Switzerland isn't exactly what you'd call a hockey powerhouse. The Swiss go into this Olympics attempting to break a 66 year dry spell, winning their last Olympic medal in 1948. And it was Bronze. Despite having about the population of Sweden and Finland, Switzerland hasn't had nearly the success of those countries, and doesn't have the numbers that Canada, United States, and Russia can offer.
New Wild forward Nino Niederreiter will be among those looking to break the dry spell for the Swiss. So, with his invitation to Switzerland's Olympic Evaluation Camp, let's look at Nino's previous experience on the international stage.
Nino Niederreiter- Right Winger #22- Team Switzerland
World Junior Championships
Niederreiter had OK, but not overly impressive U-18 WJC showings, scoring 2 points in 6 games in 2009 as a 16 year old, and 6 points in 6 games as a 17 year old. In the main tournament, he fared better, breaking out in 2010 with 10 points (6 of them goals) in 7 games. This included the game-tying and game-winning goals in an OT victory to eliminate Russia. While Nino and the Swiss were stomped by Canada and Sweden in the semi-finals and third-place game, respectively, Niederreiter made the tournament's All-Star Team.
The next year was somewhat of a step back for Nino, as he went 2-2-4 in 6 games as the Swiss went on to lose in the quarterfinals.
Nino was a non-factor his first two go-rounds in the World Championships, as he was pointless in 10 games. However, you may expect that from a player at the age of 18 and 19, on a team that is short on offensive firepower.
However, he broke out in his most recent World Championship, scoring 5 goals and 3 assists in 10 games. This includes a game-tying goal that propelled the Swiss to a shootout win. But the biggest highlight for Niederreiter was scoring the game-winning goal in Switzerland's 3-0 win against the United States (he later assisted on another goal). That particular win came in the semi-finals, meaning that Switzerland would go on to win it's first World Championship medal (Silver) in 60 years.
Outlook for Sochi
Niederreiter is another Olympic lock. There are only two other forwards on the roster that could make an NHL roster this upcoming season- Sven Baertschi and Damien Brunner. It doesn't appear that there's a large amount of firepower on the roster, and after El Nino's World Championship breakout leading them to Silver, it is impossible to imagine that they'd exclude him from the team.
So, the real question is, can Niederreiter lead the Swiss to their first Olympic medal since 1948? While the Silver in this year's World Championships suggests that you can't count them out, it bears reminding that the World Championships occurs during the Stanley Cup playoffs. Many of the game's best players are participating in the NHL playoffs instead of the World Championships. This will not be the case for the Olympics, as the NHL will be on break for them.
So, with stiffer competition, the Swiss will need repeat performances from Niederreiter, and Roman Josi, another Swiss player with an insane World Championship. If that happens, combined with solid perfomances from the best Swiss players such as goalie Jonas Hiller, defensemen Mark Streit, and the aforementioned Baertschi and Brunner, the Swiss could surprise.
But that's a lot of ifs.