A Switzerland national team with little NHL experience assured the country of its first medal at the IIHF World Ice Hockey Championship in half a century with a 3-0 win against the United States in the semifinals of the 2013 tournament Saturday.
New York Islanders prospect Nino Niederreiter scored the winning goal and added an assist as Switzerland advanced to the championship game Sunday, where it'll face Sweden, a 3-0 winner against Finland earlier Saturday in the other semifinal. It's the first time Switzerland will play for the gold in the tournament's modern era.
Switzerland last medaled at the World Championship in 1953, when they captured bronze at a tournament in which the United States, Canada and Soviet Union all abstained from competition.
Julian Walker and Reto Suri also scored for the Swiss, and goaltender Reto Berra, who was starting after veteran goaltender Martin Gerber backstopped the team to a 2-1 quarterfinal victory against the Czech Republic, made 29 saves for the shutout.
John Gibson, who helped the United States win gold at the 2013 IIHF World Junior Championship, made 28 saves. His team will play Finland for the bronze medal Sunday. A U.S. team last won gold at the World Championship in 1933.
Switzerland came out firing in the first period, outshooting the United States 18-9 in the opening 20 minutes. But Gibson, an Anaheim Ducks prospect, stopped all 18 shots he faced to keep his countrymen in contention.
"John Gibson was exceptional." U.S. coach Joe Sacco said. "He’s played well every game in this tournament so far. That says a lot about this young goaltender and his maturity level."
The game tightened considerably in the second period, with the two teams combining for 12 shots. But it was Niederreiter who opened the scoring midway through the period with his team-leading fifth goal of the tournament.
The United States took control in the third, putting 13 shots on goal. Despite the barrage, the Americans encountered penalty trouble as Jacob Trouba, Ryan Carter and Jeff Petry each earned two-minute minors early in the period. Switzerland wouldn't score on any of those man-advantage opportunities, including 17 seconds of 5-on-3 play, but Walker would double the Swiss lead 29 seconds after Petry finished serving his interference minor.
With Gibson pulled late in regulation for an extra attacker, Suri closed the scoring with an empty-net goal, with Niederreiter earning an assist.
"We knew we had to bring one of our best performances in the tournament and our players did that," Switzerland coach Sean Simpson said. "We skated hard and stuck to the system and showed desire to win the game and do something for Swiss hockey and for Switzerland itself. To get to this part of the tournament is something very special for the country."
Sweden 3, Finland 0: Loui Eriksson scored two power-play goals and collected an assist, and Henrik Sedin and Daniel Sedin combined for five points as Sweden advanced to the gold-medal game Saturday in the semifinals of the 2013 IIHF World Hockey Championship.
Sweden will play Switzerland on Sunday in the gold-medal game after the Swiss beat the United States 3-0.
Finland will face the United States for the bronze medal Sunday.
Playing on one of the most dangerous lines of the tournament, the Sedins assisted on each of Eriksson's goals. With Finnish goalie Antti Raanta pulled for an extra skater late in the third period, Henrik Sedin scored his second goal of the tournament, with Eriksson and Henrik Tallinder earning assists.
"The Sedins are the difference," Sweden coach Par Marts said. "They’re great on the power play. They mean so much for us and gave our team self-confidence the way they played."
Jhonas Enroth stopped all 30 shots he faced for the shutout; Raanta made 28 stops.
The victory earned the Swedes a measure of revenge against their Scandinavian neighbors, who beat Sweden 6-1 in the final of the 2011 tournament in Slovakia.
With legendary Swedish players Mats Sundin, Peter Forsberg and Nicklas Lidstrom in attendance at Globe Arena in Stockholm, the teams came out firing. But it wasn't until Finnish defenseman Ilari Melart was called for cross-checking midway through the opening period that Eriksson would open the scoring. On the play, Henrik Sedin emerged from the right corner with the puck before firing a shot that bounced off Eriksson's leg and into the net.
In an evenly matched second period, Kontiola would be sent off for hooking before Eriksson scored his second power-play goal of the game, doubling the Swedish lead with 3:47 remaining in the period. Again, it was Henrik Sedin who started the play, making a perfect pass from behind the net before Eriksson beat Raanta from the slot.
Henrik Sedin would clinch the Swedish victory late in the third, and Finland's offense, which came into the game having scored 27 goals in eight games, was unable to beat Enroth, who along with the Sedin twins was named Sweden's three best players of the tournament.
"I think we've come together as a team. We've got five guys buying in every time they're on the ice," said Henrik Sedin, who said he was relishing the chance to win a world championship in his home country. "It's a lot of pride. To come out and play for your country is a lot of pressure. We like that. We want to be the guys who come home and be those key guys."