Swiss take second in Group A
by Andy POTTS|21 MAY 2024
Switzerland's Kevin Fiala #21 had his third multi-point game in five appearances at the 2024 IIHF World Championship.
photo: © International Ice Hockey Federation / Andrea Cardin
Switzerland wrapped up its Group A program with a victory over Finland. The Swiss finish with six wins from seven to take second place in the section, setting up a quarter-final against Germany.

Three points from Kevin Fiala led the way to a 3-1 verdict that was more dominant than the scoreline alone might suggest. Fiala now has 10 (6+4) points through five games since he jumped on the first flight out of Los Angeles to join his country at the end of his NHL playoff campaign. For long spells, Finland struggled to generate offence as the Swiss kept a vice-like grip on proceedings.

"It's a very good feeling," Fiala said. "We had a very good team effort, a very good win, and it was good fun to celebrate with the fans there."

Much of the significance of this game drained away when Austria stumbled this morning. Finland no longer needed a result to secure its playoff spot and could worry instead on trying to secure a morale-boosting win ahead of Thursday's showdown with Sweden.

That didn't happen, but Mikko Lehtonen still found positives from the game. "I think we had a good effort tonight," he said. "We played some good hockey in the third period and that's positive. We chased hard to get the game tied but we didn't quite manage to do it.

"In tournaments, it's all about winning the right games. If we win the next one, we're good."

Switzerland, meanwhile, was looking to secure second place in Group A and a quarter-final pairing with Germany. However, both teams expected to be travelling to Ostrava for Thursday’s games regardless of the result: host nation Czechia was booked to stay in Prague regardless of its position in the standings.

With less riding on the result, the first period lacked some of the expected intensity. The hockey was precise and well-executed, but rarely produced big chances. The closest either team came was a combination involving Fiala, Nino Niederreiter and Nico Hischier that gave the latter a chance in front. Harri Sateri held on in the Finnish net.

The Swiss weren’t shy of showing aggression. Two seconds before the intermission a penalty call offered a chance of a free shot. With no time for the Finns to launch a counter, Switzerland replaced goalie Akira Schmid with a sixth skater, won the face-off and fashioned a shooting lane for Roman Josi. Sateri’s blocker sent us to the break without a goal.

Things livened up in the second period. Switzerland opened the scoring after 25 minutes following Romain Loeffel’s blast from halfway. Sateri padded it out, straight to Fiala. He resisted the temptation to unleash an instant shot from the circle, zipped past Jesper Mattila and faked a shot before pulling away from Sateri and giving himself a tap in. Impressive execution from high speed from the Swiss forward.

Two minutes later, the Swiss doubled the lead. Fiala was involved again, bringing the puck deep into Finnish territory. Then it was back to the point, along the blue line and into a 161 km/h slapshot from Andreas Glauser that flew past Sateri. Switzerland was in control and on its way to second in the group.

"We did a lot of good things," said Niederreiter. "We knew we had to win to put ourselves in a great position and that’s what we did. It was a very good preliminary round for us and everybody’s looking forward to the quarter-final."

Finland had just one shot on goal in the period by that point but thought it was back in the game after a second. Markus Granlund produced an exquisite tip at high speed to steer Saku Maenalanen’s shot past Schmid, but the Swiss bench spotted Pekka Jormakka straying offside and a challenge called back the play.

There was no further sign of Finland’s offence until the team’s first power play of the game on 36:36. At last, the Leijonat got some time in Swiss territory and Granlund’s cross-ice feed landed perfectly for Jere Innala to wire a one-timer right under the bar.

The third period started with Andres Ambuhl walking right up to the Finnish net. However, the veteran Swiss forward, playing his 138th World Championship game, saw his attempt padded away by Sateri and is still waiting for his first goal in 2024.

Ambuhl's next contribution was more worrying for his team-mates: a tripping penalty put Finland back on the power play. This time, though, the penalty kill held up and the Finns were unable to grab a tying goal.

In the closing stages Finland began to enjoy more possession. Schmid showed good reactions to deny Juha Jaaska from close range. However, Fiala ensured there would be no late drama. Another lightning breakaway saw Niederreiter release the LA King for a delightful finish to claim his sixth goal of the tournament.

A tough night for Finland got worse in the closing moments when Granlund was ejected from the game for a cross check into Glauser's face.