Thrills, spills and firsts aplenty in the ice hockey at Lillehammer 2016
Sweden and USA took the respective honours in the women’s and men’s ice hockey competitions at Lillehammer 2016, while Japan’s Sena Takenaka and Romania’s Eduard Casaneanu were the winners in the women’s and men’s skills contests.
“I got better as a player and as a person because of this experience,” said Finland’s Jimi Uusitalo moments after his side’s 6-2 defeat to Russia in the bronze medal match of the men’s ice hockey competition. “I got to know the guys on my team. I got to meet athletes from other countries and learn about their sport. I had so many great experiences. This is a great event.”
That men’s competition yielded the very last gold medal of the Lillehammer 2016 Winter Youth Olympic Games, with USA beating Canada 5-2, a scoreline that failed to reflect the closeness of the contest.
The Americans held a slender 3-2 lead when Tyler Weiss left them a man down after picking up slashing penalty late in the third period.
Stepping up the pressure on their depleted opponents by replacing their goaltender with an extra defender, the Canadians were pressing hard for the equaliser when Tyler returned to the ice, the player immediately atoning for his transgression by spinning and powering a low shot into the unguarded net to effectively settle the match.
“I was just throwing it somewhere, just getting the puck down the ice,” Tyler said of his crucial goal. “I thought I’d cost us there [by taking the penalty] but the boys killed it off.”
Breaking into a broad smile as he admired the gold medal hanging round his neck, he added: “It was the biggest goal I have ever scored. This thing is heavier than I am.”
Two-goal Lundin inspires Sweden
The women’s final also threw up a hero in Sweden’s Sofie Lundin, who scored twice to set her side on the way to a 3-1 defeat of Czech Republic and was mobbed by her grateful team-mates at full-time.
“I could hardly breathe, but it was worth it. All I was thinking about was ‘we won, we won’,” said Lundin, who spearheaded the Swedish attack throughout the competition.
Sofie, who turned 16 on day four of the YOG, is one of the rising stars of Swedish women’s ice hockey, having been spotted several years ago by the national federation and since promoted to the national U-18 team.
The Swedes led the final from start to finish, only giving the Czechs a glimmer of hope when conceding an own goal at the end of the first period, while Switzerland beat Slovakia 5-2 in the bronze-medal game.
Skills contests throw up historic firsts
Sena Takenaka made a little piece of history in the women’s skills contest, winning the gold medal to give Japan their first ever international ice hockey title. Taking second place behind her was Italy’s Anita Muraro, while the bronze went to Austria’s Theresa Schfzahl.
A competition unique to the Youth Olympic Games, the skills contest features six different tests of individual ability (fastest lap, shooting accuracy, skating agility, fastest shot, pass precision and puck control).
A total of 16 female players from around the globe entered the competition and went through a qualification contest that trimmed the field to the eight finalists.
Hailing from Japan, Italy, Republic of Korea, Austria, Germany, Slovakia and Norway, the medal contenders were warmly applauded for their skills by the fans at Kristins Hall, with Sena eventually winning a tight and very sportingly contested competition in the final round.
Also registering a first for his country in the men’s skills challenge was Romania’s Eduard Casaneanu, who stayed in touch with the leaders in the first four rounds before snatching the gold with victory in the final round (fastest shot). Finland’s Aleks Haatanen and Hungary’s Natan Vertes led the way at the start of the competition only to falter in the pass precision and puck control elements, allowing Eduard to make the title his, with Slovakia’s Sebastian Cederle taking silver and Germany’s Sebastian Cederle and Finland’s Aleks Haatane bronze.
“This is the biggest moment in my career, my country’s first medal,” said the winner as he contemplated his prize. “I am so, so proud. It is an amazing feeling.”
Pulling the Romanian flag around his shoulders for the medal ceremony, an emotional Eduard shed a tear or two on the podium before completing a lap of honour around the rink.