Sakari Manninen scored three goals and Miro Aaltonen scored two goals and one assist for Finland and Juraj Slafkovsky scored twice for Slovakia in Finland’s 6-2 win in the first game for both teams at the 2022 Olympic Winter Games.
“We had really good offence today. Six goals, we have to be happy with that,” said Manninen, the Salavat Yulaev Ufa forward. “We had some chances and scored on them, we had a good goalie and good penalty kill, but we also have things to improve.”
Slovakia outshot Finland 33-30 in the game, but three of Finland’s goals came on odd-man rushes and two others were on the power play. Finland was 2-for-3 with the man advantage while Slovakia was 0-for-5.
One of the projected top picks of this summer’s NHL Entry Draft, Slafkovsky became the first 17-year-old to score in Olympic men’s ice hockey since 1984, when Ed Olczyk scored twice for the USA in Sarajevo, albeit not in the same game.
“It’s positive that I scored two goals but the important thing is we didn’t win and we need to learn from that, from the mistakes and just be better tomorrow against Sweden,” said Slafkovsky, who plays in Finland for TPS Turku. “Of course it’s special to play against the team from the country where I play most of the season, so I know what to expect.”
The Slovaks came storming out of the gate and captain Marek Hrivik had a great chance in the first minute when he received a pass from linemate Peter Cehlarik in the slot but just failed to convert on the backhand. They continued to dominate the early minutes, however, and opened the scoring at 5:33 when Milos Roman’s wraparound attempt was stopped by Sateri, but Slafkovsky was right at the edge of the crease and put the rebound up over the Finnish goalie’s shoulder.
“When we got in the offensive zone we held the puck, got some shots and a couple of goals from the young boy,” said Slovak head coach Craig Ramsay. “So I feel good about some things but not so good about others.”
The Finns didn’t record a shot in the first 10 minutes of the game but reversed that trend in the second half of the period with six shots and three goals.
“I think we had a pretty good start and then we got away from our game plan. Then we got back to it a little bit, but overall we have to make sure we’re focused for the whole game,” said Hrivik. “I think we just had a few breakdowns that bit us. We gotta make sure we stay focused for the full 60 minutes.”
First it was Manninen, who got behind the Slovak defence and took a breakaway pass from Teemu Hartikainen. Manninen actually had a passing option a two-on-nothing break but elected to shoot, beating Branislav Konrad over the glove.
Then the Finns got the game’s first power play and turned up the heat. First Mikko Lehtonen hit the post, and at 14:22 Harri Pesonen gave the Finns their first lead, putting in his own rebound after Konrad had stopped his initial one-time attempt at the side of the net.
Slovakia had a chance to draw even with a pair of power plays of their own but failed to capitalize, and when Aaltonen finished off a 2-on-1 by one-timing a pass by Joonas Nattinen past Konrad late in the period, one had the feeling that Jukka Jalonen’s always-disciplined group was going to be awfully tough to beat on this night.
“We won the first game so we’re happy about that,” said Jalonen, who has coached Finland to gold and silver at the last two IIHF World Championships. “We scored six goals, had a great power play, great penalty-killing, very good goaltending, but I don’t think it was like a 6-2 game. I think Slovakia played well and the numbers don’t really tell the whole story.”
“There were parts of the game where I thought we were really good and there were parts of the game that I was disappointed in, to say the least,” said Ramsay. “They did a good job in the neutral zone, clogging it up. We have to do a better job of getting through that neutral zone and not turning pucks over.”
Manninen scored his second goal on his second breakaway, just shy of the game’s midpoint. This time he went with a wrister along the ice through the legs of Konrad. Just over two minutes later, Slafkovsky matched him with his second, picking up the puck along the end boards, circling out front while using his body to shield the puck and beating Sateri to the blocker side before celebrating with a big leg kick.
“I think I can play physically and win some battles on the boards and that’s how I present myself,” Slavkovsky said about his ability to play against men.
“He’s really good,” Hrivik said about his young teammate. “It’s been nice to watch him in practices and then we get to the game and he scores two goals, so he’s got a bright future. He’s gonna be a really good player.”
But if Slovakia had designs on a comeback, they were dealt a serious blow on the first shift of the third period when Manninen potted his third. Peter Ceresnak tried to carry the puck out of his zone but was stick-checked by Hartikainen, who then found Manninen streaking to the net for the one-touch re-direct into the top corner.
“That was really special (to record a hat trick) but I have to thank my linemates for the really good passes,” said Manninen. “I got three chances and scored on all of them. It’s a special day.”
Aaltonen finished the scoring with five minutes to go on the power play, finishing off a tic-tac-toe passing play with a one-time slapper off the post and in.
“I scored two goals so it was an okay game for me,” said Aaltonen. “It was a tough game but an important win for us. They had a good start, but then we scored six goals. That’s always a good sign.”
Neither team gets much of a rest after this. Both are back in action tomorrow, with Slovakia going up against Sweden and Finland taking on Latvia.