STOCKHOLM – They did it. In a semi-final game featuring two teams challenging history, Switzerland defeated Team USA 3-0 to advance forward to their first opportunity for gold since 1935.
Whatever the outcome in the final game against Sweden will be, it will be the first World Championship medal for the Swiss in exactly 60 years.
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Nino Niederreiter’s second period goal and Reto Berra’s 29 saves led the Swiss side to its ninth consecutive win in this tournament. Switzerland remains unbeaten at the 2013 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship.
"We knew we’re for a hard battle tonight," said head coach Sean Simpson, who has earned a place of distinction in Swiss hockey history. "We knew we had to bring one of our best performances in the tournament and our players did that. We skated hard and stuck to the system and showed desire to win the game and to do something for Swiss hockey and for Switzerland itself. To get to this part of the tournament is something very special for the country."
Switzerland has been impressive with its balanced scoring, defence and goaltending. They have beaten the best some of the best in the world, including Sweden and Canada. They reached the semi-finals after besting the Czech Republic.
"We have a lot of patience. We have a lot of trust in our teammates," said forward Ryan Gardner. "Every line is producing and playing strong defensively. It's a good feeling."
The Americans earned their spot here on the strength of its quarter-final thrashing of Russia. They have brought a gutty, hard working ethic to this tournament with a lineup of young men ready to prove themselves on the world stage.
To start the game Team USA was slow out of the gate. Defensive zone turnovers plagued Team USA and allowed best chances for Switzerland.
Switzerland came out ready to press the USA in the first period. They were hard on the puck, causing American turnovers that would lead to quality scoring chances. In the period, Switzerland outshot Team USA 18-9, taking the play to their opponents.
"Switzerland played an outstanding hockey game from the start to the finish," said head coach Joe Sacco. "It took us a little way to get up to their speed. There was no easy ice available out there tonight. We didn’t get enough offensive zone time tonight partly because of our fault partly because Switzerland played well defensively."
John Gibson, getting the start once again, was a major factor in the period. He singlehandedly kept his team in the game. The 19-year-old Gibson was a huge factor in goal.
"John Gibson was exceptional," said Sacco. "He’s played well every game in this tournament so far. That says a lot about this young goaltender and his maturity level."
Julian Walker appeared to hit the crossbar with a shot less than two minutes into the contest. The play was reviewed at 17:26 when a whistle stopped play and ruled no goal. Ryan Gardner, Martin Plüss and Niederreiter had the best scoring opportunities. USA defenceman Chris Butler turned the puck over to Niederreiter who lost control stickhandling to the net.
In the second Switzerland remained relentless, continuing to pressure the Americans.
"We played smart, but we had a lot of chances in the first period we could have buried," said Gardner. "We got better throughout the tournament. That's why the big teams keep winning. We needed to grow as a team."
When Aaron Palushaj was called for charging, the potent Swiss power play was given its first chance of the game. Coming into this match, the top ranked Switzerland power play had ten goals and a 36% efficiency but in this instance, Team USA was able to kill it off.
Niederreiter put his team on the scoreboard with a beautiful wrist shot that beat Gibson glove side. Martin Plüss forced a turnover just outside the United States zone that turned into a two on one for his side. Plüss waited for the right moment to slip a pass between Matt Hunwick to Niederreiter for the score.
Team USA began the third with 1:29 remaining on its power play but could not generate the big chance down low. Then with about 11 minutes remaining, David Moss sent a shot on goal that hit the crossbar.
As the USA settled they were able to get on track but penalties in the first half of the third period meant they had to work with a man down.
Then it came. Julian Walker who hit tie crossbar to start the game was sent off to the races with an outlet pass from Philippe Furrer. He wound up and took a slap shot in stride that Gibson had no chance to stop and putting the game further out of reach.
The Americans did not give up. Nate Thompson and Paul Stastny worked chances with under two minutes but Berra would not yield. The USA pulled Gibson for an extra skater but it was Reto Suri plunked in an empty netter.
Berra earned his fourth win of the tournament and improved his sparkling goals against which was already under two.
Switzerland now plays Sweden at the Globe Arena in tomorrow nights gold medal game. It was in the opening night game to start the Preliminary Round in Stockholm that Switzerland began its run to the final with a 3-2 win.
The storyline continues for this team in going up against a refreshed and renewed Sweden lineup featuring the Sedin twins. While the Swedes are surging at the right time, anything can happen in what is turning out to be an unforgettable tournament for Switzerland.
"Their team has grown over the tournament and they have the Sedin twins here now," said Simpson of the gold medal match-up. "But our team has grown too. It’s a thrill for our country to be in the final in Stockholm against Sweden. We have to prepare like we always have and hope for the best game."
Swiss President Ueli Mauer, who was in attendance, congratulated Simpson after the game.