The goalie, who plays for the Black Wings Linz in the EBEL, was making only his third appearance in top level World Championship and this was by far his best. Throughout the game he put up solid resistance – sometimes almost single-handed – to the Swiss offence, keeping Austria in with a chance despite a shot count that became lopsided in the second period and never evened out.
And he earned the plaudits from his team-mates, with Peter Schneider leading the praise. "He was awesome. Our goalies, I think, every game so far, have held us in the game. We've got to help them a lot more," he said. "I just know we can play a lot better. We've got to play our system a little bit better. We can't have odd-man rushes against. That's not what our system is built on. We've got to work on that."
"In the first period we didn’t come out as we wanted and they kept the game tight," said Switzerland's Simon Moser. "After that I think we were the better team and we created a lot of chances. We didn’t put the puck in until the end so it was a close game but I think that overall we were the better team.
"Teams like Austria always come hard at the beginning but the bigger teams can just keep going with the way they play. They make them tired and normally there’s a chance to get one or two goals. They came right at the end for us today but that’s how it goes. Austria had some good goaltending and that’s what you need to stay in the game."
Switzerland, looking to defeat its Alpine neighbour for the second World Championship in a row, tried to get an early grip on the game. The first power play of the game saw the Swiss flexing their muscles with Gregory Hofmann going close to opening the scoring. There was also a presentable chance for Sven Andrighetto, freshly arrived from Colorado to add to the Swiss offence.
However, Austria has often been a stubborn opponent in IIHF play. Last season it took the Swiss to overtime in a game that offered few indications that a silver medallist was in the building. Moreover, Enzo Corvi’s overtime winner handed Switzerland its first World Championship victory over Austria since 1993. Head coach Roger Bader rang the changes for his line-up, resting Thomas Hundertpfund and Konstantin Komarek to bring in Alexander Cijan and Benjamin Baumgartner.
And he saw his team dig in to frustrate the Swiss in the opening frame. It didn’t always make for an absorbing spectacle, but the Austrians blunted an attack that had swashbuckled its way to 12 goals in two games at the start of the tournament. Bader’s men seemed destined to get to the intermission with the scoresheet still blank but a last-gasp effort gave Switzerland the edge.
It was the top line, always a threat in Bratislava, that fashioned the opening. Vincent Praplan brought play down the left and, under pressure in centre ice, managed to get the puck to Nico Hischier. His goal had clinched a Swiss win over Latvia in the previous game and here he turned provider to pick out Fiala for an instinctive one-timer between the hash marks. Kickert could do nothing as the Minnesota forward went top shelf for his fourth goal of the competition, adding to the hat-trick he scored on Italy in the first game.
Austria got to the third period against Latvia with the game still alive and it found itself in a similar place here. Against Latvia, quick goals took the game away but here the Austrians stepped up and looked to put some pressure on the Swiss net. A power play early in the session handed a glorious chance to tie the scores. It got even better when Yannick Weber joined Praplan in the bin, giving 24 seconds of 5-on-3 to Bader’s team. Weber, part of Switzerland’s top defensive pair, also took a 10-minute misconduct tariff for his boarding indiscretion. However, Austria’s own discipline let it down and a hooking minor for Thomas Raffl neutralised the bulk of the advantage and ultimately left his team on the penalty kill.
"1-0 is always a dangerous scoreline," said Hischier. "In the end we were relieved to get it to two. It's the three points that count, though, because there are hard games coming."
Kickert continued to deny Switzerland until the 54th minute when a cruel deflection off an Austrian skate took Josi’s slap shot away from the young goalie and pushed the lead to 2-0. Austria had managed just 16 shots in this game and a solitary goal all tournament; a revival from here seemed improbable and the Swiss duly added two late power play goals. Philipp Kurashev's made it three with a neat finish before Andrighetto celebrated his arrival with a last-minute tally to complete a 4-0 victory.
Hischier made sure to grab the puck with which Kurashev scored his first World Championship goal. "I was really happy for Kurashev," he added. "Philipp’s a great guy. I used to play juniors with him and we’re good friends. He’s working hard, he’s a really good player and I’m happy for him to get this first one. It was a great play from him."
As for the team's progress, Hischier is anticipating more hard work to come. But after three wins from three games, it's mostly about refining a successful template.
"I would say we need to work on the power play but I think our D-zone structure is really good, we need to keep that going," he said. "Our PK is really good too so it’s probably just little details we have to do better. We’re playing good hockey, we play our identity and that’s what we have to do."
The result lifts last year's silver medallist to the top of Group B alongside Russia. Both nations have three wins from three games. Reto Berra collected a shut-out with 18 saves as Austria remains winless from three outings and has just two goals from the tournament so far.