Editor’s Note: Since this was published, the following players were cut due to a positive COVID-19 test or an injury and will not participate in the tournament; Lucas Rötheli (G-injury), Noah Patenaude (G- injury), Giancarlo Chanton (D- COVID-19), Vincent Despont (D- injury), Raymond Fust (LW/RW-injury), Simon Knak (RW/LW- COVID-19). Andri Henauer (G) and Damian Gehringer (D) were added to the roster.
Team Switzerland have a mountain to climb at the 2022 World Junior Championship. After all, they land in Canada having been drawn into the group of death with relatively few NHL prospects in their ranks. If the Swiss are to avoid a place in this year’s relegation playoff, they will need head coach Marco Bayer to perfect the balance of his team from puck drop in game one.
If he doesn’t, Switzerland will almost certainly face an uphill battle in Red Deer – with their fourth game likely to seal their fate. With Slovakia’s U20 squad on the rise, Team Switzerland heads into this year’s competition as definite outsiders. Unless they catch Russia, Finland, or the USA napping, their group stage encounter with the Slovaks will prove decisive.
But it isn’t all doom and gloom in the Alps. Towering defenceman Lian Bichsel is an intriguing 2022 draft prospect, while Simon Knack (NSH) and Brian Zanetti (PHI) bring valuable pedigree to the mix. Another figure to keep in mind is Noah Meier, who has started to find success playing against men in the Swiss National League.
The question, then, is this. Despite Team Switzerland’s lack of top-end talent, do they have enough to stave-off relegation?
Well, after general manager Raeto Raffainer locked in his final cuts, we’re one step closer to finding out.
Loic Galley, Kevin Pasche, Noah Patenaude
It’s all change for Team Switzerland in net, with last year’s starter, Thibault Fatton, too old to participate this time out. As a result, there is a three-way scrap over the Swiss crease heading into the tournament.
Swiss-Canadian goalie Noah Patenaude is leading the charge for the starter’s job at the moment. The 18-year-old has had a solid start to the season in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, boasting a .914 save percentage (SV%) through 12 appearances for the Saint John Sea Dogs. It’s his year in Quebec, and he’s made significant progress, putting up his most consistent set of performances to date.
Kevin Pasche is also a worthy candidate for the No. 1 jersey. He’s made positive steps through 14 United States Hockey League (USHL) appearances with the Omaha Lancers, securing a .916 SV% and nine wins. Although only 5-foot-9, Pasche has delivered for Team Switzerland in the past – finishing last year’s U18 WJC with a .910 SV% despite being on a losing team.
Loic Galley is yet to make an appearance at the World Juniors – but there are reasons to believe 2022 could be his year. He’s 4-4-1 through 11 appearances in the Swiss third division this season, with a respectable goals-against average of 2.75.
Lian Bichsel, Giancarlo Chanton, Noah Delémont, Vincent Despont, Noah Meier, Arno Nussbaumer, Dario Sidler, Maximillian Streule, Brain Zanetti
On the blue line, Bichsel is Team Switzerland’s player to watch. First and foremost, it’s worth noting that the kid is massive. He’s 6-foot-5, weighs 216 lbs, and is expected to be taken in the top two rounds of the 2022 NHL Entry Draft as a result.
As you might expect of a 17-year-old giant, Bichsel uses his body well – and he hasn’t been afraid of doing so against men in the Swedish Hockey League (SHL) this season. He has one point through 12 SHL appearances for Leksands IF, but that shouldn’t be used against him, as the tape proves he’s an offensive threat:
Bichsel, a former Switzerland U16 captain, will be asked to play a more prominent role at the WJC than he is in the SHL. With the 2022 draft in mind, it’ll be interesting to see how he responds to the challenge.
Zanetti – a shock omission from last year’s squad – is another player to keep an eye on. An unsigned Philadelphia Flyers prospect, the left-shooting defenceman is enjoying a decent season in the Ontario Hockey League (OHL) with the Peterborough Petes. He has nine assists through his first 17 games in North America and is a strong physical presence, coming in at 6-foot-2 and 181 lbs.
