Ostrava tilt provides drama
Ostrava tilt provides drama
Americans and Swiss face off
The Americans managed a 3-2 win over Switzerland in the Preliminary Round at the 2014 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship in Minsk, Belarus. But the last time these teams met in the playoffs was the 2013 World Championship semi-finals.
Switzerland, enjoying a dream tournament, beat the United States 3-0 en route to the finals and a silver medal. The United States did manage to win a bronze medal that year.
“We are playing the U.S. like two years ago,” said Swiss player Julian Walker. “They’re a top hockey country but despite having respect we have to try to play our own game.”
Team USA’s John Moore’s take was equally important in understanding the respect these teams have for each other.
“Switzerland is a very good team,” Moore said. “For us we know how we need to play. We’ve gotten away from it at times. We know what are strengths are and how we can find success. The onus is on us to find a way to buy in and get this job done.”
Switzerland has rotated goaltenders in Prague. Reto Berra lost all four games he’s played at a 3.57 goals against average and an 87.60% save percentage. Leonardo Genoni has won two of his three starts with a shutout and 95.52 save percentage. Genoni has the highest save percentage in the tournament from goalies that played two or more games. Still, head coach Glen Hanlon announced that Berra will be in the net for Switzerland, probably thanks to his strong game against the Czech Republic on Tuesday. He admitted to having a tough decision to make with who starts. Everyone will see the wisdom of this decision today.Continue reading
Roman Josi remains an important member of the Swiss defence. Not only does he lead the defence in offensive stats, he also logs over 26 minutes per game. A decade ago, Mark Streit was the leader of the Swiss defence. While he still plays an important role, at 37 he is a senior member of the team. Still, Streit’s experience at the World Championship and NHL level makes him an important leader on the team. Streit has two assists in seven games. Another long time national team member, Eric Blum also has two assists.
Damien Brunner leads Switzerland with five points. Brunner’s four assists lead the team. Kevin Fiala has emerged as an 18-year-old with the national team. In his second year representing Switzerland at the senior level, Fiala is the future of Swiss international hockey. The Nashville Predators selected Fiala with their first pick in the 2014 NHL draft. Denis Hollenstein and Matthias Bieber lead in goal scoring with two each. Switzerland needs consistent and varied offence in order to be successful against Team USA. Simon Bodenmann has one goal in seven games. He was a key contributor for the Swiss at the 2013 World Championship where he had two goals and five points in ten games.
Connor Hellebuyck has been Team USA’s best goaltender and should get the start. Hellebuyck has won all five games he’s started with a goal-against average of 1.38. Hellebuyck was able to withstand the Slovakia barrage in the second period of their final game of the Preliminary Round. Team USA will need another solid effort from Hellebuyck, who was among the top goaltenders in the American Hockey League last season.
Overall, Team USA’s defence has been strong. Outside of two games against Belarus and Slovakia, they have been strong. For whatever reason, Team USA has had difficult second periods in its two games against these teams. Belarus exposed the Americans’ weak side of the ice and something that has been tightened since that game. Torey Krug and Justin Faulk have been leaders on the backline. Seth Jones has also been largely effective. Both of Krug’s goals have come on the power play.
Brock Nelson, Trevor Lewis and Jack Eichel have formed a potent line for Team USA. They have contributed 10 goals and 13 assists. Nelson leads the team with six goals and Lewis with six assists. Nelson is also responsible for three game winning goals in Team USA’s six wins. Jack Eichel has been able to demonstrate his star qualities at the World Championship. Eichel has been pegged as the second overall pick in the upcoming NHL draft but his play against experienced and wily veterans here in the Czech Republic makes an argument for him being taken first overall. Eichel has two goals and six points in seven games.
“Every one is seeing Jack rise up now,” said Brock Nelson. “He’s one of our top offensive weapons. He sees the ice well and is a strong offensive player. He wants the puck and as you saw he’s able to make things happen once he has it. He’s going to be a great player.”
The Americans will also need production from its other lines. Success will come when they are able to get contributions from more than their top line.
Expect a close game between these nations with special teams being an important factor. The winner of this game will face a tough challenge once the tournament moves finally to Prague. Sweden or Russia awaits the winner. But in this playoff game for these teams at CEZ Arena, this will be an opportunity for both teams to do their best in limiting mistakes and capitalizing on what they are presented.
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