POPRAD, SLOVAKIA - APRIL 18: Slovakia's Milos Fafrak #13 celebrates after scoring against Switzerland during preliminary round action at the 2017 IIHF Ice Hockey U18 World Championship. (Photo by Andrea Cardin/HHOF-IIHF Images)
Loss sends Swiss to Spisska to face U.S.
Slovakia rode the crest of a huge wave of fan support tonight to edge Switzerland, 2-1, to finish third in Group A standings.
The Slovaks now will play Russia in the quarter-finals in Poprad while the Swiss must play the U.S. in Spisska Nova Ves.
From the opening faceoff the game had a feeling of overtime to it. Both teams knew that to lose would mean a date with the United States on Thursday, not a favourable prospect.
To win, a date with Russia or the Czechs was daunting, to be sure, but preferable all the same.
"It was more about emotion tonight," said defenceman Marek Korencik, who set up the game-winning goal in the third, "but we won and that's about the character of the team."
Coach Norbert Javorcik agreed. "In the first three games, I thought we showed a lot of skill," he said. "Tonight, we showed a lot of fight--we played with our hearts. To play a world championship at home is the most incredible experience for a player."
Indeed, the Slovaks had an extra player on the ice all night long--the fans. "It's incredible," Korencik said. "They are so loud, but we understand what they are saying. This is something special. I love it! I thank them for this."
"We wanted to win this game," declared Swiss forward Nico Hischier. "We came out strong, but I thought in the end I think the team that wanted it more won--and that was Slovakia. You have to be 100 per cent ready all game."
Despite the pressure of the moment and some heavy hits after puck drop, tonight's game featured only two minor penalties, one to each team, and neither factored in the scoring.
It took more than half the game to see a puck cross the goal line, but then fans were treated to two superb goals in quick succession.
The first goal from the Slovaks was the result of an unbelievable series of checks by Adam Liska, who was on his stomach and on his knees as he outwitted not one, not two, but three Swiss players to keep the puck in the offensive zone.
Finally, he scooped the puck to Adam Ruzicka who fired a quick pass to Milos Fafrak at the crease. Fafrak made a quick little deke and flipped the puck in at 11:20.
But even as the sold-out arena was celebrating, the Swiss were creating a goal of their own. Coming in over the blue line on a three-on-three rush, Nico Hischier waited patiently and found Philipp Kurashev in front. He didn’t miss the wide open net.
"I think both teams were nervous at first," Hischier said. "No one wanted ot make a mistake. In the secnd, we got more pucks to the net, and we were able to tie the game."
The Slovaks struck for the next goal--the final goal--early in the third. Marek Korencik fired a long shot that was directed into the corner by goalie Akira Schmid, and Korencik chased after it. From the icing line he shot it at the net, and Jozef Balaz redirected the puck past a stunned goalie at 1:40.
"In the intermission, we talked about being patient," Javorcik said. "We talked about believing in themselves."