GANGNEUNG, South Korea (AP) Canada and the Russians have perhaps the best draws they could have imagined on a crash course to the gold-medal game.
Canada will face Germany and the Russians play the Czech Republic in the semifinals Friday for the right to get to the final at this no-NHL Olympic tournament. The two traditional hockey powerhouses have been clinical but not perfect in getting to this point and should have one final chance to get their games in order for what would be a tense final between two longtime rivals.
But Canada overlooking Germany and the ”Olympic Athletes From Russia” overlooking Czech Republic comes fraught with peril. Coach Marco Sturm’s Germany team knocked off top-seeded Sweden. As Slovakia coach Craig Ramsay said before the tournament, if the Germans get goaltending they can do some damage.
They’ve gotten exactly that from Danny aus den Birken, who has a 2.43 goals-against average and made 31 saves against Sweden. Canada’s depth will test Germany, but aus den Birken is capable of frustrating opponents and could put the nation in line for its first gold or silver in hockey.
The Czech Republic has gotten similarly strong goaltending from Pavel Francouz, who has stopped nine of 10 attempts in two shootouts, including in the quarterfinals to eliminate the United States. The Czechs have a handful of former NHL players in Roman Cervenka, Jakub Nakladal and captain Martin Erat. Hockey Hall of Famer Dominik Hasek says they remind him of his 1998 Nagano team that won the gold medal by beating Canada and Russia.
The Russians beat Norway 6-1 to get to the semifinals, and captain Pavel Datsyuk said they need to play better and can play better. If the Czech Republic doesn’t give them a real test, a potential showdown with Canada certainly would.
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