David Aebischer. Photo: Donald Miralle/Getty Images
WJC Countdown

WJC Countdown: David Aebischer leads Switzerland to first-ever World Juniors medal 

Since the mid-1990s, Switzerland has been a mainstay at the World Juniors. 

They’re generally playing to stay in the top division, fighting off regulation rather than competing for a medal, but the Swiss have only been relegated once in the past two decades. They’ve also won one bronze medal off the back of a legendary performance from goaltender David Aebischer. 

Since the collapse of the Berlin Wall, the World Juniors have been dominated by five countries: Canada, the United States, Russia, Finland, and Sweden. All but six medals in those 26 tournaments have been won by those five aforementioned countries. The Czech Republic has won two gold and a bronze, Slovakia has won two bronze medals, and the Swiss earned a bronze in 1998. 

It’s always impressive when one of the underdogs not from the Big Five nations wins a medal at this tournament, making Switzerland’s performance in 1998 incredibly memorable. 

The Swiss were led by forward Michel Riesen and goaltender David Aebischer. Riesen was drafted by the Edmonton Oilers with the No. 14 overall pick in the 1997 draft, making him the highest Swiss draft pick in NHL history at the time. Aebischer was also selected in the 1997 draft, but in the sixth round by the Colorado Avalanche. 

In the group stage, Switzerland finished second in Group B behind only Russia. The Swiss went 2-1-1, edging out Slovakia 3-1, earning an impressive tie against Russia 3-3, pounding Kazakhstan 7-0, then losing 4-1 to the United States. Still, despite finishing second, the Swiss had a tall task against Sweden in the quarterfinal. 

Switzerland beat the Swedes in a shootout, but went on to get dropped in the semifinal against Finland in a close game 2-1. In the bronze medal game, the Swiss shocked the Czech Republic with a 4-3 in the shootout. Aebischer stopped all shots in the shootout en route to Switzerland’s first-ever medal at the tournament. 

Aebischer would be awarded top goaltender in the tournament after posting an incredibly impressive .951 save percentage and 1.58 goals against average in five games for Switzerland. 

He would go on to have a solid career at the NHL level, becoming the first Swiss player ever to play regularly in the league. Riesen, on the other hand, would only play 12 NHL games with the Oilers before spending the rest of his professional career in Switzerland. 

Aebischer became Colorado’s full-time backup behind the legendary Patrick Roy in 2000-01. That season, he became the first Swiss player ever to win a Stanley Cup when the Avalanche defeated the New Jersey Devils to capture their second championship. He played 214 games in his NHL career, posting 106 wins and a .912 save percentage. Aebischer also represented Switzerland in the Olympics in 2002 and 2006 and at the World Hockey Championships seven different times. 

Since Aebischer, many Swiss players like Mark Streit, Roman Josi, and Nino Niederreiter have established themselves at the NHL level, but his showing at the World Juniors leave him as a Swiss hockey legend.


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