Right now Swiss hockey is in dreamland. Since 2013’s silver-medal run in Stockholm, the country has not had much to cheer on the ice. This year’s Olympic display, stopped by a German goal in overtime in the qualification round, did little to inspire confidence: Switzerland only managed to beat Korea and struggled in its other games, including a 1-5 loss against Canada. But there were changes afoot. Patrick Fischer came to Denmark with a young roster – average age just 24 – and has seen the team grow-up before his very eyes. A 3-2 quarter-final success over a hotly-tipped Finland team has the Swiss hopping towards a first medal chance in five years.
Not everyone is surprised.
Captain Raphael Diaz described reaching the semi-final as “beautiful” and paid tribute to the teamwork that overcame Finland.
“We got the momentum on our side and you start to feel that on the bench,” he said. “Every time a line puts in a good shift that momentum grows and it brought us a sensational team performance.
“The Finns had two strong lines of NHL players and they orchestrated the offence, but again [Leonardo] Genoni was strong in goal for us to keep us in the game.”
The quarter-final win against Russia, 5-4 in overtime, was a thriller for the fans. It wasn’t so great for the players, though, as the Russians kept battling back in a game where Canada was never behind but could not put the opposition away in regulation.
For O’Reilly, that was an important lesson. “We have to raise our defensive game,” he said. “We can’t be giving up as much. We don’t need to go a whole lot deeper, we have to stay aggressive when we have the lead, but we have to shut the door.”
Complacent Canadian fans might also do well to remember the teams’ last World Championship encounter in Paris 12 months ago. On that occasion, Canada roared into a 2-0 first period lead through Ryan O’Reilly and Mitch Marner, only to see the Swiss strike back. Fabrice Herzog, missing in Denmark due to injury, scored twice, including an overtime winner, to give Switzerland the verdict.