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As the men’s Olympic ice hockey tournament is having its first games being played, it’s also time for team Finland to step on the ice for the first time in a match-up. Finland’s first opponent was Slovakia, which had been able to gather a roster ready for surprice.

Finland had their challenges before the tournament as both Marko Anttila and Jussi Olkinuora were taken to quarantien due to positive covid test results. Both players had been since released back to the team activities, but they still won’t play in the first game. Sibir’s Harri Säteri started in the net for team Finland.

The game was at first full of excitement and mistakes were made by the players of each team. In the later period Finland took the control of the game and managed to get a win by score 6–2.

"We've got a good goalie, good penalty kill and (scoring) six goals is huge. We've got to be happy for that. We have a good team and I'm confident in it. The first game in a long time is always tough, to get your legs going and your breathing, your puck-handling and everything. You're always a little bit nervous in the first game. We have things we can improve and we will.", said Sakari Manninen, who scored three goals in Slovakia’s net.

Finland stepped on the gas pedal

The game started in a bit nervous fashion as both teams were unsuccessful to get their offensive game going. The passes were intercepted in the neutral zone, if the puck didn’t slide to the end boards in the first place. It was clearly visible that each team had been having a long break from games before the Olympic tournament.

Säteri at Finland’s net had to perform a few big saves after the first few minutes of hassle. The Lions were a bit out of control in their own zone and Slovakia’s 17-year-old forward Juraj Slafkovsky managed to put the puck in from the netfront. Slovakia were able to shake Finland with strong physical play and forechecking.

Finland got the game tied, when Salavat Yulaev line created a scoring chance to Manninen, who was released into a breakaway. The forward shot he puck with confidence behind goaltender Branislav Konrad. Finland got their first chance on power play, when Marko Dano tackled the Jokerit forward Hannes Björninen from behind. On the special forces Finland created a beautiful goal, when after a passing sequence Miro Aaltonen found Harri Pesonen from the corner of the goal grease – he had an easy task to tip the puck in.

"It was a tough game but it was a great feeling to play the first game and an important win for us. Slovakia were pretty good. They had a good start, then we scored six goals, that's also a good sign. Every line was good today and that's the important thing. Every line can score so it was a good start for us.", Aaltonen thought after the game.

When in the lead, Finland got themselves into trouble, when taking two penalties within a narrow time margin. The two-man advantage didn’t however bring Slovakia the tying goal. They had some problems in the puck control and keeping the blue line secured. That also caused Finland to grab the 3–1 lead from a counter-attack. The goal was scored once again by Vitjaz forward Aaltonen and that gave the Finns a good feeling going into the first intermission.

The Lions kept the control

Finland got their good momentum going in the beginning of the second period, which showed that the team had got into the rhythm that seemed to be a bit lost in the start. Finland managed to maintain puck control better than in the first period, but Slovakia still got their opportunities to challenge Säteri at the net.

Slovakia didn’t pay much attention on defending their own net and that gave the Finns open slots to skate towards it. The pucks were delivered to the net from the wings and Konrad had to keep himself ready for the reflecting pucks. There was one moment, when Leo Komarov was pushed on Konrad, but he ended up getting a minor penalty himself. Kristian Pospisil shot a couple of times towards Finland’s net, but couldn’t score.

Finland were able to take advantage of Slovakia’s mistakes. When Slovakian players were going to the bench, did Manninen skate to another breakaway and again capitalized on Konrad – giving Finland a three-goal lead. That didn’t last long as Slafkovsky scored already his second goal in his first Olympics as a minor player. Säteri had to perform at his best to prevent Slovakia from scoring yet another goal right in the next few shifts. The second period concluded with both teams playing rather even game and no more goals were seen on the ice.

Slovakia couldn’t challenge the Finns in the end

Manninen completed his hattrick in the first shift of the third period. The Salavat Yulaev line with Teemu Hartikainen and Markus Granlund on the wings showed in the first Olympic tournament game, why they’re been dominating in the KHL as well. Their game was flowing across the ice through the whole 60 minutes.

In the third period Slovakia weren’t able challenge Finland for the score, because the Lions kept their formation tight and together shift by shift. Aaltonen scored one more goal to make the final numbers on the board to be 6–2.

Even though the score was settled early on in the period, Slovakia kept pushing towards Säteri, who stood in front of the puck as confident as expected. The defenders were on duty as well, as they kept the Slovakian players out of the rebounds and made sure that the netfront remained tidy.

"We are happy for that, and that we scored six goals. We had a great power play, a great penalty killing, very good goaltending, but still, I can't say that it was a 6–2 game. Slovakia played well and the numbers are favouring us a little bit. I think we were just very efficient today. Sometimes, with those chances you will score one or two goals, but we scored six.", team Finland head coach Jukka Jalonen said.

Finland gathered their first win in the Olympic tournament and did beat Slovakia with a big margin. The roles in the roster were proven to work and the players who were expected to score did.

The birthday guy was efficient

Finland started the game with a big of uncertainty and the events on the ice showed that Slovakia really could challenge the Finns. As the game went on, Finland were able to maintain the tempo and execute their game system, which delivered them the needed goals.

Slovakia’s young Slafkovsky put his name on people’s minds with his two goals, but still the man of the match was Finnish centerman Manninen, who scored three goals on his 30th birthday.

”That was really special. I have to thank my line mates Granlund and Hartikainen, for their really good passes. I got three chances and scored on every single one. It is a special day.", Manninen cheered.

Finland will play their next game on Friday against Latvia. Slovakia will compete on the same day with the fourth team in the group C, which is Sweden.

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