Swiss face Canada in semis
by Andrew Podnieks|30 AUG 2021
Canada is the overwhelming favourites, but we play these games for a reason.
photo: Andre Ringuette / HHOF-IIHF Images
“Zurich, we have a problem,” might be the signature line of a movie about Switzerland trying to defeat Canada at the 2021 IIHF Ice Hockey Women’s World Championship.

That problem is both in the past and the present. In the past, the teams have met six times and Canada has won every game. But that’s only part of the problem in the past. The greater problem is that in those six games the Swiss failed to score a single goal. Zero.

Things don’t look better in the present. The teams met in the preliminary round less than a week ago, and again Canada won by shutout, 5-0. But again, that’s not the worst. The worst is that Canada has a perfect record so far, 5-0, and have outscored its opponents by a 27-5 margin. Those 27 goals represent the highest total of any team, and those five goals are also the fewest of any team.

Canada has allowed a mere 56 shots in all five games total, a ridiculous level of defensive efficiency that amounts to an average of 11 shots against per game. In fact, goalie Emerance Maschmeyer has two shutouts in this tournament during which time she has faced a total of only 15 shots. They have the top two scorers in the tournament, Melodie Daoust with ten points and Natalie Spooner with nine. 

And worst of all for the Swiss, Canada has a chip on its shoulder the size of, well, Houston. Or Zurich. It settled for bronze two years ago and has been champing at the bit ever since to right that perceived wrong, and its dominant 5-1 win over the U.S. in the round robin made a formidable pop around the women’s hockey world.
Still, we play these games for a reason, and the Swiss can hone in a few positives to get ready for tonight’s game to leverage some signs of hope. 

And the first positive is their own play in the last game. Prior to the quarter-final game against ROC, the Swiss had lost all four games and scored one paltry goal, that by injured star Alina Muller. Muller’s right foot is in a plastic cast, but she is now the loudest cheerleader in the building and prodding her team on from the seats, facemask and boot and all.

That game against ROC went as expected for two periods, the Swiss trailing 2-0 and showing few signs they could score against what looked like a superior ROC team. But in the third, the Swiss came to life, scored twice to force overtime, and then scored a beauty in the three-on-three fourth period to advance. In short, they have momentum and confidence, which they’ll need tonight.

They also know they are massive underdogs. Nothing is expected of them, so they can play freely and with a sense of joy for having gotten this far and knowing they’ll play for a medal tomorrow night, win or lose.

Despite their sensational play, though, the Canadians do have a couple of soft spots. They have only one power-play goal in the entire tournament (18 chances), and even that came on a five-minute major against a 16-skater German team. All that skill and firepower have failed to dominate with the extra skater, which is just weird, but it can also be a source of some optimism for the Swiss. 

As well, Canada has incurred 24 minor penalties in its five games, meaning it has been short-handed about nine and a half minutes of every game. That also bodes well for the Swiss, even though their power play has been an anaemic 1-for-17 so far.

Lastly, the Swiss have two sensational goalies who, on any given Monday, can keep their team in the game. Saskia Maurer has probably earned the start, but Andrea Braendli has also been sensational.

What does Canada have to do to win? Simple. Keep playing as they have been. Keep the foot on the gas, score early to take hope away from the Swiss, and power through the finish line.

And what do the Swiss need to do to score a massive upset? Get great goaltending, follow the leadership of captain Lara Stalder, somehow get pucks to the net and hope for a good bounce, and hope Canada has an off day.

Canada is the heavy favourite for a reason, but the Swiss got to the same place and before puck drop the score is 0-0. After that, who knows? But one thing is for sure – the winner will play in the gold-medal game tomorrow night.