Denmark's chances of advancing to the quarter-finals in the country's first-ever Olympic ice hockey tournament remain alive after a 3-2 come-from-behind victory over Czechia.
“They really worked their butts off,” Danish head coach Peter Elander praised his team after the game. “Work ethic is number one in hockey and our team showed that today.”
The Czechs, who held a 32-17 edge in shots but found it difficult to beat Cassandra Repstock-Romme, could have secured their place in the elite eight with a win. Instead, they will instead need a result in their last game against Japan or get some help.
In contrast with the Danish coach, Czech counterpart Tomas Pacina was not at all pleased with his team’s effort in the game.
“We didn’t respect our opponent, we didn’t respect the competition, we didn’t respect the Olympics,” he fumed afterwards. “I am very disappointed with our performance. We lost to the weakest team at the Olympics in front of millions and millions of people around the world. We gave a performance that is not worthy of the Olympics.”
The Czechs held the early edge in play but it was Denmark with the first good scoring chance, with Michelle Weis just firing wide from point-blank.
The Czechs opened the scoring just shy of the six-minute mark when Aneta Tejralova moved in from the point and converted a pass from Denisa Krizova, beating Cassandra Repstock-Romme over the right pad.
A couple of minutes later, Natale Mlynkova very nearly made it 2-0 when she made a move to her backhand to beat the Danish goalie but had her pocket picked before she could slide the puck into the open net. At the other end, Michaela Pejzlova was upended at her own blueline, creating a 2-on-nothing break for Denmark. Captain Josefine Jakobsen had the option of a drop pass but chose to hold and beat Viktorie Svejdova with a nifty backhand deke to tie the score.
“We didn't play as a team from the beginning and tried to pull it off individually,” said Czech captain Alena Mills. “We played the way were capable the first two games and we talked about how we wanted to build on that, and we did the opposite. We took a step backwards.”
The Czechs again got off to a fast start in the second period and regained the lead three minutes in when Tereza Radova found Katerina Mrazova with a backdoor pass. After misfiring on the one-time attempt, Mrazova took another whack at the puck and put it in.
However, the Danes answered answered again and, again, it was an unassisted goal resulting from a turnover. Just 1:27 later, Tereza Vanisova lost the puck in her own zone and Weis picked it up right in front of Svejdova, beating the Czech goalie again on the backhand.
“It was just a forecheck and all of a sudden I had the puck, and it was pretty easy to put it in the net,” said Weis. “The other game we gave a lot of gifts and today we got a lot of gifts. It goes both ways.”
She added: “It’s an unbelievable feeling to have your first win at the Olympics. We had two rough games, so this is nice.”
Turnovers continued to plague the Czechs as the second period progressed. Just shy of the game’s midpoint, Daniela Pejsova coughed up the puck to Josefine Persson. Skating in alone on the Czech net, she was denied by the pad of 19-year-old Svejdova, making her Olympic debut.
“We know that none of these games are gonna be easy, and we have to play defence first and I don’t think we did that today,” said Mrazova. “We kinda forgot about that. I think it was really hard for (Svejdova). She was in the net for the first time and we knew that we had to help her and we didn’t do that. So we have to start with strong defence and build from that.”
A few minutes later, the Czechs were pressing on the power play and Tejralova just failed to convert her second of the game when she couldn’t lift the backhander over Repstock-Romme’s outstretched pad.
Starting the third period on the power play, the Danes took their first lead of the game just 49 seconds into the frame when Jakobsen found Silke Glud for the one-timer before Svejdova could slide across.
“The goal doesn't really mean a lot for me,” said Glud. “What it means though is that we get this game and that's completely unbelievable.”
At that point, in an effort to salvage some points that could be crucial in attempting to even qualify for the quarter-finals, let alone win the group, Tomas Pacina pulled the youngster Svejdova in favour of Klara Peslarova, the team’s usual starter.
The Czechs did get a few chances after that but Denmark was strong defensively and Repstock-Romme stopped all seven shots she faced in the final period.
“I was so stressed,” the Danish goalie said after her first Olympic win. “I was so nervous to make one little mistake that could cause the whole team (to lose) but I'm happy that the team really stuck together. They made it more easy for me with all the saved blocks and stick saves they did for me.”
“We were missing some finish,” said Mrazova. “On offence, we were doing everything right and just missing that finishing touch. When we tried to shoot, it’s kinda missing there. I would say we have to be a little more patient and wait for the right moment.”
Despite the lost opportunity to secure a spot in the quarter-finals, the Czechs still have a chance to top Group B with a win over Japan on Tuesday.
“We know it’s not gonna be an easy game against Japan,” said Mrazova. “We just want to forget about what happened today and focus on tomorrow.”
Denmark, on the other hand, will watch the evening’s game between China and Sweden with keen interest, as a Swedish win would make tomorrow’s all-Scandinavian match-up a defacto play-in game.
“I’m Swedish, so I’ll be cheering for Sweden,” Elander smiled. “We knew it would be a tight group and we’ve been in every game. They’ve all been close and I expect the last one against Sweden to be as well.”
If that doesn't happen, they could still have a chance to advance at the expense of Czechia if that team loses to Japan in regulation time tomorrow. What the Danes do know is they'll need a favourable result from at least one of those two games and then win their last game against Sweden in regulation time.
Weis confidently added: “Let’s see how the other games go and then we'll talk tomorrow after we win against Sweden.”