Kolupanowich: World Championship Semifinal preview

While the United States and Canada have their eyes glued to the televisions watching the conference finals in the Stanley Cup playoffs, the rest of the world is focusing on another tournament. The IIHF World Championship is taking place in Stockholm and Helsinki and like the NHL, they are down to their final four.

This is a big tournament this year as the World Championship will determine the hosts and teams in 42 Olympic qualifying tournaments in 2013. Only 12 of 34 countries that entered teams can make it to Sochi, Russia for the 2014 Olympics; the top nine teams, Canada, Czech Republic, Finland, Norway, Russia, Slovakia, Sweden, Switzerland, and the United States have already pre-qualified leaving three spots open in the men’s tournament. Six of eight possible women’s teams, Canada, Finland, Russia, Sweden, Switzerland and the United States have also qualified. The 2013 schedule will determine the final teams to make it to the Olympics.

The semifinal matchups are:

Russia vs Finland

Russia is the only undefeated team in the tournament. They rolled through the preliminary round, outscoring the opposition 27-8 in seven games then defeated Norway 5-2 in the quarterfinal.

Russia’s leading scorers

Evgeni Malkin (NHL, Pittsburgh Penguins) – 8 GP, 7-8-15, plus-13

Alexander Popov (KHL, Omsk Avangard) – 8 GP, 4-5-9, plus-11

Alexander Perezhogin (KHL, Omsk Avangard) – 8 GP, 3-5-8, plus-12

Evgeny Kuznetsov (KHL, Chelyabinsk Traktor) – 8 GP, 2-4-6, plus-3

Ilya Nikulin (KHL, Kazan Ak-Bars) – 8 GP, 2-3-5, plus-8

Only Patrick Thoresen of Norway (7-11-18) has more points than Evgeni Malkin. (Dinur/Flickr)

Malkin is second overall in the tournament in scoring and the trio of he, Popov and Perezhogin are the only players with a double-digit plus-minus rating.

They have had spectacular goaltending as Semyon Varlamov (NHL, Colorado Avalanche) is 6-0 with a .941 save percentage, 1.69 goals-against average and one shutout. Their two backups have also given a spectacular performance in a limited role as Mikhail Biryukov (KHL, Khanty-Mansiysk Yugra) has a 1.000 save percentage and 0.00 GAA in 40:00 of action and Konstantin Barulin (KHL, Moscow Oblast Atlant) has a .985 save percentage and 0.50 GAA with one shutout. Combined, they have Russia leading the tournament with a .958 save percentage, 1.25 GAA and three shutouts.

Russia’s only weakness has been the penalty kill as they have killed off only 17 of 24 power plays against as 70% (7 of 10) of their goals against have come when the other team had the man advantage. They do have the third best power play tough, converting on nine of 27 chances for a 33.33% success rate.

Defending tournament champion Finland finished third in their group with 15 points, going 5-2 in the preliminary round. One of their losses was a 5-0 defeat at the hands of the United States, but they got their revenge in the quarterfinal with a 3-2 win. Jesse Joensuu of the Swedish Elite League’s HV71 Jonkoping scored the game-winning goal with just over eight seconds remaining.

Finland’s leading scorers

Valtteri Filppula (NHL, Detroit Red Wings) – 8 GP, 4-6-10, plus-2

Mikko Koivu (NHL, Minnesota Wild) – 8 GP, 3-6-9, plus-1

Jussi Jokinen (NHL, Carolina Hurricanes) – 8 GP, 4-4-8, even

Juuso Hietanen (KHL, Nizhny Novgorod Torpedo) – 8 GP, 1-4-5, minus-1

Jarkko Immonen (KHL, Kazan Ak-Bars) – 8 GP, 3-1-4, minus-3

In goal, Kari Lehtonen (NHL, Dallas Stars) has split time with Petri Vehanen (KHL, Kazan Ak-Bars), though the latter has been the best goalie of the tournament among those with more than 40% of their team’s minutes played. Vehanen leads all goalies with over 40% of minutes played with a .955 save percentage, 0.97 GAA, one shutout and a perfect 3-0 record.

On special teams, Finland is fifth with a 29.73% success rate on the power play (11 of 37) and third while shorthanded, killing off 85.71% (24 of 28) of their opponents’ power plays.

Finland is going to rely on special teams to get past a dominating team from Russia. If they want to get to the gold medal game for the second consecutive year and third time since 2007, they will have to take advantage of a poor penalty kill, though they won’t get too many opportunities as only four teams have been shorthanded less than the Russians. Vehanen will have to continue to be the best goalie in the tournament and even though he has faced fewer than 20 shots in two of his four starts, he got the call in the quarterfinal against the United States, putting on a strong performance making 24 saves on 26 shots.

