Haukeland heroics not enough for Norway
by Andy Potts|11 MAY 2024
Team Czechia opens the scoring in its 2024 IIHF World Championship game against Norway in Prague.
Saturday served up some blockbuster action, and Prague saved the best for last with a thunderous battle between Czechia and Norway. The host nation had to pile the pressure on Henrik Haukeland in the Norwegian net to turnaround a 1-3 deficit and secure a 6-3 verdict. That scoreline was enhanced by two late goals past a tiring defence.

Perhaps inspired by some brave underdog performances earlier in the day, the Norwegians shrugged off a run of eight consecutive losses against the Czechs to produce a stirring first-period performance that silenced the home crowd. But it wasn't sustainable: the second period brought just one shot for Norway and the third was scarcely any more adventurous as the shot count finished 49-11.

Teenage defender Stian Solberg, who had a goal and an assist for Norway, paid tribute to the goalie's efforts. "Henrik is a great goalie," Solberg said. "He was unbelievable today, he kept us in the game for 60 mins. We couldn’t help him enough to win but he’s a really good goalie, our most important player."

Matej Stransky, who potted the winning goal for the Czechs, was encouraged by the way his team recovered from some early difficulties to win a tricky game.

"I think we had a really bad start," he said. "But it’s good sometimes when things aren’t going our way and we have to learn how to come back. We did that today and the second and third periods were better from us."

At first, it seemed that the Czechs were destined to build on Friday’s opening night win over Finland. The home team rode a noisy wave of enthusiasm from another sell-out crowd, dominating the opening stages and getting ahead after six minutes when wily captain Roman Cervenka spun away from Christian Kaasastul for the early breakthrough.

Cervenka's quality earned a tribute from Stransky: "I’ve been watching him since I was a kid. He’s an icon in Czech hockey, playing for so long at the highest level. You love to have him on your team and you see how professional he is every day. You can learn a lot from him."

But the home lead lasted just 31 seconds. A Norwegian attack dominated by its old stagers Patrick Thoresen and Mats Zuccarello tied the game thanks to Solberg. His senior partners created the play, but the 18-year-old further burnished a fast-growing reputation when he calmly rifled home his first World Championship goal.

Thoresen is thrilled by the progress his young colleague is making. "Solberg played tremendous yesterday and today he played even better," said the Norwegian captain. "If I was a scout I would keep coming to our games and keep having a look at him because he’s raising his level every time."

Then came a short-handed goal for another teen, Noah Steen. Mathias Tretternes’ poke check in centre ice forced a turnover and his saucer pass sent 19-year-old Steen through on goal to slide the puck underneath Petr Mrazek. That silenced the vocal home crowd, and there was more Czech soul-searching to come. Solberg walked in from the point, committing the defence to anticipate a shot then dishing off a no-looker to set up Eirik Salsten for a blistering finish from a tight angle.

At the time, Norway had three goals on four shots – Mrazek suffering in comparison with Lukas Dostal's performance to deny Finland through 65 minutes and a shoot-out 24 hours earlier. It’s also a big turnaround for the Norwegians: nine goals in seven games last year, five in four periods this time.

Cervenka tried to lead from the front, snaffling his second of the night after Lukas Sedlak won possession behind the net. That eased some of the tension in the crowd, but not on the ice. Norway finished the first on the power play, while frequent scuffles broke out before and after the hooter. That gave a five-on-three power play, but Czechia survived the scare.

By the middle of the period, the shot count was 15-1 in Czechia’s favour. However, Haukeland produced a masterclass in the Norwegian goal to protect his team’s lead. The best of many fine stops saw the netminder fling himself in front of a rocket of a one-timer from Ondrej Kase. But just as Norway was dreaming of carrying its lead to the second intermission, a line change enabled Ondrej Beranek to streak into the zone and beat Haukeland at last with an angled shot over the glove.

For Thoresen, it was a goal that Haukeland would love to have back. For the Czechs, it felt like an overdue reward. "We just wanted to play the game we wanted, to keep going the same way as we played against Finland," said David Spacek. "In the end, we knew that something had to go in."

Relief for the host was followed by frustration when Radko Gudas took an unlikely penalty for illegal equipment after losing his helmet and picking it off the ice and putting it on again. In the NHL, where he plays his club hockey for Anaheim, no penalty would be called but under IIHF rules it’s assessed a minor.

The power play was a relief for an exhausted Norway defence. And it almost brought even more when Michael Brandsegg-Nyland dinged the piping with a shot from the left-hand dot.

The third period started with Norway killing a five-on-three power play. Once again, the pattern of play was all heading towards Haukeland’s net. Beranek rang the iron, Sedlak fired narrowly wide and the Norwegian goalie understood he was in for another busy session.

This time, his resistance lasted five minutes before Jakub Kreijcek’s point shot got tangled up in a crowd scene and Stransky managed to force it in. The roar of the crowd told the tale: Czechia was back in front at last.

A one-goal game was still tense and Norway belatedly generated some offence to bring Mrazek back into the game. However, with three minutes left, Libor Hajek added a fifth Czech goal to put the game out of reach and Ondrej Palat added some gloss with an empty-netter.
Norway vs Czechia - 2024 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship