Canada survives much stiffer test from Swiss after dominant opener

Canada goalie Ian Scott allows a goal to Switzerland's Philipp Kurashev as Nando Eggenberger and Canada's Josh Brook look on. (Darryl Dyck/CP)

VANCOUVER — One night, they put up two touchdowns. The next, a single field goal, which Team Canada needed to survive Switzerland 3-2 here Thursday.

It’s hard to know what to make of Canada’s national junior hockey team, which moved to 2-0 at the world championships with a close call against the mighty chocolatiers, 24 hours after the Canadians demolished Denmark 14-0.

By contrast, we know exactly what to expect from Switzerland: stout defending, good goaltending, speed on the counter-attack, skill on the power play, and a coach in Christian Wohlwend who is worth the price of admission for reporters – assuming journalists would ever willingly to pay for anything.

“If our players would be playing on the small ice rink from six-years-old to now, then we would probably beat Canada,” Wolhwend said. “It’s a different game. When you play all the time on the smaller ice rink, that’s a big advantage. Our players have to adapt in two weeks.

“It’s just normal that you guys, Canada, is so good when you have so many players: 400,000 juniors compared to 16,000 (in Switzerland) all playing on the small ice rink. When we have 400,000 players compared to 16,000 and play on the small ice rink, that I want to see.”

Well, that’s not happening. Switzerland doesn’t have enough rinks to accommodate 400,000 minor-hockey players.

But with about 1/25th the players that Canada has, Switzerland still had its goalie out for an extra attacker and buzzing Canadian goaltender Ian Scott towards the end.

What did Wohlwend tell his players when he called a timeout in the third period with his team down 3-1?

“I told them: ‘[Expletive], what do you guys want? There’s like 18,000 spectators and we have a chance, maybe in a lifetime, once. They will remember the rest of their life if we can beat Canada.’ Now we need another try.”

They won’t get it in this tournament unless Switzerland advances to the medal round. Canada plays the Czech Republic on Saturday.

It’s not like the Canadians were poor against Switzerland. They outshot the Swiss 32-17, and were rarely threatened at even strength. Defenceman Philipp Kurashev scored both Swiss goals on power plays, and the Canadians generated enough scoring chances to put more than three pucks past goalie Akira Schmid.

But Canada’s power play went 0-for-5, and the Canadians overhandled the puck on several rushes, trying complex passes instead of simple shots. But really, the biggest difference from Wednesday’s blowout was Canada’s opponent.

The problem is Canada’s opposition will continue to get better.

“Chemistry and learning how to win these tight games. . . it’s all new to them,” Canadian coach Tim Hunter said. “We’re trying to guide them through it and they’re navigating pretty well. Overall, we’re really happy where we’re at. We’ll just keep building our game. . . and learn from whatever mistakes we made tonight.”

Hunter admitted the best preparation for the Swiss was probably not dusting the Danes by 14, especially since Canada opened the second game of the back-to-back by taking a 1-0 lead against Switzerland on Cody Glass’ one-timer just 36 seconds after the opening faceoff.

“It’s definitely a factor,” Hunter said. “And we scored early and now these guys are off to the races again after scoring 14 goals. Again, it’s those things they haven’t lived through yet, so they’re all kind of finding their way through these moments. But in the end, we found a way to compete and we won the game and we’ll learn from these little nuances.”

Against such a gritty opponent, it was appropriate that Canada’s pivotal goal was scored by its 13th forward. Grinding centre MacKenzie Entwhistle, who captains his junior team in Hamilton, converted Shane Bowers’ centring pass to break a 1-1 tie at 5:55 of the second period.

Just over six minutes later, Noah Dobson scuffed a shot under Schmid to make it 3-1, and the score stayed that way until Kurashev’s goal with 1:49 remaining in the third period, scored as the Swiss skated six-on-four.

“I don’t really look at that too much,” Entwhistle said of his spot at the bottom of the depth chart. “The biggest thing is I’m playing for my country and I’m playing for the logo on my chest. I got to play a little bit more tonight, but I don’t look at that too much.

“It was nice to get the guys going, and I think that’s my role on the team. It’s always tough coming off a 14-0 win.”

That is a hockey problem that few others countries have encountered.

“There’s a 99 per cent chance in every tournament that Canada has a chance to win a medal,” Wohlwend said. “Ninety-nine per cent. I heard that there is pressure; that’s not pressure. When there’s a 99 per cent chance to win a medal every tournament, that would be a very comfortable situation for Switzerland. You know what I mean?”

Probably not if you ask Switzerland’s alpine ski team.

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