Slovakia vs Czech Republic

Regardless of what happens the rest of the way, this will be Slovakia’s best tournament showing since they finished fourth in 2004.

Slovakia finished fourth in their group with a 5-2 record for 15 points. After losing their first two game of the tournament, they have rattled off six consecutive wins, including a 4-3 upset over Canada in the quarterfinal in which they were down by a goal, but managed to score two in the final seven minutes of regulation. They outscored their opposition 21-13 in the preliminary round.

Slovakia’s leading scorers

Branko Radivojevic (KHL, Moscow Oblast Atlant) – 8 GP, 4-4-8, plus-5

Andrej Sekera (NHL, Buffalo Sabres) – 8 GP, 2-6-8, plus-4

Tomas Kopecky (NHL, Florida Panthers) – 8 GP, 5-1-6, plus-6

Michal Handzus (NHL, San Jose Sharks) – 6 GP, 2-4-6, plus-3

Tomas Tatar (AHL, Grand Rapids Griffins) – 8 GP, 2-3-5, plus-3

Sekera is the highest scoring defenseman remaining in the tournament, fourth overall at his position. Only Duncan Keith (Canada, 1-10-11), Jonas Holos (Norway, 4-5-9) and Justin Faulk (United States, 4-4-8) have more points than Sekera among blueliners.

They’ve received steady goaltending from Jan Laco (KHL, Poprad Lev) who is fourth in the tournament with a .928 save percentage and 1.86 GAA. Peter Hamerlik (Czech Extraliga, Trinec Ocelari HC) appeared in one game, playing well but taking the loss to Canada in the first game of the tournament.

They are a highly disciplined team and only the Czech Replublic has been shorthanded fewer times than their 20. They are they fourth best team shorthanded to times they actually do give the opposition the man advantage, killing of 85% of their penalties (17 of 20). They have a middling power play that is ninth in the tournament with a 21.74% success rate (5 for 23). In overall offense, they are seventh in goals scored with 25 and tied for third in goals against with 16.

The Czech Republic is looking to medal for the third consecutive season, the won gold in 2010 and bronze last season. Sweden is the only other team to win a medal in each of the past two World Championships.

Tomas Plekanec has been the top playmaker for the Czech Republic. (Tim Kolupanowich/CM)

Czech Republic’s leading scorers

Ales Hemsky (NHL, Edmonton Oilers) – 8 GP, 5-1-6, plus-3

David Krejci (NHL, Boston Bruins) – 8 GP, 2-4-6, minus-3

Tomas Plekanec (NHL, Montreal Canadiens) – 8 GP, 1-5-6, even

Petr Nedved (Czech, Liberec Bili Tygri HC) – 7 GP, 3-2-5, plus-3

Petr Caslava (KHL, CSKA Moscow) – 8 GP, 2-3-5, plus-4

Jakub Kovar (Czech Extraliga, Ceske Budejovice HC) has handled the majority of the goaltending duties and is third in the tournament .938 save percentage and 1.77 GAA and a 4-1 record, though Jakub Stepanek (KHL, St. Petersburg SKA) has performed well in spot duty with a .927 save percentage and 1.41 GAA.

Just like Slovakia and Finland, Czech Republic defeated a team in the quarterfinal that beat them in the preliminary round, in the Czech’s case it was Sweden who handed them a 4-1 setback in the second game of the tournament, but Czech Republic got their revenge with a 4-3 win when Milan Michalek (NHL, Ottawa Senators) scored to break a tie with 29 seconds remaining in the game.

Overall, the Czechs are sixth is goals scored with 28 goals scored and second with 14 goals against. On special teams, they have a 32.14% success rate on the power play (9 for 28) and are 83.33% on the penalty kill (15 for 18). They are also dangerous while shorthanded, leading the tournament with two goals while down a man.

With few penalties called on both sides and strong goalies in Laco and Kovar, this will be a very low scoring game. The Czech Republic are fourth in shots against with 202 and Slovakia are sixth with 210, so goals and chances will be at a premium.

Championship Game History

Finally, let’s take a look at the potential gold medal matchups and the history between the two teams in the final game. Just to include everything, we’ll also look at the history between the Soviet Union and Czechoslovakia.

Russia vs Slovakia

One meeting (2002)

Winner: Slovakia

Russia vs Czech Republic

No meetings

Soviet Union vs Czechoslovakia

12 meetings (1965, 1966, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1974, 1975, 1976, 1978, 1979, 1982, 1983)

Soviet Union – 10 wins (1965, 1966, 1968, 1971, 1974, 1975, 1978, 1979, 1982, 1983)

Czechoslovakia – two wins (1972, 1976)

Finland vs Slovakia

No meetings

Finland vs Czech Republic

Two meetings (1999, 2001)

Czech Republic won both times

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