4 Must-Watch Players: 2022 IIHF World Championship Semi-Finals

Jeremy Swayman, Team USA (Image: Dean Woolley)
Jeremy Swayman, Team USA (Image: Dean Woolley)

Although it’s been a difficult tournament to be a Team Great Britain fan, there are still plenty of reasons to tune into FreeSports for the final weekend of action from the IIHF World Championship in Tampere, Finland.  We’re down to the final four, with only Finland, Czechia, Canada, and the United States remaining in the competition.

The semi-final stage is scheduled for Saturday [28 May], starting with Finland versus the USA at 14:20. Canada will then face off against Czechia at 18:20, with the gold-medal game due to start 24 hours later.

2022 IIHF World Championship Semi-Finals: Players to Watch

While there are plenty of elite performers still involved in the tournament, four players, one from each nation, deserve ‘must-watch’ status ahead of puck drop. Let’s discuss:

Jeremy Swayman, Netminder, USA

Since joining his Team USA teammates in Finland, Jeremy Swayman has been standing on his head. His statistics through five appearances are remarkable: 94 saves on 97 shots, two shutouts, and a 0.69 goals-against average.

Swayman’s record includes a clean-sheet performance against Team GB, including smart saves on Cade Neilson and Scott Conway. His second shutout of the tournament arrived in the quarter-finals versus Switzerland when he stopped 29 shots in the final two periods of play to punch his team’s ticket to the final four.

“It’s an awesome feeling to get the win,” the 23-year-old said after shutting the door on Switzerland. “It was a great team effort, the guys in front of me made it easy and I’m really excited to be moving forwards with this team.”

World Championship Semi-Finals - Jeremy Swayman, Team USA (Image: Dean Woolley)
Jeremy Swayman, Team USA (Image: Dean Woolley)

Following a successful rookie season with the Boston Bruins, Swayman is in fine form and looks good value for his .969 save percentage at the Worlds. His individual battle against Finland’s Jussi Olkinuora will shape the outcome of the semi-final, with both netminders playing starring roles in Tampere.

Mikko Lehtonen, Defenceman, Finland

Despite failing to make his mark in the NHL, Mikko Lehtonen remains a key player for Finland and has impressed during the 2022 World Championship. The former Toronto Maple Leafs defenceman ranks ninth in scoring, with nine points (two goals, seven assists) in eight appearances so far.

Lehtonen, who recently signed a two-year contract with the Zurich Lions of the Swiss National League, is a talented puck-moving defenceman and fits his national team’s needs to a Tee. He loves having the puck on his stuck, especially on the power play, and has the skill set required to hurt the Americans in the final four.

If the 28-year-old is handed opportunities to make an impression in the semi-final, the USA will be in trouble. Watch out for Lehtonen.

Pierre-Luc Dubois, Forward, Canada

Unlike Swayman, who was parachuted into the USA’s squad after the Bruins were eliminated from the playoffs, Pierre Luc-Dubois has been with Team Canada from the start. He has 12 points (seven goals, five assists) and ranks second in face-off win percentage (67.3%) through eight appearances at the Worlds.

The 23-year-old has an awesome release, which saw him net 60 points (28 goals, 32 assists) in 81 games for the Winnipeg Jets in 2021-22. He also scored this devastating lamp-lighter in Canada’s comeback win over Sweden in the last eight:

If afforded too much space or time on the puck, Dubois will cause Czechia a world of pain in the final four. Keep an eye on him this weekend.

David Krejci, Centreman, Czechia

Finally: a word on former Boston Bruins centre David Krejci. He departed the NHL last summer, opting to return to his native Czechia so that his children could experience growing up in Europe, but hasn’t missed a step.

World Championship Semi-Finals- Team GB's Cade Neilson faces off against Czechia's David Krejci (Image: Dean Woolley)
Team GB’s Cade Neilson faces off against Czechia’s David Krejci (Image: Dean Woolley)

“It was definitely a hard decision but it was a decision I felt was the right one for myself and my family,” said Krejci. “I enjoyed the season back home, every bit of it, and I have no regrets. Now I’m here and I’m focusing on this tournament.”

The 36-year-old, reunited with former club linemate David Pastrnak, has 10 points (two goals, eight assists) in eight games for Czechia at the Worlds, placing him amongst the tournament’s point-leaders.

Krejci’s cerebral style lends itself well to operating on international ice surfaces, with his playmaking ability shining through in Czechia’s quarter-final win over Germany:

Team Canada can’t afford to stand off Krejci on Saturday. If they do, he’ll punish them.

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