The Calgary Flames can say they’ve done their part in boosting hockey interest in Switzerland.
The Flames selected flashy forward and Swiss import Sven Bartschi from the Portland Winterhawks 13th overall in the 2011 NHL entry draft and the fleet-footed winger could be playing with Calgary as early as next season.
Bartschi is the product of a Swiss hockey system that is developing better players each year, as evidenced by their improved showings in international competitions over the last decade.
“I think our program is pretty good,” said head coach Manuele Celio, whose Swiss squad will face Canada in a World Junior Hockey Championship pre-tournament game tonight at 7 p.m. at the Centrium.
“We do a lot of work with our development program.
“We still don’t have that much players in our country so we have to work on a lot of quality.
“We have good players coming up and a few players playing in the NHL now, like (Mark) Streit, (Jonas) Hiller and (Nino) Niederreiter.
“It’s good for our young guys to see those guys making the steps and I hope we have some more (NHL players) coming up.”
Bartschi, who this year is the focal point of Team Switzerland, is a future Flame, while forwards Joel Vermin, Dario Simion, Christoph Bertschy and Samuel Walser, along with goaltender Tim Wolf, are ranked by Central Scouting for the 2012 NHL draft.
Team Switzerland’s camp opened Sunday at the Centrium with 25 skaters — including Brandon Wheat Kings forward Alessio Bertaggia and Seattle Thunderbirds defenceman Dave Sutter — and three goaltenders on hand.
The team is staying at the Sheraton Hotel and will leave Red Deer on Friday, following the final practice session after which the roster will be reduced to 22 players.
“We have a couple of players a little injured right now and if something happens here in our two exhibition games we have the advantage of having guys ready instead of bringing some players over from Europe, which is tough,” said Celios, in reference to the team’s 28-man training camp roster.
“It’s not always a simple thing to select a team so late but we decided to do it this way.”
Switzerland played their first pre-tournament game Wednesday at Camrose versus the United States.
The score was unavilable at press time.
In another pre-tournament game, Finland defeated Slovakia 3-0 at Calgary.
Team Switzerland is in a pool with Latvia, Slovakia, Russia and Sweden.
The Swiss open tournament play on Monday in Calgary versus Russia, then face the Swedes two days later, also at the Saddledome.
“We’re going to have to try hard to be ready for those first two games.
“They will both be very difficult,” said Celio, who is employed by the Swiss Ice Hockey Federation and also serves as an assistant coach with the country’s national senior team.
The Swiss finished fifth in last year’s world juniors and would likely settle for a similar placing this time around.
“The firm goal we have is to make the top six,” said Celio.
Team Canada’s final pre-tournament game is tonight in Edmonton against Sweden.