UFA – With 167 centimetres (5’6”) and 65 kilos (143 pounds), Lino Martschini is the second-shortest and the lightest player at the World Juniors, but his technical qualities outweigh physical quantity.
The Lucerne native spent most of his junior career with the junior teams of EV Zug before moving to Canada to the OHL’s Peterborough Petes.
Hockey people back home wondered about the decision. Although he’s technically skilled and an agile skater, the chances for a professional career in North America with his size seemed to be slim.
However, Martschini went his own way. In 124 OHL games he scored 41 goals and had 114 points.
“When I went over to Canada, Nino Niederreiter was playing there successfully and so the Canadian Hockey League became a topic among players of my age,” Martschini remembered. “It was my goal to go over. I played a good U18 World Championship and then I decided to go. It’s a totally different level and atmosphere compared to the Swiss junior league. It was a big step for me and I learned how to prevail against big and strong players. And going to professional hockey in Switzerland this year was another big step.”
Overlooked twice in the NHL Entry Draft, the Swiss forward returned to Switzerland last summer to join the professional team of EV Zug with the goal of establishing himself in the top Swiss league.
It turned out to be a wise move for the youngster. After missing out the first games due to an injury he scored the game-winning goal in his first NLA game. Until leaving for the U20 national team camp early December he assembled six goals and four assists in 24 NLA games – seventh-best on his team and by far the highest number among U20 players in the league.
“The Swiss league is probably a better fit for me but I didn’t mind playing in Canada and adapting to their style. I think both styles work for me,” he said. “I remained myself in Canada, tried to play my game and didn’t try to have seven or eight hits per game but made more use of my skating.”
But in Zug he does not only play at a higher level and a style of play that seems to be a better fit for him. Thanks to the labour conflict in the NHL he is surrounded by stars.
Martschini is on the same team like Swedish superstar Henrik Zetterberg as well as Raphael Diaz and Damien Brunner, who play in Zug as long as the dispute in North America is going on. Playing with them and other key players including former NHLers Josh Holden, Linus Omark and Andy Wozniewski, Martschini is closer to NHL level than he has ever been – right in front of his doorsteps.
“It’s unbelievable to be in the same locker room with players like these, which I just knew from watching NHL highlights,” Martschini said. “First I wasn’t sure how to talk to those players but they are also human beings and they know me as a teammate, not as a junior.”
Although his talent and skating was noticed early, Martschini was cut from the U20 team in Buffalo 2011. He had his World Junior debut in Calgary 2012 but notched just one point, an assist, in six games.
In his final year of eligibility for the World Juniors, he joined the U20 national team as a team leader with the experience of one U20 and two U18 World Championships for the red-and-white team.
“It’s always something special to play international games, to assemble with guys from the whole country and compete against juniors from the whole world,” he said.
And so far he’s been coping well with this role. With five points from three games he’s the scoring leader for Switzerland, but after losing two games in a shootout against Sweden and Finland, the team can hardly be overly happy. And it isn’t.
“In the end it doesn’t matter who scores points, we have to score wins. We were close two times but we have to blame ourselves,” Martschini said. “We twice got a two-goal lead against Finland but played stupidly in parts of the game. We have to show a reaction against the Czechs. We have to play for full 60 minutes like we did in the best parts of our games against Sweden and Finland.”
While Sweden is set for the final round, one team of the trio of the Czech Republic, Finland and Switzerland will have to swallow the bitter pill of joining Latvia to the relegation round after the last day of the preliminary round today. Only one point separates the three teams.
Martschini and his Swiss team will play the Czech Republic in the early game at the Sports Palace before Finland will face Nordic rival Sweden.