It wasn't pretty but the Swiss still pulled through. They needed a 10-minute four-on-four and a shootout before sneaking past pesky Belarus 3-2 in the first qualifier at Hockey Canada Place this afternoon. Thomas Deruns and Romano Lemm helped Switzerland set up a quarter versus Team USA tomorrow at 3 on NBC.
Favorite to advance, the Swiss got scored on in the opening minute when Aleksei Kalyuzhny snuck a trickler off defenders past a surprised Jonas Hiller. But Julien Sprunger responded with a power play goal, knotting the contest. For the day, the higher seed notched both their goals via the man-advantage. It would be a Hnat Dominichelli rebound past a sprawled Andrei Mezin which steered the Swiss ahead during a second they largely controlled. Islander defenseman Mark Streit got an assist on the tally. However, Belarus earned a power play and quickly tied it in the late stages of the second thanks to Konstantin Zakharov backhanding home a loose puck into a vacant net with Hiller off to the right.
Sensing an upset, many in the crowd began to root for the underdog who eight years earlier strung a much bigger one over Sweden, Belarus played more confidently, using their skating to generate chances. But most were misdirections which sailed wide. Hiller sharpened up in a seesaw third making a pair of tough stops to keep it tied. One instance saw Konstantin Koltsov with a great chance to shoot from the slot 15 feet away but instead, his pass down low missed connection. Each goalie was strong during sudden death pushing it to the skill competition.
In it, both Deruns and Lemm deked before picking high glove on Mezin sandwiched around a Hiller stop for a commanding 2-zip lead. But Dmitri Meleshenko extended it with a nice forehand deke finish off the bar and in with the Anaheim goalie on all fours. The Belarussian bench was given even more hope when Mezin stopped Swiss' third shooter giving Hab Sergei Kostitsyn a chance to force extras. However, the third-year NHLer made one too many moves allowing a sliding Hiller to get a pad on his forehand deke in tight, sealing it for the Swiss.
Switzerland must play better tomorrow against USA, whose size, speed and strength will test the feisty European nation. However, the Americans can't take it lightly as they only beat them 3-1 in prelims and know just how much of a trap game this is. Keep an eye on Roman Wick and Hiller along with Streit, who all must have strong games for a chance at the upset.
There are three more qualifiers taking place tonight. Canada and Germany are underway with a whole nation holding its collective breath. Also on tap later are Czech and Latvia (10 PM) and Slovakia-Norway at midnight. All three can be seen on CNBC.