STOCKHOLM – Switzerland has done the improbable. Paced by exceptional defence and timely scoring, Switzerland defeated Czech Republic 2-1 in the first quarter-final game of the 2013 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship in Stockholm, Sweden.
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Switzerland now faces Team USA in the semi-finals on Saturday.
Head coach Sean Simpson has taken this team from 11th place in 2012 to its first semi-final appearance since 1998 on the momentum of eight straight wins in this tournament.
"It’s nice to be back in the quarter-finals," said Simpson. "This time we had a different game for the result and the team really showed that it wanted to go further in the tournament. Switzerland has often been stuck in the quarter-finals and couldn’t make the hump to the semi-finals. I’m proud that this team has done it."
Switzerland’s last quarter-final appearance was in 2010, losing 1-0 to Germany.
Last year the Czech Republic made the quarter-finals where they beat Sweden here in Stockholm on their way to a bronze medal.
"Switzerland showed great hockey throughout the tournament and they showed it today again." Said Czech head coach Alois Hadamczik. " They deserved to win the game, they were more aggressive in two periods."
The game started slow as both teams were cautious and feeling out the other. As teams employ their system driven game plans, the quarter-finals reveal those teams most successful in adhering to and improving upon their system.
Switzerland made it 1-0 when Denis Hollenstein scored.
Severin Blindenbacher’s thread the needle pass to Hollenstein out the Swiss out in front. Hollenstein continued his consistent offensive contributions to his team. For Hollenstein, who was tied for the team lead in scoring coming into the game, it was his fourth goal of the World Championship.
Shots were low in the period but both sides had chances down low. The next best chance of the period went to Switzerland.
Swiss forward Reto Suri left the penalty box and found himself on a breakaway. Suri went forehand backhand but could not control the final move before getting a shot off. He lost the puck before he had the chance for a shot on Ondrej Pavelec. If he were to score, the game might have had a very different complexion and the Czechs in a deeper hole to come back from.
Switzerland was forced to employ their shorthanded special teams units in the first. Three minor penalties were killed off between the first and second period. Their power play that’s been the catalyst for their run in the tournament was important in the middle period and help to establish a two-goal lead.
Roman Josi, also having his finest individual performance at this tournament, made it 2-0 on the power play at 13:08. Up with a two goal lead, Switzerland would further close the door on the Czechs.
Ryan Gardner and Raphael Diaz got the assists. This was Diaz’ second game for his team after the Montreal Canadiens were eliminated from the playoffs.
"It is a real team," Simpson said of his side. "Whatever happens on the ice, they react to it. It’s not easy to play against the Czech Republic. They’ve been World Champions many times."
The Czech Republic cut the lead in the third with Zdenek Kutlak’s power play goal at 5:29. With the assist, Tomas Plekanec has four helpers in his only two games of the tournament.
Czech Republic continued to press in the period and the Swiss looked off their game. When Blindenbacher was called for a penalty, the Czech power play went to work again, gaining some additional opportunities to work their offence.
With just under four minutes left in the game, Radim Vrbata forced a turnover and took the puck in for a golden chance but lost control of the puck just before he was able to shoot.
At this point in the game with the Czechs trying to force a tie, the Swiss were trying all they could not to make a big mistake and keep the puck out of their zone.
With a minute left in the game, Pavelec went to the bench for an extra skater. Though they tried to equalize the game, the Czech Republic would fall short.
"We knew we were just 20 minutes from winning, but they got a goal on the power play," said Nino Niederreiter. "We tried to protect the lead, and it worked out well."
When the final buzzer sounded, Swiss fans in attendance were jubilant.
For Martin Gerber it was sweet vindication. He started Switzerland’s last quarter-final game that his team lost in 2010. Getting the win for his team and moving to the semi-finals against Team USA brought satisfaction.
"Our team stood together under big pressure and we also had big goaltending," said Simpson. "The team did something very special for the country today."