The Arizona Coyotes will have players in every single quarterfinal match-up at the 2015 IIHF World Championship this year, thanks to an impressive all around showing from the nations the Coyotes skate for.
On the eve of the first elimination games, let's preview some of the match-ups to get an idea of what to expect from all the teams in the medal round.
Quarterfinal #1 - United States versus Switzerland
Coyotes: John Moore (USA), Connor Murphy (USA), Mark Arcobello (USA)
The quarterfinal roundhas been the end of the road for the United States in three of the past four years. The Americans have suffered two defeats at the hands of the Czech Republic and one versus the Finns in that stretch. The good news for the United States is that those two teams play each other in the quarterfinals in Canada's half of the bracket, so if the USA has to play either of them, it will be for a medal.
The bad news is that the last time the Americans played for a medal - in the 2013 IIHF World Championship - they were blanked by none other than Switzerland. The Swiss narrowly edged out Tobias Rieder and the Germans in Group A to get into the medal round, so the United States stands a legitimate chance of beating them for a spot in the semifinals.
As for the Coyotes in this match-up, the stat sheets have gotten a little bit rosier since we last checked in. Arcobello and Moore both recorded assists in the United States' 5-4 victory over Slovakia to close out preliminary play (on the same goal in fact). Murphy is still looking for his first point of the tournament. The quarterfinals would be a great time to find it.
Quarterfinal #2 - Sweden versus Russia
Coyotes: Oliver Ekman-Larsson (Sweden), Viktor Tikhonov (Russia)
The winner of the first quarterfinal will earn a date with one of these two powerhouses. Russia are the defending champions after last year's victory in Belarus, while Sweden has lit up the score sheet versus everyone they've played this tournament, including Canada, though they lost the game.
Ekman-Larsson remains one of the best players at the tournament; he is now tied for the lead in overall scoring with 11 points (two goals, nine assists) over seven games. No other defenseman is in the Top 20. OEL is on another planet right now in terms of scoring ability.
Meanwhile on the other end of the spectrum, Tikhonov still only has two points after recording both of those points in the opening game of competition. This is a far cry from last year's competition, when Tikhonov led the entire tournament in points with 16.
No matter what, a good team is going to lose in this round. This might be the best match of the day to watch as two high powered offenses go at it for the right to advance to the semifinals.
Quarterfinal #3 - Canada versus Belarus
Coyotes: Mike Smith (Canada)
In this edition of "The Hockey World's Most One-Sided Match-ups On Paper", we have the upstart Belorussians against the dominant Canadians. Belarus had three players with seven points or more in the preliminary round. Canada had ten. Belarus has one player playing North American hockey (Oleg Yevenko for AHL Adirondack). Every single Canadian is an NHLer.
Still, if there's a tournament where "Canada" is synonymous with "disappointment", it's the World Championship (and I guess the Stanley Cup Playoffs technically, but that's another story). Canada is absolutely loaded - as usual - but they have not won a medal at this tournament since 2009.
Mike Smith played in Canada's 10-1 thumping of Austria to close out the preliminary round to bring his tournament stat line to 5-0-0 with a 2.20 GAA and a .903 save percentage. Though Martin Jones has better numbers in his two starts, Todd McLellan seems to have confidence in Smitty. It remains to be seen if that confidence will get Canada past their usual World Championship exit and into competition for a medal.
Quarterfinal #4 - Czech Republic versus Finland
Coyotes: Martin Erat (Czech Republic)
The host nation Czechs will try to give their fans something to cheer about as they face a good Finland team in the last quarterfinal game. The Finns actually edged out Russia for second place in Group B on the final day of preliminary round play, while the Czechs lost out to Sweden for second place honors in Group A.
Backstopping the Finns will almost certainly be Pekka Rinne, who played in six of the seven preliminary round games. Rinne's only loss came against the United States in the opener. Since then, Rinne blanked three teams in a row and gave up only two goals each to Belarus and Russia to close out the preliminary round. As Rinne goes, so goes Finland.
Martin Erat has a goal and two assists for a Czech team which has not exactly been lighting up the score sheet (Jakub Voracek leads the team with seven points). But Ondrej Pavelec followed up a solid season with the Winnipeg Jets with a great effort at the World Championship. Pavelac has a .921 save percentage and a 1.58 GAA through preliminary play. It could easily be a goaltenders' duel to cap off quarterfinal play.
So the quarterfinal matchups are set, and the games will begin tomorrow. We will continue to provides updates on how the various Coyotes players are doing all the way through the Gold Medal Game this upcoming weekend.