Sunday, February 14, 2010
The third highest seeded team in Group A at the 2010 Vancouver Olympic Men's Ice Hockey Tournament is Switzerland.
The Switzerland National Ice Hockey Team is currently ranked 7th in the IIHF World Rankings, their highest ranking in their history, and is not a team to be overlooked, having defeated both the Czech Republic 3-2 and Canada 2-0 in the 2006 Olympics in Torino, Italy. Based on their status as one of the top nine ranked countries, Switzerland was automatically entered in the 2010 Olympic tournament, allowing them avoid the qualification process for teams outside the top nine.
The Swiss have participated in the Olympics in ice hockey 14 times since 1920, with their best results being a pair of bronze medals in 1928 and 1948. Most recently, they placed 6th in the last Olympics in 2006.
The Swiss are regular participants in the World Championships, having first participated in 1930, where they won a bronze medal, the first of four bronzes they would win throughout the 1930's. Their highest finish at the World Championships came in 1935 when, as hosts of the championships they placed second to capture the silver medal. The Swiss also had a period of competitiveness following World War II, winning bronze medals in 1950, 1951 and 1953, again as the host country.
Beginning in 1961, the Swiss would play in Pool B for the majority of next three decades. Twice they would drop down to Pool C, only to return to Pool B at the first chance in 1969 and 1974. When the World Championships expanded to 16 teams in 1998, Switzerland was promoted to the Top Division, and finished a magnificent fourth in a tournament where they defeated Russia 4-2. More recently, Switzerland has finished 7th, 8th or 9th every year since 2001.
Switzerland enters the 2010 Olympics with three NHLers on it's roster, including Jonas Hiller of Anaheim, Mark Streit of the Islanders and Yannick Weber of Montreal. The remainder of the Swiss roster draws heavily from the Swiss National League A, with 16 players from the home league. Of the remainder, former NHL goaltender Martin Gerber is currently in the Russian KHL, one in Sweden's Eliteserien, one from the American Hockey League and one playing in the Western Hockey League in Canadian Juniors.
With the format for this year's Olympics calling for the top four teams after the Preliminary Round to receive byes into the quarterfinals, the key for Switzerland will be making sure they defeat Norway in their game on February 20th and earning a point or two against Canada and the United States, if not another outright victory. This will allow them to draw a lesser ranked opponent for the knockout games on February 23rd for teams ranked 5-12 at the conclusion of the preliminary round, which will determine which four nations will advance to the quarterfinals. The Swiss can go as far as their defense takes them, starting with veterans Streit and Mathias Seger, captain of the ZSC Lions leading an otherwise young group.
The goaltending duo of Hiller and Gerber should allow the Swiss to remain competitive against any team in the tournament. Hiller will likely get most of the starts, especially if Gerber is not fully recovered from a scary neck injury he suffered in December. After a six year NHL career, Gerber is now playing in the Russian KHL, which should make him familiar with more shooters than your average goalie in the Olympic tournament, who will have likely played in just one league or the other in recent times.
Today's featured jersey is a Nike 2006 Switzerland National Team David Aebischer jersey as worn during the 2006 World Championships.
Aebischer was chosen 161st overall by Colorado in the 1997 NHL Entry Draft while playing for HC Fribourg-Gottéron in the Swiss National League A. He played a couple of seasons for the Hershey Bears of the AHL before moving up to join the Avalanche in 2000-01 where he would have his name engraved on the Stanley Cup as a backup to Patrick Roy. He would become the Avs #1 goalie for the 2003-04 season, following the retirement of Roy after the 2003 playoffs, and have a fine season, finishing with a 32-19-9 record and a goals against average of 2.09.
Following the lockout season of 2004-05, when Aebischer played for HC Lugano of Switzerland, he would return to the Avalanche for the 2005-06 season, only to be traded to the Montreal Canadiens at the trading deadline. He would play one full season in Montreal before signing a free agent contract with the Phoenix Coyotes, only to lose out in the crowded goaltending battle and find himself briefly in the AHL before returning to HC Lugano on loan, where he has now played two seasons.
Aebischer was the goaltender for Switzerland in the 2006 Olympics when they defeated the Czech Republic 3-2, two days before shocking Canada 2-0 for the best three days in Swiss hockey history.
Here is a look at the jerseys that Switzerland will be wearing in the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver. These jerseys reprise the classic vintage red jersey worn by Switzerland once in the 2008 World Championships as part of the IIHF Centennial Celebrations. These were based on the jerseys originally worn by Switzerland in 1928 when they won the bronze medal, their best finish ever. The white version, if possible, is even more understated than the red one with it's white cross on a white background.
Today's first video selection highlights Switzerland's victory over the Czech Republic in the 2006 Olympics in Torino, Italy with Aebischer in goal.
Here is a highlight video of some spectacular saves by David Aebischer while playing for not only Colorado, but also HC Lugano and Switzerland.
While we generally go out of our way to avoid posting fight videos given another choice, there's always something about a goalie fight that amuses us, and when you combine that with the fact this is from Aebischer's time with the Hershey Bears, we just couldn't pass this one up.
Finally, an impressive display by Swiss fans prior to a game at the 2009 World Championships, hosted by Switzerland, chanting "Hopp Schwiiz! Hopp Schwiiz!", the traditional Swiss fans cheer of support.