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2022 Olympics Preview: Japan, Czech Republic

A look how to the top two teams in Group B are stacking up.

Ice Hockey - Winter Olympics Day 11 Photo by Harry How/Getty Images

JAPAN

Michelle Jay

Japan’s gearing up for their fourth Olympics appearance. In 1998, the first Olympics to feature women’s hockey, they were the host nation. In 2014 and 2018, they won a spot through the qualification tournament.

How they got here

For the first time in Japan’s history, they automatically qualified for the tournament based on their IIHF rating. Currently they’re ranked 6th in the world.

The last time around

Japan is coming into the tournament hot off their best finish at the World Championships, a 6th place. They went 3-1 in group play, only losing to the Czech Republic (who went undefeated). Coming in second in their group meant a semifinal face off against the US, which, despite losing, was a solid showing from the upstart team. Akane Shiga made history scoring the first - and then the second - goal against the US in IIHF play in Japanese history. They fell to ROC in the 5th place game as well, but will be back at the tournament later this year.

Roster

Defenders: Akane Hosoyamada, Yukiko Kawashima, Shiori Koike, Aoi Shiga, Sena Suzuki, Ayaka Toko (Hitosato), Shiori Yamashita
Forwards: Moeko Fujimoto, Remi Koyama, Hanae Kubo, Mei Miura, Chiho Osawa, Chika Otaki, Akane Shiga, Miho Shishiuchi, Suzuka Taka, Haruka Toko, Rui Ukita, Hikaru Yamashita, Haruna Yoneyama
Golatender: Nana Fujimoto, Akane Konishi, Miyuu Masuhara

Key Players To Know

Nana Fujimoto - At the 2021 Worlds tournament, Fujimoto played the most games of any goaltender, all but 30 minutes of her team’s ice time. She saw a whopping 186 shots for 90.86 save percentage. She’s their workhorse in net and I’d expect her to do the same again this tournment.

Schedule

  • v Sweden - Thursday, Feb. 3 at 3:40 a.m. EST
  • v Denmark - Saturday, Feb. 5 at 3:40 a.m. EST
  • v China - Sunday, Feb. 6 at 3:40 a.m. EST
  • v Czechia - Tuesday, Feb. 8 at 3:40 a.m. EST

What Success Looks like

For Japan to call these Games a success, they need to move out of the group play stage. Three teams will advance, and I think they can do it. They are bringing largely the same team from Worlds to the Olympics and that familiarity - both with each other and their opponents - is going to be good for them. They a bit of a rough time with Denmark at Worlds, though they won 1-0, it was an extremely evenly matched game that they should be well prepared for now. Sweden and the Czech Republic will probably give them some trouble (and loses) as well. The real wild card is China, and how Japan will look against a team that largely plays together year round.

Anything after the Group Stage is just gravy for them. They need to score more goals to get through, as their 12 at Worlds isn’t going to cut it this time around.


CZECHIA

Mike Murphy

Czechia is a team on the rise. As a whole, the skaters on this roster are young, quick, and skilled and they play in front of one of the best goalies in the world, Klára Peslarová. Led by veteran winger and captain Alena Mills, the Czechs are a puck possession team that can tilt the ice and overwhelm those who can’t keep up with them. For all of these reasons and more, they just might be the most entertaining team to watch in the tournament.

How they got here

This tournament is already a historic one for this program — this marks the first time the Czechs will compete in the Olympics. They’ve never finished higher than sixth in a World Championship, but Czechia has been on the rise over the last half dozen years or so. Since returning to the top division in the 2016 Worlds, the Czechs have kept their seat at the big table.

The last time around

The Czechs were downright dominant in the group stage of the 2021 Worlds, finishing with a record of 4-0-0 and averaging four goals per game. They gave the Finns all they could handle in the quarterfinal, but the offense that rampaged through the group stage failed to score when it mattered most. Then, in their placement game, they were foiled by Team Japan’s power play and eventually lost 3-2. The lesson was clear: the Czechs need to be more consistent if they want to move up the ladder into Group A and being counted among the betst teams in the world.

Roster

Goalkeepers: Klára Peslarová, Viktorie Svejdova, Katerina Zechovska
Defenders: Sara Cajanova, Pavlína Horálková, Samantha Kolowratova, Dominika Laskova, Daniela Pejsova, Tereza Radova, Aneta Tejralova
Forwards: Katerina Bukolska, Klára Hymlárová, Denisa Krizova, Aneta Ledlova, Alena Mills, Natálie Mlýnková, Kateřina Mrázová, Noemi Neubauerova, Kristyna Patkova, Michaela Pejzlova, Vendula Pribylova, Lenka Serdar, Tereza Vanisova

Key Players To Know

  • Kateřina Mrázová: Center depth is a key ingredient for success at every level of the game, and is especially important at its highest peak. Fortunately for the Czechs, they have one of the most creative and talented centers in the game in Mrázová. An elite ice and roller hockey player, Mrázová has been tearing it up in the SDHL over the past few seasons with Brynäs after a season in the then NWHL with the Connecticut Whale following her outstanding collegiate career at UMD.

Mrázová finished second on the national team in scoring at the 2021 Worlds with seven points in four games. When she’s on the ice, the Czechs are a far more dangerous hockey team. She has the ability to create high-danger scoring chances for her linemates with her vision and craft. Don’t rule her out as someone who could lead the entire tournament in scoring. She’s that good.

  • Klára Peslarová: I’m high on Peslarová. I think she’s a top-ten goalie in the world right now, as evidenced by her SDHL-leading .921 save percentage with MODO before she left her club team to prepare for the 2022 Olympics. She also finished the 2021 Worlds with a .933 Sv%, although it is improtant to note that she didn’t face a high volume of shots or chance sagainst.

Peslarová has the ability to steal a game if and when the offense comes up short or fails to deliver on the power play. With her between the pipes, the Czechs shouldn’t have issue proving they are the class of Group B.

List Schedule

  • vs China, Feb 3, 11:10 p.m. ET
  • vs Sweden, Feb 5, 3:40 a.m.
  • vs Denmark, Feb 7, 3:40 a.m.
  • vs Japan, Feb 8, 3:40 a.m.

What Success Looks like

The Czechs should finish at the top of the table in the group stage. What happens next is the real question mark. After watching the Czechs at the 2021 Worlds it’s clear that they can come up with a win against at least a few of the Group A teams. Remember, this is hockey and it’s single-elimination. Anything can happen. If you want to bet on a longshot to come out of Group B and shock the world, Czechia is your team.

With all of that said, the Czechs should be aiming to make waves in their first Olympics. They have never finished higher than sixth at the Worlds, but they could finish higher than that in this tournament if they stay healthy and Peslarová comes through. One thing is for sure: they’re going to be a lot of fun to watch with that young, skilled blue line and all of those great skating forwards.

Data courtesy of TheirHockeyCounts.com, sdhl.se, and EliteProspects.com. Disclosure: Mike Murphy owns and operates Their Hockey Counts.