Heinz Ehlers has been coaching EHC Visp since this season – and the success has been under control so far. Photo: Keystone
Ice Cream Master Zug
Enough money, a new stadium and a really great coach in Heinz Ahlers. How can Visp face such great mathematical difficulties under the best of circumstances?
One-time quiz question: Here are the general manager and coach’s statements about the current situation. Do these statements mean:
b) Everything is as expected or
c) Were expectations exceeded?
“We have a very healthy wardrobe, and everyone supports the coach 100%.”
“I really like it here.”
He is very happy with his most important players individually – the two foreigners.
It’s about EHC Visp. The managing director is Sebastian Pico and the coach is Heinz Ahlers. The correct answer to the question posed at the beginning is a) crisis. Although the phrases point more towards b) or c).
Big ambitions, hardly any points
EHC Visp is currently facing one of the most dramatic crises in its glorious history. Three wins in 14 games, second-to-last place and an 8:1 defeat on the ice to the ZSC Lions farm team late Sunday night. After only two thirds, the score was 0:8. After conceding six goals and a catch rate of 76.92 percent, goalkeeper Stefan Müller was replaced.
This is what the table currently looks like:
The official goal for this season is couched in Sulaymaniyah’s terms: to be a step further than last season. This goal must be achieved: to reach the playoffs and then win the quarter-finals. Since winning the tournament in 2014, Visp has never advanced beyond the quarterfinals.
Visp is the second highest league: a glorious tradition (Swiss champion in 1962), a brand new stadium, full cash reserves with a good budget of 6 million francs and stability in management: Sebastien Picot has been in public office since 2005. It is the basis for promotion to first class. There is one seemingly small thing missing: athletic success.
Even the Swiss national team was already playing in the new arena in Visp.Image: Cornerstone
Promotion as a long-term goal
How can a manager and coach show off and be in good spirits when sports depression continues for weeks? Because Sebastian Pico is politically astute in delegating pressure for future success. Promotion is the stated long-term goal. But only in the long term. In the short term, taking a small step forward is enough. It seems a bit like real life in Valais: fame and fortune (or promotion to Holland) await only the brave in the Kingdom of Heaven. What is important is to be good, humble and effective in the present. That should be enough.
Sebastien Picot talks about two levels. About the present and the future: “We have a long-term project with Heinz Ehlers that exceeds a two-year contract and we are all convinced about it. It would not be wise to throw everything overboard because of the initial difficulties.”
Heinz Ehlers is Visp’s most famous coach since Pepe Torriani, who led the team to their only championship title to date in 1962. Heinz Ehlers has an ideal profile for Visp: at Biel, Langenthal, Lausanne and Langenau, he celebrated stunning and even sensational successes through constant work. And the patient: with Bell he was promoted to the NLA, with Langenthal he won the championship of the second highest league. He led Lausanne and Langenau to the playoffs. In spring 2020 he left Langenau to become a full-time national coach in Denmark. This season he returned to the daily work of club coach. He is considered an excellent tactical teacher who knows how to get the most out of the team.
Heinz Ehlers successfully led the SCL Tigers to the playoffs. Photo: Keystone
Viewed this way, Visp’s false start is astonishing, even inexplicable. For Sebastian Pico, it’s all a matter of his head. After a good preparation phase, the defeat in the opening match against local rivals Sierre was a stab in the heart from which the team has not yet recovered: they lost a 3-0 lead in the final third and the derby ended 3-4. In extra time. “He lost the balance between attack and defence,” says Sebastian Pico. We have to find them again.” The coach places high demands on the players and this is acceptable to everyone. “It is also important to think that in this learning phase, uncertainty – should I do this or that – sometimes turns into negativity.”
Ehlers emphasizes positivity
Heinz Ehlers talks about the learning process, sees the team on the right track and is optimistic. He puts the 8-1 defeat to the Greek Lions into perspective: “Of course everything looks black after the 8-1 defeat at home. But the games against the GCK Lions are not what they used to be. This is no longer a team of rookies and a couple of mediocre foreigners.” “This team is now very strong and well-coached.”
In many matches, victory has been lost in the end. “We’ve always somehow found a way to defeat.” He is convinced that this will change. Because he feels the players are on board.
Despite high expectations, EHC Visp is going through a crisis. Photo: Imago/Sergio Brunetti
Critical observers say the foreigners and goalkeepers should actually be better. Here lies the problem. Statistics prove these critics right. We find Jacob Nilsson and Gary Nunn in 14th and 15th place on the list of foreign scorers in the Italian League, and they have only contributed 8 goals out of 28 so far. With a miserable catch rate of 89.37 percent, Stefan Muller is statistically the weakest No. 1 in the league. The Austrian with a Swiss license came from Umbria and was No. 1 for an ambitious professional team for the first time in his career, only the Ticino Rockets are defensively weaker than Visp. With Heinz Ahlers in the gang!
But Sebastian Pico and Heinz Ehlers are wary of goalkeeper controversy or foreigners like the devil wary of holy water. The coach says that Stefan Muller has been great in preparation and needs to get used to the new position. The coach speaks succinctly and clearly:
“I’m happy with the goalkeeper and the foreigners.”
Naturally, Visp’s biggest problem is lottery goalkeeper Stefan Müller. With one exception (1-0 win at La Chaux-de-Fonds) they have failed in all important matches so far. But no one can say that. Otherwise you will have to hire a new goalkeeper. Without question: Sebastian Pico can say and hope what he wants: he will have to sign a new goalkeeper during the season.
The crisis scenario at Visp has all the clichés, such as declarations of loyalty to the coach, the goalkeeper and foreigners – and yet it differs from similar situations at other clubs: the manager actually likes the coach, there is no dressing riot, a cheap room, there are no excuses and Heinz Ehlers does not seem angry. Or even insecure: he believes in his mission and in transformation. But he also says: “Now is the time for self-criticism and everyone here is criticizing themselves.”
Perhaps the calm in times of crisis is due to very special circumstances: Visp is a hockey game at Disneyland. There is enough money, the fans are loyal (2,000 always come) and the local media is friendly. The most critical national media is not interested in Visp. Thanks to his network in the village and with important investors, the manager has not only been safely in place for more than ten years. His critics (there are always those in the village) angrily say that his chair has been dismantled.
In fact, there are no better conditions for crisis management. If someone like Heinz Ehlers can’t succeed in this Disneyland hockey game, the result could be a revolution directed against… Sebastian Pico. Let history serve as a reminder to him: even the great Kaspar Stockalber once seemed to control each and every thing in the Valais, and yet he was overthrown.
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