The pre-tournament game between Czechia and Switzerland may be a tune-up, but in international hockey, every game has meaning as the players wear their nation’s flag. These two teams last played at this level in the 2019 World Junior Championship (WJC), and are not set to resume hostilities in a meaningful game unless they meet in the Quarterfinals or Medal rounds. In that last game, Czechia won 2-1 in overtime on a goal by David Kvasnicka. Switzerland was looking for a form of revenge as they continue to fine-tune their lineup and systems going into the 2023 WJC.
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Team Czechia was coming off a 6-3 victory against Team Latvia, who dealt well with the loss of some of their equipment on their way to Halifax. Switzerland however, lost in a lopsided 6-0 game against host nation Canada. There was added drama for Attilio Biasca of Switzerland and David Moravec of Czechia, as there will no doubt be bragging rights for the rest of the season on the line for the two Halifax Mooseheads teammates.
Czechia Slow Out of the Gate
It took only 30 seconds for Eduard Sale to make his presence known, missing an opportunity in the crease created by his speed to generate an odd-man rush, as he tried to coral an errant pass from the corner. He remained one of the most notable skaters for Czechia all night. However, it took much longer for the two teams to build intensity until Czechia’s physicality began to create a flow to the game.
Related: 2023 Guide to the World Junior Championship
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Czechia had difficulty piercing Switzerland’s structured system. The one time a Czech player did pierce that defensive bubble, it was Jaroslav Chmelar who went directly to the net, but his incidental contact with the goaltender meant that the goal scored from the point was disallowed. That seemed to distract Czechia, because the next shift, the Swiss penalty killing (PK) unit was able to take advantage of an unforced error. It was a miscommunication between goaltender Tomas Suchanek and team captain Stanislav Svozil which led to the defender mishandling the puck leading to a turnover to Lorenzo Canonica in the slot that he quickly turned into a shorthanded goal.
This was followed up with some undisciplined play by Czechia, as they began to hit everything, but without control. This led to a penalty that the Swiss quickly capitalized on with a power play (PP) goal by Jeremy Jabola. Near the end of the second period, Switzerland stepped up the pressure with a consistent forecheck which led to a breakdown in Czechia’s defensive coverage, allowing Louis Robin an open shooting lane for a quick release and a goal.
Switzerland on Their Heels
Czechia began the third with a renewed focus, playing a more methodical style. This allowed Czechia to keep the play down in Switzerland’s zone for long periods. With Attilio Biasca in the penalty box, Czechia found its offensive legs, with Buffalo Sabres prospect Jiri Kulich scoring a PP goal on a feed from Sale. They followed it up with another PP goal, this time by Matyas Sapovaliv, who came streaking into the offensive zone to beat the defender wide and score on the rush. With time becoming the enemy of Czechia, tempers began to flare, leading to a fight between Lian Bishel and Marcel Marcel. Czechia continued to pressure; however, Switzerland was able to withstand their final push and score an empty net goal to seal the win by a 4-2 score.
Team Switzerland seems prepared for the challenge Group B will provide, especially with a strong performance in goal by Alessio Beglieri. That level of play will be necessary if they hope to upset any of the top nations and earn a spot in the medal round. Meanwhile, Czechia has some adjustments to make before they open the tournament against Team Canada. While they were the more skilled team, they took too long to get themselves rolling. Adjusting their intensity levels to remain high for 60 minutes should be their main focus if they hope to compete in Group A.