In Norway, Norwegian Constitution Day is celebrated annually as a public holiday on 17 May. It turned into a real party for Polar Bears fans in Bratislava as Norway beat Austria 5-3 for its first win of the 2019 Worlds.
Christian Bull led the way with a hat trick for Norway. Alexander Reichenberg added a goal and an assist, and Johannes Johannesen also scored for Norway. Tobias Lindstrom had a pair of helpers.
Norwegian captain Jonas Holos was measured in his assessment: "It's a big win, but I don't think we played our best game today. Still, every time they scored, we came back and scored another goal. We showed strength and we worked hard. Our work ethic is really good. That's what we have to keep on doing."
For Austria, Peter Schneider had a goal and two assists, and Konstantin Komarek and Dominique Heinrich added a goal and an assist apiece.
"I think we made it too easy for Norway to get to the big scoring chances," said Austrian assistant captain Thomas Hundertpfund. "We didn't play the way we wanted defensively. I think offensively we created some good chances, but we couldn't capitalize the way we wanted."
Norwegian netminder Henrik Holm got his second straight start after losing 4-1 to Switzerland in his previous outing, and had a strong outing as shots favoured Austria 33-30. Austria's Bernhard Starkbaum returned between the pipes a day after playing in the 9-1 loss to two-time defending champion Sweden.
"It's a great feeling today on our national day back in Norway to celebrate this with a win and get the national anthem in the end," Holm said. "It's really huge for us."
Even though there was no historical rivalry at play, Friday's game was a hard-fought battle between two teams vying to retain their places among the world's elite 16 nations.
At 2:01, Bull made it 1-0. Norway established its dominance in the faceoff circle in the first period, and it paid off. After Lindstrom won the draw in the Austrian end, Bull, a 22-year-old Storhamar defenceman playing in his third Worlds, sent a slapper past Starkbaum. He had never scored in 11 previous Worlds games."He's a clutch player," said Holm. "He showed in the GET-Ligaen that he's capable of doing great stuff. Now he got it out on this international stage as well. It's really deserved for him. He's a great guy."
A couple of minutes later, the Norwegians were dinged for too many men on the ice,but good defensive poise and Holm’s solid goaltending saw them through the penalty kill. Holm came up big near the 12-minute of the first period when Konstantin Komisarek slipped around Erlund Lesund for an in-tight opportunity.
Seconds later, Mathis Olimb was shaken up in his own zone when Austria’s Michael Raffl cut across and hit him awkwardly. Olimb received attention from the trainer, but skated off under his own power, and Raffl approached him near the bench to share a few words.
Early in the second period, Olimb was penalized for holding the stick and Erlend Lesund went off for a late hit promptly thereafter, giving Austria a gigantic opportunity with a 5-on-3 for 1:36. At 2:08, Schneider capitalized, making it 1-1 with a one-timer from the left faceoff circle that got past Holm’s blocker arm.
Michael Raffl’s collisions with unfortunate Norwegians continued. Busting to the net, the burly Philadelphia Flyers forward fell while cutting through the crease and his leg came up to knock Holm’s helmet off. However, the Norwegian netminder would carry on.
"I've got to check my neck," Holm said. "It's a little bit stiff. I got a pretty hard hit to the head there. But hopefully it's OK."
The Austrian fans who had flooded across the nearby border for this important game regaled their heroes with enthusiastic, a cappella choruses of songs like DJ Otzi's "Hey Baby (Uhh, Ahh)."
Norway went up 2-1 at 16:42 on a nice rush. Crossing the blue line, Thomas Valkvae Olsen drew two Norwegian defenders to him and sent a behind-the-back pass to Johannesen. He evaded Schneider's checking to slide a backhander through Starkbaum's pads.
The physicality picked up as Austrian assistant captain Manuel Ganahl sent Lesund crashing into the boards between the benches.
"They tried to make us frustrated and be on the goalie all the time and make us take stupid penalties," said Holos. "But I think we handled that pretty well."
In the third period, Austria made it 3-3 at 9:37. Schneider circled behind the net and centred the puck, which deflected to Alexander Pallestrang. He found Komarek at the side of the net, and the 26-year-old Malmo Redhawks forward banged it in.
Just 56 seconds later, Michael Haga's persistence on the puck in the Austrian end helped to restore Norway's lead, as he backhanded the puck to Reichenberg, whose high wrister from the faceoff circle found the twine.
At 13:22, Bull gave the Norwegians a 4-2 lead as he pinched in and an onrushing Olimb found him with a perfect cross-ice pass, which he converted seamlessly. The Austrians had a late opportunity to narrow the gap with Kristian Forsberg off for interference, but couldn't find the range.
With 51 seconds left and Starkbaum pulled for an extra attacker, Heinrich sailed a wrist shot from the centre point that beat Holm to cut the deficit to 4-3. However, Bull promptly rounded out the scoring for Norway with his empty-netter eight seconds later.
The result improved Norway's all-time Worlds record against Austria to four wins and two losses, dating back to 1993. Their last meeting, interestingly, was in 2011 in Kosice, where Norway blanked Austria 5-0.
Looking ahead to Norway's next game against Italy, which has been outscored 30-0, Holos said: "It's going to be tough. They have a good structure. If we're not humble and don't respect them, I think they're going to punish us."
Hundertpfund said: "Of course, now against the Czechs on Sunday, I think it's gonna be a good atmosphere too, with a lot of Czech fans and a lot of our fans. We're going to enjoy that game and try to get a good game from our side. But then we have to focus on Monday [versus Italy]."