Andres Ambuhl: King of the Worlds
by Andrew Podnieks|21 MAY 2022
L-R: Swiss national team forward Andres Ambuhl get honoured for his record by IIHF President Luc Tardif, SIHF President Michael Rindlisbacher and IIHF Senior Vice-President Petr Briza.
photo: Andrea Cardin / HHOF-IIHF Images
When Andres Ambuhl stepped onto the ice this afternoon against Canada, he was officially playing in his record-setting 120th career IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship game. His first game came on 25 April 2004, a 6-0 win over France. Slovakia’s Juraj Slafkovsky and Austria’s Marco Kasper were less than a month old at the time. 

Indeed, records are made to be broken, but some are broken with extreme speed or blind luck, and others take a lifetime. You can get your name in the IIHF Guide & Record Book by scoring quickly after the opening faceoff of a game or period. Or you can do what Ambuhl has just done – set a record that took 18 years to break.

He was given a special video tribute prior to the game with both teams on the ice, and presented gifts from IIHF President Luc Tardif and SIHF President Michael Rindlisbacher.

“It was pretty special,” Ambuhl reflected later. “Usually before the games, you don't get honoured! I enjoyed it. It was a really special moment for me.”

“Special night for him, special night for all of Swiss ice hockey,” added team captain Nico Hischier. “To be able to be in the same team as him...I've played with him in a couple of World Championships already. It's special. He's always going to be a legend in Swiss ice hockey, and now he's definitely going to be a legend in IIHF history. So it's a pretty special moment for him and for the whole team. We're all happy for him.”

“Goosebumps,” said Timo Meier of his reaction to the ceremony. “I looked up to him when I was little, watching him playing the World Championships or playing in the National League. He was one of the idols for me. Being able to play with him here and be part of this special, special moment for him to break this record, I'm very humbled. I think it's a great pleasure to be here with him.”
Ambuhl: 120 games and counting - 2022 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship
Swiss forward Andres Ambuhl talks before his record-breaking 120th IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship game.
SUI 21 MAY 2022
As of today, and probably for a very long time into the future, Ambuhl is the king of the World Championships, having played 120 games over his 17-tournament career, both achievements more than any of the 14,000 or so players who have skated in an IIHF competition. And he has done so through hard work and with humility. Nothing has ever been given to him.

“Every time it's a lot of fun, because it's special to be part of the national team at the end of the year,” he said. “It's not a given. And every time, my goal at the beginning of the season is to be there at the end of the year, part of that World Championship team. So yeah, I'm pretty excited every year to make the team.”

Ambuhl surpasses Germany Udo Kiessling, who retired in 1991 with 119 games and has held the record for 31 years. 

Ambuhl grew up north of Davos in a family of mountain farmers. His diet is the same as from childhood, and his play in recent years has been Benjamin Button-like – he seems to be getting younger, not older. And his consistency in league play has mirrored his international resume. The 38-year-old has played with HC Davos since the year 2000, with a couple of years’ exception with Zurich and in the AHL, and he has already committed to playing with HC Davos again next year.

The two years in Zurich was also a time when he signed with the New York Rangers, at age 26, to see if he could make it to the NHL. The Blueshirts assigned him to Hartford, their AHL affiliate, but he never got the call-up, and after one season he returned to his home country and domestic league.

But Ambuhl’s career goes back before 2004. In 2001, he played for the team’s U18 team right here in Helsinki. The team advanced to the gold-medal game, losing to Ilya Kovalchuk and Russia, 6-2. The game was played at Helsinki Ice Hall, or Jaahalli in Finnish, the exact sheet of ice he set his record today. Even now, in 2022, that silver medal remains the only podium finish for the Swiss at the U18.

For the next two years after that, Ambuhl played at the World Junior Championship. The team lost the bronze-medal game in 2002 to Mikko Koivu and Finland, 5-1, and a year later they finished 7th. Since then, it’s been all top level Worlds for Ambuhl.

In his debut in 2004, his teammates included three players who figure prominently in today’s tournament. Patrick Fischer is the coach now but a teammate in 2004. Another teammate was Mark Streit, who will be inducted into the IIHF Hall of Fame next weekend. And another teammate, Mathias Seger, had been tied with Ambuhl for most WM tournaments at 16, before Ambuhl broke that mark this year.

Ambuhl arrived to the Swiss team at just the right moment. It wasn’t until 1998 that it established itself as a top-division nation after about 30 years mainly in the lower pools. Coach Ralph Krueger took them to that next level of respectability, and Sean Simpson went a step further, taking them to the gold medal game in 2013. And now Fischer, a homegrown coach, has the team thinking medal every year. Not relegation, not top-8. Podium. They won a silver again in 2018 under Fischer and are in good position to make more noise this year, undefeated after five games after today’s inspired and impressive showing against Canada.

Without question, Ambuhl’s career highlight was the run in 2013. The team won its first nine games and finished with a silver medal, the nation’s best result in 80 years. “We didn’t finish our job, but that was the most special. Quebec [in 2008] was nice, too. We had a young group and played a pretty good tournament. There have been a few really nice moments.”

Earlier this year Ambuhl also played in his fifth Olympics, and if there is a disappointment over the last two decades it’s that he wasn’t part of the second great World Championship run in May 2018, when the team won silver again. He missed that tournament with an injury, the only miss since 2004.

“If you look back on your career [after retiring], it’s probably more special than at the time. It’s only a number, but of course I know it’s a special thing,” he said of Game 120.

There has been a monumental shift in Swiss hockey from his early days to today. Between 1934 and 2007 the Swiss never beat Canada once, but in 2010 they won for the first time and since then the teams have played nine times, the Swiss winning five.

“The game has changed, for sure,” he continues. “Now every team can beat every other team. Anything can happen, and the tournament is so much bigger now. Over those last 18 or 19 years, a lot has been going on. Look at our young guys. Now they play overseas. And we have a chance to play and battle against the really top teams and be able to win. A couple years ago, that wasn't possible. Hockey has changed a little bit in Switzerland. Every tournament you go to, the goal is to win. If that would happen, that would be the best thing ever.”

So now that Ambuhl is the King of the Worlds, the question is, for how long? Of course, being named to a team for the World Championship is always tricky to predict, but there are really only four active players with any remote chance of catching Ambuhl. Two Norwegians top the possibilities. Mathis Olimb, 36, and teammate Martin Roymark, 35, are also playing this year, and both are at 90 games. Even if Norge made the quarter-finals every year – by no means a given – they’d still need to play all games this year and for 2023 and 2024. And that’s just to get to 120. 

But, of course, we also don’t know where Ambuhl’s record mark will stop as he isn’t showing signs of easing into retirement any time soon. Denmark’s Morten Madsen is at 95 games, but he isn’t playing this year and who knows if there is a 96th game in his resume. The same for Jonas Holos, the closest, stalled at 101. 

When asked how he wants to be remembered, the mountain farmer boy replies with appropriate modesty: “I would like to be remembered as a role model, as one you can count on, and as a good teammate.”