Wukesong Sports Centre served as the historic backdrop as the host Chinese enjoyed their first Olympic hockey game on home ice. Led by head coach Brian Idalski, whose coaching resume includes the North Dakota Fighting Sioux and KRS Shenzhen Vanke Rays, the roster also features a gathering of American and Canadian talent, paying homage to their Chinese heritage.
Having last appeared at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics, three members of China’s current roster actually competed then. Team captain Baiwei Yu, Zhixin Liu and Mengying Ling hold this unique distinction.
Of note, China’s first Group B match saw them hosting Cezchia. Certainly, there was a shared sense of history as Cezchia enjoyed their Winter Games debut in women’s ice hockey. Qualifying for the Beijing Winter Olympics with a tournament victory on home-ice, at Chomutov, in November 2021, Czechia joined Denmark and Sweden as the other nations that qualified during that month.
With Tiya Chen (Tia Chan), an alumnae of the University of Connecticut, standing between the pipes, a crowd of nearly 500 saw a tight defensive struggle in the first 10 minutes of the opening period. Although the Czechs enjoyed the first power play of the game, they would break the scoreless deadlock on even strength.
Tereza Radova provided the Czechs with their first lead of the game at 10:38, with Tereza Vanislova and Aneta Tejralova earning the assists. With the goal, Radova, a native of Svitavy who calls Goteborg of the SDHL her club team, made history, scoring the first-ever Czech goal in women’s ice hockey at the Winter Olympics.
Less than four minutes into the second stanza, Denisa Krizova added to the Czechs lead. Akin to Chen, Krizova also played NCAA in New England, starring with Boston’s Northeastern Huskies, later playing professionally with the Boston Pride. Having also appeared with the Czechs at the ISBHF World Championships, she gained recognition as Czechia’s female ice hockey Player of the Year for 2019.
At the 9:02 mark, forward Le Mi (Hannah Miller) spoiled Klara Peslarova’s bid for a shutout, trimming Czechia’s lead. Capitalizing on a power play opportunity, with Pavlina Horalkova called for tripping, it proved to be the only goal for the host country.
Logging the assists on Mi’s goal were assistant captain Qiqi Lin (Leah Lum) and Yuting Wang (Jessica Wong). As a side note, Mi scored the first Olympic goal for China since February 22, 2010, when team captain Linuo Wang scored in a 3-1 loss to Slovakia in the seventh place game at Vancouver.
In the third, Horalkova redeemed herself, gaining the assist on a goal by Michaela Pejzlova, restoring Czechia’s two-goal lead. As a side note, Pejzlova, who competes with the University of Vermont Catamounts, is one of five Czech players with NCAA experience.
Later in the period, Anna Fei (Anna Fairman) was called for her second penalty of the game. Sent to the penalty box for hooking, with less than eight minutes remaining, Chen remained valiant between the pipes, nullifying the opposition’s power play advantage.
Despite opening the Beijing Olympics with a loss, there was certainly a sense of national pride for the host country, demonstrating a combination of tenacity and solid goaltending. With games remaining versus Denmark, an all-Asian matchup versus Japan, plus Sweden, the opportunity to finish among the nations in Group B that qualify for the elimination round remains a possibility.
Feature Photo: Andrea Cardin IIHF.com