Tomorrow’s semifinal showdown between Team USA and Team Czechia brings us a matchup between a superpower looking for its opportunity to win back its crown and a program defined by its momentum, potential, and forward-thinking approach to the game.
These teams met on Feb. 11 in the quarterfinal of the Beijing Olympics. On that day, Team USA scored four straight goals after an early strike from Czechia put everyone on the edge of their seat. It was yet another glimpse of the bright future that is just around the corner for this Czech program and an important lesson for Team USA — Czechia is not a team that can be taken lightly.
The puck drops at 8 a.m. and can be seen on NHL Network and TSN3 in North America.
How they got here
The Czechs were the top team of Group B. They dominated Team Hungary in a 7-1 win, sailed past Team Denmark 5-1, shut out the Germans 6-0, and closed the door on Sweden 3-0 to go undefeated in the group stage. They followed that convincing stretch with a historic 2-1 overtime victory over Team Finland in the quarterfinal thanks to a clutch goal scored by Aneta Tejralová, now of the Boston Pride.
Thus far, Team Czechia has been very good on both sides of special teams play but they are where they are as a result of their play at evens. They enter this semifinal game riding a huge wave of momentum.
Like Team Czechia, Team USA is also undefeated. Unlike Czechia, they are favorites to challenge Canada for gold.
USA bested Team Canada 5-2 in group play and absolutely rolled over the rest of Group A before humbling Team Hungary by a score of 12-1 in the quarterfinal. USA enters this semifinal game averaging an overwhelming 8.4 GF/GP. Their revamped power play (40% — 8/20) has complimented the puck-pressure and scoring depth of the team’s even-strength attack. For USA, the key to their success has been an intimidating blend of quantity and quality scoring chances and a suffocating forecheck. This is a team that absolutely loves to own the puck.
Player to watch
Taylor Heise | USA
Heise has 5 goals and 8 assists in 5 GP to lead Team USA in scoring in her first major tournament. That’s all the reason you need to watch this rising star in a must-win game for USA. Per Alyssa Longmuir’s IIHFFY shiny site, Heise’s 11.1 GS/60 (game score per 60 minutes) is tops in the tournament. So too is Heise’s 11.21 Pts/60, which makes her average TOI/GP of 13:55 feel almost inadequate at this stage.
However much ice time Heise sees in his one, she will be a player you should watch closely. She’s already demonstrated a masterful ability to create scoring chances and can change the outlook of a game on any given shift with her ability to make highlight reel plays when the puck is on her stick.
Klára Peslarová | Czechia
Peslarová was borderline superhuman for Czechia in their win over Finland in the quarterfinals. Before that, she was steady and at times stellar — but not terribly busy — in the group stage. Her stat line of .966 Sv% and 3 GA through 280:41 of action is absolutely sensational. In five starts, Peslarová has allowed one goal at even-strength in Denmark and she’s been between the pipes.
All eyes will be on Team Czechia’s goal crease and goaltender in this one. Peslarová could prove that she is the top player at her position with this performance.
Klara Peslarová's stats so far are ridiculous.— Mike Murphy (@DigDeepBSB) September 2, 2022
5 GP, 5 GS, 280:41 minutes played
.966 Sv% (85/88) with 18.81 SA60 (light workload in group stage)
36 saves vs Finland in QF
3 GA (only 1 GA at EV)
0.64 GAA, 5-0-0
The storyline to watch in this one will be how Team Czechia makes use of opportunities to go on the counter-attack and how they manage the relentless pressure of Team USA. The Czechs have already proven they can score on USA. This time around, they need to solve the puzzle of creating sustained pressure at even strength or finding a way to generate multiple chances when and if they go on the power play.
Of course, the other huge storyline will be Peslarová.
If Team Czechia can shock the world today, Peslarová will be the power source that delivers that shock. She’s on top of her game right now and absolutely has it in her to rob the most dangerous players in the world and find the kind of groove that could result in her stealing a game from USA. With that said, Team USA is not Team Finland or any of the offenses from Group B that the Czechs absolutely smothered. This will be another huge test for Peslarová and the blue line in front of her.
Grab your popcorn. This could be an unforgettable semifinal.
Data courtesy IIHF.com and Alyssa Longmuir’s IIHF For You site