QUEBEC CITY – On a Saturday night when Canadian Francophone pride was on display, Switzerland coolly commandeered its way to a 4-1 win over France at the Colisée.
Fans in French colours loudly competed with their Swiss counterparts. A large pro-France contingent occupied former Montreal Canadiens goalie Cristobal Huet’s end of the rink, singing, clapping, and chanting slogans like “Allez les bleus!” The Swiss fans, in a section to goalie Martin Gerber’s right, countered with “Hopp Schwitz!” Huet got the biggest cheers during the pre-game roster announcements, still popular in this onetime colony of France.
Yet when the puck was dropped, none of that mattered. Switzerland’s superior speed, conditioning, and skills wore down their opponents.
Huet was under siege all night, making 44 saves. Gerber, who played his best hockey of the year with the Ottawa Senators in their first-round loss to Pittsburgh, earned the win with 25 saves.
“This was probably the toughest game for me all season,” said Huet. “I haven’t faced that many shots all year.”
Switzerland’s all-time World Championship record versus France improved to five wins, four losses and one tie.
The two rivals got off to a up-tempo, physical start, with hits thrown in all three zones.
At 8:18, on a Swiss power play, Patrik Bartschi sprang Roman Wick with a tape-to-tape pass that put him behind the French defence, and he rushed in to beat Huet blocker side for a 1-0 lead.
“The first goal was really important,” said Bartschi, who finished with three points. “We knew that if the French got the first goal, then their goalie could stand on his head and shut us out.”
At 15:08, Wick nearly repeated the same sequence, but this time he was hauled down by France’s Vincent Bachet, leading to a 5-on-3 Swiss man advantage. Huet made a great stick save on Paul DiPietro, and the cheers loudened.
But at 16:54, with Switzerland enjoying a one-man advantage, Julien Sprunger set up to the left of Huet’s cage and snapped a shot past the French goalie for a 2-0 lead. It was well-deserved. The Swiss outshot France 20-6 in the opening stanza.
About three minutes into the second period, it was 3-0 when Bartschi one-timed a howitzer from the high slot.
The French started to press midway through the game, and Gerber made a sweet sliding save on a cross-crease feed to Sacha Treille. France had an extended 5-on-3 after Andres Ambuhl was exiled for four minutes for high-sticking French captain Laurent Meunier. (Meunier was cut badly enough that he had to get a new sweater, exchanging #10 for #44).
France’s Julien Desrosiers broke Gerber’s goose egg by converting a rebound at the very end of the second period, to the delight of the crowd. Video review confirmed the puck crossed the goal line before the buzzer sounded. However, Raffaele Sannitz restored Switzerland’s three-goal gap 31 seconds into the third period.
Tempers flared toward the end as the French tried for one more goal to please their supporters, with scrums bursting out around Gerber. Meunier wound up changing jerseys again, this time to #20, with about three minutes left.
“I’m proud of the way our guys dealt with the importance of the game,” said Swiss coach Ralph Krueger. “We have a really young group here this year, as we made a lot of changes. It was a huge three points for us.”
“We played against the Swiss in February and lost 5-2, so we knew they’d have a good team,” said French coach Dave Henderson. “Having just been promoted from Division I, we knew we didn’t have the experience to compete on this level. We came here looking for experience.
Next up, May 5 sees Switzerland taking on Belarus and France facing Sweden.
Reported attendance was 9,367.