In the first semi-final game of the 2010 World Junior Championships on Sunday, it was Canada versus Switzerland for a chance to go the gold medal game.
The Swiss advanced to the semifinals after an upset win against Russia on Saturday where their goalie Benjamin Conz had a 50 save performance. Pierre McGuire who was doing colour commentary for the Canada-Switzerland game, compared Conz’s style to that of Anaheim’s Jean-Sebastian Giguere. Conz is able to stay very square to the puck and allow many of the shots to hit him while using limited movement.
One storyline headed into this game was the ongoing battle between Swiss player Nino Niedrreiter and Leaf prospect Nazem Kadri. The last time these countries faced one another, Kadri and Niederreiter had a heated argument with Kadri eventually sending some throat slashing gestures in the direction Niederreiter.
The bad blood would continue during this game as there was no shortage of hits from both countries.
Canada would start the scoring with a Jordan Eberle goal on a Canadian power-play only three minutes into the game. The goal is Eberle’s 12th ever as member of the Canadian WJC team and that put him in a tie with both Eric Lindros and current Flyers forward Jeff Carter.
Despite being down after the first, Conz played very well as he made two great saves in close on both Taylor Hall and Nazem Kadri.
The Saskatoon crowd was very passive for a game of such significance but this may have had something to do with the Swiss keeping the score close.
The Swiss would get two power-play opportunities early on in the second but it would be Canada that would dominate the play short-handed. On the second Switzerland power-play, Minnesota Wild draft pick Marco Scandella would score off a great pass by Gabriel Bourque. Shortly after Scandella made it 2-0, Taylor Hall would score goal off a nice toe drag in the slot area to give Canada a three goal advantage.
The Swiss were not ready to give up though as their third power-play of the second period would finally result in a goal by Mauro Jorg. Canada kept taking penalties as the normally reliant Jordan Eberle would give the Swiss their fourth man advantage of the period. The Swiss penalty would soon be negated however as hit on Taylor Hall would make it four on four.
Conz continued to play well throughout the second including a great save off a one timer from LA Kings draft pick Brandon Kozun. Conz also showed his frustration during the period by taking a swing to the back of the head of Canadian forward Stefan Della Rovere.
Heading into the third period, Canadian coach Willie Desjardins expressed the need for Canada to stop taking so many penalties. Even though the Swiss were down by 3-1, they were still playing pretty well as they did their best to match Canada physically and managed to get some good scoring chances on Canadian goalie Jake Allen.
Saskatchewan native Brayden Schenn would keep the scoring coming for Canada in the third as he made it 4-1 with a backhand in front of the net. The Canadian defense did a good job of forcing the Swiss to take some bad angle shots outside the slot area in the third. Canada goaltender Jake Allen also made sure to limit any rebounds throughout the period
Some ugly penalties by the Swiss in the late stages of the third gave away any chance at a comeback. On one play, a Swiss player was sent to the box for charging after he left his feet to hit the Canadian forward. Another play saw Switzerland face a two man disadvantage after Nazem Kadri received a forearm shot to the face.
Super pest Stefan Della Rovere would eventually make it 5-1 Canada and help secure a trip to the gold medal game. The final tally of would belong to Hall who would score a nice wrap around goal on goalie Benjamin Conz.
The Swiss clearly lost their temper near the end of the game as Swiss player Foglister made a clear hit from behind against Canadian player Travis Hamonic. One has to suspect that the IIHF will take a look at the hit as Hamonic looked to be injured on the play. Clearly some hatred between these two countries, the end of the game saw both countries maintain take some very questionable hits.
For the Swiss, they should build some optimism from the fact that their program looks to be improving. Regardless of whether they win the bronze medal against Sweden or not should not deter from the fact that this was a great tournament for the country. At the very least, they showed that they could try and match up physically with a far superior Canadian team. Also important is that one of Switzerland’s best players in Anaheim Ducks prospect Luca Sbisa was not available to play for the club.
Canada on the other hand will now face the United States in what should be an epic WJC Final. The most recent meeting between these two countries on was a memorable New Year’s Eve match where Canada took the victory in a shootout. To get to the gold medal game, the United States was able to defeat a highly skilled Swedish team by a score of 5-2.
The U.S. and Canada will face off Tuesday night in the WJC Final. For Canada, they will try to become the only country ever to the win the gold medal six years in a row. The United States however will look for an opportunity to spoil the Canadian party while they are on their are on Canada’s home soil in Saskatchewan.