International Ice Hockey Federation

Switzerland nips Slovenia

Swiss blow four-goal lead, but win in shootout

Published 06.05.2017 15:22 GMT+2 | Author Lucas Aykroyd
Switzerland nips Slovenia
PARIS, FRANCE - MAY 6: Slovenia's Klemen Pretnar #7, Gasper Kroselj #32 and Switzerland's Vincent Praplan #8 look on as Romain Loeffel #55 (not shown) shot goes in during preliminary round action at the 2017 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship. (Photo by Matt Zambonin/HHOF-IIHF Images)
Damien Brunner scored the shootout winner as Switzerland blew a four-goal first-period lead but came away with a 5-4 tournament-opening win over Slovenia.

In regulation time, Andres Ambuhl, Gaetan Haas, Romain Loeffel, and Denis Bodemann scored for Switzerland. Vincent Praplan had two assists.

Robert Sabolic had a goal and an assist, and Jan Mursak, Ziga Jeglic and Jan Urbas also scored for Slovenia.

"They took some penalties, and we took advantage and came back," said Urbas. "Too bad we got just one point, but we'll take it."

Switzerland is historically known for its solid defensive play. To put it mildly, this isn't the style coach Patrick Fischer wants his men to execute. Meanwhile, Slovenia almost succeeded in completing a comeback of historic proportions at the AccorHotels Arena on Saturday.

Only in three cases in IIHF World Championship history has a team lost after holding a four-goal lead. East Germany led Canada 4-0 in 1963 but lost 11-5; Finland led Canada 4-0 in 1990 but lost 6-5; and in the most famous case, Finland led Sweden 5-1 in the 2003 quarter-final in Helsinki, but lost 6-5.

"We got the start we wanted," said Switzerland's Cody Almond. "Our first period was fantastic, but then maybe we got a little too comfortable and they took over the game. Then we had some penalty troubles. We have to learn from our mistakes and move forward."

The Swiss, who came 11th last year, are seeking their first medal since 2013's surprising silver. Slovenia is newly promoted, and finished 16th and last in its previous top-division stint in 2015. The Slovenians' greatest success ever was coming seventh at the 2014 Olympics. However, nabbing a point here also qualifies as a memorable moment.

Swiss goalie Jonas Hiller made his first IIHF appearance since posting a 0.67 GAA and 97.1 save percentage at the 2014 Olympics in Sochi, Russia. The 35-year-old netminder, who played 404 NHL games for Anaheim and Calgary, spent this season with Biel of the Swiss NLA. Switzerland outshot Slovenia 33-23.

"It was almost too easy in the beginning," Hiller said. "We got a couple of easy ones, which kind of gave us false confidence. At this level, if you let up by five per cent and the other team plays five per cent better, that's enough to turn the game around."

Buoyed by fans chanting “Hopp Schwiiz!”, Tanner Richard set the early tone by bodychecking Urbas into the Swiss bench.

Switzerland drew first blood on the power play at 10:49. In the slot, Pius Suter’s checking got the puck to Ambuhl and he stickhandled in to beat Slovenian starting goalie Gaspar Kroselj with a stick-side backhander.

Just 12 seconds later, it was 2-0. A forechecking Praplan got the puck to Haas in the faceoff circle, and he whirled to score another stick-side goal.

The Swiss took a three-goal lead with 3:01 left in the first. Defenceman Loeffel joined the rush late and winged one off Kroselj’s right post. Bodemann notched the 4-0 goal 48 seconds later, going to the net and backhanding a Damien Brunner rebound home.

After 20 minutes, Switzerland had outshot Slovenia 15-5, and it looked like the game was in the bag. But appearances can be deceiving.

Slovenian coach Nik Zupancic pulled Kroselj in favor of Matija Pintaric to start the second period. And at 18:31, Mursak, the Slovenian captain who played 46 games for the Detroit Red Wings before jumping to the KHL, finally broke Hiller's shutout bid with a sassy shorthanded tip.

Jeglic cut the deficit to 4-2 at 5:50 of the third, racing in and squeezing a backhand through Hiller's pads. The Slovenians capitalized on more opportunities as the Swiss ran into penalty trouble.

"We had plenty of scoring chances in the first and not a lot after that," said Hiller. "Playing almost the whole third period on the penalty kill doesn't help."

On an extended two-man advantage, Urbas zinged a shot from the slot past Hiller's blocker to make it 4-3 with less than six minutes left. And with 18 seconds left in Philippe Furrer's cross-checking penalty, Sabolic took a pass from Rok Ticar, pivoted off the goal line, and flipped the puck over Hiller to tie the score at 15:23.

"We knew we could play against them," said Urbas. "In the first, we just watched them play. We respected them too much, but after that we showed that we deserve to play here."

Furrer went off again for hooking with 2:17 left, but this time the Slovenians couldn't cash in. In overtime, Switzerland squandered a glorious 4-on-3 opportunity when Slovenia's Luka Vidmar went off for hooking Haas on a rush to the net. But in the shootout, they got their happy ending.

In the stands, a huge banner read, "TAMARA, EPOUSE-MOI" ("Tamara, marry me") -- so possibly there were two happy endings here.

This was just the second World Championship meeting ever between these nations. Led by Denis Hollenstein’s four-point outing, Switzerland hammered Slovenia 7-1 in the preliminary round in 2013.