KOSICE – Marius Holtet scored four goals to lead Norway to a 5-2 win over France and to a berth in the quarter-finals of the 2011 IIHF World Championship.
Holtet plays for Färjestad Karlstad in the Swedish Elitserien and scored only four goals for them all season. He now has six goals, and the tournament goal-scoring lead, at this year's World Championship.
France-Norway 2-5 (1-3, 1-1, 0-1) Game Sheet Photos
"It was just one of those days when everything goes in," said an elated Holtet afterwards. "It's not very often you get four goals in a game. It was a big game for us because now we don't have to rely on Switzerland losing to the United States to get in."
The win gives Norway eight points in Group F (two wins win, one overtime win, two losses). France finishes with one point in Group F (one overtime loss, four losses). The win by Norway also officially eliminates Switzerland (three points) from the quarter-final round.
The Polar Bears advance to the quarter-finals for only the second time since the playoff round format was introduced at the World Championship in 1992. Their last appearance in the quarters was in 2008.
Norway's offence in this tournament has been a revelation. The 22 goals they've scored is the highest total for a Norwegian team at the World Championship in over 20 years and was completely unexpected in light of the fact that Norway's teams generally struggle to record tournament goal totals in the low teens.
"This is the best team we've had that I've been on," said Norwegian team captain Ole-Kristian Tollefsen, who is playing in his second World Championship. He also played in the 2010 Olympics for Norway. "We don't have all of our best players here, but we're a good group of guys and playing this well shows the character of our team."
France battled, with much of the weight being carried on the back of netminder Cristobal Huet, who faced 37 shots on the afternoon, to cap a yeoman's effort during the tournament.
Holtet scored his fourth goal of the game in the final period at 12:26 when he cut through the middle of the slot and zipped a shot past Huet to make it 5-2 Norway.
Ken Andre Olimb missed a penalty shot against Huet with 1:49 remaining but it mattered not.
There were moments during the game when it looked as though the French might claw back. Down 3-1 just past the halfway mark of the second period, French captain Laurent Meunier sped towards the Norwegian net and was hit with a pass from the left wing by Kévin Hecquefeuille. Meunier finished off after Hecquefeuille had done most of the heavy lifting and Norway's lead was cut to 3-2.
France then shot themselves in the skate, running into penalty trouble with a delay of game penalty going to Brian Henderson and then a hooking penalty taken by Pierre-Edouard Bellemare setting up a two man advantage for Norway. Holtet completed his hat trick during the five on three with a goal at 15:19 to make it 4-2 Norway.
The first period was a wild start to the ride - back and forth. Meunier had a short-handed breakaway two and a half minutes into the game that could have set the French up nicely. But Norwegian goalie Lars Haugen made the stop, staying with Meunier when he pulled the puck to his backhand.
One minute later it was Per-Åge Skrøder's turn to try his hand on a breakaway. Same move as Meunier – pull the puck to the backhand in tight – different result for Skrøder. Top shelf behind Huet, and a 1-0 lead for Norway.
Just 26 seconds later, Holtet scored his first – taking a pass from Lars Erik Spets in the French zone, making his way to the left hash mark and ripping a shot in behind Huet to make it 2-0 Norway.
Credit to France. They battled back with a goal at 10:57, taking advantage of a turnover in his own zone by normally steady Tollefsen. The end result was Damien Fleury getting a good look from the right side of the slot and beating Haugen cleanly to cut the score to 2-1.
French optimism was dashed at 17:50 of the first, as Holtet scored his second of the period, regaining control of a rolling puck as he made his way past a French defenceman in the slot, cutting to the left of Huet, before finally chopping the puck in from close range to give Norway a 3-1 lead.
"We have a great group here" says Tollefsen. "We work together, we block shots, we have fun at practice everyday and I think that shows on the ice."
It certainly has so far.