After just three months Olympic qualifiers that were set to begin nearly a year ago, but delayed due to COVID-19, the three final qualification spots for a trip to Beijing were today clinched by Czechia, Denmark and Sweden for the 2022 Winter Olympics.
In Chomutov, Czechia, a tournament that began with the hosts, Hungary, Norway and Poland came down to a winner-take all between the Narodnitym and Magyars with a trip to Beijing on the line, where 2022 would mark the first Olympic trip for either squad. However, the firepower of the home team was too much for goaltender Anikó Németh and the Hungarians to handle, with the Czechs striking thrice in the first fifteen minutes en route to a decisive 5-1 victory, going a perfect 3-0 over the weekend and locking up their Olympic berth on the backs of five goals from five different scorers (Klára Hymlárová, Lenka Serdar, Vendula Přibylová, Samantha Ahn Kolowratová and Denisa Křížová) and a near-shutout from Klára Peslarová.
Meanwhile, in Füssen, Germany, it was Denmark who had the hosts up against the wall, with the former needing just a single point to book their ticket to China, while Germany, who dropped their opener to Austria on 11 November, needed a win and some help from Italy just to stay alive in the tournament. Trailing 2-1 in the third period, and needing to simply send the game to overtime to win the qualifier tournament, a Silke Glud goal with 12:02 remaining in the third period, and a shutdown performance from goaltender Cassandra Repstock-Romme, would be enough to send the game to overtime, clinching Denmark’s first ever trip to the Olympics, just months after their male counterparts booked their first trip as well.
And finally, in Luleå, Sweden, after starting the group with Slovakia and South Korea in the mix, the final came down to Sweden and France, who coincidentally were the last two teams relegated from the World Championship Top Division before the pandemic began. Holding a 2-0 lead early in the second period, France came back within one entering the third, but a Lina Ljungblom goal 1:58 into the third period seemed to seal the Damkronorna’s fate; however, with just 4:17 remaining in regulation, Léa Villiot brought Les Bleus within one, setting up a thrilling finish. Unfortunately for France, however, a pair of penalties in the final four minutes denied them of any advantage, despite pulling goaltender Caroline Baldin, ensuring Sweden’s return to a Top Division tournament for the first time since 2019, hoping to improve on their seventh place 2018 Olympic finish.
Czechia, Denmark and Sweden will now join Group B in Beijing, alongside Japan and hosts China, while Group A is made up of Canada, the United States, Finland, Switzerland and the Russian Olympic Committee. With the last puzzle piece now in place, it is now full steam ahead to February 2022 in Beijing!
Photo Credit: IIHF Final Olympic Qualification (Group C, D, E) – IIHF – HHOF – IOC