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Loss 'crushing' for Swiss team expecting more

by Dan Rosen

SOCHI -- Stunned. Disappointed. Angry.

Pick your synonym to any of the above words and it fits the description for how Switzerland's national team players felt late Tuesday night as they dejectedly walked off the ice and right out of the 2014 Sochi Olympics, the tournament they thought would put them on the map with the rest of the big boys in international hockey.

"It's crushing," Swiss defenseman Mark Streit said, summing up the feeling his teammates had following their 3-1 loss to Latvia in the qualification round.

This wasn't supposed to happen; not to the Swiss, not against Latvia, not with Canada looming in the quarterfinals and a chance to cement their status as a legitimate international contender.

Switzerland was ranked sixth following group play, when it won two out of three games, losing only to top-ranked Sweden 1-0. Latvia was ranked 11th after losing its three games in Group C in regulation by a combined 10-5.

"It's a huge disappointment for Swiss hockey," Streit said. "We didn't achieve what we wanted to."

Switzerland finished second at the 2013 IIHF World Championship. People who follow international hockey had the Swiss pegged as being the dark horse team in this tournament. Canada surely was studying Switzerland's attack far more than Latvia's, using former Swiss national coach turned Canadian consultant Ralph Krueger as their guide.

Then Latvia scored two goals in the first period, the same number as the Swiss had in their first three games combined.

Offense was their problem throughout the tournament. One goal was good enough to beat Latvia and the Czech Republic in the preliminary round. It would have been good enough to force overtime or a shootout against Sweden.

"This time one goal wasn't enough," Streit said.

The Swiss attacked early and had an 8-1 advantage in shots on goal before Latvia got its first goal from Oskars Bartulis on a shot through a screen. Swiss forward Morris Trachsler took a tripping penalty less than two minutes later, and Latvia capitalized when Lauris Darzins scored his third goal of the Olympics.

"We were down 2-0 and normally you can react in this situation, there was enough time for us," Swiss forward Damien Brunner said, "but offense was really disappointing this tournament."

They tried to mount a comeback, but Latvia goalie Edgars Masalskis ruined all but one of their good scoring chances, including a point-blank shot from the slot by Andres Ambuhl approximately six minutes into the second period, when Latvia was still leading 2-0.

Masalskis flashed his leather and stone-cold robbed Ambuhl with a marvelous glove save. It may be the save of the tournament. It was the save of the night.

If the Swiss weren't going to score on that shot, well, lights out.

"Sometimes you click, sometimes not," Brunner said. "We just had nothing going on."

And no explanation for their lack of offense either.

Jonas Hiller was put in a position where he had to be perfect in every game he played. He was in two out of the three. Not good enough, even for a guy who finished the tournament with a 0.67 goals-against average, a .970 save percentage and two shutouts.

"Got scored on twice in three games and to still lose at the end, it's disappointing," Hiller said.

Streit refused to call the loss a setback for Swiss hockey, but it's hard not to view it that way with the expectations Switzerland had coming into the tournament following its silver medal at the World Championship.

The Swiss media grilled coach Sean Simpson following the game, asking him if he made mistakes and what he thinks his future will be as the national team coach.

"My contract is up after the World Championship," Simpson said. "We'll see what happens then."

Whatever happens, it'll be hard to match the feeling the Swiss players had as they left the ice late Tuesday night.

Shocked. Upset. Furious.

"It's just tough to explain," Streit said.


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