Career high at 37
by Martin Merk|03 JUN 2021
Swiss forward Andres Ambuhl body-checks Czech player Matej Blumel.
photo: Chris Tanouye / HHOF-IIHF Images
Andres Ambuhl skates, skates, and skates some more at IIHF Ice Hockey World Championships. With his 16th participation in Riga, in addition to four Olympics, he’s tied the world record of his fellow countryman Mathias Seger – and still can’t get enough hockey.

The 37-year-old forward doesn’t look like your classic greybeard player. Ambuhl recently signed a contract extension for two years with HC Davos, the club he captains, where he’s spent most of his hockey life. As long as he gets joy out of hockey, stays healthy and can keep up with the younger players, he’s poised to continue his career, possibly even beyond 2023. And if that happens, he will take sole possession of the record for World Championship participations.

Ambuhl just finished his 17th pro season with his hometown team in Switzerland’s National League – and that number doesn’t include three seasons with league rival ZSC Lions Zurich and one for the AHL’s Hartford Wolf Pack.

While normal players’ numbers would decline at his age, Ambuhl is coming off his best statistical season in the league with 44 points (14 goals, 30 assists) in 45 regular season games. In the fall, he even topped the scoring race and stayed among the leaders until suffering an injury in mid-February. Only three Swiss players who played regularly had more points per game in the league this season: Enzo Corvi, Gregory Hofmann and Sven Andrighetto, who are on the Swiss World Championship roster as well.

Less points? Less energy? Less speed? Those symptoms of aging don’t occur for Ambuhl. Even on the international stage, the forward has shone with five assists in the preliminary round – tied for fourth place among players at these Worlds. In Switzerland, he’s often compared to that famous toy bunny from TV ads with the right set of batteries that just never stops.

What makes Ambuhl special is that he rarely seems to care about such numbers and records. When asked about moving up in the all-time World Championship game ranking behind only Germany’s Udo Kiessling, overtaking Alexander Maltsev and Jiri Holik here in Riga, he said: “I didn’t know that. It’s nice to see those numbers when you’re retired and think ‘Oh, wow, that’s a big accomplishment’. But now I don’t think too much about those numbers. I just want to play and win games.”

The fact that he tied Seger’s world record isn’t something that went unnoticed, even for him. When Ambuhl played his first Worlds in 2004, Patrick Fischer was still his teammate – now he’s his head coach and Ambuhl is the third-oldest player among all teams in Riga. But for him, it’s just a nice side story, no big deal. This down-to-earth mentality is part of his character, having grown up in a family of mountain farmers in a tributary valley further up from Davos. The fresh mountain air and local food never seemed to have hurt him, and he still eats what he ate since childhood, rather than using meal plans by sports nutritionists.

What Ambuhl cherishes most is getting called to join the World Championship roster at his age and being able to compete against the best. He just loves to play hockey, and like other players, he accepted the discomfort of having to stay in a bubble compared to the alternative of doing summer training back home.

Ambuhl has won six Swiss championships. He also suited up for one of the two recent silver-medal-winning national teams, as Switzerland went undefeated into the final of the 2013 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship before losing to host Sweden in Stockholm. The only World Championship he has missed since 2004 was the 2018 edition when Switzerland won silver in Copenhagen. It was one of the rare occasions the robust Ambuhl was injured.

The only achievement that could significantly improve his CV would be gold. When Ambuhl played his first World Championship in 2004, the Swiss focused on playing strong defence and being dangerous on counterattacks. Nowadays they try to play braver hockey, even against the top nations, and don’t hide their ambitions. Just making the quarter-finals isn’t enough anymore.

However, the first order of business is to win a clash with neighbouring Germany – the 2018 Olympic silver medalists – in this year’s quarter-finals. Judging from past games against their archrivals, Swiss and German fans watching back home can expect a hard battle. But only one of these two nations will get to pursue its dream of winning another medal this weekend.