At the 2019 IIHF World Junior Hockey Championships, the surprise team of the tournament was Switzerland.
The Swiss went through the round robin only winning one of their games, when they defeated Denmark 4-0. However, all of their games were close up until the end. The first game of the tournament saw a Czech Republic team lead by Filip Zadina and Martin Necas defeat Switzerland in overtime.
The Swiss then went on to play the host nation, Canada in their second game. The heavily favoured Canadian team struggled against the Swiss despite winning the game in regulation. Phillip Kurashev of Switzerland had Canada on their heels late in the game. Kurashev tucked his second goal of the game with under two minutes left to play. The Swiss were testing Canada until the last buzzer, losing the game 3-2.
Switzerland took on the Russians in their third game and went up 3-1. The Russians came back and made the game 5-3, before the Swiss scored one to put them back in it. The Russians ended up running away with the game, but it showed the Swiss weren’t scared of anyone.
The quarter final matchup was against the top ranked Sweden team. The Swiss went into the game with only one win in the tournament, while the Swedes were undefeated. Despite going up against one of the top teams in the competition, Switzerland didn’t back down. Goals by Yannick Bruschweiler and Luca Wyss gave the Swiss a chance to play for a medal.
The semi-finals was a tough game for Switzerland. They lost 6-1 against a Finland team who would go on to win the Gold medal. The Bronze medal game was a rematch against the Russian team they played hard against just a few days before. By the start of the third period, the game was 3-2 Russia. The Swiss played very good hockey, but a hat-trick performance by Russia’s Kirill Slepets gave the Russians the Bronze medal.
The Swiss played great hockey to get to the medal round in 2019. The question is whether they could put up a similar performance at the 2020 tournament in the Czech Republic.
Switzerland will be missing some key players from the 2019 tournament. 12 players from last tournament will not be able to return this year, including leading scorer Phillip Kurashev and captain Nando Eggenberger. The Swiss will have a new top goal scoring option in Valentin Nussbaumer who will be returning for his third World Juniors and a shutdown defenceman in Nico Gross who will be playing in his fourth World Juniors. Both goalies from 2019, Luca Hollenstein and Akira Schmid, will also be able to return for 2020. The Swiss could look to 17-year-old Simon Knak to provide goal scoring as well. Knak is one of the top prospects eligible for the 2020 NHL Draft and he captained the U18 Swiss team last year.
The Swiss will have to play better than they did in the last World Juniors if they want to make it back to the medal rounds. With half their roster from the previous tournament gone, they will be looking at both veterans and newcomers to provide offence and stability.