The Jury: Switzerland to be axed for WJC performance? Part II

By Joeri Loonen

Quick facts 4:

Another Loss
12-28-02: Switzerland vs. USA 1-3 (1-0;0-2;0-1)

What’s so special about this result? It looks like an ordinary result from a round robin game. Yet there’s more to tell behind this result.

Being drawn in Group A, Switzerland knew the games vs. the USA and Slovakia would be the decisive games when it would come to who would advance to the quarter finals. Considering Russia would be too strong for every opponent and Belarus would be too weak.

After beating Belarus in the tournament opener Switzerland had the start they wanted while he USA were given a mental blow by the Russians who defeated their former rivals 5-1. Switzerland took a 1-0 lead after the first period thanks to a goal of Patrik Bärtschi and out shot the USA 10-4 in the second period. Yet they conceded two goals. Not just two goals, but two short-handed goals. By the same player, score on identical breaks! Coach Jakob Kölliker must have pulled his hair out when seeing this. After having blamed his team for taking too many penalties in the first game, he now saw his team gave up two bad goals while on the power play. Not only they got scored on one more time in the final period and lost the game 1-3, Switzerland also saw a competitor for a quarter final spot run away with the valuable 2 points.

When we look a little deeper in this match-up the following shocking match-up report can be made up:

all-time WJC U20 results Switzerland
vs. Canada: 0 wins, 14 losses, 0 draws
vs. USA: 0 wins, 14 losses, 1 draw (this year’s result included)

Keeping this in mind it’s obvious Switzerland doesn’t like (playing) Team USA or Team Canada. Defenseman Tim Ramholt said last year; “I don’t know. It is just a fact. They play a different style and we always have trouble to cope with that. For some players facing a North-American team might be a problem because of the historical results against them and it is like a sort of mental problem, but I can’t say this for sure”.
This time around Switzerland was also handicapped playing on the smaller ice surface. That fact combined with the historical results vs North American teams make it look as if Switzerland had to lose against the USA, not taking away any credit to Chris Higgins and Team USA for their performance.

The Line-up

Offense

Line 1: Patrik Bärtschi – Andres Ambühl – Grégory Christen; GRADE B+

Switzerland relied heavily on this first scoring line and they got what they wanted as the 53% of the forwards scoring came from this line.

Bärtschi, a 7td rnd. Pittsburgh Penguins prospect, continued his good form in the national league by finishing atop of the scoring list with 10 points in 6 games. both for Switzerland as well as in the tournament.
Andres Ambühl was the maestro on this line. The HC Davos center is undrafted, but left a good impression adding 6 assists in 6 games as well as a 5 assist performance in a exhibition game vs Finland just before the tournament. Ambühl has got an above average technique, but needs to get bigger and bulk up in he wants to make it to North-America. Also his scoring rate is a bit low. He led Switzerland in shots on target with 22, but failed to score in all attempts.
Grégory Christen is a big 6’3 , 208lbs winger who gave the first line some physical presence. Christen, a HC Lugano player, is fighting for ice time in Switzerland in both the Nationalliga A as B and still plays junior hockey mainly. This is not good for his development, but there’s simply no room for him on the talent loaded HC Lugano roster. His good performance at the WJC with 5 points (1+4) might have opened some eyes and must have secured Christen a regular spot in either Nationalliga A or B-level next year.

Line 2: Roman Lemm – Emanuel Peter – Cyrill Bühler; GRADE C+

Last season Romano Lemm played on the junior team all season long for Kloten Flyers, only to be called up for the playoffs. He exploded there registering 7 points in 11 games. This season he holds a regular spot on the big club but only managed 4 points in 34 games. Lemm’s streakiness is problem and is likely the reason he has yet to be drafted. He has got good size 6’1 and 191 lbs for a winger and has got good hands and that pure sniper instinct but needs to get more consistent. Lemm’s performance at this WJC tournament turned out to be disappointing as he failed to register a single point in all 6 games.
Emanuel Peter, a 5th round Calgary Flames draft pick, is a defensive center who played a solid tournament. He was not spectacular but did his defensive job and, perhaps more importantly, led his team in won face-offs with 68% (3rd in the tournament). He finished the tournament with 2 assists and no goals. To have a future in the NHL, Peter should get more productive as well as play, or deal with a, more physical. When it is going to get tough, Peter tends to shy off somewhat.
Cyrill Bühler, player of Kloten Flyers, completed this 2nd line. Born late ’83, Bühler was a member of the U18 team that won silver in Finland, however unlike many of his teammates, Bühler has yet to prove he can play in the highest Swiss league. This season he has been loaned out to a team in the Nationalliga B. The winger had an ok WJC in which he registered 2 goals and 3 points in 6 games.

Line 3: Roland Gerber – Kevin Gloor – Stefan Schynder; GRADE B-

When it turned out Raffaele Sannitz would not participate in the World Juniors because of a hip injury, coach Jakob Kölliker called up a few possible replacements. Roland Gerber, player from SCL Tigers, was amongst them. He was told by Kölliker that he had a good chance to make the team if he was willing to be a role player. His role would be to play a defensive, physical game on the third line. Gerber agreed and did do a good job in the pre-tournament camps and was selected on the team. During the tournament he stack to his assigned role and thus wasn’t as flashy as he might have wanted to be. Gerber finished without registering a single point through 6 games.
At center Kevin Gloor was somewhat of an outsider on this roster as he was one of the few players not with a Nationalliga A team. Gloor plays in the 2nd Swiss league for EHC Olten. Nevertheless Gloor was honourably mentioned by coach Kölliker for his performance at this WJC along with Blindenbacher, Bärtschi and Ambühl. The forward knew his role when he was on the ice and stuck to that primarily. His reward came in the game vs Germany where he scored Switzerland’s 5th goal. Completing the third offensive line was Stefan Schnyder, property of Swiss giants ZSC Lions. He didn’t see much ice time at the highest level but showed his skills in the Nationalliga B with ZSC’s farm team GCK Lions. In 19 games up to the WJC, Schnyder scored 9 times and had as many assists. Playing on the third line meant he mainly had defensive duties but nevertheless Schynder notched 2 assists in 6 games.

Line 4: Victor Stancescu – Kevin Romy – Caryl Neuenschwander; GRADE B-

Victor Stancescu will be draft eligible for the 2003 NHL Entry Draft. The 17 year old forward was born in Bucarest, Romania and became the first Romanian to have played at the WJC Elite level. With his club team Kloten Flyers he mainly sees ice time on the junior team but he has made the most of his few opportunities with the big club scoring 1 goal and 1 assist in 11 games. During this WJC, Stancescu’s ice time was limited as well on the fourth line but the times he was on the ice he did a solid, but unspectacular job. He finished with 1 assist in 6 games. Another draft eligible player who tried to get into the NHL scouts’ books was Kevin Romy. The 5’11 center has made his full debut in the top Swiss league this season with Genève-Servette. Romy did make notice of himself notching 3 assists and 5 points, enough to be third on the team in scoring. Furthermore he was 2nd on the team in won face-offs and 7th overall in the tournament. Where his offensive game was above expectations, Romy should learn to play a better defensive game though. Despite scoring 5 points he ended up with a minus 3 +/- record, 2nd worst on the team. As Switzerland struggled due to a lack of offensive power, SC Bern-forward Caryl Neuenschwander was a positive surprise for Switzerland. Having yet to find the net in 33 league games, Neuenschwander scored 3 times for Switzerland during the WJC, ranked 2nd on the team in goals.

Defense

Line 1: Beat Forster – Severin Blindenbacher; GRADE B

The Swiss top defense-line was formed by two Phoenix Coyotes’ drafted defensemen. It clearly showed these 2 players had to lead the defense and they did. They stood on the defensive corps with especially Severin Blindenbacher turning in some impressive performances. His offensive rushes were a threat especially against weaker opposition. Blindenbacher finished this tournament third on the team in scoring with 2 goals and 5 points. Asked about his future Blindenbacher remained indecisive. “I don’t know what I will do next year. If they –Phoenix-, want me over, perhaps I will go over, otherwise I stay in Switzerland”, Blindenbacher said. “ It depends on what my coach, Vladimir Jursinov, think is best for me and what Phoenix wants with me.” He realizes there are still many areas of the game he needs to improve in. “My passing should be better and also I have to bilk up to play the game at the smaller ice surface. There is much more intensity during the games now and I am not used to that at home.” Where Blindenbacher stood out, Beat Forster wasn’t that flashy but yet could be seen he has got the talent. A productive relegation series had him finish this WJC with 3 assists and 4 goals in 6 games. Coyotes’ Vice President Scouting & Director of Player Personnel, Dave Draper told me he was happy with the progression of both prospects. But what these words really mean remains questionable considering the organization has yet to talk to both players and didn’t feel the urgency to do it during this tournament but later this year.

Line 2: Tim Ramholt – Philippe Furrer; GRADE C

Much was expected from 2003 Draft elgibile Tim Ramholt but as he struggles throughout the season, this WJC was not what he expected from it personally. Fighting for ice time in Switzerland at ZSC Lions, Ramholt has already been sent down to the farm team GCK Lions. During the WJC, Ramholt at times showed he has the qualities, especially his skating and vision is there, but he needs to be more responsible defensively. He left too many question marks in that area and it won’t do good to his already falling stock. In the relegation series Ramholt could add some offense which makes his numbers decent (2 + 2 in 6 games), yet he was worst on the team in plus minus with a minus 4 rating (it was minus 6 after the round robin). More about Tim Ramholt can be read in a special document on him that will be posted here later. Philippe Furrer will also be draft eligible next summer. The red headed SC Bern-defenseman might have surprised some people with his performance made his full debut at the highest Swiss level and turned in a solid defensive effort. He is far from as talented as Ramholt but his work ethic is much higher. Knowing he won’t make it purely on talent, Furrer is a coache’s. He is not likely not to turn in a 110% performance every time he’s on the ice and also off the ice he is working hard to get better. Whether he will get drafted though remains questionable.

