Swiss WJC preview

By Joeri Loonen

The Swiss team will face quite a challenge at this World Junior Championship. They have to deal with a string of injured players including Dallas Stars’ prospect Tobias Stephan between the pipes. Stephan has recently undergone surgery and will be sidelined for five months. Other injuries mainly hurt the Swiss offense including three forwards. Both Florian Conz and Romano Lemm were already ruled out before the group travelled to Finland, and Caryl Neuenschwander could not shake off a back injury and has been replaced by Antonio Rizzello.

Lemm, a quality scorer, in particular will be missed. It’s either all or nothing for him, but if he was on, he could have been a good help for the team. Neuenschwander, playing for SC Bern, played a good tournament last year and was looking to build on that. His replacement, Antiono Rizzello, has made his full debut at the pro level this year, appearing in 24 games with Rapperswil-Jona in which he had 1 assist.

The Swiss defense will miss out on NHL prospects Beat Forster and Severin Blindenbacher. Nevertheless the defense looks solid. An important player returning to the team will be Tim Ramholt, a 2003 draft pick playing for Cape Breton this year. The rest of the Swiss defense isn’t spectacular but can be considered solid. A lack of skating skill and offensive awareness could hurt their power play.

Without a doubt Switzerland hopes Patrick Bärtschi will come up with the same kind of performance he did last year when he was amongst the tournament’s best goal scorers. However, the Pittsburgh Penguins draft pick will once again be emphasizing that his own performance is not at all important and he wants his team to play in the final games instead of in the relegation game series once again. Bärtschi will likely be on a line with center Emanuel Peter, who’s making his third straight WJC appearance. Other players to keep an eye on are Yvan Benoit, Kevin Romy, Lukas Grauwiler and Peter Guggisberg.
The duo of Benoit and Romy play together at Geneva-Servette and are considered good talents in Switzerland. They have been given a fair share of ice time by their coach Chris McSorley, brother of Marty. Romy, a Philadelphia Flyers draft pick, will be looking to improve on his WJC performance last year in which he turned out to have a good nose for the goal. His play in Halifax, Canada last year did not hurt his draft position at all.

Grauwiler has had quite a successful transition to North America this summer, and he is currently doing well with the Mississauga Ice Dogs. Perhaps the player who saw the most headlines this year has been Peter Guggisberg, more because of off ice incidents. Having had a good debut year with SCL Tigers, Guggisberg decided to switch to top team HC Davos. Problem was his old team didn’t want to let him go as he was still under contract. This stirred a long list of court cases to set a transfer fee, but this has been ongoing for months now and appeal after appeal are being called.

Guggisberg himself has not been able to improve on last year’s performance. The whole circus around his move might have taken the better of him. Perhaps the change of scenery in Finland could do him good. However he would need to become a team player there. Guggisberg is still following his heart rather than his mind and takes the wrong decisions. Nevertheless the talent is surely there. It just needs the right coaching to put him on the right track.

The lion’s share of the starts will likely be by Vancouver Canucks prospect Daniel Manzato, now that Tobias Stephan is not on the team. Manzato is an experienced goalie, currently playing his third straight year in the QMJHL. Last year he already showed he’s not just backing up Tobias Stephan but has got the qualities to be a starter. Behind Manzato, Thomas Bäumle and Michael Tobler won’t see much ice time. Both goaltenders lack experience on this level, but are capable backups.

The team is once again under the command of Jakub Kölliker. In a short interview on the opening day of the tournament, he agreed that the group Switzerland is in will be tough, but so would any draw.

“We’re looking forward to this tournament and try to reach the best position possible. We take it game-by-game and see where it gets us.”

Switzerland will face top teams like the Czech Republic, Canada and the home team Finland. They open the tournament against the Ukraine, a game labeled by Kölliker as a ‘key game’. Asked about the injury problems the coach is realistic.

“We shouldn’t look backwards. The injuries are there and we have to deal with it. You can’t change the facts.”

As the coach left the ice, some players practiced their shooting.

“I wasn’t fully satisfied with today’s training. Our guys looked nervous, but that’s always the case so close to the tournament opener. I’m sure they can shake it off before we start against the Ukraine. We’re all looking forward to it.”