What to make of first three games
Either their team is on the verge of collapse and possible relegation, or it's a hair’s breadth away from playing for a medal. The first three games have been, to say the least, curious.
In each game the team trailed in the third period, and in each game the Swiss tied the score and sent the game to at least overtime. Against Kazakhstan, they lost in a shootout. Against Norway, they lost in overtime. And, finally, against Denmark, they won in overtime.
Most comfortably, the Swiss tied Kazakhstan midway through the final period, but Felicien Du Bois tied the game with Norway with only ten seconds remaining and goaltender Robert Mayer on the bench for an extra skater. Similarly, against the Danes, Nino Niederreiter tied the score with only 2:02 left in regulation.
The Swiss have had several years of odd play. In 2013, everything worked in their favour under coach Sean Simpson as they won nine straight games to advance to the gold-medal game, losing to Sweden, 5-1, but producing their best result at the World Championship in nearly 80 years.
In Sochi, they became the first team ever to play three straight 1-0 games in Olympic competition, winning two, but then losing, 3-1, to Latvia in the qualification playoff and finishing a distant ninth.
At the 2014 Worlds, Simpson’s last year, they finished in tenth place, one of their worst showings in recent years. And last year, under new coach Glen Hanlon, they finished eighth after a 3-1 loss to the U.S. in the quarter-finals.
So far this year, incoming coach Patrick Fischer, the first Swiss coach and the first non-Canadian coach for the national team in two decades, has had a tough ride. “This is the first time for me that any Swiss team I’ve been on we’re speaking German in the dressing room. It’s different, that’s for sure,” said Niederreiter after yesterday’s comeback victory.
In truth, Niederreiter is a key figure with the Swiss team. His play in 2013 was vital in the team’s silver medal and came at a time when many questioned why the New York Islanders used such a high selection to draft him (5th overall in 2010, the highest position ever for a Swiss player).
He responded with a coming-out performance, tied for the team lead in goals (5) and points (8) and playing inspired hockey that belied his critics.
The Islanders then traded him to Minnesota, and in the last three years with the Wild “El Nino” has increased his points production and developed into an intense competitor who can deliver offensively.
“It’s a completely different atmosphere this year because the team is different,” he enthused about being in Moscow. “That’s one of the reasons I love playing at the World Championship. It’s always a new team, new energy.”
In hockey terms, he’s a veteran, but his passport shows he’s still only 23 years old, young but experienced at all levels of international play from U18 to U20 and up. “I’m still one of the youngest guys on the team, but I do try to be more of a leader,” he continued. “We’ve got a great group of guys, and we’ve got a long way to go, but it’s certainly a great experience.”
That experience continues today as the Swiss plays Latvia. If the pattern continues, they’ll fall behind early, rally, and then in overtime, well, who knows? That’s the new Swiss. Not quite the same as the old Swiss, but every bit as enigmatic.
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