The rest: Lukas Baumgartner – Alain Tallarini – Jürg Dällenbach – Florian Conz; GRADE C

This group of players switched lines throughout the tournament. Florian Conz is a forward who was often the extra forward on the team, not playing on one of the 4 set-offensive lines. The others, Lukas Baumgartner, Alain Tallarini and Jürg Dällenbach did not really make notice of themselves during this WJC. Each players lack in some areas of the game, either be too slow or not good enough defensively etc. With some shifiting of lines most weaknesses could be hid, yet nothing worth noticing came from these players.

Goaltenders GRADE B-

Much was expected from Dallas Stars’ 2nd rnd pick Tobias Stephan. The much heralded Kloten Flyers goalie backstopped Switzerland to the semi finals last year. Unfortunately, as was the case with the whole Swiss team, Stephan could never reach his exceptional form. Starting in 4 out of the 6 games, Stephan ended with a 3.50 G.A.A.and a less than stellar .860% save percentage. A possible reason for this might be that Stephan sufferen from playing in too many games. In the Swiss league he has played every single second so far and perhaps it became a little bit too much for the young goalie. The Swiss back-up Daniel Manzato started in the remaining two games posting a 2.50 G.A.A. and .875% save percentage. The Carolina Hurricanes prospect was expected by some to play a bigger role on the team, especially with Stephan strugglnig somewhat. Manzato is used to the smaller ice as he is currently in his second season in with the Victoriville Tigres in the QMJHL. The Sydney and Halifax arena’s weren’t strange territory to him so. Furthermore Manzato posted good numbers in the QMJHL, last year he finished with a .901% save percentage and this season it’s up to .903%. Manzato was in goal for Switzerland’s game vs the USA (1-3 loss) and Sweden (5-3 win).

Coach Jakob Kölliker was realistic after the tournament. “We were the best team in these relegation series, but when you see Finland destroy Slovakia then I have to say we did not belong there.” Asked about the weaknesses of his team the coach said: “our offensive play was not good enough in the group games. Also teams like Slovakia and the USA have got much bigger players. We need to play hard against them to match their strength.” Kölliker was satisfied with his first scoring line consisiting of Bärtschi-Ambühl and Christen who collected 21 points together, but also there was more positive to take home from this tournament. “I think Kevin Gloor did a very good job and also our 4th line did not look out of place.”

Quick Facts 5: Did you know that….

* Switzerland managed to score 5 times against Russia. This were as many goals as Russia conceded during all of its other 5 games!

* Patrik Bärtschi capped off a nice individual tournament being tied for the tournament scoring lead with 10 points.

* Switzerland was the only team to concede 2 Short Handed goals in the same game.

* Switzerland’s roster contained a Romanian born player in Victor Stancescu. Never before a Romanian born player has skated at the U20 world Juniors.

To conclude: Switzerland’s 7 position was a big disappoint for everyone on the team, yet it is not a big disgrace or a sign Swiss hockey is behind on its competitor’s. The tight differences between the #4 and the #8 make the final ranking an annual lottery as only the trio of Canada, Russia and Finland are clearly a class above them and Belarus, Germany (and next season Austria, Ukraine) are a notch below them. An off-day, bad luck etc. all reasons that make it possible a team can drop from 4th last year to 7th this year.
If we look forward at next year, Switzerland will see itself in a round robin group with Canada, Finland, Czech Republic and Austria. Assuming Canada and Finland will occupy the first two spots in this group, Switzerland and the Czech Republic will fight for the remaining spot that sees the team advancing to the quarter finals. The Czechs, consecutive gold medal winners in 2000 and 2001 will be huge mountain for Switzerland but not an impossible job to finish. Also Switzerland holds good memories of games against Finland. At the U18 WJC in Finland 2 years ago, Switzerland beat Finland and also last year in the Czech Republic Switzerland upset Finland in the group opener. Stephan kept a shut out in a 3-0 victory.

Switzerland will see a large number of players still eligible next year. That could be a huge advantage from Switzerland. In goal both Stephan and Manzato are likely to return. On defense Lukas Baumgartner, Philippe Furrer, Tim Ramholt and Alain Tallarini are eligible next year in Finland. Up front the return of Patrik Bärtschi seems inevitable, but also Florian Conz, Roland Gerber, Romano Lemm, Caryl Neuenschwander, Emanuel Peter, Kevin Romy and Victor Stancescu are still available. This should give Switzerland a lot of experience, a thing that is vital at WJC’s to be successful.