Canadians respect Swiss goalie Jonas Hiller heading into quarter-final game

The Canadian Press
By: The Canadian Press
May 9, 2007
The Hockey News

Canadians respect Swiss goalie Jonas Hiller heading into quarter-final game

The Canadian Press
By: The Canadian Press
May 9, 2007

Hiller supplanted David Aebischer to grab the starting job for Switzerland at the tournament and has been among the best goalies in the competition.

If the Swiss are to pull off an upset over Canada in Thursday's quarter-final game (8:15 a.m. ET), he'll have to play a starring role.

That news comes as no surprise to the Canadians, who've received a full scouting report on their next opponent.

"I heard he's an unrestricted free agent and he's good," Canadian goalie Dwayne Roloson said after practice on Wednesday.

The 25-year-old Hiller has decided to leave the Swiss League and give it a go in North America next year. He'll probably get a long look from the NHL team that signs him because he's shown he can play.

More than a few people here were surprised after seeing that he had earned the starting job for Switzerland, but Canadian forward Rick Nash wasn't among them.

Nash was Hiller's teammate with HC Davos during the NHL lockout two years ago.

"When I was there in Switzerland, I was surprised he wasn't already in North America," said Nash.

Hiller has won three Swiss League titles and three Spengler Cups with Davos. He informed the Swiss club during the season that it would be his last because he wanted to make the move to the NHL.

Since then, Hiller says about 10 NHL teams have contacted his agent Allain Roy.

One of those teams is the St. Louis Blues, who are coached by Andy Murray. The Canadian coach is one of his fans.

"I've seen lots of him," said Murray. "He's pretty capable."

The winner of the Canada-Switzerland game will play Sweden in the semifinals. The Swedes beat Slovakia 7-4 on Wednesday in the quarter-finals while Russia blanked the Czech Republic 4-0. Russia will play the winner of Thursday's other quarter-final between the U.S. and Finland.

While the Swiss weren't keeping their goaltending plan a secret, Murray was staying quiet about his. Roloson and Cam Ward have each won three games in the tournament for the undefeated Canadians.

The first goalie onto the ice at Khodynka Arena will be the one who is playing.

"We want to keep the Swiss team guessing a little bit," said Murray. "Ralph Krueger's a smart coach and if we let him know who's playing goal, he'd do a little extra preparation."

Hiller is the guy Winnipeg-born coach Krueger will look to as Switzerland, which finished fourth in its qualifying group, looks to follow up last year's Olympic upset of Canada with another unlikely win.

Nash says Hiller's style is reminiscent of a Canadian Roberto Luongo, who has won two golds and a silver at the world championship.

"There's not many ways to beat him (Hiller)," said Nash. "He's one of the hardest working goalies I've seen.

"It's pretty impressive, his work ethic. He's a big guy, who goes down in the butterfly like Luongo and kind of covers up the whole net."

The Swiss have trouble scoring so Hiller's margin of error is quite small. He's made out OK so far and is among the tournament leaders with a .919 save percentage and 2.01 goals-against average.

He played a Game 7 in the Swiss championship series this year and helped Davos to a 1-0 win. A game against Canada at the world championship shouldn't faze him.

"The quarter-final was the goal for us and we've reached that," said Hiller. "Now we have nothing to lose.

"We really want to show that we're proud to wear the Swiss jersey and show what we are able to do."

After the world championship, Hiller will fly to North America and join his agent for meetings with some of the NHL teams interested in signing him.

That kind of trip would only have been a dream for Hiller six or seven years ago when he wasn't even considered the best young goalie in a relatively small hockey country.

"I didn't play a lot of junior national team games," said Hiller. "(The NHL) was far away, but it was still a dream.

"It looks real good that it could be possible next year."

In many ways, Aebischer paved the way for Swiss goalies. He played in the ECHL before working his way to the NHL with the Colorado Avalanche, where he earned a Stanley Cup ring in 2001 as Patrick Roy's backup.

Things have been a bit tougher for him later. Aebischer spent the season in Montreal and is not likely to be back after a mediocre season.

He's also lost his position to Hiller on the national team.

"I was surprised," said Swiss defenceman Mark Streit. "It's the coach's decision and that's the way it is. Maybe another coach would have put David in.

"So far (Hiller) has been outstanding so there's no reason to change."

Whether he wins or loses in the quarter-final against Canada, big changes are on the horizon for Hiller.

"I think he's pretty much accomplished everything in the Swiss League he can," said Nash. "I think it's worth a try.

"I'm sure he's always got a home in Switzerland on any team there. Why not try to live his dream and go play in the NHL?"

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Canadians respect Swiss goalie Jonas Hiller heading into quarter-final game