UFA, Russia — On the back-plate of Swiss goaltender Melvin Nyffeler features two sayings. On one side are the words: "Play with" followed by a picture of pink heart. The other side says, "Play like a" followed by a picture of a gold crown.
During their quarter-final on Wednesday, the Swiss lost a heartbreaking shootout decision, 4-3 to the host Russians.
Despite the loss, Nyffeler played with heart and like a champion.
It was the fourth consecutive time the Swiss dropped a game in either overtime or a shootout.
“It hurts,” said a visibly upset Nyffeler. “It really hurts. Four times we battled hard and went to penalty shots or overtime. Maybe, I don’t know. It’s really hard to find words now.
The 18-year-old made 33 saves to help the Swiss push the Russians to the brink of elimination from the medal round.
“Their goalie played really good,” said Russian forward Alex Khokhlachev. “They’re a really good team. They had a good back-check and they played really hard. It was really hard to win (Wednesday).”
The Swiss held a 3-2 late in the third period until Russia’s Nikita Kucherov scored with 1:39 seconds left in the game.
“It was nervous but we believed we can win,” said Russian forward Alex Khokhlachev. “We (just continued) to work; we know we would win.”
It was also Kucherov that bested Nyffeler in the fifth round of the shootout in a game that featured end to end action, great saves and a number of posts hit by both teams.
“Great two moves,” said Nyffeler, who plays for the Zurich Lions in the Swiss junior league. “(Mikhail) Grigorenko and Kucherov had great fakes. They made one goal more and they got the win.”
To be sure, the Swiss provided the Russians with a definite scare.When Sven Andrighetto, who plays for the QMJHL’s Rouyn-Noranda Huskies, scored to put the Swiss ahead late in the third period you could hear a pin drop at the arena. Still, coming close was no consolation for Nyffeler after the game.
“I am very, very proud of our team,” said the 18-year-old. “We are a pretty good team. Everybody fights (for) each other. Everybody likes (each) other and we could reach a lot, but we had no luck today. No luck.
“We battled for everything and now it’s finished.”
The Russians will now face Sweden, the defending gold medalists from the tournament in Calgary, in the semifinal. If they want to beat the Swedes, who won Pool A with an undefeated record, they’ll need to stay out of the penalty box, something they had a lot of difficulty with against the Swiss.
“Every game it’s been trouble for us,” said Khokhlachev, the ex-Windsor Spitfire, now playing in the KHL. “I don’t know why. We need to talk about this tonight and (Thursday) morning, because we can’t give up so many penalties to Sweden tomorrow.”
Switzerland’s best finish at a world junior championship was in 1998 when they won bronze in Finland. After the game Swiss head coach Sean Simpson, a Canadian who played in the 1980 world junior tournament before the Program of Excellence, said his players were so upset he didn’t have any words of consolation.
“It’s not the right time to talk to the team now,” said the former Ottawa 67 forward. “All I told them was how proud I was of them and that it’s not really fair what’s happened to us – four games, four penalty shot or overtime losses. Normally when you play good enough to take Sweden, Finland, Czech Republic and Russia to overtime, things would at least work out one time when you’d win a game. It’s very tough for our players right now. They played their hearts out and we’re all disappointed.
“Sport is great thing, but sometimes it’s tough.”