The colors might not be the same, but Wednesday’s quarter-final action sees all four Winnipeg Jets Olympians take to the ice as their nations try to take another step closer to the gold medal. Not all will make it through the day, however, as Ondrej Pavelec and Michael Frolik of the Czech Republic will attempt to take down a high-powered USA offense that includes their teammate, Blake Wheeler.
Pavelec and the Czechs held off a late push by bitter rival Slovakia to advance past the Qualification round with a 5-3 win on Tuesday, while the Americans earned a bye into the quarters with 8 out of 9 possible points in the preliminary round.
Pavelec was a big part of the Czech win the day before, stopping 29 of 32, including a flurry of game-saving stops on a late push by the Slovaks. Despite the outcome, Pavelec wasn’t 100% satisfied with his effort, after the team nearly gave up a 4-0 lead:
“We didn’t play smart at all and gave them too many chances and too much space. At the end of the game we were lucky they didn’t tie the game. … Good game for fans, fun to watch, not fun for us.”
The Czechs sealed it when Tomas Plekanec scored on an empty net with less than a minute left in the game.
Pavelec has put up much better numbers since travelling to Sochi, with a .923% save percentage in his three games. However, he has a .886% save percentage against members of the USA team this year, who have 26 points in 35 man-games against him.
Frolik hasn’t seen a lot of action during the tournament, but is soaking up the experience, and the knowledge he is learning from playing alongside some of the greatest Czech players of all-time, mainly Jaromir Jagr, who is playing in his fifth Olympic games.
At the other end, Wheeler and the Americans rolled through the preliminary round in solid fashion, blowing out Slovakia and Slovenia, before beating hometown Russia in a shootout. Wheeler also hasn’t seen as much ice time as he is used to, but is happy to contribute where he can. His first Olympics could go down as a victorious one, as USA entered the knockout round as the second-ranked team (The Czechs are 7th). When asked how to score on his Winnipeg teammate, his answer was simple, and perhaps a little dry humor:
“Just shoot the puck.”
If it all goes down to a shootout, Wheeler could be the game-breaker, as he has taken more than plenty shots on Pavelec in their three years together. Pavelec will have to stand on his head for the Czechs to have a shot at knocking off the heavy favourites.
The game begins at 11AM CT, where you can watch on the NHL network in the USA.
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