Old rivalries and rising stars
by IIHF.com Staff|03 JUN 2021
ROC vs. Canada will be one of the four much anticipated quarter-final clashes.
photo: Andre Ringuette / HHOF-IIHF Images
The business end of the 2021 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship is here, with four fascinating quarter-final match-ups to ponder. Here’s a quick primer ahead of Thursday’s action in Riga.

Switzerland vs Germany (Olympic Sports Centre, 16:15, EET 15:15 CET)

Gone are the days when either Switzerland or Germany were happy simply to reach the last eight. Both nations believe they can compete for medals – but who will get that chance in 2021?

For Switzerland, the power play has been a huge factor this year. A tournament-leading 10 goals from 28 PP situations works out at an impressive 35.71% conversion rate, comfortably the best ratio of any remaining team. And those 28 power plays are also a tournament high from the group stage, suggesting that few can handle a high-intensity offence game. There’s also a handy combination of individual prowess and scoring depth. Gregory Hofmann’s 8 (6+2) points place him second on goals scored in Riga and fifth for points. But he’s just one of 10 players on four or more points from the group phase. However, impressive though Patrick Fischer’s team looked on its way to second place in Group A, a 0-7 drubbing against Sweden showed the way to get a result against the Swiss: tight defence, frustrating a fierce forecheck and keeping PP chances to a minimum.

Germany, meanwhile, started the tournament like an express train, potting 14 goals in its opening two games against Italy and Norway. Then came a memorable 3-1 win over Canada. And then, it hit the buffers. Three straight losses yielded just three goals and pushed Toni Soderholms’s men into a win-or-bust showdown against Latvia. A gutsy 2-1 verdict booked a play-off ticket. Scoring has been shared, with Marcel Noebels (7 points) and Matthias Plachta (6) leading the team, and the arrival of Edmonton’s Dominik Kahun adds a bit more NHL experience to a roster that largely comes from the DEL. However, staying out of the box could be an issue, with Germany taking 85 penalty minutes in the group stage. Of the surviving teams, only Slovakia has more – and that potent Swiss power play could be the difference maker. (Andy Potts)

USA vs Slovakia (Arena Riga, 16:15 EET, 15:15 CET, 9:15am ET) 

Can Cehlarik fire the Slovaks closer to a first medal since 2012?

When you’ve won six straight games and have only lost one to the defending champs, that’s a statement. The 2021 U.S. team’s backbone is defence. Goaltenders Cal Petersen (1.01 GAA, 95.9 save percentage) and Jake Oettinger (1.37 GAA, 93.4 save percentage) have combined for the tournament’s best stats. The American penalty kill is tops with just one goal allowed on 20 disadvantages. Additionally, the top line of Conor Garland, Jason Robertson, and Trevor Moore has dazzled with 21 points so far. Despite the loss of captain Justin Abdelkader to injury, Brian Boyle, a 36-year-old two-time Stanley Cup finalist, provides a steadying presence for this youthful squad. However, the U.S. has lost five of its last nine quarter-finals – with more star-studded rosters. That’s sobering.

Slovakia hasn’t medaled since 2012’s silver and hasn’t even cracked the quarter-finals since 2013, so there’s tons of motivation for coach Craig Ramsay’s men. To date, only the Slovaks have defeated the group-leading ROC team (3-1 on 24 May). Peter Cehlarik, a 25-year-old ex-Boston Bruins winger, is a constant threat and leads these Worlds in scoring (4+6=10). Penalty-killing, though, is an Achilles heel: Slovakia has surrendered nine PP goals, second-worst after Italy (10). And the 7-3 loss to the Czech Republic saw this team turning the puck over far too often. Really, the Slovaks have struggled with consistency ever since falling 8-1 to Switzerland. They’ll have to be smart enough to wait for their chances against the U.S., or they will not advance. (Lucas Aykroyd)

ROC vs Canada (Olympic Sports Centre, 20:15 EET/MCK, 1:15pm ET)

A classic hockey rivalry is renewed – with Canada an unaccustomed underdog.

ROC has been motoring along, taking first place in Group A with six wins in seven games, their only loss a 3-1 decision to Slovakia more than a week ago. It has scored more goals than any other team, 28, and has given up the second fewest, 10. Goalie Alexander Samonov has played in six games and given up only eight goals while recording two shutouts, but he might be on the bench in favour of Sergei Bobrovski, who is coming out of quarantine. Ivan Provorov and Nikita Zadorov are among the ice-time leaders in the tournament, meaning Valeri Bragin can have one on for virtually the entire game. ROC has taken only 21 minor penalties in the tournament, so they are disciplined and will not give the game away because of lack of discipline or short-handed situations. They are the prohibitive faourites, which is a well-earned position to be in but one they sometimes find uncomfortable. Said Mikhail Grigorenko: “If we want to win the World Championship, then we have to beat all the strongest teams. Everyone understands this. Canada started with some losses, but Canada is still Canada. And it’s a quarter-final, so both teams will give everything. We’re preparing for a hockey war.”

It has been tough to pin down exactly who this Canadian team is. It lost the first three games and didn’t look impressive in the process, but since Andrew Mangiapane entered the lineup, the team has created a top line with Mangiapane, captain Adam Henrique, and Connor Brown. And goalie Darcy Kuemper, who had a shaky start, has been looking stronger and more impressive each start. Canada played its best game on Tuesday against Finland and appears headed in the right direction, but it definitely lacks the offensive firepower of so many previous teams. It’s the first time in a long time that a Canadian win would have to be considered an upset. Said Mario Ferraro: “We can win this thing. Other teams should look out because that quarter-finals will be big. We didn’t start the tournament the way we wanted, and we put ourselves in this position, but if we get into the quarter-finals we’ll be a dangerous team to play against.” (Andrew Podnieks)

Finland vs Czech Republic (Arena Riga, 20:15 EET / 19:15 CET)

Finland and the Czech Republic are two of the world’s top hockey nations, and familiar foes in big games. Perhaps their biggest match-up was at the 1999 final in Lillehammer, Norway – a two-game affair that the teams split, with the gold medal being decided in favour of the Czechs on an overtime goal by Jan Hlavac. 

On paper, Finland has a solid though hardly fearsome line-up. On the way to second place in Group B, they didn’t look overly dominant, going to shootouts against Kazakhstan and Latvia and losing the former. But if any of that sounds familiar, you probably remember two years ago in Slovakia. There, a team with two NHLers that finished third in its group beat Sweden, ROC and Canada in three straight do-or-die games to win the gold medal. Coach Jukka Jalonen and captain Marko (Morko) Antilla are among the returnees from Bratislava. Don’t expect the Finns to blow anybody away from here on out, but instead grind out victories. 

It’s hard to know exactly what to make of this Czech team. On paper, they look young but talented, though perhaps lacking in depth. They have a dangerous top line of Jan Kovar centring Dominik Kubalik and Jakub Vrana and a strong power play, so the Finns will want to stay out of the box. If their top players get keyed on, they can have trouble scoring. They started with losses to group leaders ROC and Switzerland but have since won five straight, with victories over Belarus and Denmark coming in extra time. (Derek O’Brien)