In the matinee game of Day 2 of the 2016 World Juniors, Group A opponents Switzerland and Denmark took each other on in a game that could potentially decide which of the two reaches the quarter-finals, and which heads to the relegation round and, perhaps, to Division IA.
Denmark opened their tournament with this game against the Swiss, being one of two teams (along with Slovakia) who did not start their tournament on Day 1. Denmark is coming off an impressive performance in the 2015 World Juniors, where top players Nikolaj Ehlers, Oliver Bjorkstrand, and Mads Eller led the team to a surprising quarter-final berth before they fell to the Canadian side. Attempting to replace the offense produced by their former top line are two Danes from the CHL, and two playing in the top tier Swedish league, SHL. Alexander True and Niklas Andersen both hail from the WHL, from the Seattle Thunderbirds and Spokane Chiefs respectively. From the SHL, Kristian Jensen and Thomas Olsen look to provide some replacement offense as well.
Their opponents, Switzerland, were playing their second game of the tournament in just two days. Yesterday, in a game packed with some very questionable plays by the Swiss side, they lost their first game 8-3 to powerhouse Sweden. After the Sweden game, three Swiss players were suspended for at least one game: Calvin Thurkauf, Chris Egli, and Fabian Heldner, all suspended for questionable hits on Sweden’s top players (Kempe, Nylander, and Eriksson Ek). Despite these important losses, Switzerland still boasts a solid roster on both offense and defense, featuring talented CHL players like Timo Meier, Auguste Impose, and Dario Meyer at forward. Switzerland also features some big homegrown talents, like 16-year-old forward Nico Hischier and 18-year-old defenseman Jonas Siegenthaler.
Eight-and-a-half minutes into the game, Swiss forward Noah Rod, one of their top forwards, picked up his second goal of the tournament in as many games, deflecting an Edson Harlacher shot pst goaltender Thomas Lillie to give Switzerland the 1-0 lead. This, despite Denmark having the momentum for most of the first half of the first period.
The first period continued as a back-and-forth affair, with good chances on net coming for both Denmark and Switzerland. Despite great play by forwards like Will Boysen and Alexander True for Denmark), and Denis Malgin and Noah Rod for Switzerland, goaltenders Thomas Lillie and Joren van Pottelberghe stood tall, keeping the score at 1-0 through the rest of the period.
Early in the second period, Denmark continued to keep up with the Swiss, even outplaying their opponents for extended periods of time. At one point, Thomas Olsen stole the puck off of a Swiss defender in the Swiss zone, but wasn’t able to get a shot off on van Pottelberghe before being stopped by another Swiss player. Play continued back and forth, with both sides continuing to gather quality chances on net.
Midway through the second period, a hooking call on Switzerland gave Denmark a powerplay. A minute into the powerplay, forward Soren Nielsen took a shot from the top of the circle which found its way past goaltender Joren van Pottelberghe. Although the puck went in, Danish forward Jonas Rondjberg had his heels in the blue paint of van Pottelberghe’s crease, and the goal was immediately waived off by the referees.
With five minutes remaining in the second, Nielsen was back at it again. Waltzing into the Swiss zone with the puck, Nielsen fooled two Swiss players and made his way to the front of the net, before being stopped by Joren van Pottelberghe. Jonas Rondjberg‘s skates were nowhere to be found on another lost opportunity for Nielsen, but one has to assume that they were involved, one way or another.
As the second period ended, Switzerland continued to heavily rely on their top six forwards, specifically Timo Meier, Noah Rod, and Denis Malgin. Although these players were able to generate fantastic chances against Danish goaltender Thomas Lillie, one had to wonder if that success will continue into the third, or if the over-reliance on these top players could give Denmark a big advantage going into the third period.
Less than two minutes into the third period, it was the Soren Nielsen Show: Act Three. Breaking into the offensive zone after a pass from Jonas Rondjberg, he fired a shot from the middle of the circle and beat Swiss goaltender Joren van Pottelberghe short side under the blocker to tie the game up at 1. The play was only possible because of a creative set-up from Rondjberg in the neutral zone, giving Nielsen ample room to skate into the Swiss zone and fire off a well-placed shot.
Only five minutes later, draft-eligible forward Mathias From broke into the offensive zone with his linemates, received a pass, fired a shot on van Pottelberghe, and finished his own rebound down in the crease to give the Danes a 2-1 lead with just thirteen minutes remaining in the third period. From is a 2016 draft-eligible player playing with Rogle BK U20 in the Swedish second tier league, Allsvenskan, so any big plays on the international stage could be important to increase his draft clout.
Behind 2 to 1 after going into the second period with a lead, Switzerland’s desperation continued to grow throughout the period, spawning some quality chances on net from both Timo Meier and Tino Kessler, neither of whom could finish in front of the Danish net with five minutes remaining. Soon after, Switzerland pulled their goalie for a 6-on-5 skater advantage and began putting immense offensive pressure on Denmark and Thomas Lillie, who stood on his head multiple times to shut down the Swiss offense. Holding on for the win, the Danes took home their second all-time win at the World Junior Championships (both against Switzerland).
The regulation win gives Denmark a perfect record thus far at the tournament, a trend that is not likely to continue but should at least propel them past Switzerland and into the quarter-finals when all is said and done in Group A. The loss is a serious disappointment for the Swiss side, who were projected favourites going into this game but drop the most important three points of their tournament in the loss.
Denmark plays their next game tomorrow against perennial top contenders, Canada, while Switzerland have a day off before also facing Canada on the 29th. While neither team is favoured in any of their remaining games of the preliminary round, we’ve seen already today that upsets can and do happen at the World Juniors.