Nino Niederreiter is one of a very few amount of Swiss players used to the media attention they'll receive at the IIHF U20 World Junior Championships in Buffalo and Niagara, NY. (Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images)
I can't vouch for how the Swiss national hockey team are viewed worldwide, but in Canada, they've developed the reputation of being a bit of a party pooper. Sure, Canada cheered on exuberantly last year when the Swiss U20 team knocked off the hated Russians in a thrilling overtime game, making Canada's path to the finals much easier. But that fact may have made things worse for Canada, who had an easy semifinal only to lose the final game on home ice to the Americans. Meanwhile, the Americans had a much tougher path to the final, knocking off Finland and Sweden, and may have been more prepared as a result. Then there's the Swiss men's team, which always gives the Canadian men's team a tough battle, beating them in the 2006 Olympics and forcing Canada to a shootout in Vancouver ten months ago.
But enough about how Canada views the Swiss, let's look at the country itself. Switzerland has been around as a hockey nation pretty much as long as Europe has had the sport, and during the holiday season, the mountain resort town of Davos hosts one of hockey's oldest traditions: the Spengler Cup invitational tournament. But for the longest time, hockey was never really a major part of the Swiss sporting culture. That's begun to change in the last generation or so, and you can see it by their results at the junior level. Switzerland has hung with the top group for all but one year since 1996. The year they were relegated was just recently (2008), when a surprising Kazakh team knocked them off and placed 8th. This has helped give credence to the notion that Switzerland is now a member of the 'Elite 8' , and they usually alternate between 7th and 8th place in general.
Top Swiss players in recent years have taken to coming to North America to play major junior, as Switzerland has yet to develop a real strong junior league. The results of their national junior team are generally ignored by the public, whose attention is occupied by the popular Spengler Cup. But that doesn't mean that coverage doesn't exist for the World Juniors, and probably the best source of it for the country exists at the popular website HockeyFans.ch. While working the World Juniors last year in Saskatoon for Puck Daddy, I was seated next to the HockeyFans crew and was impressed by their multimedia coverage, which involved internet radio, web articles with great photos, interactive message boards, and a lot of interviews. Urs Berger was the voice for their radio webcasts (and did a great call of Nino Niederreiter's OT winner against Russia), and has been a hockey writer in Switzerland for decades. He was gracious enough to answer some questions about the team in advance of his crew's trip to Buffalo, which hopefully didn't encounter too many of the flight issues that have plagued international travel this holiday season. (Ed. note: I've adjusted some of the grammar, hopefully as intended).
How did hockey fans in Switzerland react to last year's surprising 4th place finish, and the win over Russia?
Last year's team had Roman Josi and Luca Sbisa on it, though both were hurt for the playoff rounds. Is there anyone coming up to replace those players, or will it just put more pressure on (goaltender) Benjamin Conz?
Who do you see as a breakout player at this tournament, a guy that fans don't know about and could surprise?
What is your prediction for Switzerland at this tournament?
|23||Benjamin Antonietti||LW||R||5'10"||152||1991||-||Lusanne (NLB)|
|15||Sven Bärtschi||LW||L||5'11"||183||1992||Langenthal||Portland (WHL)|
|7||Luca Camperchioli||D||L||6'0"||209||1991||Basel||ZSC Lions (NLA)|
|1||Benjamin Conz||G||R||5'10"||207||1991||Porrentruy||SCL Tigers (NLA)|
|21||Renato Engler||W||L||5'8"||176||1991||Davos||Davos U20 (Swi Jr A)|
|20||Remo Giovannini||G||L||6'2"||194||1991||Davos||Davos U20 (Swi Jr A)|
|28||Samuel Guerra||D||L||6'0"||185||1993||Isone||Davos (NLA)|
|11||Gaëtan Haas||C||R||5'11"||168||1992||Bonfol||Biel (NLA)|
|27||Yannick Herren||W||L||5'12"||198||1991||Saas Grund||Kloten (NLA)|
|13||Gregory Hofmann||W||L||6'0"||170||1992||Neuenberg||Ambrì-Piotta (NLA)|
|18||Manuel Holenstein||W||L||5'6"||148||1991||Davos||Davos (NLA)|
|5||Romain Loeffel||D||R||5'10"||181||1991||La Chaux-de-Fonds||Gottéron (NLA)|
|25||Lino Martschini||RW||R||5'5"||117||1993||Zug||Peterborough (OHL)|
|19||Ryan McGregor||C||L||5'11"||185||1991||Jona||GCK Lions (Swi Jr A)|
|30||Lukas Meili||G||R||5'10"||161||1992||Russikon||Küsnacht (NLB)|
|22||Nino Niederreiter||LW||L||6'0"||207||1992||Chur||Portland (WHL)|
|16||Inti Pestoni||W||L||5'9"||174||1991||Sementina||Ambrì-Piotta (NLA)|
|10||Tristan Scherwey||RW||L||5'9"||176||1991||Wunnewil Flamatt||Bern (NLA)|
|8||Dominik Schlumpf||D||R||5'12"||174||1991||-||Shawinigan (QMJHL)|
|9||Reto Schäppi||C||L||6'4"||205||1991||Horgen||ZSC Lions (NLA)|
|6||Nicholas Steiner||D||L||5'12"||198||1991||Eggiwil||Kloten (NLA)|
|2||Dave Sutter||D||R||6'4"||203||1992||Monthey||Seattle (WHL)|
|17||Dario Trutmann||D||R||5'11"||185||1992||Küssnacht||Plymouth (OHL)|
|32||Ramón Untersander||D||R||6'0"||194||1991||-||Davos (NLA)|
|26||Joël Vermin||RW||L||5'11"||181||1992||Fraunkappelen||Bern (NLA)|
|24||Samuel Walser||C||L||6'3"||205||1992||Olten||Kloten U20 (Swi Jr A)|
2011 Draft hopefuls (first time eligible only): LW Sven Bartschi, D Samuel Guerra, D Dario Trutmann, W Gregory Hoffman, RW Lino Martschini/
NHL Drafted: LW Nino Niederreiter (NYI, 5th overall, 2010)
Staff: Peter Luthi (General Manager), Richard Jost (Head Coach), Alex Reinhard and Sergio Soguel (Assistant Coaches)
Switzerland gets a similar draw to last year, in that there are two teams they probably won't beat in their group (USA and Finland), but two that they can beat. They are generally a cut above Germany and a cut below Slovakia, but the gap is narrowing between all three nations. It'll be an interesting battle for who gets the third spot there. Switzerland and Germany both have good goaltending (Slovakia is very suspect there), Slovakia has the better defence (followed by Switzerland, which is a decent amount ahead of Germany), and the forwards definitely go to Slovakia. Both Switzerland and Germany have a decent forward group, with the Swiss relying on star power in Niederrieter and Bartschi, and the Germans probably relying more on depth.
I hope I'm wrong about my prediction, since I hope to see the Hockey Fans crew again in Alberta next year, but I just feel Germany is a bit underrated right now, so I'm putting them in front.
Prediction: 5th in Group A, 9th overall.