Swiss juniors dream of medal
by Dhiren Mahiban|05 DEC 2018
Nando Eggenberger, who could soon play his third IIHF World Junior Championship, and his teammates dream of a medal in Vancouver.
photo: Andrea Cardin / HHOF-IIHF Images
Nando Eggenberger knows the feeling of being close. Two years ago, led by Nico Hischier, Switzerland nearly upset the Americans in the quarter-finals at the IIHF World Junior Championship.
Now headed to his third Under-20 tournament, Eggenberger is hoping to take home a medal. 
“That was so close, that’s why we want to go for medals because we were close there and I think it’s getting closer this year,” said Eggenberger, who captained the Swiss at the 2018 IIHF World Juniors in Buffalo. 
“Every year we want (medals), and I think this year, it’s coming.” 
The 188 cm (6-foot-2), 92-kg (203-pound) forward was held without a point in five games at last year’s tournament.
Switzerland has just one medal at the World Juniors defeating the Czech Republic 4-3 in a shootout in Helsinki, Finland at the 1998 event. Since then, the Swiss have two fourth-place finishes in 19 tournaments at the top division. 
Nico Gross, also headed to his third Under-20 tournament, feels this year’s team is well-equipped to improve on last year’s eighth-place finish in Buffalo.
We had a lot of under-agers last year so our coach and we all are really comfortable. We kind of want to reach something with this team ‘cause we have a chance this year, we just have to play the right way.
Nico Gross
Swiss defenceman
Eggenberger and Gross are also teammates with the Ontario Hockey League’s Oshawa Generals. Gross is in his second campaign in the league and played a role in Eggenberger making the move from HC Davos, where he spent most of last season, to Canada. 
The 19-year-old was selected by the Oshawa Generals 33rd overall in the CHL Import Draft in June.
“When he got drafted to the Gens, I kind of talked to him and kind of explained to him what’s going on,” said Gross. “We played against each other when we were younger. We knew each other from there, but more from the national team when we played together.
“I think I helped him a little bit, started when he came here and just like showed him everything. As you can see, he feels comfortable out there.” 
Eggenberger scored three goals and two assists in 41 games with HC Davos in the top senior league last season calling the experience an “honour”, but felt it was time to see where his game was at against North American competition. 
“I talked a lot with my agent and Nico and he said it’s a big city, a nice city and the team is very good and all (the facilities) with the shooting area and stuff is so good,” Eggenberger explained. “I decided to try it and come here.” 
Eggenberger was able to contribute immediately for the Generals scoring seven goals and eight assists in his first 19 games while adjusting to a different game. 
“I think it’s good for me, for my style of play. I play (on the smaller ice) sometimes in the World Juniors or when we have the tournaments (in North America) and I like the small ice,” he said.
“I like the hockey here, I like the hockey in Canada or America. The smaller ice, I feel good. It’s great here.” 
Born in Chur, Switzerland, Eggenberger is in North America hoping to catch eyes of scouts and become just the second player from his hometown to make it to the NHL joining his idol Nino Niederreiter. 
“I play in the same club as him in Chur and in the summers he comes back to Switzerland and we talk a lot. We talk a lot in the summer and are friendly together,” Eggenberger said of Niederreiter.
“He gives me some good tips in the summer and talks about the game game (in North America) - what you have to do, what you have to improve - he’s a big help for me.” 
Off the ice, Eggenberger is a big fan of American football. His hometown has a team, the Calanda Broncos, and his cousin plays on a rival team in the same league.
“It’s not that big like hockey or football/soccer in Switzerland, but they’re pretty good. It’s not that big like here,” he said. 
“My cousin plays on another team from there so sometimes I go to watch it.”
Since he knows the rules, Eggenberger has also begun following the NFL since his move to North America.  
An alpine city, Chur’s population is roughly 33,000 people in eastern Switzerland that is within driving distance of both Austria and Italy – two countries Eggenberger frequents in his down time. 
“Sometimes I go (to Austria) because we go for a lot of movies there. It’s cheaper there,” Eggenberger said. 
“There’s a lot of countries beside us. Italy is pretty close and sometimes on the weekend when we have free time we go to Italy.” 
Nico Gross controls the puck in Switzerland’s game against Sweden at last year’s World Juniors.
photo: Andrea Cardin / HHOF-IIHF Images
Gross, a fourth-round selection of the New York Rangers, became the first player from Pontresina, Switzerland to be drafted when his name was called in June. 
The 6-foot-1, 190-pound defenceman scored four goals and 10 assists in 58 games during his rookie season last year with Oshawa. Gross is admittedly more comfortable in Canada as he plays his second season with the Generals. 
“I know everything, what’s going on and stuff,” Gross said. “I’m obviously way more comfortable now and I’m super happy to be here another year and to get another season with the Gens.”
After being selected by the Rangers, Gross visited New York for the first time participating in the Rangers development camp and taking in a Yankees game over the summer. 
The 18-year-old returned to Oshawa from Rangers camp armed with things to improve on during his second season in the OHL.
“I feel like my offensive skills (can improve) a little bit more,” he said. “Last year, they were not so good. This year, trying to be a little bit more offensive and still keep my defensive game.”
As they get set to head to Vancouver and Victoria for the 2019 IIHF World Junior Championship, both Gross and Eggenberger are eager to once again represent their country at the tournament of the world’s best U20 players. 
“Every time it’s a great experience to represent your country, to play at the World Juniors,” Gross said. “I feel like we’re going to have a great team this year so we’re both really excited to go to Vancouver in December and try to do our best.   
Added Eggenberger: “It’s a big honour to play for Switzerland. I think it’s the biggest honour to be the captain there. I think we’ll have a good team this year and we’ll try our best, go for a medal.”