BRECLAV, Czech Republic – Eight of the top hockey nations compete in the traditional U18 best-on-best summer tournament known as the Ivan Hlinka Memorial Cup this week in the Czech Republic and Slovakia. The event started on Monday with an upset as Switzerland edged Sweden 3-2.
That Switzerland can beat Sweden in a hockey game is not unusual. The Swiss showed it at the 2013 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship where they shocked Sweden in the opening match in Stockholm but later lost against the same opponent in the gold medal game.
In junior hockey, however, a Swiss win against Sweden is much less common. Sweden has risen to become Europe’s top producer of NHL talent by a wide margin in the recent years and has over 53,000 junior players. Switzerland has less than 14,000 registered juniors. This gap becomes more evident than in senior hockey when national selections are limited by age groups and bigger nations can select from a wider pool of talent.
At the World Junior Championships, the Swiss U20 national team has a 3-14 record, with the last win dating back to 2003. In that year both teams played in the relegation round and Switzerland finished one place better (7th) and Sweden started to improve its junior program drastically after some mediocre years and barely avoiding relegation.
In the U18 Worlds Switzerland’s record against Sweden is even more lopsided: just one win in nine games. The only victory came in 2002, one year after Switzerland won U18 silver.
“I expected that we can keep up and play a good game – but to beat Sweden in junior categories is always difficult,” Swiss U18 national team head coach Manuele Celio told hockeyfans.ch after the game. “We struggled in the beginning. A part of the team played against Sweden for the first time. But it was a deserved victory since we played better than them for two periods.”
Playing the game was difficult with the temperature over 30°C in Breclav. Teams had to get accustomed to soft ice and fog coming up at times. At the beginning it seemed to be the Swedes, who were less troubled with the conditions. The blue-and-yellow team outshot Switzerland 12-9 in the first period and at 3:13 Filip Karlsson gave Sweden a 1-0 lead after a pass from William Nylander. After 20 minutes it was business as usual in Breclav.
“We were not ready in the first period but then we stepped up and were simply better than the Swedes,” said Swiss forward Denis Malgin.
“After the first period we simply went out there and told ourselves ‘We’re going to beat the Swedes’. We blocked shots, killed penalties and scored goals.”
It was Malgin, one of four 1997-born players on the Swiss roster, who tied it up at 8:26 of the middle frame. Karlsson scored his second goal with 2:07 left in the period to regain the lead but the Swiss reacted right after the ensuing face-off. Sin Schläpfer took advantage from a Swedish turnover and Noele Trisconi placed the puck under the crossbar to tie the game at two.
The Swiss continued to play strong and after 100 seconds in the third period Tino Kessler brought Switzerland the first lead in the game after heavy pressure on the Swedish net during a man advantage.
“We have to play clever, think shift-by-shift, don’t lose the puck unnecessarily and be patient when they put pressure on us,” Celio said about the keys to the surprise win.
“The willingness to sacrifice as shown by our players was important. We had 17 blocked shots and played a great penalty kill.”
That was necessary especially in the dying minutes of the game. Sweden had four power plays in the remainder of the game including a lengthy 5-on-3 but the Swiss worked hard defensively and Gauthier Descloux had a strong night in the Swiss net saving 31 out of 33 shots.
“The Swiss got along better with the conditions and the Swiss simply played better than us. We were not able to react,” said Swedish U18 national team coach Anders Eriksén.
Switzerland outshot Sweden 39-33 in the game.
For both teams the tournament will continue with games against the other opponents in Group A, Canada and the Czech Republic. Will the surprise be a one-timer for the Swiss or can they replicate the hot start enjoyed by the men’s national team three months ago at the Worlds?
“We must remain modest. One game means nothing in the tournament. It’s the attitude that counts and in this age the danger is that players sometimes think it goes on like this from alone,” Celio said.
“We have to continue with the good things we did but we will change a couple of things on our game plan since the Czechs don’t play the same way the Swedes do.”
The game between the Group A hosts and Canada was less of a surprising affair. Canada outshot the Czechs 42-13 and won the game with four unanswered goals.
Michael Dal Colle opened the scoring at 2:24 on the first power play and with three seconds left in the period Haydn Fleury made it 2-0. Spencer Watson and Daniel Audette added the additional markers right before and after the second intermission respectively to give Canada the Group A lead after the first day.
In the other group Finland upset the United States with a 3-2 overtime victory. Paul Bittner opened the scoring after eight minutes but Finland turned the game with goals from Mikko Rantanen 35 seconds into the second period and from Miro Mäkinen at 7:43 of the third frame.
With 2:29 left in regulation time Kyle Connor tied it up for the U.S. but Waltteri Hopponen scored the game-winning goal after 59 seconds in the extra period.
Russia took the lead in Group B in Piestany after edging Slovakia 2-1 in regulation time. Goals were only scored in the middle frame. The host took the lead with a Marco Halama goal at 1:09 but four minutes later Maxim Lazarev capitalized on a rebound four minutes later. Kirill Pilipenko scored the game winner for Russia at 18:20.
– with files from Urs Berger, hockeyfans.ch
Group A in Breclav (CZE): Czech Republic, Canada, Sweden, Switzerland
Group B in Piestany (SVK): Slovakia, Finland, Russia, USA
Schedule & Scores:
Monday, 5 August 2013
In Piestany (14:00): Finland vs. USA 3-2 OT
In Breclav (15:30): Switzerland vs. Sweden 3-2
In Piestany (17:30): Slovakia vs. Russia 1-2
In Breclav (19:00): Czech Republic vs. Canada 0-4
Tuesday, 6 August 2013
In Piestany (14:00): USA vs. Russia
In Breclav (15:30): Sweden vs. Canada
In Piestany (17:30): Slovakia vs. Finland
In Breclav (19:00): Czech Republic vs. Switzerland
Wednesday, 7 August 2013
In Piestany (14:00): Russia vs. Finland
In Breclav (15:30): Canada vs. Switzerland
In Piestany (17:30): Slovakia vs. USA
In Breclav (19:00): Czech Republic vs. Sweden
Friday, 9 August 2013
Saturday, 10 August 2013
Bronze medal game
Gold medal game