After meeting expectations at last year's IIHF U18 World Championship with solid play and qualifying for the quarterfinals for the first time in two years, Switzerland is looking to have the same success this season and is hoping to finally move up among the top 4 countries.
The Swiss team, coached by Manuele Celio, who is already participating in his fifth U18 tournament as a coach, is sending a fast and skilled team to the tournament. Although draft-eligible players like potential first rounder Kevin Fiala, or potential draftees Noah Rod, Simon Kindschi and Gauthier Descloux, are headlining this year's roster, it’s the '97 class which is already making noise for the Swiss.
Switzerland has only four players who are returning from last year’s team, but is missing three players – Pius Suter of the Guelph Storm, Timo Meier of the Halifax Mooseheads and Kris Schmidli of the Kelowna Rockets – who would have been on this year’s squad, but are instead currently involved in the CHL playoffs.
At this U18 tournament, it is Gauthier Descloux’s team. After surprisingly missing out on making last year’s team, Gauthier will be the starter for Switzerland. A quick goaltender with very good reflexes and decent lateral movement, Descloux of the Genève-Servette HC can be called the Swiss version of Jonathan Quick. He reads the play well and shows impressive athleticism. The main knock on him is his size as, at 5'11”, he is only of average size for the modern butterfly goalie. Another knock on Descloux's game is his tendency to do too much and overreact on certain plays as he’s missing the calmness in his play.
Kevin Fehr of the Kloten Flyers will suit up as his back-up and probably will see some playing time to give Descloux a rest. Fehr is even smaller than his teammate, but impresses with his anticipation and composure. Joel Aebi of Lausanne HC will serve as the third-string goalie.
The defensive squad for Switzerland will have three returning players with two of them being underagers. Edson Harlacher, who is in his first season with the Kamloops Blazers in Canada, along with '97-born Jonas Siegenthaler and Roger Karrer, both of the ZSC/GCK Lions organization, are the other two returnees.
Jonas Siegenthaler is basically a boy trapped in a man’s body. Already 6'2” and 212 pounds, Siegenthaler had his debut this season in the National League B with the GCK Lions and also had a cup of coffee with the ZSC Lions in the National League A, who are coached by former NHL head coach, Marc Crawford. The strong Siegenthaler is a Phil Baltisberger clone and is moving in his footsteps towards a pro career. He has perfect shutdown abilities, but only average puck-moving skills and offensive upside. Roger Karrer is the perfect addition to Siegenthaler as the two should build the top defensive pairing for the Swiss. A very good skater, Karrer is smart and understands the game well. He shows decent puckhandling and has no troubles moving the puck out of his zone to initiate the counter-attack. With his strong vision and his right-handed shot, it makes Karrer a valuable player for the power play.
Besides the smooth skating Edson Harlacher, who is a reliable defensive defenseman, it will be Simon Kindschi of HC Davos who should also see big minutes during the tournament. Another big and strong defender, Kindschi already had a taste of National League A hockey in Davos. He plays a good defensive game and shows decent mobility for his size, but lacks quickness in his skating.
'97-born Yanik Burren of SC Bern, Marco Forrer of EV Zug and Robin Frick of the Kloten Flyers will complete a very good blueline group for Switzerland.
The offense will be led by Kevin Fiala of HV71, Denis Malgin of the GCK Lions, and Noah Rod of Genève-Servette HC.
In his breakthrough year in Europe, this will be Kevin Fiala’s first U18 championship after he absurdly was cut from last year’s team for not being on the same page as Coach Celio. The slick offensive forward positioned himself well as a potential first round pick for the upcoming 2014 NHL Draft and was the best forward for Switzerland at the Under-20 WJC. It should be no different at this year’s Under-18 tournament.
Fiala will be centered by '97-born Denis Malgin, who just completed his first season with the GCK Lions in the National League B and is the only returning forward for Switzerland from last year’s tournament. Malgin and Fiala have already shown excellent chemistry together in the Swiss Junior Championship and should complement each other well.
With both Fiala and Malgin being offensive players, the addition of Noah Rod to that line is the logical consequence. Rod plays a sound two-way game and can line up at center or wing. He’s coming off of his first full season with Genève-Servette HC in the National League A. He started with the pro team on the wing with short shifts and limited ice time, but adapted well to the playing level and finished the season strong seeing a regular shift as a center on the third line.
The 13-player forward group will be completed by '97-born Damien Riat, who is already playing in his second season with the Notre Dame Argos in Canada and, together with Steven Macquat of Lausanne HC and Julien Privet of the SCB, should play on the second line and support the offensive output. Samuele Guidotti and Noele Trisconi, both of HC Ambrì-Piotta, are two diminutive forwards who play a turbulent and energy-loaded game. Together with Andy Ritz of the SC Langnau Tigers, Thomas Heinimann of Genève-Servette HC, Tino Kessler of HC Davos, Dominik Diem of the GCK Lions and Remo Ottiger of the Kloten Flyers, they will battle to reach the goals they have set.
Switzerland will play the United States (ed. note – Switzerland won today, 4-2), U18 host country Finland, the Czech Republic and Denmark in Group B. The crucial game could be the one against Denmark, which will be this year’s “must-win-game” to decide who will play in the quarterfinals and who will play in the relegation round. Beating Denmark should be no problem for this Swiss squad, however, provided they don't take the Danes lightly.