Sports

Swiss expect tough test from Team Canada as Olympic hockey tournament opens

GANGNEUNG, Korea, Republic Of — Swiss hockey coach Patrick Fischer laments the fact that NHL players are absent at these Olympics. But he's also a realist.

"For us, for sure, it's positive ... because we have less (player) loss than the other teams that are fighting for medals," said Fischer.

"We still have good players outside the NHL," he added.

The Swiss are Canada's first test at the Pyeongchang Winter Games. Team Canada will send its best European-based players (plus three from the North American minors) against an all Swiss league squad Thursday at the Kwandong Hockey Centre.

Both teams will be missing their top players.

"I think we have about 12 or 13 players (in the NHL) that would probably make the team. But Canada is missing 200," Fischer said with a wry smile.

Swiss players who have spent time in the NHL this season include Roman Josi, Kevin Fiala and Yannick Weber (Nashville), Mirco Mueller, Nico Hischier and Christoph Bertschy (New Jersey), Sven Andrighetto (Colorado), Sven Baertschi (Vancouver), Reto Berra (Anaheim), Dean Kukan (Columbus), Denis Malgin (Florida), Timo Meier (San Jose), Nino Niederreiter (Minnesota) and Luca Sbisa (Las Vegas).

Fischer, 42, also has NHL ties. His 18-year playing career includes 27 games with the Phoenix Coyotes in 2006-07. An earlier opportunity with the Los Angeles Kings was nipped through injury.

And the two-time Olympian already holds a coaching win over Canada. The Swiss upset Canada's NHLers 3-2 in overtime in a preliminary-round game at the 2017 IIHF World Championships last May.

Absent stars aside, Fischer anticipates a typically Canadian effort from his opponent Thursday.

"I expect honest hard effort. Very very relentless on the forecheck. Trying to play a fast game. The Canadians, there's no surprise. They always come full-on. Big heart and a lot of drive and straight-line hockey. And we play similar."

Swiss goalie Jonas Hiller, who spent nine seasons with Anaheim and Calgary, also isn't taking the Canadians lightly.

"Nobody can say they don't have a good team," he said. "That's why Swiss teams get Canadians to play on their team in our league, to be leaders."

Canadians Andrew Ebbett, Mason Raymond, Maxim Lapierre, Maxim Noreau and Linden Vey all ply their trade in the Swiss league.

"They have a strong team, probably skill-wise a better team than us," said Hiller. "But at the end, we'll have to make up for it with hard work and our team game."

The Swiss, with Fischer in the lineup, also beat Canada 2-0 in a preliminary-round game at the 2006 Turin Olympics. The Canadians repaid the favour at the 2010 Games, downing Switzerland 3-2 via penalty shootout in preliminary action.

Canada holds a commanding 33-4-2 record against Switzerland in Olympic and world championships play.

The other Swiss wins were 4-1 at the 2010 world championships and 3-2 via penalty shootout at the 2013 worlds, both in preliminary-round play.

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Note to readers: This is a corrected story. A previous version misspelled Jonas Hiller's last name and listed the incorrect NHL team for Timo Meier.

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