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Switzerland: A medal would be a miracle

by Risto Pakarinen
Former Finnish national team coach Raimo Summanen said before picking the 2004 World Cup team that his country had a pool of about 40 players from which to choose for the big tournaments. The same is true for many other European countries, and Switzerland is no exception. The core of the team changes very little between tournaments, and that speaks for Switzerland.

In Vancouver, Swiss coach Ralph Krueger is closer to his birth province, Manitoba, than at the 2008 World Championships, and being in his last year, Krueger will be make sure his team will be ready to play. Everything is clear to everybody. Krueger knows the players, the players know each other, the system is crystal clear, and they all share the same goal.

Switzerland may be dreaming of an Olympic medal, and it probably will take 1980-caliber miracle -- or an unexpected fumble -- remember Sweden's Tommy Salo against Belarus in 2002? -- for the Swiss to take home a medal.

But miracles do happen. As do fumbles.

Jonas Hiller, Anaheim -- The Anaheim Duck will turn 28 on the day of the Olympics' opening ceremony. Almost as guaranteed a starter as Miikka Kiprusoff is for Finland.

Marco Buhrer, SC Bern (NLA) -- With Martin Gerber injured in the KHL, Buhrer, who plays in the top Swiss league, will have to step up. Hiller, though, may play all games, as Gerber did at the 2009 World Championship in Switzerland.

Martin Gerber, Atlant (KHL) -- Gerber is such an important player to the team that he will be named if there's the slightest chance he'll recover from the neck injury he suffered in mid-December.

Mark Streit, N.Y. Islanders -- The heart and soul of the Swiss team. He'll play about 30 minutes a game in Vancouver, with the weight of the team on his not-so-huge frame. Nothing new for him, though.
Severin Blindenbacher, Farjestad (SEL) -- Blindenbacher played alongside Streit at the Worlds. He logs almost 25 minutes a game in the Swedish Elitserien, so he's ready.

Mathias Seger, Zurich (NLA) -- The captain of Zurich Lions makes few mistakes. Excellent point man on the power play. He's cracked the top 10 in Swiss league scoring.

Yannick Weber, Montreal --
Weber has had a hard time becoming a full-time NHL player, but for Switzerland he'll be an asset thanks to his intimate knowledge of the NHL-sized rink going back to his junior days.

Goran Bezina, Geneve-Servette HC (NLA) -- This defenseman won't stay at home come February. Bezina is a third-pair defenseman who can take care of business in his own end. He'll help with some offense, but not at the expense of his defensive work.

Roman Josi, SC Bern (NLA) -- Nineteen, and already an excellent offensive defenseman. A 2008 second-round pick of the Nashville Predators, Josi is establishing himself as one of the top Swiss defensemen.

Philippe Furrer, SC Bern (NLA) -- One slap shot into the own net (Worlds, 2008) did not discourage Krueger from naming Furrer to his squad for the next tournament. And why would it have? Furrer is a great defenseman when healthy.

Beat Forster, Davos (NLA) -- One of the best defensemen in the country is expecting a child and has said he won't be available for the Olympics. But maybe his spouse can wait.

Ryan Gardner, ZSC Lions (NLA) -- Last spring Gardner played for Switzerland on home ice, and now the Canadian-born, 6-foot-6, 220-pound winger can do the same in Vancouver. He's good around the net, a skill needed especially in a small rink.

Hnat Domenichelli, Lugano (NLA) -- The Swiss league's leading scorer, the Swiss-ified Canadian is a welcome addition to the team. A scorer Switzerland needs.

Martin Pluss, SC Bern (NLA) --
The 32-year-old center is back with Team Switzerland. Pluss will play in his 15th international tournament, including the World Juniors. He's an important playmaker, especially on the power play.

Ivo Ruthemann, SC Bern (NLA) --
Ruthemann and Pluss are teammates in Bern, so they know each other well, which is important in a short tournament like the Olympics. The veteran forward will leave everything on the ice in Vancouver.

Andreas Ambuhl, Hartford (AHL) -- Every team has their own version of Ambuhl, an energetic player who thrives on his ability to mix it up. A national-team regular for the last five years, Ambuhl will be on the ice when Krueger wants something to happen.

Thibaut Monnet, ZSC Lions (NLA) --
Monnet will give this team depth. He has the potential to score big goals.

Patrik Bartschi, ZSC Lions (NLA) -- One of the leading Swiss-born scorers in the Swiss National League, he's a skilled stickhandler with great hockey sense, speed and the ability to do the unexpected.

Roman Wick, Kloten (NLA) --
Wick tied for second in team scoring and was one of just five plus-players on the team at the Worlds in May. The 2004 fifth-round pick of the Ottawa Senators is a strong forward who spent two years in the Western Hockey League (2004-06) with Red Deer and Lethbridge.

Thierry Paterlini, Rapperswil (NLA) -- The Rapperswil captain has over 50 World Championship games under his belt, and had a good tournament in Switzerland last May.

Julien Sprunger, Fribourg (NLA) --
Sprunger has recovered from a neck injury to average a point a game since his return. Switzerland needs his big body (6-4, 194) in the small rink.

Sandy Jeannin, Fribourg (NLA) -- The 2010 Olympics will be the 33-year-old forward's 20th international tournament. Jeannin's 19:25 average ice time per game was the most for the team's forwards at the Worlds in May.

Paul DiPietro, EV Zug (NLA) -- The veteran forward missed the Words last season, due to a knee injury. The 1993 Stanley Cup champion's drive and grit will be an asset, and he'll have no problem putting his ego on the shelf while playing in a limited role.

The roster features a lot of Swiss-Canadians, a lot of experience, and a lot of skill. It's a mix that will ignite the neutral Swiss, and yet make sure the players keep their skates on the ice and won't get carried away, or crumble under the pressure that comes from playing in the Olympics. The home crowd's expectations were a little too much for Switzerland last May, but this time they can just focus on the team, on each other, and playing the game.

Krueger may not be Herb Brooks, but then again, Brooks wasn't the legendary coach before the Miracle on Ice. However, Krueger is the best-selling author of "Teamlife," a book about motivating people. Swiss fans' best hope is that the coach and the players are on the same page when the puck drops.
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