Nineteen-year-old Noah Meier knows what playing (and scoring) at the World Juniors feels like. A holdover from last year’s Swiss roster, the ZSC Lions prospect is off to a blistering start in the second division Swiss League this year. The 5-foot-11 defender has 18 points (two goals, 16 assists) through 24 games with GC Küsnacht Lions, adding to the seven NL appearances he’s amassed in Zurich.
Although Meier was passed over at last year’s draft, he remains an intriguing prospect with impressive skating and passing abilities. He likes to control the blue line when in the offensive zone and is – generally speaking – a safe passer. However, his defensive zone positional play could use improvement.
Finally, a note on one of the biggest challenges facing Switzerland at this year’s tournament. Bayer has an extraordinary lack of right-handers at his disposal. All of Team Switzerland’s netminders are left-catchers, while just two right-shooting defencemen have made the cut (Vincent Despont, Dario Sidler).
It’ll be a situation to be aware of with some players forced to play on the wrong side.
Dario Allenspach, Nicolas Baechler, Attilio Biasca, Lorenzo Cannonica, Christophe Cavalleri, Keanu Derungs, Joshua Fahrni, Ray Fust, Lilian Garessus, Marlon Graf, Joel Henry, Valentin Hofer, Simon Knak, Fabian Ritzmann, Louis Robin
Canonica, a 5-foot-11 centreman, has found his point-scoring touch in the QMJHL this season, putting up 27 points (10 goals, 17 assists) in 29 appearances for the Shawinigan Cataractes. That said, he’s still more of a playmaker than a talisman – he’s a tidy passer, positions himself smartly in the offensive zone, and knows how to dangle.
Fust’s style of play is more bruising. The Swiss-Canadian winger (he plays both sides) is known for using his 6-foot-4 frame in the USHL and will play NCAA hockey for the University of Nebraska-Omaha in 2022-23.
Unsigned Nashville Predators prospect Knak also has plenty to offer. He’s made 50 appearances in the National League during the pandemic, registering six goals and 10 assists for HC Davos. The 19-year-old isn’t the flashiest player on Switzerland’s roster, but his forechecking ability will come in handy for the Swiss in important moments.
Lilian Garessus, although relatively unheralded in the build-up to this year’s tournament, could be a surprise package. The 18-year-old is performing at a point-per-game rate in Switzerland’s U20 league and has performed solidly in the National League this season.
On paper, Team Switzerland has a fair number of playmakers and forecheckers at their disposal. However, it remains to be seen where the goals will come from for Bayer’s men.
Will Switzerland Avoid Relegation in 2022?
The outlook for Team Switzerland is fairly bleak. Unless they stun the USA, Russia, or Sweden, their match against Slovakia will be an all-or-nothing affair. Win, and a place in the quarterfinal awaits. Lose, and they’ll be in the relegation playoff.
However, there are reasons to be optimistic too. Bichsel’s skating ability, paired with his size and defensive skillset, will give Team Switzerland a major boost. He’ll want to impress NHL scouts, and the best way for him to do so is by defending solidly at the World Juniors.
Bichsel is also an offensive threat, which could be useful for Switzerland if they drop into the playoffs.
Make no mistake, this year’s Swiss roster lacks top-end quality. But they’re well-drilled and determined to make a positive impression anyway. Don’t count them out completely.
Note: Team Switzerland will confirm its final roster on Sunday [26 December], with the announcement delayed because the squad was placed into quarantine on Thursday [23 December].
“Of course, this is a very difficult starting position for the start of the tournament,” said Bayer. “Nevertheless, we have no choice but to accept the situation and make the best of it. It is important for us to consistently continue on our chosen path, to remain positive and to prove our mental strength for the first time.”
The Swiss will then begin their WJC campaign on Tuesday [27 December] versus Group B rivals Team Russia.
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Luke is an award-winning sports journalist from the UK, who covers the Washington Capitals for THW. He is a recent graduate from the University of Warwick and is currently studying a postgraduate degree in Newspaper Journalism at City, University of London. To stay up-to-date with Luke’s work, you can find his tweets via @LukeJames_32.