U.S. downs Czechs, dodges QF upset
by Lucas Aykroyd|11 FEB 2022
Czech goalie Klara Peslarova was outstanding with 55 saves in a 4-1 quarter-final loss versus the defending champion U.S. at the 2022 Beijing Olympics.
photo: Andrea Cardin / HHOF-IIHF Images
In the first 2022 Olympic women’s hockey quarter-final on Friday, the defending champion Americans beat Czechia 4-1 at the Wukesong Sports Centre, but it was far from a cakewalk.

In a game where final shots favoured the U.S. 59-6, Czech starting goalie Klara Peslarova was outstandingly cool, doing everything she could to keep it close for her underdog side.

"There are a lot of things to work on," said four-time U.S. Olympian Hilary Knight. "They are a really tough team. It’s a one-game tournament, so you have to survive and move on, and I’m happy the way it ended."

"It’s my job," Peslarova said of her 55-save performance. "There’s nothing else I can do for the team. I’m standing there, saving the shots. I really enjoyed it and hope I was there for the team the way they wanted it to be."

The Czech skaters did their best to compete. They kept the U.S. scoreless through 20 minutes despite being outshot 20-0. In the second period, coach Tomas Pacina's team opened the scoring, and later got a five-minute power play after Dani Cameranesi was ejected for boarding. The Czechs hung tough at 1-1 until well into the third period.

"I’m extremely proud," Pacina said. "We made the quarter-finals in our first Olympics. I think we surprised everybody. We are a very small country with low numbers, a few thousand girls who play hockey, but we showed today that we are somebody to reckon with."

Despite the win, this was not the kind of effort the U.S. wanted or expected to kick off the playoffs. They looked uncoordinated and didn't generate or convert on the Grade-A chances they're world-famous for.

The U.S.’s Alex Cavallini got her second Olympic start after making 12 saves in the 8-0 romp over Switzerland.

For the U.S., Lee Stecklein got the third period-winner. Knight scored her tenth all-time Olympic goal, tying her for third among U.S skaters with her childhood idol Cammi Granato. Savannah Harmon and captain Kendall Coyne Schofield added singles late in the game.

"There are a lot of really talented women’s hockey players and the Czechs of course are no exception," Stecklein said. "To see that is obviously great overall, makes it a lot tougher. They have a lot of skill, a great goalie, and we just had to stick to our game plan."

Michaela Pejzlova scored the first goal against the U.S. in Czechia's senior IIHF history.

"I'm extremely proud of our team," Pejzlova said. "We tried to give it everything. For part of the game, we did really well."

It was the first meeting in either Olympic or Women’s World Championship history between these two nations. The Czechs have participated four times in top-level Women’s Worlds from 2016 to 2021 and will return in 2022, but they have remained in Group B and lost both their previous Women’s Worlds quarter-finals to Finland (3-1 in 2019, 1-0 in 2021).

The Czechs, whose maiden Olympic voyage comes to an end, can treat Beijing as a learning experience and take pride out of having given the Americans a pretty good scare.

In Czechia's 3-1 wins over China and Sweden, they never really got their offence into top gear. And they needlessly squandered points with an inability to convert chances and too much individual play when they lost 3-2 to fellow newcomer Denmark and 3-2 in a shootout to Japan. But they made a lasting impression in this quarter-final.

Relatively, the U.S. has struggled with the power play in this tournament, ranking fourth overall at 20.8 percent, with one PP goal against the Czechs. Knight said: "Stats-wise it doesn't look great, right? But it's going to come when it needs to come, and I'm confident that whoever's out there for that time is going to bury one when we need it the most."

The Americans swarmed Peslarova’s net like hornets from the drop of the puck, but the 25-year-old veteran who plays for the SDHL’s Modo Hockey was dialed in early.

Versus America, the Czechs gained a little confidence with their first penalty kill in the middle of the first period. With their aggressive play, they limited U.S. chances, and Peslarova made a great pad save on Coyne Schofield to finish it off.

In the second period, Czech forward Lenka Serdar flipped the puck over the glass in the neutral zone, but the Americans were still too hesitant to capitalize.

Pejzlova opened the scoring at 4:59. The Americans couldn't get the puck out at their blue line along the side boards, and the Czechs converged on the net. Cavallini didn't control the loose puck from Tereza Vanisova's attempt and Pejzlova banged it into the gaping cage. It was the first time the Czechs had put the puck on net, and they all hugged joyously at the bench.

Trailing for the first time in this tournament seemed to rouse the U.S. leadership group. They tied it up 48 seconds later. Coyne Schofield zinged a shot on net and Knight followed up, golfing the rebound over Peslarova for a 1-1 tie.

"High-pressure situations are fun," Knight said. "When you've been around long enough, you understand how rare they are, so it's wonderful to be able to work through those and get more reps in them."

"Unfortunately they scored too early to tie," Pacina said. "If we could have held on five, six minutes longer to that lead, it would have been a bonus."

Although the Czechs continued to get outshot by a wide margin, they visibly gained confidence as they engaged the Americans physically, sensing they could skate with them.

At 13:46, Cameranesi was involved in another physical altercation, knocking down Tereza Radova from behind, and the referees video-reviewed it before slapping the American with the major.

The Czechs controlled the puck well in the U.S. zone for stretches, but couldn't capitalize. Peslarova stood firm when Alex Carpenter got a shorthanded breakaway, denying the five-hole attempt by the five-time World Champion and two-time Russian Women's Hockey League scoring leader.

Early in the third period, Peslarova continued to put on a goaltending clinic, stoning Carpenter with her blocker and a pinching Cayla Barnes with her glove, both from close range. Luck was on her side as well a few minutes when Knight rang one off the iron from the slot.

Stecklein finally gave the U.S. its first lead at 6:49 on a flukey play. Peslarova lost her goal stick and was unable to retrieve it and Stecklein's long shot was accidentally tipped through the goalie's legs by Pejzlova, the Czech goal-scorer, who had also inadvertently kicked the stick away a second earlier. Peslarova threw down her mask in frustration.

Regarding how much difficulty the U.S. had scoring, Knight said: "Sometimes it happens. It's happened a lot to us. It’s a 50-50 thing. You have to keep shooting, no matter how many shots it takes, and once it will go in."

The Czechs got a chance to end their tournament-long power play drought (0-for-21 ultimately) at a key time. Kelly Pannek was sent off for slashing at 14:17, but that opportunity was nullified when Denisa Krizova bodied Cameranesi into the boards in the Czech end.

Harmon scored on a power-play rebound at 16:51 to finally give the U.S. some breathing room, and Coyne Schofield added an empty-netter with six seconds left.

"It was a game where the goalies enjoy every second and every shot," Peslarova said. "I really enjoyed this game and it was fun to meet Team USA."

If the Czechs had somehow come out on top, it would have been easily the biggest upset in international women's hockey history.

With goalie Kim Martin's heroics, the Swedes famously upset the U.S. 3-2 in a semi-final shootout at the 2006 Olympics, but the Swedes were an established medal threat that had won bronze in Salt Lake City 2002. At the 2019 Women's Worlds, Finland's historic 4-2 semi-final win over Canada and controversial 2-1 gold-medal shootout loss to the U.S. were both epic. But then again, the Finns were well-established as the world's third-best team.

Still, it's moot now, and the Americans move on in Beijing. The U.S. has made the semi-finals at all seven Olympic women’s hockey tournaments dating back to 1998. They own two gold medals (1998, 2018), three silver medals (2002, 2010, 2014), and one bronze medal (2006).
United States vs Czech Republic (QF) - 2022 Olympic Women's Ice Hockey Tournament