International Ice Hockey Federation

Melvin’s magic

Melvin’s magic

Switzerland hopes for surprise with great goaltending

Published 26.12.2013 13:56 GMT+1 | Author Martin Merk
Melvin’s magic
Melvin Nyffeler returns to the Swiss U20 national team after having performed well in the 2013 World Juniors in Ufa. Photo: Richard Wolowicz / HHOF-IIHF Images
Usually Switzerland ends up at the World Juniors between 5th and 8th place. But sometimes they surprise. Mostly in front of a netminder in great shape.

In the 2010 World Juniors in Saskatchewan, the Swiss juniors had one of their great moments when they defeated Russia 3-2 in the quarter-finals thanks to Nino Niederreiter’s overtime goal but lost to Canada in the semis. Benjamin Conz had a strong tournament and was named Best Goalkeeper by the tournament directorate and selected to the All-Star Team by the media.

In 2002 Switzerland also reached the semi-finals. They defeated a Slovak team that was undefeated before but in the semis they also lost to Canada. Tobias Stephan, who helped Switzerland win the silver medals at the U18 World Championship the year before, was in the net.

The only bronze medal came in 1998 thanks to the heroics of David Aebischer, who was named Best Goalkeeper and to the All-Star Team. After the tournament he helped the men’s national team reach fourth place in the 1998 IIHF World Championship on home ice in Zurich and Basel before he became the first Swiss to regularly play in the National Hockey League.

Whether Melvin Nyffeler can follow these examples in the upcoming days remains to be seen. But he had a strong World Junior Championship last year in Ufa and this year he has stepped up with his club team.

Originally Nyffeler started as the number-three goalkeeper with the ZSC Lions Zurich and was supposed to play in the second tier with their affiliate, GCK Lions Zurich, which he did at the start of the season.

Then he got a one-game experience as a backup goalkeeper, replacing ZSC’s national team goalie Lukas Flüeler for a short spell of 28 seconds to make his unexpected debut in the NLA, the top Swiss men’s league.

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Also in October, he was on the roster again as a backup but when Flüeler suffered an injury and the team had to travel to Geneva two days later, it was not the regular backup who got the call from coach Marc Crawford but Nyffeler.

In his first game he achieved a shutout in a 3-0 victory. His second game, at EV Zug, ended with the same score. Only in his third game, after 149:50 in his NLA career, did the 19-year-old concede his first goal. That set a new record for a rookie goalkeeper in the league.

“At the beginning of the season I didn’t think too much and knew I was the number three and would do my job with GCK. Sometimes things like injuries happen and I was ready to back up,” Nyffeler said.

“I knew that I had to capitalize on my chance once I got it and I did. What I learned is that I can keep up in this league. Otherwise, not much has changed for me. It helps me to play at this level and it’s also a special experience to play in bigger arenas.”

Meanwhile he has played 14 games with a 96.01 save percentage and a 1.24 goals-against average. His contract with the Lions organization expires at the end of the season but Nyffeler isn’t thinking too far into the future. He doesn’t have his sights set on the NHL (yet), and hopes to get a good role on an NLA team next year.

Last year the Swiss finished the event in sixth place in an unusual tournament for them. They had four regulation-time ties in a row against Sweden, Finland, the Czech Republic and in the quarter-finals against host Russia. They lost all those games in a shootout, except against the Czechs, where they fell in overtime.

“On the one hand we have good memories because we fought well against big nations,” Nyffeler said. “On the other hand I remember the disappointment after these defeats. But now it’s a new tournament.”

Since Switzerland has less junior depth than the big countries, the team is usually dependent on great performances from its team leaders. Nyffeler could be one such player, and Mirco Müller, a 2013 first-round pick of the San Jose Sharks, could be another. On offence, the team lost one of its best players, Christoph Bertschy, due to an injury he suffered in league play recently. But even without Bertschy, the Swiss will ice several players with experience in the top senior league.

Additionally, five players come from Canadian Hockey League teams, and two players from Swedish teams have joined the U20 national squad.

Although Switzerland traditionally relies on good goaltending in all categories of international play, Nyffeler doesn’t feel extra pressure.

“We have to take it game by game,” he said. “You cannot win a game alone as a goalkeeper. You have to rely on the whole team. We have a very good team and staff and all together we can reach something.”

Nyffeler comes from a true hockey – and goalie – family. His father played as a junior and amateur goalie.

“I didn’t see many games because he quit early, but goalies always fascinated me. When my elder brother started to play as a goalkeeper I started too,” Nyffeler said. His brother Dominic plays in the Swiss B-league for HC Thurgau.

During a “try hockey” event for parents his mother went into the net and started to play the game too. Nowadays she plays on a veteran team while Melvin Nyffeler’s younger brother opted to play as a defenceman.

How far can the Swiss go at this year’s IIHF World Junior Championship? Nyffeler doesn’t want to make a prediction, but he said: “I think we can surprise.”


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