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Swiss ice hockey team prepare for tough opener

Switzerland take on the United States this weekend in the opening game of the Ice Hockey World Championships in St Petersburg. For Swiss coach, Ralph Krueger, Saturday's game will test his decision to take the squad on a pre-tournament warm-up tour.

Switzerland take on the United States (player pictured right)this weekend in the opening game of the Ice Hockey World Championships in St Petersburg. For Swiss coach, Ralph Krueger, Saturday's game will be an early test of his decision to take the squad on a demanding pre-tournament warm-up tour.

In a change to the normal routine, Krueger opted to play friendlies against a number of tournament favourites, including the Czech Republic, Sweden and Finland. The tough opposition made for some sobering results, with the exception of a hard-fought win over Sweden in Zurich.

But Krueger is convinced that his team has profited from being tested by some of the tournament's best sides. He also believes the large number of games played in recent weeks has helped his players come together as a unit. Such cohesion will be essential, he argues, when they come up against a US squad containing 13 players from the NHL, the world's top ice hockey league.

"When you see that we have no players from the NHL, it's obvious we need to find an edge and build a strong team. So it's great to have this time to develop a group that can play against these bigger countries that have better manpower on paper."

While the Americans are technically strong, Krueger believes their lack of speed is a weakness which Switzerland can exploit. The larger scale of the European rinks could also be a factor in bringing Switzerland a rare victory over the Americans.

Whatever the result on Saturday, the most important first round match for the Swiss is likely to be Monday's game against France. The French side is perceived as being the weakest in a group which also includes the host nation, Russia. With three of the four teams progressing to the second round, a win over France should be enough to take Switzerland through.

The second round could bring Switzerland back into action against any of their foes from the warm-up matches. But with all games based on a group system until the quarter finals, a place in the last eight is a realistic aim for Krueger's men.

Anything more than that, two years from the Winter Olympics, would be extremely impressive for a side which is very much in transition. But while medal hopes are unlikely, another win over Sweden would go down very well with the fans watching back home.

by Mark Ledsom

World Championship Diary - Switzerland's Preliminary Round Matches

29.4 USA v Switzerland
01.5 Switzerland v France
03.5 Russia v Switzerland

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