Team Switzerland 2012 WJC Preview

By Rafik Soliman
Photo: Any success Team Switzerland hopes to have at the 2012 WJC will depend on high-scoring, star forward Sven Baertschi. (Photo courtesy of Ken McKenna/HF)

For the third year in row the Swiss will play in the top division of the IIHF under-20 World Championship and the Swiss Ice Hockey Federation is looking for a third consecutive top-six finish of their oldest junior team. First year Head Coach Manuele Celio has selected a squad who has very good chances to reach this ambitious goal, then again only one game can decide over a successful tournament or a big disappointment.

Switzerland will start against Russia and Sweden, the strongest opponents of their group, and will continue with the two most crucial match-ups of their season. The games against Slovakia and Latvia are the two "must-win-games" in this year’s tournament to reach the quarterfinal – their main goal. If one of those important games against Slovakia or Latvia will be lost, every good performance against the "big teams" Russia or Sweden in that group will be nothing more than an honorable mention and quickly forgotten.

The Team is looking at a strong core in both offense and defense and the coaching staff has selected several players who are already playing in the Swiss National League, either in Level A or B and also players who are playing in the Canadian Hockey League.

Goaltending

The Goaltending position is a little bit the question mark of the team. As of now, there is no clear cut number one on the team and the Swiss are more looking at a 1A and 1B situation, as Tim Wolf and Lukas Meili already have these circumstances at their National League B team the GCK Lions, where they share the workload. Both are talented, but they are clearly not as dominant as the former WJC tournament-MVP Benjamin Conz was. Wolf, at 6’1, is the bigger of the two goaltenders and shows good technique and solid lateral movement.

Meili meanwhile impresses with his quickness and competitive style of play, but at 5’10 is too small to cover the net.

Defense

On defense, the Swiss are looking at a big, mobile but inexperienced. Dario Trutmann of the Plymouth Whalers is the only returning player from last year’s tournament. Trutmann should also take over the captaincy for the team and will see a big amount of ice time.

The defensive squad will also have a second back on the team who currently is playing in the CHL – Dave Sutter. The 6’5 big rearguard was one of the last cuts for the past year’s tournament and is looking now to make his mark. While despite his imposing stature, Sutter is not really known for throwing around his body or blocking shots, but his presence on the ice and his long reach should influence on the Swiss’ opponents.

The defense will be completed with three interesting 93-born players, Cédric Hächler, Dean Kukan, and Christian Marti. Both Hächler and Kukan left Switzerland to play in the Swedish under-20 Super-Elit-League to improve their play and took a big step forward in their development. The right-shooting Hächler should particularly stand out on the power play, where he could be paired with Christian Marti.

The 6’3, 203 pound Marti impresses with his size, mobility and his physical play. Marti has debuted this season with the Kloten Flyers of the National League A and so far hasn’t looked out of place in the big league. Also, his booming one-timer from the blue line, which he doesn’t hesitate to use, is a weapon on the power play.

Switzerland is missing Samuel Guerra from the HC Davos because of a nagging groin injury. Guerra would have been a returning rearguard, since he already participated last year as an underager. This injury is leaving one spot on the blue line open and this place could very well be taking by 95-born Phil Baltisberger. This season has somewhat been a breakthrough season for the 16-year-old, who as a late-95-born is not NHL Draft eligible until 2014. Not only has the 6′, 201 pound junior-aged defenseman claimed a roster spot with the GCK Lions of the National League B, where he’s seeing a regular shift in all situations, he’s also about to secure his place at the biggest junior tournament of the world. Baltisberger is playing with a lot of confidence and doesn’t shy away from bigger and older players. He shows good maturity and has a decent shot, which he uses very smartly. His skating has a lot of room for improvement, but he should be able to hold his ground at the WJC.

Forwards

The offense will be led by Calgary Flames first round pick Sven Baertschi, who will play his second WJC and after last year being a little bit in the shadow of Nino Niederreiter (who will not be released by the New York Islanders for the tournament), it looks like this year it will be his team to carry and he will take the Wing-Position on the team’s top-line.

That line should be completed by Samuel Walser of the Kloten Flyers and Joël Vermin from the SC Bern. Walser is a 6’3 two-way pivot who has good playmaking abilities and is reliable in his own zone. He is a great addition to Baertschi and Vermin who both will take over the scoring role on that line. Vermin is another returning player for Switzerland and was off to a great start for Bern in the Swiss National League A, but got slowed down by a non-concerning foot injury. The 2nd line center-position should belong to Swiss-Canadian Tanner Richard, who currently is in his first season with the OHL‘s Guelph Storm, and raising his stock for the upcoming NHL Entry Draft. Richard should not only contribute offensively, he should also be among the intensity leaders with his feisty play for the squad. The challenge for the coaching staff will be to get Richard under control, since he’s known for his over motivated and sometimes undisciplined play. Tanner Richard will probably have some other Swiss expats in North America on his wings.

Forwards like Alessio Bertaggia, who is also in his 1st season with the Brandon Wheat Kings, Sven Andrighetto of the Rouyn-Noranda Huskies or Devin Muller of the BCHL Salmon Arm Silverbacks. Especially Bertaggia would fit well on Richard’s wing, since both play a similar "in-your-face"-style, so this scoring line could also be the team’s energy line. Carolina Hurricanes fourth round draft choice Gregory Hofmann should lead Switzerland’s checking line. The speedy winger is feeling currently the bad impact of a sophomore slump, as he comes out every night to play, but the pucks are just not bouncing for him. Despite his poor play in the National League with Ambri-Pìotta, his speed is in need for this team.

Currently there are still two 94-born under aged forwards on the camp-Roster by the names of Dario Simion and Christoph Bertschy. Especially Bertschy, who made noise in the last couple of weeks with his decent play with Bern in the National League A. He is always the first when it’s about scoring a goal, but the last when it’s about back checking or defensive play. It will be interesting to see if Coach Celio, who is known to cut players, when he feels they are not giving 100 percent, will take the talent over the willingness to do the dirty work.

Conclusion

The Swiss held two exhibition games against the United States and Canada and despite two blowout losses, the team should do fine at the tournament. It’s a solid group and if they’re ready for the two important games against Latvia and Slovakia, who are on back-to-back days, the quarterfinals should be reached and from there everything is possible.