Belarus – Switzerland 2-3 (0-2, 1-0, 1-1)
BOBRUISK – Switzerland has Cedric Hächler to thank for their spot in the playoff round. His goal with 1:32 left in regulation lifted his team to the 3-2 against Belarus after the host nation rallied from a two-goal deficit.
The win secured Switzerland its first spot in the U18 quarterfinals since 2007. For Belarus, the loss means that they are certain to play in the relegation round.
The decision also made the playoff picture in Group A clear as Switzerland’s win means that Canada will join Belarus in the relegation round.
Regardless of tomorrow’s outcomes, the Canadians cannot finish higher than fourth place because their goal differential is too low against the Americans and Swiss, which are the only teams they could hope to catch. It is the first time in U18 history that the Canadians will play in the relegation round. Previously, their lowest finish at the event was sixth in 2002.
Switzerland knew today’s game was their chance to make it to the playoff round and came out firing in the first period, jumping out to a 2-0 lead. Samuel Guerra put in the first goal midway through the stanza, and Sven Bartschi followed with the 2-0 tally on the power play with 59 seconds left. The lead was particularly impressive considering the fact that the Swiss spent much of the period shorthanded, getting whistled for six minors.
Seven was the lucky number for Belarus in the second period as they capitalized on their seventh power-play chance when Artut Gavrus scored at the 3:34 mark to cut the lead in half. Stanislav Lopachuk put in the 2-2 power-play goal early in the third period and the crowd in the full Bobruisk arena went wild.
Belarus kept the crowd, and the Swiss, on edge until Hachler struck with the late game-winner. Belarus pulled its goaltender for the extra attacker in the waning moments, but couldn’t get the 3-3 goal.
The preliminary round wraps up tomorrow with Sweden and Canada facing off, followed by USA against Belarus.
Slovakia – Latvia 4-3 (1-0, 2-2, 1-1)
MINSK – In a game that could prove to be a key to avoiding relegation, Slovakia beat Latvia 4-3. Should Slovakia end up in the relegation round, they would carry the three points with them from today’s win to the four-team round robin group.
The win was also important for keeping the Slovakian hopes alive to make the playoff round – if they beat Russia tomorrow, it could create a three way tie between Slovakia, Russia and the Czech Republic, which would be decided by goal differential. For the Latvians things are clearer, with a winless record in the preliminary round, they are headed to the relegation round.
Latvia staged a massive rally, coming back from a 3-0 deficit with a pair of quick goals at the end of the second period, followed by the game-tying, power-play goal midway through the third from Kristers Freibergs. But in the last 40 seconds of regulation, Slovakia’s Marek Tvrdon put in a puck that deflected off the post and lifted his team to the 4-3 win.
The Latvians came out strong, but couldn’t take advantage of their precious few opportunities, including a five-on-three that came up empty. Instead Dominik Simcak gave the Slovaks the 1-0 lead midway through the period, with a power-play effort. Thomas Mautosek was quick to double the lead in the second period, striking just 1:48 into action. Michal Toman nudged the lead up to 3-0 as the Slovaks seemed to have things well under control.
But just like in their game against the Czech Republic, Latvia bounced back. In a blink of any eye, the Latvians went from down by three to within one goal, all in the last 24 seconds of the second period. Zemgus Girgensons sent the crowd into a frenzy when he held the puck for the extra moment, faking out Slovakian goaltender Dominik Riecicky. Riecicky was still shaky from the 3-1 goal when Arturs Kuzmenkovs got a bobbling puck in the back of the net with eight seconds left in the period, leaving the Slovaks dumbfounded at the break.
It looked like Freibergs’ 3-3 goal would set up the first overtime of the game, but then the Tvrdon odd-bouncing goal found its way to the back of the net and it was the Latvians’ turn to look dumbfounded as another comeback fell just shy of three points.
In the last day of preliminary round action, group leader Finland will look earn a bye to the semi-finals with a win against the Czech Republic. In the late game Slovakia will have its last chance to make the playoff round with a win against Russia.