Hey Florida Panthers fans, need a hockey fix before the World Cup starts in mid-September? Well, in case you didn’t know, the final qualification round for the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea got underway yesterday and will end on Sunday with the winners of the three four-team groups booking their spots in the final tournament. It might not seem worthy of following, but this round of play is important enough for an NHL superstar like Anze Kopitar to head to Minsk to represent his country before he starts training camp with the Los Angeles Kings. So yeah, these are meaningful games. By the way, Kopitar bagged a hat-trick to lead his country to a win in its first game. Well done, sir.
Who’s in: There are nine countries who have already qualified for the Olympics by virtue of finishing in the top-eight at the 2015 World Championship. Canada, Russia, Sweden, Finland, the United States, the Czech Republic, Switzerland and Slovakia will join the host team, South Korea.
Who’s trying to get in: There are twelve teams split into three groups vying to join the mix. Each team will play the other three teams in their group once with the first-place team advancing to the Olympic tournament. Three of the teams (Japan, Italy and Poland) have already survived a prior round of qualification.
Group D (Minsk, Belarus) consists of Belarus, Denmark, Poland and Slovenia.
Group E (Riga, Latvia) consists of Germany, Japan, Latvia and Austria
Group F (Oslo, Norway) consists of France, Italy, Kazakhstan and Norway.
The two top-seeded winners (based on world ranking) will be placed in Group C of the Olympic tournament with Sweden and Finland. The lowest-ranked winner will be placed in Group B with Russia, the United States and Slovakia. Group A is already set and will consist of Canada, the Czech Republic, Switzerland and South Korea.
Group D: Slovenia 6, Poland 1 / Belarus 5, Denmark 2
Group E: Germany 5, Japan 0 / Latvia 8, Austria 1
Group F: France 2, Italy 1 (ot) / Kazakhstan 4, Norway 3 (ot)
Group D: Slovenia vs. Denmark / Belarus vs. Poland
Group E: Germany vs. Austria / Latvia vs. Japan
Group F: France vs. Kazakhstan / Italy vs. Norway
Group D: Poland vs. Denmark / Belarus vs. Slovenia
Group E: Japan vs. Austria / Latvia vs. Germany
Group F: Italy vs. Kazakhstan / France vs. Norway