With a 2-0 loss to Finland, the Swiss came fourth in Group A and will face the U.S. in the quarter-finals. The Finns take on Latvia in the relegation round.
This New Year’s Eve tilt only affected Switzerland’s quarter-final seeding. Relatively speaking, their tournament is already a success. After finishing ninth the last two years, they have a shot at medalling for the first and only time since 1998’s bronze.
The Swiss, who now head to Toronto, are playoff underdogs. They have an all-time record of zero wins, two ties and 20 losses versus the Americans.
“I think the U.S. has such a good team,” said Swiss assistant captain Jonas Siegenthaler. “Good skaters, good skills. If we play like yesterday with heart and everything, we can beat the U.S., but it’s going to be a tough game, for sure.”
The Finns have fared abysmally at the Bell Centre. This was their first win in four games. They came in as defending champions, but were eliminated from quarter-finals contention when Switzerland beat Denmark 5-4 in a shootout. Compounding the shock, the Finnish federation then relieved head coach Jukka Rautakorpi and his assistants of their duties.
New Finnish coach Jussi Ahokas made his World Junior debut against Switzerland, assisted by Tommi Niemela and goalie coach Aki Naykki. Ahokas, who had done commentary for Finnish TV network YLE at this tournament, was originally slated to take over the World Junior team at the 2018 tournament in Buffalo, New York. He led Finland to U18 gold in April.
“I thought our team played really well today,” said Ahokas. “They really wanted to win and show that they can play active hockey, that we can play a fast game with the puck. The boys did a great job.”
Finland’s best-of-three relegation series versus Latvia kicks off on Monday. It’s the first time in history that a defending World Junior champion has had to play relegation games. The Latvians, who have a 6-29 goal differential, are at their sixth elite World Juniors of all time. Twice they have avoided relegation, finishing eighth in 2009 and ninth in 2012.