MANNHEIM – Andreas Ambühl scored two goals and Martin Plüss added another to lead Switzerland to an impressive 3-2 win against the Czech Republic at SAP Arena tonight. Winning goalie Martin Gerber stopped 30 of 32 shots.
"We were very excited, very ready for this match," said Swiss defenceman Félicien Du Bois.
The win gives Switzerland first place outright in Group F with a perfect record of 3-0-0 for nine points, three clear of Canada and Sweden. It also disproved any suggestion that the team's last game, a 4-1 win over Canada, was a mere fluke.
"We had a bad start to the game," Czech coach Vladimir Ruzicka admitted. "The Swiss were faster, and we made a lot of mistakes."
The incredible play of the Swiss continued right form the opening faceoff as they clearly held the edge in play. They were rewarded at 4:13 when a Goran Bezina shot could not be controlled by Czech goalie Tomas Vokoun. Plüss was right there to snap the loose puck into the open net to give Switzerland the early lead.
The defining moment of the night came with just under six minutes left in the opening period. Jiri Novotny controlled the puck inside his own blueline but he was knocked to the ice by Ambühl, who immediately passed to Thibaut Monnet. Monnet passed to Damien Brunner, who was streaking hard to the net, but as soon as he got the puck he passed across the grain to Ambühl, who moved to the net after hammering Novotny. He took the pass from Brunner and roofed it over a sprawled Vokoun who clearly thought Brunner would shoot.
It was the kind of tic-tac-toe play only a team playing with the greatest of confidence can make, and it proved once and for all in this tournament that the Swiss are a genuine playoff team with an excellent chance for a medal. Their last World Championship medal was a bronze in 1953 when only three teams participated.
The Czechs came out a lot more determined to start the second and were rewarded with a goal to get them back in the game. Jakub Voracek made a nice pass from behind the goal to Jan Marek at the top of the blue ice, and Marek made no mistake with his quick release between Martin Gerber’s pads to make it a 2-1 game at 4:07.
Ambühl got his second of the night at 11:47 on another fine play. He came down the right wing on a 2-on-1 with Monnet, stickhandling as if he clearly wanted to pass the puck. But instead he fired a low shot between Vokoun’s pads as the goalie was readying to play the pass. It was a smart goal, a goalscorer’s goal, and it put the Swiss back in control of the game.
Three minutes later, though, the Czechs got a lucky one. Roman Cervenka won a faceoff in the Czech end and Miroslav Blatak snapped a quick shot from the point. It wasn’t moving fast, but it was redirected off the stick of Plüss and into the top corner past a helpless Gerber.
The Swiss dodged a bullet late in the period when they ran into penalty trouble. But even though the Czechs had a 5-on-3 for 1:17, they couldn’t tie the score and the period ended 3-2 for the Swiss.
"We got back into it a bit in the second period, but we didn't score on our 5-on-3," Ruzicka noted with disappointment.
If the Swiss were more enthusiastic and creative in the first period, they were more determined and persistent by the third. They got to the puck first and hemmed the Czechs in their own end for long periods, frustrating their opponents to no end and preventing any razzle-dazzle play by their opponents off the rush.
Both teams are back in action on May 17 when Switzerland faces Norway in the afternoon and the Czechs play Latvia at night.
Said Julien Vauclair about facing the under-manned Norwegians: "I think up to this point we've been very well-prepared by our coaching staff. We've got to keep our feet on the ground. The most important thing for us now is to recuperate and get ready for this match."