Date: February 23, 2018

Germany to Play for First Olympic Gold Medal After Stunning Canada

By Steven Ellis –

After not even making the Olympics back in 2014, Germany will play for their first-ever gold medal after beating two-time defending champions Canada 4-3 in a thrilling semifinal game on Friday.

The win means Germany will play Russia on Sunday for the championship, besting their third-place finish back from 1932, and West Germany’s same result from 1976. The win is Germany’s first since 1996 in a major tournament, a big difference from their 8-2 loss to Canada with NHLers back in 2010.

The biggest storyline heading into the game was that Canada would not be able to use Ben Scrivens after a shoulder injury that took him out of the game against Finland sidelined him for Friday. Canada’s starting goalie for the entire tournament would be replaced by Kevin Poulin, who, after leading his country to the Spengler Cup championship in December, hadn’t allowed a goal in four per-tournament and Olympic contests, including five shutout periods against Korea and Finland.

But his tournament shutout streak would end at 14:43 in the opening period. With two Canadians in the box, Brooks Macek made it 1-0 Germany after taking Dominik Kahun’s pass and using David Wolf as a screen in front of the net, beating Poulin on the wrist shot to give Germany the advantage.

Five minutes into the second period, Canada found themselves playing some of their worst hockey of the tournament and trailing the Germans 2-0. This time, Matthias Plachta scored on a transition play after taking a feed from Patrick Hager, beating Poulin with the wrist shot to put Canada in a dangerous spot.

If Canada thought things couldn’t get worse, they did. At 6:04, Frank Mauer converted on a great pass from Marcel Goc, taking any wind that Canada had in their sails to make it 3-0, a lead that looked to be too much for Canada.

Or so they thought. Two minutes later on the power-play, Gilbert Brule made it 3-1 after unleashing a hard one-timer past Danny Aus den Birken, giving Canada some hope after the worst start to a game they’ve had in Pyeongchang.

But Germany wasn’t about to let Canada put themselves back in the game. At 12:31, Patrick Hager would get credit for re-directing a shot from Matthias Plachta just three seconds into a power-play opportunity, giving Germany their three-goal advantage back and putting Canada in a tough position heading into the third.

Canada needed a goal to kick off the third period to give them any hope, and with 2:42 done in the period, Mat Robinson scored Canada’s second goal. Robinson would use his speed to break into the German zone before taking a pass from Christian Thomas. Robinson would proceed to use his extra space to cut towards the net and backhand the puck over Aus den Birken, cutting the lead back to two goals.

One of Canada’s best players of the tournament was Derek Roy, but heading into the third period, he had still yet to find the back of the net. That all changed at 49:42 on the power play when Chris Lee made a nice move around a defenceman before setting up Roy for his second point of the night. Roy would bounce the puck off a skate in front of the net, beating Aus den Birken to make it 4-3, giving Canada all the momentum in a tight game. It wouldn’t do enough to change the course of action for Canada, who would lose a stunning 4-3 game to Germany to put them in the bronze medal game.

Russians get chance to end 26-year gold drought

By Lucas Aykroyd

The OAR team will face the winner of the Canada-Germany semi-final on Sunday at 13:10 at the Gangneung Hockey Centre.

Nikita Gusev, Vladislav Gavrikov and Ilya Kovalchuk scored for Russia, and towering netminder Vasili Koshechkin, who has allowed just five goals in five games, got his tournament-leading second shutout. Shots favored the Czechs 31-22.

“We’re here for one reason,” said Kovalchuk. “I think we deserve to be in the final and we’ll see that the best team will win.”

No Russian team has won gold at the Olympics since the CIS (Commonwealth of Independent States) team at the 1992 Albertville Olympics — or even made the final. The 1992 team starring Vyacheslav Bykov and Andrei Khomutov defeated the Canadians with Eric Lindros and Joe Juneau by a 3-1 score.

On balance, coach Oleg Znarok’s team has met expectations here in PyeongChang. With NHL non-participation, 2018 is a prime opportunity for them to take top spot with their glut of KHL talent.

Paced offensively by SKA St. Petersburg’s Gusev and Kovalchuk and CSKA Moscow’s Kirill Kaprizov, the Russians lead the Olympics with 23 goals. After a sloppy 3-2 opening loss to underdog Slovakia, they have trampled their opponents with four straight wins, including 8-2 over Slovenia, 4-0 over the U.S., and 6-1 over Norway.

