Olympic Hockey 2014: Biggest Takeaways from Qualification Playoffs
The matchups for the 2014 Winter Olympic Ice Hockey Quarterfinals are set, and fans are closer and closer to seeing medals awarded. The matchups during the qualification playoffs featured some surprises, and it showcased some teams who were simply taking care of business.
Team Russia dispatched Norway, Slovenia upset Austria, Latvia surprised Switzerland and the Czechs narrowly passed Slovakia with a 5-3 win.
With that in mind, here are the biggest takeaways from the qualification playoffs.
Czech Republic Still Working Through Kinks in Lineup
After posting a 1-0-0-2 record during the group stage round, many were down on the Czech national team. Although, as James Mirtle of The Globe and Mail wrote, many were down on the Czechs for their weird roster choices for the Sochi games.
They chose not to include players like Jiri Hudler, Radim Vrbata and Jan Hejda, and instead opted for a 42-year-old Petr Nedved.
There was no rhyme or reason for any of this, and as a result the team limped through the group stage. Heading into the qualifier against Slovakia, it was truly a tossup. The Czechs showed some resolve going up 4-1 at one point, but they had a terrible end of the game in which they sqeaked by with a 5-3 win.
If this is the team that shows up against the U.S., expect a blowout in the quarterfinals.
Russia Is in for a Battle with Finland
Team Russia won its qualifier in a decisive fashion on Tuesday, and they are set to square off with Team Finland. The Russians pummeled an inferior Norway squad that did not include Mats Zuccarello because of injury, and they will have a true test in the quarterfinals.
Finland have played solid two-way hockey, they have had quality goaltending and they have scored goals. Finland are tied with the United States for most goals with 15, and they are ready to take on Russia.
If Russia want to make it to the semifinals, they will need to play a complete game like they did against Norway, because if they don't, Finland will have no problem making them pay.
Slovenia Proves Its Critics Wrong
Slovenia are making it further than anyone predicted. The team with Anze Kopitar as its lone NHL star defeated an Austrian squad including Michael Grabner and Thomas Vanek 4-0, and the Slovenians will face Sweden in the quarterfinals.
It is safe to say that this is the end of the line for Slovenia barring a massive collapse by the 2006 gold medalists, but Slovenia should be proud. They will get a chance to participate in the 2018 Olympics, and four years from now there may be a better roster capable of accomplishing more.
If anything, Slovenia's run proves that you can never count a team out, and that there is always room for an upset.
Switzerland Just Couldn't Keep Up
The Swiss national team's performance was admirable defensively and in goal, but lack of offense sent them out of the tournament. Latvia will face Canada in what is expected to be a blowout, but a rematch of Canada and Switzerland would have been entertaining.
The Swiss were only able to muster up three goals the entire tournament, and that is where their downfall was. If they could have scored a few goals, the tournament would have panned out differently because Jonas Hiller was nearly unbeatable for most of the games.
It is unfortunate that many of the top underdogs lost, because the quarterfinals are now going to be very boring because of the uneven matchups.