Switzerland looking for confirmation at U18 World Championship

By Rafik Soliman

Five years after the Swiss got promoted to the Top Division, they are looking to establish themselves in the Top-Six of the World Group. Although avoiding relegation is still the main goal for the U18 Swiss, with the group constellation at this year’s tournament in Crimmitschau & Dresden (Germany) chances are there, that the Swiss can again sneak into the Quarterfinals and repeat their last years 5th place finish. While the heavily favored United States is totally out of reach for the Swiss, as are the Russians, the Slovaks and the Germans are beatable and are "must win" games for the team.

Goaltending

The biggest question mark is defiantly the goaltending position on Team Switzerland. Luca Boltshauser of the ZSC Zurich Lions will take over the role of the starter, while 94-born Robin Kuonen of the HC Visp Lions should carry the backup-duties. Boltshauser is a calm goaltender with average size who did backstop the ZSC Zurich Lions Elite Junior-B Team to the Championship Title, but was the only 93-born goaltender who held a starting role in his Elite Junior team, although Level-B not A. Most of the Swiss Goalies were serving as backup and lacked match experience. That could be a reason why the coaching staff around former player Manuele Celio turned to the underager Robin Kuonen as their second goalie. Kuonen though, is a talented goalie with quick legs and appealing athleticism. He backstopped the U17 Team Switzerland to the bronze medal at the 2011 European Youth Festival (EYOF) in Liberec (Czech Rep.).

Defensemen

Switzerland has a strong defensive group at the tournament with four returnees from last year’s tournament. The core will be lead by Dean Kukan from the GCK Lions and Samuel Guerra of the HC Davos, who already made the U20 World Junior Team this year. While Kukan is looking for his last chance to turn around a mediocre season in which he was toiling around in the National League-B and missed the cut for the U20 Team. This tournament is the only way to secure his draft spot. The mobile, left-shooting 6’2 defenseman should contribute both offensively and defensively for team Switzerland. Samuel Guerra on the other side is a hard working defensive defenseman who played the whole regular season with the HC Davos in the National League-A where he took a regular shift, but was most of the Playoffs a healthy scratch. Cédric Hächler of the GCK Lions is another returning defender for Switzerland and should be a key-contributor especially offensively. The right-shooting reguard probably will be paired with Dean Kukan and both will see a lot of time on the power play. Hächler is not afraid to take a chance and chip in some offense. First time participant Christian Marti of the Kloten Flyers is the best hitter on the team and should lead the D-group on the intensity level. With his imposing 6’3 frame Marti is very mobile has a booming shot and knows how to punish opposing forwards. The seven Defenseman will be completed by Marwin Leu of the Kloten Flyers, Silvan Hebeisen and Sämi Kreis both of the SC Bern. Kreis is a 94-born Defender and eligible for the 2012 NHL Entry Draft. He’s an averaged sized, but good skating Dmen who captained this season his U17 Elite Novice Team of Bern to the Swiss Championship.

Forwards

The forwards of this year’s edition of the U18 Team Switzerland are blessed with skill and speed but most of them have one weakness and that is size. Out of 13 forwards only six are bigger than 5’11 and that makes them really small…especially Alessio Bertaggia of the HC Lugano, Sven Andrighetto of the GCK Lions and Lino Martschini of the Peterborough Pete’s who should lead this team offensively are between 5’6 and 5’9. But all three of them have blazing speed and are that shifty that they’re always a threat in the offensive zone. Bertaggia had his breakthrough season in the National League-A and was most of the time the best forward on a struggling team of the HC Lugano, while Andrighetto teared up the National League-B with the GCK Lions. All three of them are returning forwards and know what is expecting them at the Championship. Although, Lino Martschini looked a little bit exhausted and out of gas from first season in the Ontario Hockey League at the recent pre-evaluation camp in Switzerland. Another forward whom the Swiss will rely on is Tanner Richard of the Rapperswil-Jona Lakers. Tanner is the son of former North American pro Mike Richard and is born, raised and trained in Switzerland. At 6′ he’s among the bigger forwards on the Swiss Team and will take over the role as the playmaking forward. Tanner Richard has soft and quick hands and is, thanks to his bloodlines, allotted with sound hockey sense. He used to be a bit rebellious from a coaching view, but has made a turn to the better in that case. Four 94-born and not NHL-Draft eligible before 2012 forwards have made the cut to the team. Christoph Bertschy and Julian Schmutz of the SC Bern are two of them. Both are smaller than 5’10 but could make some noise at the tournament especially offensive wise. Bertschy and Schmutz already played with the U20 Elite Junior-A Team of the SC Bern and played a big role there. Dario Simion and Lukas Balmelli of the HC Lugano are the other two 94-born forwards. They are among the youngest on the team, but are also among the biggest and that’s probably a big reason why they made the team. Simion already made his pro-debut in the National League A with the HC Lugano at the Age of 16.

Conclusion

This could be the second season in a row, that Switzerland could catch a berth in the quarterfinals on both the U18 and U20 level. With 6 under aged players on the team, this is not only a tournament for the present but also for the future. Switzerland is trying to strengthen their position in the Top-8 or even Top-6 on the U18 level.