Wednesday, February 5, 2014

2014 Olympic Hockey Preview - Switzerland

The Switzerland National Hockey Team is currently ranked 7th in the IIHF World Rankings, equaling 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 2014 Olympic tournament, allowing them avoid the qualification process for teams outside the top nine.

Swiss Federation Logo photo SwissFederationlogo.png

The Swiss have participated in the Olympics in ice hockey 15 times since 1920, with their best results being a pair of bronze medals in 1928 and 1948. Most recently, they placed 8th in the last Olympics in 2010.

Swiss fans photo SwissFans.jpg

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 through 2009. In 2010 they rose to 5th which included winning Group B, highlighted by a 4-1 win over Canada.

After slipping to 9th in 2011 and 11th in 2012, they reversed course in a stellar run to an improbable silver medal in 2013 in Sweden. They won Group S with consecutive wins over Sweden, Canada, the Czech Republic, Slovenia, Denmark, Norway and Belarus to go undefeated in group play. They then ousted the Czechs and the United States to reach the gold medal final before their gold medal dream was spoiled by the host Swedes.

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Switzerland celebrates their shootout win over Canada
at the 2013 World Championships

Switzerland enters the 2014 Olympics with eight NHLers on it's roster, up from three in 2010, including Jonas Hiller of Anaheim, Mark Streit of Philadelphia, Raphael Diaz of Montreal, Roman Josi of Nashville, Yannick Weber of Vancouver, Damien Brunner of New Jersey and Nino Niederreiter of Minnesota. The remainder of the Swiss roster draws heavily from the Swiss National League A, with 14 players from the home league and one from the American Hockey League.

Hiller Switzerland photo HillerSwitzerland.jpg
Jonas Hiller

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 winning their opening game as expected against Latvia on February 12th and then taking at least a point out of their game against Sweden two days later. If they can manage that, then defeating the Czech Republic on February 15th, especially in regulation for the full 3 points, could give the Swiss a shot at one of the byes directly into the quarterfinals. While that is a best case scenario, the reigning World Championship silver medalists have shown they are capable giant killers and should at least expect to be one of the higher ranked teams in the Qualification Playoffs, drawing the likes of Austria or Latvia and then reaching the Quarterfinals is a very realistic goal.

The goaltending of Hiller, supported by four NHL defensemen, should allow the Swiss to remain competitive against any team in the tournament. Additionally, they have a capable offense and should play an entertaining brand of hockey, rather than looking to eek out 2-1 wins like some overmatched European sides often adopt as their best hope for a win.

Today's featured jersey is a 2010 Switzerland National Team Mark Streit jersey as worn during the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver. This jersey reprises the classic vintage red jersey worn by Switzerland once in the 2008 World Championships as part of the IIHF Centennial Celebrations, which in turn were based on the jerseys originally worn by Switzerland in 1928 when they won the bronze medal, their best Olympic result in their history.

Switzerland 2010 jersey photo Switzerland2010F.jpg
Switzerland 2010 jersey photo Switzerland2010B.jpg

Here is a look at the jerseys that Switzerland will be wearing in the 2014 Olympics in Sochi. These jerseys The white jersey in particular is very sharp, with it's bold red band across the chest adorned by the traditional white cross. While there is something striking about the simplicity of the white jerseys, the red jerseys are too stark, with just the white cross on the upper left chest, leaving it looking too much like a practice jersey.

 photo Switzerland2014jerseys.png

Today's first video selection highlights Switzerland's silver medal performance at the 2013 World Championships.

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.

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