STOCKHOLM – Switzerland’s key players made sure their team stays in the top division. Sabrina Zollinger scored a hat trick and added an assist, Phoebe Stänz scored one, set up three, and showed a moonwalk on skates, as Switzerland beat Japan 5-1 in Game 3 of the best-of-three series in the regulation round.
“We felt a lot of pressure before the game but our coach did a good job helping us, and getting us focused on playing our game the best we can,” Stänz said.
A relegation round loss must be one of the cruelest ones out there. Sure it stings to lose a final, or a bronze game, but at least there are always those who have it even worse. Not so for the loser of the relegation round, in this case Japan.
In the best-of-three series, Switzerland won the first game, with Japan taking home the second game convincingly, 5-1.
“We often get scored a few goals in a row like in the Game 2 of the relegation series, and when Japan got five, it was just too much for us,” said Stänz, who, together with Lara Stalder, led the team in scoring with three goals and four assists in the tournament.
But on Saturday, none of that mattered. The only thing that mattered was winning that game.
Japan started the game strong, though, pushing Switzerland to their heels early in the game, but they didn’t manage to beat Tamara Klossner in Switzerland’s goal. Switzerland clawed their way back in to the game, and with 2:33 remaining in the first period, and Switzerland playing shorthanded, Zollinger made it 1-0 off a great feed by Stänz, who had just seconds earlier missed a great chance on a breakaway.
In her first shift of the second period, Stänz floated the puck between a Japanese defenceman’s legs, then beat Ai Tokoro with a wrist shot from two meters to give Switzerland a 2-0 lead, ending her goal celebration in a moonwalk.
Zollinger got her second of the game at 5:50 when Stänz again found her with a long pass behind the net when Japan’s Shiori Koike was in the penalty box. Zollinger stepped up to the front of the net and made it 3-0, forcing Japan to make a goalie change, and put Shizuka Takahashi into the net.
“Today, we forechecked well, and managed to keep the puck down low, close to their net like we wanted,” Stänz said.
With less than five minutes remaining in the game, Zollinger finished her hat trick off another beautiful pass from Stänz, who found Zollinger alone at the far post on power play, 15:29 into the second period.
But Japan refused to give up. In the next shift, Stalder - who collected two assists - threw herself on to the ice and tripped a Japanese forward on a breakway, giving Japan a chance to score on a penalty shot. However, Klossner got a piece of Seika Yuyama’s wrist shot that then hit the post.
Nodoka Abe gave Japan hope with her goal at 17:14, but Switzerland didn’t have big problems protecting their lead in the third period.
Instead, Sarah Forster made it 5-1 with a slap shot from the blueline, assisted by Stalder, collecting her seventh point of the tournament, and Zollinger, getting her fourth point of the game.
Switzerland hangs on to its top division spot, while Japan gets relegated to Division I.
“We’re going to lose a few players, but at the same time, we have some good young players coming up, so we’ll be back next year, even stronger,” Stänz said.