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Slovakia rally to beat Swiss, make quarterfinals

by Aaron Vickers
CALGARY -- Slovakia pushed its way into the quarterfinals of the World Junior Championship with a come-from-behind 6-4 victory over Switzerland on Saturday night at the Scotiabank Saddledome.

All it took was a little Chovan.

Matus Chovan completed a hat trick by scoring the game-winner during a four-goal third period that punched the Slovaks' ticket for a quarterfinal date with Finland on Jan. 2. It's the first time since 2009 that Slovakia has advanced to the quarterfinals; the Slovaks were eighth in each of the last two years.

"I feel great because we made the quarterfinal, not because I scored three goals," Chovan said through a translator. "I didn't even realize I scored three goals. It's unbelievable. I don't think ever the Slovaks have made such a big comeback. It shows our character. We're really happy for it."

After Swiss forward Tanner Richard made it 4-2 just 47 seconds into the third, Slovakia answered in a big way.

Captain Tomas Matousek made it 4-3 at 5:14, converting a pass through the crease from Matej Hindos and depositing it behind Swiss starting goaltender Lukas Meili. Martin Marincin's wrister found the back of the net just 51 seconds later before Chovan's goal gave Slovakia a 5-4 lead.

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Switzerland's two-goal lead turned into a one-goal deficit in just 2:59.

Martin Gernat added an insurance goal on the power play at 10:17, tapping a Tomas Jurco feed behind Tim Wolf, who came into the game in relief of Meili.

"The game was going in the other direction," said Swiss forward Joel Vermin, who had two goals. "They scored three goals in a row. We gave up too-easy goals. We didn't have the energy to come back. The disappointment is very big. We were leading twice with two goals and then we lost the game. That's terrible."

A late power play and a 6-on-4 advantage couldn't help Switzerland, which failed to qualify for the quarterfinals for the first time since being promoted to the top division in 2010.

"If we look at the two first games against Russia and Sweden, that's very disappointing," Vermin said. "I'm very disappointed right now. We really could play and now we go to the relegation round. That's just terrible."

Though the game was disappointing for the Swiss, the win was huge for hockey in Slovakia, Jurco said.

"The last few years for Slovakia have not been very good," Jurco said. "It's a big thing for our hockey and our country. Our parents, our families were cheering for us and supporting us. For our small country it's a really big thing. We're really happy we could be here and we could do it."

The start of the game gave no indication of the outcome.

The Swiss outshot Slovakia 7-0 through the first five minutes of the game, and Vermin put them ahead at 6:09. Tanner put a shot on Juraj Simboch that the Slovak netminder thought he had trapped. Instead the puck shook loose to Vermin, who buried it into the virtually empty net to give Switzerland a 1-0 lead.

Sven Andrighetto extended that lead to two on Switzerland's next shot. After Alessio Bertaggia shook off a defender with a spin behind the net, he found Andrighetto alone in the slot. Andrighetto one-timed the pass over Simboch's glove to make it 2-0.

At that point, Slovakia had yet to register a shot on goal, but Andrighetto's goal seemed to wake up the Slovaks. Just 64 seconds later, Jurco fired a pass that hit the skate of Vermin and ricocheted to Chovan, who buried the puck behind a surprised Meili.

Vermin and Chovan traded goals in the second period as well.

During a 5-on-3 power play, Vermin was able to walk in from the point into the high slot and fire a shot over Simboch's shoulder at 8:40 to give Switzerland a 3-1 edge. But at 12:46, Jurco managed to get the puck into the slot from his stomach after being tripped behind the net. It went onto the stick of Chovan, who put it through Meili to make it 3-2.

The loss puts Switzerland into the relegation round, where they will battle the United States, Latvia and Denmark for the right to play at the 2013 tournament in Russia.

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