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Switzerland defeats Germany, 4-3, in WJC opener

by Mike G. Morreale /
New York Islanders prospect Nino Niederreiter had a goal and one assist and goalie Benjamin Conz made 32 saves when Switzerland slipped by Germany, 4-3, in the opening game of the preliminary round of the 2011 IIHF World Junior Championship on Sunday afternoon at HSBC Arena.

Niederreiter earned both his points in the first period when Switzerland (1-0), the darlings of the 2010 Tournament following a fourth-place showing, opened a 4-0 lead. Inti Pestoni, who is eligible for the 2011 Entry Draft, opened the scoring 4:31 into the first before Niederreiter connected at 9:21.

Defenseman Roman Loeffel, also eligible for the 2011 Draft, made it 3-0 at 9:48 after taking a pass from Niederreiter and Luca Campershioli closed out the scoring in the opening period. Switzerland went 3-of-4 on the power play in the opening period in building a seemingly insurmountable lead.

"The puck was bounding a lot, but I was able to get a lot of speed (on his first-period goal)," Niederreiter, Switzerland's team captain, said. "We know this isn't going to be easy. I think it was a great lesson to learn to keep going for 60 minutes until we got the victory. It seems we were a little lucky today. I thought (Conz) was phenomenal; he's definitely a key player for us and it's good to know that in key moments, he can step it up. All the guys did a nice job blocking shots and keeping it simple.

"We just have to learn to keep it simple."

Germany rallied with three unanswered goals, beginning with Marcel Noebels' tally 4:22 into the second period, when the underdog Germans held a 15-5 shot advantage. Conz was splendid from that point on, making several big blocks, including a nifty glove save on San Jose prospect Konrad Abeltshauser late in the period. Germany received a pair of third-period goals by Matthias Plachta at 10:10 and defenseman Corey Mapes at 15:19 to pull within one.

The Germans pulled goalie Philipp Grubauer (17 saves) with less than one minute left in the third but couldn't connect for the equalizer. Niederreiter, in fact, slid in front of a last-ditch effort off a point shot before swatting the puck over the blue line.

"We'll just take it game-by-game," said Conz through interpreter Alex Reinhard. "You try to create focus on each game and add the key points we learned from last year into this year … into the game. Maybe we can take it a step further."

Switzerland takes to the ice again against Finland on Dec. 28th at HSBC at 12:30 p.m. Germany will play against Slovakia on December 27th at HSBC at 7 p.m.

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