SASKATOON – After several years of modest performances by their U20 and U18 teams, the Swiss cracked the World Junior semi-finals for the third time this year (after 1998 and 2002). They won their only medal (bronze) 12 years ago in Finland. Can they do it again versus Sweden?
In 1998, the Swiss finished the Preliminary Round in second place. With the tournament taking place in Helsinki and Hämeenlinna, they beat Slovakia 3-1 and Kazakhstan 7-0, tied Russia 3-3, and lost 4-1 to the U.S. in the last Pool B game.
Switzerland, coached by American Bill Gilligan, beat Sweden 2-1 in overtime in the quarterfinals, but fell 2-1 to Finland in the semis. They captured bronze with a 4-3 shootout victory against the Czech Republic.
Historically, the Swiss have always brought teams with varying levels of skill to both the World U20s and U18s. Some years they have more or less depth, and the number of star players also changes. They've had so many different outcomes. From U18 silver (2001) to U20 relegation, the Swiss juniors have covered virtually the whole spectrum.
Let’s take a look back at what's become of the Swiss that became national heroes in 1998. Some went on to appear in the NHL, and some became national team regulars, although none of them cracked the roster for the 2010 Olympics, while others failed to become stars. These are scenarios that might also play out with the current Swiss U20 national team. But right now, their focus is on the bronze medal game against Sweden on Tuesday.
David Aebischer: He was the hero when he stopped all Czech shots in the shootout. He was named 1998's Best Goalie, and he later became the first Swiss player to suit up regularly in the NHL with the Colorado Avalanche. Aebischer returned to Switzerland in 2007 after 227 NHL games, and is currently playing for HC Lugano. He appeared in five World Championships and two Olympics, and was one of the key players in the senior national team’s fourth-place finish in the 1998 World Championship on home ice in Zurich and Basel.
Marco Bührer: After the World Juniors, he ventured into professional hockey. He has been the starting goalkeeper of SC Bern since 2002, and has participated in four World Championships.
Ralph Bundi: The Chur native left his hometown club a few years later to play in the top Swiss league. He's been injury-plagued in recent years, but still plays in the NLA for HC Ambrì-Piotta.
Patrick Fischer: This blueliner, not to be confused with his compatriot of the same name who played for the Phoenix Coyotes, made it from the B-league to the NLA’s EV Zug two years after the '98 World Juniors. He's still with the team after spending a few years in Rapperswil-Jona.
Alain Reist: Another player who made his NLA debut in 1999. He's stayed in the highest Swiss league apart from one B-league season, and is currently with ZSC Lions Zurich.
Julien Vauclair: The most famous of the Vauclair brothers was already in his first pro season with HC Lugano when he played in the World Juniors. He played his first of nine World Championships with the senior national team in 1999 as a 19-year-old. His career in Lugano was only interrupted due to a three-year stint in the AHL with the Ottawa Senators’ farm team. He appeared in just one NHL game for the Sens.
Jan von Arx: The younger brother of former Chicago Blackhawks forward Reto von Arx was already in his second pro season with HC Davos when he won the bronze medal. He played in the 1999 World Championship, and has won four league titles in his 14 seasons with Davos.
Marc Werlen: He also participated in Finland as an NLA player. He played for Fribourg-Gottéron and Lausanne in the highest league until 2003. He had five more seasons in the B-league, but ended his professional career in 2008.
Markus Wüthrich: He was a decent blueliner in the National League B, but hung up his skates to become a policeman in 2009.
Alex Chatelain: A third- and fourth-line centre in the highest league for Bern, Basel and (again) Bern since 1999, Chatelain was sent to Langenthal, a B-league team, in December.
Björn Christen: In 1998, he had already debuted in the NLA for SC Bern as a 16-year-old, and he set World U20 records with 26 games and four tournaments. In 2002 and 2003 he played in two World Championships, plus the Salt Lake City Olympics, but he hasn’t played for the national team since then. Currently with EV Zug.
Flavien Conne: He was a top B-league player in Geneva when he won the bronze medal as a 17-year-old. He transferred to the NLA team Fribourg, and has been playing for HC Lugano since 2000. He's had many setbacks and few full seasons due to injuries, but has still managed to play in five World Championships and two Olympics.
Sven Lindemann: The 1998 World Juniors coincided with the start of Lindemann's NLA career with the Kloten Flyers. He’s a solid forward in his 13th season with the team, although he has never played international hockey since winning the '98 bronze.
Michel Mouther: He didn’t have his breakthrough in the NLA until he put up a 19-point season with Fribourg-Gottéron a few years later. Mouther retired in 2004 due to a groin injury.
Laurent Müller: It looked like he was ready to shine professionally one year after the bronze medal outing when he notched 38 points for Zurich, but that remained a career high. He then suited up for four other teams in Switzerland, plus Jyväskylä in Finland. He ended his career in 2006 as a free agent.
Marc Reichert: The physical winger has stuck with his native club of SC Bern, apart from a three-year stint with Kloten, and is under contract in the Swiss capital for several more years. He has represented Switzerland in six World Championships.
Michel Riesen: He had five points in the 1998 bronze-medal campaign. Riesen became the first Swiss first-round pick one year earlier when the Edmonton Oilers selected him 14th overall. But he had just one point in 12 NHL games, and returned to Davos after spending three seasons with the AHL's Hamilton Bulldogs. He developed into a sniper in the Swiss league, and transferred to Rapperswil. He has declined to play for the national team since head coach Ralph Krueger didn’t take him to the 2002 Olympics.
Sandro Rizzi: With the bronze medal came Rizzi’s breakthrough with HC Davos in the top Swiss league. He’s in his 14th season with the team and has won four league titles. He also appeared in one World Championship (1999).
Mario Schocher: This winger made little impact with Davos and Geneva-Servette in the highest league. He switched to amateur hockey in 2005 after two years in the B-league with Olten.
René Stüssi: This forward was seen as a huge talent, having had a 60-point season with the NLB’s Thurgau as an 18-year-old. He was drafted by Anaheim, and had four points in the World Juniors. He had 82 points in 269 NLA games for five different teams, but his lack of work ethic prevented him from finding another employer in the highest league. Stüssi now plays amateur hockey for the third-tier team Pikes Oberthurgau.
Adrian Wichser: Won the bronze as a 17-year-old in his first of three World U20 Championships, during his rookie season in the NLA. He has played in five World Championships, plus the 2006 Olympics. He was the scoring leader of the 2008-2009 Champions Hockey League and became a European club champion with ZSC Lions Zurich.
Thomas Ziegler: After the 1998 World Juniors, Ziegler logged his first two NLA seasons with Ambrì-Piotta. He appeared in five games for the Tampa Bay Lightning before coming back to Switzerland in 2002 after one NHL season. He has played for SC Bern since then, being used as a defensive centre and blueliner. He has played in seven World Championships, as well as the 2006 Olympics.