SASKATOON – The Swiss had to fight hard, but in the end finally got their first win at this year’s World U20 Championship after an up and down 7-5 win against Latvia. Four third-period goals sealed the win for Switzerland, which trailed for the bulk of the game.
The loss seals winless Latvia’s place in the relegation round, which they will enter with zero points regardless of the outcome of tomorrow’s Switzerland-Slovakia game. The winner of that game will move onto the quarterfinals, while the loser will join Latvia in the relegation round.
It was a bookends game for the Swiss, who had a strong start and finish, but were less than stellar for the middle 40 minutes. They started on the right foot, breaking more than 120 minutes of scoring silence with their first goal of the championship 2:40 into action. Benjamin Antonietti forced in the goal down low. Under three minutes later Jeffrey Füglister scored a similar goal to give the Swiss a 2-0 lead.
The goal prompted Latvia coach Andrejs Maticins to pull goaltender Janis Kalnins in favour of Raimonds Ermics. It was the third game that Kalnins didn’t survive the first period. But unlike the previous routs, the strategy worked as Ermics held his ground, allowing his team to work their way back into the game.
The darlings of the Saskatoon fans got the crowd on its feet when Ronalds Kenins put in a pair of goals to tie the game at two in the blink of an eye. Ironically, Kenins currently plays junior hockey in Zurich, Switzerland.
Roberts Bukarts gave the Latvians their first lead of the championship when he took advantage of a major breakdown in the Swiss defence on the power play, shooting the puck into a virtually empty net for the 3-2 lead at the 10:58 mark. Bukarts ended the game with two goals.
Switzerland tied things up 4:26 into the second period when newly-appointed captain Roman Josi put in the cross-ice pass from Ryan McGregor. But Latvia was quick with the answer reclaiming the lead two minutes later on a Rolands Vigners goal.
The Swiss struck hard and fast in the third period, netting a pair of goals 34 seconds apart. Nino Niederreiter kicked off the comeback 4:42 into action and Tim Weber followed up with the go-ahead 5-4 goal. McGregor continued the Swiss surge, scoring the clinching 6-4 goal. The teams exchanged academic goals late in the period to bring the final to 7-5.
While the Swiss can breathe a sign of relief after dodging a big bullet tonight, they have tall task ahead with a quick turn-around before playing Slovakia tomorrow at 3:00. Slovakia will be on fresh legs after a day off today, while Switzerland used more energy than they would have liked in today’s game and are still without star defender and orginal captain Luca Sbisa.
(Nathan also is a writer for Maineiacs Post to Post and the Maine Hockey Journal. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)