By Andrew Podnieks – IIHF.com
Switzerland defeated Finland at the Olympics for the first time ever, and in so doing earned their first win in Beijing after three losses. The thrilling 3-2 victory between two elite teams carving out an evermore intense rivalry also means the Finns are themselves now winless in three games. They had beat the Swiss the two previous meetings at the Olympics, 4-0 in 2006 and 4-3 in 2014.
The Group A standings now show the North Americans on top with perfect 3-0 records while the Swiss and ROC are next with three points each. Finland is fifth and last, still with zero points.
The win was sweet revenge for the Swiss, who lost to Finland, 3-1, in last year’s Women’s Worlds bronze medal game. One of the biggest differences was that today they had Alina Muller in the lineup. She was in the stands last Calgary in August, out with an ankle injury, but today she assisted on all three goals and showed calm and vision moving the puck around in the offensive zone.
“I watched the entire game today and that’s why I built these lines,” Swiss coach Colin Muller revealed. “I saw how the Finns came out hard. It’s difficult to play against them the first 10, 15 minutes. You have to stay as close as possible and then they may lose their focus.”
“We believed more in ourselves, played with more self-confidence,” Alina Muller said, comparing last year to tonight. “They are good when they have room and space, and we wanted to take that away from them so that they can’t execute their game plan. We wanted to pass to the open player as fast as possible and not play complicated. It worked well and we had a great performance from Andrea in the net. Without her we would be nowhere.”
The Swiss have now finished their preliminary-round games and will have to wait a day to see where they’ll finish in the Group A standings. Finland closes out their schedule tomorrow evening against ROC.
As Muller mentioned, the star of the game was goalie Andrea Braendli, who turned aside 38 of 40 often challenging shots. At the other end, the Swiss fired 24 pucks at Anni Keisala.
“We played together for the entire 60 minutes,” Braendli said. “That’s what made us successful today. We stuck together and fought until the end. There were a couple of saves where my teammates helped me out there. It wasn’t my save; it was our team’s save. That’s why we won the game.”
“We weren’t good today,” acknowledge Finnish forward Elisa Holopainen, who scored one of her team’s goals. “We can be a better team. Switzerland played better today; they scored the goals. It’s hard to say what happened, but we have to focus now on tomorrow and play our game.”
Although the Finns dominated the first period in both puck possession and territory, it was the Swiss who scored the only goal of the opening 20 minutes. The goal came during a five-on-three advantage midway through. Captain Lara Stalder won the faceoff to Muller, and as she moved in on goal she passed off to the more open Lara Christen, who rifled a shot over the glove of Keisala at 11:52. It was the 19-year-old’s first Olympic goal after having already appeared in four WW18’s and two senior Women’s Worlds.
Later in the period the Swiss almost doubled their lead off a Finland turnover when Nicole Vallario spotted Lena-Marie Lutz wide open in front, but Lutz shot wide. The Finns outshot Switzerland, 13-3, but time and again they misfired or were foiled by Braendli. The Swiss goaler made a great pad save off a close-in try by Sanni Hakala, and she later made a save off a short-handed try from Tanja Niskanen. Braendli also had Lady Luck on her side early on when Hakala took a cross-ice pass and snapped a shot off the near post.
The second period saw a spate of minor penalties, four of the six assessed to the Finns, but Suomi tied the game at 7:49 with an extra skater of their own. A point shot didn’t get through, and while Braendli tried to follow the bouncing puck in front Nelli Laitinen found it and put a shot in over the goalie’s blocker.
The Swiss came right back, though, on a delayed penalty. As Braendli hustled to the bench for an extra skater, Dominique Ruegg fired a shot through traffic that beat Keisala through the pads at exactly 10:00 to restore Switzerland’s one-goal lead.
But for all the Swiss’s resilience, it was Finland’s lack of discipline and inability to convert good chances that was the story. They had only three goals coming in to the game, and you could see why. Petra Nieminen and Jenni Hiirikoski also had some bad luck. Nieminen tired to make a pass across on a two-on-one, but Christen dove to block the attempt. The puck went off her stick and hit the post, and came back out to Hiirikoski who was stoned in front by Braendli. From good luck to bad luck in a matter of seconds.
And despite all of the penalties, the Finns had plenty of scoring chances short-handed. Noora Tulus broke up a play and raced the length of the ice, only to lose control on the deke. Moments later, Shannon Sigrist made a horrible pass in her own end which was intercepted in the slot by Elisa Holopainen, but she also was stopped by Braendli. Ditto for Michelle Karvinen, who had a chance just outside the crease but couldn’t score.
Stalder gave the Swiss some breathing room early in the third. With no one open, she came off the boards in the Finland end and skated to the middle, letting go a low backhand that beat Keisala at 1:21. It was a shot the goalie should have had, although Phoebe Stanz was stationed in front on the screen.
The Finns pressed, though, and got one back midway through the period. A scramble behind Braendli’s goal saw Viivi Vainikka nudge the puck out to the side of the goal where Holopainen roofed a high shot from close in to make it a one-gal game again at 10:11.
The Finns tried to get that tying goal but took another late penalty – their second of the game for too many skaters – which prevented any sustained pressure in the Swiss end. At the horn, the Swiss whooped it up, celebrating a big, emotional win, while the Finns skated sheepishly off the ice, looking for answers.