Day: February 15, 2022

Canada beats China in Olympic men’s hockey; will play Sweden in quarterfinals

Adam Tambellini had two goals, including one on a penalty shot, to go along with three assists as Canada survived an early scare Tuesday to beat China 7-2 in the qualification round of the men’s hockey tournament at the Beijing Olympics.

Jordan Weal, with two goals and an assist; Eric Staal and Jack McBain, with a goal and an assist each; and Eric O’Dell provided the rest of the offence for the Canadians, who got 27 saves from Matt Tomkins. Maxim Noreau added three assists.

Cory Kane scored twice for China. Jeremy Smith stopped 15 shots for the hosts in the first period before injuring his left leg. Paris O’Brien made 23 saves in relief for the Chinese, who went winless in four games and were outscored a combined 23-4 in the program’s first Games.

The Canadian roster of non-NHLers, which beat the Chinese 5-0 on Sunday in the round-robin finale and are the No. 5 seed after finishing second in Group A behind the United States, will now take on Sweden in Wednesday’s quarterfinals.

They’ll need to be a whole lot better if Canada’s going to play for a medal in Beijing.

In other qualification-round matchups, Slovakia beat Germany 4-0, Denmark topped Latvia 3-2, and Switzerland got past the Czech Republic 4-2.

Slovakia will take on the U.S. in the quarters, while Denmark faces off against the Russian Olympic Committee, and Finland meets Switzerland.

China’s team at the 2022 Winter Olympics was composed of Kunlun Red Star, a Beijing-based KHL club that finished last this season. Of the country’s 25 players, 18 were born or grew up in North America, including 11 with ties to Canada, while one is Russian.

Vancouver native and former NHL winger Brandon Yip, who has Chinese heritage through three of his four grandparents, served as the team’s captain. But others like Smith and Jake Chelios, the son of Hall of Famer Chris Chelios, had no ties to the country before signing contracts with Kunlun.

The International Ice Hockey Federation, which contemplated replacing China with Norway because of competitive imbalance, ruled players in that category met residency requirements despite the fact Kunlun relocated to the Moscow area because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Tomkins started a second straight game for Canada, while Edward Pasquale, who got the nod in the first two contests, served as the backup.

Devon Levi, the MVP of the 2021 world junior hockey championship putting up eye-popping numbers in the NCAA this season, was once again in street clothes after dressing for the first time in China as Tomkins’ understudy Sunday.

The Canadians opened with a great first shift, but were on their heels after that. Tomkins was forced to make a save on a Tyler Wong breakaway and a Spencer Foo penalty shot after he was slashed by Morgan Ellis.

Canada settled down and went up 1-0 at 6:57 when Weal scored on a power play after Tambellini hit the post.

China got into more penalty trouble, and Weal, who played for head coach Claude Julien with the Montreal Canadiens, buried another on a 5-on-3 man advantage at 9:55.

China got back within one at 15:32 when Cory Kane stole the puck from an under-pressure Owen Power – the No. 1 pick at the 2021 NHL draft by the Buffalo Sabres – and roofed a backhand on Tomkins.

The Canadian goaltender stopped Foo, a native of St. Albert, Alta., on a couple of shots on a power play before disaster struck for China at the other end in the period’s dying seconds.

Smith, who played 10 games with the Colorado Avalanche in 2016-17, stretched to make a save and crumpled to the ice in agony. The American-born netminder had to be helped off without putting any weight on his left leg inside a quiet National Indoor Stadium.

That opened the door for O’Brien, originally from Coquitlam, B.C., to step into the spotlight a second time after stopping 39 shots in Canada’s 5-0 victory Sunday.

The 21-year-old made some nice saves following the intermission, but was fooled by a weak Tambellini one-timer on another power play that ticked off Chelios in front at 6:36.

The son of former Edmonton Oilers general manager Steve Tambellini was then hooked on a break by Chelios, and buried the ensuing penalty shot low on O’Brien at 8:39.

