Bern Grizzlies HC Armand Mensen breaks down Swiss Bowl XXXV

The Bern Grizzlies are heading into Swiss Bowl XXXV Saturday, October 2 with the aim of winning their fourth national title but first since 2016.

Their opponent is the reigning champion Calanda Broncos and the game will mark the third time since 2015 that these two teams have faced each other in the Swiss championship game. Calanda beat the Grizzlies in the 2015 title game and Bern returned the favor in the 2016 championship.

For Grizzlies head coach Armand Mensen, who has been a part of the organization since 2007 (give or take a couple of years while studying in the United States), this game has a special meaning.

American Football International: After everything that has happened over the past two years, what does it mean for you and your team to be playing in the Swiss Bowl?

Armand Mensen: Bern was one of the only teams that also did not participate in last summer’s “mini-tournament” and so by the time of our first game in June 2021, it had actually been nearly 2 years since the Grizzlies had taken the field against another opponent.

We had three different head coaches in that time and signed a few different imports only to have them leave before ever playing or never even arriving. While we had all been training and preparing for a game, we — along with the rest of the league — didn’t quite know what to expect from us this season.

The rust was clear with only a late field goal to beat Basel in the first game, but by Game 3 we were defeating the reigning champion Broncos at home.

I think all the uncertainty outside of the team’s core players and staff actually built more trust and confidence within it. The Swiss Bowl is validation for all of those players that stuck with the trainings, workout plans, and theory study despite all the uncertainty since early 2020.

For me personally, my first ever season with the Grizzlies was a championship in 2007, but I didn’t play a major role. Then I was in the US for my work/studies in 2017 for the next championship and so missed that. To now have a chance to win my first real Swiss Bowl after 14 years with the team is huge.

AFI: It takes a complete team to win a championship, but every group has something that makes it special. What do you view as your team’s greatest strength?

Mensen: From a football perspective, our entire defense and how they really function as a single unit is our strength. I tend to be more on the offensive side of things, but I often just get caught watching tape of our defense since they are so fun to watch fly around.

As a whole, I love the spirit of the team. I’ve been on many versions of the Grizzlies that were overly serious or self-absorbed. The smiles I see at practice every week are testament to the fact that the opposite of serious is simply unfocused and the opposite of fun is just depressing. I love our games and practices because we are able to have a lot of serious fun.

AFI: When you reach a game of this magnitude, there is no questioning your opponent’s talent. What aspect of their game presents the most challenges for your team and how will you combat them?

Mensen: They have a lot of athletic talent, there’s no doubting that. But the biggest challenge they present is their discipline and focus. Its rare to see a Bronco out of position or doing his own thing. They seem to have a plan for everything and are focused to execute on every play. There’s very little luck when it comes to defeating that sort of playing style. You have to be prepared, each player must do their 1/11th and limit their own mistakes.

AFI: This is not the first time your two teams have met this season. What did you learn from those previous matchups that you can apply to the rematch?

Mensen: In the first game, we had no turnovers on offense and finished drives with kicks — extra points, field goals or good punts. In the second game, we had fumbles, interceptions and blocked kicks. You simply cannot let the Broncos get those extra possessions or start with good field position. They made us pay dearly for those mistakes.

AFI: Football is a game of matchups. What matchup (individual or positional) do you think will have the biggest impact on this game and why?

Mensen: The Calanda offensive line versus our defensive line will largely determine the outcome of this game. If Calanda has the possibility to be balanced in the run and pass, they will be able to move the ball. On the other hand, if we can stop the run and pressure Connor Manning, the Grizzlies will have the upper hand.

AFI: What message will you have for your team before you take the field?

AFI: Enjoy yourselves and have fun. Play for the brothers you have on this team and sleep tonight with no regrets about today.

Watch the game live here. Bern Grizzlies vs Calanda Broncos, Oct. 2, 18:00 CET (6 pm, 12 noon ET)

J.C. Abbott is a student at the University of British Columbia and amateur football coach in Vancouver, Canada. A CFL writer for 3DownNation, his love of travel has been the root of his fascination with the global game.