As we head into the quarter-finals on Thursday, with two games in Helsinki and two in Tampere, we have the day off to look back and look forward. For IIHF.com, that means another episode of Ask the Experts. So, let’s ask the Helsinki crew of Lukas Aykroyd and Andrew Bodnik for their thoughts so far.
What team impressed you the most?
Extent: It must be Switzerland. This year, they set the same record in the 2013 preliminary round with six organizing wins and one win in overtime. They weren’t perfect in beating contenders Canada (6-3) and Germany (4-3, on penalties), but they showed great resilience, and that’s what you need in elimination matches. Captains Nico Hescher and Timo Meyer play to their potential, and Dennis Malgin pulls in more with his 12-point championship lead. And even without Romain Jose at the back end, this excellent duo between Jonas Seigenthaler and Dean Kukan was pretty reliable and they racked up 11 points as well. He scored a powerful goal from both Leonard Ginoni and Rito Pera, both silver medalists. Switzerland is in a really good place now.
AP: OK. What can you say about Switzerland? They beat Canada soundly. They fought Slovakia. They returned 2-0 to France. Beira and Ginoni were interchangeable rocks in the net, and Malgin was sexy up front. In 2013, people probably thought their journey to the gold medal match was some kind of coincidence. But then they “shocked” again in 2018. They could do it again this year too, I think. And they never take the easy road. They fight for everything they get, turning in turns.
What about a specific player?
AP: I’m going with two, one up, one backward. Above, Nico Hescher. He has such explosive speed and a great shot. He can pass, play, and lead into the net. He has everything. Because of all this, it’s just fun to watch, and that’s the point, right? In the end, I enjoy Moritz Cider. It’s bigger than I thought, and it controls the pace of play. Sometimes he moves so slowly that he almost stands still, then he pops off his sled to make a quick move or pass and no one can react to doing anything about it. They are both children! They will get better and better and help turn countries that used to be satisfied with the top eight in first place into countries looking for medals. exciting times.
Extent: To me, Juraj Slafkovsky proves that his performance at the Olympics wasn’t just a flash. The 18-year-old winger leads Slovakia in scoring with nine points (3 + 6 = 9). He may not end up scoring seven goals in Finland as he did in Beijing, but he is very comfortable dealing with the pinch, seeing the ice and competing against the men. I loved the solo rush of the penalty kick in the 4-3 win over Kazakhstan – and the sheer calm with which he then beat goalkeeper Andrei Shutov along with the baton. Slafkovsky also later gave credit to Peter Cehlarik for inspiring Dick in this situation, showing a gentle willingness to learn from his veterans. The Montreal Canadiens scouting division should have a serious internal conversation about the possibility of drafting Slafkovsky for the first overall in June, with all due respect to center Shane Wright of the OHL’s Kingston Frontenacs. Everything I’ve seen so far indicates that Slafkovsky will step in and be a real influential player in the NHL.
LOS ANGELES: This might have been an odd choice, but despite the euphoria of Denmark’s historic 3-2 win over Canada, it was a bit disappointing to see their weary team fall 7-1 to Slovakia the next day and miss the quarter-finals. After finishing seventh on their Olympic debut in February, it was exciting to see them build on that here in Finland.
AP: I would go with a player rather than a team. It’s Tim Stutzel’s injury. I think he would have taken Germany to the next level, given some insult you don’t normally associate with Germans. With him, the team poses a serious threat to the medal. Without him, I’m not sure they’d be able to move forward in the quarter-final match.
Was there one story that stood out?
The Associated Press: I don’t think enough people appreciate Andres Ambol’s game-record performance. He’s now 122 years old, which is crazy. To catch it, someone has to go to the gold medal game 12 times, or play the preliminary round for 18! He has played in 17 world championships, another record, and this is in a team that gets more and more world class every year. Also, it’s not a traveler, and it’s not an “empathy choice.” Contributes and assists in the attack, which tied with Canada with the largest number of goals in the preliminary round (34). I will always think it special to be in the building when he broke the record at 120.
Los Angeles: Great Minds…! I have enjoyed the fact that Ambul has scored in every single match of Switzerland since being honored for overtaking Germany’s Udo Kissling as the all-time world champion in matches played. Ambul clearly understands that he’s now in the territory of Jaroomer Jäger and Joe Thornton and will take these media questions: “How do you feel when you’re a gray beard 38-year-old? Are you going to play another year?” He replies by showing that he belongs entirely as a player, not just a character. sham. He got the winning goal in the 5-2 win over France and opened the scoring in the 4-3 win over Germany. Let’s see if he keeps the streak next year!
Group B in Tampere saw some notable late additions to the menus (not so much Group A). Do you like this idea, or should there be a “list freeze” before the first match?
