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Krueger inspects his 'American' troops

Krueger (left) met up with Michel Riesen during a brief stop in Hamilton

(swissinfo.ch)

Tampa Bay, Denver and Salt Lake City don't normally figure on the agenda of Swiss national ice hockey coaches. But with an unprecedented number of Swiss ice hockey stars now playing in North America, these are not normal times for Ralph Krueger.

The Swiss coach has been conducting a lightning tour of Canada and the United States this week in an effort to keep in touch with Switzerland's far-flung heroes and to check on their availability for this year's world championships and the 2002 Winter Olympics.

Speaking to swissinfo's Mathias Froidevaux in Hamilton, Krueger admitted that the success of Switzerland's stars abroad hasn't make his job any easier in the short term, although he hopes to be able to reap some long term benefits.

"It's definitely difficult for the national team when these players decide to go to North America," Krueger nodded. "It means we can't reckon on them anymore. So it's important for us to build a good team without them back home.

"But by playing here they're showing that Swiss hockey is continuing to develop and get better all the time. Our home programme is clearly working and in the end that promises an exciting future for the national team and the national coach."

Krueger's busy schedule has involved meetings with Reto von Arx and Arne Ramholt in Norfolk, with Thomas Ziegler in Tampa Bay and with Michel Riesen and David Aebischer in Hamilton and Toronto.

As the only Swiss player to hold down an NHL place all season, Aebischer is unlikely to be keeping goal for Switzerland at this year's world championships. But Krueger told swissinfo he'd received some welcome reassurances from all the players he'd spoken to.

"Every Swiss player based in North America has said he'd come straight away to the national side if his team were to be knocked out of the playoffs and we were to come calling. It's great to hear that these players believe in the Swiss national programme and that even though they're out here they haven't forgotten us."

The Swiss coach insisted though that he wouldn't be star-struck when it came to making his selections. Krueger has warned all the players that they will have to fight for their places just like the players based in Switzerland.

"No-one has a 100 per cent place in the team," he said, "and I wouldn't want to bring in too many North American-based players at once because that could distract from the team building that we've been doing all year. But we could certainly handle one or two if it makes the team stronger."

by Mark Ledsom and Mathias Froidevaux


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