2018 Olympics Semifinals Preview

The 2018 Olympics ice hockey tournament finally got to its most interesting part, where teams will start battling for the medals. In the first semifinal, the Olympic Athletes from Russia (OAR) will face Team Czech Republic (CZE), and in the second semifinal, since you can’t have a good tournament without upsets, Team Canada (CAN) will face Team Germany (GER). Pretty much no one could imagine that the Germans could make it past the Swedish, but they did it after beating a serious opponent – Team Switzerland – in the qualification game.

Semifinals 1 – Olympic Athletes from Russia vs Team Czech Republic

If we exclude the very first game against Team Slovakia, the Russians have probably been the best team in the tournament. The Czechs are now in a good swing after beating the Americans (and Canada in the round robin), although they needed the shootout to skate past both North American teams. The Russians had a more convincing show against them in the group stage. Russia played solidly, but on the other hand they also probably had the easiest opposition in the quarterfinals, Team Norway.

Ilya Kovalchuk
Ilya Kovalchuk (s.yume via Wikimedia Commons)

It will definitely be an interesting game, but it’s hard to predict. The OAR have the better squad on paper, but the Czechs also have a good team and they often find an extra gear when they face the Russians. Moreover, the Czechs do know their opponents, as most of the players come from the KHL, and, of all the players that made the roster, only the third goalie, Patrik Bartosak, has never played in the KHL.

Pavel Francouz Czech Republic
Pavel Francouz is one of three very capable goaltenders for the Czech Republic in PyeongChang (By Oleg Bkhambri (Voltmetro) (Own work) (CC0), via Wikimedia Commons)

The team’s top scorer, Michal Repik, spent most of the season in the KHL before being loaned to HC Sparta Prague as his Slovan Bratislava failed to reach the playoffs. Overall, though, the best player for Team Czech Republic has probably been their goalie Pavel Francouz.

The Plzen native is in his fourth season with Traktor Chelyabinsk of the KHL and it has been heavily rumored that he would sign a contract with an NHL team for a couple of summers. The Czech preferred to stay in the KHL for a bit longer to have a chance to play at the Olympics and it looks like the choice has paid off. Francouz has constantly been one of the top goalies in the KHL and it will be interesting to see how he will fare in North America.

It will be a good duel between goalies, as Francouz will be faced by Vasili Koshechkin. The hulking Russian goalie had a couple of lapses in the first game against Slovakia, but then rebounded back and delivered great performances, especially in the game against Team USA, when he picked up a shutout as Russia won 4-0. Having Datsyuk and Kovalchuk in the lineup is a big advantage, but of course it’s not just those two players. Nikita Gusev and Kirill Kaprizov are playing very well, and so are other players like Vladislav Gavrikov, Nikita Nesterov, and Nikolai Prokhorkin, who scored a double against Team USA.

It will be a tough game which can go either way. On paper, OAR is the team to beat, but these Olympics showed that any team can beat anyone.

Semifinals 2 – Team Canada vs Team Germany

No one could have predicted that Team Germany could make it to the semifinals. They were the underdogs against Switzerland and came out as winners against Team Sweden. However, the Cinderella story is probably going to end against Canada. The Germans played very hard against both Switzerland and Sweden, winning by outmuscling the opponents and being tougher than them. Defeating the Canadians playing in a very North American way, however, will be much, much tougher.

The Canadians defeated Team Finland 1-0 in a very hard-fought game, meaning that defeating Germany shouldn’t be too much of a task for the team coached by Willie Desjardins. The game-winning goal was scored by Maxim Noreau, which is also the team’s top scorer, tied with Derek Roy. Both players had five points in four games.

Other Canadian players who are having a good tournament include Wojtek Wolski and Chris Lee. Ben Scrivens and Kevin Poulin are having good tournaments as well. Scrivens suffered an injury in the game against Finland, but he should be good to go in the semifinals against the Germans.

Danny Aus Den Birken Team Germany
Team Germany goaltender Danny Aus Den Birken. (Robert Hanashiro-USA TODAY Sports)

Team Germany is the surprise of the tournament thus far. Beating Switzerland was a possibility, but defeating Sweden was a true upset for Tre Kronor. The Germans have a very average team, with only one player, Patrick Hager, scoring more than one goal in the tournament. Danny Aus den Birken is having a great tournament between the pipes, but it will be tough for him to outplay a goalie like Scrivens and keep the puck out of the crease after shots from Noreau or Wolski. Moreover, as said, Germany built its success on being more physical than the opposition, but as tradition dictates, it will be hard to defeat the Canadians playing their own game.

It’s an Olympics semifinal game, therefore both teams have a chance. However, it’s hard to see Team Germany going past Team Canada in this one.

The semifinals will be played on Feb. 23. The final game is scheduled for Feb. 25, but technically it will start on Feb. 24 in North America, at 11:10 PM EST.