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Swede dreams

Switzerland coach Ralph Krueger hopes expectations won't be too high

(Keystone Archive)

The Swiss ice hockey team are hoping to bounce back from their Olympic disappointment this week as the world championships get underway in Sweden.

"I think it's very important for Swiss hockey that we recover from our poor showing at the Winter Games, and we have a great chance to do that in Sweden," Swiss captain Mark Streit told swissinfo shortly before leaving Zurich airport with the rest of the squad.

Less than three months after finishing their Salt Lake campaign in 11th place, the Swiss team have undergone considerable changes with no less than nine players dropped from the Olympic roster.

Three of those players are missing because of activities off the ice with Marcel Jenni and Reto von Arx still being punished for an all-night drinking spree during the Winter Games. Von Arx's club colleague Michel Riesen has subsequently withdrawn from the national side in a show of solidarity for his Davos team-mate.

No tears shed

"I'm not disappointed (by their absence) at all," insists Switzerland coach Ralph Krueger. "I don't want anyone in my team who doesn't want to be there and I haven't shed one tear for anyone who's not coming with us.

"It's a difficult situation playing for the national team at the end of a long season and we really need players who are motivated," Krueger adds. "We may not be as talented as we could be, but we have as much heart as it's possible to have and, in the end, that's the most important thing."

Switzerland's Canadian-born coach has a strong reputation for such positive thinking and has built up a successful second career in his adopted homeland, organising motivational business seminars.

In Sweden Krueger is likely to need all his motivational powers as he attempts to steer a young and generally inexperienced side through the latest international campaign.

Lowering expectations

The youthful composition of the team, which includes ten players born in the 1980s, along with the absence of Jenni, von Arx and Riesen could at least help lower expectations back home in Switzerland.

Krueger believes that those expectations became unrealistically inflated during his first three years in the job - when the team managed three top eight finishes in succession.

"I think the expectations got totally out of control back then, which should never have been the case," Krueger insists. "It certainly wasn't the case within the team.

"I think if we managed to finish in the top eight this time, it would really be seen for what it should be - an absolutely fantastic performance. Right now Switzerland belongs in ninth, tenth or 11th place. Anything better than that should just be seen as a great finish."

Krueger's young team could hardly have asked for a more difficult start to their latest campaign. Their opening match on Friday pits the Swiss against 1998 Olympic champions, the Czech Republic - winners at the world championships for the past three years.

With Krueger reckoning his side will do extremely well to take a single point from that encounter, the next two games against Germany and Japan are likely to prove decisive in Switzerland's bid to avoid another early exit.

by Mark Ledsom


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