SASKATOON – Switzerland will challenge Canada in the semi-final after a sensational 3-2 victory in overtime against Russia. Nino Niederreiter scored two goals in the last minute of the third period and overtime respectively. The Russians outshot the Swiss 52-31, but didn’t have as much high-quality chances and didn’t capitalize on those they created.
It was the first Swiss victory against Russia since the 2001 World U20 Championship, when Switzerland won a placement game in Moscow 3-2.
Switzerland certainly wasn’t the favourite playing against a skilled Russian team especially without its two best-known players: injured defencemen Roman Josi and Luca Sbisa. But neither team looked like a clear favourite in the early minutes of the game and both teams created scoring chances.
Igor Bobkov (2nd in save percentage with 94.6%) and Benjamin Conz (4th, 91.3%) had both had great games, and they remained strong in the quarterfinal.
Conz faced more shots, including a Vladimir Tarasenko breakaway at 15:45, but the first period ended scoreless, partly because Russia couldn’t overcome the Swiss box play when the only two penalties of the first period were called.
Loichat’s wraparound after slow start
The middle period featured more offensive action from both teams, although the Swiss had the more dangerous rushes. Reto Schäppi tried his luck with two shots on Bobkov in the third minute of the second period, while Jeffrey Füglister missed another great opportunity two minutes later.
At 8:25 of the middle frame, much to the joy of the pro-Switzerland crowd at Credit Union Centre, it was forward Michaël Loichat who gave his country a 1-0 lead by beating Bobkov with a wraparound.
Two Russian goals within 16 seconds
The Swiss goal seemed to be the turning point of the game. The Russians have often struggled in the tournament, but delivered their best hockey when their opponents started to fare too well.
Russian captain Nikita Filatov had a big chance to tie up the game at 33:41 on a breakaway when the Swiss lost the puck in the other end, but Conz came up with the big save.
When the end of the period had almost arrived, the Russian scoring inefficiency came to an end.
Maxim Kitsyn got the puck to the Swiss net on the counter-attack and passed to Tarasenko, who scored the first Russian goal at 38:44.
Only 16 seconds later, right after the faceoff, Filatov set up Kirill Petrov for the 2-1 goal in the last minute of the period.
Niederreiter’s last-minute efforts
Petrov also was the first player to shoot a few seconds into the third period, but this time the Swiss seemed to be more prepared behind their blueline. The rest of the period saw the Swiss trying to get back into the game.
Their efforts looked doomed to failure. But with 32.3 seconds to play in the last period and Conz pulled for the extra attacker, Nino Niederreiter scored the equalizer to the cheers of the 12,278 fans, who could look forward to overtime.
Niederreiter also had the first big scoring opportunity in OT, but Bobkov caught the puck around the three-minute mark. Scoring opportunities were there on both ends and Russia head coach Vladimir Plyushchev took a time-out at 66:00 to motivate his guys for the final minute.
His strategy didn’t work. With 14.2 seconds to go, guess what happened? Niederreiter was there to score the second goal of the game and the fifth of his tournament, thanks to a great pass from captain Lukas Stoop. Although it seemed that defenceman Patrick Geering might have tipped in the puck, the goal was credited to Niederreiter to make this Cinderella story perfect.
“We are very disappointed, we had enough chances, enough good chances to win this game,” Filatov said. “It’s not about a goal with 30 seconds left. We should have decided the game in the first period already.”
No Swiss cheese
“It’s so nice to see my players celebrating. They worked so hard. We lost three of our best players with Berger, Josi and Sbisa,” Swiss coach Jakob Kölliker said. “But the team is so strong together, and the spirit we have in this team is our key to success.”
Niederreiter continued to ride high in the quarterfinals, and is currently fifth in tournament scoring with five goals and three assists.
“We played well defensively and scored the first goal. We allowed two unnecessary goals, but we came back and turned the game around,” said Niederreiter, whose first name was chanted by fans after the game. “We were fighting for our injured guys. It was so amazing to win. Speaking about us, some people were talking about Swiss cheese. But now we've showed everybody that we may be from a small country, but we can play hockey.”
Switzerland’s second star of the night was Benjamin Conz. The 18-year-old has become the starting goalie of the Swiss A-league team Langnau, and has also shown his talent in the World Juniors. Conz kept his team in the game with 50 saves (96.2%).
“This victory was something extraordinary for the whole team. It’s impossible to describe the feelings when we scored in overtime. Our team has never beaten Russia before. I just wanted to join my teammates and celebrate,” Conz said. “We are very proud that we won that game despite having lost some key players, but now we have to forget about the game and focus on the game against Canada tomorrow. We have to play defensively very well and capitalize on our chances.”
Canada-Switzerland on Sunday
Russia will play for fifth place on Monday, while the Swiss will try to challenge Canada in the first semi-final game on Sunday. The Canadians beat the Swiss in a Preliminary Round game by a 6-0 count.