This will be the right thing to say: international hockey fans live for the quarterfinals, 'cause this is where the tournament really begins! This year in the quarterfinals, Sweden will take on the USA and Canada will play Slovakia on May 17. But Russia will play against the Czech Republic, and Finland against Belarus the day later [May 18]. These are the four games fans are eagerly anticipating!
The winner of Canada vs. Slovakia game will then face the winner of Sweden vs. USA in one semi-final on May 20. The other semi-final that day will feature the winner of Russia vs. Czech Republic against the winner of Finland vs. Belarus match.
Sweden seems to specialize in coming up with 3-2 wins over the U.S.A in do-or-die situations. That was the score by which Tre Kronor triumphed in 2001 to capture the bronze medal in Germany, and same in 2004, when the Swedes knocked off the Americans in the semi-finals to advance to the gold medal game in Prague versus the eventual champions from Canada.
Canada and Slovakia have faced each other twice before in the quarterfinals. In 2002, the Slovaks rallied from a 2-0 deficit to win 3-2 and went on to capture their first and only IIHF World Championship medal. Last year, Joe Thornton scored with 4:22 left to lift Canada, the eventual silver medalist, to a 5-4 victory.
In their turn, Russians and Czechs have a long, long history 'together' at this tournament. They struggled with one another for top spot most years in the 1960's and 1970's, as names like Valeri Kharlamov, Vladislav Tretiak, Ivan Hlinka, and Jiri Holecek came to the fore. The most important recent clash between the two nations came at the 1998 Nagano Olympics, where the Czechs triumphed 1-0 in the gold medal game on Petr Svoboda's goal.
And only Finland and Belarus are essentially newcomers to each other. The two nations last faced off at the 1999 IIHF World Championship in Norway, where Finland prevailed 4-1.