Swiss top Latvia to make quarters
by Lucas Aykroyd|23 APR 2023
Switzerland celebrates after Jamiro Reber (#6) opens the scoring for the host nation in a 5-1 win over Latvia at the 2023 IIHF Ice Hockey U18 World Championship.
photo: Matt Zambonin / IIHF
Bliss in Basel! With a character-laden 5-1 win over Latvia, host Switzerland locked up a quarter-final berth at the 2023 IIHF Ice Hockey U18 World Championship on Sunday. Leo Braillard led the way with two goals.

The Swiss will jockey for playoff seeding in their last Group B game against the U.S. on Tuesday.

"I don't know how many people were in the building, but it's just a great feeling!" said Swiss defenceman Eric Schneller. "And now to be in the quarter-finals, all the pressure just falls off. It feels amazing."

To wrap up its group stage on Monday, Latvia faces Norway in a battle of winless nations. Latvia must win in order to have a shot at the quarter-finals.
Versus Latvia, the Swiss built off the momentum from their 5-0 win over Norway to the delight of their boisterous fans. The Latvian offence continues to struggle with just four goals in three games.

"From the second period, Switzerland really dominated," said Latvian coach Olegs Sorokins. "And we did a lot of things that we shouldn't do. So they capitalized on that."

Swiss starting goalie Ewan Huet recorded his third win in as many games. Shots favoured Switzerland 21-18.

It was a warm afternoon in Basel and a hotly contested affair on the ice as cow bells and chants of “Hopp Schwiiz!” enlivened the atmosphere.

Jamiro Reber got his first goal of these U18 Worlds at 2:06 on a magnificent solo jaunt. The SCL Langnau Tigers prospect crossed the blue line on the left side, deked around Latvian defender Peteris Bulans, and slid a backhander through goalie Aksels Ozols’ legs.

Reber credited his linemate for the play that sent him in: "It was a great play there from [Gioele Pedrazzini]. He saw me very well. I just took the pass and there was some space. I just scored to help my team win."

This was a full team effort for coach Marcel Jenni’s crew. Near the seven-minute mark, Latvia pressed for the equalizer in a goalmouth scrum, but Schneller, deep in the crease, stuck his right leg out goalie-style to prevent a sure goal.

At 13:25, the Latvian power play converted to make it 1-1. David Livisics skimmed a perfect pass from the right faceoff circle to Eriks Mateiko on the doorstep, and the captain made no mistake.

"That's just our play on the power play," said Mateiko. "We've done that before. I just got a tap-in after the pass."

The Swiss answered back on a late shorthanded rush. Defender Timo Bunzli found Braillard in the slot and he beat Ozols stick side at 18:13.

Schneller praised Braillard: "It's not fun to play against him, I can tell you that! His shot is just amazing."

In the second period, the Swiss got some breathing room at 3-1. Matteo Wagner circled the Latvian zone and fed the puck in the slot to Endo Meier, whose backhanded shot slid past Ozols at 10:31.

With about six minutes left in the middle frame, Huet made a great right pad save when Mateiko dipsy-doodled through the Swiss defence for a chance in tight.

"We couldn't create good enough chances for scoring," Sorokins said. "We need much more offensive work in front of the net, more guys in front of the net. Those are the shots that the goalie will not see and we can get some rebounds."

At 4:23 of the third period, Swiss blueliner Daniil Ustinkov made it 4-1 on the power play, bulging the twine with a rising centre-point wrister.

With 2:23 left, Braillard scored his team-leading third goal on the power play with a quick shot from the left faceoff circle that squeezed past Ozols.

Looking ahead, Reber said: "We want to continue the way we've played so far. We want to take fewer penalties against the Americans for sure and just have fun and enjoy the game."

The last Swiss loss to Latvia at the U18 Worlds was in their inaugural meeting in 2012 (4-2). Since then, Switzerland has reeled off six straight wins, including two overtime decisions (3-2 in 2015 and 5-4 in 2016).

Of the showdown with Norway, Sorokins said: "We're expecting a tough game, definitely. Of course, the calendar itself, it's not that good for us because they have a day off today and we don't. But on the other hand, it doesn't matter at this point. Guys have to come one or two steps up. The Norwegians are strong kids."

Switzerland must stay focused as the quarter-finals approach. The Swiss have only won a quarter-final on three occasions: 3-0 over Slovakia in 2000, 7-1 over Germany in 2001 (en route to an all-time best silver medal finish), and 5-0 over Russia in 2015.

The 2000 and 2015 wins were in Kloten and Zug respectively, so this year's team will hope that Swiss ice once again proves to be a lucky charm.
Switzerland vs Latvia - 2023 IIHF Ice Hockey U18 World Championship