Anyone familiar with the match history of BELARUS and SWITZERLAND could have guessed what to expect for the quarterfinal qualification clash at the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver — a very low-scoring affair to be decided by a single goal.
Indeed, three of the past four contests between Belarus and Switzerland at major international tournaments prior to the meeting in Vancouver had produced three-goal games; the other match was a 2-0 result.
Switzerland had won four of the past five encounters at the majors, including a 2-1 victory over the Belarussians at the 2002 Winter Olympics. Oddly enough at Salt Lake City, however, it was Belarus and not the Swiss who advanced out of Group B in the preliminary round into the final Olympic tournament. Belarus went on to claim Sweden’s scalp in the quarterfinals, of course.
So with this background was the puck dropped for the first of the four quarterfinal qualification matches in Vancouver and, against the percentages of history, a goal was promptly scored.
From his own defensive zone, Belarus rearguard VIKTOR KOSTYUCHENOK of Spartak Moscow sent a home run pass to ALEXEI KALYUZHNY of Dynamo Moscow at the Switzerland blueline. Although the pass was dead on, Kalyuzhny allowed the vulcanized rubber to get away from his stick and run straight in on Swiss goaltender JONAS HILLER of the Anaheim Ducks. Hiller had plenty of time and space to eat the biscuit, but somehow permitted the puck bounce off his goalstick nevertheless.
Kalyuzhny swooped in for a backhand attempt which was saved by Hiller, but the Swiss goalie lost sight of the puck in underneath his pads. The heavily experienced and obviously alert Belarus forward, despite losing his balance, dove head first and stabbed the disc through Hiller’s pads into the net. Switzerland protested but to no avail; Belarus were in front 1-0 after just 59 seconds.
The Swiss leveled matters at the 12:25 mark of the first period after Kalyuzhny had been sent to the box for Belarus. Minnesota Wild draft pick JULIEN SPRUNGER of HC Fribourg-Gotteron scored a pretty goal on the power play for his second tally in two games for Switzerland. Sprunger swatted a puck mid-air past Belarus goaltender ANDREI MEZIN after storming down the middle of the slot to receive a pass from Ottawa Senators draft pick ROMAN WICK of EHC Kloten.
Switzerland, who had posted a 16-7 edge in shots-on-goal for the opening period, went to their first lead of the contest seven minutes into the second period, again on the power play.
Canadian-born HNAT DOMENICHELLI of HC Lugano scored his first goal of the 2010 Vancouver Games after a shot from the point by Swiss captain MARK STREIT of the New York Islanders changed directions a few times and found the former National Hockey Leaguer alone all in front. Experienced Belarussian defenseman and captain RUSLAN SALEI, who had himself scored Belarus’ game-winning-goal versus Germany, appeared to lose track of the 33-year-old veteran Domenichelli.
Despite being outshot 26-11, however, Belarus held the fort in large part due to the efforts of the 35-year-old Mezin in net. The veteran netminder, who had played 59 games for Belarus at eleven major international tournaments heading into Vancouver, was preferred by national team coach MIKHAIL ZAKHAROV over VITALI KOVAL, who had kicked out 37 shots in the 5-3 win over Germany. Making his 14th career start at his third Winter Olympic Games, Mezin would ultimately finish with 40 saves for Belarus.
Accustomed to being under pressure at these Vancouver Games, the Belarussians again counterattacked for the tying goal with 4:18 remaining in the second period. Belarus again profited from a fortuitous bounce. Defenseman NIKOLAI STASENKO of Russian club Amur Khabarovsk sent a wrist shot from the point goal-bound which ricocheted off Belarus forward ALEXEI UGAROV of Russian club HK MVD Balashikha straight to the Belarus coach’s son all alone at the side of the net.
KONSTANTIN ZAKHAROV of Dynamo Minsk, former farmhard of the St. Louis Blues, gleefully shot the puck into the wide open net to boost Belarus to a 2-2 draw.
What followed was more than half a game (34:12 to be precise) of shutout hockey delivered by the two goaltenders Hiller and Mezin. And so a shootout was necessary to determine who should advance to the quarterfinal round to face the United States in the quarterfinal round proper.
THOMAS DERUNS of HC Servette Geneva and ROMANO LEMM of HC Lugano both achieved success with Switzerland’s first two penalty-shot attempts.
DMITRI MELESHKO of Dynamo Minsk gave Belarus hope, particularly after Mezin denied Swiss forward IVO RUTHEMANN of SC Bern.
But Hiller halted SERGEI KOSTITSYN and, thus, Switzerland survived to skate another day at the ice hockey tournament at the 2010 Winter Olympic Games in Vancouver.
SWITZERLAND 3 – BELARUS 2 — (aet, shootout)
Shots-on-goal : Switzerland 42 – Belarus 22
SWITZ goals : Sprunger, Domenichelli
BLR goals : Kalyuzhny, Zakharov
SWITZ — Deruns (1/1), Lemm (1/1), Ruthemann (0/1)
BLR — Antonenko (0/1), Meleshko (1/1), S. Kostitsyn (0/1)
The veteran international Kalyuzhny (71) pokes the puck past the Swiss goaltender Hiller to give Belarus an early 1-0 lead. Unable to stop Belarus’ all-time leading scorer at major international events are Switzerland skaters SEVERIN BLINDENBACHER (5), ANDRES AMBUEHL (10) and LUCA SBISA (47). Looking on for Belarus is KONSTANTIN KOLTSOV (28), the former 1999 first round draft pick of the Pittsburgh Penquins. (Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
Montreal Canadiens forward SERGEI KOSTITSYN (74) arrives to plead the case of Belarus as the Swiss goaltender Hiller lodges his protests with the referee. (Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
All eyes look to the referee; the veteran Belarussian international Kalyuzhny of Kontinental Hockey League club Dynamo Moscow is convinced he has scored. (Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
to be continued…