Switzerland bounced back from a shootout loss to the Czechs by thumping Belarus 5-2 in Group A. The Belarusians remain pointless after shockingly making a coaching change on Tuesday.
The former Soviet republic looked in vain for a spark of inspiration the day after Dave Lewis was relieved of his duties as head coach after lopsided losses to Sweden (5-0), France (6-2), and Russia (7-0).
"I don’t know what to say," said Belarusian defenceman Vladimir Denisov. "I really don’t know. I think we started better than before and scored a quick goal. But once again we lost concentration at the end of the first and second periods, a minute before the end of the first and 15 seconds before the end of the second. In the third, we had too many penalties and couldn’t get back into the game."
Against Switzerland, Sergei Pushkov made his debut as the new head coach. The 54-year-old Pushkov, who won gold as a player with Russia at the 1993 Worlds, has coached in Russia, Norway and Belarus, and came to Copenhagen in his first go-round as a national team assistant coach.
Lewis, 64, was in his fourth season as head coach, having peaked with 2015’s seventh-place finish in the Czech Republic. The former NHL coach won three Stanley Cups as an assistant with the Detroit Red Wings (1997, 1998, 2002). However, he had faced criticism in Belarusian state media when the national team faltered.
The Swiss showed few signs of fatigue despite their tough game with the Czechs less than 24 hours earlier.
"I remember I was eating dinner at almost 1 o’clock in the morning!" said Swiss captain Raphael Diaz. "So it was a short night. Today we played at 16:15 again. You could feel maybe in the beginning we were a little bit tired. They were a little bit fresher than we were in the first period. But we showed good character. We came out strong in the second and third periods. I think it was a big win for Switzerland here."
Joel Vermin led the way with his first two career IIHF World Championship goals, and Timo Meier had a goal and two assists in his Worlds debut after his San Jose Sharks were eliminated from the NHL playoffs. Sven Andrighetto added a goal and an assist, and Diaz notched two assists.
Geoff Platt and Alexander Pavlovich replied for Belarus.
Belarus starting goalie Mikhaul Karnaukhov was far busier than his Swiss counterpart Reto Berra, with shots favouring Switzerland 45-24.
If the Belarusians were hankering to impress their new bench boss, they didn’t get off on the right foot. It took just 1:23 for Switzerland to open the scoring. Nino Niederreiter fired a quick shot from the right faceoff circle and Vermin bulled his way to the net to put in the rebound. The 26-year-old Lausanne HC forward, who played 24 games for the Tampa Bay Lightning over the previous two seasons, got some redemption after missing a penalty shot against the Czechs.
"Amazing," Diaz said of Vermin. "He’s a small but very, very smart player, a fast player. He always makes the right decisions on the ice, and I think this is really important for our team."
At 5:54, Belarus struck back with its expatriate Canadian connection. Charles Linglet grabbed the puck behind the net and threw it out front to Platt, who shook off his check to put it high past Berra.
The Belarusians made it 2-1 on a nice passing play. From the corner to Berra’s right, Alexander Materukhin found Yevgeni Kovyrshin in the high slot and he sent it in front to Pavlovich, the Belarus captain, who lifted a backhander home.
It was the first time Belarus had led in this tournament, but the glee for Pushkov's men would be short-lived. Switzerland tied it up with 1:20 left in the first period, with Andrighetto converting a rebound from an impossible angle to Karnaukhov’s right.
At 11:34 of the second period, controversy erupted when Denisov took a two-minute minor for clipping Meier with a low hit at the Belarusian blue line. The Swiss fans whistled derisively, indicating they thought more punishment was merited.
"I think it was a bit of a tough hit," Diaz said. "I’m not sure if it was hitting his knee or so, but he performed really strongly."
Meier, a 21-year-old forward who captained Switzerland at the 2016 World Juniors, carried on undaunted. He got revenge when he attempted a wraparound that was stopped by Karnaukhov, but Vermin converted the rebound on the backhand with just 15 seconds left in the middle frame for the eventual winner.
"I wanted to just go out there, play for the team, help them win," said Meier. "I tried to keep it as simple as possible, try to get my legs going early. I’m really excited we got that win tonight and now it’s nice to have two days off to settle in a little bit and get the rhythm going, beat that jet lag a little bit."
At 2:24 of the third period, Corvi stretched Switzerland's lead to 4-2 with his second goal of these Worlds. He burst in over the blue line and used Stepan Falkovski as a decoy, firing the puck through both the towering defenceman's legs and the goalie's pads.
At 6:46, Meier roofed a rebound on the power play to make it 5-2. The Belarusians challenged the play, contending it was offside, but video review confirmed the officials' original judgement, and Belarus got a two-minute minor for delaying the game.
"It goes without saying that we didn’t do what we need to around our net," said Denisov. "That’s clear, we’re conceding so many goals and so many of them from the slot. The coaches are giving us examples of how we should do things differently, and today we managed to score, but once again we allowed far too many."
With under four minutes to play, AC/DC's "Hells Bells" resounded through the Royal Arena. It was appropriate, as this has indeed been a hellish journey for Belarus so far.
On Friday, Belarus will try to secure its first points against the Czechs. On Saturday, the Swiss will face a tougher test against Olympic champion Russia, which has a 20-0 goal difference with three straight victories.
Quizzed by journalists about the perils of relegation, Denisov said: "We can’t think about Austria as the key game. We have the Czechs next. We need to prepare. How you seen the way we’re playing? We’re losing every game heavily. But what do you want us to do? Not bother turning up to play [the Czechs], take a 0-5 loss, and prepare for the Austrians?"
Looking ahead to Russia, Diaz said: "We have to play our game. We have to play really strong defensively. We know that. I think we don’t have to sit back. This is important. I’m really excited to play against one of the best teams in the world. It’s going to be fun."