BY: Steven Hindle (@StevenHindle)
Neutral No More
Fresh off of a Silver Medal finish at the recently completed IIHF World Championship, Head Coach of Team Switzerland, Sean Simpson, has high hopes for the upcoming 2014 Olympic Games in Sochi, Russia.
Having long been considered a competitive club, Team Switzerland has yet to make a dent among the top nations in International play. Finishing 8th at the 2010 Olympic Games in Vancouver, the Swiss are sure to challenge for a better finish this time around.
Despite only 0.35% of the population of Switzerland play hockey, the talent pool has grown exponentially, as witnessed in recent years as Swiss prospects have produced some 1st round prospects in the NHL.
Building off the development of recent prospects, the Swiss look to ice a club that will not only cause fits for top Nations such as Sweden, Canada, Russia and the U.S., but they will look to cement their place as a legit contender in International competition.
Sure, they’ve pulled off some upsets and caused a few scares in the past, but the outlook is different this time around. Most imagine that Sean Simpson was ecstatic over the Silver Medal earned in Sweden at the World Championships, yet that couldn’t be farther from the truth. Though proud of the accomplishment, internally the Swiss are focused on nothing but winning. Anything less isn’t good enough.
And it is this change of attitude and thinking, internally, which has the elite hockey Nations thinking twice about how to handle Simpson’s Swiss club.
While the projections will remain conservative for the Swiss heading into Round Robin play, the 9th ranked Nation will be motivated through rivalry as they will share Group C with Team Sweden, Gold Medal winners over the Swiss at the 2013 IIHF World Championships. Included in the group with the Swiss and Swedes are the Czech Republic and Latvia.
Though the odds have Switzerland ranked behind the 3rd and 4th ranked Nations (Czechs and Swedes), the Swiss are getting younger and faster and will look to have their most talented and competitive roster on the ice this upcoming February.
Included in the mix for the final cut on Team Switzerland are a few NHL players and prospects, and a dearth of talented players skating across Europe.
Here is a look the players vying for spots on Team Switzerland:
Jonas Hiller, Reto Berra, Martin Gerber, Benjamin Conz, Tobias Stephan
Mark Streit, Raphael Diaz, Roman Josi, Julien Vauclair, Severin Blindenbacher, Goran Bezina, Robin Grossman, Mathias Seger, Luca Sbisa, Felicien DuBois, Yannick Weber (maybe Mirco Muller)
Bruno Hollenstein, Kevin Romy, Damian Brunner, Sven Bärtschi, Martin Pluss, Nino Neiderreiter, Roman Wick, Andrey Bykov, Luca Cunti, Ryan Gardner, Reto Suri, Simon Moser, Morris Trachsler, Andres Ambühl, Julian Walker (maybe Sven Andrighetto)
With a potent mix of veteran leaders and young, up-and-coming prospects, Sean Simpson will have his work cut when it comes to making the final cut for the opening night roster against Team Latvia.
Beyond Group C, the Olympic Hockey tournament promises to be one of the greatest hockey competitions of all-time. With hosts Russia leading Slovakia, the U.S. and Slovenia in Group A, Group B will offer up Finland, Canada, Norway and Austria. Needless to say, the Swiss couldn’t have picked a better time to begin their rise in Hockey.
Making it to the medal round at the Olympics is quite a different story as compared to the World Championships, but with a roster that exuded great chemistry at the WC and an ability to add to that, Team Switzerland is no longer a team without expectations. Rather they have now entered the realm of great expectations; territory the Swiss hope propels them to a seat among the elite of hockey Nations.