International Ice Hockey Federation

Damn young, damn skilled

Damn young, damn skilled

Nico Hischier and Swiss have increased ambitions

Published 25.04.2017 09:17 GMT-4 | Author Martin Merk
Damn young, damn skilled
MONTREAL, CANADA - DECEMBER 27: Switzerland's Nico Hischier #18 leans in for the face-off during preliminary round action against the Czech Republic at the 2017 IIHF World Junior Championship. (Photo by Andre Ringuette/HHOF-IIHF Images)
Highly-touted Swiss prospect Nico Hischier helped Switzerland earn its first World Junior preliminary-round win in two years and has high ambitions.

“Jung verdammt” of Lo & Leduc, a duo rapping in Swiss-German dialect, is the goal song for the Swiss U20 national team at the 2017 IIHF World Junior Championship. It can be translated as “damn young”.

While the lyrics may not necessarily be related to the team (Refrain: “I thought the devil would come in flames and not in a red dress.”) – although their jerseys are certainly red – the Swiss squad in Montreal is indeed young. With three U18-eligible players, it is one of the youngest at this tournament.

One of them lit the red lamp in overtime to start the tournament with a victory against the Czech Republic. The victory was balm for the Swiss soul after missing the quarter-finals the last two years.

“It’s a great feeling to score in overtime and that we won this game. It boosts our self-confidence for the next game,” Nico Hischier said after the game. “We showed what we can. We can learn a lot from this game, that we have to play well from the beginning until the end.”

Hischier was with the team last year and wants to erase bad memories from the last two editions in which defeats to underdog Denmark meant going to the relegation round instead of battling for the medals. The first win came two years to the day after the last one, against the Czech Republic as well.

“I knew that the last preliminary-round win was against the Czechs because my brother [Luca] played on that team and I followed it from Switzerland,” Hischier said.

Having more younger players on the roster – five 1998-born, two 1999-born and one 2000-born, in this case – can be for a wide range of reasons, from lack of depth in smaller hockey programs to having great prospects to develop at the World Juniors. With Hischier, it’s certainly the latter reason. Since switching over from Swiss pro hockey – he got his first taste with 15 NLA games for SC Bern and 13 NLB games for his hometown team EHC Visp last season – he’s hitting the headlines in North America.

In 31 games with the QMJHL’s Halifax Mooseheads, Hischier has scored 23 goals. Even though he’s among the younger forwards on that team too, he’s the team’s goal-scoring leader. With 48 points, he’s the league’s highest-scoring rookie. Only five players, all two or three years older, have collected more points than Hischier.

Going to North America as a 17-year-old was something Hischier had to think about for a while since the most talented Europeans usually hone their skills in professional hockey in Europe and move across the big pond only when they feel NHL-ready – something even most recent American number-one draft Auston Matthews did.

In Europe they can already play at a higher level against experienced senior players and spend more time practising to develop their skills, as fewer games are played.

In Canadian junior hockey, on the other hand, they can get used to the North American rinks and style of play in a schedule of NHL intensity, adjust to the new lifestyle and language.

“I don’t regret my step but it wasn’t an easy one. I was thinking for a long time about what’s the best for me. But eventually I had the feeling I could become a better hockey player like that. It’s different with the smaller ice rink and lifestyle, but I’ve settled in and I like it,” Hischier said about his first months in Nova Scotia.

And despite posting much higher numbers than he did in Swiss senior hockey, he doesn’t feel like a wunderkind who isn’t being challenged enough.

“No, no, that’s not the case. I just try to play every day with pleasure and then I can play my best hockey,” the native of Naters said.

The appreciation for junior hockey in Canada is something that impresses him. Although he has played in front of over 16,000 fans with SC Bern and savoured the great atmosphere at the last World Juniors in Helsinki, having thousands of fans in a junior hockey league is something new for him.

“The home opener was special for me at our arena with 10,000 people for a junior game. It’s like pro hockey here,” he said about his first months of hockey in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, one of the three CHL leagues.

While determining the best path to become a world-class player is a topic of controversy in Europe, Hischier’s great performance in North America has certainly changed the way NHL scouts look at him. He’s not just seen as a first-round draft candidate anymore, but as a potentially very early pick who could challenge Nino Niederreiter (5th in 2010) as the highest-drafted player in Swiss hockey history.

Luckily though, Hischier is doing well at putting the hype around him aside. “The draft is in June and now it’s December, so I don’t look at the draft. There’s still half a season in front of me. I just try to practice every day and get better,” the two-way centre said.

Hischier is up front about his objectives at the 2017 IIHF World Junior Championship.

“Our goal is to reach the semi-finals, but the first step is the quarter-finals and that’s clearly doable with this team. After that everything is possible,” Hischier said. “We’re a very good team with great boys in the dressing room. We can surprise many here.”

The last time the Swiss made it that far was at the 2010 World Juniors in Saskatoon with Niederreiter in his draft year. First they need to reach a top-four position in their group in Montreal. While tonight they will play Sweden, one of the favourites in the group, the key game for a final-round spot will once again be the one against Denmark on Friday.


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