The 2003 WJC will be Switzerland’s 8th consecutive appearance at the highest level. During this period they’ve developped themselves from a relegation candidate to a team playing for the silverware. Last year in the Czech Republic they came close but losses to Canada (in the semi-final) and Finland in the bronze medal game resulted in them leaving empty handed. Their best ever result at the World Juniors was a bronze medal during the 1998 Championships. The aim for this year surely is to repeat or even break that 5 year old record.
Coach Jakob Kölliker, a former national team player will once again coaching the team which will see several players with a fair share of WJC experience in their bags. The Swiss federation has spoken out its confidence in Kölliker by extending his contract to 2004 already a month before the WJC will take place.
Switzerland will build on their defensive strength starting with the goaltenders. Tobias Stephan will likely start in net during most games for the Swiss. Stephan, a 2nd round 2002 Dallas Stars’ draft pick, caught the attention of the scouts eyes already during the Under-18 World Juniors in the previous years, but definitely found his name on the scouts’ shortlists last year during the 2002 WJC in the Czech Republic where he started in net in 6 of Switzerland’s 7 games.. Stephan’s move from EHC Chur to Kloten Flyers has certainly benefitted him since he is currently handling the starting job at a team that is near the top of the table.
Behind Tobias Stephan, Switzerland is likely to name Daniel Manzato as their 2nd goalie. The 2002 5th rnd Vancouver Canucks draft pick is currently enjoying his 2nd consecutive season in the QMJHL with the Victoriaville Tigres. The pair of goaltenders will prove to very solid for the team.
On defense the team has 5 players who were on the team last year as well. Much is expected from Severin Blindenbacher and Beat Forster, both Phoenix Coyotes draft picks. Blindenbacher has received quite a lot of ice time this season by Vladimir Jursinov, former Olympic team coach of Team Russia and currently head coach of the Kloten Flyers. He has responded well to the increase of ice time and currently has nodged 15 points (2 +13) compared to 4 points (1+3) ast season. Another player that will surely draw the attention of the NHL scouts will be Tim Ramholt..
The young ZSC Lions defenseman will be eligible for the 2003 NHL Draft and was tagged to go very high in the draft. Unfortunately for him he doesn’t receive much ice time this season and as a result of that he was temporarily demoted to ZSC’s farm team GCK Lions in the 2nd division. Currently he is back with the big club, but it will be hard for him to break a star-loaded team that is battling hard for the top position in the league. Ramholt will surely try to prove his coach wrong during this WJC and will be realizing the scouts’ eyes are on him. The former MAC’s tournament all-star will be looking to move up on the pre-draft rankings with a good display at the WJC. Lukas Baumgartner and Jürg Dällenbach complete the returnees on the team.
Offensively Switzerland seems to have been weakened compared to last season. Ineligible for this year are the likes of New York Rangers prospect Sven Helfenstein, Canucks draft pick Thomas Nüssli, last year’s captain Andreas Camenzind and Thibaut Monnet who was second on the team in scoring last season.
High expectations are on the shoulders of young Patrik Bärtschi. The Pittsburgh Penguins 2002 draft pick is the biggest sensation in the Swiss top league this season. Bärtschi averages over a point per game at the moment. Others that will play an important role on the team are Emanuel Peter, a 2002 Calgary Flames draft pick and Andres Ambühl, who both were on the team last season.
The Swiss are definitiely weakened by the absence of Lugano forward Raffaele Sannitz. A 2001 Columbus Blue Jackets draft pick, is a very experienced player but has been hampered by hip injury and is sure to miss out on the and perhaps even the remainder of the season.
Surprises up front for the Swiss could come from streaky Romano Lemm and the 16 year old Kevin Romy, who made his full debut in the top Swiss league this season with Geneve-Servette.
Being in a group with Russia, USA, Slovakia and Belarus, Switzerland will be likely battling for the 2nd place in this group along with USA and Slovakia. Russia has clearly got an edge over them. The USA can profit from the historical fact that Switzerland always struggles against North-American opponents. Nevertheless Switzerland left a warning when they won an international tournament in Germanymid-November. Other than a 5-0 win over Norway and a 2-1 win over hosts Germany, the Swiss gave their group rivals Slovakia a mental blow by beating them 4-1.
With Switzerland now being fully accepted as a hockey country to look into by the NHL scouts, the next step for them would be to acquire some silverware at international tournaments. After the 4th place last time this WJC is the right time for them to take revenge and show the world Swiss hockey is improving.