Hate to break it to you, Kazzies, but it looks like we’ve got at least a fringe contender on our hands. Kazahkstan didn’t win its opener in the Czech Republic, but finished the day looking like the stronger of 2 likely relegation-round opponents.
Team Kazakhstan U20 bothered Switzerland for 3 periods on Thursday, tying the game twice in the 2nd period and forcing the Swiss special teams to work overtime. The favorites spent much of the 3rd period killing off penalties, but the pins-and-needles atmosphere was punctured by prevailing goals from Wetter and Verboon at even strength. The score was deadlocked 3-3 after 40 minutes.
The junior Kazakhstanis exhibited scoring touch against an elite nation, scoring 3 times on Luca Hollenstein – only 1 of the best rookie goaltenders in European club hockey. Kazakhstan played at a high tempo after the Swiss scored to go ahead 1-0 early in the 1st period, and cashed-in on a beautiful back-check and breakaway feed from Oleg Boiko to Maxim Musorov at the 15-minute mark to tie the score at 1-1.
Switzerland took another pair of 1-goal leads, going up 3-2 in the 2nd period thanks to a lucky goal on which Vladislav Nurek misplayed a simple bounce into the crease. Musorov soon answered with a gorgeous wrist shot from the slot to beat Hollenstein and tie the score 3-3 at the 35:39 mark.
Kazakhstan was only out-shot 34 to 19, an even fight given the underdog’s counter-attacking style.
Day 1 matches in IIHF tournaments favor David over Goliath, there’s no doubt about that. Switzerland won’t shake its reputation as a solid U20 team that lacks elite play-making ability until the Swiss out-score a gold medal contender in a wide open contest. A 5-3 win over the lowest-ranked Group A nation won’t generate sunny headlines in Geneva.
Standing up to the Swiss is a big boost for Kazakhstan under any circumstances, and Thursday’s opponent featured 10+ club professionals and waves of 19-year-old skaters who played in the semifinals last year. It still took all 3 periods for Team KAZ to go down.
Friday’s prospects against an experienced Slovakia team just got a little brighter.
Photo ATTN: UNB! Sports NHL.