O’Dell stretched the lead to 5-1 at 12:05 by deflecting a Jason Demers point shot.

China got a 5-on-3 man advantage for a full two minutes late in the second when Ellis was assessed a major for elbowing and Tyler Wotherspoon then went off for holding. Kane, a native of Irvine, Calif., banged home a loose puck on a scramble to give China a little life with 59 seconds left in the period.

Tomkins had to be sharp on a Yip chance and the followup rebound nine minutes into the third, but China didn’t really threaten from there before Staal and McBain scored late as Canada advanced in unconvincing fashion.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 15, 2022.

Swiss avenge group stage loss, advance to QF

By  Andy Potts –

Team Switzerland picked the perfect time for its first win in Beijing. Tuesday’s 4-2 verdict over Czechia puts the Swiss into a quarter final against Finland and sent the Czechs home. Veteran Andres Ambuhl, playing in his fifth Games, got his first Olympic goal to tie the scores in the first period and after that, his team never looked back, grabbing swift revenge for a shoot-out loss against this opposition in Group B play. That was the only point Switzerland achieved in the group stage, suffering losses against Denmark and ROC, but the qualification round offered a reprieve that was eagerly accepted.

Swiss captain Raphael Diaz summed up how things had changed. “The first two games in the group, I think it was okay but we couldn’t get it done,” he said. “We made some good plays but we couldn’t score, and everybody knew we needed more. We needed more defence, especially after the last game … as a group that was unacceptable.

“Today, we played really tight defensively, everybody came back, we blocked shots, we boxed them out, we won puck battles. [Leonardo] Genoni had a hell of a game – he always stopped the first shot and we cleared the rebounds. I think it was a good, strong effort from the whole team.”

For the Czechs, it’s yet more big tournament frustration. Without a medal in Olympic or World Championship play since 2012, Czechia produced a memorable 6-5 OT victory over Team ROC here, but also suffered a shock defeat in its opening game against unheralded Denmark. 

“We had our chances but we didn’t score. That was our problem,” said Roman Cervenka, Czechia’s captain. “It was a tough game. We started well but they scored two quick goals which gave them wings. It was hard for us after that.

“We were feeling good, but then 13 seconds later we’re losing.”

Switzerland was limited to just 18 shots at Simon Hrubec in the Czech net, but came up with four goals. However, Gaetan Haas dismissed any suggestion that fortune favoured the Swiss. “We did everything we had to do to win the game. I think we deserve this one,” he said. “We played hard for 60 minutes and, in the end, we got the result.

“The turning point came when we took the lead. Then they had to open the game and we were able to play tough defence, and in the end we won. That’s the only thing that matters.”

The early stages of this game were cagey, with both teams aware how tight that previous meeting was. But the action began to heat up midway through the frame. Czechia got the puck in the net when Lukas Sedlak stuffed home from close range, but the whistle had gone some time before the Traktor Chelyabinsk forward snaffled a loose puck. David Krejci had made contact with Swiss goalie Genoni when he looked to convert Sedlak’s feed from behind the net.

Soon afterwards, the Czechs had a legitimate goal. Defenceman Lukas Klok broke the deadlock with a thunderous shot from the point after good work from Cervenka and Klok’s Neftekhimik Nizhnekamsk clubmate Ronald Knot in the Swiss zone.

Jan Kovar played a big part on Klok’s goal, screening Genoni as the shot came in. But the EV Zug forward became the villain of the piece in the 15th minute when he took the game’s first penalty for boarding on Yannick Weber. It was a needless offensive zone foul, and the power play brought Switzerland level. Enzo Corvi’s feed was tipped against the foot of the post by Calvin Thurkauf and the rebound fell perfectly for Ambuhl to fire into a wide open net.

That was Ambuhl’s first goal in Olympic play – a surprising stat for a man at his fifth Games. At 38, the Swiss veteran is the oldest player here in Beijing. He’s not the oldest player to score at the Olympics for the first time – Swedish defenceman Borje Salming scored four goals at the age of 40 in 1992 – but he is the first man to score his debut Olympic goal at his fifth Olympic tournament.

“It’s nice to score my first goal at Olympics but it was great especially for the team,” Ambuhl said. “We somehow didn’t manage to bury the pucks before and today they bounced our way. Nobody was happy with the preliminary round so we wanted to show that we can play hockey and win too. We wanted to show this reaction. Now we have to continue like that without getting over excited.”

Personal landmarks aside, the Swiss alternate captain had more to celebrate just 13 seconds later as his team went ahead. Straight from the face-off, play went back to the Czech zone and Dennis Hollenstein’s shot deflected off a defender’s skate for Killian Mottet to pounce from in front of the net.

A Czech power play at the start of the second period saw Krejci force a good save out of Genoni. Then, just as Michael Fora returned to the ice, Jiri Smejkal had a great chance to tie the scores. His initial shot was well saved, but the Finnish-based 25-year-old collected the rebound out wide and fired the puck dangerously across the face of the net. Swiss captain Diaz had to be alert avoid steering it into his own goal.

Switzerland’s power play then struck again as Denis Malgin increased the lead midway through the game, exchanging passes with Santeri Alatalo before rifling home a one-timer from the left-hand circle.

“We have always known that we can score,” said Malgin, who plays his hockey for the ZSC Lions. “Before, the pucks just didn’t go in or we didn’t have the luck. But we know what we’re able to do and today we showed it.”

Kovar was gracious in defeat. “It was a tough game,” the Czech centre said. “They play tough, the play well. They have a good team over there. They were better today.”

And Cervenka added: “We didn’t play badly, I think we were ready for this game. It’s hard to say what went wrong right now.”

The third period saw plenty of opportunities at both ends and that two-goal advantage looked vulnerable at times. However, in the 55th minute Switzerland took control. More typically strong forechecking from Sven Andrighetto keep an attack alive and set up Diaz at the right point to smash a shot past Hrubec.

“I just closed my eyes and shot,” laughed the Swiss captain. “Sometimes that’s the best thing to do! It went in to make it 4-1 but we knew they were going to come at us. We took the penalty and they made it 4-2 but at the end I think it was a real good team effort and we’re really proud to get our first win here.”

Now, the Czechs had too much to do, despite a brave effort. Head coach Filip Pesan called a time-out and pulled goalie Hrubec with more than four minutes to play. There was an immediate reward with a power play, which led to a goal from Cervenka. He’s another veteran forward, and he currently plays in the Swiss League. But even his experience and knowledge of the opposition was not enough to trigger an improbable fightback as Switzerland celebrates a return to the quarter-finals for the first time since 2010.

Denmark advances over Latvia

By  Lucas Aykroyd –

Denmark’s magical ride as an Olympic first-timer continues. The Danes edged Latvia 3-2 on Tuesday in the lone qualification playoff game at Beijing’s Wukesong Sports Centre and will face the ROC team in the quarter-finals.

“We’ve come a long way ever since we’ve been in the top division [of the IIHF World Championship] and now we’re in the quarter-finals of the Olympics,” said assistant captain Frans Nielsen. “It’s been a great journey over the last 20 years.”

Of facing ROC, Danish head coach Heinz Ehlers said: “I see them as one of the favourites to win the tournament, but we gave them a good battle in the first round. We played them [hard] and hopefully we can show up with the same energy and be ready to compete with them.”

This was a gritty, physical affair with plenty of pain dished out on both sides.

Markus Lauridsen scored the go-ahead goal on an early third-period power play. Morten Poulsen and Julian Jakobsen got their first Olympic goals for Denmark, which outshot Latvia 31-27.

Danish starting goalie Sebastian Dahm was strong with 25 saves. He was busy early as the Latvians peppered him with shots and made several game-saving stops as things progressed.

“I think the difference was our goalie,” said Ehlers. “He played a huge role tonight. We were not as good as we hoped we would be. I think Latvia played really well, and it was a really tough game for us.”

Captain Lauris Darzins scored twice for Latvia. After the game, the 37-year-old Dinamo Riga veteran announced his retirement from the Latvian national team. Renars Krastenbergs, the leading Latvian scorer, added two assists.

“If you want to win games, you’ve got to score goals,” said Darzins. “We were up 2-1 and we had pretty huge chances. We didn’t capitalize and we ended up short. It’s a game of scoring goals and our opponent came up better today in that area.”

“It’s disappointing,” Latvia’s Rodrigo Abols admitted. “It’s not like we didn’t do enough to deserve the win today. I think our problem the whole tournament was that we tried to play too pretty. If you look at how other teams scored on us, [they’d] get a shot through, get some people out there, and get the puck in the net. I think we were lacking that in the whole tournament.”

This victory is a huge moment for Danish hockey. The best Denmark has ever done at an IIHF World Championship is eighth place (2010, 2016). With this performance on international hockey’s biggest stage in Beijing, the Nordic nation of 5.8 million has a reason to get excited.

The Danes overachieved in Group B with wins over Czechia (2-1) and Switzerland and a narrow loss to the ROC team (2-0). Now they have another chance to upset the powerful squad of Russians, featuring seven returnees from the OAR team that won gold in PyeongChang 2018.

“It’s going to be anyone’s tournament,” Nielsen said. “Germany did it last time. I don’t know if we expected to be in the quarter-finals, but now we’re here and we’ve got everything to win. [The ROC team] has got everything to lose, so we’ve just got to go back at it tomorrow.”

The Latvians exit the Olympics with four straight losses.

For Latvia, Janis Kalnins got the start in net, but head coach Harijs Vitolins unusually pulled the Vaxjo Lakers goalie just 7:47 in – apparently due to an injury – and put in Ivars Punnenovs. During the Olympic qualification tournament Latvia won in Riga, Punnenovs allowed just one goal in three games.

The Danes picked up their tempo and Poulsen opened the scoring on a bad-angle rebound from the goal line at 12:02. The 33-year-old role forward, a nine-time IIHF World Championship participant, roared with joy.

“We kind of put pressure on the Ds and we got it up to the Ds around with some traffic,” said Jakobsen. “Morten [Poulsen] made a good play. I think it bounced off the goalie.”

Darzins returned to the Latvian lineup after missing the 5-2 loss to Slovakia. The three-time Olympian got hurt when falling into the door to the Finnish bench in the game before that, but he looked fully recovered when he tallied the equalizer at 16:23.

Darzins got a breakaway on a stretch pass from Krastenbergs, fought off defender Emil Kristensen’s stick check, and deked to the forehand to beat Dahm. It was an impressive display in his 150th and final game with the Latvian national team.

Moments later, Abols, who wore the “C” when Darzins was out, dumped Denmark’s Nicklas Jensen into the boards on a heavy hit, and the Jokerit sniper was shaken up. However, Jensen would continue.

Defensive lapses plagued the Danes in the second period. In the opening minute, Krastenbergs and Darzins nearly connected again on a 2-on-1, but blueliner Matias Lassen was alert to break it up as they entered the Danish zone.

Latvia’s power play has been one of its more effective weapons, and Darzins gave his team a 2-1 lead at 2:33, stepping into the right faceoff circle and zinging one past Dahm. Latvia would finish 4-for-11 with the man advantage in Beijing.

The Latvians kept pressing. Riharts Bukarts got loose on another breakaway, but his backhand flew high and wide as Dahm stretched out. The Danish goalie came up huge on a 2-on-0 break as Andris Dzerins and Nikolajs Jelisejevs were unable to beat him.

“Sebastian had some really big saves for us in the second period that kept us in the game and it felt a little bit like they ran out of steam,” Nielsen said.

Jakobsen delivered the 2-2 equalizer with 3:03 left in the middle frame. The older brother of Danish women’s national team captain Josefine Jakobsen caught the Latvians at the end of a long shift, whipping home a high shot from the right faceoff circle.

“It was a good play by Nicolai Meyer,” said Jakobsen. “He was working hard in the corner and he’s a really skilled playmaker. He found me in the slot and I just tried to get it quick to the net and luckily it went in.”

Denmark’s Frederik Storm, who shone with three points against Switzerland, had a great opportunity on an odd-man rush in the dying moments of the period. But Storm elected to pass instead of shoot, and it fizzled.

To open the third period, Darzins took an untimely interference penalty in open ice. Denmark capitalized for a 3-2 lead at 1:45. Markus Lauridsen bulged the twine with a long shot through traffic. Assists went to Nielsen and Mikkel Boedker, who, in Danish NHL history, rank first (473 points) and fourth (327 points) in scoring respectively.

“We did a good job of getting the puck in and we moved it around a little bit,” Nielsen said. “It was a great shot by Markus and good screen by the guys in the front.”

Shortly afterwards, Dahm was sharp to stymie Bukarts and Martins Dzierkals on back-to-back opportunities to maintain the lead.

With under four minutes left, Latvia got its second power play of the third period with Nicholas B. Jensen sent off for slashing. But the Danes checked tenaciously and denied their opponents the tying goal. With half a minute remaining, a slashing penalty to Krastenbergs ended Latvia’s hopes in Beijing.

“It’s the Olympics, it’s a huge stage and everybody wants to be here,” Darzins said. “We went out, did our best. I know we’re going to feel bad about ourselves today. Some time will pass by and I know I will remember with a smile all this experience.”

This was the third time Latvia has appeared in an Olympic qualification playoff game. When the current playoff format debuted in Vancouver in 2010, the Latvians got a brilliant outing from netminder Edgars Masalskis as they were outshot 50-26 by the Czechs. They scored two late goals to tie it up. However, Latvia lost 3-2 on David Krejci’s overtime goal.

In 2014 in Sochi, Latvia advanced with a 3-1 win over Switzerland on the strength of two Darzins goals, including the power-play winner in the first period. After a dramatic 2-1 quarter-final loss to eventual champion Canada, Latvia earned its best Olympic finish with eighth place.

Latvia’s World Championship peak is seventh place (1997, 2004, 2009). The small Baltic country’s next shot at IIHF glory will come at the 2022 IIHF World Championship in Tampere and Helsinki (13 to 29 May).

Slovakia on to quarter-finals

Slovakia’s Michal Kristoff #19 passes the puck while Germany’s Moritz Muller #91 and Frederik Tiffels #95 defend.

By Derek O’Brien –

Slovakia got goals from four different sources and two points each from Marek Hrivik, Peter Cehlarik and Martin Gernat to beat Germany 4-0 in the Qualification Round of the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing.

“I think that’s one of the best 60-minutes games that I’ve ever coached,” said Slovak coach Craig Ramsay. “I think we put a lot of pressure on them with our speed and didn’t allow them to be as physical as they normally are, because they’re so strong and they get on you but tonight, our speed gave us a little bit of an advantage.”

“Of course we’re disappointed. We couldn’t really find our game and Slovakia deserved to win today,” said German forward Tom Kunhackl. “They played very aggressive all over the ice – on the forecheck, in the D zone – they were hard on us, they won more battles and that’s how you win hockey games. We just didn’t do it consistently enough throughout the game.”

With the win, Slovakia moves on to meet the USA in tomorrow’s quarter-final. It marks the Slovaks’ first appearance among the elite eight since 2010, when they finished fourth. For the Germans, there will be no repeat of their silver-medal performance from 2018.

Playing for the third time in these Games, Patrik Rybar made 21 saves, becoming the first Slovak goalie to post a shutout at the Olympics since Jaroslav Halak in 2010 in Vancouver. Rybar’s 0.76 goals-against average and 96.49 save percentage both lead all goalies in the tournament. Playing his third game for Germany, Mathias Niederberger stopped 29 of 32.

“It’s very nice that it came in this important game, but I have to give credit to the guys for playing well defensively, blocking shots and playing structured,” Rybar said of the shutout. As for his own progression during the tournament, he said: “The KHL shut down in January and it was hard to prepare, but now I’m feeling more comfortable after an exhibition game and three more in the Olympics.”

This game was a match-up between the eighth- and ninth-ranked teams after the group stage, with both teams finishing third in their respective groups. Slovakia lost its first two Group C games with losses to Finland and Sweden before finishing up with a 5-2 win over Latvia. Germany had losses to Canada and the USA sandwiched around a 3-2 victory over host China in Group A.

Slovakia’s Peter Zuzin had the game’s first good chance less than five minutes in but Niederberger denied him with a pad save from point blank. Germany only had five shots on goal in the first period but Nicolas Krammer had two of them, and they were both good chances that Rybar had to be sharp on.

Slovakia got a lucky bounce on the opening goal. Just past the 11-minute mark, Libor Hudacek took a pass from Kristian Pospisil and took a low wrist shot through a crowd. The puck hit the skate of German defenceman Jonas Muller and bounced through the legs of Niederberger, who was moving the wrong way. The puck slowly dribbled to the goal line, with Pospisil arriving on the scene to make sure it went in, taking a whack at the puck after it had already crossed the line, making it Hudacek’s goal.

The Slovaks were the faster of the two teams in the first period and really used that to their advantage in the second and took control of the game with two goals 1:44 apart.

The 2-0 goal came at 27:01 with teams skating 4-on-4, with Cehlarik taking a pass from Hrivik, then perfectly working a give-and-go with Gernat to get Niederberger moving laterally and beat him five-hole. Then it was 19-year-old Samuel Knazko with a nice pass to set up a Michal Kristof one-timer.

“It was 4-on-4 with more space on the ice. Hrivik was really good on the forecheck there. He won the puck back and we had time to make the play there with ‘Gery’,” Cehlarik said about his goal.

“It was big to extend the lead. I think in the second period we controlled the game well. We can still work on our power play – it could be better – but our PK was huge today and our goalie played well.”

They kept coming and could have had more. Juraj Slavkovsky has four goals so far and almost got his first assist when he tried to make a backdoor pass to Hrivik on a rush but the Slovak captain backhanded it just wide of the post.

Germany’s chance to get back into it was a pair of power plays early in the third period, but Rybar and Slovakia’s penalty-killing were equal to the task. Niederberger did all he could to keep his team alive, stopping Pavol Regenda on a clear-cut breakaway with just over six minutes to play, then a few more shots on power play with Slovakia looking for the knock-out punch.

“We just couldn’t find our game on the small ice throughout the whole tournament,” said German defenceman Korbinian Holzer. “The only game were we kind of played north-south hockey was against the US, where we really created some offence and put them on their heels. Today was just different again. We couldn’t play up to our strengths. We gave up some easy goals, we didn’t get enough shots, we didn’t put enough pressure on their D, and that cost us. At the end of the day, we’re going home and it’s deserved.”

With Germany back at full strength, coach Toni Soderholm pulled Niederberger for a sixth attacker with around four minutes to go, but that just resulted in Hrivik’s empty-netter with 2:04 to play. After an altercation led to the expulsion of David Wolf, the Slovaks played the rest of the game on the power play and was easily able to preserve Rybar’s shutout and the win to put them in the quarters.

“Today was a great team game for us,” said forward Marko Dano. “Everybody was doing their job. Our goalie played well and we helped him a lot. With every game we’ve played better, and hopefully tomorrow we can play as a team again.

Looking ahead to the USA tomorrow, Dano said: “They have a young team as well and they’re good skaters, but we’ve just got to play our game, keep it simple, gets some shots to the net and play a responsible game.”

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