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2020 World Junior Hockey Championship: Team Switzerland preview & roster

What do the Swiss have in store after a surprising finish in 2019?

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Switzerland may have been the story of the 2019 World Junior Championship. After several years of flirting with relegation, they finished tied for their second-best performance at the event, ending up as the fourth-place team.

It took a lot of work to get there. The Swiss opened the tournament by taking the Czech Republic, the previous year’s fourth-place team, to overtime. Their one win came against Denmark, a 4-0 victory that secured their place in the playoff round, though the crossover format meant they would have to face Sweden in the quarterfinal.

There the tournament saw its biggest upset, as Switzerland shut out the nation that had made headlines with a 48th consecutive preliminary-round win two days earlier. The 2-0 victory sealed Switzerland’s best result since 2010.

They were unable to put up much of a fight versus the eventual champion, Finland, in the semifinal, and they dropped the Bronze Medal Game by a 5-2 score to Russia. But it was a performance to build on, and one to change the country’s mindset for the 2020 event.

Team Switzerland final roster

# Player Position League Current team (NHL)
# Player Position League Current team (NHL)
1 Stéphane Charlin G NLA Genève-Servette HC
30 Luca Hollenstein G NLA EV Zug
29 Akira Schmid G USHL Omaha Lancers (NJD)
26 David Aebischer D QMJHL Gatineau Olympiques
21 Tim Berni D NLA ZSC Lions (CBJ)
16 Nico Gross D OHL Oshawa Generals (NYR)
2 Bastian Guggenheim D U20-Elit Langnau U20
9 Mika Henauer D NLA SC Bern
8 Janis Jérôme Moser D NLA EHC Biel-Bienne
12 Rocco Pezzullo D U20-Elit Ambri-Piotta U20
5 Fabian Berri F U20-Elit GCK Lions U20
11 Jeremi Gerber F NLA SC Bern
19 Gaétan Jobin F QMJHL Charlottetown Islanders
15 Simon Knak F WHL Portland Winterhawks (2020)
27 Gilian Kohler F NLA EHC Biel-Bienne
20 Julian Mettler F NLB EHC Kloten
18 Valentin Nussbaumer F QMJHL Shawinigan Cataractes (ARI)
7 Stéphane Patry F U20-Elit Genève-Servette U20
22 Joel Salzgeber F NLB EHC Olten
14 Sandro Schmid F NLA HC Fribourg-Gottéron
25 Kyen Sopa F OHL Niagar IceDogs
13 Matthew Verboon F NCAA Colgate University
28 Gian-Marco Wetter F NLA SC Rapperswil-Jona

Strengths

The 2020 roster includes 10 of the players who helped earned that surprising finish a year ago, including the two goaltenders. There are four NHL-drafted players, all of whom were on that team as well.

Luca Hollenstein should once again be called upon for the majority of the work in the crease. He finished last year’s tournament with a .917 save percentage, and has since moved up to the top tier of Swiss professional hockey, currently holding a .928 mark with EV Zug in the National League A.

He will be aided by the structured game Christian Wohlwend will have the team playing, compensating for a talent deficit to the top teams with a defence-first strategy designed to even the playing field. The coach knows a high-tempo game that the tournament — and Junior hockey in general — is known for is a ticket to an early exit, and will be focused more on stopping the opposition rather than trying to outgun it.

Weaknesses

Even if the system proves effective at containing the better teams they’ll face, it will be tough for Switzerland to produce enough offence to defeat them. Philipp Kurashev played a starring role on the 2019 squad by scoring the most goals of any player in the tournament, finishing seventh overall in points, but he is now too old to participate.

The forwards who will need to carry the team are Valentin Nussbaumer — the only returning player who scored a goal last year — and Kyen Sopa; two players developing in the Canadian Hockey League, and doing well. Nussbaumer’s performance in British Columbia for the 2019 WJC got him selected in the seventh round of the 2019 NHL Draft. Sopa is currently a point-per-game player with the OHL’s Niagara IceDogs, ranking fourth on the team in production.

X-Factor

With the talent limited in the forward corps, Switzerland will have to turn to the blue line to get the offence rolling. Tim Berni (the team’s most-used player last year averaging 22:35 per game) and Nico Gross will be their top two weapons from the back end, and the Gatineau Olympiques’ David Aebischer will help out as well. Aebischer is a rare right-handed defender in the pool of players Swtizerland has available, perhaps the only one who will survive the final round of cuts, so he will make a good complement for one of the left-side options. Janis Jérôme Moser, the NLA’s “Youngster of the Year” a season ago, has been a stout defender in that league once again, and should aid in the transition game at the event.

If the defencemen are able to turn the defensive game Switzerland will default to into transitions up the ice and into the offensive zone, the team can pull off another upset or two in 2020.