International Ice Hockey Federation

Group A: Canada favoured

Group A: Canada favoured

Hosts Korea will have a tough time moving on

Published 15.02.2018 19:05 GMT+10 | Author Andrew Podnieks
Group A: Canada favoured
Goalie Ben Scrivens has been impressive for Canada, while veterans Martin Erat and Andres Ambuhl will lead their respective Czechs and Swiss. Kisung Kim was Korea’s top goal scorer en route to promotion last spring. Photos: Andrea Cardin, Jeff Vinnick, Matthew Manor / HHOF-IIHF Images, Andri Basevych
Korea is in the Olympics as the host nation, but it also earned promotion to the top level of the World Championship on its own.

Nonetheless, it will have its hands full with three teams whose IIHF history goes back more than a century.



There is plenty to talk about when you look at Canada’s roster for this Olympics. Of course in recent times the nation has been dominant, winning the last two Olympic gold and three of the last four. 

But times are tougher this year. True, no country in the world has the depth of Canada, but that depth will surely be measured and tested to the fullest now. That being said, Hockey Canada has done everything to ensure success, starting with its selection of Sean Burke as general manager and Willie Desjardins as coach.

They scouted North America and Europe to get the best players available, but the big mystery is how their choices will stack up against the competition. Early indications are good, though. The core of this team won the Spengler Cup over Christmas, and in the last two weeks leading up to the Olympics they are undefeated, beating Latvia, Belarus, and Sweden by scores of 2-0, 2-0, and 4-1.

Therein lies Canada’s hopes. Powerful defence and timely scoring is what they’re after this year. There is no player who can single-handedly win a game, and no goalie who can stand on his head for a fortnight. But as a group, Canada looks impressive. Coming out of the group with a bye to the quarters looks like a solid bet, but after that, who knows?


Czech Republic

The Czechs have a roster built entirely around domestic league players and KHLers (with a smattering of Swiss-leaguers in the mix), but the nation is on hard times and not the same as the one that Dominik Hasek led to Olympic gold 20 years ago in Nagano.

They have finished 7th and 6th at the last two Olympics and have gone an unprecedented five straight years without a medal at the World Championship. Coach Josef Jandac has a formidable challenge ahead of him once the elimination games start. The roster is made of 13 players born in the 1980s, and Jandac will hope that what they lack in team speed and youth they’ll make up for in experience.

The 35-year-old Michal Vondrka is the greybeard of the bunch but has played in three World Championships in the last six years. The baby of the bunch is 22-year-old Dominik Kubalik of Ambri-Piotta, and in between is a mix of talent that hopes to summon the spirits of Hasek, Reichel, and Jagr.



Swiss coach Patrick Fischer has selected a roster entirely of domestic players, but he, too, has been adversely affected by a depleted talent pool as the few world-class players who might have been at his disposal are playing in the NHL.

Nonetheless, Fischer has reason to be positive about his team’s chances to get to the quarter-finals. The 36-year-old Jonas Hiller leads the goalie trio which also includes Tobias Stephan and Leonardo Genoni. 

Genoni is one of an incredible eight players from Swiss champion SC Bern on this team. Others include defencemen Ramon Untersander and Eric Blum. Philippe Furrer and Raphael Diaz are other key members of the blue line.

Up front the legendary Andres Ambuhl leads the way. The 34-year-old is in his fourth Olympics and has also played in 14 World Championships. He’s joined by, among others, Simon Moser, Thomas Rufenacht, and 21-year-old Pius Suter, the youngest player on the team.



The hosts are an odd mix of the unknown and under-appreciated. Yes, they are here only because they are hosting, but in World Championship play they legitimately earned their way to top level this year in Denmark through last spring’s Division I Group A tournament. The leader of this incredible resurgence is Jim Paek, a Canadian NHLer born in Seoul and charged with developing a pool of players for the Olympics.

In addition to promoting local talent – Jin Hui Ahn, Kisung Kim, Sangwook Kim and Sangwoo Shin were among the best scorers en route to promotion last year – Paek also integrated expats from North America playing for Korean club teams. He found seven – six Canadian and one American – who have playing experience in the Asia League, primarily with Korea’s top club team Anyang Halla. They all qualified for Korean citizenship and eligibility as per IOC/IIHF rules, and they will bolster a lineup in need of skill and size at all positions.

Notably, Canada-born goaltender Matt Dalton might be the difference between close games and blowout. Two months ago the team participated in the six-team Channel One Cup in Moscow alongside Canada, Finland, Sweden, Czech Republic, and Russia, Although Korea didn’t win a game against three losses, it allowed a respectable 13 goals in three games, but scoring only four.

And that will be the challenge—get some offence and somehow keep the puck away from Dalton. History is being made with Korea’s first Olympic participation, but there is work to be done before a full celebration can begin.



The format remains the same like in Vancouver 2010 and Sochi 2014. The group winner will progress directly to the quarter-finals, as will the best runner-up from the three groups. The remaining teams will go to a qualification round where four knock-out match-ups will produce the other four quarter-finalists. Click here for details on the format.



Despite a lineup of mostly NHL castoffs, Canada still has an impressive array of talent. Combined with coaching and solid goaltending, it should emerge in first place of this group. The Czechs and Swiss might well battle for second spot and a possible bye as well. Having Korea finishing anywhere other than fourth would be a major surprise.


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