BUFFALO – "We want USA! We want USA!" shouted Canadian fans as time wound down. They'll get their wish in 24 hours, but it won’t be for gold, only a trip to gold.
Canada defeated Switzerland 4-1 this afternoon at HSBC Arena setting up a re-match of the 2011 gold-medal game between Canada and the United States tomorrow night at 7:30 pm. Get your tickets now before they’re gone.
"It’s going to be a tremendous game tomorrow same it was last year," said Ryan Johansen. "We’re really looking forward now and start preparing. They have been one of the top teams of this tournament in the last few years."
Coming into the game, Canada had a perfect 18-0-0 record against Switzerland in U20 history dating back to 1980. The aggregate goals totals of 122-32 were strong evidence of just how heavily-favoured Canada was before the game.
But this Swiss team was different. Persistent and resistent, strong, and confident, it gave Canada all it could handle before going down. Goalie Benjamin Conz, 19 and still undrafted, was the star of the game for the Swiss, stopping 46 of 50 shots. Ryan Johansen, Casey Cizikas, and Louis LeBlanc scored for Canada, one a period, after Inti Pesoni opened the scoring early for the Swiss.
Zack Kassian, back in the lineup after serving a two-game suspension, added an empty netter to close out the game.
"It was a tough game for us," said captain Nino Niederreiter. "Everybody was pretty tired at the end. I think we had a great effort from the whole team."
Canada’s goaltending woes were as evident at the start of the game as had been the case all tournament. Coach Dave Cameron started Mark Visentin in place of Olivier Roy, who had struggled throughout the tournament, but just 69 seconds into the game Visentin spotted the Swiss a goal.
Pestoni got a puck from behind the Canadian goal and backhanded a light shot that dribbled between Visentin’s blocker and post and in as the goalie went down on the play to cover the short side.
"I thought we were nervous at the start," admitted coach Dave Cameron. "Giving up that first goal gave us a chance to see how he [Visentin] could handle the pressure."
The Swiss gave Canada a great chance to come right back by taking two quick penalties, but the Canadians couldn’t muster much of an attack with the two-man and then one-man advantage. Later in the period, though, they shook off the cobwebs to tie the game on another power play.
Brayden Schenn passed to Ryan Johansen in the slot. Johansen was covered by two Swiss players, but he outwitted the pair to get a quick shot off and fool goalie Conz between the pads at 15:06. Canada dominated the rest of the period after its sluggish start, but as the teams went to the dressing room after the opening 20 minutes, the Swiss had to be happy with how the game had gone through one period.
The second period went almost perfectly for the Swiss. Almost. Although Canada dominated puck possession and scoring chances, few of those chances were serious threats to break the 1-1 tie. The Swiss played determined team defence, aggressive on the puck carrier and limiting their opponent’s time to make choices with the puck. And the clock wound down and down.
At the same time, the Canadian defence limited the Swiss attack for the most part and gave Visentin an easy 20 minutes of play. Finally, though, with two and a half minutes left in the period, Canada got the chance and seized it.
Casey Cizikas collected the puck coming in over the Swiss blue line on a two-on-one, but the look in his eyes suggested a pass was not going to happen. He drifted in on goal, the defenceman slid to cut off the pass, and Cizikas roofed a shot over the glove of the right-catching Conz at 17:28 for a 2-1 Canada lead.
Canada got the insurance goal it needed early in the third on a routine cycle. Cody Eakin spotted Louis LeBlanc at the top of the circle from the corner of the Swiss end and got him the puck, and LeBlanc fired a quick shot that beat Conz between the pads again at 4:17.
"It was a great pass to the slot," said LeBlanc. "We played a few times together in summer camps, so there’s some chemistry between me and him."
As for the semi-finals, Cameron wants to see more from his team. "It all comes down to how we play. We have to be consistent. We have to be aware what it takes to win."