Swiss earn statement win over Slovaks
by Lucas Aykroyd|30 DEC 2019
Gillian Kohler celebrates after opening the scoring in Switzerland's 7-2 win over Slovakia at Trinec's Werk Arena during the 2020 IIHF World Junior Championship.
photo: Matt Zambonin / HHOF-IIHF Images

It was a hyped-up atmosphere at Trinec’s Werk Arena on Monday night, but despite fervent fan support, Slovakia couldn’t live up to the hype in a 7-2 loss to Switzerland.

"The noise should help us!" said Slovakia's Daniel Vladimir Tkac. "I mean, it's our fans. They're unbelievable and we just couldn't do anything for them. It's not good. That's all I can say."

This matchup was all about jockeying for a better quarter-final seed, since Kazakhstan, which finished pointless and fifth in Group A, is off to the relegation round. The Swiss now have six points to Slovakia's three.

Switzerland's Gillian Kohler set the tone with two first-period goals, and his linemates also shone. Third-time World Junior participant Valentin Nussbaumer racked up a goal and three assists, and Matthew Verboon had a goal and two assists.

"It's almost for sure third place in the group, so it feels good," Kohler said. "To score a lot of goals is good for the confidence as well."

Simon Knak, Sandro Schmid, and Mika Henauer scored the other Swiss goals, and Janis Moser registered two assists.

Swiss goalie Luca Hollenstein excelled in his second win of these World Juniors, while Slovak starter Samuel Hlavaj was pulled before the 15-minute mark. Shots favoured Slovakia 29-26.

"We told ourselves before the game that we have to stay disciplined, and in the first five minutes we took two penalties," Tkac said. "That's not how it works. You can be whatever kind of team you want, but you can't do that. You have to stay disciplined."

It was a statement win for the Swiss, who succeeded despite the absence of assistant captain Nico Gross. The big, experienced blueliner is out for the rest of the preliminary round with an upper-body injury.

On New Year’s Eve, Slovakia faces Sweden and Switzerland takes on Finland, and it will be a tall order to take any points off the Nordic medal contenders.

"The Finns are obviously a good team," said Verboon. "They won it last year. I think even if they're not necessarily the most talented, they always seem to have a great team chemistry together. And obviously they have amazing players on defence and forwards too. It's going to be a tough game for us, but I think winning 7-2 like that, it gives you a lot of confidence going in."

Slovakia vs. Switzerland - 2020 IIHF World Junior Championship

It was a hyped-up atmosphere at Trinec’s Werk Arena on Monday night, but despite fervent fan support, Slovakia couldn’t live up to the hype in a 7-2 loss to Switzerland.

SVK SUI 30 DEC 2019
At 7:55, the Swiss got on the board after outshooting Slovakia 6-0. It was a greasy goal. Captain Tim Berni’s point shot squeezed through Hlavaj’s pads and Kohler, from behind the net, pulled the puck over the line.

At 10:04, coach Thierry Paterlini’s power play cashed in. Defenceman Janis Moser dished the puck to Nussbaumer, who sent a beautiful pass to Kohler in the right faceoff circle. He buried it for his third goal of the tournament.

"I got a pass from Nussbaumer and got a bit lucky," said Kohler modestly. "Top shelf! A goal is a goal. I'll take it."

With pure opportunism, Nussbaumer ended Hlavaj’s night at 14:49, snaring a loose puck in the left faceoff circle and whipping it home before the netminder could budge. In came Slovak backup Samuel Vyletelka.

In the second period, Hollenstein continued to frustrate the Slovaks, including stopping a shorthanded rush with Robert Dzugan and Kristian Kovacik.

Slovakia certainly wasn't surrendering or lacking in grit. Near the midway mark, for instance, forward Dominik Jendek blocked Moser's rising slapper, and then rushed the puck down the ice despite being in visible pain. Unfortunately, coach Robert Petrovicky’s men continued to squeeze their sticks too hard.

At 13:21, Knak put on a stickhandling clinic in the Slovak clinic. He cut to the slot and executed a quick give-and-go with Gaetan Jobin before zinging the puck past Vyletelka for a 4-0 lead.

While playing shorthanded, Slovakia’s Oliver Okuliar finally figured out how to beat Hollenstein. When the goalie came out to play the puck, a forechecking Okuliar stripped him and dished it in front to Fasko-Rudas, who shot it into the empty net at 18:34.

That brought the crowd of 4,915 to life, but only briefly. Sandro Schmid restored Switzerland’s four-goal lead with five seconds left in the middle frame, tipping in David Aebischer’s wrist shot from the right point.

"It's an amazing feeling," Kohler said. "Even though the fans are not for Switzerland, it's still nice to play in front of a lot of fans. "

In the third period, Dzugan busted to the net to elevate the puck past Hollenstein on a nice feed from Maxim Cajkovic. The power play goal cut the deficit to 5-2 with 13:23 left.

Dzugan raised his arm in a charged-up celly in the corner, looking to spark a comeback. But even though the Swiss promptly took another minor, the Slovak PP just couldn't find the range again.

"Hollenstein did a great job," said Verboon. "I think he kept us ahead of them. When it was 5-2 there in the third period, it got a little tight and we maybe got a little nervous. We took those three penalties in a row and he really stood strong for us in net and did his job."

At 10:09, Henauer's howitzer from the centre point with the man advantage put Switzerland up 6-2. And at 12:27, Verboon padded the lead on a great solo rush. Skating into the slot, he got Vyletelka moving the wrong way before whipping the puck in.

There would be no comebacks, just lots of teenage jawing back and forth as the clock counted down.

Over the years, this rivalry has been remarkably even, dating back to the first encounter at the 1996 World Juniors, a 7-3 win for Slovakia. After this game, Switzerland boasts a slight edge all-time: six wins, one tie, and five losses.

Looking ahead to Finland, Kohler said: "We have to play the way we finished the game against Sweden. I think if we play like that, we can compete with every team. For sure it's going to be a hard game, but if we play a good game, we have a chance to take a point or maybe more."
Slovakia vs. Switzerland - 2020 IIHF World Junior Championship