2010 WJC: Team Switzerland preview

By Rafik Soliman

After being relegated in 2008 from the U20 top division, the Swiss managed to win the Division 1A last year to win the promotion to the top stage of junior hockey. This year’s edition of the U20 National Team again will have a hard time staying in the top division. Switzerland plays in Group A with Canada, USA, Slovakia and Latvia and while Canada and the U.S. are totally out of reach for the Swiss, Latvia is a "must-win" game for them and beating Slovakia is their only chance to sneak into the quarterfinals. The games vs. Canada and the USA are a chance for some players to showcase themselves for the upcoming 2010 NHL Entry Draft.

The Swiss held a training camp in the beautiful mountain village of Arosa, where they made the last cuts and shortened the roster to six defenders, 11 forwards and three goaltenders. Among the last cuts was 92-born and 2010-eligible Gaëtan Haas. Haas is a playmaking forward with nice hands, not the fastest skater, but a good two-way forward. The 17 players who made the team in Arosa will be joined by the five players who are on teams in North America. 

Goaltending

The starting goaltender for the team will be Benjamin Conz, who is property of the HC Genève Servette but currently loaned to the SC Langnau Tigers where he took over the No. 1 spot. Conz is a smallish goaltender who relies on his reflexes and his athleticism. His draft year was 2009, but went unselected. Team Switzerland will need a strong tournament from Conz, who was the U18 starter last year, if they want to have a slim chance to advance to the quarterfinals. Conz knows how to play under pressure, since last season he already was in the playoffs in the Swiss national league where he stole the starting job. The backup position will be held either by Matthias Mischler or Sandro Zurkirchen, but neither will see much playing time.

Defense

The defense will be the strongest part of this year’s junior national team. It will be led by NHL-draftees Luca Sbisa (Philadelphia 1st round pick, then traded to Anaheim) and Roman Josi (Nashville 2nd round pick), who both will log in major minutes. Patrick Geering from the ZSC Lions Zurich and Lukas Stoop from the HC Davos will round out the top four. Both are regulars on their respective National League A pro team and are undrafted free agents.

Geering is a small, hard-working defender who is in his second season with the ZSC Lions Zurich and was a member of the team when they beat Metallurg Magnitogorsk in 2009 to win the 1st edition of the IIHF Champions Hockey League. He also played regular minutes when his team beat the Chicago Blackhawks 2-1 to win the second Victoria Cup.

Stoop is a decent skater and should take a role as a power-play quarterback. He was once thought to be the best prospect out of Switzerland for the 2008 NHL Entry Draft. He then left his former club the ZSC Lions Zurich and went to the HC Davos. Davos and Zurich fought hard about his playing rights and this situation seemed to have had a bad impact on his development and his play in the National League A.

Dominik Schlumpf of the QMJHL Shawinigan Cataractes is another undrafted free agent who is in his second season in the Q. He missed most of the last season with a lower-body injury and will also play his first U20 WJC. He’s not know for his offensive play, but should be a stable defender for Team Switzerland. Ramon Untersander of HC Davos, Jannik Fischer of EV Zug and Luca Camperchioli will round out the defensive corp, but probably will only have limited roles on the team.

Forwards

The offense will be lead by 92-born and 2010-eligible Nino Niederreiter. Niederreiter is the youngest player on the team but the most talented. He is a good skater with good hockey sense and nice hands and could be easily a Top 50 prospect for the upcoming NHL Entry Draft. Niederreiter made the jump this season to the CHL and plays for the Portland Winterhawks where he currently is a point-per-game player and is among the top scorers of the team. The 6’2, 203-pounder is lining up in the WHL as a left wing, but is also able to play center and should carry all the offensive hopes for Team Switzerland.

Tristan Scherwey is another forward who is expected to contribute offensively. Scherwey, an undrafted free agent, currently plays for SC Bern of the National League A and will be one of the faster skaters on the team. The 91-born is at 5’9 smallish, but has a nose for the net and a nice shot. On of the bigger forwards on the rather small Swiss team will be Alain Berger. He could take over the part of the power forward. He is in his first season with the Oshawa Generals from the OHL and among the team leaders in scoring. Nils Berger is the fifth player who is currently playing in North America. Berger is in his first season with the Innisfil Lakers from the GMHL. As one of the younger players on that roster, he’s among the scoring leaders, but from a talent standpoint, he shouldn’t be much of a factor for Team Switzerland.

Two of the bigger forwards on the Team are GCK Lions players Sven Ryser and Reto Schappi, who will probably play on the same line. Ryser possesses an accurate wrist shot, but does not really use his size to his advantage. The same for Schappi who is big and has a nose for the net, but hasn’t found out so far how to use his size to help him score more goals. Both Ryser and Schappi are undrafted. Also an interesting player is Tim Weber, who is playing in Sweden for MODO Ornskoldsvik and this year was close to making the pro team. It’s not sure what role head coach Jakob "Kobi" Kolliker will give Weber, but probably more third-line duty than scoring line.

Team Switzerland will play two exhibition games before the tournament. They play Austria on the 21st in Prince Albert and Sweden on the 23rd in Weyburn. The preliminary round will start on the 27th with the game against the USA.