Oilers hire Switzerland coach

The Oilers have hired Ralph Krueger as an associate coach to work alongside Tom Renney. (QMI Agency...

The Oilers have hired Ralph Krueger as an associate coach to work alongside Tom Renney. (QMI Agency file)

DEREK VAN DIEST, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 7:13 PM ET

When Ralph Krueger took the position 13 years ago, he never envisioned being in charge of Switzerland's hockey program for over a decade.

Prior to his arrival, the Swiss had gone through 10 coaches in 10 years looking for the right person to lead their team.

"When I took the job, my friends were joking with me that I'd only be there for one year," Krueger said. "It was not a job where you thought long-term about it. It just happened to develop that way and I got to go to three Olympics because of it, which was nice."

Krueger, 50, took a struggling program in Switzerland and transformed it essentially from the ground up.

The Edmonton Oilers are hoping the Winnipeg native can help do the same thing here, hiring him as an associate coach to work with Tom Renney, Kelly Buchberger and Steve Smith on their staff.

"It's a perfect fit," Krueger said. "First of all because of Tom Renney. I've worked against him at international tournaments, and we've run into each other and communicated here and there since the mid-90s. He's an excellent coach to work with, which goes without saying. I'm really excited to work with him and the rest of the staff."

Krueger left the Swiss national team following a sixth-place finish at the Vancouver Olympics in February. He had been hired by the Swiss in 1997, following a successful head coaching stint in Austria, where he led VEU Feldkirch to nine titles, which included five national championships.

"When I went to Switzerland, I saw it was a program that had a lot of up-side in potential," Krueger said. "It was a very passionate place about the game of hockey. But we had to completely change the way they played the game. Switzerland back in the '90s was known as a soft hockey country. We were able to bring the Canadian game there, without taking away from their strengths. We were able to add the Canadian element."

The process took time as it had to be implemented from the bottom up through to the national team level. Eventually it paid off, as the country slowly began to develop the reputation of being a tough opponent.

The Canadians learned that first-hand when they lost to Switzerland at the 2006 Olympics in Turin.

"I remember after the 2006 Olympics when we beat Canada, Pat Quinn, who was coaching Canada at the time, said that the Swiss played more Canadian than the Canadians did on that day," Krueger said. "That was one of the huge changes we made in our program there.

"There was a lot of interesting work there. It was a very young, raw program with a lot of passion for the game, but they needed some structure and direction in the game. It took us about six or seven years to change the way the country played the game."

Having accomplished what he set out to do in Switzerland, Krueger left the national team in search of another challenge.

He had a number of options at the NHL level where he had moonlighted as a European consultant for the Carolina Hurricanes since 2005.

"I've had contact with a number of teams over the last decade, but I was never really ready for it and in the last five months since the Olympics, I've never really found the right fit until now," he said. "I really, really care about the people that I work with. I like the people of the organization in Edmonton a lot. I find it's a good people organization and it was the right fit and I'm really looking forward to the challenge."

derek.vandiest@sunmedia.ca


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