International Ice Hockey Federation

Norway spoils French party

Norway spoils French party

Thoresen's prowess dooms host team in opener

Published 06.05.2017 23:33 GMT+2 | Author Lucas Aykroyd
Norway spoils French party
PARIS, FRANCE - MAY 6: France's Antonin Manavian #4 and Cristobal Huet #39 look on while Norway's Anders Bastiansen #20 celebrates his teammate Patrick Thoresen #41 (not shown) goal during preliminary round action at the 2017 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship. (Photo by Matt Zambonin/HHOF-IIHF Images)
Playing at home means pressure. Host France is already feeling the heat after falling 3-2 to Norway in its first game in Paris on Saturday.

In this competitive affair, Norway's Patrick Thoresen led the way with two goals and an assist, while Ken Andre Olimb added a single and an assist, and his brother Mathis Olimb had two helpers.

Stephane Da Costa shone with both goals for France.

"They were a little bit hungrier in front of the net," said France's Pierre-Edouard Bellemare. "We had some chances, but we have to be more aggressive in front of the net. Steph played great, but the rest of us have to get some goals."

The French, who came 14th last year, are striving for their first quarter-final berth since 2014's eighth-place finish. Norway hopes to improve for the third consecutive year after coming 12th in 2014, 11th in 2015, and 10th in 2016. Unlike France, the Norwegians have also qualified for the 2018 Olympics.

"It was a close game," said Norwegian defenceman Henrik Odegaard. "We played solid defensively and had a bit of luck. It could have gone either way."

Norwegian starter Lars Haugen won his goaltending duel with 41-year-old French legend Cristobal Huet. Shots on goal were even at 24 apiece.

"We converted on our chances but we didn't give up too many chances," said Norway's Niklas Roest. "They have skilled players and come at you with speed, which makes it difficult to defend. We were confident the last ten minutes, though, and played well."

This game climaxed years of preparation since the tournament was awarded to Germany and France at the IIHF Congress in Stockholm on 17 May, 2013. The last time the IIHF World Championship took place in Paris, it was 1951, the hottest new French film was Robert Bresson’s Diary of a Country Priest, and Vincent Auriol was the President of France.

For hardcore French hockey fans, the wait was well worth it. Unfortunately, their team couldn’t deliver three points.

From the opening faceoff, chants of “Allez Les Bleus!” cascaded from the rafters. The French looked determined to put on a good show at the AccorHotels Arena, skating hard and grinding it out along the boards. However, coach Dave Henderson’s squad struggled to get its offence in gear, mustering nothing when Norway’s Mattias Norstebo took the game’s first penalty for holding.

The Norwegians opened the scoring on a tricky play at 5:03 of the second period. Off a faceoff in France's zone, Mathis Olimb skated behind the net and pivoted, passing the puck back to his brother Ken Andre in the left faceoff circle. With a quick release, Ken Andre fooled Huet on the short side. The brothers currently play together with Linkoping in Sweden, and their longtime chemistry is unmistakable.

Norway then had a golden opportunity to extend its lead with a two-man advantage for 1:27. Just as it reverted to a 5-on-4, Mathis Olimb skimmed a diagonal pass from the right faceoff circle to Thoresen at the crease, and he converted at 9:40.

"We took too many penalties in the second and were down 2-0," said Teddy Da Costa. "We lost our momentum, and that's why we lost."

Antoine Roussel was sent off for an undisciplined cross-checking penalty with 7:35, and Mathis Olimb nearly set up top Norwegian defenceman Jonas Holos for another Norwegian tally. When the French were dinged again for too many men on the ice, it showed their focus wasn’t 100 percent. Even experienced captain Laurent Meunier got into the act, taking a boarding minor for hitting Alexander Bonsaken from behind.

With 1:46 left in the second period, Stephane da Costa finally gave the Paris faithful something to cheer about when he made it 2-1. He stickhandled out from behind the net and slid the puck past Haugen’s left skate, with Holos and Damien Fleury jostling for position in the crease.

More scuffles broke out around the net as France pressed for the equalizer just before the second buzzer. Would Les Bleus find a way to rally in the third?

At the three-minute mark, Huet dived left to make a gorgeous save on an unguarded Thoresen to keep it close. But he couldn't foil Thoresen when the assistant Norwegian captain came off the right side boards and used Antonin Manavian as a screen to score the 3-1 goal at 9:49.

The French struck right back. Just 10 seconds later, Stephane Da Costa cut the deficit to 3-2, catching Odegaard flat-footed as he powered to the net and drove a backhander past Haugen's blocker.

Pulling Huet for the extra attacker, France mounted one last push in the final minute. But it was to no avail, as the Norwegians kept the puck tied up.

"It was a great atmosphere, and we had a lot of fans as well," said Odegaard. "It was a fun game to play."

Next up on Sunday, France faces a big challenge in Finland, while Norway takes on Switzerland.


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