After both the Czech Republic and Norway opened the PyeongChang 2018 tournament with a pair of losses, the two teams have rebounded in style with two straight wins apiece and will now meet in the fifth-place place game on Friday (16 March) in search of a third consecutive victory.
The Czechs are in a familiar spot, having taken fifth place in their two previous Paralympic appearances in 2010 and 2014. Led by scorers Michal Geier and Pavel Kubes, two of the Czech Republic’s games thus far at the Gangneung Hockey Centre have gone to penalty shootouts.
Goaltender Michal Vapenka, with a 1.86 goals against average mark, has been a large part of the Czechs’ resurgence the last few days, which he hopes continues against Norway.
"We need to keep avoid making mistakes that give the other team the puck if we want to keep winning," Vapenka said when prompted for his perspective on the fifth-place game.
The Norwegians, on the other hand, are in new territory; it will be the first time they will not be contending for a Paralympic medal. The five-time Paralympic medallists did, however, finally look like their old selves in their last classification round game, a resounding 6-1 victory over Japan that left head coach Espen Hedge with his biggest smile of the week.
"Our goalies have been very good here – far better than we expected – and also Magnus Bogle has been terrific for us in the centre spot," Hedge said. "Before the next game, we are going to rest, use our practice time efficiently, watch video of the game against Japan and also analyse the Czechs."
Bogle, a 22-year-old forward playing in his second Paralympics, has been a surprising bright spot for Norway, leading the team with seven points (three goals, four assists) and a +6 plus/minus rating. Nine-time Paralympian Rolf Einar Pedersen is also coming of a hat-trick performance.
In the day’s earlier classification game, Vancouver 2010 silver medallists Japan will face the sport’s founding nation Sweden, with both teams still in search of their first victory in a battle for seventh place. The last time the two teams met, Japan squeaked out a 3-2 victory at the 2017 World Para Ice Hockey Paralympic Winter Games Qualification Tournament on Sweden’s home ice in Ostersund.
The Swedish squad fell just short of advancing to the PyeongChang 2018 fifth-place game, squandering a two-goal lead against the Czechs to ultimately lose in a penalty shootout.
But the team’s goal here in still within reach if it can avoid adding to the 40 minutes in penalties it has already been plagued by.
"Our goal in the tournament was to finish better than eighth place, which was our Vancouver and Sochi placement," Swedish defenceman Niklas Ingvarsson said. "We can still achieve our goal, and we had a day to rest and reload."
In order to repeat its success from Ostersund, the Japanese team, which has a tournament low of 20 shots on goal, will need to create more chances for itself and convert when the opportunities arise.
Every competition and the Closing Ceremony can be watched live right here on the International Paralympic Committee’s website. Highlights of each day’s action will also be made available.