It was the first upset of the 2019 IIHF World Junior Championship, and it was a biggie. Switzerland defeated Sweden 2-0 on Wednesday in Victoria to advance to the semi-finals.
"It feels great," said Switzerland's Yannick Bruschweiler. "We played perfect as a team. It's a great experience."
Bruschweiler and Luca Wyss scored for Switzerland, which will face the winner of the Canada-Finland quarter-final at Rogers Arena on Friday.
"They're both a big challenge, but I think it doesn't matter who we play there," said Swiss captain Nando Eggenberger. "We can beat also Canada or Finland. It doesn't matter. We want to win the semi-finals now and go to the final."
Swiss goalie Luca Hollenstein shone with his second shutout of the tournament, while Sweden's Samuel Ersson suffered his first defeat. Final shots on goal favoured Sweden 41-35.
Of Hollenstein, Eggenberger said: "Today he was like a kind of magician."
The Swiss have only defeated Sweden in an elimination game at the World Juniors once before – 21 years ago. Famously backstopped by David Aebischer, they edged Sweden 2-1 on Bjorn Christen's quarter-final shootout goal and went on to win their lone bronze medal in 1998.
After hard-fought losses to the Czechs, Canada, and Russia in Vancouver, coach Christian Wohlwend’s hard-working Swiss team finally got rewarded with a win over a medal contender.
The Juniorkronorna, who settled for silver last year against Canada in Buffalo, will go home empty-handed this year. British Columbia, apparently, is not Sweden's lucky Canadian province. It's the first time they haven't finished in the top four since the 2006 tournament in Vancouver. That was also the last time they were shut out in a quarter-final (1-0 by Finland's Tuukka Rask).
"Congrats to Switzerland," said Swedish coach Tomas Monten. "I think they got the game where they wanted. They grew from it, and they worked really hard. We couldn't compete at the same level. I think we lost our tempo with the puck."
After playing without five flu-afflicted skaters in a 4-1 win over Kazakhstan on New Year’s Eve, the Swedes iced a full roster for this do-or-die game. But they didn't appear to be operating at full tilt.
Monten’s team extended Sweden's record preliminary-round winning streak to 48 games, but that's no consolation now. Sweden's only two World Junior gold medals came in 1981 (Germany) and 2012 (Calgary).
Sweden entered this quarter-final with the tournament’s third-best power play (4-for-13, 30.7 percent), but it was silenced by the aggressive Swiss penalty-kill.
"We watched a lot of clips before the game against them," said Bruschweiler. "We knew we had to protect the slot very well because they make passes through the zone."
"I realized that I had a lot of space," said Bruschweiler. "Most of the forwards had gone and changed from Sweden. I knew I could skate. I skated at the defence and there was a really big gap. I knew I could use him as a screen a bit. I just shot it in the net."
In the second period, both goalies put on a skills clinic. Toward the end of a Swedish man advantage, Hollenstein came across to rob Lucas Elvenes with a glove stop, and then Ersson foiled Valentin Nussbaumer coming out of the sin bin on a solo jaunt.
"You guys maybe expected that Akira Schmid would play, but I told you yesterday Hollenstein would play," said Wohlwend. "Hollenstein is an unbelievable goalie also, totally underrated in world hockey. He kept us in the game."
At 13:59, the Swiss went up 2-0. They whacked away frantically next to Ersson's left post and Wyss squeezed it in, launching himself joyfully into the glass afterwards. It was Wyss's first game. He had a concussion in the pre-tournament phase and was just registered for the quarter-final. The undrafted 19-year-old Langnau forward is making his World Junior debut.
Now you could smell an upset brewing.
In the third period, the Swedes struggled to bear down on their chances. You could tell a comeback wasn't going to happen when Fabian Zetterlund was caught from behind by Swiss defenceman Tim Berni on a great chance coming out of the penalty box, and Zetterlund's subsequent set-up for Rickard Hugg also failed.
"It's a quarter-final in the World Juniors, the most popular tournament for juniors," said Sweden's Isac Lundestrom. "So I don't think we should come here with some excuse for why we lost today. I felt we had a pretty good spirit in the group and positive things going. But it's hard. I don't know what to say."
In the dying stages, Monten pulled Ersson for the extra attacker, but to no avail. And after hearing their national anthem, the Swiss formed a circle at centre ice and joyfully clapped in unison as the fans cheered.
Sweden's three best players of the tournament were honoured: Erik Brannstrom, Emil Bemstrom, and Samuel Ersson.
The last time these two sides faced off in the playoff round, Sweden hammered Switzerland 11-4 in the 2010 World Junior bronze medal game in Saskatoon. The Swiss last beat Sweden 4-3 on 3 January 2004 in a relegation round game.
"The only thing I can point out is that we haven't practiced in like five days," said Monten. "We haven't done a practice with the whole team. We have a lot of sickness going around. Special teams, power play, faceoffs, offensive zone, details in our game, we haven't been able to practice. We only played games and then we rested. Regarding the stomach flu, it shouldn't affect us today. If the players get really tired, if we go further, that could be. But not today."
Today was Switzerland's day.