Switzerland's aim to establish itself as one of the elite hockey nations of the world got a minor shot in the arm this weekend, when they won a four-team U19 mini-tournament in Strakonice, Czech Republic. The Swiss and Czechs finished tied with 6 points each, but the Swiss took first by winning the head-to-head match-up 4-2. Slovakia finished third with 4 points, and Germany was last with 2.
Lino Martschini, who plays for the OHL's Peterborough Petes, led tourament scorers with 4 points in three games, while linemate Richard Tanner and Czech Tomáš Fořt each had 3. Two of the more noteworthy names in the tournament, Switzerland's Sven Bartschi and the Czech Republic's Martin Frk, each recorded 2 points. Bartschi, a first-round draft pick of the Calgary Flames, will attend the NHL club's training camp next month, while Frk, a highly-rated prospect for 2012, is expected to re-join the QMJHL's Halifax Mooseheads once he gets a visa issue cleared.
The key to Switzerland's success in this tournament was defence, as they surrendered only 5 goals in three games. Goaltender Lukas Meili surrendered only 2 goals in two games and posted a tournament-high .941 save percentage.
Long on the periphery of the core of great hockey nations, Switzerland has produced many prospects in recent years and has consistently out-performed the other three teams in this tournament at IIHF championships in the U20 and U18 categories. The Swiss finished fourth and fifth, respectively, at the last two World Junior Championships, while the Czechs, Slovaks and Germans all battled in the relegation round.