STOCKHOLM Ė Switzerland has been moving in the wrong direction since the last Olympics, finishing 5th at the 2010 Worlds, 9th in 2011, and 11th last year. There is no one reason why. The team hasnít had great goaltending; the defence isnít as big or mobile as it needs to be; and, the offence has been, quite simply, inadequate, scoring just 46 goals in 20 games over the last three years. Each area has to improve if the teamís results are expected to improve.
The names are familiar: Martin Gerber, Reto Berra, Tobias Stephan. But, none of these goalies has delivered a world-class effort at the Worlds recently. Berra won just one of four games last year. The 38-year-old Gerber hasnít played at the World Championship since 2010 and is well past his prime. And Stephan, now 29, won only one of three games in 2012. One of these puckstoppers has to come up with a virtuoso performance in Stockholm if the team is to move up in the World Rankings.
One of the big stories of this World Championship is the appearance of Mathias Seger for a 15th tournament. The 35-year-old, who captained the team in 2010 and 2011, will tie Petteri Nummelin in this department as soon as he steps on the ice for the teamís first game and will no doubt break the record in the coming years.
He is joined on the blue line by other familiar names, notably Severin Blindenbacher, Julien Vauclair, and Roman Josi. But for all its experience, the defence corps as a group lacks an identity. They are not particularly big or offensively capable, but more than that they have to be consistent in the details Ė getting the puck out, playing the man aggressively down low, staying out of the penalty box.
Ryan Gardner is a big presence up front, and coach Sean Simpson cannot know exactly what to expect from Nino Niederreiter, who seemed a couple of years ago destined for great things. The highest Swiss draft choice in NHL history, Niederreiter has stumbled in the early going of his career with the New York Islanders. Skill he has, but sometimes itís whatís in the heart and head that counts more.
The ZSC Lions Zurich have four members on the team including Andres AmbŁhl, Luca Cunti, Thibaut Monnet, and Morris Trachsler. The team has plenty of experience but not much history of scoring timely goals or an abundance of goals. This has to change, either through a better power play, more determination around the enemy goal, or an injection of new talent. Simpson is counting on many World Championship rookies in Stockholm.
Now in his fourth year with the team, coach Sean Simpson has been in the difficult position of trying to squeeze blood from a rock. Last year the team started off with two wins and looked to have turned a corner, but them it lost five games in a row, scoring only eight goals, and didnít qualify for the playoff round. What can the coach do? As any coach Ė try, try again.
The Swiss have enough talent to better their 11th place showing last year, but with the current round-robin format it will be tough to finish in the top four to advance to the quarter-finals. The first three spots are likely to go to Canada, the Czechs, and Sweden, leaving Switzerland in a dog fight with Belarus, Denmark, Norway, and Slovenia for the final playoff spot.