Category: Olympics (page 1 of 5)

200 days to Olympics

By Andrew Podnieks –

Today marks exactly 200 days until the 2018 Olympic Winter Games will open. With the Olympic ice hockey tournaments in PyeongChang not far away, we take this summer day to look forward to what will be the pre-eminent event on the international calendar in 2017/18.

Where will games be played?
The 2018 Olympics features two venues for hockey, the 10,000-seat Gangneung Hockey Centre and the Kwandong Hockey Centre (capacity 6,000). Both arenas have an international ice surface. All ice sports will be played in the coastal city of Gangneung. The KTX high-speed train is being extended to PyeongChang and Gangneung. Travel time between Seoul and the Incheon airport to Gangneung will thus be reduced to 68 minutes.

When do the ice hockey games begin?
The game schedules are not final yet but ice hockey is planned during all days of the Olympics starting on 10th February, the day after the opening ceremony, with the women’s ice hockey tournament until 25th February, the day of the closing ceremony. The men’s tournament is proposed to start of 14th February.

What is the time difference?
Korean Standard Time in the winter is six hours ahead of Moscow time, eight hours ahead of Central European Time and 14 hours ahead of Eastern Time in North America.

What countries have qualified for the men’s tournament?
The top-eight countries from the 2015 IIHF World Ranking automatically qualified as well as three countries through qualifying events and the hosts from Korea. In all, 12 teams in three groups will play. Group A features Canada, the Czech Republic, Switzerland, Korea. Group B includes Russia, Slovakia, Slovenia, United States. Group C has Sweden, Finland, Germany, and Norway.

Will NHL players participate?
The NHL announced that it will not make a break for the Olympic Winter Games. All teams will have to create a roster using non-NHL players mostly from Europe and other leagues in North America. This marks the first time since 1994 that this will happen, but the tournament format remains the same. Teams will play a round robin series of games within their group, no team being eliminated at this stage. The top four teams receive byes to the quarter-finals while teams 5 to 12 play a qualification game, the winners also moving on to the quarters.

Who is the favourite?
Typically, Canada would have been considered the favourite as it has won the gold in three of the last four Olympics (except 2006), but the Russians must be mentioned as well because several top NHLers have returned to the KHL for the coming season to ensure they can play in Korea. There is most definitely an uncertainty for the other teams, a sense of the unknown, which will make the Olympics exciting in its own right, in a different way from the NHL years.

Does Korea have any hope at all?
Four years ago, one might have answered with an emphatic no! But under Jim Paek the nation has improved quickly and radically. Indeed, Korea qualified for the 2018 IIHF Ice World Championship in Denmark strictly on its own merit, earning promotion from the 2017 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship Division I Group A to the top this past spring by leaving countries like Hungary and Kazakhstan behind. Of course, a medal might seem a long shot, but the team is likely to be more competitive than many have thought a few years ago.

What about the women’s tournament?
The top-five teams of the 2016 IIHF Women’s World Ranking qualified automatically while two teams had to go through qualification tournaments and the Koreans got an automatic spot as hosts. The format will be the same as recent times. The top-four teams will be in Group A and all will qualify for the playoff elimination. The top-two will advance directly to the semi-finals while the 3rd and 4th-place teams will play the top-two teams from Group B in a quarter-finals round. Group A consists of the top-four seeded teams USA, Canada, Finland and Russia. Sweden, Switzerland, Japan and Korea will play in the “lower” Group B.

Who is the favourite?
It’s no surprise that the North Americans are still considered odd-on bet to make the gold medal game, but Finland’s stunning victory over Canada at this past Women’s World Championship in Plymouth is cause for optimism among the European countries. Between the North Americans, logic dictates that the U.S. is favoured because it has won the gold at the 2015, 2016, and 2017 Worlds, but, paradoxically, Canada has won the last four Olympic golds. In short, it’s a toss-up. Again.

What happens between now and February?
Canada and the United States have already started centralizing programs while the Europeans will place extra emphasis on training as a team as often as possible. Counties will play various exhibition games in the coming months to prepare for the Olympics.

Canada’s bid for a fifth Olympic women’s hockey gold starts with 28 hopefuls

By Donna SpencerThe Canadian Press

Half the players invited to try out for Canada’s Olympic women’s hockey team know what’s coming. The other half don’t.