2018 captain Pavel Datsyuk (Stanley Cup 2002, 2008 and Worlds gold 2012) is now one win away from joining the IIHF’s Triple Gold Club.

Datsyuk told journalists: “We have a bit of time before the final, we have a chance to recover. And if you don’t ask me too many questions, I’ll have more time to recover.”

The Czechs have only one Olympic gold, the historic 1998 Nagano triumph at the first “NHL Olympics.” In that final, Petr Svoboda’s 1-0 goal won it and MVP Dominik Hasek got his second tournament shutout, throwing their Central European nation into ecstasy. But there will be no chants reminiscent of “Hasek to the Castle!” this month in Prague.

The last time the Czechs faced a Russian team in the Olympic playoffs, Tomas Vokoun earned a 28-save shutout in a 3-0 bronze-medal victory in Turin 2006. At least the Czechs still have a shot at repeating that feat against the loser of Canada-Germany. They have proved resilient and canny so far, winning three out of their four previous games by one goal, including a 3-2 quarter-final shootout win over the U.S.

“It’s a tough loss but we have to move forward,” said assistant captain Jan Kovar. “We started with a tough game against Korea, but I think we played better with every game after that. The way the tournament went and the way we played, we’re disappointed because we felt like we could go all the way. But Russia is a great team, so congratulations to them.”

After a scoreless first period, Gusev opened the scoring at 7:47 of the second from the left faceoff circle, converting a cross-ice feed from Datsyuk past goalie Pavel Francouz. The Czechs challenged the play for goalie interference, claiming Kaprizov was the culprit. But video review showed the 20-year-old winger, who led the 2017 World Juniors in scoring, didn’t make contact, and the goal stood.

It was the second goal of the tournament for Gusev, who is second in Olympic scoring with eight points behind Finland’s Eeli Tolvanen (nine points).

“Of course it was important to open the scoring, because it was a tense game and everyone was afraid of making a mistake,” said Datsyuk.

At 8:14, the Russians struck with cobra-like speed to make it 2-0. Ivan Telegin raced down right wing and lifted a perfect backhand saucer pass over blueliner Adam Polasek’s stick to Gavrikrov. The 22-year-old SKA defenceman beat Francouz high to the stick side.

“On the goal, when I broke forward with Telegin, the main thing was that we got the goal,” said Gavrikov. “Right now, it doesn’t matter who puts the puck in the net. My legs took me there and, of course, you’d expect a dish like that from Ivan.”

Kovalchuk, not always disciplined, threatened his team’s momentum when he promptly took a kneeing minor on Jan Kolar. After the Czechs hemmed in the OAR squad but couldn’t score with the man advantage, Kovalchuk rushed back on and slashed the stick out of Polasek’s hands. The man who sparked Russia to gold at the 2008 and 2009 Worlds returned to the sin bin – but again “Kovy” dodged a bullet.

Trailing by two was a bitter pill for the Czechs, who outshot their opponents 15-8 in the second period. And despite pressing valiantly in the final stanza, they could not solve Koshechkin, who has backstopped Metallurg Magnitogorsk to two KHL titles (2015, 2016). Kovalchuk added the empty-netter with 21 seconds left, tying him with Tolvanen and the U.S.’s Ryan Donato for the Olympic goals lead (five).

“The biggest part of tonight’s win was our goalie, and our PK was outstanding,” said Mikhail Grigorenko after his team killed off five minors in total. “The guys were blocking shots all over, working hard and pushing each other. It was great.”

“We’re still able to play for a medal, and that was our goal when we got here,” said Czech defenceman Michal Jordan. “We’re still in the tournament, and we have to get ready for the next game. It’s big for us and we have to play our best game.”

Russia’s last Olympic hockey medal was bronze in Salt Lake City 2002.

A three-time KHL Coach of the Year and Gagarin Cup champion, Znarok has had declining returns with the national team, but will reverse that trend in Korea. At the Worlds, the mustachioed 55-year-old bench boss earned gold in 2014, silver in 2015, and bronze in both 2016 and 2017. It could be time for him to usher in a new golden era in Russian hockey.