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Beijing 2022 Ice Hockey: Quarterfinals Preview

Beijing 2022 Ice Hockey: Quarterfinals Preview by Zoë Hayden

After an intense round robin stage, Denmark and China have been eliminated from Group B. All Group A teams automatically advance.

USA vs. Czech Republic

Thursday, February 10 at 11:10 PM (Eastern US time)

This Czech Republic team has been outstanding throughout Group B play, playing a fast, physical style in their Olympic debut and showing off some offense as well. That said, they haven't really lit up any stat lines, and they have yet to score a power play goal in the tournament. A quarterfinals game against Team USA will obviously be their toughest test yet, and they're unlikely to skate away with a victory, but scoring a goal or two wouldn't be out of the question. Keep it simple. Pucks to the net, have fun out there.

Team USA is obviously looking ahead to an eventual gold medal matchup with Canada, but they shouldn't take anything for granted. They're short staffed with Brianna Decker out and replacement Britta Curl tested positive for COVID in Los Angeles and will be unable to join the team. They'll also likely be playing it simple and trying to conserve energy for tougher matches ahead.

Players to watch: Tereza Vanišová leads her team with five points (2 goals, 3 assists) but also in penalty minutes (6). She's probably most likely to score a goal. Klára Peslarová will almost definitely get the start for the Czechs and she's been excellent as always, sporting a 0.942 save percentage. On the American side, this would be a great opportunity for Abby Roque to start to break out offensively – she has basically done everything in this tournament to elevate her team except score a goal. Getting her rolling before the semifinals would be a boost for Team USA.

Prediction: USA wins, barring a miracle, and the Czech team can reflect on an awesome first Olympics.

Canada vs. Sweden

Friday, February 11 at 8:10 AM (Eastern US time)

Similarly, Canada is likely looking ahead to a gold medal matchup, and they have far and away been the best team in the tournament so far. It's hard to name a weak spot in their game that anyone could exploit. This quarterfinal for them should also be about staying healthy and conserving energy. For Sweden, they'll mostly need to keep it simple and lean on Emma Söderberg to minimize the bleeding.

Sweden is the only team in the tournament with a perfect penalty kill, but I don't think they'll want to test that against Canada. It would be a cool goal to have to stay out of the box and try to keep that number perfect.

Players to watch: Defender Renata Fast is playing big minutes for Canada, leading her team in TOI per game and rating a +8, though she has yet to score herself. It would be nice to see some of the younger D get more ice time against Sweden, like Ella Shelton and Ashton Bell, who have averaged only 8:52 and 12:19 per game respectively. Bell has also managed to convert her limited ice time into 1 goal and 3 assists over 4 games. For Sweden, get the puck to Michelle Löwenhielm – she has 11 shots in the tournament so far but has yet to score. Even if it's unlikely that Sweden wins this game, there are a lot of positives that can come out of this matchup for them.

Prediction: Canada will probably win this one handily. Sweden will be looking ahead to try to get back into the IIHF top division before the next Olympics.

ROC vs. Switzerland

Friday, February 11 at 11:10 PM (Eastern US time)

This is where things start to get interesting. This is the only quarterfinal matchup between two teams who have played each other before in the tournament. In their previous meeting, ROC triumphed 5-2 over Switzerland and showed off some of the goal scoring prowess on their roster that often gets stymied by the defense of teams like Finland, Canada, and the United States. But Switzerland has since beat Finland and should have some confidence coming into this matchup, knowing that they can score goals and play a speedy, aggressive game.

ROC most recently fell 5-0 to Finland. They got into penalty trouble and didn't have any success on special teams. They were also without Polina Bolgareva, who had a hat trick against Switzerland in the round robin, scoring at even strength, on the power play, and shorthanded. Bolgareva tested positive for COVID after the ROC game versus Canada and her status is uncertain going forward. If she is able to return, that would be a big boost for them, but without her, they may not be able to match up as favorably against Switzerland's offense as they did in their first meeting.

Players to watch: Alina Müller is everything to this Swiss team. She has factored in to 5 of the 6 goals they have scored so far in Beijing, scoring one herself and assisting on 4 others. If she has space to operate, her team is going to generate high-quality scoring chances. Phoebe Stänz also has 16 shots on goal but hasn't scored yet, and many of those chances came from right in front on redirects and rebounds. She is getting to gritty areas of the ice regularly and hasn't made anyone pay yet. If anyone is absolutely due in this tournament, it's Stänz.

I like the goaltending matchup between Andrea Brändli and Maria Sorokina. Sorokina came out on top last time they played but Brändli has been improving throughout the tournament and was outstanding against Finland. Both netminders should be incredible to watch and have a chance to steal the game for their team.

Prediction: This is going to be a close one, but I think Switzerland comes out on top in the end in the revenge match.

Finland vs. Japan

Saturday, February 12 at 3:40 AM (Eastern US time)

And now we come to what is, in my opinion, the pièce de résistance of the quarterfinals, because it will probably be the most fun to watch, though it is unfortunately at the most god-awful time if you live in the Americas.

Finland's lone win in the round robin came against ROC, and they managed to draw a team they haven't seen before from Group B. Japan has shone offensively all tournament, with their lone loss coming in a shootout to China thanks to spectacular goaltending by Jiaying Zhou (Kimberly Newell).  

I think these teams have a style of play that complements each other really well, and it should lead to some exciting, back-and-forth, relatively evenly matched hockey. These squads did not meet at IIHF Worlds in 2021. The last time they met at a top level international tournament was the 2008 Worlds. The only returning members from that roster are Nana Fujimoto and Jenni Hiirikoski. Fujimoto was 19 and Hiirikoski was 21, and Finland pasted Japan 6-1. I don't expect the same result this time around.

Players to watch: Nana Fujimoto has been outstanding in net for Japan (95.3%, 1.25 GAA),  and I'm interested to see how Anni Keisala (88.9%, 3.63 GAA) holds up on her end. Both teams tend to shoot the puck at will when they have room, and I expect both Fujimoto and Keisala to be aggressive on their angles.

Ayaka Toko is skating on the blueline for Japan to the tune of nearly 31 minutes per game, and she as 1 goal and 3 assists in her 122:41 of total ice time. She's the glue for this Japan team and if they pull out the win, I think she will be on the scoresheet. For Finland, I expect Susanna Tapani to score a goal or two. She added 2 in the third period of her team's loss against Team USA and added a goal towards the end of her team's 5-0 rout of ROC. She isn't flagging as the clock winds down despite playing over 20 minutes per game. Finland is well-conditioned this year and has been keeping up their pace, and that could make all the difference in terms of adding late goals.

Prediction: This could go either way. Selfishly, I want Finland to win because I'm still mad about 2019 and I want them to have a shot at a medal, but I have to put a question mark here. I think Japan is as good as they've ever looked and they can match Finland's speed and physicality. It may come down to special teams – a timely power play goal or a particularly energetic PK. Get up at 3:40 AM for this one because it could be good.