International Ice Hockey Federation

Swiss fairy tale comes to an end

Finns to play for gold

Published 26.04.2015 00:13 GMT+2 | Author Chapin Landvogt
The rematch between Finland and Switzerland at the 2015 U18 Worlds semi-final game went to the Finns, but not without a battle from the Swiss in a 5-4 OT loss.

Finland took the first encounter 3-1 and then continued to handedly shut down every opponent other than Canada, to whom they lost 3-2 in a game that meant little more than 1st or 2nd place in the group. Finishing second pitted them against Slovakia, a nation they beat 3-0 in the quarter-finals to get to this match.

For Switzerland, the tournament had been one that is turning into a Cinderella story. Despite some good hockey, the team needed overtime to defeat Latvia for its only points of the preliminary round, earning themselves a first round match-up against the undefeated Russians. All they did was play far and away their best game and defeat them in a spectacular 5-0 victory. Enhancing it all was when forward Denis Malgin, of Russian decent, was asked where that performance came from. He claimed to have seen a shooting star and made the wish that the Swiss would defeat Russia. By ‘Hop Schwiiz’, that they did!

Confirming just how important the victory over Russia and entry into the semi-finals was for Swiss hockey, the Brossard Arena was sold out, making the attendance of over 7000 spectators one of the biggest European crowds ever at the U18 Worlds.

"I think our boys have deserved this crowd. They are worth being watched and backed", said an excited Swiss coach, Manuele Celio, about the full house. "I have to thank the press too for backing the boys. They need this support. They brought these people here. We need everyone in this country on board. The press, The fans. The players. Thanks for this enthusiasm here in Zug."

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It didn’t last long for Finland to open things in the scoring department as super talent Jesse Puljujarvi, only 16 years old, was able to convert a pass from Juuso Valimaki after just 1:15 of play, silencing an enthusiastic crowd.

That crowd, however, picked things up again and clearly served as the seventh man in helping the team push forward. Only three and a half minutes later, Damien Riat tied things up on a play that was assisted by Jonas Siegenthaler and fan-favorite Auguste Impose, bringing the crowd to a state of erruption.

Now playing with the wind in their sails, cheers were earned with every movement towards the Finnish goal, something the Finns appeared to have their hands full with. Just about three minutes before the first period ended, Switzerland took the lead on a Kristian Suleski wrist shot from the blueline, which found its way into the net through a crowd of players in the slot. It was assisted by Switzerland’s offensive motor Malgin.

With a crowd feverishly standing behind its Swiss club, the game went back and forth, but a poor clearing attempt by Switzerland saw the puck stay in their zone, leading the Swiss to run around more than necessary. After an enthusiastically blocked shot that got the crowd riled up, a pass from the corner found Patrik Laine alone in front of the net. He pounded in a one-timer and tied things up at two with only 55 seconds to go in the period.

The period ended 2-2 and Finland leading the shot count 9-8.

Things picked up in the physical department in the second period and both teams were busy sending messages to the other. Finland’s ever-dangerous power play went to work just two and a half minutes in, but was held scoreless by a Swiss team that constantly got in the way of shots and passes. As soon as that power play had ended, Switzerland went on the power play and almost immediately scored what appeared to be a goal. The referee immediately waved it off, as a Swiss player was being pushed right into Finnish goalie Veini Vehvilainen, the tournament’s top statistical netminder, by his own defenseman.

Not able to capitalize there, more opportunities arose for Switzerland as the game continued. At the 13 minutes mark, defenseman Siegenthaler had the puck at the point and a clear view of the goal. He took his time in blasting a shot on goal just as his teammate set a screen, but Vehvilainen was up to the task.

Several minutes later, Riat marched in on goal again and after an effective head twitch that shook the defender, he sent the puck just over the crossbar.

The period ended in hectic array of penalties. First Finland went on the power play with just under two minutes to go. This turned into a 5-on-3 opportunity when Calvin Thurkauf went off for cross-checking. Not able to put the puck into the net, Petrus Palmu then took a penalty for tripping with another 52 seconds to go. And so ended the second period with a 4-on-3 power play situation for Finland.

The score was still 2-2 and Switzerland led 21-19 in the shots department.

At the 17:15 mark, Finland went back on the power play. It didn’t last long. Nine seconds into the power play, Finnish forward Aleksi Saarela took a one-time shot on a pass from Joonas Niemela that got by Swiss goalie Joren van Pottelberghe. The audience let its dismay be known as just before the goal, a Swiss player’s stick had been swiped out of his hand baseball style by a Finnish player. The lack of a call, and the ensuing goal against, earned the loud ire of the fans.

After several big checks had the crowd up and roaring again, Finland managed to quiet the building when hulking winger Laine once again found the back of the net on a one-timer, this time on a brilliant pass from Puljujarvi, two players who have all the signs of becoming future superstars, perhaps at the NHL level.

Switzerland frantically attempted to get back into the game and picked things up a notch, even if the Finns forced them back on their heels a number of times. The Swiss created several opportunities that nonetheless just didn’t end with a good or challenging shot.

Then it happened.

With just under two minutes to play, Nico Hischier tipped in a Siegenthaler shot and Switzerland was back in it with a building that shook the whole town. A quick timeout by Coach Celio gave the team a chance to regroup and focus – and pull the goalie with a faceoff in the Finnish zone and 1:40 to play.

With the building rocking and fans singing, pressure was kept in the Finnish zone until Malgin came out of the corner with the puck, skated behind the net, and dished off a pass to the front of the net, which was knocked in by Riat to tie it at four. In a fan reaction like none the tournament had experienced before, the singing and cheering knew no end. With 40 seconds left to play, the entire crowd was on its feet and cheering on their Swiss heroes.

The game went into sudden death overtime featuring 10 minutes of 4-on-4 play. In an almost unbelievable turn of events, the Swiss went on the power play when Riat skated up ice and had the stick ripped out of his hands by a slash from behind.

A two minutes power play was awarded and the boys went to work. Setting up effectively several times, the Swiss created sustained pressure for a good solid minute, but just couldn’t get that final, deadly shot on goal. As the power play came to an end, Saarela came out of the box, blocked a weak shot and then skated up ice one-on-one against an exhausted Siegenthaler. A wrist shot from the left faceoff dot beat van Pottelberghe on the far side.

In a state of stunning shock, the stadium went silent. The Finns raced onto the ice and celebrated their overtime hero.

"This was one of the most incredible games I've ever played in. So many people. Such intensity. To win this game was amazing and we've earned our way to the gold medal game. I am very excited!", said two-goal scorer Laine.

The hometown Swiss team will face Canada for bronze at 3 pm. 

"The way the boys fought back from a 4-2 deficit and sent this thing to overtime, it was a huge show of character. In sports, you don't always get what you deserve. Now we need to put this away and get ready for the game tomorrow. Had someone said before the tournament that we'd be playing Canada for the bronze medal, you'd have to have said 'I can't believe it', so we have to bounce back and give it our all", explained coach Celio.

With this victory, Finland will play the USA for the gold medal tomorrow evening at 7 pm.

"Tomorrow we have a chance to do what we came here for - win gold. We were last in the finals nine years ago and this is a big thing. We've been together now as a team for several weeks with our eyes on exactly this game. It will be a great day tomorrow", explained Finland's head coach Mika Marttila.