For Team Switzerland, much about the 2016 IIHF World Junior Championship makes it a tournament to forget. After a disappointing 2015 tournament, which culminated in a quick dismantling of Team Germany in the relegation round in order to remain in the world’s top class, Switzerland headed into this tournament with a world of possibilities, throwing together a roster featuring a good handful of NHL Draft picks and several lines worth of players already playing pro in Switzerland.
Nonetheless, things started off on a very poor note, when the team got whooped by Sweden 8-3 in a game marred by Chris Egli’s check to the head of Sweden’s star William Nylander, which ended Nylander’s season (to date) and earned Egli a 5+20 penalty plus a suspension. The loss was quite opposite from Switzerland’s strong results in its test games and seemed like it may only be a blip on the radar. Unfortunately, it was indicative of things to come.
For the second year in a row, Switzerland lost to Denmark 2-1 and with that, the writing was on the wall as the Swiss still had to face Canada and the USA and would be needing four points to make it to the playoffs. The team showed its best performance of the tournament against Canada, but eventually fell 3-2 in the shootout in overtime, giving up an initial 2-0 lead in the process. With the tank clearly empty and their emotions left on the ice in the tilt against the Canadians, the team was slaughtered by the USA, 10-1, the next day, clearly accepting its fate as a participant in the relegation round.
Facing Belarus to conclude, the Swiss had little problem in getting their offensive machine going while shutting down a low-scoring team that clearly was out of gas in the two games they played. 5-1 and 6-2 victories left little doubt about Switzerland’s retention in the top group, and suddenly, all the key players were having fun and ready to get the job done. The games were a bit feisty which kept Belarus shy in the attack. The highlight was a Pius Suter natural hat trick in the first period of the decisive 6-2 game. With that, Switzerland ended a dreadful preliminary round with another convincing relegation round. It is becoming a habit.
Thanks to the relegation round, a number of Swiss forwards managed to end the tournament with decent offensive totals. But the team’s most effective forward over the course of the tournament ultimately was little playmaker Denis Malgin, a Florida Panthers 2015 fourth round pick. He accumulated a goal and eight assists in six games and was otherwise a fairly sound player in all three zones, going -1 in the tournament. A long-time representative of the Swiss side, the tot of Russian decent only confirmed the success he has been enjoying with Zurich this season, where he has scored five goals and 13 points to accompany his +3 in 34 games.
Washington Capitals prospect Jonas Siegenthaler is a hulking, 6’2” and 218- pound defender who is having a splendid second season in a regular role for the Zurich Lions, where he has five points and a +15 rating in 34 games. He finished the WJC with just one assist and a -4 rating, but he was clearly the most sound and defensively effective player for the Swiss and received the most ice time per game of anyone sans the respective goaltenders. Most importantly, Siegenthaler displayed a very defensively-oriented game while making intelligent and solid first breakout passes in most situations.
For a team that counts as the tournament’s most disappointing, it is tough to name an MVP. Still, San Jose Sharks‘ 2014 second rounder Noah Rod made some positive impressions in scoring four goals and six points, and also when he left the tournament injured in the last game when he dove in front of a slapshot while shorthanded. In general, he served as a first-line player and often stuck out even when the team wasn’t performing well. A regular with Geneva in the NLA, Rod has seven goals and 12 points this season while taking a regular shift in 37 games.
The reasons behind team Switzerland’s disappointing tournament
One could point at a number of weaknesses Switzerland displayed, not the least of which being statistically poor goaltending, terribly undisciplined play right from Game One, and exactly zero goals generated by the defense. But at the end of the day, what separated a team like Switzerland’s from a team like Denmark was more or less just being a team. It was clear that the Swiss were not on the same page for much of the tournament, and their collection of names and talents never really gelled at any point. It would be a bit too much to point the finger of blame at Canadian coach John Fust, who often had few positive things to say after the games, but the team was never the sum of its parts save for the 3-2 overtime loss to Canada. Fortunately for Switzerland, the individuals managed to get their act together just long enough to get the job done in the relegation round – and quite convincingly at that.
We will also now never know why Nashville Predators‘ 2014 first rounder Kevin Fiala wasn’t brought along, but some felt the federation just didn’t feel he would be a positive presence in the locker room.
2016 prospect who helped himself
There really weren’t many, but 18-year-old Damien Riat finished things off with two goals and four points while taking plenty of shots. He was active throughout the tournament and skates in a very controlled manner and with great speed. His attitude is a positive one and he bounces back well on a shift-to-shift basis. In addition, he seems to work well with his nation’s top offensive players. Having already spent time in his youth in Ontario and last season in Malmo’s junior program (Sweden), Riat currently has six goals and 16 points in 39 games for Geneva in the NLA.
2016 prospect who may have hurt his cause
This list could be long, and surely Detroit Red Wings‘ 2015 fifth rounder Joren van Pottelberghe, playing in the Linkoping system in Sweden, didn’t enhance his status with a 3.15 goals-against average and .887 save percentage, but there was a far bigger disappointment for this team. Timo Meier ended the tournament with two goals and five points, even having scored several goals that ultimately ended up being disallowed, but aside from the relegation round, Meier’s tournament was a disappointment if not a disaster. Expected to be the team’s leader and go-to guy, Meier often remained completely ineffective and even looked lost at times. His role seemed to be more of a complementary one and he often seemed to try too hard while being completely ineffective. In general, it was far too easy for the competition to keep him off the scoreboard. His impact was nothing close to what Switzerland needed and expected from him.
Aside from those two players, young Nico Hischier, who is first draft-eligible in 2017, was relatively ineffective and then only enjoyed a slightly better relegation round after having been outstanding for Switzerland at the Ivan Hlinka Memorial Tournament last summer. He already has 15 games of NLA play for Bern under his belt this season. He will likely be a go-to player for Switzerland next winter.
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