Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Canada dodges bullet

Switzerland led Canada for more than 30 minutes, and for a while, it looked like one of the biggest upsets in World Junior history was brewing.

Coming off a 6-1 thrashing of Denmark, the Canadians weren't brimming with as much offensive confidence as expected. But they found a way to get over this bump in the road.

"It’s a learning curve for sure," said Canada's Mitch Marner. "Now we know we have to respect everyone in this tournament. Everyone has world-class talent, and going into the next game, we’ve got to know that and come ready to play."

The Swiss made history despite losing. It's the first time they have ever earned a point against Canada at the World Juniors. They still have a chance to make the quarter-finals. They face the United States on Wednesday, and they need three points to overtake Denmark.

"It means a lot for us," said Swiss captain Timo Meier. "Canada is a big country, and they’re a great hockey team. Obviously that team has a lot of high-end quality. So we’re really happy. We’re trying to build on that for the game tomorrow."

Coming into this game, Switzerland had lost 20 straight World Junior games to Canada in regulation time dating back to the 1980 World Juniors. The Swiss have won only one medal in tournament history (1998's bronze).

It was a confidence-building outing for the Swiss after losing 2-1 to Denmark on Sunday. The Swiss also ended up in the relegation round last year after being defeated by the underdog Danes.

Canada will round out its group slate with a New Year's Eve showdown against Sweden.

Canadian goalie Mackenzie Blackwood debuted after serving a two-game suspension for a stick-swinging incident in the Ontario Hockey League. Joren van Pottelberghe made his third straight appearance between the Swiss pipes. Shots favoured Canada 35-25.

"He gave us a chance to win," Canadian coach Dave Lowry said of Blackwood. "In the shootout, he made the saves he had to make. I thought after giving up the first couple of goals, he was able to settle in. He made timely saves for us tonight."

In regulation time, Damien Riat and Dario Meyer scored for Switzerland. Dylan Strome and Joe Hicketts tallied for Canada.

Swiss forward Calvin Thurkauf and defenceman Fabian Heldner returned to the lineup after serving their one-game suspensions for illegal hits in Switzerland’s opening 8-3 loss to Sweden. Forward Chris Egli missed his second game under a three-game ban for a check to the head of Sweden’s William Nylander.

The hard-working Swiss beat Canada at its own game in the first period, throwing big hits all over the ice and putting pucks on the net. It was the stiffest physical test the Canadians have faced in this tournament, including the opening 5-3 loss to the United States.

If it wasn’t Travis Konecny colliding with Swiss defenceman Jonas Siegenthaler in the corner, it was Heldner and Brendan Perlini bashing each other near the Swiss blue line.

The Swiss got an early power play and went up 1-0 at 2:12. Noah Rod’s one-timer from the top of the right faceoff circle deflected off Damien Riat in front and caught the top corner.

"I think our opponents dictated the pace," said Lowry. "They put us on our heels. When they scored that first goal, we kind of got away from how we want to play."

Midway through the period, Rod was sent off for cross-checking Marner to the ice after van Pottelberghe smothered the puck. The goalie stayed sharp during Canada’s man advantage, making a great glove save on Marner. The Swiss blocked enough shots to make John Tortorella proud.

At 15:37, Switzerland took a 2-0 lead. Julien Privet rushed the puck into the zone on the left side, fed it back to Marco Forrer at the point and it went in off Meyer in front. It gave coach John Fust's team a reason to believe.

"Playing against Denmark, we had the puck a lot of the game," said Strome. "We didn’t expect the Swiss to have the puck and be so fast. I think we kind of caught up to their speed midway through the second period and then we started to pick it up."

The Canadians got an emotional lift with 24 seconds left in the first when Strome scored with a high shot from a bad angle on the left side boards.

"That goal kind of settled our bench down," said Strome. "Everyone breathed a sigh of relief. When we were down 2-0, it was kind of a shock. But we got one there and kept fighting."

In the second period, Swiss defenceman Edson Harlacher left the game after a high stick by Canada’s Jake Virtanen. The Swiss generated good pressure in the Canadian zone but were unable to capitalize.

Canada made it 2-2 at 12:17 when Lawson Crouse, working along the side boards, found Hicketts coming down the middle and he flung the puck under the crossbar.

"Joe played a strong game tonight," said Virtanen. "He was by far our best player. He played a good defensive role. When he stepped up there and shot that one and put it in the net, it was a nice shot. He played a really good leadership role, too, talking a lot in the dressing room."

Lowry’s crew had a golden opportunity to take their first lead when the Swiss took overlapping penalties late in the middle frame. Canada had a two-man advantage for 35 seconds, but couldn’t connect, as Strome, Virtanen, and Konecny were denied on great chances. Blackwood sharply stymied Meyer on a shorthanded rush.

Virtanen and Crouse used their big bodies to wreak havoc around the Swiss in the final half of the third, but couldn't break through. Canada carried the play down the stretch, but couldn't find the go-ahead goal in regulation. Overtime settled nothing.

In Olympic and World Championship play, the Swiss have been increasingly competitive with Canada in recent years. They famously defeated Canada 2-0 at the 2006 Olympics, and also prevailed at the Worlds in 2010 (4-1) and 2012 (3-2, shootout). 

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