CALGARY – Switzerland edged Denmark 4-3 in overtime in an entertaining game to avoid relegation Monday.
Switzerland has now five points, ensuring it won’t be relegated, while Denmark gained confidence before its deciding battle against Latvia on Wednesday.
Tanner Richard, the Swiss-born son of former Washington Capitals forward Mike Richard, scored the game winner in overtime while Vancouver Canucks prospect Nicklas Jensen netted two goals for Denmark.
"Right now we are very disappointed. We feel we could have won this game in regulation," Jensen said. "We had a lot of pressure in the third and had some shifts where we really dominated. We were the team with the best chances at the end. It's too bad we couldn't win."
Despite playing in the Relegation Round, the teams gave the 9,398 fans at the Saddledome an entertaining game. They created lots of scoring chances, while the defence of both teams was reminiscent of Swiss Emmental cheese in the first period.
The Swiss opened the first hole when the Danes put themselves on the scoreboard after just 70 seconds of play with their second scoring chance. Thomas Spelling’s and Patrick Bjorkstrand’s lateral passes put Oliver Bjorkstrand in an ideal position to score on Swiss netminder Tim Wolf.
The younger of the coach’s two sons became one of the youngest goal scorers in World U20 history. With 16 years and eight months he’s just four months older than Sidney Crosby when he netted his first goal at the World Juniors.
The Swiss recovered from the early setback and equalized 35 seconds later. Danish goalie Sebastian Feuk blocked a shot from Lino Martschini, but Cédric Schneuwly scored on the rebound for his first goal of the tournament.
"It was huge relief. We told ourselves before the game we want to finish (the relegation battle) today, but we knew the Danes would come out hard," Schneuwly said. "We tried to become better, but it was jinxed somehow. Luckily it was enough to win in the end."
Two minutes later the Swiss seemed to be on track to turn the game around when Alessio Bertaggia deked Danish defenceman Anders Thode and shot the puck into the top-left corner. But Jensen made it 2-2 three minutes before the end of the first period with a shot from the blueline on the power play.
"We knew we needed to play well today," said Wolf, who saved 32 shots. "Today, we did the small things well. We were really fighting for the puck better."
Switzerland regained the lead two minutes after the intermission when Emil Kristensen hooked Gaëtan Haas on a breakaway attempt. Haas crushed into the boards and had to leave the ice, but Gregory Hofmann executed the penalty shot well, beating Feuk with a nice wrist shot.
The Danes reacted first with a couple of shots during a man advantage and some minutes later eventually scored the 3-3 goal when Jensen outpaced the Swiss defence.
The Swiss had some bad luck when a goal was not allowed due to a high stick midway through the game and they hit the post a few minutes later. But the game could have turned in any direction, despite improving defence from both sides during the course of the game after the offensive spectacle in the first period.
The Danish underdogs were dangerous especially during their power plays, as the Swiss took three times as many penalties than the Danes. The Scandinavians were often closer to the goal in the third period and Wolf made a great pad save against Jannick Christensen with one minute left in regulation time to lead his team to the extra time.
Switzerland already knew they would stay in the top division by reaching a 3-3 tie in regulation time and gaining one point at least.
Richard notched the second point for Switzerland when he scored the game winner on a rebound at 3:27 of the extra time.
Switzerland has now five points to qualify for the 2013 IIHF Ice Hockey U20 World Championship in Ufa, Russia, while Denmark needs to beat Latvia in two days.
"We have to take the positives from this game and play hard against Latvia. We can't worry about the past. We have to focus on Latvia," said Jensen.
The Swiss will meanwhile play for seventh place in the tournament against the United States the same day.
"It was tough playing today for us. We wanted to make the medal round," Switzerland's head coach Manuele Celio said.
"We always play well against the top teams, but against teams of our level or a little lower we don't play as well as we should. It's a mental problem. We have to learn how to play with elite teams. We're a young team, but this will be good for next year."