The U.S. hockey team has mostly had it easy in the Olympics so far. However, the Olympics will really start for the U.S. and the other top hockey teams in the world on Feb. 19. With the preliminary round over, it is now do or die for the next several days, as America hopes to keep doing what it's been doing against the Czech Republic in the Olympic quarterfinals.
At noon est and 9 p.m. Russian time, the U.S. will have its chance to get into the medal round, where it would face either Canada or Latvia. First the Americans have to beat the Czech Republic, which has been perfect against the USA in Olympic ice hockey competition.
The Czechs are more familiar with winning Olympic gold than the Americans, who haven't won it since 1980. In contrast, the Czech Republic won it all in 1998 -- after a quarterfinal victory over the USA -- and still has one active member from that team on this year's squad. 42-year-old Jaromir Jagr will lead the way, in hopes that this won't be his final Olympic game.
It will be up to Jonathan Quick to stop him and the rest of the Czechs, like he nearly shut out Slovakia and shut down Russia in a shootout. If he can't, then Phil Kessel and the rest of the U.S.'s goal scorers will have to stay hot and bail him out.
Given that a victory could give America a rematch of the 2010 gold medal game with Canada, they still can't afford to look ahead. The Americans already avoided a letdown against Slovenia after their emotional shootout win over the Russians, so they are capable of staying focused. Yet there's a difference between taking care of business in a preliminary game, and doing it against a much tougher opponent during an Olympic quarterfinal.
The U.S. hockey team hopes to be at the right side of that difference, and put itself two wins away from the top of the Olympic medal podium. It can stop the Czechs from taking that step instead starting at noon -- fittingly on the USA network.