Swiss demolish Italy
by Lucas Aykroyd|11 MAY 2019
Kevin Fiala (left) celebrates after getting the first goal in Switzerland's tournament-opening romp over the Italians at the 2019 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship.
photo: Andre Ringuette / HHOF-IIHF Images

Switzerland jumped out to a four-goal first period lead and just kept on rolling in a 9-0 tournament-opening smackdown of Italy on Saturday.

"Today, I think we knew after 4-0 we had to keep going," said Swiss captain Raphael Diaz. "We had to keep pressing, keep playing our game, keep hitting, keep shooting, those small details."

Coach Patrick Fischer's men, who won the silver medal last year in Copenhagen, couldn't have asked for much more as they begin their pursuit of back-to-back medals for the first time in the modern era. At a time when IIHF World Championships were not staged in Olympic years, Switzerland earned silver in 1935 and bronze in 1937, and three consecutive bronzes in 1950, 1951 and 1953. Is it time to make some 21st-century history?

This was, in fact, the most lopsided Swiss win over Italy in Worlds history. The previous one was 8-1 on 7 May 2001 in Hanover, Germany. Switzerland also previously defeated Italy 16-0 at the 1948 Olympics.

"We had some games before where we were leading in games against teams like this who we have to beat," said Switzerland's Joel Genazzi. "Today we really respected them, we were confident and we wanted to learn from our mistakes in the past and not just play the first period really good. We wanted to finish the game hard and I think we did that for 60 minutes."

Kevin Fiala stepped up with his first IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship hat trick and an assist. Nico Hischier and Vincent Praplan had a goal and two assists apiece. Gregory Hoffman, Lino Martschini, Simon Moser, and Romain Loeffel also scored for Switzerland.

"It's awesome," assistant captain Roman Josi said of Fiala's explosion. "He's a huge piece on our team. He's a great forward. You give him a little too much space and he's going to make you pay. He showed it tonight. We need him to keep going in this tournament. It's great for him to have a start like that."

Andres Ambuhl, celebrating his 100th World Championship game, also added two assists. This is the 35-year-old forward's 15th elite Worlds, which ties him for second-most all-time with Finland's Petteri Nummelin and Denmark's Morten Green.

En route to the shutout, Swiss goalie Reto Berra had a far easier afternoon than his Italian counterpart Andreas Bernard. Switzerland outshot Italy 61-19. The newly promoted Italians visibly struggled with the pace.

Switzerland vs. Italy - 2019 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship
SUI ITA 11 MAY 2019

In front of 8,463 fans at Ondrej Nepela Arena, it only took 1:17 for Fiala to open the scoring, breaking away on a sweet stretch pass from Josi and beating Bernard with a backhand deke. It was an auspicious start for the offensive-minded 22-year-old Minnesota Wild forward, who entered this game with just two goals in 20 career Worlds games.

"It was a sick move on his backhand," said Diaz.

At 7:24, Hoffman made it 2-0, moving through the low slot and deflecting Genazzi’s long shot past the goalie’s right pad.

Berra did his part, foiling Italy’s Joachim Ramoser when he got in tight on a solo jaunt. Moments later, Martschini came whizzing in from the neutral zone and used Italian defenceman Luca Zanatta as a decoy to slide a wrister through Bernard at 10:06.

To make it 4-0 on the power play with just six seconds left in the opening stanza, Ambuhl accepted Fiala’s drop pass in the left faceoff circle and fired a wrister that went in off Praplan. It was an excellent Swiss period.

Genazzi explained how the Swiss are pushing themselves to excel: "I think there’s more expectation. Teams probably don’t underestimate us now, so we better be ready from the start. This is our job. And of course in our country they are talking about what happened last year. But we put the pressure on our team ourselves, from the inside, and we don’t really listen from the outside. We just know what we want and we gotta be ready."

The Swiss remained relentless early in the middle frame, capitalizing on poor Italian coverage around Bernard’s crease.

At 1:36, an unguarded Simon Moser put in the loose puck after an Ambuhl shot, and 18-year-old defenceman Janis Moser, who played his first World Juniors this season, collected his first World Championship point. Less than two minutes later, Fiala banged in another rebound for a 6-0 lead.

In the third period, Italy kept sinking faster than Venice. Fiala completed his hat trick on the power play at 1:14 with a neat little goal line dangle. At 6:55, Loeffel's one-timer from the right faceoff circle squeezed through Bernard for an 8-0 lead. Hischier sniped home the 9-0 goal off the rush at 9:43.

Diaz cautioned against overconfidence: "Last year in the group, it was tight too. It was very tight. We played the last group game against France and we had to win that. Otherwise, we would not be in the quarter-finals, you know? So we know that it's going to be tight games."

Although the Swiss, who won silver at last year’s Worlds, are clearly a superior hockey nation, this cross-border rivalry with Italy is actually less lopsided than you might assume – in the grand scheme of history.

On the one hand, Italy hasn’t defeated Switzerland at the Worlds since a 3-2 win in 1995 and has an all-time record of three wins and five losses. On the other hand, in their last Olympic meeting in Turin 2006, the Italians achieved a 3-3 tie with the same Swiss team that stunned Canada 2-0 and the Czechs 3-2. In Olympic play, Italy’s record versus Switzerland is one win, one tie, and one loss.

However, confining our attention to 2019, it definitely appears that Italy will be hard-pressed to stay afloat. On Sunday, the Italians face defending champion Sweden, while Switzerland takes on Latvia.

"Tomorrow's a different game, different team," Josi said. "We need to work on things. We need to play even better tomorrow. We know Latvia is a really good team. So it's one win, nothing more. We've gotta keep going."

Switzerland vs. Italy - 2019 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship