Tuesday, 14 August 2012

Sweden downs Slovakia in opening game of Ivan Hlinka Memorial

The good memories of the U18 World Championships in Piešťany back in April wouldn't be repeated in the opening game of the 2012 Ivan Hlinka Memorial tournament, as the heavily favoured Swedish side put in a professional performance to defeat the Slovak side 7:3.

Slovakia rallied in the third, but Sweden's dominant 
offence was too much for Slovakia to handle
Photo: Mário Petlák via hokejportal.sk
Slovakia can be pleased with certain aspects of their performance, but Sweden's superior quality, especially their strength in depth, was far too much for the Slovak side to handle. Slovakia were a side already smarting after the expulsion of talented young forward Martin Réway, who was asked to leave the team by head coach Anton Bartánus for undisclosed disciplinary reasons. This is not the first time that Réway's behaviour has got him into trouble, and now the team will pay the price, as the young Gatineau Olympiques forward was set to be Slovakia's bright light on the forward lines for the tournament.

As it happens, the Swedes were able to control the game from start to finish, restricting Slovakia to very few chances, and giving them very little time in the offensive zone. Sweden had 48 shots to Slovakia's paltry 16, and although he conceded seven, netminder Denis Godla made a number of important saves, especially in the early going. The goal was inevitable, but it took fourteen minutes for Sweden to break the deadlock, as Victor Crus-Rydberg managed to make Godla move first before firing the puck home. It only took two minutes for Sweden to double their advantage, this time defenceman Robert Hägg was the player on target, as the defenceman's point shot was too hot to handle.

Unfortunately for the home fans, the second period was more of the same, and in the opening minute of the frame, Sweden stretched their lead to three. After marvellous play by Julius Bergman, Victor Öhman found the net whilst on the penalty kill to set the tone for the rest of the period. The Swedes would score once more before Slovakia would finally get on the board, as on the powerplay, Swedish based Adam Kasanický's point shot on the powerplay scorched the twine, giving the players and fans something to cheer about. It came after coach Bartánus had called a time-out, and started a period of where Slovakia started to play better hockey. However, once again the Swedish offence was simply too good, and after the Slovaks overcommitted in the Swedish zone, they were made to pay, as André Burakovsky finished off the counter-attack.

With the score at 5:1, the Slovaks had little more to play for than pride, but they did improve as a team throughout the game. Jacob de la Rose made it 6:1 to Sweden, but a minute later, Slovakia scored their second goal of the game, as Róbert Lantoš pounced on an error of judgement by the Swedish defence, and went in alone on goal and fired home. Two minutes later and the score was 6:3, as great effort by Simon Beták on the forecheck created time and space for him to score. However, there was to be no miraculous comeback, and with two minutes to go, the Swedes would have the last word, as Alexander Henriksson scored on a penalty shot.

The result was disappointing, but if Slovakia can build on their third period performance then they may spring a surprise or two as the tournament progresses, although they will have to get their act together sooner rather than later, as they face Switzerland today in the battle to finish third in the group.

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