.

How many players did SCB put in the EHC?
Five: goalkeeper Andre Heinauer, defenders Louis Vollmann and Nick Mele, and forwards Santiago Nave and Vincent Risser.

In an extreme case, can you live with sending all five back to Bern?
no. Five would be too much and a problem for us. We can handle a maximum of two or three returnees to SCB.

An important prerequisite for a stable sports foundation is the youth section. There is a need to catch up in this area.
Yes, this is correct. We are working extensively on expanding our youth department and I am on the ice with the talent group twice a week and leading that group as well. We currently have about 200 young people and we want to increase this number. The aim is to be among the best in the country up to U15 level and from then on many of our best talents will leave us and move to a Premier League club because we can no longer deliver at U17 and U20 levels. Our disadvantage is that our location is very far from the English Premier League clubs, and therefore we cannot establish a real partnership at youth level.

What about close cooperation in the youth sector with Olten? This would make geographical sense.
Yes, that’s true in theory. But it doesn’t work in practice. We have to develop the foundation for youth work here in Basel.

He added: “Just to assume that we can now become an alternative to Bayern Munich is arrogance.”

Are you benefiting from the Bayern crisis?
no. Of course, the Bayern Munich crisis is always a problem, but to even assume that we might now become an alternative to Bayern Munich is arrogant. There are no sponsors switching from football to us.

And the fans?
Also no. There are people who come to a hockey game every now and then and say: ‘We’ll come and see you too,’ that’s really cool for you. But that’s it. Fans don’t turn away from Bayern so quickly.

Basel players stand in front of their fans after the Premier League match between BSC Young Boys Bern and FC Basel, on Sunday, October 8, 2023 at the Wankdorf Stadium in Bern.  (Keystone/Peter Clowney...

Kevin Schläpfer has no real hope of fans switching from soccer to ice hockey.Image: Cornerstone

What influence did the “Schlafer factor” have on the development of hockey in Basel?
This is a question you should ask others, not me.

But we ask you the question
I am who I am and I completely agree with this mission. My job goes beyond being the sporting director of the first team. I also help with recruiting young talent and with marketing or finding sponsors.

“I still have the confidence to lead a team in the National League.”

Have you already brought sponsors to EHCB?

Do you get a commission for this?
Is it still possible? of course no. This is part of my job at EHC.

What about the “laziness factor” in sports?
What do you mean?

They have already been promoted to the Premier League four times. With Olten, Langnau and Chor as players, with Bale as sporting director and in Bale, you still have hockey god status to this day.
Yes, yes, that’s true. But these clubs already largely had the sporting requirements for promotion, and parallels with Basel were not possible. In Basel – as I said before – we must first work to establish these conditions.

Biel coach Kevin Schlaepfer cheers after winning the fifth NLA/NLB relegation league qualifier between EHC Biel and EHC Visp on Saturday, April 19, 2014, in...

Kevin Schlaepfer played for EHC Biel for four years and was also the team’s coach for six years.Photo: Keystone

In the spring of 2022, I was in the final coaching election for the SCL Tigers with Thierry Paterlini, so to speak, and it was a tough choice for the Langnauers. Martin Steininger, Bale’s sporting director, said recently that he still has confidence in your success in leading a team in the National League. And on the heart: You don’t really enjoy the challenges as a sporting director at Basel. Will we see you again in the National League?
Your claim that I was not challenged enough in Basel is unfair. I object to this. Brace yourselves! My work in Basel requires everything from me. But returning to the National League as a coach remains a problem for me.

So you still have the confidence to coach a team in the National League?
Yes, I still think so. But as I said before: I identify with my work at EHCB.

Wherever you are a head of sport, sooner or later you are also a coach. When will you become a coach at EHC Basel?
So yes. finally. This question had to be asked, I’ve been waiting for it this whole time. Believe it or not, we see no reason to question Erich Himmelfarb’s position. Your question is just typical.

Yes, typical of you.