Norway sends GB down
by Andy POTTS|20 MAY 2024
Norway's #37 Markus Vikingstad moves into position to tip a shot from #43 Max Krogdahl into the GB net for the opening goal.
photo: © International Ice Hockey Federation / Andrea Cardin
Norway delivered a big performance when it mattered to secure its own IIHF World Championship status with a 5-2 victory over Great Britain in Monday’s survival battle.

After 18 successive campaigns in the top division, the Norwegians were facing demotion if they lost in regulation on Monday. GB, meanwhile, needed a victory to save itself; either outright in regulation, or backed up by a result in Tuesday’s meeting with Austria in the event of an overtime success.

Pressure can affect teams in different ways and the first period illustrated that point. Norway produce arguably its best hockey of a troubled campaign when it mattered most, grabbing a 3-0 lead. The Brits, meanwhile, suffered their worst opening frame in Prague, slipping out of the game – and the top division – with barely a whimper.

"It's a big relief," said Norway's veteran captain Patrick Thoresen. "We came here dreaming of a quarter-final but ended up playing a relegation game. 

"But we knew what was at stake. We wanted more offence, we wanted to go after the Brits and the way we came out gave the team a lot of confidence for the rest of the game. We were able to create more and it was a good feeling that we finally found the net a bit more."

His British counterpart Robert Dowd also felt the start  was crucial. "We came into this game thinking we could take something but we didn't have a good first period," he said. "That was what buried us. We didn't hang our heads, we tried to claw our way back, but there's a reason why these guys have been at this level for so many years. They can get it done in these situations."

Things might have been different if Cade Neilson had connected with a loose puck in front of a wide open Norwegian net after 60 seconds’ play. But Norway made the most of that reprieve with two goals in two minutes. Markus Vikingstad produced a fine redirect to drag a Max Krogdahl point shot inside Jackson Whistle’s post, settling early nerves. Then Rob Lachowicz misjudged his clearance, picking out Patrick Thoresen in the right-hand circle. The veteran evaded Neilson’s desperate lunge and wired a shot in off the post. The 40-year-old veteran became the oldest player to score in this year’s championship, but the British defence was giving up the puck with alarming ease.

A third goal soon followed: Michael Brandsegg-Nygard dinged the iron, his fellow forwards worked hard to keep the play alive and as the Brits got in each other’s way at the back door, Eskild Bakke Olsen took advantage to score at the second attempt.

GB had been here before: in 2019 it saved itself against France after trailing 0-3; in 2022 it rallied from 0-3 before falling to Norway in a shoot-out. But today’s task got tougher due to a sickness bug affecting talismanic forward Liam Kirk, who did not play a second in the middle frame. Norway showed little sympathy. The second period began with Brandsegg-Nygard scoring on the power play, a third of the tournament for the draft-eligible Skelleftea-bound forward. 

That maintained a remarkable record from Norway’s next generation: of 15 goals at this championship, 12 came from players aged 25 or under. That suggests that future tournaments may not be quite as tense as this one.

"He's good a really good shot," Zuccarello said of Brandsegg-Nygard. "He's young, so he's hopefully going to develop and become more mature, a better player. We have a few of these guys and hopefully now they can take big steps and be the future for Norwegian hockey."

The British contingent had something to cheer at last when Brett Perlini pulled a goal back on the power play. However, there was little chance to build on that momentum as GB found itself on a three-on-five penalty kill.

"We're a momentum team," reflected Ben Davies. "We needed a little bit of belief, to get some shots on target. I think when we went hard on the forecheck we created a lot of chances, we had them running around. But those early goals killed the game for us."

There more was encouragement for the Brits at last when Kirk returned to the ice early in the third. However, Norway always looked comfortable in the game. Bakke Olsen grabbed his second of the game amid solid forechecking and a bouncing puck in front of Whistle. At the other end, Cole Shudra had a tap into an open net but didn’t see the puck until it was too late. Those two moments, barely a minute apart, summed up the difference between the teams.

Ollie Betteridge grabbed a well-taken goal, backhand to Henrik Haukeland's short side, to pull it back to 2-5. But with just 12 minutes left it could never be more than a consolation. A composed finish to the game saw Norway run down the clock and comfortably confirm its place at the 2025 Worlds.

"It's important for Norwegian hockey to be in Pool A and compete with the best," concluded Thoresen. "We need it to get interest from the NHL for guys like [Stian] Solberg and Brandsegg-Nygard and all the young prospects coming through. We need to be playing against the best players."