QUEBEC – Even though Belarus added a dose of NHL-talent to their roster, the final product lacked offensive zing.
Julien Sprunger scored two power-play goals to lead Switzerland to a 2-1 win over Belarus at the IIHF World Hockey Championship on Monday.
Belarus bolstered its lineup by adding four NHL players: Montreal Canadiens’ forwards Andrei and Sergei Kostitsyn and Mikhail Grabovski, as well as Colorado Avalanche defenceman Ruslan Salei.
However, none provided the much-needed offensive punch the team needed against the Swiss after scoring five goals against Sweden one game earlier.
Sprunger, a Minnesota Wild prospect, put Switzerland (2-0) ahead 1-0 in the first period. His shot from the right circle beat Belarus goalie Vitaly Koval and went in off the crossbar.
The left winger broke a 1-1 tie with his second of the game and third of the tournament. He deflected Thibault Monnet’s point shot at 14:36 of the second period with what proved to be the winner.
“It’s sort of my role on this team to score, so when I get my chances I try to take them,” Sprunger said.
Monnet also assisted on Sprunger’s first goal.
Belarus (0-2) made it 1-1 at 7:34 of the second when Konstantin Koltsov stripped Swiss defenceman Philippe Furrer of the puck, then beat Ottawa Senators goalie Martin Gerber with a backhand shot to the glove side.
The Swiss had the home-crowd advantage with a few hundred of their fans in attendance among a sparse announced gathering of 8,016 at Le Pepsi Colisee.
Switzerland’s supporters – decked out in red jerseys – sang, chanted and even unfurled a giant Swiss flag to start all three periods.
Koval was solid in goal, stopping 29 shots. Gerber made 22 saves.
“They had a few good chances, especially on the power play,” Gerber said. “We tried to be really careful with giveaways in their zone because we knew they were a good team off the rush.”
Salei acknowledged Belarus took too many penalties. The veteran defenceman himself was in the penalty box on Sprunger’s winning goal.
“They capitalized on the power play twice and we didn’t score once,” Salei said.
Salei said it will take a bit of time to adjust to a new game and system, but he also complained the building was extremely hot.
“It feels like a sauna in here,” Salei said. “But there are no excuses, we should have played better tonight.”
The Swiss club said they play the same way every time – a sound defensive game that effectively shut down Belarus’ most dangerous forwards.
“I have to compliment my guys who don’t have the NHL offensive skills, but they definitely have the NHL defensive skills,” said Swiss coach Ralph Krueger.
Belarus head coach Curt Fraser said the NHL quartet are used to playing under pressure.
“They put pressure on themselves tonight to compete hard for their teammates,” Fraser said. “They played hard but the penalties were a huge difference in the game and our power play didn’t produce when we had a chance.”
Andrei Kostitsyn took a high-sticking penalty to negate a power-play in the third and spent the last minutes of the game serving a misconduct penalty with his team down by a goal.
He was joined by his brother when Belarus took its second too many men penalty of the game with 33 seconds remaining to play.
NOTES – Canadiens defenceman Mark Streit, the Swiss national team captain, won’t be joining the team in Quebec because of a back injury sustained in the NHL playoffs. …Andrei Kostitsyn dismissed rumours that he has an offer on the table to play in Russia next season. Kostitsyn, an restricted free-agent this summer, says he’ll be discussing a contract with Canadiens general manager Bob Gainey after the tournament.