On 19 May 2013, on the ice in Stockholm, Switzerland challenged host nation Sweden for the World Ice Hockey Championship title. It was only the second time the Swiss team had reached the final in the competition’s 78-year history, and, while they were well beaten, in Roman Josi they boasted the standout player of both the match and the tournament.
In the first round, the Swiss beat Sweden in their opening match (3-2), then Canada (3-2), the Czech Republic (5-2), Slovenia (7-1), Denmark (4-1) Norway (3-1) and Belarus (4-1). They eliminated the Czech Republic 2-1 in the quarter finals, with a winning goal from Josi in the 33rd minute, and went on to knock out the USA 3-0 in the semi-final.
“That is my favourite memory”, says the defender who currently plays his club hockey for NHL outfit Nashville Predators. “We had the Americans up against the wall and played an almost perfect match. The party in the dressing room afterwards was spectacular and I was the DJ!”
In the final, Sweden dominated, winning 5-1, with Josi scoring Switzerland’s consolation goal. After a string of brilliant performances, which included four goals and five assists, he was named best defender and best player of the 77th IHF World Championships. He also became the first Swiss player to be honoured with selection for the World Championships ‘All-star Team’.
“We played a great tournament,” he said. “We played really well, but we’ll see what happens as the Olympic tournament is completely different. It’s a bigger stage and all the best players in the world will be there, but this result has given us a lot of confidence.”
Sport in his genes
Josi started playing in the Swiss first division with CP Berne in 2006 when he was just 16, and represented his country in every age category. He thinks his talent comes from his genes. “My mother was a swimmer in the national team, and my father was a top-level footballer,” he explains. “We always played sport, even on holiday. When I first started, I didn’t really mind how I played. It wasn’t that important. But when the first agents started to show up, I was 15, and I realised that hockey was big business.”
At the age of 20 he headed across the Atlantic to join the Nashville franchise. Solid in defence, and blessed with beautiful attacking skills, he soon became a key player. “I never try to destroy the opponent,” he explains. “It’s more about being completely on my guard, and to do that, I have to remain focused.”
In Sochi, the 23-year-old will also be one of the key members of a Swiss team that includes nine other players currently plying their trade in the NHL. They will be hoping to at least emulate the achievements of the Swiss teams that claimed Olympic bronze in 1928 and 1948 - both times in St. Moritz.
“It’s clear that expectations are a little higher after the World Championships,” admits Josi. “People expect more from us. We are just a small team so obviously we are not the favourites, but you don’t go to the Olympic Games just to play. You go there because you want to achieve something!”
The Swiss will play their first round matches in group C, in the Bolshoi Ice Dome and Shayba Arena, where they will meet Latvia (12 February), Sweden (14 February ) and the Czech Republic (15 February).