CALGARY – In a most remarkable comeback, Slovakia scored four goals in five minutes in the third period against Switzerland to turn a 4-2 deficit into a 6-4 win. The Slovaks go to the quarter-final, while the Swiss face relegation woes.
"This win for our small country is a great accomplishment," said Slovak coach Ernest Bokros. "We now go to the next round and everything from here on in is a bonus."
Slovakia will face Finland in the quarter-final on Monday at 15.00. Switzerland opens the Relegation Round on the same day at 11.00 against Denmark. Both games are in Calgary.
The big Slovak hero was forward Matus Chovan, who, after failing to collect a single point in his team's three first games, scored a hat trick to take his team from constantly trailing to this sensational victory. The Slovaks celebrated with tremendous emotion, huddling together at center ice and chanting. Some had tears in their eyes while being interviewed afterwards.
"We are happy with this win," said Chovan. "This is a good way to start the New Year. I got three goals, but that is not important. The important thing is that we're playing in the next round, and that was our goal."
Chovan kept his team alive early in the game, but capped off the comeback with the 5-4 game-winning goal 8:15 into the third period when he scored with a backhander from close range.
Swiss coach Manuele Celio tried to bring his team back into the game by replacing struggling goalie Lukas Meili with Tim Wolf, but defenceman Martin Gernat scored only 46 seconds after the substitution to make it 6-4. By then, the Swiss were a broken group.
"This is unbelievable for us and for our country," said Gernat. "We did not want to go down to the Relegation Round. This is the biggest win in Slovak hockey in a while. I am so happy for everyone on our team and in Slovakia."
"We played scared and quit skating," said Celio. "It was psychological also. We did things we normally do not do. The Slovaks had a lot more energy at the end than we did."
The Swiss players in this game will probably never forget New Year's Eve 2011 in Calgary. And they will remember it for all the wrong reasons.
When everything was over, they found themselves on the losing end of a game they led 2-0 early, 3-1 midway through, and 4-2 early in the third period.
What happened then can be called either a miraculous comeback or a staggering meltdown, depending on where one has his sympathies.
Swiss winger Tanner Richard gave his best performance of the World Juniors when his team needed it the most. After two assists early on, his first points of the tournament, Richard put Switzerland ahead 4-2 only 47 seconds into the last period, and things looked rosy for his team.
But this was a game where the Swiss couldn't handle good fortune. Tomas Matousek gave the Slovaks hope with their third goal at 5.14 to start the team's third comeback of the afternoon. Fifty-one seconds later, Martin Marincin got the equalizer with a wrister from the point.
The Swiss could simply not stop the momentum swing. Chovan got the winner two minutes later and Gernat's power-play marker clinched the game.
All first-period scoring came within two minutes and eleven seconds. Slovak goaltender Juraj Simboch lost Tanner Richard’s shot right in front of Joël Vermin’s stick and the Swiss forward had the entire net gaping for the opening goal at 6:09, his third of the tournament.
Switzerland doubled their lead on their next possession, only 67 seconds later when Alessio Bertaggio found Sven Andrighetto with a nice backhand pass from behind the net and Simboch was beaten again.
Just when the fans, and maybe also the Swiss, thought it would be easy, Slovakia responded 64 seconds after the 2-0 goal. But it was a careless clearance by a Swiss defender that allowed for Matus Chovan’s first goal of the championship.
The Swiss team never looked comfortable with the one-goal lead in the second period, but they capitalized on a lucky break which saw them playing with a two-man advantage midway through the game. Vermin, Switzerland’s best performer so far, skated in from the point and rifled a high shot past Juraj Simbach for a 3-1 lead.
Vermin’s goal, however, did little to calm down the Swiss defence. Nervous passing, tentative zone clearances and weak positioning continued. Poor communication behind the net left Matus Chovan all alone in front of goalie Lukas Meili and the Slovak had plenty of time to put the puck behind him and cut the score to 3-2, at 12:46.
And the trend continued throughout the game. Whatever the Swiss could muster, the Slovaks had a reply. At the end, it took Slovakia to the quarter-final.
"I don't know what happened," said Richard of Switzerland's collapse. "We were in control, and stopped working. We have no explanation. It's tough right now, but we lost."