Locally nicknamed "Z", the team was formed in 1997 as a result of the merger of the two local teams: the highly popular Zürcher Schlittschuh Club (German for "Zürich Skating Club"), who were struggling financially in National League A, and the ice hockey section of Grasshopper Club Zürich who had failed to qualify for promotion from National League B for several years in a row and had a small fan base, but were backed by entrepreneur and millionaire Werner H. Spross.
ZSC was the first Swiss team to play in an indoor arena (Hallenstadion). They won the Swiss championship in the years 1936, 1949 and 1961 and the prestigious Spengler Cup in 1944 and 1945. After the merger, the ZSC Lions won the Swiss Championship in 2000, 2001, 2008, 2012 and 2014, and moreover won the IIHF Continental Cup in 2001 and 2002.
With their victory in the Champions Hockey League, the ZSC Lions qualified to play the Chicago Blackhawks of the National Hockey League for the 2009 edition of the Victoria Cup challenge. Playing at their home arena, the Lions shocked the Blackhawks with a 2-1 victory, winning the trophy. It was the first time since 1991 that the Blackhawks had lost to a club in Europe.