The 2010 Winter Olympics are Swiss coach Ralph Krueger's last hurrah. He's stepping down after the World Championships in May, so he has paid even more attention to the team that he wants to deliver the reward he's been seeking for 13 years -- an Olympic medal.
Krueger will turn to the players he's turned to before. He knows what to expect, they know what to expect, and they're ready. Sixteen of his Olympians play in the Swiss National League A, two in the NHL, two in the AHL, one in the WHL, and one in the Swedish Elitserien.
The leader is New York Islanders
defenseman Mark Streit
, who had the most ice time of all skaters at the World Championship in Switzerland in May. Streit is expected to lead the team, quarterback the power play, and even score key goals. Streit, 32, is also the oldest defenseman on the team that also has four blueliners under 24.
Streit is six days older that Mathias Seger, captain of Zurich Lions, another key defenseman on the Swiss team, and in the top 10 in league scoring this season.
Offensively, a lot is expected from Hnat Domenichelli
, a Canadian-born forward who's representing Switzerland in a big tournament for the first time. Lugano's Domenichelli is second in league scoring with 21 goals and 46 points in 35 games. Veteran forward Ivo Ruthemann and Martin Pluss also will carry a part of the load. Pluss led the team in goals at the Worlds.
Anaheim Ducks Jonas Hiller
will most likely be the starting goalie, while Martin Gerber
, recovering from a recent neck injury, is a solid backup should Hiller falter.
All in all, 18 players played for Switzerland at the World Championship in May, and 10 played at the 2006 Olympics. Two of the defensemen, Roman Josi
and Luca Sbisa
, represent Switzerland at the World Junior Championships currently under way in Canada.
In May, Winnipeg-born Krueger told Swissinfo that he defines success over longer periods. By then, it wasn't yet clear whether his time behind the bench would be over after this season or not.
"When my time is done, I want to know the program has moved forward and developed. We were 18th in the world in 1997 and now we're seventh in the world rankings. Of course, you always want more. Our chances of winning a medal at the World Championships aren't very high, but we dream about that and work for that," he said.
Surely, the imminent end of his career as the Swiss national team coach will add some urgency to the chase. In the dressing room, Krueger is navigating not only with all the different types of players, but also different languages. His own English, and Canadian German, and the German and French that the players speak.
"We speak kind of a 'Denglish.' That's a mix between Deutsch and English and I can understand the French. We find our way," Krueger said. "It's more an emotional group that we have. When you're here a long time, there's not a lot to say.
"Nobody on this national team has played for another national coach, so sometimes they've got to know what I mean without me having to say it."
2010 Swiss Olympic team
Goaltenders (3): Martin Gerber
(Atlant Mytishchi), Jonas Hiller
), Tobias Stephan
Defensemen (8): Goran Bezina
(Geneva-Servette), Severin Blindenbacher
(Färjestad Karlstad), Rafael Diaz (EV Zug), Roman Josi
(SC Bern), Luca Sbisa
(Lethbridge Hurricanes), Mathias Seger (ZSC Lions Zurich), Mark Streit
(New York Islanders
), Yannick Weber
Andres Ambühl (Hartford Wolf Pack), Thomas Déruns (Geneva-Servette), Hnat Domenichelli
(HC Lugano), Sandy Jeannin (HC Fribourg-Gottéron), Thibaut Monnet (ZSC Lions Zurich), Thierry Paterlini (Rapperswil-Jona Lakers), Martin Plüss (SC Bern), Kevin Romy
(HC Lugano), Ivo Rüthemann (SC Bern), Raffaele Sannitz
(HC Lugano), Julien Sprunger
(HC Fribourg-Gottéron), Roman Wick