ROC eliminates plucky Danes
by Lucas Aykroyd|16 FEB 2022
ROC captain Vadim Shipachyov celebrates after scoring the opening goal against Denmark in a 3-1 quarter-final win.
photo: Andre Ringuette / HHOF-IIHF Images

It was a true David and Goliath confrontation, but this time Goliath won. The ROC team advanced to the final four by defeating Denmark 3-1 in Wednesday's Olympic quarter-finals.

Even though ROC outshot Denmark 40-18, the underdogs appearing in their very first Olympics didn't make it easy. This remained a one-goal game until less than five minutes remained in regulation.

"Hopefully we just brought a lot more hockey fans back in Denmark, opened their eyes up to this game," said Danish assistant captain Frans Nielsen. "We played five games. We gave it all we had. We worked hard every night for 60 minutes. We for sure laid it all out there. When we get home, there’s no regret from us."

For the ROC team, captain Vadim Shipachyov led the way with a goal and an assist, and defencemen Nikita Nesterov and Vyacheslav Voinov also scored. Nikita Gusev chipped in two assists.

"It was a nervous game," said Gusev, the 2018 Olympic scoring leader. "The first period started well, but didn’t give us moments to create. We played well but we couldn’t score and put pressure on us. Then we scored a goal and started to play our game. The most important thing is that the team won and that we move on."

Nielsen, the all-time leading Danish scorer in NHL history (473 points), scored his second goal of the tournament. This was a hard-working, never-say-die finale to the Danish Olympic odyssey.

"We knew that if we could take this game to overtime anything could happen and it would be really tough mentally for the Russians to face elimination," said Danish goalie Sebastian Dahm, who shone with 37 saves. "We were really close but in the end it was tough to accept the loss."

In the 2-0 group-stage loss to the ROC team, second-string Danish goalie Frederik Dichow, 20, also stepped up with 31 saves. However, Dahm, the 34-year-old who helped the Danes advance with an exhilarating 3-2 qualification playoff win over Latvia, was the natural choice for this do-or-die affair.

This ROC team is now two wins away from following in the footsteps of the Olympic Athletes from Russia (OAR), who won the men's gold medal in PyeongChang in 2018 with a 4-3 overtime victory over Germany.

Goalie Ivan Fedotov, who posted one of his two Olympic shutouts against Denmark, got his fourth straight start for the ROC team.

"From the outside it might seem that we should be clear favourites and beat everyone 5-0, 10-0," Fedotov said. "But here all teams can play defensively."

In a reflection of how unpredictable this Olympic tournament can be, the ROC team finished ahead of Denmark in Group B with seven points. But the Russians lost their last preliminary-round game 6-5 in overtime to Czechia, which then got eliminated with a 4-2 qualification playoff loss to Switzerland. ROC is happy to be moving on to the semi-finals.

Danish coach Heinz Ehlers had to tweak his lineup. Veteran forward Nicklas Jensen, who shone with five goals at both the 2016 and 2021 Worlds, was sidelined with an injury. Nick Olesen, a 26-year-old who has 12 points in 35 points for the SHL’s Brynas IF, took his place on the top line with Nielsen and Mikkel Bodker, another ex-NHLer.

Of losing Nicklas Jensen, Nielsen said: "I would call him our best goal-scorer. So it’s always tough when you miss guys like that."

The ROC team entered this game with just eight goals in three games and a power-play conversion rate of 9.09 percent (1-for-11). So few were predicting a Russian blowout here.

"I wouldn’t say that this was easier than the group stage," said ROC's Arseni Gritsyuk. "The Danes have a good team. In the third period they forced the pace. We expected a tight game in [the neutral zone]. We prepared for that. We managed to get through it and play in their zone, and that led to goals."

Both teams came out looking keyed up, but Dahm was by far the busier of the two netminders. Fedotov didn’t face a shot until more than six minutes in. The ROC team was firing the puck and was also dangerous off the rush, while the Danes laboured to keep them to the outside.

Halfway through the period, Stanislav Galiev had a golden opportunity to open the scoring when he pushed the puck through the blue paint behind Dahm, but couldn’t tuck it in.

The ROC team’s two most lethal forwards hooked up on a broken play to draw first blood at 13:01. With the Danes struggling in their own zone, Gusev fired a hard shot from the left faceoff circle, and the puck deflected to Shipachyov, who converted from a bad angle. Shipachyov leads the KHL with 67 points for Dynamo Moskva.

"Gus said that I should go to the far post," Shipachyov said. "And it was already rush-hour there with all the ricochets. I’m not quite sure what happened, but we can say that we agreed what to do before."

The teams traded minor penalties in the final minute of the first period. Denmark was lucky to escape down by just one goal after being outshot 18-1.

The Danes got an early second-period power play with Sergei Plotnikov off for tripping, and Nielsen capitalized just 22 seconds into it. The veteran of 925 NHL games, now with Eisbaren Berlin, picked up the puck to Fedotov's right and put it in from a bad angle at 2:57. Nielsen also got the 2-1 winner against the Czechs in the group stage on a penalty shot.

"It was a big goal," Nielsen said. "It gave us some confidence."

Danish defenceman Nicolai Meyer caught a break when his stick clipped Andrei Chibisov in the mouth and the play went undetected by the officials.

The pace slowed, which was to Denmark's advantage. Around the midpoint, excellent Danish box play thwarted a Russian power play with captain Peter Regin serving a hooking minor.

Nesterov made it 2-1 at 14:36. The Russians gobbled up a turnover inside the Danish blue line and Gusev sent the puck to an incoming Nesterov, whose blast rattled off the camera inside the net. It took a moment for the officials to signal a goal, but there was no doubt.

"I don’t necessarily think it was because it was a high shot, more that it was a rocket of a shot," Dahm said.

With under two minutes left in the second period, ROC squandered a fabulous chance for a two-goal lead. Shipachyov set up Kirill Semyonov on a 2-on-1, but he went to the backhand and shot high and wide.

In the early stages of the third, Dahm was there to say no when Voinov, a 2018 Olympic all-star on defence, stickhandled to the net and got a couple of cracks at it.

The Danes nearly tied it up on a shorthanded 2-on-1, featuring Nielsen and Morten Poulsen, with under six minutes remaining. But Fedotov slid across to deny Nielsen's one-timer off the rush.

"I should have gotten it up," Nielsen said. "It wasn't even a good save. I just didn't get it up."

On that same power play, Voinov gave ROC some breathing room at 15:45, making it 3-1 on a centre point shot through traffic.

Ehlers pulled Dahm for a sixth attacker with under two minutes left, and the Danes pressed furiously, but couldn't narrow the two-goal deficit. Denmark has also never beaten a Russian team in 11 IIHF World Championship meetings dating back to 2003.

Nesterov acknowledged there's another level ROC needs to reach in the semi-finals: ‚Äč"We need to play better the next game. We need to take the puck to the net, do more screening, play more comfortable with the puck."

The only medal Denmark has ever won at the Winter Olympics is a silver medal in women’s curling in 1998 in Nagano. Their hockey teams won't add to that total in Beijing, but they can be proud of this history-making run.

ROC vs Denmark (QF) - 2022 Olympic Men's Ice Hockey Tournament