In a hugely competitive Group A, Germany sprung a small surprise by claiming third place ahead of the USA. Despite a heavy loss to Canada, the Germans were otherwise fully in the battles against the Americans (losing 1-3 to late goals in their group stage meeting) and the Finns (wrapping up with a 4-2 victory to go to the knock-out stages full of confidence).
It’s a continuation of the progress we saw in PyeongChang, where an unfancied German roster came from nowhere to reach the Olympic final – and came within seconds of leaving with a fairytale gold medal.
For Marc Michaelis, that was something of a turning point for German hockey.
“It showed us that we’re a top eight nation as of right now and we want to compete with the best teams in the world,” he said. “It comes from the staff and then the leadership group among the players. We’ve kind of created a culture of competing, of giving our best against every country.
“We’ve improved for skill as well. If you compare this German team with the German teams of the past five or six years, there’s way more skilled players. But, for a country like ours, we can only beat the big teams when we bring that work ethic as well.
“I think we have that culture now and it just flows throughout the team.”
He joins a roster with plenty of NHL talent – and with hopes of repeating last year’s medal run. As Kevin Fiala, another NHLer with Minnesota Wild, explained, the progress in Swiss hockey is being noticed outside the national program.
“We’re much better than five years ago,” he said. “We’re pushing up. I’m proud of the team because everyone sees this now. Those of us in the room, we knew it was coming but outside the room I don’t think anyone else was expecting it. But now, especially since last year, everyone thinks a bit more highly of us.”
And it’s a point not lost on Switzerland’s opponent on Thursday. Stepping away from the bland ‘respect every team’ response that is traditional when asked about an upcoming opponent, Canada’s Sean Couturier spoke highly of the Swiss.
“I think it’s going to be a good game,” he said. “You look at their line-up, they’ve got a few NHL players, a few real stars, there’s a lot of skill, a lot of talent. They’re a dangerous team, we’ll have to be ready, we’ll have to come out strong.”
Switzerland plays Canada in the afternoon game in Kosice, face off 16:15 local time. Germany travels to Bratislava to face the Czech Republic in the evening fixture, starting at 20:15 local time.