Roy's farewell win
Roy's farewell win
Norway signs off in style
Legendary Norwegian coach Roy Johansen signed off with a victory at the end of his 15th and final World Championship campaign.
His last time behind the bench for the national team ended in a 3-1 win over Latvia, securing fifth place in Group A after a game that had no bearing on play-off or relegation issues.
And after the hooter he got a special presentation from his team, who nominated him as Norway's player of the game and also handed over a special team jersey to commemorate his time in charge.
Captain Ole-Kristian Tollefsen made the presentation. "We didn't know what to do, but we figured out a little gift from the boys with the number of years he's been the coach," he said. "A little thank you. But then we said to each other we have to step up and win the game."
A fairly low-key encounter in Moscow was settled when Norway scored twice in 16 seconds at the start of the second period, opening up a lead that Latvia never seriously threatened.
The teams traded first period goals. Miks Indrasis gave Latvia the lead in the 12th minute, finding space at the top of the circle and firing over Steffen Soberg's glove to convert the Latvians' first power play of the game.
But it didn't take long for Norway to tie it up through Ken Andre Olimb. Mats Rosseli Olsen was the architect, forcing a turnover in centre ice and feeding Olimb for a close-range finish.
Johansen, however, was not impressed with his send-off, and demanded better during the intermission.
"Before the game he was just being himself," Tollefsen added. "He came in after the first period and was mad because we played bad. But he's been preparing for this for a while, so it's nice to end it with a win. Overall, we're happy."
Then came Norway’s swift start to the middle frame. Jonas Holos fired the Scandinavians in front on 20:40, flipping a wrist shot from the point in off the bar to snap a 1-1 tie. And if Latvian goalie Elvis Merzlikins was disappointed with that, he was left cursing his luck seconds later when Johannes Johannesen claimed Norway's third. The defenceman had little to do with the goal: his shot from the point was comfortably blocked but when the goalie tried to swat the puck away from danger he could only watch in horror as it pinballed off the skate of Aleksandrs Jerofejevs and into the net.
That proved to be the end of Merzlikins’ tournament, an unhappy conclusion to an impressive international debut for the 22-year-old from HC Lugano. He was replaced by Edgars Masalskis and the veteran stopper played a calm game as the pace from both teams steadily dropped as the evening went on.
But the result was all about coach Johansen and a victory was a fitting end to a hugely successful era in which Norway has redefined itself on the international stage. When the stalwart Valerenga and Norway forward stepped behind the bench for his country in 2002 the team was languishing in the second tier of world hockey. In 2016, as Johansen hands on the reins to Petter Thoresen, it is firmly established as a top flight nation.
"It's nice to remain in Pool A for him," the captain concluded. "He's been such an important part of hockey in Norway."
For Latvia, a roster in transition proved strong enough to stave off the threat of relegation and, had three overtime verdicts gone the other way, might have launched a serious challenge for a play-off spot. With Merzlikins and Roberts Bukarts catching the eye in Moscow there are signs that the roster has the potential to mature in the coming years.
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