Slovaks surge past Norway

Nagy's pair paces Slovakia to first win

15.05.2014
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Chizhovka Arena Minsk  Belarus

Slovakia's Tomas Tatar (#90) celebrates with Juraj Mikus (#71) and Michel Miklik (#19) after scoring Slovakia's first goal against Norway. Photo: Richard Wolowicz / HHOF-IIHF Images

It took nearly two periods for Slovakia to get Norway under control. Ladislav Nagy scored twice to give the Slovaks a 5-2 win on Wednesday at Chizhovka Arena.

Michel Miklik added a goal and two assists, while Juraj Mikus and Tomas Tatar chipped in a goal and an assist apiece for Slovakia.

"In the first period, it was equal, and in the second and third period we were stronger," said Slovak head coach Vladimir Vujtek. "We are satisfied with the win."

Alexander Bonsaksen and Morten Ask replied for Norway.

"We ran out of gas," said Norway's Per-Age Skroder. "We have played four games in five days, and that's the way it is."

Slovak starting goalie Jan Laco outdueled Norway's Lars Haugen as his side outshot the Norwegians 33-20.

2014 has been a tough run for Slovakia thus far, and finally getting a three-point win in its fourth game is a welcome change of pace. It was easily Slovakia's best effort at this tournament.

After finishing 10th or lower each year from 2008 to 2011, the Slovaks appeared to be reviving with 2012’s silver medal and 2013’s quarter-final berth (an eighth-place finish).

However, they dug themselves an early hole in Minsk with an overtime loss to the Czechs (3-2) and regulation defeats against Canada (4-1) and underdog France (5-3). The latter was particularly discouraging, as Vujtek’s team blew a 3-1 lead.

How would Slovakia handle a Norwegian team that had earned two early wins against Italy and Denmark and lost just 2-1 to defending champion Sweden?

Just 1:06 in, Slovakia struck first. Miklik lobbed a shot from the left point and Tatar deflected it in along the ice while being held up by a Norwegian defender.

Norway answered promptly. At 5:39, Andreas Stene circled in the Slovak zone to feed Bonsaksen, and he stepped in from the blue line with a wrister that deflected past Laco’s left pad.

At 9:17, Mikus took advantage of a Norwegian defensive breakdown to make it 2-1. He came down the left side and cut across in front of the net unobstructed, whipping it high into the net as Haugen and two defenders lunged futilely.

Less than two minutes later, the Norwegians struck back thanks to the grit and smarts of the Olimb brothers. Mathis Olimb got crushed at the Slovak blue line, but got the puck to his brother Ken Andre, who found Morten Ask in the left faceoff circle. Ask beat Laco glove side for a 2-2 deadlock.

The Slovaks peppered Haugen in the second period, outshooting Norway 16-4. But they struggled to solve the veteran goalie despite getting three power plays to Norway’s two in the frame. Laco stood his ground on Martin Roymark’s partial breakaway with a couple of minutes left.

"I think the players were tired and we weren’t able to follow the Slovak tempo in the second period," said Norwegian coach Roy Johansen.

At 19:42, Nagy put Slovakia up 3-2 with a cracking wrist shot from the right faceoff dot that soared over Haugen’s glove. As is often the case with last-minute goals, it was a crucial moment.

Nagy's second goal at 7:47 of the third period was a thing of beauty. He sped through the neutral zone, catching the Norwegian defence backing up, and knifed a high backhand past Haugen's blocker.

"We fought for our pride all the way," said Skroder. "But when the Slovaks got their fourth goal, it was a huge blow for us."

Miklik was a sly fox on Slovakia's 5-2 goal less than a minute later. He stickhandled behind the net in Wayne Gretzky's old office before venturing out to stuff it on the backhand past the goalie's pad.

"It feels great," said Slovak defenceman Martin Marincin. "We got the three points. It's great for the team. Now we need to keep going."

Slovakia faces Sweden next on Friday, while Norway confronts France on Saturday.

"We only think about beating France in the next game," said Skroder. "Now we have two days to get our strength back, and that's what we'll try to do."

Slovakia also won all six of its previous World Championship meetings with Norway, earning a goal difference of 30-7 in those games. The last encounter finished 3-2 in overtime in Switzerland 2009.

LUCAS AYKROYD

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