BERNE – Never since the early 1950s has Swiss hockey competed internationally on such a consistently high level as in the last 12 years under head coach Ralph Krueger.
They've never had to play in the Relegation Round. In World Championship and Olympic play, they've reached the semi-finals once (the 1998 Worlds in Switzerland) and the quarterfinals eight times. Switzerland is now the number seven country in the IIHF World Ranking.
Before Krueger, the Swiss national team had zero market value. Today the marketing revenue for the Swiss federation is up to two million dollars.
All this is much more than Swiss fans could have dreamed of 20 years ago. In terms of the potential of Swiss hockey, every time the team reaches the second round at an IIHF World Championship, it has to be counted as a success. Krueger has a contract that runs through the 2010 IIHF World Championship.
But after years of stability, trouble could be brewing. The whistles of derision at PostFinance Arena were deafening as the Swiss lost 4-1 to Sweden on Sunday.
Now, the Swiss have one game left versus Team USA in which to qualify for the quarterfinals of the 2009 tournament.
The host team needs a three-point win in 60 minutes. If they do not reach the quarterfinals, Krueger will find himself in the centre of a Swiss media feeding frenzy. He could even be fired after the tournament.
You know, Swiss hockey has experienced its share of follies in the past 25 years. But the biggest may come in the near future.
To fire Krueger would not bring any progress. It would, however, create problems. One of the biggest follies in sports is making a change for the sake of change, without making any progress.
In 2004, the Germans, after making the quarterfinals three years in a row, maybe got a little bit too confident. They ended up parting ways with their coach, Hans Zach. After a 1-0 loss to Switzerland at the '04 tournament in the Czech Republic, they failed to make the final eight, and Zach gave up his post. He was tired of listening to harsh critics in the media.
Zach's principles were similar to those of Krueger. The emphasis was on defensive-minded hockey: boring to watch, but effective on the ice.
Greg Poss, the new German coach, changed the philosophy to firewagon hockey. In the case of Germany, this was fun to watch, but ineffective on the ice. The Germans were immediately relegated to Division I at the 2005 IIHF World Championship in Vienna, and Poss was fired. The Germans, now coached by Uwe Krupp, are still suffering from this whole sequence of events.
So here's a question that's worth contemplating for Swiss fans, media, and management: are we smarter than the Germans? Will the federation learn from what happened to Germany and keep Ralph Krueger even if his team does not qualify for the quarterfinals?
Klaus Zaugg is a Swiss hockey journalist who has covered the IIHF World Championship since 1981. The opinions expressed in this column do not necessarily reflect the official views of the IIHF.