Two of the four teams with qualifying round byes have Minnesota Wild players on their roster. A coincidence? I would like to think not.
After a thrilling 3-2 shootout victory over Russia on Russian ice–a game that will be remembered by USA hockey fans almost as much as the “Miracle on Ice”–Wild skaters Zach Parise and Ryan Suter and Team USA then went to work on Slovenia today, easily beating them 5-1 to automatically advance to the quarterfinals. The Americans will play either the Czech Republic or the Slovakians. Jaromir Jagr’s Czechs will take on Zdeno Chara’s Slovaks on Tuesday.
Mikael Granlund’s Team Finland has been the wild card of the tournament. Missing top forwards Saku and Mikko Koivu, Valtteri Filppula and Aleksander Barkov for all or most of the tournament, Finland’s medal hopes looked very unlikely at best. Instead, the Finns have scored 15 goals and collected 7 points–good enough for second in Group B and tied with the Americans for the most goals scored by a team in the Men’s tournament. Granlund has two of those and an assist for three points, a staggering 14 shots and a plus-2 rating in three games. If he comes back to Minnesota shooting like this, he’s going to have a pretty happy coach in Mike Yeo.
Many have Sweden, Canada, Russia and the United States in serious medal contention. If any team can spoil their hopes, it’s Granny and the Finns, so keep your eyes on them.
Nino Niederreiter and the Swiss have a ways to go. Involved in three 1-0 shutouts–two in their favor against Latvia and the Czech Republic, and a loss to the Swedes–Switzerland is going to have to figure out how to put more biscuits in the basket. Fortunately, Latvia has yet to win a game in the tournament. Unfortunately, the Latvians do know how to score more than one goal and proved it in a 5-3 loss to the No. 1 ranked Swedes. In other words, nothing is guaranteed.
The good news is that Niederreiter has played a strong tournament, playing physically and creating tons of offensive zone chances. He’s just been a little off. If he can connect on one of those chances, Latvia could be in big trouble, and they’re aware of it after his role in Switzerland’s late third period goal in the opening game of the tournament. But after Latvia is Canada, and that’s when the going gets tough for Nino and the Swiss.