SOCHI, Russia — The losing didn’t bother the Swiss women’s hockey team, even as it was slogging through the round-robin without a victory and finishing last in its group.
Sure, the 9-0 loss to the United States hurt. But a 5-0 victory by Canada was the closest Switzerland had ever come to the three-time defending Olympic champions, and a playoff victory over Russia put the Swiss in the semifinals. When they lost just 3-1 to Canada in the semifinals, they felt like they were ready to claim their first women’s hockey medal in the country’s Olympic history.
“We didn’t care about the color of a medal,” said Florence Schelling, who stopped 28 shots to help Switzerland beat Sweden 4-3 in the bronze medal game on Thursday. “A medal is a medal.”
Jessica Lutz broke a third-period tie with 6:17 to play as Switzerland rallied from a two-goal deficit with four straight third-period goals to earn just its second victory of the Sochi Games. Sara Benz and Phoebe Stanz scored to help Switzerland tie the game, and Aline Muller scored a 175-foot empty-netter with 67 seconds left that turned out to be the difference.
“Everybody believed in those two goals, and then we even scored four,” Stanz said. “When the first goal went in, that’s like when the knot unties. That’s how it was for our team. The second goal going in, that just showed us that it only takes one more goal to win this game.”
Because of the tournament format, Switzerland was lumped in a round-robin group with the three top-ranked teams in the world — including the United States and Canada, who were scheduled to play for the gold medal later Thursday. But it also meant the Swiss were guaranteed a spot in the playoffs without winning a game, and they needed just one victory to reach the medal round.
So, when they lost as expected to the U.S., Canada and Finland, they never lost their confidence.
“We knew it would be like that, and we were really prepared for that,” forward Katrin Nabholz said.
And the experience helped when they fell behind 2-0 on Thursday.
“When it was 2-0, we knew we had nothing to lose,” Nabholz said. “Then, we are at our best.”
Valentina Wallner stopped 22 shots for Sweden. Michelle Lowenheilm scored in the first period, and Erica Uden Johansson made it 2-0 with 62 seconds left in the second period on a long, fluttering goal that Schelling, who played at Northeastern University in Boston, allowed to tip off the webbing of her glove.
The Swiss cut the deficit to 2-1 early in the third when a deflected puck skittered over to Benz in the slot, and she slapped it past Wallner. With 13:47 left in regulation, Stanz scored on a rebound.
The game was still tied 2-2 when Lara Stalder kept the puck in the zone and skated in before shuffling it over to the middle for Lutz, who flipped it past Wallner for the go-ahead goal. Muller’s empty-netter seemed to clinch it but, with the goalie still pulled, Pernilla Winberg cut it to 4-3 with 44 seconds left.
Sweden spent the last 30 seconds trying to clear the puck out of its own zone, though, and when the last seconds ticked off the clock the Swiss poured over the boards and threw their equipment into the air in celebration. Because of the dominance of the North Americans, who have won every gold medal and all but one silver in Olympic history, the rest of the world is essentially playing for third place.
And Switzerland won.
“The bronze medal is our goal. The medal games were our goal,” Benz said. “Of course we wanted to win every game, but maybe next Olympics.”