Vancouver Sun

Swiss juniors think they’re dangerous; Swedes don’t disagree

- ED WILLES Ewilles@postmedia.com Twitter.com/willesonsp­orts

In the 42-year history of the world junior championsh­ip, Switzerlan­d has so far won just one medal and made the semifinals on two other occasions.

On Friday night, they meet Finland, a team that just upset Canada in its own backyard and whose lineup features three players who have appeared in NHL games this season.

If they survive the Finns, who also have Kaapo Kakko, the second-ranked player in this summer’s draft, the Swiss can look forward to either the United States or Russia.

Let’s just say the Swiss wouldn’t be favoured against any of those teams.

Now, a normal person might look at those matchups and express some concern, but as we’ve learned by now, Christian Wohlwend has a slightly different world view than most.

“We’ll take that,” the Swiss coach said shortly after his team upset the Swedes 2-0 in Wednesday’s quarter-final at Save-onArena. “I’ll take that. We haven’t been in the semifinals too many times. Everyone knows that. I’m just happy we’re there now.

“We’ll enjoy this now. Who knows? The Swiss team this year is dangerous.”

He won’t get much of an argument from the Swedes.

In the first of two quarter-finals in the provincial capital, Switzerlan­d got a rock star performanc­e from goalie Luca Hollenstei­n, who stopped all 40 shots, a timely first-period goal from Yannick Bruschweil­er and an unrelentin­g team game that stood up to the Swedes over 60 minutes.

In the second game, the U.S., ground out a 3-1 victory over the Czech Republic.

“Congratula­tions to Switzerlan­d,” said Swedish coach Tomas Monten. “They got the game where they wanted and they grew from it. They worked really hard and we couldn’t compete at the same level.”

The Swedes went 4-0 in the round robin, extending their winning streak in the preliminar­y round to 48 games. Unfortunat­ely, they have just one gold medal to show for that stretch. True, the flu bug that ripped through Sweden two days ago might have had something to do with the outcome, but what the virus started, the Swiss finished against the winner of the B pool.

“All the guys who had the flu said they were feeling good and had a lot of energy,” said Swedish forward Rickard Hugg. “I don’t think that was a problem. We didn’t work as hard. It was our worst game.”

Hollenstei­n, who plays for Zug in the Swiss second division, was clearly the man of the match for the winners, but Wohlwend has said throughout the tournament that this is the deepest Swiss team in WJC history, and that showed up against the Swedes.

The winners killed off all five Swedish power plays, got a power-play goal of their own from Luca Wyss in the second period, and matched the Swedish pace while playing a discipline­d, structured game.

Two years ago, Wohlwend brought a team to the WJC that included Nico Hischier, the first pick of the 2017 NHL draft, and wingers Calvin Thurkauf and Damien Riat. Nando Eggenberge­r, who attended the Canucks’ Young Stars tournament as an undrafted player in September, was a member of that team.

“In 2017 we had one very good line,” said Eggenberge­r, who plays with the OHL’s Oshawa Generals. “Now we have three or four lines, everyone can score, and everyone is doing their job.

“We had a close game against Canada and Russia (in the A pool round robin). That’s why we didn’t think we were the underdogs.”

It also helps when your goalie stops all 40 shots he faced.

“Today he was like a magician,” said Eggenberge­r.

The Swedes, meanwhile, can’t seem to catch a break in this tournament.

Last year, they lost a heartbreak­ing 3-1 decision to Canada in the gold-medal game. This year, they returned four players from that team, and while they weren’t as explosive as the 2018 squad, they had the tournament’s best blue-line and a sense of purpose to their game.

Then came, in order, the flu, then the Swiss.

“It always sounds like a bad excuse,” Monten said when asked about the bug that ran through his team. “The only thing I can say is we haven’t practised with the whole team in five days.”

Monten was asked about his post-game message to his players.

“For the players born in ’99 it’s really tough,” he said. “They know they’re never going to get the chance again. It’s a once-in-alifetime opportunit­y.”

In Wednesday’s later game, the Americans welcomed back star centre Jack Hughes in their win over the Czechs, and if they’re not the favourites heading into the semis, they’re doing a convincing impersonat­ion.

Noah Cates, off a Hughes feed in the first period, and Josh Norris in the second stanza, gave the U.S. a 2-0 lead.

A power-play goal by Martin Kaut midway through the third made things marginally interestin­g before Alexander Chimelevsk­i iced the game with an empty netter.

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