Switzerland grabbed a two-goal first period lead and stormed to a 6-0 win over Belarus on Sunday. Joel Vermin shone with two goals and an assist. Belarus is eliminated from quarter-final contention.
"We knew this would be a game where we'd have the puck more again, like against Denmark or Slovakia," said Swiss coach Patrick Fischer. "We executed well. We got the first goal, and then it got a bit sloppy until the 10-minute mark. The rest of the 50 minutes, we controlled the game pretty well."
The Swiss, who also got two-point outings from Timo Meier and Fabrice Herzog, now have 12 points and could still top Group A. They rebounded strongly from a 4-1 loss to the ROC team on Saturday.
"It's huge," said Christoph Bertschy, who scored the eventual winner. "We want to win every game, basically, but we want to get the best position for the playoff games. I think we've still got a small, small chance to finish first."
Belarus, with four points in Riga, squandered its early momentum from an historic upset over Sweden (1-0) with back-to-back losses to Great Britain (4-3) and Denmark (5-2).
On Monday, Switzerland rounds out its preliminary-round schedule against Great Britain, while Belarus faces their Russian neighbours.
In net, veteran Leonardo Genoni recorded his second win and first shutout of 2021 for Switzerland. Belarusian starter Konstantin Shostak was yanked early in the second period in favour of Alexei Kolosov. Switzerland outshot Belarus 42-20.
"Herzog and Scherwey had a good hit in the corner down there and we won our battle," said Bertschy. "When it went to Herzog again, he shot and it popped out back door. It was kind of an easy goal for me."
It was Bertschy’s first career Worlds goal in 14 games. The Lausanne HC assistant captain is coming off a career season with 23 goals and 17 assists.
"Everyone is disappointed with the way we started the game," said Belarus captain Yegor Sharangovich. "Everybody wants to win. Nobody wants to be sitting around with a miserable face like we are now. I’m sure that everyone is doing everything he can, battling to the end. But of course, losing a goal on the first shift is a big blow for the rest of the game. It takes a bit out of your legs and saps your energy."
The rest of the first period was relatively evenly played, but the Swiss still managed to extend their lead. At 18:01, Vermin went to the front of the net and banged in the rebound from a Meier blast. There was an element of deja vu here.
The last time these teams faced off at the 2018 Worlds in Copenhagen, Switzerland won 5-2. Vermin scored twice and Meier added a goal and two assists. That was a particularly disheartening loss for the Belarusians, who had just fired coach Dave Lewis and replaced him with Sergei Pushkov in a bid to turn things around after starting the tournament with three straight defeats. Belarus wouldn’t win a single game in 2018, outscored 36-8 en route to relegation.
At 1:09 of the second period, Sven Andrighetto capitalized on a Belarus defensive zone turnover, taking a pass from Vermin and zinging a high wrister past Shostak. That ended the netminder's night and Kolosov came in.
The Swiss offence kept coming. They looked more like the 1980's Soviet "Green Unit" on their fourth goal. Finishing off a fabulous sequence of precision passing, Gregory Hofmann got a feed from Enzo Corvi that he simply tapped into an empty net at 12:15. The goal was Hofmann's fifth of these Worlds, tying him with Great Britain's Liam Kirk for the overall lead.
About Switzerland's balanced scoring beyond its NHL stars, Fischer said: "There are a lot of good players playing in Switzerland. Obviously, the players from overseas bring a big element to our team. But we are a team sport, and we live from the team."
Things got rougher and chippier as the score got out of hand. Switzerland's Philipp Kurashev and Belarus's Nikita Komarov were separately dinged for checking from behind before the middle frame ended.
In the third period, the Swiss controlled the puck, not allowing Belarus a single shot on goal until well past the halfway mark.
Vermin made it 5-0 at 12:03, going to the net and finishing off Meier's cheeky backhand feed from behind the goal line. Shorthanded, Nico Hischier split the Belarusian defence and nearly beat Kolosov, with Herzog following up to poke the puck into the gaping cage with 2:17 left.
Coincidentally, Genoni's last Worlds shutout also came against Belarus in 2017 (3-0).
"It really hurts," said Belarus's Alexei Protas. "In the locker room everyone is really disappointed. Everyone is battling for the team and wants to win. We had a couple of decent games, but since then we went backwards, making silly mistakes. But we have to keep going, keep working. We have one more game and we have to go out and play that for our fans, do everything we can to finish on a positive note."
Assistant captain Geoff Platt was the lone naturalized player who suited up for Belarus on Sunday. Sitting out were goalie Danny Taylor, defenceman Nick Bailen, and forwards Shane Prince and Francis Pare.
Belarus coach Mikhail Zakharov earlier voiced concerns about whether his imports were adequately prepared for this tournament: "You know, you have to prepare in advance for the World Championship. Unfortunately the guys didn’t hear my words about how they needed to get to camp sooner. But they understand all that themselves. They missed a lot."
Head to head with Belarus, Switzerland now owns a record of nine wins and three losses at the Worlds.