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Canada-USA Battle Today, Plus Men’s Olympic Qualifiers

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Team Canada vs. USA, 4 pm Mountain time, live coverage on TSN.

By the time the preliminary round ends today (Thursday) at the IIHF Womens World Championship, there will be two undefeated teams. The Czech Republic finished atop Group B at 4-and-0 and the winner of this afternoon’s game between the USA and Canada will finish perfect in Group A. All five teams from Group A move on seeded to the quarterfinals, joining the top three of the five teams in Group B.

Hungary and Denmark will be the teams left out. The Hungarians defeated the Danish women 5-1 on Wednesday night to lock up ninth place in the tournament. Both squads entered the game winless. Neither team will be relegated for next year because the global pandemic prevented lower level tournaments from being played. Both will also have the opportunity to make the Olympic tournament in Beijing 2022 by playing in separate qualifiers in November.

By defeating Germany on Wednesday 2-0, the Czechs earned the right to play either Finland, the Russian Olympic Committee (ROC) athletes, or Switzerland in the quarters, thus avoiding the North American powerhouses for now.

The United States has been the most dominant team thus far in the tournament, having yet to give up a single goal against. The Yanks defeated Switzerland 3-0 last Friday, Finland by the same score on Sunday, and then the Russians 6-0 on Tuesday.

In the latter game, American forward Hilary Knight scored her 45th career Women’s Worlds goal to surpass fellow American legend Cammi Granato for the all-time tournament record.

“Kendall Coyne and I went to Cammi’s hockey camp back in Chicago, many, many years ago,” Knight told the IIHF postgame. “She just exudes greatness. To be around that level of talent both on and off the ice is incredible.”

Knight needs one point to tie Granato for the all-time WWC career point record of 78.

This is the third time the Americans have started a Worlds with this type of shut-out success, duplicating their three-game preliminary round efforts from 2001 and 2009. Of course, that usually changes in the prelim’ finale versus Team Canada.

The Canadians have a nice balance of veteran experience and youthful talent, led by 29-year-old vet’ Melodie Daoust and 20-year-old phenom forward Sarah Fillier. Three Canadians are in the top-ten in tournament scoring including Daoust and Natalie Spooner tied for the lead with five points and Erin Ambrose just behind with four. Ambrose leads the tournament in plus/minus with a plus-7 in that category. Spooner has the hot hand with two goals in her last game against Switzerland.

Team Canada can play the underdog card against the five-time defending champs, but today’s game versus the US is only for setting a tone and for temporary bragging rights. It simply sets up what later should be a re-match in the Gold Medal final.

Upsets however are not out of the question; Finland surprised the Canadians in the 2019 semi’s and reached the final the last time this tournament was held, only to lose to Team USA in a Gold Medal shoot-out.

Speaking of Finland, 34-year-old captain Jenni Hiirikoski also hit the record books. She became the all-time games-played leader at the Women’s Worlds. The game against the US was her 70th.

Otherwise, the best indication of the North American tournament dominance is the nightly shot totals. Team USA outshot the Russian athletes 55-11 on Tuesday, two days after Canada had outshot the Russians 62-7.

Meanwhile, in men’s international hockey, based on IIHF rankings, eight teams have qualified for the 12-team Olympic men’s ice hockey tournament in Beijing this winter. The list includes Canada, USA, “Athletes of Russia” in some way, shape, or form (as a result of doping violations), Czech Republic, Sweden, Finland, Switzerland and Germany. Host China gets the ninth spot.

With three slots remaining, twelve teams in three groups of four start action today (Thurday) in an attempt to qualify.

Group D has Slovakia hosting in Bratislava against Poland, Austria, and Belarus. The Slovaks should be the favourite. Group E happens in Riga, Latvia with the host country welcoming France, Italy, and Hungary. While Group F takes place in Oslo, where the Norwegians host Korea, Slovenia, and Denmark. The winner of each group goes to the Olympics.

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