Slepyshev settles opening game
by Andy Potts|09 FEB 2022
Switzerland's Simon Moser collides with ROC's Anton Slepyshev.
photo: Matt Zambonin / HHOF-IIHF Images
The defending champion made a winning start to the men's Olympic tournament in Beijing, but team ROC was held to 1-0 by Switzerland in cagey clash at the National Indoor Stadium. Only a deflected shot from Anton Slepyshev late in the first period separated the two teams on a day when goalies Ivan Fedotov and Reto Berra were on top.

Although this was far from golden hockey, experienced ROC defenceman Yegor Yakovlev was happy enough with his team's start.

"Given how long we went without a game, I thought we played OK," the 2018 gold medallist said. "When you get out of your game rhythm, the first time back is always hard. I don’t think the opposition surprised us at all. We know they are a good, quick team and we prepared for the game seriously."

For Switzerland, Yannick Weber had a succinct summary: "They got a lucky bounce and we missed an empty net. I think that's the story of the night."

Team ROC went with CSKA Moscow’s Fedotov as starting goalie and unveiled a dangerous top line of Nikita Gusev and Mikhail Grigorenko centred by captain Vadim Shipachyov. The defence included two-time Stanley Cup winner Vyacheslav Voinov, plus 2018 returnees Yakovlev and Nikita Nesterov.

Switzerland, rated by some as a medal contender here, draws its entire roster from the Swiss National League. Patrick Fischer’s team is less severely affected by the lack of NHL players, but the absence of forwards Nino Niederreiter, Kevin Fiala and Nico Hischier raised questions about the offensive power available to the team. And scoring proved to be a problem, with Fedotov making 33 saves to secure a shut-out on his Olympic debut.

"We did a lot of things right but, obviously, we didn’t score," lamented Swiss head coach Fischer. "That was our main problem today, but I’m happy with the guys. Everybody played hard. Russia is a fast, strong, physical team and our defence held up well and our goalie was stopping the pucks."

Fedotov felt that fortune played its part for him and his colleagues. “It went like we expected,” said the goaltender. “Everyone was playing to win and today luck was on our side. But we can’t rely on luck alone. We saw a lot of shots off the posts, lots of dangerous moments. In the second period that had a good spell and fired in some great shots. Only the crossbar saved me.”

After all the anticipation, this game proved to be a slow burner. Neither team was able to build much offence during a first period in which the puck rarely spent a long time in either zone. Goalscorer Slepyshev felt that Team ROC lacked thought and tactical nuance in its game, while Swiss captain Raphael Diaz felt much the same about his team.

"At the start we were not so sharp, a lot of passes were not on the tape," Diaz said. "Maybe we were a little bit nervous, of course."

The first opportunity came Switzerland’s way when 20-year-old ROC defenceman Alexander Nikishin was called for cross-checking five-time Olympian Andres Ambuhl. However, the defending champion was comfortable on its first penalty kill while Nikishin, making his Olympic debut, put that early error behind him.

"It felt weird at the start," the Spartak Moscow youngster said. "After the penalty, I immediately got into the game and let everything else go. I tried to forget about it and that helped me. The game went on, I thought a had a few good shots. But the most important thing is that we won."

Back at equal strength, Berra pulled off a big poke check to halt Mikhail Grigorenko as he evaded the attentions of Gaetan Haas and Sven Andrighetto to walk in on the net. Berra would later produce another poke check to rob Slepyshev but in general the Swiss defence did a good job of holding the much-vaunted ROC attack to the outside in the opening exchanges.

All that hard work was undone in the final seconds of the frame, and in the cruellest circumstances. There was little danger when Slepyshev’s attempted pass to the slot bounced back to him and the CSKA Moscow man went round the back. From a tight angle, he scooped a backhander to the danger zone and celebrated as the puck ricocheted off Envo Corvi’s leg and into the net. The goal came with just 2.7 seconds left on the clock in the first period.

"We had an attack going, and logic said it wasn't quite finished," Slepyshev said of his goal. "I knew there were a couple of seconds left and I had to get the puck to the slot. Then we got a lucky bounce."

Lifted by that goal, Team ROC made a better start to the second period. The defending champion had more control of the game and translated that into more sustained pressure on Berra’s net. However, it all changed when Stanislav Galiyev accidently caught Christoph Bertschy in the face and took a high sticking minor. 

The Swiss power play changed the pattern of play. White shirts buzzed around the ROC zone with menace and Sven Andrighetto was millimetres away from tying the scores when he fired onto the angle of post and bar with the goalie well beaten. Fedotov gave the frame a grateful pat as it preserved the lead. Then Joel Vermin’s redirect on a Corvi shot gave the 25-year-old netminder more work to do.

Even after the penalty was killed, there was more danger: another Corvi feed was steered goalwards by Gregory Hofmann but Fedotov remained alert. Gradually, tempers started to fray: Andrei Chibisov, who yesterday told Russian journalists he ‘didn’t know anyone on the Swiss team’ sought to make the acquaintance of Santeri Alatalo after the whistle. That confrontation did not draw a penalty, but moments later Dmitri Voronkov went hard to the net and provoked a skirmish with Mirco Muller. The resultant jostling saw two men from each team in the box, and soon after Weber joined Muller and Ambuhl to give the ROC its first power play of the game.

"In the second and third periods I thought we played way better," Diaz added. "We tried to play more offensively, we played some good hockey, we had our chances. We had some power plays where we got some good chances as well, I think we hit the post once or twice. At the end of the night, it would be nice if we had some points out of it, but it was a really close game."

Late in the second we saw another flashpoint, with Slepyshev needlessly butting heads with Weber. The goalscorer was assessed a double minor late in the second period and Switzerland had another chance to get back in the game. Vermin had the best scoring chance on the power play, but Fedotov got a pad behind his effort and the rebound would not drop for former Avangard Omsk man Andrighetto.

"I hope that penalty will be an example for me and the rest of my team - you can't do things like that," Slepyshev said. "It was just instinct, I wasn't thinking. I apologised to the guys who had to kill that penalty without me."

The game remained cagey – and intermittently bad tempered – in the third. Young defender Alexander Nikishin clipped the outside of the post and Gusev had a chance to seal it for ROC when he burst clear of the defence, but Berra’s pad denied him. Switzerland still had a good share of the play but was having a hard time unpicking the ROC defence and really stretch Fedotov as it sought a tying goal.

With three minutes to play, Fabrice Herzog almost found the answer. He got clean through on goal and after Fedotov blocked his first effort, the second flashed behind the goalie and in front of the open net before glancing off the far post to safety. With 30 seconds to go, Berra left his net to make way for a sixth skater, but Switzerland only fashioned one half chance for Hofmann, who flashed his effort over the top as the clock ran down.
ROC vs Switzerland - 2022 Olympic Men's Ice Hockey Tournament