Nothing summed up the mood after an upset victory by Switzerland over Canada at last year's IIHF World Hockey Championship quite like the headline in SonntagsZeitung - a national newspaper in that country.
"Yes Sui Can."
There can be no denying a recent run of good results against Canada has helped instill a belief in the Swiss players that hasn't always been there. Led by coach Sean Simpson - a transplanted Canadian from Brampton, Ont. - the Swiss have adopted a more attacking style that should give the Canadians their toughest test yet when the teams meet Tuesday (TSN, 10:15 a.m. ET).
"Ten years ago they sort of had to stand in the neutral zone and trap it up and hope that the other team sort of fell into that strategy," Simpson said after Monday's practice at Steel Arena. "I think the hockey's developed enough there that we can go forecheck a little bit, we can try to give more to the game.
"Not that we're ready to skate every night with the Canadians or Russians or Swedes, but I think we've shown the Swiss are good for the surprise game."
A major part of the program's evolution can be traced back to a 2-0 victory over Canada at the 2006 Olympics in Turin, Italy. The Swiss nearly pulled off another upset at the Vancouver Games, losing 3-2 on Sidney Crosby's shootout winner, before thoroughly outplaying Canada during a 4-1 win at the world championship in Germany.
Six members of that Canadian squad are back for a second straight year and won't allow themselves to underestimate their opposition this time around.
"I think we're going to be more ready for them this year," said forward Matt Duchene. "I think last year we expected it to be an easier game than it was. ... We expected something different than what we got for sure."
Both teams opened this tournament with victories over France and Belarus.
Interestingly, Switzerland struggled in its opening game against the French and relied on some excellent goaltending from Tobias Stephan before eventually winning 1-0 in overtime. Simpson chalked the performance up to heightened expectations that come with facing a lower-seeded team.
"When Switzerland is the favourite, they don't always show the same game as they do when they're not the favourites," said Simpson. "We're a very good underdog team. ... Against Canada, nobody really expects a win in Switzerland so they can just go out and play. The Swiss are skilled and fast and well-conditioned athletes and they can skate.
"If they're just free in the head to play, that's the way they are every time they play Canada."
Canadian coach Ken Hitchcock decided to review video from Vancouver rather than last year's world championship in preparing his players for Tuesday's game. Eleven members of the Swiss team - including defenceman Luca Sbisa, the country's lone NHLer here - took part in the most recent Olympics.
"I think the Swiss play with a checking tempo that is very similar to (the way) NHL teams play," said Hitchcock. "That's the bottom line.
"They play with pace, they change their players fast, they take 30-second shifts. If you just put 'Smith' on the back of all the (sweaters) they all look like NHL players. They all play the game the right way."
Stephan has been the team's top performer so far with just one goal against in two games, but he'll be on the bench against Canada. Simpson will instead start backup Leonardo Genoni, who was spectacular in leading HC Davos to the Swiss League championship.
Hitchcock plans to go with James Reimer for a third straight game. He believes the keys for Canada are having a quick start and not letting the Swiss get ahead.
"When they get a lead, you don't get much," said Hitchcock. "They frustrate teams because they make you earn every inch of ice."
Another sign that Switzerland has earned the respect of top hockey countries is the amount of praise it now receives from opponents. Simpson made sure to save video of the Canadians being interviewed after last year's loss at the world championship to show younger Swiss players.
Veteran forward Martin Pluss played his first world championship game in 1998 and believes he's witnessed great strides by the country in the years since.
"I've seen progress," he said.
So, too, have numerous Canadian hockey players.
While Duchene and the other five returnees are looking to make amends for last year's loss Tuesday, the others will simply be focused on facing a tough opponent.
"We remember, but it's probably good that we have guys that didn't experience it," said Duchene. "You don't ever want to have a team in your head.
"I don't think it's in the heads of the guys that are back, but you do remember and you do know that it's going to be a tough game. I'm really looking forward to it."
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