84 years later….
by Andrew Podnieks|16 MAY 2023
photo: © International Ice Hockey Federation
When the Swiss started this World Championship with a 7-0 win over Slovenia and a 3-0 win over Norway, it marked the first time since 1939 that the team had started with two clean sheets. Back in 1939, the team, coached by Ulrich von Sury, opened with not two but four shutouts, beating Latvia 12-0, Yugoslavia, 23-0, Czechoslovakia, 1-0, and Poland, 4-0. 

There was a slight difference, though, in that games were three periods of 15 minutes, so shutouts were a little easier to come by. Hugo Muller was the goalie of record that year, posting five shutouts and allowing just six goals in nine games played. Muller might not be a household name today, but some of his teammates are well known to current fans of the game, namely Richard “Bibi” Torriani, whose name graces the trophy given every year by the IIHF’s Historical Committee to a player who has made outstanding contributions to their national team in IIHF competition.

Torriani played on the famous “ni-Sturm” line which also consisted of brothers Hans and “Pic” Cattini. The -ni came from the similar endings to their surnames; the Sturm because they were always dangerous around the enemy goal (i.e., causing a storm). Hans scored that lone goal in the second period of the 1-0 win over the Czechs, and all three were inducted into the IIHF Hall of Fame’s inaugural class in 1997.

There was another set of brothers as well, Franz and Albert Geromini. Albert played throughout the 1930s while Franz was on the team only during the latter half of the decade. It was the most successful era of Swiss hockey. They won four medals at the World Championship, notably a silver in 1935 to go with three bronze in 1930, 1937, and 1939. Von Sury was the coach for four years, 1936-39, winning the last two of the bronze medals.

And there was a third set of brothers in 1939, Charlie and Herbert Kessler. They, too, were mainstays throughout the decade, and in 1939 in particular the team showed great promise. After those four shutouts, they beat the U.S., 3-2, and Hungary, 5-2, to advance to the medal round robin. But Canada walloped them 7-0 to start and the Americans avenged the earlier defeat with a 2-1 victory. 

A scoreless tie with the Czechs that included three, 10-minute overtime periods put the Swiss in the bronze-medal game, which was played three weeks later in Basel. As had often happened in that era, Canada won gold and the U.S. silver, so the bronze game was also known as the European champions’ game. The Swiss won that, 2-0, Muller, of course, getting the shutout while the goals came from Franz Geromini in the second period and an insurance goal from Beat Ruedi in the third.

In 2023, the Swiss have a chance to equal that shutout streak today. Those four games of goalless hockey equalled 180 minutes, so if the team manages to blank Kazakhstan tonight, that will also be 180 minutes. This year, however, the goaltending chores have been shared by Leonardo Genoni (vs. Slovenia) and Robert Mayer (vs. Norway), but no matter. It’s a team game.