WORLDS: Hischier and Swiss team join tournament with unfinished business
After last year's silver-medal finish for Switzerland, Hischier hopes to put his home country over the top
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BRATISLAVA, SLOVAKIA - When Nico Hischier stepped onto the ice for warmups at Ondrej Nepala Arena in Bratislava as his native Switzerland took on Italy at the 2019 IIHF World Championship, he couldn't believe the Swiss crowd that had assembled in the section right behind their bench.
"Our fans were crazy," he said, shaking his head in disbelief after his official debut with the men's national team. "I was impressed. It was a lot of fun to play out there today and we wanted to give them something back and I think we showed that by playing 60 minutes of good hockey. We didn't expect to win 9-0, but we'll definitely take it."
Swiss head coach Patrick Fischer said before the game that he wanted to put Hischier in the best position to be successful by giving him the right linemates that he can play his best hockey with.
"I don't know how much he will score because it's a game and that's why we play it," he said. "But I can give him a chance to be successful and, after that, all I can expect as a coach is hard work and commitment and I know Nico will do that."
Hischier finished the game with a goal and two assists playing on a line with Kevin Fiala and Vincent Praplan.
"I felt pretty good. I was really pumped and excited to get going," he said. "I tried to really focus my game on the D zone, be stronger, don't make too many mistakes down there. I think this game was really good for our confidence, but we know it's also a team we had to beat. Now, there are going to be other good countries and other good teams. So, we got to be prepared for that and keep working."
At the end of his second season with the Devils, in which he scored 17 goals and notched 30 assists for 47 points in 69 games, Hischier said he played "just ok."
"I wouldn't say it was a great season for me, but I wouldn't say it was bad either. It was decent," he said. "But, the way the season ended, you can't be happy about it. It's nice to be able to come here and hopefully end the season better."
Having already spent three weeks with the Swiss national team, he's already feeling better about his game heading into his off-season training. He said he wants to work on a quicker, more accurate shot, getting stronger and being better in the face-off circle. He also said he's still adjusting to the speed of the NHL.
"It's such a fast game and you don't have a lot of time. You just have to keep the game simple," Hischier explained. "In junior, people give you the puck more and you can have it on your stick a little bit longer, but in the NHL, no way. So that was a big adjustment for me. I just have to do my job, not everyone else's. It's their job to do their job and if we're all doing what we're supposed to be doing, then we'll be a pretty tough team to play against."
Fischer wants Hischier to follow his own advice and just focus on himself and do what Nico does best.
"He just plays. He doesn't think about it too much," he said. "He's all instinct and it doesn't surprise me that wherever he goes he makes an impact. Right now, he still has it and I hope he will always have the love to play hockey like he does now because that's his strength. Loving the game like he does allows him to be creative and play free.
"It's what makes him such an amazing and special player," he continued. "He lives in surprise moments. You don't really know what he's doing, but what his mind is making up, he can actually do with his legs and his hands and that's what makes him so difficult to play against. He's so smart and doesn't cheat. He's one of our quarterbacks on the power play too. He doesn't shy away from contact either. He's just an absolute leader."
With one game down and six more to go in the preliminary round, Hischier is excited to get to know some of his teammates better and make some memories these next two weeks, but he and his teammates are focused on challenging for the same opportunity the Swiss team had last year - playing for the gold medal. They ultimately lost in a shootout to Sweden, but it's certainly whet their appetite for more.
"As a team, we saw what happened last year. We don't have to be shy. We can battle against the big nations as well," he said. "We're hungry and will try to do our best because we're a really good team with a lot of talent throughout the line up and I believe in us. The little goal for us is to make the quarterfinals and then who knows what can happen, but we're really hungry for more."
Hischier and Switzerland take on Latvia on Sunday at 2:15 p.m. ET.