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Josi Developing Into Elite D-Man

by Staff Writer / Nashville Predators

Josi vs. Sbisa: Two Swiss U20 Olympic candidates on different paths
Roman Josi and Luca Sbisa both want to play in the Olympics and in the NHL, but have different approaches. Photos: HHOF-IIHF Images

They’re both defencemen, both are on the Swiss team that will play at the upcoming World U20 Championship, both are 19 years-old and have similar goals: to crack the Swiss Olympic roster and make the NHL. But the paths of the two top Swiss at the World Juniors are quite different.

Roman Josi was born and raised in hockey-crazed Bern. The hometown club, SC Bern, has had the best attendance in Europe for many years, playing in front of almost 16,000 fans. Josi has made the choice to stay in Bern until he is ready for the NHL.

Three years ago, when he was 16, Josi had his international debut as the youngest player at the 2007 World U20 Championship in Sweden. Just before that event, Josi played his first games in the top professional Swiss league.

Josi is known for being a mature teen on the ice, with good composure despite his age. This season he has 20 points (9+11) in 24 games, but was sidelined with a concussion for almost four weeks.

Last February, Josi’s career with the men’s national team began. Ralph Krueger called him for exhibition games in the international break, and later Josi cracked the roster to play the 2009 World Championship in his home arena before turning 19.

Josi’s averaged 9:44 of ice time per game. Many observers believe that Josi will also be put on the Olympic roster that will be announced on December 30.

While Josi’s career has been on a steady upswing, his teammate Luca Sbisa has been on a rollercoaster the last few years.

Born in Sardinia, Italy, Sbisa’s family immigrated to Switzerland where he became fascinated by hockey and the hometown club, EV Zug. Sbisa was soon a part of Zug’s junior team.

Like Josi, he also played his first few NLA games in 2006-2007, for EV Zug, but then moved to North America to the Canada’s Lethbridge Hurricanes.

The change was a good decision in the first season. In 2008, the Philadelphia Flyers drafted Sbisa in the first round and his experience in the Canadian junior league was seen as a plus by the scouts – at least for the draft.

Sbisa’s career quickly progressed. Because Philly had injury problems during the 2008 training camp, Sbisa played the first few NHL games of the season and ended up staying for a 39-game stint before going back to Lethbridge.

Last summer, Sbisa was traded to Anaheim. But so far Sbisa hasn’t found his place on the NHL roster. Head coach Randy Carlyle sent Sbisa back to the juniors for further development.

Sbisa is now far away from the NHL, playing his third season with Lethbridge. Traditionally known as a less offensive defenceman, Sbisa is also showing a sudden offensive flare with 13 points in 16 games.

At the World Juniors, Sbisa will play in the arena of WHL rival Saskatoon. It will be his last chance to make his case for a spot on the Olympic roster. Playing in a junior league isn’t an advantage compared to Josi’s ice time in the top line of SC Bern.

“I have talked to Sbisa”, said head coach Ralph Krueger. “It will be difficult for him. He knows that he has to play an extraordinary World U20 Championship, and to be released for the full pre-Olympic camp in Winnipeg to have a chance.”

Jakob Kölliker, the head coach of the U20 national team, will play an important role to watch Josi and Sbisa play as he’s also Krueger’s assistant coach for the men’s national team, where he’s responsible for the defencemen.

Sbisa has enough reasons to be motivated and to show his value in Switzerland and the NHL. And that’s exactly what the Swiss need after the promotion back to the top division.

NOTE: Switzerland beat Austria 5-2 in its first exhibition game in Canada, but lost forward Alain Berger due to injury.

Switzerland’s preliminary roster for the World U20 Championship

Goalkeepers (3): Benjamin Conz (SCL Tigers Langnau), Matthias Mischler (SC Bern Jr), Sandro Zurkirchen (EV Zug).

Defencemen (8): Luca Camperchioli (GCK Lions, SUI2), Jannick Fischer (EV Zug), Patrick Geering (ZSC Lions), Roman Josi (SC Bern), Luca Sbisa (Lethbridge Hurricanes, WHL), Dominik Schlumpf (Shawinigan Cataractes, QMJHL), Lukas Stoop (HC Davos), Ramon Untersander (HC Davos).

Forwards (13): Benjamin Antonietti (Geneva-Servette), Nils Berger (Innisfil Lakers, GMHL), Jeffrey Füglister (Kloten Flyers), Nicolas Gay (EHC Basel, SUI2), Mauro Jörg (HC Lugano), Michaël Loichat (EV Zug), Pascal Marolf (EHC Basel, SUI2), Ryan McGregor (GCK Lions, SUI2), Nino Niederreiter (Portland Winterhawks, WHL), Sven Ryser (GCK Lions, SUI2), Reto Schäppi (GCK Lions, SUI2), Tristan Scherwey (SC Bern), Tim Weber (MODO Örnsköldsvik, SWE Jr).
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