There are winners and losers from the lack of NHL participation at the Olympic Games, and when it comes to Team Switzerland, they are one of the winners. Switzerland are perhaps best described as the smaller team that the big guns want to avoid on the world hockey stage, and will be looking to cause an upset when they arrive in Beijing.
A 10th-place finish at the PyeongChang 2018 Olympic Games was a big disappointment, especially because no NHL players participated at the event. A sixth-place finish in the 2021 World Championships is far more like what we can expect from the Swiss in 2022.
The roster for Beijing 2022 has a wealth of experience, which should help in a quick-paced tournament environment such as the one they are going to play in here. On top of that, every player on the roster is from the Swiss National League, so they should all be familiar with each other.
The History of Hockey in Switzerland
There are currently 13 active Swiss players in the NHL, so even if those players had been able to participate, Switzerland would have still had to call on players from their home league, the National League.
The biggest Swiss names currently in the NHL include Roman Josi, Nino Niederreiter, Timo Meier, Kevin Fiala and Nico Hischier, and those five would have formed the core of the team. With those not involved, a large number of returnees from 2018 — 11 in total — will lead the Swiss roster.
Those all come from the National League, the top flight of hockey in Switzerland, and a league that dates back to 1938, though it has changed its name since then. That happened during the 2017-18 season — before that, the league was known as the National League A.
The league is currently seen as one of the best in Europe, behind the Kontinental Hockey League (KHL), Liiga and Swedish Hockey League (SHL), but certainly the next in line after those top leagues. For that reason, many Swiss-born players stay in their home nation, even if they excel as a top player, and the league also attracts many top imports from North America, who want to try their luck in Europe.
Attendances in Switzerland are strong, with figures from the 2018-19 season showing that the games averaged almost 7,000 spectators, higher than both the KHL and Deutsche Eishockey Liga (DEL). The biggest teams in the league are HC Davos, SC Bern, Zurich Lions and Lausanne HC.
Success has been almost non-existent for Switzerland on the world stage. They have only ever won one tournament, which was the 1926 European Championships. On three occasions they have finished second at the World Championships, with two of these coming in recent years, in 2013 and 2018.
As for the Olympics, Switzerland has taken a men’s hockey medal home on two occasions, in 1928 and 1948. In recent years, their best performance is a sixth-place finish in 2006, but the make-up of this game means that the team could do better than that this time around.
Fun Facts About Team Switzerland & Its Players
- Mark Streit is the Swiss-born player to have the most NHL games played at 786; however, both Roman Josi and Nino Niederreiter are still active in the league and chasing him down.
- Current Toronto Maple Leafs star Auston Matthews played for a year in Switzerland before he was drafted into the NHL, playing 36 games for the Zurich Lions and scoring 46 points.
- Andres Ambuhl leads Switzerland in appearances and is still active after being named on the Olympic roster. He has currently played 277 games for his country.
- Ambuhl is also the all-time leading points scorer for Switzerland with 125 current points.
- Head coach Patrick Fischer took over the job in 2015 and was with the team as an assistant from 2013. This means he was part of the coaching team for both the 2013 and 2018 silver medal World Championship performances.
Where Will Switzerland’s Players Come From?
This is where one of the strengths of Team Switzerland will lie. Every player on the roster will come from the Swiss National League. These are teammates who are used to playing with each other week-in and week-out, as well as the players being familiar with each other because they play against the others in the squad.
In a short, fast tournament such as the Olympics, hitting the ground running really matters, and given the make up of this squad, Switzerland should be able to do this.
With some solid depth and 11 returnees, does this @SwissIceHockey #Beijing2022 team have what it takes to capture a medal? 🇨🇭— IIHF (@IIHFHockey) January 18, 2022
READ MORE: https://t.co/3dLME2RGQR#hockey #icehockey #eishockey #hockeysurglace #hockeysughiaccio #Olympics @swissteam pic.twitter.com/OryydCZTkH
EV Zug and the Zurich Lions are providing the most players, with six coming from EV Zug and five coming from the Zurich Lions. Just three players will head to the Olympics without a teammate by their side, something that should really help the coaching staff put together lines from the start of the tournament. On top of this, let’s not forget that 11 of these players were together for the 2018 Olympics and 16 of them played together at the 2021 World Championships. This is a roster that has a very familiar feel to it.
Will 2022 Be Team Switzerland’s Year?
If you compare the quality in this Switzerland team to some of the others taking part, it is fair to say that they just fall short, purely based on that and nothing else. The rosters released by Sweden, Russia, Finland, Canada and United States, all look to have more quality on them than this one. They can scare the bigger teams, but are unlikely to beat three or four of them, which they would likely need to do to medal here. However, what they do have as their ace card and advantage over most other teams in this competition is their togetherness.
The Olympic environment is not easy, and made even tougher this time around with the quarantine measures that are in place. Put all of that together, and while Switzerland may not have the quality to win this, they have the experience and togetherness to pull them close to the big guns. A medal may be a step too far, but expect a strong run from Switzerland, a team that none of the big guns will want to face.
Craig Jones is a freelance NHL writer from the UK, covering the Colorado Avalanche. Watching the NHL from afar, Craig has followed the Avs for more than two decades, and wrote about them for almost one. To get the UK perspective of the NHL and everything Colorado, follow Craig on Twitter @craigjones29.