Despite taking Group A by storm and looking like the most dominant club of the preliminary round, Team USA has the misfortune of drawing the toughest quarterfinal opponent of any group champion. While Sweden takes on the upstart but outgunned Slovenes and Canada unexpectedly faces off against the inferior Latvians following their upset of Switzerland, the Americans will need to defeat a Czech Republic squad that features 23 current or former NHLers, including legitimate star forwards like Jaromir Jagr, David Krejci, Jakub Voracek and Tomas Plekanec.
Granted, the Czechs' shaky defense and weak goaltending still makes Team USA the clear favorite here but, to state the obvious, the U.S. can't get caught looking ahead to what will almost certainly be a chance to avenge their 2010 gold medal game loss to Canada in the semifinals of this year's tournament. For all their struggles keeping pucks out of their own net (and that was nearly their downfall in the qualification round, as Team Slovakia cut a four-goal Czech lead to a one-goal advantage in the third period), the Czechs ice four forward lines stocked with capable scorers. Perhaps it's a positive the U.S., should they win, will have been tested twice heading into the semifinals whereas the toughest opponent Canada will have played is an injury-ravaged Finnish squad. The Americans will know what to expect coming in whereas Team Canada won't have faced this level of competition at any point in the tournament.
But first things first: beating the Czech Republic. And, at least according to Tomas Hertl, that won't be a cakewalk for Team USA:
Tommorow Czech vs USA tommorow 3:2 for czech. USA good luck next olympic 2018!:-DDD:-P— Tomáš Hertl (@TomHertl) February 18, 2014
|1-0-0-2, 3 points
||2-1-0-0, 8 points|
|3rd in Group C
||1st in Group A
9AM PST | Shayba Arena | Sochi, Russia | TV: USA