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By Risto Pakarinen – IIHF.com

Patient France prevails

Everybody knew what was at stake. The winner of the game would have everything in their own hands on Sunday when the last games will be played. The loser would be in trouble. 

France came out on top and won the game 4-1. Damien Fleury scored twice and Cristobal Huet – who will be celebrating his 41st birthday on Saturday – made 23 saves for France. 

“We knew that the losing team would be out of the tournament and I think we showed a lot of character in this game, coming back even after they scored their goal after 20 seconds,” Huet said.

“It wasn’t my best game but I could make some important saves toward the end. It was hard to stay focused the entire game,” he added, referring to the fact that there were long periods in the game when the puck was in the Kazakhstan zone for several minutes. 

Anybody who had seen Kazakhstan’s game against Norway a mere twenty hours earlier knew what to expect when they faced France in their second game in the tournament: good defense, few if any mistakes, and effective scoring when they get a chance. 

They demonstrated their effectiveness early on in the game when Nigel Dawes picked up a loose puck in the neutral zone and fired the puck past Cristobal Huet off a partial breakaway just 20 seconds into the game. 

France controlled the game throughout the period and could generate enough chances to both tie the game and then take the lead. 

“We stuck to our plan and we dominated the first period. The secind period was a little more difficult and that’s when our goalie showed up, and in the third, he made some timely saves and we could secure the win,” France’s captain Lauretn Meunier said. 

Seven minutes into the period, France had a long attack in the Kazakhstan zone. A Kazakhstan defenseman blocked a shot from the point but the puck bounced to Florian Chakiachvili to the side of the net. Meanwhile Sacha Treille had driven to the net and fallen down. Just as he got back up, Chakiachvili delivered the puck to the front of the net, and Treille could slam it in. 

France couldn’t capitalize on their powerplay halfway through the period, but five minutes later, Stephane da Costa’s long diagonal pass from the top of the circle found Damien Fleury on his way to the front of the net. The puck hit Fleury and got redirected past Vitali Kolesnik in Kazakhstan’s goal. 

The middle frame was goalless and the longer the period went the more Kazakhstan took over the game, outshooting France 12-7 in the period, but Huet and the French defense could keep the puck out of their net. 

France took control of the game in the third period again, and had several high quality chances, including one in which Damien Fleury was all alone with Kolesnik in front of the net but couldn’t beat the goalie. With 4:29 remaining in the game, Jonathan Janil sent Fleury on a breakaway, and this time he didn’t miss his chance. His shot through Kolesnik’s five-hole gave France the two-goal cushion it desperately wanted. 

“It was nice to get an easy finish. These games are always tough, so we’re happy with the wins,” Meunier said. 

And two minutes later, Floran Douay found himself on a partial breakaway from the right, and his wrist shot beat Kolesnik low on the blocker side and sealed the final score: France 4, Kazakhstan 1.

“Maybe I’ll have a piece of birthday cake tomorrow but we hope to have a bigger party on Sunday,” said Huet. 

Hosts still in the race

Norway came to the game with a chip on their shoulder after a frustrating loss to Kazakhstan last night. While Italy put up a good fight, there was never any question of who was going to win the game. Norway did, 4-1, while outshooting Italy 35-13 in the game. 

Patrick Thoresen picked up two assists, Mathis Olimb scored one and added an assist for Norway. 

“We played a good game and [Lars[ Haugen was good in net,” said Norway’s Mats Zuccarello who is tied for lead in tournament scoring with three points in two games. 

“But we have to play a more complete game against France, more like we did in the first period today, and not like we played in the second,” he added. 

Italy and Norway had faced off eleven times in the Olympics and the World Championships. Norway has won six of the games, Italy two. Also, Italy’s latest win came twenty years ago in Austria. Since then, Norway hasn’t lost any of their six games against Italy. 

And they didn’t lose on home ice in Jordal Amfi, either. Instead, they cruised to a fairly easy x-x win, led by their first line again. 

Norway outshot Italy 16-4 in the first period, completely carrying the play from beginning to end. Italy had two powerplay opportunities in the period, but couldn’t convert on them. Instead, after Norway had killed the first penalty, they cycled the puck in the Italian zone for a long time before Patrick Thoresen’s long pass across the zone found Mathis Olimb in front of the net. Olimb deked to his backhand, and then shot the puck in from close range with a wrist shot at 8.35. 

With 1.21 remaining in the period, Norway capitalized on their powerplay opportunity, with Mats Zuccarello as the conductor. He ran the same play as in Norway’s game against Kazakhstan, in which he held on to the puck on top of the circle and then sent a hard pass to the front of the net, to be re-directed in. Tommy Kristiansen did just that, giving Norway a two-goal lead in the game.

The second period was a mixed bag with Norway dominating the game – even though there were more mistakes in their game – but Italy scoring the only goal of the period with 5.09 remaining when Tommaso Traversa played the puck to the front of the net, where Markus Spinell tried to backhand it in, but was stopped by Norway’s goaltender Lars Haugen. Traversa somehow managed to slam the puck in to make it a one-goal game. 

Halfway through the third period, Italy had just two shots on goal, but there was tension in the air.  Then Norway got another powerplay and while Zuccarello hit the crossbar with a slapshot, Jonas Holos’s thundering slapshot from the point went in, giving the hosts the cushion they wanted. Mathis Olimb picked up an assist, as did his brother Ken Andre Olimb.

“I got a great pass and there was great traffic in front of the net,” Holos said of his goal. 

“But it was a frustrating game again, when Italy had a five-man box in front of their net. Even if we controlled the game, all it takes is one turnover for them to have a couple of guys going the other way,” he said. 

With 2.09 remaining, Norway sealed the deal with a powerplay goal. The play was the same as in their first goal, but this time it was Andreas Martinsen who deflected Ken Andre Olimb’s pass from the point. 

Norway stays alive thanks to their convincing win over Italy. The hosts play for the group top spot in a game against France on Sunday. 

“We have to get pucks deep and not hold on to the puck. Our goalie must be good, and we have to make sure we play good defense,” Zuccarello said. 

The Oslo native is entering the game with mixed emotions as the arena he knows well is about to be demolished in a few months. 

“I hope we can finish this off in the perfect way and qualify for the 2018 Olympics,” he said. 

“But we have [our destiny] in our own hands now,” he added.