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Olympic Qualification Roundup: Poland Upset Highlights Day 1 Action

Poland stunned Belarus with a win to open things up, and the hosts from Norway, Slovakia and Latvia all started strong. Catch up with all the action from the final men's Olympic qualification tournaments in Europe.
Olympic logo on ice

Group D – Bratislava

Poland Stuns With Upset Win Over Belarus

Poland and Belarus rarely play each other internationally: Belarus is in the top division and Poland plays in Division IB, the third-highest World Championship event. So the odds were in Belarus' favor – until they lost.

Poland kicked off play at the Olympic qualifications with a shocking 1-0 win over Belarus, putting the team in a desirable spot with two games left in the short, four-day tournament.

The star of the game was 34-year-old goaltender John Murray for Poland. The American-born netminder stopped all 46 shots sent his way, beating out former NHL goaltender Danny Taylor at the other end of the ice. 

The lone goal came at 54:59 when Alan Lyszcarczyk made a deke around a Belarusian defender and found Filip Komorski on the rush. Komorski got the puck on net in what appeared to be a mostly saveable shot, but it somehow squeaked between Taylor's legs and in for the goal. Belarus had a late power play but it was Polska who had all the momentum on it, shutting out Belarus for the surprising win.

Slovakia Shuts Out Austria

The favorites to win Group D lived up to the expectations, with Slovakia beating Austria 2-1 to finish the day in Bratislava.

It didn't take long for the Slovaks to score first. Libor Hudacek's wrist shot at 1:46 was too much for David Kickert, giving Slovakia a 1-0 advantage that would hold for the first half of the game. The goalies took over from there, with Kickert and Branislav Konrad stoning each team's respective scoring stars over for the remainder of the period. 

At 28:28, Martin Gernat made it 2-0. After a couple of chances by the Slovaks, Gernat's shot somehow beat Kickert through the legs off of a shot along the boards, a goal that Kickert would definitely want back.

Austria played a strong defensive game and eventually, their effort at the other end of the ice paid off. Brian Lebler scored at 52:45 to cut the lead to just one and put on a bit of pressure late in the going. Unfortunately for Austria, the Slovaks did enough damage in the first half of the game to win the contest.

Group E - Riga

France Reverses Slow Start to Beat Hungary

The opening period was ugly for France, who trailed 2-0 to a weaker Hungarian squad after 20. But a second-half onslaught, led by Columbus' Alex Texier, saw the French battle back to win 4-3 to win the opening game of the tournament in Riga, Latvia.

A pair of goals two minutes apart set the stage early. Janos Hari and Kristof Papp (on the man advantage) were quick to beat Florian Hardy, putting the Hungarians in an unexpected spot with a 2-0 lead. 

But Hungary's defensive issues in front of their own net – highlighted by many instances of Antoine Roussel finding himself alone in front of the crease – plagued them in the 40 minutes of play. 

Alex Texier opened France's scoring effort at 3:09 on the man advantage and scored the go-ahead goal later in the period, also on the power play. Antonin Manavian split the goals after his shot deflected off of a defender in front to contribute to the eventual 3-2 lead.

From there, the Hungarians struggled. Istvan Bartalis scored at 45:38 to give his team some life, but it was split by goals from Sasha Treille and Damien Fleury as the French cruised to the 5-3 comeback victory.

Italy No Match for Latvia

Latvia's effort to return to the Olympics after missing it in 2018 started off with a big 6-0 win over Italy on Thursday.

Despite a strong first few shifts from Italy, the Latvians held control after 20 minutes. Janis Jaks got the fun started with a goal at 3:23. His wrist shot from the point made it through traffic and past Andreas Bernard, a goal Bernard should have had. 

Rodrigo Abols then scored two minutes later after some nice passing between himself, Roberts Bukarts and Kaspars Daugavins, a lead Italy couldn't penetrate.

The Italians didn't create many dangerous chances of their own, and Kristian Rubins made them pay at 26:15. After some good passes between Bukarts and Rubins, the latter sent a shot in past Bernard's glove on a pass he didn't even see to make it 3-0.

From there, it just kept getting uglier for the Italians. Miks Indrasis would score a pair of goals for Latvia before Kaspars Daugavins went end-to-end with seven minutes to go in the game to make it 6-0, showing off against an Italian team that definitely was not up for the challenge.

Group F – Oslo

Denmark Avoids Late-Game Collapse

Denmark has started its bid for its first Olympic appearance in strong fashion thanks to a 4-3 victory over Slovenia on Thursday.

It looked one-sided at one point. Denmark led 4-1 with 49 minutes off the board, but a late-game rush allowed Slovenia to close the gap to just one.

Nikolaj Ehlers was the difference-maker for the Danes scoring the opening and game-winning goals in the first and second periods, respectively. Frederik Storm and Patrick Russell also scored in the opening period to make it 3-0, a lead that forced a slow-moving Slovenian team to play catch-up for the remainder of the contest.

Jan Drozg gave Slovenia something to cheer about 49 seconds into the second. with the man advantage, LA Kings star Anze Kopitar found Drozg by himself to the left of Danish netminder Sebastian Dahm, cutting the lead to 3-1. But just a minute later, Ehlers answered back with his second of the night, which ultimately proved to be the most important goal. Jan Urbas and Miha Verlic scored goals late to spice things up, but Denmark held on for the win to start the tournament strong.

Norway Excites Home Crowd Against Korea

Norway's attempt at qualifying for the Olympics for a fifth straight time has started off in an excellent manner with a 4-1 win over South Korea.

The first period had some good action, with Norway eking out a 2-1 lead. Korea actually got things moving first with a wrist shot goal from Ki-Sun Kim at 5:47, but Erlend Lesund scored 20 seconds later to answer back. Ken Andre Olimb broke the tie with a goal at 8:32 after Mats Rosseli Olsen stole the puck and found Olimb on the partial rush, with Olimb making no mistake on his shot against Matt Dalton.

The lone goal of the second came from Stefan Espeland. His wrister proved to be too much for Dalton, who was the star of Korea's team back during the 2018 Olympics. Tobias Lindstrom added another for Norway to make it 4-1, a lead that would last until the final buzzer.

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Three Stars

1. John Murray, G (POL): A major win for Poland, who is trying to make the Olympics for the first time since 1992. Murray had 46 saves in a shutout effort.

2. Nikolaj Ehlers, F (DEN): His goals helped Denmark survive a comeback effort. Denmark is chasing its first Olympic appearance.

3. Alexandre Texier, F (FRA): His two goals were power-play markers, but it sparked the comeback the team needed.

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