Fiala jets in to preserve Swiss start
by Andy POTTS|13 MAY 2024
Switzerland's Andres Ambuhl and Czechia's Matej Stransky battle for possession in a hard-fought game at the 2024 IIHF World Championship.
Switzerland edged a battle of Group A's undefeated teams, downing Czechia in a shoot-out. Philipp Kurashev grabbed the winning goal after a 1-1 tie through 65 uncompromising minutes.

Kevin Fiala, who made his first appearance of the championship today, jetting in from Los Angeles a day after his wife Jessica gave birth to their daughter Maisie-Mae, celebrated fatherhood with a power play goal in the first period. Czechia's Matej Stransky potted the Czechs' first PP goal of the tournament to tie it up.

"Maybe it was a bit of new dad energy," he smiled. "First, I want to thank my wife for letting me go. She's been very supportive and wanted me to play. I'm so thankful for that.

"We had good energy today. It was a long flight and I got a little tired to be honest, but we got the win and we can move on."

Fiala and Stransky both scored in the shoot-out as well, but the winner went to Kurashev. He mimicked the quick release that brought Stransky success at the other end, surprising Lukas Dostal with an early shot to settle the outcome.

"I just came down and saw what the goalie was doing, what he gave me," Kurashev said of his winning play. "That quick shot was the option and it worked out."

Switzerland’s power play was too hot for Austria yesterday, and it delivered the first period breakthrough. When Roman Cervenka sat for roughing, the Swiss got to work and Fiala announced his arrival with the opening goal of the game. Czech defender Radko Gudas was too busy trying to cut off a passing lane for Nino Niederreitter between the hash marks, enabling Fiala to walk in off the boards and angle a shot over Dostal’s shoulder. After 78:36, the netminder was beaten at last in this tournament.

"We have to stay out of the box," cautioned Cervenka, who continued to discuss that roughing call with the officials even after the anthems. "We know there are good teams here, with good PP. We have to play 5-on-5, stay disciplined all 60 minutes."

When the teams played five-on-five there was little to choose between them. Things took time to settle, with the early shifts punctuated by frequent whistles. There were moments of danger, not least when David Spacek’s point shot skimmed the outside of the Swiss net, but also a lot of tough, physical hockey.

The Czech power play has been nothing like as potent as the Swiss so far in this competition. Before today’s game it was 0-for-6, but when Fiala sat for tripping early in the second there were good looks for Cervenka and Gudas.

Amid some uncompromising play, tempers flared. Four players, two from each team, went to the box amid scuffles around Dostal’s net, then Switzerland’s Roman Siegenthaler sat for interference to put Czechia back on the power play.

This time, the special team delivered: working the puck speedily around the zone, Cervenka fed Spacek, who fed Stransky in the left-hand circle. The Swiss saw plenty of his one-timer for Davos this season, but had no answer to a shot that ripped past Leonardo Genoni to tie the game.

That kicked the noise up another notch, and when Dominik Kubalik twice fired narrowly wide of the target, the volume went to 11. Czechia finished the second period in the ascendancy and the home crowd responded.

The momentum kept changing hands. A Czech penalty just before the hooter gave Switzerland a power play at the start of the third. That was neutralized, but Kurashev had a great chance when the Czechs allowed a centre ice turnover and the Chicago forward found himself through on Dostal’s net.

Chances were increasingly hard to come by, and there was a sense that an error might prove decisive. Genoni almost gifted the Czechs a goal when his wayward clearance from the corner was returned with interest by Jakub Flek. The Swiss goalie saved himself with a diving stick save.

At the other end, Hischier attempted a tricky spin and shot. Dostal made the save and the subsequent collision with Ondrej Kase saw the Swiss forward take a cut to the face. With the game in the balance until the last, Hischier returned to the game before the end of regulation and played his part in overtime.

The extras were more open than the preceding 60 minutes, but neither side could conjure a winner. Even the Swiss power play was unable to break the deadlock in the final 45 seconds as the game moved inexorably to the shootout.

Despite a first defeat of the tournament, the Czechs still took some positives. "We played our structure, how we wanted to play," said David Kampf. "We expected it would be this tight. We planned to play a good defence and we did it."

"I think we could have got two points but we can still be fairly happy with a point."
Switzerland vs Czechia - 2024 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship