Switzerland upset Finland 5-2 on New Year's Eve to finish second in Group A and move on to a quarter-final matchup with Russia on 2 January. The Finns, who came third, will face the Americans in a rematch of last year's gold medal game in Vancouver. Both games will be played in Trinec.
Objectively, it was a “pick your poison” situation, since Group B has been extraordinarily competitive and volatile. Every Ostrava team lost at least one game in regulation time, and there were multiple upsets, whereas this Swiss victory is the only true surprise from Trinec.
"Of course, we wanted to win that game, but today didn't go as well as we wanted," said Finnish coach Raimo Helminen. "But Switzerland played great. They were hanging, hanging, hanging, and stayed in the game and scored some goals. Many easy moments, you know?"
The memory of Kaapo Kakko's golden goal at Rogers Arena is still fresh and painful for the Americans, who have five returnees from 2019. Sending the Finns home early would be sweet revenge indeed.
"I'm pretty sure it's going to be a hard game," said Finnish assistant captain Toni Utunen, who scored the quarter-final overtime winner against Canada last year. "We just have to leave everything on the ice. We have beaten them this season already, so of course it's not impossible. We just need to get our heads up and play."
Against Russia, the underdog Swiss will be looking to kick off the new decade the way they kicked off the 2010s. In Regina in 2010, Nino Niederreiter's late equalizer and 3-2 overtime winner to eliminate the favoured Russians made him a Swiss World Junior icon. The current group can also take heart from last year's 2-0 quarter-final upset of Sweden in Victoria.
Swiss coach Thierry Paterlini said he was happy with his team: "The preliminary round is to get everything in place. So we had a tough game against the Kazakhs on the first day. Then against Sweden we had some problems in the D-zone. And now, it seems to be that everything is in place and we're ready to go into the quarter-finals. I'm very proud of the way we've developed over the last week."
Fabian Berri stepped up with two goals, and Gaetan Jobin, Simon Knak, and Valentin Nussbaumer also scored for Switzerland. David Aebischer and Sandro Schmid chipped in two assists apiece.
Anttoni Honka and Joonas Oden replied for Finland.
Making this win even more impressive, the hard-working Swiss played without several key team members. Defenceman Nico Gross, a four-time World Junior participant, sat out for the second straight game with an upper body injury. Forward Joel Salzgeber has a lower-body injury, but, like Gross, is expected to return for the quarter-finals.
Number one Swiss goalie Luca Hollenstein got rested before the playoffs, so Stephane Charlin got the start with Akira Schmid as his backup.
Meanwhile, Finnish goalie Justus Annunen's save percentage suffered some damage, as his team outshot Paterlini's boys 38-22.
Asked whether Charlin's strong performance complicated his goaltending decision for the quarter-finals, Paterlini said: "It's nice to have to do these kinds of decisions if both goalies are in top shape, which they are right now. So we will see tomorrow who we start on January 2."
At 12:49, Honka got Finland on the board first. The younger brother of former Dallas Stars defenceman Julius Honka blasted home a one-timer from the left faceoff circle on a feed from Ville Heinola.
However, the Swiss had no plans to surrender the way the Slovaks did to Sweden in the early game at Trinec’s Werk Arena. A wild second period lay ahead.
Just 21 seconds in, Berri cruised unimpeded into the slot and beat Annunen high to the glove side for the equalizer. At 2:18, Aebischer found Jobin streaking down the left side, and the Charlottetown Islanders forward held off defenceman Mikko Kokkonen before surprising Annunen with a high stick-side shot for a 2-1 lead.
It was a wake-up call for the Finns, who picked up their pace, from the Raty brothers to Patrik Puistola’s top-scoring line. Oden, a member of that line, parked himself in front for the 2-2 marker at 8:33, tipping in Lassi Thomson's drive.
Yet again the Swiss had an answer. Berri rejoiced after fooling Annunen from the right faceoff circle at 16:03 with a dynamite snipe to the far top corner. Finland outshot Switzerland 19-9 in the middle frame, but Charlin did an excellent job between the pipes.
"I feel like we played pretty well, but when the result is like that, there is always something wrong," Utunen said. "We got pretty good pressure, but I don't know."
In the third period, onrushing Swiss captain Tim Berni made a nice play at the blue line before finding Knak in front for the tip and a 4-2 edge with just under 10 minutes to play.
The Finns pulled Annunen for the extra attacker in vain, as Nussbaumer rounded out the scoring with an empty-netter at 19:48. He leads Switzerland with seven points.
The last time Finland lost to Switzerland was on 31 December 2013 in Malmo, Sweden. The Finns, who went on to capture gold, fell 4-3 on Claude Paschoud's shootout winner.