Olympic Hockey: Switzerland Can Challenge for a Medal

olympic hockey, Mark Streit
olympic hockey, Mark Streit
Dec 9 2013 Ottawa Ontario CAN Philadelphia Flyers defenseman Mark Streit 32 controls the puck in the third period against the Ottawa Senators at the Canadian Tire CentreThe Senators defeated the Flyers 5 4 in a shoot out Marc DesRosiers USA TODAY Sports

The progression of the Swiss national hockey program has been something to behold. It wasn’t 20 years ago that this was a country constantly fighting relegation; they failed to qualify for the 1998 Nagano Olympics after seeing Germany and Austria qualify ahead of them. At the 2002 Olympics, Switzerland qualified but went 1-1-1 in the preliminary round, which included a loss to Ukraine and a tie to France, neither exactly hockey powerhouses.

The program, behind an overhaul of their development programs, has seen better progress of late which really started in Salt Lake City. At the 2006 Olympic Games, the Swiss upset both Canada (and shut them out 2-0) and the Czech Republic before losing the in quarter-finals to eventual-champion Sweden.

The following Olympics in Vancouver, they took Canada to a shootout before bowing out in the quarter-finals to eventual finalists Team USA 2-0.

Just last year, the Swiss national men’s team earned a silver medal at the 2013 World Championships beating Sweden, Canada, the Czech Republic and then the USA in the semi-finals before losing in the finals when they met Sweden again. It was still a resounding success, as that was their first medal at a World Championship in 60 years.

This program has improved annually and has gone from international doormat to medal hopeful. It’s been an amazing turnaround.

These are the players to look for when Switzerland hits the ice in a month.


Switzerland invited six goalies to the summer Olympic orientation camp, but there’s only really one name that matters and that’s Jonas Hiller. Not to say the other goalies aren’t worthwhile – current NHLer Reto Berra is on there, as is former NHLer Martin Gerber and the undrafted Benjamin Conz – but let’s face it, this is Hiller’s net.

Since Hiller came to the NHL in 2007, his .917 save percentage ranks eighth out of 32 goalies that have played at least 200 games. That mark ties him with other Olympic goalies like Jimmy Howard, Antti Niemi and Jaroslav Halak and ahead of Olympic goalies like Carey Price, Kari Lehtonen and Jonathan Quick. Sure, he’s fought consistency at times, but there aren’t many goalies on the planet that haven’t.

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I would assume that after Hiller, Berra and Gerber will get the other two goalie spots on the team. Whether they decide to backup Hiller with Berra or go with the veteran in Gerber remains to be seen, but that is the likely trio between the pipes.


The strength of this Swiss team will come from their blue line.

When you see the names of the invitee list, you see familiar names like Mark Streit (who will also probably be their captain), Yannick Weber from Vancouver, Raphael Diaz from Montréal, Luca Sbisa from Anaheim and Roman Josi from Nashville. This is probably the only country outside of the “Big” hockey nations that won’t have to reach to the depths of European professional leagues to find their anchor defensemen, like Austria will have to.

Each of those five defensemen are regulars in the NHL to some degree – none of them have fewer than 124 games played in the NHL which is about a season and a half – and Streit/Josi are legitimate top four defensemen, and top pairing defensemen on their own teams. The offense always starts from the defense, and Streit/Josi will be charged with getting the offense going for the Swiss.

As to which defensemen you’ll see on the team after that, it’s a little up in the air.

It seems certain that career European professional Goran Bezina will be there. Bezina is a veteran defenseman who was originally drafted in the eighth round by the Phoenix Coyotes but never really stuck in North American hockey. He has 50 points in his last 81 professional Swiss league games, which gives the Swiss another puck-mover not named Streit or Josi. I would assume the inside track for the final two spots will be given to returning players Philippe Furrer (Bern) and Patrick von Gunten (Kloten) but there are other defensemen who were around in 2010 like Severin Blindenbacher and Mathias Seger who are also in the mix.


There isn’t a lot of top end talent up front for Switzerland, so those who are there are going to have to contribute, and that goes for all four lines.

You’ll recognize the names Nino Niederreiter (Minnesota), Damien Brunner (New Jersey) and Sven Baertschi (Calgary), all young-ish players (Brunner the oldest at 27) who will be expected to carry the load offensively for the Swiss.

The rest of the shoes will have to be filled by non-NHLers.

One player that has come on this year in the Swiss league is Luca Cunti, who has put up 65 points in his last 76 games in the Swiss-A and is over a point per game in 32 games so far this year. Cunti played a year in the QMJHL for the Rimouski Océanic and according to Hockey’s Future, is a good offensive player when given the time to use his skill set. I can’t imagine the Swiss are overly excited about their power play prospects, so he will have to pick up a bit of the slack.

New York Rangers fans might recognize the name Andres Ambuhl, as he was a free agent signing of theirs some four years back. He only lasted a year in the AHL before going back overseas, but he’s a pretty good skater with quick hands, so he along with Cunti will need to find the back of the net.

Simon Moser is another young player expected to make an impact in Sochi. He was signed out of the Swiss league this year and has been playing for the Milwaukee Admirals in the AHL this year. He’ll be there with Julien Sprunger, another winger who’s been close to a point-per-game player for his Fribourg side in the Swiss league, as is Denis Hollenstein, who used to play in the OHL before making his way to Switzerland.

The Swiss side will have good goaltending and defense but depth of scoring will be an issue. Not only that, but they have a lot of talented wingers without very many talented centres. If there’s no one around to consistently get those wingers the puck, the Swiss could be in trouble. It won’t matter much, though, if they can consistently hold their opponents to under three goals a game. With a bit (maybe more than a bit) of luck, this team could find themselves on the podium.

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Michael Clifford
Michael Clifford was born and raised in Fredericton, New Brunswick, Canada and is a graduate of the Unviersity of New Brunswick. He writes about fantasy hockey and baseball for XNSports and FantasyTrade411.com. He can be reached on Twitter @SlimCliffy for any fantasy hockey questions. !function(d,s,id){var js,fjs=d.getElementsByTagName(s)[0],p=/^http:/.test(d.location)?'http':'https';if(!d.getElementById(id)){js=d.createElement(s);js.id=id;js.src=p+'://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js';fjs.parentNode.insertBefore(js,fjs);}}(document, 'script', 'twitter-wjs');