Saturday's opener, a Switzerland 5-4 overtime win against Norway, featured a storybook hat trick, a Hobbit Wizard and a carpenter who outplayed an NHL star.
Some days just start out too perfect to believe. Norway's Tore Vikingstad had to still be pinching himself after scoring a hat trick to fuel Norway forcing overtime against the favored Swiss. Vikingstad was certainly smiling post-game about the puck bouncing his way against Switzerland and Anaheim Ducks star goaltender Jonas Hiller.
"I had a good feeling coming into this game," said Vikingstad, 34, who looks the part of a old-time hockey player, complete with a cheek scar on his rugged handsome face. "Our team knew the Swiss game would be our best chance to win. It took us a couple games to get used to the tempo [against USA and Canada], but everyone was ready today. It is clearly special to get a hat trick in the Olympics [his first for the national team].”
Vikingstad's — you've got to love that name — goals tied up the game at 1-1, 3-3 and 4-4. His third goal was NHL caliber, a spinning move and deft shot from the slot that beat a clearly dismayed Hiller, who played two stellar games against Team USA and Team Canada earlier in the Olympic week.
"We had a miscommunication on the fourth goal [the Vikingstad hat trick]," said Hiller. "Our defensemen were losing their men quite often in our end."
Before the game, Vikingstad's wife was interviewed on the arena video-board and his two young children could be spotted with a "Go, Dad!" banner throughout the game. Vikingstad's brother's and sister's families, nine in all, were on hand to see 16 hats rain down after Vikingstad's hat-trick goal forced overtime.
But the dream day burst in overtime when Switzerland's Romano Lemm scored 2:28 into the extra segment. The Swiss filled an unfamiliar role: favorite.
"The first two games we played really well [against the USA and Canada]," said Mark Streit, Swiss captain and New York Islanders star defenseman. "In this game we kind of struggled as favorites. We had a hard time with the role. It seemed like we were nervous and we took too many penalties [five minors in the first 30 minutes]."
Streit conceded a team letdown was inevitable.
"The Canada [shootout] game was so intense," said Streit. "We were on such a high. Pretty all of the guys on this team had never played in a game like that."
The game's first 63 seconds rewarded the near-full house (only some low corner seats were empty at puck drop). After a couple of audible Swiss hits, Norway defenseman Jonas Holos made a desperately agile kick-save because goalie Pal "The Wall" Grotnes was in traffic outside the crease. Holos perhaps got a bit carried away about his legwork because he proceeded to cover the saved but loose puck with his hand.
Switzerland was awarded a penalty shot, which was assigned to Hnat Domenichelli by Norway coach Ralph Krueger. Domenichelli's deke didn’t persuade Grotnes, who smothered a stuff-in attempt.
On the ensuing faceoff, Norway's Raffaele Sannitz won a clean draw. His swipe went straight to Domenichelli, who drove the net and sent a perfect feed to Julien Sprunger. A backhander beat Grotnes and wiped out the penalty-shot glory.
Vikingstad knotted it at one-all 12 minutes into the game. It appeared Vikingstad was going for the roof but quasi-fanned on the shot. Hiller was thinking high, too, and the puck snuck under his lifting left pad.
"I think he missed on the shot and I tried to stretch for it," said Hiller.
Norway took a 2-1 in the second period on the only Norway goal not scored by Vikingstad. Defenseman Mads Hansen hammered that one home. It was Norway's first lead in an Olympics game since Feb. 24, 1994 -- which was also the last time Norway won at the Olympics -- a 3-1 home-side win over Austria played in Lillehammer.
If Vikingstad was the game's No. 1 star, then No. 2 goes to Grotnes, who made some crucial and big-time stops in each period, most especially a glove save with 31 ticks left in regulation. Grotnes, a carpenter in his day job who literally will put up walls in houses at some job sites, kept the game close while waiting for Vikingstad to perform his next magic trick.
Vikingstad, 34, has some experience at this hero thing. He scored the winning goal in Norway's 5-4 victory over Canada at the 2000 World Championships. He was named Norway's player of the year in 2005-06 and was a sixth-round draft of the St. Louis Blues in 1999.
Vikingstad almost won it early in overtime with a close-in shot that Hiller gloved just in time, after a pretty feed in the slot from Mats Zuccarello-Aasen, who is known as the Norwegian Hobbit Wizard and played like it the whole game.
Zuccarello-Aasen (yes, his grandfather's Italian) is hard to miss when Norway plays. His best play was on Vikingstad's middle goal. The 5-foot-7 dynamo water-bugged along the goal line to Hiller's left before threading a no-look to Vikingstad from behind the net. It appeared Hiller never saw the puck passed or shot; it was that quick.
"That goal was good play and good shot," said Hiller, who noted that Norway's second goal was a screen shot and the final score "a miscommunication" among defenseman about coverage.
For his part, Hiller was philosophical about not playing his best after two stand-on-his-head stellar outings versus Teams Canada and USA. He didn't think an off-game here at the Winter Games would affect his Anaheim Ducks' stretch run for the playoffs. The NHL team will be two points out of playoffs contention when it returns to the regular season March 2.
"In the end it will be a new season," said Hiller. "I will try to keep the positives from these games and get a good feeling from the next game."
NOR 1 2 1 0 - 4
SUI 1 2 1 1 - 5
1. SUI, J. Sprunger (H. Domenichelli, R. Sannitz) 1:03
2. NOR, T. Vikingstad (P. Thoresen, T. Jakobsen) 12:21
Penalties - Penalty Shot NOR J. Holos (player falling on puck in crease) 0:58 taken by H. Domenichelli (miss), T.Paterlini SUI (high-sticking, double minor) 2:42, R. Diaz SUI (hooking) 4:54
3. NOR, M. Hansen (P. Thoresen) 5:24 PPG
4. SUI, R. Wick (M. Seger, M. Pluss) 9:15
5. SUI, R. Sannitz (M. Seger, R. Wick) 15:42
6. NOR, T. Vikingstad (M. Zuccharello-Aasen, M. Olimb) 18:46
Penalties - R. Diaz SUI (interference) 3:47, J. Sprunger SUI (hooking) 5:55, J. Holos NOR (slashing) 10:49
7. SUI, S. Blindenbacher (R. Wick, M. Streit) 9:56 PPG
8. NOR, T. Vikingstad (P. Thoresen) 12:18
Penalties - Bench NOR (too many men on ice, served by M. Zuccarello-Aasen) 8:04
9. SUI, R. Lemm (S. Jeannin) 2:28
Penalties - None
SHOTS ON GOAL
NOR 4 8 9 2 - 23
SUI 13 11 12 2 - 38
Goaltenders (goals-shots against) - NOR: Grotnes (L, 5-38); SUI: Hiller (W, 4-23).
Power plays (goals-chances) - NOR: 1-5 SUI: 1-2.