It wasn't supposed to be such an important game for the USA, but after losing 4-1 to Finland on Wednesday the Americans find themselves in an early must-win game. A regulation loss by the Americans would eliminate them from medal contention, as by losing to both Finland and the Czechs they would have ceded the tiebreaking formula to each team, no matter what happens on New Year's Eve vs. Canada. So for the Americans, the New Year's Eve game is not much of a concern at the moment, it's all about the Czech Republic.
Most of the other action is simply about positioning: the real results will be determined on New Year's Eve. The fact that even Switzerland doesn't necessarily need to beat Latvia today to make the quarterfinals shows the lack of urgency in the games, although if the Swiss know what's good for them, they'll put forth their best effort to make sure they get the W in case they end up going to the relegation round. Only Sweden can clinch a spot in the playoffs with an outright win today, others could make it depending on the result of other games (including the Americans, oddly enough).
A loss by the Americans here would be monumental. The tournament is too young to say that the Americans deserve their fate or not, but in a tournament made up of a series of big moments, they face their first true adversity. The Czechs, meanwhile, showed decently against Canada despite a 5-0 setback, and are most definitely showing they are in the mix for a playoff spot. After running into a strong Sami Aittokallio on Wednesday, the Americans can't afford to lose on the account of Petr Mrazek, but this most definitely can happen. There is a scenario in which the Americans lose in regulation and aren't eliminated today, but it would involve Denmark beating Finland, so the USA needs to at least take a point out of this game in order to avoid feeling utterly helpless.
Broadcast: NHL Network (USA), Ceske Televisie (Czech Rep.), TSN/RDS (Canada).
Sweden is being led by Max Friberg, whose goal-scoring run and showboating is one of the stories of the tournament to date. It was a tough result for Sweden, who outshot the Swiss badly (53-27) but had to go to the shootout for the win. Slovakia, meanwhile, edged out the Latvians in their tournament opener but showed well in a loss to Russia, scoring the only goal against Russia so far in the tournament in a 3-1 loss. Tomas Jurco had seven shots in that Russian game, and it'll be interesting to see if he can be as equally dangerous against a tougher defensive team in Sweden.
Broadcast: Viasat (Sweden), TSN2 (Canada)
This is the final game of the preliminary round for Denmark, and their fourth game in five nights. There's a chance this game is meaningful for more than that reason, and that would be if Finland somehow ended up being the fourth place team in Group B. A win is improbable for Denmark for sure, but they'll give their best effort with two or three days off after this one before the relegation round begins. Finland needs a routine, easy win here to set up for their New Year's Eve showdown against the Czechs. Christopher Gibson gets another chance in goal for Finland after a brutal start against Canada.
Broadcast: MTV3 (Finland), TSN2 (Canada)
The last game of the night is Latvia's last stand. They're heading to the relegation round no matter what happens, but Switzerland's fate is yet to be determined, so this is a key game for both teams. A single win here by either team should ensure that they stay up in the main tournament next year, while Switzerland obviously has higher aspirations than that after playing both Russia and Sweden quite tough to open the tournament. Kristers Gudlevskis will be back in goal for Latvia after escaping the Russian assignment.
Broadcast: Fasthockey is the only broadcast of this game, and they will be broadcasting each of the games online as well.