Team ROC 1 Switzerland 0 (1-0, 0-0, 0-0)
Team ROC made a winning start to its Olympic defense in Beijing – but it took a deflected goal to edge past Switzerland in a nervy opener.
Ivan Fedotov stopped 33 shots and Anton Slepyshev claimed the only goal of the game seconds before the first intermission as the Red Machine started in Group B with a 1-0 verdict.
Defenseman Yegor Yakovlev, part of the 2018 gold-medal roster, was happy with his team’s start despite some rough edges.
“Given how long we went without a game, I thought we played OK,” the Metallurg blue-liner said. “When you get out of your game rhythm, the first game back is always hard. I don’t think the opposition surprised us at all. We know they are a good, quick team and we prepared for the game seriously.”
The team was short of game time, having had to cancel its planned warm-up games in China due to COVID protocols and the players had not tasted competitive action of any sort since the KHL season paused in mid-January. As a result, the first period was more than a little rusty.
There were few clear chances, although Mikhail Grigorenko forced Swiss goalie Reto Berra into an adroit poke check when he walked through the defense to the crease. Later in the frame, Slepyshev suffered a similar fate.
But it all changed 2.7 seconds before the break when Team ROC got in front. Slepyshev was forced round the back of the net when his attempted pass to the slot did not connect, but when he emerged from the corner and slung the puck back into the danger zone he got a lucky bounce off Enzo Corvi’s skate to open the scoring.
“There was a bit of a breakaway and we knew it wasn’t finished,” said the CSKA man. “I knew there were a couple of seconds left and I had to get the puck to the slot. The deflection turned out lucky.”
In the second period, Switzerland had more chances with former Avangard forward Sven Andrighettо hitting the crossbar. There was also a scuffle in front of Berra’s net after Dmitry Voronkov ruffled feathers on a drive to the net; the afters put four players into the box.
The Russians held onto their lead until the end, despite some more anxious moments for starting goalie Fedotov. The biggest moment came late in the game when Fabrice Herzog got clear and slid a shot behind the ROC goalie and off the far post to safety.
The winning goalie was happy to mark his Olympic debut with a shut-out but admitted he enjoyed some good fortune along the way.
“It went like we expected,” Fedotov said. “Everyone was playing to win and today luck was on our side. But we can’t rely on luck alone. We saw a lot of shots off the posts, lots of dangerous moments. In the second period that had a good spell and fired in some great shots. Only the crossbar saved me.”
Czechia 1 Denmark 2 (0-2, 1-0, 0-0)
The second game in Group B produced an instant shock. Denmark, playing at its first ever Olympics, stunned the Czechs with two goals on four shots on the first period and held onto that lead until the end.
Denmark’s former Jokerit forward Peter Regin was struggling to take it all in. “It’s hard to understand right now,” he said. “I am really happy and that was a cool game to play.
“We showed that we are here to win every game and not just participate.”
Czechia came out hard and dominated the opening 10 minutes. Traktor’s Lukas Sedlak could hardly believe he hadn’t opened the scoring when he fired in a short side shot that hit both posts before bouncing to safety.
However, when Denmark managed to get forward, it did so to good effect. David Sklenicka failed to clear his lines and Markus Lauridsen’s shot deflected off Vladimir Sobotka and beat Simon Hrubec in the Czech net. The Avangard goalie was beaten again late in the frame when Frans Nielsen converted a penalty shot: the Dane has more shoot-out goals in the NHL than anyone except Jonathan Toews and he did the business tonight.
Early in the second period, Roman Cervenka pulled one back for the Czechs. However, the former SKA and Avangard man could not inspire his team to fightback. The Danes did a good job at keeping the play away from dangerous areas, neither pushing too hard on offense at one end, nor allowing Czechia much of a look at Sebastian Dahm’s net at the other. That saw Heinz Ehlers’ team clinch a memorable win.
Czech goalie Hrubec was philosophical about the loss. “We didn’t play that bad today,” he said. “We had a lot of chances but we didn’t score. Maybe if we’d scored in the first period, put up a couple of goals, it would have been difference.
“They had four shots and they scored two goals. I’m not happy about that, but that’s how it goes sometimes.”