Jillian Saulnier has heard veterans talk about meltdowns during the gruelling six months it takes to choose the Olympic team and prepare to battle for gold.

“Now we laugh about it,” forward Marie-Philip Poulin said. “We didn’t laugh at that moment.”

Saulnier of Halifax and Poulin of Beauceville, Que., were among the 28 invitees announced Thursday by Hockey Canada.

Those who don’t live in Calgary will be there by Aug. 1 to train full time and play more than 50 games before the Winter Olympics next February in Pyeongchang, South Korea.

“I’ve heard some stories, pretty good stories honestly,” Saulnier said. “It just seems to be like the time when the girls really come together and find out what really works to be successful.”

Those chosen will attempt to extend the country’s run of gold in women’s hockey to five straight.

But first, the 28 candidates will participate in a 20-day boot camp in June to prepare them for the rigours of what’s called centralization.

“I know the group of people we have selected are warriors,” head coach Laura Schuler said. “I know we have the right people in terms of our centralization roster. We have the depth, we have the talent.”

Countries are now allowed 23 players — three goaltenders and 20 skaters — on their women’s teams compared to the previous limit of three and 18.

Canada’s Olympic team is expected to be named in late December.

The U.S. has won seven of the last eight world championships beating Canada in overtime in the finals of the most recent two.

Canada’s Pyeongchang hopefuls were selected by Schuler, assistant coaches Dwayne Gylywoychuk and Troy Ryan and Hockey Canada general manager of national team programs Melody Davidson.

Players were chosen based on their previous performances with the national team, and their club or university teams.

“Difficult doesn’t even do it justice,” Davidson said. “It was agonizing.

“We just wanted the most talent available. Scoring goals is a big thing. We’ve lost twice in overtime.”

Poulin scored both the equalizer and overtime winner in 2014, when Canada rallied from a two-goal deficit with less than four minutes to go to beat the U.S. and claim gold again.

She and Brianne Jenner of Oakville, Ont., who also scored to spark the comeback, were among 14 alumni from that victorious squad summoned back for another shot at Olympic gold.

“It’s long season and the stakes are very high,” Jenner said. “This is everyone’s dream to play in the Olympics. As much as we’re coming together, we’re also battling for spots.”

Sisters Sarah and Amy Potomak of Aldergrove, B.C., defenceman Micah Hart of Saanichton, B.C., Saulnier and Blayre Turnbull of Stellarton, N.S., make this centralization roster the most coast to coast of any before it.

“It’s a tribute to the work the branches are doing, the buy-in on female hockey,” Davidson said. “Every province has somebody dedicated to female hockey.”

Edmonton’s Shannon Szabados, Genevieve Lacasse of Kingston, Ont., and Ann-Renee Desbiens of La Malbaie, Que., are Canada’s three goaltenders battling for coveted Olympic starts.

But Hockey Canada took the unusual step of naming two alternate goalies: Erica Howe of Orleans, Ont., and Emerance Maschmeyer of Bruderheim, Alta.

“The reality is there could be injuries, they could get sick,” Davidson explained. “We wanted them to make sure they kept training and preparing just in case we needed them on any type of recall.”

The women will again play 30 games against midget-triple A boys’ teams in Alberta as they have in previous Olympic seasons.

Those games simulate the pace of games against the U.S. and give the Canada an advantage over other countries who don’t get that type of competition.

“The midget league is our bread and butter,” Davidson said. “The buy-in from all those teams and coaches, they want to help us win a gold medal.

“They do whatever we need whenever we play them, which is terrific.”

Canada, U.S. preparing for Olympic ‘Plan B’ without NHLers

By The men in charge of the Canadian and American hockey programs expressed disappointment with the NHL’s decision to forgo the 2018 Olympic Games, but made it clear they’re prepping alternate plans.

“Today’s statement by the NHL is not what we were hoping for because, ultimately, we want best-on-best at the 2018 Olympic Winter Games which, for us at Hockey Canada, includes the participation of NHL players,” Hockey Canada president and CEO Tom Renney said in a statement Monday, according to TSN.

“This does not change our preparation for the Games – we have developed both a Plan A and a Plan B, and will be ready to move forward. However, for the next month, our priority is the 2017 IIHF World Championship, and we will be ready to advance the required plan following that event.”

USA Hockey is also readying a backup plan.

“We knew it was a very real possibility for many months and certainly respect the decision of the NHL,” executive director Dave Ogrean said in a statement.

“The good news is that because of our grassroots efforts over the course of many years, our player pool is as deep as it has ever been and we fully expect to field a team that will play for a medal.”

“We respect the NHL’s decision and will examine our player pool options and plan accordingly,” added Jim Johannson, assistant executive director of hockey operations for the American hockey governing body. “In the end, we’ll have 25 great stories on the ice in South Korea and will go to the Olympics with medal expectations.”

NBC, which has the broadcast rights to the Games, claims the tournament will still be worth watching without near-full NHL rosters.

“The Olympics have been the world’s greatest international hockey tournament irrespective of whether professionals or amateurs are playing,” the network said in a statement, according to Mike Halford of NBC’s Pro Hockey Talk.

“Although we’re disappointed that NHL players will not get the chance to experience and compete at the 2018 Winter Olympics next February, we’re confident that hockey fans and Olympic viewers will tune in to watch the unique style of play that occurs at the Olympic Winter Games when athletes are competing for their country.”

From Asian to Olympic Games

By Jack  Gallagher –

Countdown begins for Korean women’s team

Japan – The Korean women’s hockey team will face a special challenge next year when they take the ice as the home team at the PyeongChang Olympics. While qualifying for the games as the host nation has its benefits, it also comes with expectations.

This is not lost on the players, who know that they have a high honour in playing in the marquee event in their native country.

Korea coach Sarah Murray said her team values the opportunity it has been given.

I think after watching the Olympic Qualification tournament in Tomakomai (Japan) they realized how hard these other teams have to work to be in the Olympics, stated Murray after Korea’s 1-0 loss to Kazakhstan on Tuesday at the Asian Winter Games. “We have been told for four years, ‘Oh well you guys just get to go.’ It was almost heart-breaking watching Germany and Japan in the last game and knowing that one of those teams wasn’t going and they had to wait four more years.”

Korea did not play in this month’s qualifier, but had exhibition games against Germany and Austria in Japan to prepare for the tournament in Sapporo.

I think the girls felt it in their stomach almost, how lucky we really are to be going to the Games, commented Murray. “They always knew it was special, but watching those two teams battle it out, they really appreciate it now.”

Murray, now in her third year as coach is based full-time in Korea, has seen her team make significant progress during her tenure.

I think we have grown a lot, she said. “In my first year we did a lot of very basic skills, like the technical, tactical, how do you make a pass. Teaching passing and how do you pass it hard. This last year we have been really focusing on systems and playing together as a team. We did basic stuff at the start and now we are trying to fine tune it a little bit.”

Murray says her players take their work very seriously.

Our girls play hockey as their job. We’re an 11-month team.

Murray, who hails from Brandon, Manitoba, says she feels as Korean as her players.

Last summer, I was watching the Summer Olympics and I called my Mom and said, We won gold in judo!

My mother said, ‘Canada won a gold in judo?’ and I said, ‘No, Korea won gold in judo.’ It’s funny, I feel very Korean even though I’m very Canadian.

The Korean team does have a distinctly Canadian feel to it.

Captain Han Soojin, who has been on the national team since 2009, went to high school in Vancouver for three years. She recognizes the duty that comes along with being the host nation in the Olympics.

It’s a big honour to be held in my country, Korea, and as a hockey player. I am very proud to be an Olympic player, said Han. “Our team has to be ready for it in order to achieve something.”

Han noted that there is some anxiety with the anticipation of what lies ahead, but doesn’t see it as a negative.

The team feels pressure, but good pressure, the 29-year-old said. “It is really good to play in our home country. The team is nervous, but like a positive nervous.”

Caroline Park was born in Toronto to Korean parents and began playing the sport at eight. She has dual citizenship in Canada and Korea.

The forward played college hockey at Princeton and is also medical student in New York training to be in orthopaedics.

Despite not growing up in Korea, Park understands what next year’s Olympics mean to her teammates.

It’s obviously very exciting. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, Park stated. “I think the girls are really looking forward to it. It’s a chance to play in front of their families, so I think it’s great.”

The 27-year-old Park took a leave of absence from medical school and hooked up with the team at a training camp in Minnesota.

We will have the World Championship [Division II Group A] in April in Korea, so I will stay with the team through then and then go back to school, Park said.

Park’s story is very interesting and shows how dreams can become a reality.

The Korean federation contacted me after I graduated from Princeton, she recalled. “What’s funny was that one night a few years before that, I was watching hockey on TV and there was a little snippet on the Korean team. My dad said, ‘Wouldn’t that be great if you played for them.’ ”

Not long after that the process began and she has now been on the national team for five years.

Someone from the office reached out to me and asked if I would like to try out for the team. That was back in 2012 or 2013.

Park is not completely fluent in Korean, but communicates well with her teammates.

I can understand everything. Speaking is a little rough. I can speak enough to get by, but it is broken Korean, she commented. “I think understanding Korean really helps in terms of being able to blend in with the team and understand what’s going on. The team has been very welcoming ever since I first flew out to Korea. They are a really great group of nice girls.”

Park says she wants to continue being associated with the sport even after the Olympics.

I don’t want to give up hockey, she said. “The team was joking around and saying I should come back and be the team doctor.”

Goalie Shin Sojung, who plays for the New York Riveters in the National Women’s Hockey League, is relishing the chance to compete at home in the 2018 Winter Games.

I’m very excited about PyeongChang because I always had a dream to go play in the Olympics since I started to play hockey at seven, said Shin, who attended St. Francis Xavier University in Nova Scotia.

The 27-year-old Shin is already a 15-year veteran with the national team, having joined the squad when she was just 12. She admits there is pressure, but is encouraged by what the squad has accomplished in the past few weeks.

We feel a little bit of pressure as the home team next year, Shin stated. “We have played Germany, Austria, and Japan, which will be very similar to the teams that come to PyeongChang. We have confidence after these games. We can play with the high-level teams even though we are ranked 23rd. We are so excited to play in the Olympics.”

Shin hopes the incremental improvement of the team will continue for the next 12 months.

We are getting better day-by-day, week-by-week, she said. “I think we are more excited than nervous. I hope we will be better in another year. We hope to have good results here to let people in Korea know about women’s hockey. We want to show people in Korea what we can do in the Olympics.”

Olympic hockey teams will look to amateurs, Europe if the NHL backs out

By Stephen Whyno –The Associated Press

If the NHL doesn’t send its players to the 2018 Winter Olympics, the hockey tournament in Pyeongchang, South Korea will look familiar.

It will look a lot like the Olympics in Lillehammer, Norway in 1994, Albertville, France in 1992 and Calgary in 1988.

Maybe even a little like 1980 in Lake Placid, N.Y., site of the “Miracle On Ice.”

With a year before the opening ceremony, the league, players union, International Ice Hockey Federation and International Olympic Committee still don’t have an agreement to send NHL players to their sixth consecutive Olympics. There is still time – an agreement last time around came in July before the 2014 Games in Sochi, Russia – but everyone is forming a Plan B just in case.

Russia might have Alex Ovechkin if he makes good on his intention to go no matter what. But the United States, Canada and other countries are preparing for life without the best players in the world.

If the likes of Patrick Kane, Jonathan Quick, Jack Eichel and Ryan Suter aren’t available, USA Hockey will look mostly to the college ranks. If Hockey Canada can’t take Sidney Crosby, Jonathan Toews, Drew Doughty or Carey Price, it will try to defend the gold medal with a mix of European-based professionals, North American minor leaguers and players from the Canadian junior leagues and NCAA.

“It’s a big world, and we’ve got to make sure that we’re ready to go,” Hockey Canada president Tom Renney said. “Should the NHL choose not to go, we’ll make sure we’re ready, willing and able a year from now.”

The United States has a fresh set of heroes after shootout star Troy Terry, defenceman Charlie McAvoy and goaltender Tyler Parsons won world-junior gold last month. Mix them with top college players such as Notre Dame’s Anders Bjork and Wisconsin’s Trent Frederic and ex-NHLers Keith Aucoin and Nathan Gerbe who are playing in Europe, and the Americans will have plenty of youth and experience.

Dave Starman, a former coach in the minors and now an analyst for CBS Sports, said USA Hockey’s priority should be scoring, scoring and more scoring.

“You can’t win unless you can score,” Starman said. “It’s got to have a ton of speed, it’s got to have a really high skill level, it’s got to have defencemen who can get in the play. You need a little bit of dog on bone in your lineup, but I don’t think you can sacrifice skill guys for toughness.”

No problem there for Canada, which has plenty of big, tough skill players and hasn’t waited for the IIHF to set any 2018 parameters as it prepares its contingency plan. Canada’s team for the December Spengler Cup in Switzerland could serve as a blueprint: minor leaguers Cory Conacher and Zach Fucale and European-based recent NHL players Daniel Paille and Nick Spaling.

While IIHF president René Fasel would like a final decision sooner rather than later to plan for South Korea, Renney said Hockey Canada could put a team together quickly. Like USA Hockey, Canada can pull from its national junior team but has more veteran talent in Europe and the American Hockey League to choose from. Former NHL goaltender Ben Scrivens in Russia’s KHL is an option, for example, as is journeyman Michael Leighton, who is in the Carolina Hurricanes’ system.

Though Leighton firmly believes NHL players will go, the 35-year-old said he would “train as hard as I possibly can to get that job” if they don’t. AHL president and chief executive officer David Andrews expects his league to be open to allowing players to go to the Olympics as long as NHL teams give individual minor-league players permission.

“I think it’ll be an interesting question, though, for a lot of general managers because the player that is going to be asked for is going to be probably their No. 1 player outside the NHL club,” Andrews said. “They kind of face that question of, ‘Do we want our No. 1 call-up to be in South Korea for two or three weeks?’” Some NHL owners might even give their elite players permission to go, and Ted Leonsis of the Washington Capitals has said repeatedly he’d let Ovechkin, Swede Nicklas Backstrom and Canadian Braden Holtby represent their countries, though Holtby said he would never leave the Capitals midseason. The IIHF might set roster parameters to prevent NHL players from participating, too.

“We want to have that opportunity,” two-time U.S. Olympian Justin Faulk said. “If that’s taken from us and we don’t have that right anymore, at least it gives other guys an opportunity.”

Hall of Fame defenceman Mark Howe would be fine with that. After winning a silver medal playing for the United States in 1972, he supports amateurs because he feels the 1980 “Miracle On Ice” victory over the Soviet Union had a greater impact on the sport than professionals playing in the Olympics.

“Probably the greatest victory I think I’ve ever seen in hockey was when the 1980 team beat the Russians,” Howe said. “There was some guys on that team that never had a chance to play in the NHL or impact the NHL. That was their two weeks of fame. A guy like Mike Eruzione, Jimmy Craig – they’re phenomenal stories.”

True, but 1998 and 2002 U.S. Olympian John LeClair is worried about a talent disparity next winter if Russia put Ovechkin and dominant KHL players Pavel Datsyuk and Ilya Kovalchuk against American college kids.

“You get different variations of who’s playing and who’s not,” LeClair said. “You’re getting back to what it used to be where Russia had all their pros. You want everybody on an even [playing] field.”

Switzerland qualifies for Olympic Games

By Adam Steiss

Switzerland has punched its ticket to Korea, defeating the Czech Republic 4-1 and qualifying for the country’s fourth straight Olympics.

Swiss star forwards Alina Muller and Lara Stalder each scored twice, while Florence Schelling allowed an early goal but shut the door down on the Czechs the rest of the way to earn Player of the Game honours.

“Unbelievable, its what we’ve been dreaming of since last summer,” said Stalder, who finished the tournament as the top point scorer with eight goals and four assists in three games.

“I’m really tired, and happy! We gave it all in the end,” said Muller. “Everyone in the room deserved this, it would have been so hard to miss the Olympics and I’m happy that the Swiss can participate.”

Going into the third period holding a slim 2-1 lead, the outcome was far from certain as the Swiss were battling a hard-nosed Czech team playing fast north-south hockey.

But Muller, who has been unstoppable on the Swiss power play in this tournament, scored her second goal of the game, with a shot from the side of the net on the man advantage to give Switzerland some breathing room early in the period. 

The Czech’s best opportunity to cut the lead came midway through the third, but Simona Studentova’s open shot on a breakaway rang off Schelling’s right post. After the missed chance, the Czech offence fell silent and Stalder finished things off with an empty netter sending Switzerland to PyeongChang 2018, the country’s fourth straight Olympic Games.

“It’s amazing to win it here at home, amazing too that so many people came out to cheer us on,” said Schelling after the game. 

The Swiss came into the game as the clear favourites, veterans of three Olympics and Sochi 2014 bronze medallists. However, Switzerland’s only other game against the Czechs at the senior women’s level came at the 2016 IIHF Ice Hockey Women’s World Championship, a 3-1 Czech victory.

In front of a loud crowd of local fans in the Swiss ski resort town of Arosa, the Czechs had a tall order to fill, trying to contain a team that has scored ten goals in two games and led by forwards Lara Stalder and Alina Muller who combined for 12 points in that span.

The game was fast paced right from puck drop. In the first period, an aggressive Czech Republic forecheck kept the Swiss hemmed in in their own zone. The Czechs had a great opportunity to take some momentum away from the hometown Swiss with an early power play, but Tereza Vanisova missed on an open shot in front of the net.

The hard work paid off though late in the period, when a deflected clearing attempt gave the puck to Katerina Mrazova in front of the net. Her shot was stopped by Schelling, but Aneta Ledlova was there for the rebound and put the Czechs up 1-0.

A Lara Benz hooking penalty put the Swiss on their heels, but the team was able to get out of the period down by just a goal.

For most of the second period, the Czechs continued to do all the right things – hard forechecking and consistent shot blocking – to frustrate the Swiss star forwards. But the Swiss finally hit paydirt with 5:41 remaining, when tournament top scorer Lara Stalder found her linemate Alina Muller with a precision pass to the side of the net for the one-timer.

Then the vaunted Swiss power play struck with just 18 seconds left in the period. This time it was Muller setting up Stalder for a blast from the point to put the Swiss up 2-1 going into the third, a lead the Swiss would never relinquish. 

“They’re fantastic, the way they played this whole tournament was absolutely amazing,” said Schelling of Muller and Stalder. “In my opinion they won the tournament for us, they have all doors open to them and if they play the way they have in this tournament then we are going to be really good in the future.”

Although the team finished one win short of the Games, the Czechs battled hard and took a major step forward in the country’s women’s hockey development with a strong showing at the Olympic Qualification. 

“I definitely think we left it out there, too bad we didn’t score more goals on the power play but I’m definitely proud of our team,” said Czech captain Alena Polenska. “We have a young team but the girls work hard and leave everything out there and I hope we get another chance in four years.”

Japan beats Germany, qualifies for Olympic Games

By James

With Japan holding a slim 2-1 lead, Kubo’s blast from the top of the faceoff circle with 5:17 left in the third period gave the hosts a two-goal cushion and sent them to their third Olympics following Sochi and Nagano.

It was Kubo’s tournament-leading fifth goal of the tournament. The 34-year-old forward scored a hat trick in the 6-1 win over Austria on Thursday and added another goal in the 4-1 win over France on Saturday.

“Kubo came through like she has all tournament,” said Japan coach Takeshi Yamanaka. “She just knows how to score in important situations and played a huge role for us.”

Germany pulled their goaltender with two minutes remaining and desperately tried to get back in it but Japan’s defence stood tall.

“I put the players out I knew I could count on and they did a great job,” Yamanaka said of the final two minutes.

As impressive as Japan was on offense, they gave up only three goals all tournament and finished with the maximum nine points.

Japan got on the scoreboard first when Moeko Fujimoto stuffed a backhand from close range past German goaltender Jennifer Harss at 12:16 of the second period.

Just over two minutes later the hosts doubled the lead on the power play. With Tanja Eisenschmid serving a two-minute penalty for hooking, Shoko Ono tapped in a rebound from the side of the net.

Germany responded with a power play goal of its own late in the second to cut the lead to 2-1.

Eisenschmid took a pass in the high slot and sent a wrister to the top corner with 3:30 remaining.

The first period was high-paced with few whistles. Japan came close eight minutes in on a 2-on-1 break but Kubo was denied by Harss. Akane Hosoyamada rang a slap shot off the crossbar with seven seconds left in the first.

Japan took two penalties late in the first period but Germany was unable to take advantage.

“To beat Japan you have to take advantage of your chances,” said German coach Benjamin Hinterstocker. “We tried everything to beat them. Both teams had chances, it was a high-tempo game and both teams had a chance to win.”

Eight teams will play in the women’s tournament in Pyeongchang. The United States, Canada, Russia, Sweden and Finland had already qualified along with South Korea which earns a spot as the host nation.Joining them now will be “Smile Japan”. 

Czechs outlast Denmark

By Adam Steiss

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

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

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.

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