Date: February 11, 2017

Czechs outlast Denmark

By Adam Steiss IIHF.com

The Czech Republic and Switzerland will play for the right to advance to the 2018 Olympic Winter Games in PyeongChang, Korea.

The Czechs put away a pesky Danish team 4-3 on Saturday evening at the Women’s Final Olympic Qualification, and will now face the tournament hosts in a winner-take-all game tomorrow.

Coming into the game at the bottom of Group C, the Danes were hoping to play the spoiler role against the Czechs, who needed a win to keep pace with the tournament-leading Swiss.

Denmark gave their higher-ranked opponents all they could handle, hanging around on the scoresheet all game and cutting the lead down to one goal midway through the third with a goal from Amalie Anderson.

But the Czechs were able to hold off Denamrk the rest of the way, setting up the clash with Switzerland. 

Denmark struck first with an early 5-on-3 opportunity, and the underdogs went ahead as Josefine Jacobsen fired a shot that was deflected in front by Michelle Brix for the opening goal several minutes into the game.

But the Czechs came back with a goal from Vendula Prybilova, who cut in from the right circle towards the net and sent a wristshot from the high slot past goaltender Lisa Jensen for the tying goal going into the first intermission. 

Early in the second period, a bad stroke of luck for the Dane saw defenceman Josefine Asperup inexplicably launch the puck towards Jensen, catching her goalie unawares as the puck bounced into the net giving the Czechs the 2-1 lead.

Then with eight and a half minutes remaining and the Czechs on a man advantage, Samantha Kolowratova gained possession at the point and let a shot right through Jensen for the 3-1 lead.

But the Danes weren’t ready to call it quits, taking advantage of a two-on-one rush which ended on the stick of Josefine Persson cutting the lead back down to one. But soon after the Czechs replied with their own odd-man rush, Prybilova firing a shot from the side of the net that Jensen couldn’t control and went in through the five-hole, giving the Czech forward her second goal of the game.

The Czech Republic now moves to 2-0, the same record as tournament hosts Switzerland, their next opponent and the team they need to get through in order to qualification for PyeongChang 2018.

Swiss one win away

By Adam Steiss IIHF.com

Switzerland is very close to a return to the Olympics, following a 4-1 win against Norway that puts the women’s team one victory away from PyeongChang 2018.

Tournament leading scorer Lara Stalder scored her second hat trick in as many games, as the Swiss overwhelmed Norway offensively, outshooting them 45-17. 

“It was a big effort from the team, and from Lara obviously,” said veteran defenceman Christine Meier. “We all worked hard on the ice and we earned this win. One last game and we’ll be ready for that, our power play has been excellent and we just need to keep focus.”

Up 2-1 in the third period, a late penalty allowed Switzerlands’ top power play line of Stalder, Alina Muller, and Evelina Raselli to add the insurance marker, Muler serving up Raselli with a smooth cross-ice pass for the 3-1 lead. An empty netter from Stalder sealed the deal.

“We understand each other on the power play and shared the puck really well,” said Stalder. “Since the Christmas break I feel that I’ve been on a roll, just taking it shift by shift. Tomorrow it’s the Czechs and looking forward to that.”

The first goal of the game came on the man advantage – with a blast from the point by Stalder two and a half minutes into the game – and looked to put the host Swiss in the driver’s seat early.

A few minutes later, on a breakaway Norway forward Line Bialik went for the triple deke but was saved by Schelling. However the Swiss netminder wasn’t able to corral the puck, and a scramble in front led to a Silje Holos goal on the rebound for the 1-1 equalizer.

At the other end of the ice the Swiss spent the rest of the period pressuring Norway goalie Ena Nystrom, who held fast despite her team giving up three consecutive power plays.

But having been outshot 20-9 going into the second period, Team Norway needed to turn things around and get pucks on the Swiss net. Still the Norwegians weren’t able to solve Schelling, who is playing in her first major tournament since coming back from a leg injury.

“It is nice,but it the same time it can be hard to get into the game.” said Schelling of her team’s effort to limit Norway’s chances. “When they were coming they had good chances, but at the same time it was so nice to see my girls do so well at the other end.”

The second period saw more of the same, with Switzerland controlling possession and Norway struggling to stay out of the box.

With just under several minutes left in the period, after Schelling made a great point black save Anja Stiefel moved the puck up to forward Lara Stalder, who slid past the Norway defenders along the boards, cut towards the net and fired a wrister past Nystrom for the 2-1 lead.

Stalder now has an incredible seven goals of the tournament putting her atop the scoring table with eight points in two games.

“Lara’s an amazing player,” said linemate Alina Muller, who along with Meier are second and third on the scoring table with four points each. “It’s her second hat trick of the tournament, and hopefully tomorrow she can get her third.”

With a second straight victory, the 2014 Olympic bronze medallists hold their 2018 Olympic destiny in their hands. Win tomorrow against the Czechs, and they’re in.

“If we can play with speed they will take penalties,” said Alina Muller. “We know we can play well and we know we can beat them, it’s just a question of who wants it more.”

Japan powers past France

By James Armstrong IIHF.com

Hanae Kubo scored a power play goal in the third period to lead Japan to a 4-1 win over France in the Final Olympic Qualification Group D.

With Japan holding a slim 2-1 lead, France was pressing for an equaliser and had several good scoring chances on Japan goaltender Nana Fujimoto.

But with 8:50 remaining, Emmanuelle Passard took a penalty for holding and Kubo capitalized on a shot from the high slot that beat France goalie Caroline Baldin with seven minutes left in regulation.

“We wanted to put it away earlier than that to be honest,” Japan coach Takeshi Yamanaka said. “But Kubo came through with a clutch goal and that took the pressure off.”

Rui Ukita added another for Japan late in the third, poking in a rebound after Baldin made the initial save.

France coach Gregory Tarle said he was proud of his team’s effort.

“It was a good game between two good teams,” Tarle said. “When we were down 2-1, we pushed to tie it up in the third and had our chances. I’m very proud of our team.”

Japan will next face Germany on Sunday with the winner qualifying for the 2018 Pyeongchang Games. Germany beat Austria by the same score in Saturday’s first game.

Japan got the scoreboard just 2:21 in when Ami Nakamura took a pass from Kubo and rifled a close-range shot past Baldin.

Haruka Toko widened the lead 3:28 into the second period, lifting a backhand into the top corner after picking up a loose puck off a turnover.

“We got off to a good start,” Yamanaka said. “It was good to score early and get a 2-0 lead in the second period. France got a little momentum there when we took some penalities but we were able to put it away in the third.”

France pulled to within one midway through the second period on a power play. Marion Allemoz took a slap shot from the top of the faceoff circle that beat Fujimoto high on the glove side.

Kubo, who scored a hat trick in Thursday’s 6-1 win over Austria leads the tournament with four goals.

“It was great to score in a situation like that,” said the 34-year-old veteran.

Eight teams will play in the women’s tournament in Pyeongchang. The United States, Canada, Russia, Sweden and Finland have already qualified along with South Korea which earns a spot as the host nation. Japan will take on Germany in the last game of the Final Olympic Qualification, a win sending the Group D hosts to Korea.

Germany defeats Austria

By James Armstrong IIHF.com

Germany scored two quick goals in the third period to defeat Austria 4-1 in their second game of the Final Olympic Qualification Group D.

Daria Gleissner scored on a power play with seven minutes left in the third and Kerstin Spielberger widened the lead just 22 seconds later with a backhand from close range that beat Austria goaltender Theresa Hornich.

“We had a lot of chances to score in the first two periods but couldn’t take advantage,” Gleissner said. “So that third goal was the one that opened things up and allowed us to win.”

Germany will face host Japan on Sunday with a chance to qualify for the Pyeongchang Games.

The Germans took the lead midway through the first period when Andrea Lanzl beat Austria goaltender Theresa Hornich with a wrister high on the stick side.

But Austria came right back less than a minute later when Esther Kantor picked up a generous rebound and jammed it home.

Austria was penalized with just over six minutes remaining in the first and Germany took advantage with Tanja Eisenschmid scoring on a slap shot from the blue line.

Germany beat France 3-2 in its first game while Austria was trounced 6-1 by host Japan.

Austria was penalized three times in the second period but Germany couldn’t take advantage of their power play opportunites. When they did get a scoring chance, Hornich was there to make a big save.

“Sometimes your power play works, sometimes it doesn’t,” Germany coach Benjamin Hinterstocker said. “It’s not something I’m worried about.”

Eight teams will play in the women’s tournament in Pyeongchang. The United States, Canada, Russia, Sweden and Finland have already qualified along with South Korea which earns a spot as the host nation.

Japan, which plays France on Saturday, will present a big challenge for the German team.

“Japan is bringing a great effort to every game,” Hinterstocker said. “They are highly skilled and fast so I’m looking forward to playing against them.”

Only the winner of Group D will qualify for the 2018 Games.