EDMONTON – Former Swiss national team coach Ralph Krueger has been appointed the man in charge of the Edmonton Oilers. He has been the club’s associate coach for the last two seasons. Krueger becomes only the third NHL head coach who developed the craft in Europe.
Born in Winnipeg, Canada with German roots, Ralph Krueger moved to the country of his ancestors in the late ‘70s after having played junior in the Western Hockey League with New Westminster and Calgary.
What started in Düsseldorf in 1979 was to become one of the most successful playing and coaching careers in European ice hockey. During a 13-year period (1997-2010), Ralph Krueger led the Swiss national team in 12 IIHF World Championships and three Olympic Winter Games.
Prior to that, Krueger played seven seasons in the German top pro league (1979-1988) and represented the country in two IIHF World Championships, 1981 and 1986.
He transformed the Swiss national team from a B-level program to a top-8 nation in the world. His best results were a fourth.place finish at the 1998 Worlds on home ice in Switzerland and a fifth place two years later in St. Petersburg, Russia.
When finishing sixth at the 2006 Olympics in Turin, Italy, Krueger’s Swiss team defeated reigning World Champion Czech Republic 3-2 and defending Olympic champion Canada 2-0. These two games – in which Krueger methodically applied a tactic to defeat much more skilled opponents – were his biggest success.
"On hockey's world stage, Coach Krueger exhibited his poise and experience behind the bench to help the Swiss team overachieve in Turin," said Oilers GM Steve Tambellini. "This is an example of the type of leadership Ralph will bring to Edmonton."
After two years as an associate coach in Edmonton, Ralph Krueger will now be the one to call the shots on the Oilers’ bench, after the dismissal of Tom Renney. He will be the 10th coach in the history of the club which won five Stanley Cups between 1984 and 1990. A new contract was signed for the next three years.
The German-Canadian will in Edmonton have offensive talent he never had in Switzerland; Tyler Hall, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Jordan Eberle, Magnus Pääjärvi and now also Nail Yakupov, the Russian who was selected first overall in the last week’s NHL Entry Draft.
Although born in Canada, Krueger proudly calls himself a “European coach”, which is by all accounts correct as it was in Europe that he developed into a professional player and later into a coach.
Before him, only Finn Alpo Suhonen (2000-2001 with Chicago) and Czech Ivan Hlinka (2000-2001 with Pittsburgh) were the European coaches hired by NHL clubs. Suhonen lasted only one season, while the late Hlinka was dismissed after only four games into the second season.
Krueger not only had success on the national team side. With the Austrian club VEU Feldkirch, Krueger won five consecutive national championships (1994-1998), a tenure which culminated with one of the biggest upsets in the history of European club hockey.
Participating as an outsider in the newly formed European Hockey League (EHL), Feldkirch went all the way to the final where Krueger’s club defeated the heavily favoured Russian champion Dynamo Moscow.
Invited by the IIHF to the Hockey Forum in Barcelona two weeks ago, Krueger held a presentation where he spoke at length about the road to this sensational victory and how much it meant to him and his players.
Primarily known as a defensive coach, Krueger dismissed that preconceived view in recent interview with reporter Terry Jones of the Edmonton Sun:
“A head coach must develop a strategy to win that is in line with the tools and skill level at his disposal,” said Krueger. “If you have offensive skill you can attack; if not, you have to rely on defence and counter punching. I am not a defensive coach. I am a coach who looks at the skills of my players and coaches them accordingly.”
His Edmonton Oilers, who have finished last in the NHL regular season standings three years in a row, are far away from the Wayne Gretzky, Mark Messier and Paul Coffey led Oilers of the ‘80s, but with a core of young and enormously skilled forwards, Krueger may for the first time during his coaching career apply an offensive strategy “in line with the tools and skill level at his disposal”.