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Monday, March 4, 2024

Norway stuns Sweden in ice hockey

The Norwegian national ice hockey team beat arch rivals Sweden 5-4 through a shootout in the International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) World Championship in Slovakia on Saturday – a huge upset by a makeshift Norway side that marked the country’s first victory over Sweden for nearly 50 years.

Mats Zuccarello Aasen, seen here playing with the New York Rangers during this year, was one of the many top players who have been absent for various reasons from Norway's World Championships squad. PHOTO: Bridget Samuels / Wikipedia Commons

In a dramatic encounter, the teams drew 4-4 after ordinary time and played out a goalless period of sudden death overtime before a shootout decided the match. When Norway’s Mathis Olimb and Per-Åge Skrøder scored their penalties and Swedes Loui Eriksson and Patrik Berglund missed theirs, the Norwegians secured their first win over their neighbours since 1962.

Sweden, who came into the game as odds-on favourites, led 3-1 after the first period. Norway hit back in the next period with goals from Morten Ask and Marius Holtet. The Swedes took a 4-3 lead in the third period with one of three goals that came during or immediately after a Norwegian penalty. Nevertheless, Anders Bastiansen’s rebound equalizer for Norway ensured that ordinary time ended 4-4.

The Norwegians almost snatched victory during the sudden death period, but Skrøder was too close to the Swedish goaltender when he received a pass from Mads Hansen, and the goaltender managed a save. Skrøder would nevertheless make up for that miss in the shootout, when he and Olimb’s successful penalties ensured Norway’s unexpected triumph.

Norway’s hero was goaltender Lars Haugen, who saved 42 of the Swedes’ 46 shots during normal time and sudden death before keeping out both penalties. Haugen had, until recently, been very much Norway’s second choice goaltender, and only featured because of injury concerns. Indeed, the victory is made all the more dramatic because of the more general injury and selection crisis that has afflicted the Norwegian team since before the competition began. The country’s two best players, Patrick Thoresen and Mats Zuccarello Aasen, could not be part of the tournament squad, with Thoresen choosing to prioritize time with his family instead of playing. A series of other injuries and problems had left a number of key players unavailable.

‘Swedish shame’
Speaking to TV channel Viasat after the game, Norway’s coach, Roy Johansen, described his joy after what had been “a difficult year.” “Many could not join us for different reasons, and we picked up injuries right up until the match,” he said. He suggested that it had “perhaps made the group even stronger.” Man of the match Haugen, also speaking to Viasat, stated that he had “dreamt” of beating Sweden but could not believe that they actually had. “All the boys worked like wolves out there,” he added.

The reaction in Sweden was one of severe anger and disappointment. The hockey team itself held crisis meetings in the aftermath of the defeat and in anticipation of facing Austria, and captain Rickard Wallin admitting to Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) that they “should have had more respect” for Norway. The Swedish media also reacted strongly to the surprise loss. Newspaper Expressen described a “Swedish shame,” while Aftonbladet proclaimed the result a “fiasco” and agreed that Sweden “is ashamed.” One Swedish journalist, Mats Wennerholm, was so confident of victory for his country that he promised to wear a Norwegian wool lusekofte winter sweater for the remainder of the World Championships if Norway managed to win. The weather forecast in Slovakia suggests that temperatures will be over 15 degrees celsius, promising a warm remainder of the championships for Wennerholm.

Norway will follow up their triumph with a tough match against the USA on Monday afternoon. Their previous best result in the World Championships is a fourth placed finish back in 1951.

AdTech AdViews and News from Norway/Aled-Dilwyn Fisher
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