The semi-finals of the 2016 World Cup of Hockey are set, with Sweden facing Europe on Sunday, and top ranked Canada facing eternal rival Russia on Saturday night.
Canada thus far has been a wondrous display of tactical execution, though they've had a few more wrinkles in their game than at the 2014 Olympics, it seems. The rough spots tend to come when the game is fully in hand, so there is some human nature involved there. Still, Canada will have to bring a complete game against the Russians who will no doubt be looking for revenge.
Russia's weakness is their blueline. Canada's forwards will have to put a lot of pressure on this group, be it in the form of speed or physicality. While their centermen are excellent two way performers, Russian wingers are notorious for their disinterest in backchecking. Watch for Canada to activate their defense on the offense.
Sweden should have little trouble advancing past Team Europe. Disregard Europe's convincing win in the exhibition stage of the tournament. The Europeans had been based in Quebec all along. They pounced on Team Sweden upon their arrival from Stockholm. I'm certain jet lag and time zone adjustment played a factor in that.
Canada and Sweden in the final? Gee, I wonder who said that from the beginning? This is still very much Canada's tournament to lose, but Sweden is clearly the next best team.
On Finland - I haven't said anything about Finland to this point so I will take this opportunity to do so. I was disappointed, as was everyone, in Finland's poor showing in the tourney. I really felt they had what it took to make the semi-finals and make some noise. It turned out their young defense was a little too inexperienced and they didn't get the goaltending they have come to expect.
On Czech Republic - Another team that I haven't commented on. Like their neighbors Slovakia, times are tough in the Czech Republic not only in terms of hockey but throughout all of society. The investment in athletics has been lacking for a generation or two. These two (once one) proud hockey nations have suffered tremendously as a result. If things continue like this it may possible the Czech Republic will not have a team in a future World Cup as they, too, could be part of Team Europe.