Switzerland’s remarkable run at the 2013 IIHF World Championship continued Saturday at the expense of the United States. The Swiss stifled the Americans defensively all game long and came away with a 3-0 victory to advance to the gold-medal game against Sweden. Team USA will meet Finland for bronze Sunday.
Overall, it was an impressive effort from Switzerland tactically. The U.S. had so few quality chances due to Switzerland’s aggressiveness on pucks and a willingness to block shots. Team USA’s transition game and zone entries were also made more difficult by excellent defensive reads.
Switzerland seemed to own the middle of the ice, particularly in their own zone, which is not easy to do, but incredibly important. Even though there is more ice on an Olympic sheet, the game is mostly the same between the face off dots. Switzerland was able to push American forwards to the perimeter and forced the U.S. to take shots from low-percentage areas. The U.S. needed its D engaged offensively, but the Swiss forwards did a terrific job of taking away the points and blocking shots.
It really wasn’t a pretty game to watch, but Switzerland knew that’s how it had to be to beat a team with more speed and perhaps more overall skill. It worked perfectly.
A lot of credit goes to Switzerland’s Canadian-born head coach Sean Simpson. He had a terrific game plan and has gotten the most out of his players. He also made the gutsy call to stick Reto Berra in net despite the fact that Martin Gerber had been so good in the quarterfinal against the Czech Republic.
If the U.S. was making adjustments, they weren’t really showing up out there. That could have been a lot more due to the Swiss than anything else. However, the fact that the U.S. wasn’t able to generate more chances with some of the higher-skill guys on the roster is somewhat surprising. There just wasn’t a lot of creativity out there to try and break through the wall the Swiss seemed to set up just inside their blue line.
The U.S. also got into penalty trouble late in the game, though some of the calls were a tad questionable. Three consecutive penalty kills near the midway point of the third period really stalled the U.S. when it was still a one-goal game. John Gibson made some huge stops to keep his club alive, but three straight PKs really wore Team USA down it seemed.
It would be tough to say the U.S. played poorly, because they really didn’t. A few mistakes in transition led to the first two Swiss goals, but other than that, it was just a matter of not having enough to break through Switzerland’s shell.
The slow start in the first period, in which the U.S. was out-shot 18-9 wasn’t ideal, but they got out of the first 20 minutes with a 0-0 score.
Things were opening up a bit it seemed in the second period, but Switzerland got on the board first. Nino Niederreiter was the beneficiary of a nice Martin Pluss pass on a 2-on-1 off an Aaron Palushaj turnover. The Islanders prospect didn’t miss from close range as he beat Gibson with a wrist shot in the second period.
In the third, soon after the U.S. had just killed off its third-straight penalty, Julian Walker took a long feed, got a partial breakaway and surprisingly wound up from between the faceoff circles, putting his slap shot past John Gibson to make it 2-0 near the halfway point of the third period.
The U.S. kept clawing and generated some of its best chances of the game in the latter stages of the third period, but it was iced by Reto Suri with an empty-netter in the closing seconds.
John Gibson, who made 28 saves, was named Team USA’s player of the game. He really was sensational once again. The two goals he allowed were hardly on him as he faced two shooters with no one in front of them. The 19-year-old has been impressive in the tournament, which likely has caught the attention of the Anaheim Ducks, which selected him 39th overall in 2011. Gibson is proving to be one of the elite goaltending prospects in the world right now, so that’s a huge positive for both the Ducks and USA Hockey.
For Switzerland, it’s a monumental win for their program. I highlighted some of the reasons why in this piece for CBSSports.com. The Swiss will have a shot to claim their first ever gold medal at the World Championship Saturday against Sweden, and are assured at least their first medal in tournament play since 1953.
Switzerland’s win is also good for international hockey. There is increasing parity, which is a very good thing. The game is growing worldwide, so the more teams competing for medals is a great sign for the future.
The semifinal loss is a disappointing one for the U.S. after that remarkable 8-3 win over Russia, but Team USA still has a chance to capture its first medal since 2004 in the bronze-medal game against Finland. The Finns are coming off a crushing 3-0 loss to rival Sweden in the semis.
That game WILL BE carried live on NBC Sports Network at 10 a.m. ET Sunday, as confirmed by NBC.
Expect a full preview of that contest coming soon.