Urs Berger The Hockey Writers
2020 WJC: Switzerland Surprises, but Has Issues to Address
The small nation of Switzerland is making great progress. If you take a look at the potential in the country and know how hard it is to recruit new hockey players and develop them to be not only contenders at the international level but to get almost even with other nations, the Swiss federation took step forward again.
Sure, the first game against Kazakhstan was not a beautiful win at all. But the team skated away with three points. In that first game, the Swiss looked good, controlled the game and had luck on their side at the end. You could say it was a gritty win.
After Win Over Kazakhstan, Quarterfinal Was Certain
With the win, the Swiss were qualified for the quarterfinals. The pressure on their shoulders eased and the games that followed essentially became warm ups. In the same sentence, head coach Thierry Paterlini said something remarkable: “We don’t want to sit back. Our goal is to get some more points. We are not satisfied yet.”
That said, the team had to adjust for their next game against Sweden. The Tre Kronor showed the Swiss that the way to be a top nation is still a long and winding road. For Paterlini and his team, it was a nightmare game. Nothing worked properly. The defense was sloppy, the offense was harmless and in the crease a goalie that did not have his best day.
Sweden With a Lesson for the Swiss
Sweden outplayed and outskated the Swiss. The stick handling, puck protection, setting the right hits in front of the net and protecting the goalie, Sweden did all that was needed to win the game.
On the other hand, it was a key game for the Swiss team. It could have led to second place in the group. That had not happened to the Swiss since 1998 in Finland.
After the game against Sweden, Switzerland had one day free. The team did not practice and had a day off. This did pay out well. On the next day, Paterlini and his team had to face off against Slovakia.
Swiss Win Against Slovakia Good for the Future
Trinec, which is only about 20 miles away from the Slovakian border, was full of Slovakian fans. The Werk Arena was almost sold out. The crowd clearly cheered for their ‘home’ team. The crowd, however, did not help. The Slovaks lost against Switzerland and finished fourth in Group A.
Everything was set up for the battle for the second place on New Year’s Eve. Switzerland had to take on the Finnish team, the defending champions. The question at the start of that game was mostly, by how big of a margin would Finland win?.
Switzerland With Huge Win Over Finland
The Finns took the lead at 12:49 in the first period. Anttoni Honka had his stick in the right place to score the first goal in this game.
Switzerland had the better start in the second frame. With two goals in the first two minutes, the Swiss team took the lead. Fabian Berri and Gaetan Jobin scored for Switzerland.
At 8:33, Joonas Oden tied the game. Shortly before the horn blew the second period to end, it was again Berri who recaptured the Swiss lead.
After that, Switzerland never looked back. A goal from Simon Knak at 10:03 and an empty netter of Valentin Nussbaumer got the Swiss skating away with the win and secured second place in Group A. It was only the second time finishing second in group play. The previous time they did so, 1998, they captured a bronze medal.
Switzerland Out in the Quarters
So the hopes were high that the team would get into the semi-finals. That dream got broken by the Russians who outplayed, outskated and dominated the opponent in the quarterfinals on Wednesday. In the end, the Swiss can look back at a very good tournament and can be proud of what they achieved.
With the tournament ending, Switzerland needs to take their game to the next level. That means that coach Paterlini needs to address three things for the next year.
Issues to Fix for Coach Thierry Paterlini
First, he needs to find a way for the players to skate more. In modern hockey, this is a vital part of the game. Only when a team has good skaters who are willing to pay the price can a team cause problems for the opposition.
Secondly, he needs to look for players who are willing to play physical and smart. In this tournament, it was sometimes bitter to see how the Swiss took penalties. Sometimes the players were out of position and had to take a slash, hook or trip to stop the counterparts. This needs to stop.
And last, the team needs to be more balanced. The transition game from offense to defense and vice versa did not work well enough. Often the opposing player had the opportunity to have two-on-one or three-on-two situations and scored. This needs to be addressed in the future.
On the other side, Switzerland had two superb goalies. With Luca Hollenstein and Stephane Charlin both putting up some decent numbers, they saved the Swiss victories against the top five teams (Canada, Russia, United States, Finland, and Sweden). It would be of no surprise to me if Hollenstein gets drafted into the NHL this year. With his stellar play, especially against the Finns, he looked great. By building upon the positives and correcting the negatives, Switzerland can hopefully get through the quarterfinals next year.
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