Swiss in good position to snap 21-year medal drought at world juniors

Team Switzerland celebrates their win over Sweden. (Jonathan Hayward/CP)

VANCOUVER — There is just one remaining Canadian coach still working at this World Junior Hockey Championship, but Swiss coach Christian Wohlwend is less concerned with his Finnish opponent prior to their semifinal meeting, and more into what the hockey spirits decree.

“Whoever the spirits want to win, they will win,” Wohlwend said Thursday.

He added, “The most powerful spirit for me is love.”

Meet the head coach of Team Switzerland, whose charges knocked off the unbeaten Swedes in their quarterfinal matchup by a 2-0 score. His country has won but a single medal in the 42-year history of this tournament — a bronze back in 1998 — but he can smell success this year, with two shots at taking home a medal from this world juniors.

Friday the Swiss face Finland in a semifinal, while the other semi pits Russia vs. the United States. This is, undoubtedly, the best position this Swiss team has ever found itself in at this tournament, one win away from a guaranteed silver medal.

“We start to believe, as a nation. And we just play a way different style of hockey than we’ve played in the past,” he said. “We know that we have to play another, almost perfect game if we have a chance to win against Finland.”

Wohlwend was born in Montreal but left as an infant. He has played and coached in the Swiss League forever.

“Do you believe in the Hockey Gods?” he is asked.

“I believe in spirits. I believe in energy. Karma is a spirit. Energy is a spirit,” Wohlwend replies. “Spirits are an energy that is around. Some people know about it, and some people know about it but don’t believe in it. (If you believe) you can use this energy source for yourself and for everybody.”

“The most powerful spirit for me is love,” he continued. “By fear, by anger, by greed, by jealousy — which are all energy too, but not the right energy — you can not win anything. What we spread as a coaching staff on our Swiss team, love, makes it possible that we reach the semifinal. And maybe more.”

Late in their quarterfinal win over Sweden, the TV cameras caught Wohlwend berating a player who had touched a puck on an intentional icing call, costing the Swiss a faceoff in their own end.

“What kind of love was that?” we asked him.

“That was tough love,” Wohlwend admitted. “But that is energy too.”

The Swiss have proven difficult to play against, taking the Czechs to overtime and pressing the Russians right into the third period in a tight game. They held Canada to a 3-2 score as well. They’re a team that hangs around long enough that — if you make a mistake — it could be fatal.

Then they picked off the Swedes in an elimination game, and come in hot against a Finnish club that only beat Canada 2-1. The underdog Swiss can beat Finland, but only if they play nearly the perfect game, says Wohlwend.

Hey, he’s just being honest.

“That’s one of my deepest values. I believe in honesty and authenticity,” he said. “Being like a robot is the worst thing you can be as a human. We are humans! We are love! We are energy! So, be honest and share love with the people who surround you.”

Seriously. This guy is for real.

“He is not just a coach. He is a friend to us, always giving some good advice, good tips,” said Swiss forward Nando Eggenberger. “It is better to be honest than just to say, ‘Aw, it’s all right.’”

You can’t knock Wohlwend’s success. Now, he’s waiting by the phone like another Swiss coach once did — Ralph Kreuger — waiting for a call from an NHL team.

Has the call come?

“Not yet,” he said.

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