If there was a surprise performance at the 2019 IIHF WJC, it had to be that by team Switzerland. The Swiss made it the medal round, the deepest they have played in the tournament since 2009, when they won the Division I, Group A gold to earn a promotion to the top division where the traditional powers play.
This year, the Swiss beat one of those powers -- Sweden -- 2-0 in the quarterfinals to make the semifinals, before falling 5-2 to Russia in the bronze medal game. That’s quite an achievement for a team whose success would be measured by merely avoiding the relegation round, according to some.
Team Switzerland played this year with 13 players returning from last year’s squad. With that kind of continuity, maybe it should have been expected the team would make the medal round.
Leading the 2019 team was, as expected, Chicago Blackhawks draft choice Philipp Kurashev. The 1999-born fourth-round pick scored six goals and assisted on one. Forward Nicolas Muller, a 1999, had five points, all assists. The team leader in goals after Kurashev was 1999 winger Yannick Bruschweiler, who scored three and added an assist. He was one of only two players on the team who finished with a positive plus-minus. Both he and 2000 forward Valentin Nussbaumer were plus-1 at the end of the tournament.
Swiss goaltending was solid. Luca Hollenstein, a 2000, recorded a 2.43 goals-against average and a .917 save percentage. In other U20 international play, his GAA was 1.59, and save percentage .933 in five games.
Switzerland’s 6’5” goalie Akira Schmid was not as sharp, posting a 4.23 GAA and an .878 save percentage in three games. But Schmid, also a 2000, has been more than reliable in U.S. junior hockey. In two NAHL games with the Corpus Christi Ice Rays, his GAA was a stellar 1.50, and his save percentage a dazzling .948. At the USHL level, he’s played 11 games for the Omaha Lancers, putting up a 2.73 GAA and a .905 save percentage.
The pipeline in Switzerland is rich, and should keep the Swiss competing at an elite level for years. Eleven of the players on the 23-man WJC roster were 2000s. There’s also 2001 defenseman Alessandro Villa, who has scored four times and assisted on four other goals in 31 games at the elite junior A level in Switzerland.
Behind them is a stable of 2002s, starting with center Theo Rochette, who has scored eight goals and set up 13 for the Chicoutimi Sagueneens of the QMJHL, Simon Knak, a forward still playing in Switzerland, and Noah Delemont, a blueliner who can provide some offensive spark.
Before the medal round began, Swiss coach Christian Wohlwend publicly hoped his team would rewrite that nation’s hockey history. He’ll have to wait for that, but it might not be long.