SASKATOON - Even without their two key players Switzerland managed to do something they haven't done since 2002 - advance to the playoff round.
With captain Luca Sbisa out with an abdomen injury and defenceman Roman Josi unavailable, the Swiss got past Slovakia 4-1 Thursday at the world junior hockey championship to clinch a quarter-final date on Saturday.
"I was cheering like never before," said Sbisa who watched the game from the press box. "It's a great day for Swiss hockey."
The Swiss (2-2) will meet Russia in the quarter-final. Russia advanced Thursday with a 5-2 win over the Czech Republic.
Sbisa will miss the remainder of the tournament, and fly back to Switzerland on Saturday.
Switzerland wouldn't be advancing if it weren't for the performance of goaltender Benjamin Conz. The Swiss keeper stopped 39 shots, bouncing back from conceding five goals against Latvia on Wednesday.
"We know that when the shot is coming that if we can't block it Benjamin has got it," said defenceman Roman Josi.
Added head coach Jakob Kolliker: "Maybe yesterday he was a little unlucky against Latvia, but he has a great future in front of him."
Slovakia (1-4) is bumped to the relegation round and will join Latvia, and Austria plus either the Czech Republic, Russia or Finland.
The result is a bitter disappointment for the Slovaks, who advanced to the semifinals in last year's tournament in Ottawa. Slovakia had won the two previous meetings between the two countries this year.
"It's terrible because I think Slovakia is a better hockey team than Switzerland," said Slovakian forward Tomas Tatar, a veteran of last year's team. "Now we are just fighting to stay in (Under-20 Division I)."
Issues on the defensive end have been the foil for the Slovaks. In their three other Group A contests, the team gave up 18 goals, including three to lowly Latvia.
"Almost every shot has been going in the net," said Tatar. "We've had lots of problems in the corner - we lose the battle and they have a three-on-one.
"Everybody is disappointed - it's sad."
Nino Niederreiter scored two goals for the Swiss. His first tally came in the second period when he tipped in a Patrick Geering point shot on the power play at 7:27. In the third he beat Tomas Halasz on a breakaway.
The goal was reviewed, but the puck was deemed to have crossed the goal-line before the net was knocked off its moorings.
Richard Panik made things interesting late. During a delayed penalty call he slid the puck past a scrambling Conz to trim the lead to 2-1.
However, with Tatar in the penalty box for holding, Tristan Scherwey put the Swiss up for good at 16:08 of the third.
Mauro Jorg added an empty-net goal for Switzerland.
Goaltender Tomas Halasz stopped 26-of-29 shots for Slovakia.
The Slovaks did not lack for chances, they just couldn't put the puck past Conz early on. Tatar appeared to score moments into the third period, but the goal was disallowed due to a high sticking call.
"He's been awesome all tournament," said Josi of Conz.
The quarter-finals will be played Saturday in Saskatoon. Slovakia will open play in the relegation round against Austria the same day.
Notes: Sbisa and Josi were both named to Switzerland's Olympic hockey team on Wednesday.