Day two of the 2018 World Juniors tournament kicked off with a lower-tier clash, but a meaningful one just the same. Belarus was coming off a 6-1 defeat at the hands of the Swedish powerhouse and were looking for anything to build on. The Swiss were hoping to get this year started on the right foot, and build momentum going into the upcoming set of games.
Starring for the Swiss is potential first-round pick Nando Eggenberger, who is trying to follow a recent trend of his countrymen and make a name for himself heading into his draft year. With the recent success of players like Nico Hischier and Kevin Fiala, Eggenberger could be the next potential breakout player from Switzerland.
A fast start by Belarus put the Swiss defence back on their heels in the opening minutes, which after a lopsided loss is exactly what they needed. Then the Swiss side found their legs and put the pressure back on the Belarusians.
Starting netminder Andrei Grishenko was called into action early and often, and looked to be giving his team a major boost. Then some sloppy passing that plagued them early on caught up with Belarus, and it would put them in the hole. In a scramble around the net, and while falling over, Nicolas Muller got his stick on the puck and it trickled past the netminder.
It was Grishenko who again propelled Belarus back into the game, however, despite being outshot for the majority of the period. Following a failed three-on-one into the Swiss end, Belarus’ netminder was called upon once more. A loose puck in the corner led to a wraparound chance, and as Grishenko slid over he made a miraculous toe save, and kept out the follow-up chances as well.
His teammates repaid his strong play by marching down the ice and in another loose puck scramble tied the game thanks to Flyers prospect Maxim Sushko jamming in a loose puck from a point shot.
A late flurry of shots brought Belarus close to taking the lead before the horn blew at the end of the first period.
A scoreless second frame once again saw Grishenko shine in net, turning away all 15 Swiss shots he faced, while his side managed just seven in response. A tripping penalty by Philipp Kurashev gave a scrappy Belarus side a chance, but the Swiss defence proved to be too hard to crack on the man advantage.
The third period would see an upset begin to form, with the Swiss being unable to solve Grishenko, and poor communication leading to them being down on the scoreboard less than five minutes in. A too many men penalty created to another crucial penalty kill and it would be Viktor Bovbel finding a soft spot to pounce on a puck to put the underdogs on top.
The bubble would pop shortly thereafter as a potent Swiss attack finally broke down Grishenko for a second time. A turnover in the corner fell to the stick of Valentin Nussbaumer and he made no mistake in tying the game, as Belarus’ puck mismanagement finally caught up to them.
There was further heartbreak not long after as the Swiss regained the lead. The 2018 draft-eligible Kurashev was left all alone in the slot, and wired home a rocket off the goalpost and in to put Switzerland deservedly on top just over halfway through the final period.
A penalty by captain Sushko put a major damper on the chances of a miracle comeback by Belarus, but despite the call they nearly tied the game late. With a flurry of shots, and Philip Wuthrich sprawling to get in position, the underdogs nearly tied the game, but the Swiss defence held on just enough to seal the narrow 3-2 victory.
Swiss captain Nando Eggenberger spoke to Eyes On The Prize after the game.
EOTP: It was a close game. Was that due in part to them being tougher than what the last game showed, and are there things to improve on for next game?
Eggenberger: We knew it would be a tough game, and we had plenty of chances, but we didn’t take them. When we didn’t take our chances it ended up being a tight game.
Their goalie was a major test throughout the game. Were there any changes your team made or was it just to stick to the game plan and keep getting shots on him?
We say we have to get shots on the net and take our chances. We didn’t take our chances early on. We have to keep going and make our smart play and smart game and take our chances.
There’s been a big wave of Swiss stars in the NHL recently. Is this tournament a big chance for you to show you’re that next star?
Eggenberger: Yeah, of course. But I think more for the team to win, and I don’t think too much for me. That’s how I play.