France FRA
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13 MAY 2022
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Slovakia SVK
Preliminary Round
16:20Helsinki Ice Hall
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HEIKKINEN Lassi
REKUCKI Jake
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SEEWALD Elias
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Slovakia tops France
By Lucas Aykroyd | 13 MAY 2022
Slovakia celebrates after Pavol Regenda (#87, centre) opens the scoring in a 4-2 win over France at the 2022 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship in Finland.
photo: Andrea Cardin / HHOF-IIHF Images
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In its Friday opener in Helsinki, Slovakia picked up where it left off at the 2022 Olympics with a 4-2 victory over France. Pavol Regenda led the way with two goals. The French gallantly rallied from a 2-0 deficit, but failed to collect any points.

Under head coach Craig Ramsay, the Slovaks were first-time Olympic bronze medal winners in Beijing, buoyed by a tournament-leading seven goals from 17-year-old MVP Juraj Slafkovsky. That surprising achievement has sparked renewed enthusiasm in their already-devoted fans, who were out in force at Jaahalli (Helsinki Ice Hall).

"We started really well," Regenda said. "The first period was ours, and then in the second they came on strong, fought back, and tied the game. We made some mistakes and gave them too many clear chances. We have to be better for the whole game. They were a good opponent, but I think we deserved to win today. I'm happy with how we played overall."

The Slovaks' lone World Championship gold medal came in Gothenburg in 2002. Their last medal of any shade was 2012's silver here in the Finnish capital.

In this spirited Group A affair, Samuel Takac notched the eventual winner in the second period, and captain Tomas Tatar also scored for Slovakia. Slafkovsky added a pair of assists.

"We don't have any big stars on the team," said Slovakia's Michal Kristof. "Maybe Tatar since he's coming from the NHL. We have some good young players, but we have to play as a team, like we did at the Olympics, block shots, do the small things, and we know we can win."

Anthony Rech and Jordan Perret replied for France, which currently sits 13th in the IIHF World Ranking.

"We played them last week, so we knew what to expect," said France's Hugo Gallet. "They're a good team and we responded well. We had a good second period, but in the third we had too many penalties and they had more energy at the end."

This was France’s first game in the top division since being relegated with a stunning 4-3 overtime loss to underdog Great Britain at the 2019 Worlds. France led 3-0 in Kosice halfway through that game, but the British roared back to win 4-3 on Ben Davies' overtime marker.

Slovakia’s Patrik Rybar, who was named to the 2022 Olympic all-star team with his tournament-best 0.86 GAA and 96.6 save percentage, got the start in net. France’s Henri Corentin Buysse, whose previous Worlds experience consisted of two games in 2019 (4.04 GAA, 90.0 save percentage), got the nod from head coach Philippe Bozon.

Slovakia outshot France 28-18.
France vs Slovakia - 2022 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship
In its Friday opener in Helsinki, Slovakia picked up where it left off at the 2022 Olympics with a 4-2 victory over France. Pavol Regenda led the way with two goals.
FRA SVK 13 MAY 2022
The teams came out hard with end-to-end action. Slovak forward Robert Lantosi forced Buysse to make a good glove save midway through the opening frame.

Moments later, Regenda drew first blood at 10:23. On the rush, Mario Grman slid a pass to the Michalovce-born winger right in front of the net, and after Buysse stymied the original tip, Regenda backhanded home the rebound with a coolness worthy of Sidney Crosby, with whom he shares the number 87.

"The whole line deserves credit," said Regenda. "We moved the puck quickly, then there was the cross-pass from Milos Roman and the defender put the puck in my direction. I got a lucky rebound and put it in the open side."

Just 41 seconds into the second period, Rybar made a slick glove grab off Charles Bertrand’s rising zinger from the right faceoff circle.

Tatar made it 2-0 at 1:54 on Slovakia’s first power play of the game. Buysse gave up a big rebound off Lantosi’s drive and Tatar, a veteran of 701 NHL games with four clubs, drove it home into the open side.

When Slafkovsky recorded an assist on the play, it was the TPS Turku power forward's first Worlds point ever. He was blanked in six games in Riga last year.

The French didn’t just roll over and quit. Rech cut the deficit to 2-1 at 6:06. Off a faceoff in the Slovak end, he cut to the middle and zapped a backhander past a surprised Rybar.

Rech, who totalled 31 points in 53 games with the DEL's Grizzlys Wolfsburg this season, was also the last player to score for France at the 2019 Worlds, lighting the lamp twice in the infamous loss to Britain.

At 12:49, the French knotted the score with a wonderful display of skill. Defenceman Yohann Auvitu's long pass into the neutral zone was tipped ahead by Valentin Clarentin to Perret, and he got in behind the Slovak defence, pulling the puck to his forehand to tuck it past Rybar's right skate.

"After we went up 2-0, we started to get too fancy, and the pucks started to bounce their way," Kristof said.

"It was two mistakes and two goals happened," Tatar said. "But we knew that if we continued pushing, we would win the game. They battled hard. They were a very tough opponent. "

With under six minutes to play in the middle frame, Rybar came up huge, foiling Columbus Blue Jackets ace Alexandre Texier on a breakaway.

At 18:03, Takac restored Slovakia's lead. Planted in front of Buysse's cage, the 30-year-old Slovan Bratislava veteran was perfectly placed to golf a high backhander in after Adam Liska initially put the puck to the front of the net. That got the passionate Slovak fans on their feet again, singing the praises of "Slovensko."

In the third period, Les Bleus seemed a little gassed as the Slovaks carried the play. France caught a tough break with less than seven minutes left when Buysse was penalized for delay of game for playing the puck outside the trapezoid. The Slovaks couldn't cash in with the man advantage, but it killed more precious time.

Hungry for the equalizer, the French called their timeout with 2:14 remaining and pulled Buysse for the extra attacker. The Slovaks played with fire by icing the puck repeatedly, but Regenda broke in alone to score an empty-netter at 19:52.

"We had lots of confidence going into the third with the lead," Kristof said. "We played smart and hard and won all the battles, and our goalie was great. We're happy to get three points."

It was raining before the game, but by the final buzzer, the sun was shining both literally and metaphorically for Slovak fans.

Slovakia's next game is Saturday against Germany, while France gets back at it on Sunday versus Kazakhstan.

"We wanted at least one point and we didn't get it, so we have to do better in our next game," Rech said.

Slovakia has dominated France historically. France’s lone win against Slovakia in their seven previous World Championship clashes dating back to 1992 was 5-3 on 12 May 2014 in Minsk. Baptiste Amar and Antoine Roussel led the way with two goals apiece, while Ladislav Nagy replied with a pair for the Slovaks. 
France vs Slovakia - 2022 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship