HERISAU, Switzerland – Switzerland won Division I gold and qualified for the 2010 IIHF World U20 Championship in Saskatoon and Regina, Canada. SC Bern defenseman Roman Josi scored the game-winner against Belarus at 56:51.
Switzerland vs. Belarus 2-1 (1-1, 0-0, 1-0)
Switzerland and Belarus went undefeated into the last game which saw the top teams play for promotion to the 2010 IIHF World Championship in Canada.
The game was a drama from the beginning till the end. Swiss Etienne Froideveaux (Josi's teammate at SC Bern) scored the opener after only 20 seconds, Igor Ravenko got things event at the 15 minute mark and the contest was decided only by Josi's goal three minutes from the end – when most of the 2,625 fans anticipated an overtime. Switzerland outshot Belarus 28-20.
It was a duel between the Swiss U20s, who played on division I level for the first time after 13 years with the elite nations and Belarus, which tried to find the way back after the relegation two years ago.
The Swiss had the better start and created immediate pressure. First-line centre Etienne Froidevaux got the puck back from winger Gregory Sciaroni and, from a position from behind the net, he stayed cool enough to stuff the puck between Belarus goalie Vitali Belinski’s pads – 1-0 just 20 seconds into the game.
After the early wake-up call, Belarus created some serious offence. None of the teams had much space for artistic moves, but 2,625 fans were entertained by a game that was as high-calibre as it gets on Division I level.
Belarus could equalize at 15:05 when Igor Revenko jumped to a rebound and beat Swiss netminder Damiano Ciaccio.
The second period ended goalless despite 15-6 in shots on goal for the Swiss, mixed with some quick Belarusian counter-attacks. The home team showed up with much pressure in the beginning of the third period but Roman Josi and Manuel Zigerli missed the best chances among a flurry of attacks.
It seemed like Belarus goalie Vitali Belinski would lead his team to overtime and a possible shoot-out as he saved some good scoring chances, but he had a forgettable moment at 56:51. Defenceman Roman Josi, a Nashville Predators second-round draft choice, crossed the blue line and scored with a shot from long distance.
Taking the lead so late usually means a victory and indeed, the Belarusians couldn’t reply. Coach Andrei Gusov called for a time-out at 59:10 and pulled Belinski at 59:26, but the Swiss defence kept the crease clear and the loud crowd in Herisau counted down the last seconds until promotion back to the elite pool became reality.
Switzerland will play at the 2010 IIHF World U20 Championship in Saskatoon and Regina, Saskatchewan (Canada), while Belarus missed the promotion for the second consecutive time, by the smallest of margins.
“We prepared the game well and we knew the major points about Belarus. They have a very strong team and it was hard to beat them but with much discipline and a good defensive performance we could beat them,” said Swiss head coach Jakob Kölliker, who praises the strong hockey program in Belarus and sees them as a strong contender in the future. “It’s great to be back with the big nations next year. We will have some experienced defencemen back but there will some change in the offence. The smaller ice rink in Canada will suit us. We always had good tournaments in Canada.”
“Belarus was the strong opponent we expected. Unfortunately we lost the plot after their equalizer but we got back in the second period,” said 2-1 scorer Roman Josi. “We knew that the puck would go in when we continued to play focused. Of course I was lucky about the goal. I didn’t hit the puck as I wanted but probably it confused the goalie.”
“It was not the best game from our side and we would like to thank the organizer and host city for a very good championship,” Andrei Gusov, the Belarus head coach. “There was unfortunately a combination of mistakes at the red line, in the defence and from our goalkeeper when the Swiss scored the 2-1 goal but our goalie played well in the tournament and I expected more from our forwards tonight.”
(Nathan also is a writer for Maineiacs Post to Post and the Maine Hockey Journal. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)