2011 WJC: History and strong character suggest Switzerland can’t be overlooked

By Alessandro Seren Rosso

After last year’s surprising run, Team Switzerland is definitely more on the spotlight this season with higher expectations. The blowout from Canada suffered before the tournament doesn’t have a big meaning as the game was played just the day after the team landed in America and also for most of the guys it was the first game on the small ice.

Although Team Switzerland did lost two stars like Roman Josi (NAS) and Luca Sbisa (ANH), there shouldn’t be many problems for them in repeating last year’s good results, especially considering the forward group is upgraded and Benjamin Conz will still be their starting goaltender. Usually creating the impression of a well organized team with some difficulties in the offensive zone, the Swiss program is now creating good offensive players too, just like Nino Niederreiter (NYI). Many other good players are coming out now and some interesting 93 born players were cut due to inexperience, but most likely won’t next year.

This year’s team Switzerland is definitely skilled, but they lack size and this might be a problem playing on the smaller ice surface.

Goaltending is going to be perhaps the strongest part of team Switzerland‘s roster. 2010 WJC’s Top Goalie Benjamin Conz is going to return this year and will do his best to backstop Switzerland to at least the quarterfinals stage. It will be tough for Conz to repeat last year’s excellence, but this season he’s one year older, which won’t substitute his small frame, but can still play a huge role in a tournament like the WJC.

The backup position will be a struggle between Remo Giovannini and Lukas Meili, with Davos-based Giovannini having the edge also because of the better performance at the recent WJAC.

Traditionally the Swiss will bring good defensive corps at the WJC, even if Josi and Sbisa are now graduated. Some of the most interesting players will be the ones which are playing Major Junior hockey in North America: Dominic Schlumpf (Shawinigan Chataractes, QMJHL), Dave Sutter (Seattle Thunderbirds, WHL) and Dario Trutmann (Plymouth Whalers, OHL). Trutmann is perhaps the most interesting out of these three. He missed the 2010 eligibility just for two days as he was born on September 17th, 1992, and thus will be eligible for the first time for the NHL draft during next June’s selections. Trutmann can have a chance to be drafted, but he needs to have a good WJC for that. Another name to follow is Samuel Guerra, who is a regular with Davos of the NLA. As said team Switzerland will be traditionally good, but they might lack some size and experience.

The Swiss offense might be better than usual, even if during the exhibition game against the Canadians they didn’t exactly shine as they didn’t manage to build many offensive chances, let alone to score.

The offensive star of the team can’t be anyone else than Nino Niederreiter. El Nino had an exceptional 2010 WJC with six goals and ten points in seven games, including a great two-goal performance against Team Russia in the quarterfinals. The fifth overall pick of the 2010 NHL Draft started the season with the big guys in the NHL before getting sent down to the Portland Winterhawks of the WHL. Niederreiter, who like many other members of this team spent many years within the HC Davos organization, will be the captain of the team.

A big role within the team will be also required to Sven Bartschi, Niederreiter’s team mate in Portland. The native of Langenthal, Swizterland, scored 21 goals already this year and most likely will play on the same line as Nino. Peterborough Petes’ Lino Martschini is going to make the trip to Buffalo, but most likely his role in the team won’t be as big as the other two forwards who are playing major junior hockey.

Among the most important players for Team Switzerland, Gregory Hofmann definitely deserves a mention. The late 92 born is having a very solid season with Ambrì-Piotta of the NLA and it’s surprising for many to see such a young, yet good center at this level. Hofmann is capable to play both center and wing and can score eye-catching goals with his soft hands. Hofmann is one of such players that Switzerland lacked to become more incisive in the goal scoring area.

Inti Pestoni is another player who’s having a very good season in the NLA with 20 points in 33 games, great numbers for a 19-year-old, but he’ll have some hard time in working his magic at the WJC due to the more physical demanding game played in the tournament.

Another player which would be able to do well is sized Reto Schappi. The Zurich-born forward was thought to be a draft pick not later than a couple of seasons ago and now he can play in the top lines to increase Team Switzerland’s size in the slot. He will be also serving as assistant captain, just like Bern’s Tristan Scherwey.

Concluding, Team Switzerland showed during the exhibition game against Team Canada that they have plenty to work on, but they also can count on some good goaltending and a couple of above average forwards. Maybe they won’t be repeating last year’s exciting rush, but they have all the tools to be a tough team to face during the whole course of the tournament.