LA: Don’t freeze. Let the players come if they are available and there is standing space. I think it keeps things interesting in terms of increasing star power, and it’s also good to have a backup plan in case you get injured or sick. However, I would totally oppose the introduction of unrestricted free trade or agency!
AP: There are arguments both ways, but I like additions. It generates a little buzz every day, and there are also a little unknowns. Yes, you can bring in a big star, but if the team is doing well and playing well, including him can be a bit of a distraction and change the team dynamic. It’s not a given that it will make the team better, although, of course, that also happens. Keep this rule as is!
Any surprises by the teams that landed?
AP: Not really. Italy and Great Britain have gained more experience than they would have hoped because of the outbreak and no relegation in the last couple of years, so I hope they can use this extra time to improve their programs, get more people playing, and build more arenas. But it’s no surprise.
LOS ANGELES: Seeing Italy go down in the first set was no surprise, but you can definitely say France dodged a bullet this year. Coach Philip Buzon’s side was missing NHL veterans like Antoine Roussel and Pierre-Edouard Bellemare. They were also just a minute away from a 1-0 loss to Italy a week ago before they banded together to win it with an equalizer scored by Sasha Trill and Hugo Gallet in overtime. We’ll have to wait and see if this kicks off another 12 years in France’s top flight, like 2008 to 2019.
Was it the goalkeepers who made the difference so far?
Los Angeles: So far, the goalkeepers in Group A who have distinguished themselves with me have been the brave heroes trapped: Italy’s Andreas Bernard, Kazakh Andrei Shutov, Denmark’s Sebastian Dahm. Watching these guys are fun as you hope they get the best fluids and massage therapy money can buy, because they work so hard. But by the same token, none of them made enough of a difference to lure his team to the playoffs. In contrast, the best goalkeeper in Group A, in numbers, is Germany’s Philipp Grobauer (2.23 GAA, 91.5 savings percentage). The veteran of the Seattle Kraken did well, but it wasn’t amazing.
AP: There have been a number of strong showings in Blue Ice. Bera was one, as were Grubauer and Dahm. Mike Smith hasn’t scored any goals yet (!), but at this level sometimes it comes to a big save in time. Sometimes it’s about strong and reliable goalkeepers who give the team confidence. But the larger the games, the more important the “bids”, so the best is yet to come.
Switzerland is now 7-0, as it was in 2013. Is this the year they won the gold medal?
AP: They are definitely rivals. And if they win — which would be the first time ever, by the way — it wouldn’t be a complete shock. They played really well in all areas. With the exception of 1933 (US) and 2002 (Slovakia), only six countries won the gold medal, so it would be great to welcome a new country to the list of gold medalists.
Mada: If you’re from Switzerland, you ask yourself the classic question: “Why not?” On paper, the Swiss are entitled to think that this year will be their year. You could argue that Hescher and Meyer – in terms of what they offer now – are bigger stars and key players than anyone on the list of Finland’s 2022 Olympics gold-medal winners in Beijing. Anything short of a medal this year would be a huge disappointment for Switzerland. But for gold specifically? I’m still leaning towards the hosts Finland as the favorites, with Sweden and Canada also in the race.
Who will win the quarters of Helsinki?
Los Angeles: It’s hard to call Germany and Czech Republic. The Czechs were better defensively during the preliminary round, allowing only 13 goals to Germany’s 20. Also, with the addition of David Pasternak, the Czechs have a match-break that Germany cannot contend with. However, the Germans have a better balance in scoring: so far, seven Germans have scored five or more points, compared to only four of the Czechs. I also love the way coach Toni Soderholm’s Blue Line is performing, led by Detroit Red Wings candidate Moritz Seider in the 2021 All-Star and 2022 Calder Trophy. I’ll take Germany for a close run, say, 3-2 or 4-3. As for Switzerland and the United States, it is clear that the Swiss were the better team from day one with seven wins. The Americans beat one real contender in Sweden, 3-2 in overtime, but also conceded one point to Austria, 3-2 in overtime. Credit that deserves credit: The USA were so good at defense that only 10 goals were allowed, they also earned an attacking style from top scorers Alex Galchenyuk and Adam Godett (five points each). With that said, the Swiss have the highest level in the tournament (8 vs 22, 36.3 per cent) and the second-best penalty kicks (only two goals are allowed). It’s just better balanced overall. Here, Switzerland’s 4-2 victory would not be so shocking.
AP: I’ll dive into the other group, too. Finland plays Czech-era hockey in the 2000s and seems invincible, so it’s an easy choice. Sweden, now they have Nylander, got my vote to beat Canada, even though Canada, as everyone knows, has a knack for rising to the occasion. Agree, I think the Swiss can eliminate the Americans. Germany-Czech is the hardest to connect…but I’ll go with Germany what might be a bit surprising.