Czechs beat Swiss for third
by Lucas AYKROYD|31 DEC 2023
Matyas Sapovaliv (#24, right) celebrates after scoring the first Czech goal in a 4-2 win over Switzerland at the 2024 IIHF World Junior Championship.
Captain Jiri Kulich scored the third-period winner as Czechia defeated Switzerland 4-2 to finish third in Group B. The Swiss settle for fourth place and will face host Sweden in the quarter-finals.

On the go-ahead goal, 17-year-old defender Tomas Galvas jumped up on the right side and dished a backhand pass to Kulich to bang into the gaping cage at 12:47. In his third World Juniors, the 19-year-old Buffalo Sabres prospect is the all-time leading Czech goal-scorer (in the post-Czechoslovakia era) with 13 goals, surpassing Michael Frolik (12).

Patience and smarts were the key for coach Patrik Augusta's boys, who let the Swiss fight back from a 2-0 deficit late in the second period but didn't panic. Dominating the play overall, the Czechs limited Switzerland's chances and outshot their opponents 35-19.

The Czechs captured the 2023 silver medal in Halifax, their first hardware since 2005’s bronze medal in Grand Forks, North Dakota. Returning to the podium this year would be another big confidence boost for the nation that will host the 2024 IIHF World Championship in Prague and Ostrava (10 to 26 May).

The Swiss would simply love to win a quarter-final. They haven’t achieved that feat since shocking Sweden 2-0 in 2019 in Victoria, and have only one medal in World Junior history, 1998's bronze in Finland.

Czech assistant captain Matyas Sapovaliv opened the scoring at 12:04, putting a power-play rebound past Swiss goalie Alessio Beglieri for his third goal of the tournament.

This is an exciting time for the whole Sapovaliv family. Not only is the Vegas Golden Knights prospect vying to medal again in his third World Juniors, but his 17-year-old sister Adela Sapovalivova will play a key role for Czechia at the 2024 IIHF Ice Hockey U18 Women’s Worlds in Zug, Switzerland (6 to 14 January).

The Czechs outshot Switzerland 14-5 in the first period.

In the second period, with a delayed penalty coming up to Switzerland, the Czechs went up 2-0 with clinical precision. A tic-tac-toe play climaxed with Ondrej Becher finding Robin Sapousek at the crease for an easy tap-in at 10:05.

Against the flow of play, Simon Meier cut the deficit to 2-1 at 14:26, fooling Czech goalie Michael Hrabal with a bad-angle shot from the left side. Meier's second goal of the tournament was one Hrabal would like to have had back.

Unrelenting, Switzerland tied it up with 57 seconds left in the middle frame. Gregory Weber grabbed a puck Hrabal failed to corral at the side of the net, circled out, and sent a cross-ice pass to Julien Rod, who made no mistake. Defenceman Rodwin Dionicio drew assists on each goal.

There was unexpected life for coach Marcel Jenni's squad. But it wouldn't last, even though the Swiss hung tight with their most consistent hockey in the third period.

After Kulich's goal, defenceman Tomas Hamara gave Czechia a 4-2 lead at 15:58 with a screened point shot. In the dying moments, Jenni pulled Beglieri for a sixth skater. Yet even after Hamara took a last-minute tripping penalty to make it a 6-on-4 advantage, the Swiss couldn't get anything done.
Czechia vs Switzerland - 2024 IIHF World Junior Championship