Two teams with medal hopes will face off right off the bat in the quarterfinal round: Finland and the Czech Republic. Here’s a rundown of how they’ve done so far and what to expect from the matchup:
Preliminary Round Wrap-up
This will be the first matchup of the tournament between the Czechs and Finns. Both teams hit their stride by the end of group play; Team Czech Republic finished a perfect 4-0-0 in Group B while Finland finished 2-2-0 in Group A.
The Finns started the tournament off with a bang, getting out to a 1-0 lead against Canada, but unfortunately couldn’t hold that result. They also dropped their game to the U.S., but defeated Russia and Switzerland by a combined score of 10-0. Finland is a notch above every non-North American team in this tournament and they’ve made it clear they’ll be pushing for a medal once again.
The Czech Republic handled their own schedule with conviction. They outscored their opponents 16-3 in the round robin, by far the widest margin in Group B. They’ve put up 119 shots on goal so far, the most by any team except the North American countries. Klára Peslarová has been really strong in goal. The Czechs are clicking on all fronts and have a great shot to advance in this tournament, but they’re also going to be facing their toughest challenge so far in Team Finland.
Key Story: Special Teams
For the Finns, the No. 1 question of this tournament continues to be: Can they advance to another gold medal game, after doing it for the first time ever back in 2019? Their first real test is this quarterfinal matchup against the Czechs. Anything less than a win here is likely to be very disappointing for Finland.
Whether or not the Finns can score at a pace similar to their last two round-robin games will also be something to watch for. Their victories over Russia and Switzerland were clear blowouts. I think they’re a level above the Czechs, too, but the Czechs are playing with confidence and have their sights set on the next round as well. One factor that could make a difference: the Czech Republic is one of the more penalized teams in Calgary (22 minors taken). With Finland’s speed and skill, they could quickly press the issue if their opponents aren’t more disciplined.
The Czechs are heading into the quarterfinals with the best power play of the tournament, scoring at a 27.78% clip with the player advantage. They bring a ton of skill, both up front and on the back end, making them that much more dangerous when they have extra space and zone time. Scoring a power-play goal or two would be huge for the team.
On the flip side, though, Finland is coming into the game with the tournament’s best penalty kill, at 100%. They have not allowed a single power-play goal on 10 chances. As fun as this matchup will be in general, it should be a great special-teams battle in particular. If the Czech Republic can get some offense generated when they’re on the power play, they may be able to get Finland out of their comfort zone. They’ll very likely need to use those opportunities to help build momentum at a minimum.
Finland’s Key Player: Petra Nieminen
It should be no surprise that the player to watch for Finland is the tournament’s second-leading scorer: 22-year-old Petra Nieminen. She has absolutely exploded over the past two games, scoring all five of her goals and all six of her points over that span.
While she’s still a young player with room to grow in the grand scheme of things, she’s been an important part of Team Finland for a while now. She has a great scoring touch and plays assertively in the slot and at the net front. Finland’s entire top line is lethal, with Michelle Karvinen and Susanna Tapani up there as well, but Nieminen has been on a tear and is definitely making an impact this tournament.
Czech Republic’s Key Player: Klára Peslarová
Klára Peslarová has started all four games in Calgary and posted a .948 save percentage, 0.75 goals-against average, and two shutouts. She’s looked really strong, but she hasn’t faced a very high shot volume yet. That’s probably going to change on Saturday against Finland; not only will she see more shots on goal, but the Czechs are also going to have to withstand waves of offense from the Finns.
If Peslarová is at the top of her game, then the Czech Republic will have a really solid chance at doing just that. They have a well-rounded offense themselves and definitely need their top forwards to perform, but Peslarová is the one player who can create the biggest obstacle for Finland and their hopes of advancing.
How to Watch
ESPN+ ($) at 8:30 p.m. Mountain time, 10:30 p.m. Eastern time.