NIAGARA – Last year’s bronze-medal winner Sweden had a smooth start into the 2011 IIHF World U20 Championship, winning the opening game at Dwyer Arena 7-1 against newly-promoted Norway.
It might have been the dream of any player from Norway to put an exclamation mark in the first game, and of all opponents against their Swedish neighbours.
The dream, however, was shattered after only a few minutes of play as Sweden clearly had the better start and showed more skill in this all-Scandinavian clash.
The yellow-blue team dominated the beginning of the uneven match-up in every aspect. And being three centimetres taller and four kilos heavier on average, the players of last year’s bronze-medal winner made use of their physical strength with several board-banging hits.
“We really thought about how we could beat Sweden, but we made too many mistakes and we allowed them to score goals too easily at the beginning, and that broke us down,” said Norway captain Andreas Stene.
Sweden opened the scoring with its first shot just 57 seconds into the game thanks to John Klingberg.
At 5:29 the “Juniorkronor” doubled the score on a goal by Oscar Lindberg, and one minute later the Swedes seemed to score the third goal, but the referees disallowed it following a video review.
The Norwegians had the first power play of the game, but they didn’t make use of the opportunity. A 2-0 lead and 14-3 in shots on goal were the stats of the first period that clearly defined the margin of play in Sweden’s favour.
The second period didn’t have the start that Norway so badly needed. A shot from the blueline from Anton Lander came back from the end boards and Patrick Cehlin scored at 4:09 to make it 3-0.
After being upended on a breakaway after coming from the penalty box, Cehlin had the chance to score his second goal of the period with a penalty shot at 17:41, but his attempt to deke the Norwegian netminder Lars Volden ended on Volden’s pads.
Cehlin redeemed himself with 16.9 seconds left in the period when the 19-year-old Djurgården forward finished off a nice passing play.
“We had a very good game, even if some of us were nervous in the beginning,” Cehlin said. “I’m really happy about today’s game, even if the penalty shot didn’t go in.”
Sweden made it even more lopsided in the last stanza. Tim Erixon scored 49 seconds into the third period, and Gabriel Landeskog made it 6:0 at 2:01.
Eirik Børresen made the crowd of some 1,320 fans in the half-full Dwyer Arena explode when he scored Norway’s consolation goal with eight minutes left, but Carl Klingberg restored the six-goal lead for the final score of 7-1 with 2:44 left.
After this rough start, Norway will face the Czech Republic on Monday. The Czechs played in the relegation round last year. “Our goal is to stay in the top division, so it will certainly be an important game for us,” Stene said.
Sweden will play Russia on Tuesday in what is expected to become the most spectacular game at the Niagara venue.
“We want to win the gold and we have to fight hard for it. We know we will have a tougher challenge in two days against Russia, and we have to play as well as we possibly can,” Cehlin said.