It’s Norway vs. Denmark for an Olympic prize
by Adam Steiss|27 AUG 2021
photo: Mathias Dulsrud

The Norwegians took care of business on home ice in Olso, defeating Slovenia for their second win to set up a finale against Denmark with everything on the line at the Final Olympic Qualification Group F.

“Ever since my first game playing with the national team we’ve always been battling with the Danes,” said Andreas Martinsen. “I think the team they have now is the best team they’ve ever had, it’s going to be a big test and a good game and that’s what we wanted, to play in a final against them."

Ken Andre Olimb and Mats Rosseli Olsen each had a goal and two assists to lead the Norwegians to their second straight win.

Just as in their opening game against Denmark, Slovenia did not get off to a good start, taking a penalty three seconds into the game. The Norwegians broke through at 13:56, with Martin Roymark shooting the puck on net, getting it back from his teammate Eirik Salsten on the rebound for a second shot that went past Gasper Kroselj for the opening score.

Then following some intense forecheck pressure by Norway behind the Slovenian net, the puck came out to Christian Kaasastul, who shot on net and had it deflected by a Slovene player on the way for the 2-0 lead. The goal prompted head coach Matjaz Kopitar to pull Kroselj in favour of Luka Gracnar.

“We had another rough start,” said Robert Sabolic. “We were underdogs going into this game and it’s not easy to get back into the game against a team like that.”

But Slovenia’s hole grew deeper not long after that. While on a power play, captain Anze Kopitar was unable to keep a pass inside the Norway zone, allowing Mats Roselli Olsen and Ken Andre Olimb to jump out on a breakaway, Olsen feeding Olimb for his second goal of the tournament.

To their credit, Slovenia did almost manage to get back into the game. The Slovenes got themselves  on the scoresheet while on another power play, with Gregorc Blaz jumping on a loose puck following a scramble in the slot area to cut the lead to 3-1.  Then with six minutes left Kopitar fed Robert Sabolic with a pass from the high slot to the side of the net, Sabolic roofing it in to trim Norway’s lead to 3-2.

But Norway got back up by two goals just under five minutes into the second when Ken-Andre Olimb was tripped up by Jan Urbas on a breakaway, giving the Norwegians a penalty shot that would be taken by their star player Mats Zuccarello. Zuccarello skated up slowly to the goalie, paused and then snapped a shot through the five-hole to give his team a 4-2 lead to the delight of the home crowd.

Norway’s defence clamped down after Zuccarello’s goal, allowing just a handful of shots on net and none of them very challenging for goalie Henrik Haukeland. But the Norwegian goalie did have to stand on his head for a sequence midway through the frame, making four saves in quick succession culminating in a cross-crease robbery on a seemingly open shot from the side of the net by Sabolic.

Then it was the Olimb brothers combining to give their country a big goal late in the 2nd, with Ken Andre Olimb taking advantage of a lapse in the Slovenia defence to feed the puck cross ice to his waiting older brother Mathis for the 5-2 lead. The younger Olimb would assist on another score with 27 seconds to go, his shot on net ending up on the stick of teammate for the commanding four-goal lead going into the third.

Down by four goals in the third, Slovenia made things a little tense for the Norwegians. Dany Sabolic cut into the Norway lead with a blast from the right circle on the power play four minutes into the frame. Then his teammate Klemen Pretnar took advantage of a defensive breakdown finding Kristjan Cepon wide open with a pass to cut the lead to 4-2.

But the Norwegians put their foot down with 4:12 remaining, a clean faceoff win by Michael Haga in the Slovenia zone allowed the puck to come to Christian Kaasastul who fired it home for the 7-4 lead.

The result puts a spot in the 2022 Olympic Winter Games within reach for the Norwegians. Standing in the way is their number one rivals Denmark, who have been unstoppable through two games so far in this qualification tournament. The game takes place Sunday evening in Oslo.