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Beijing Olympics: Ice hockey-Sweden survive Latvia fight back, Finland romp to victory

ice hockey men's prelim. round group c sweden v latvia
Oscar Fantenberg of Sweden and Rodrigo Abols of Latvia clash in Swdend's close 3-2 win REUTERS/Annegret Hilse

 Sweden survived a gritty Latvia fight back to win 3-2 in their Beijing Olympics men’s ice hockey opener on Thursday with both teams skating off believing the gold medal is up for grabs.

Finland certainly believe they can claim their first ever Olympic gold in the sport after brushing aside Slovakia 6-2.

With the National Hockey League pulling out of the Games due to a COVID-19 surge that created havoc with its schedule, the Olympic tournament has no clear favourite.

The early action at the National Indoor Stadium has underscored just how wide open the medal hunt is going to be.

Of the first four games, three have been decided by a single goal, including one major upset that saw Olympic debutants Denmark shock the Czech Republic with a 2-1 victory.

“Watching the games yesterday anything can happen,” Sweden forward Fredrik Olofsson told Reuters.

“You can’t take anything for granted, everyone has a shot at it (gold). It’s just making sure you are dialled in every game because there aren’t that many, you’ve got to make them count.”

Sweden, champions at the Lillehammer 1994 and Turin 2006 Games, had looked poised for a straightforward win against Latvia, grabbing a 3-0 lead midway through the second period on two goals from Lucas Wallmark and one from Anton Lander.

But Latvia hit back with powerplay goals from Renars Krastenbergs and Nikolajs Jelisejevs to set up a nervy finish.

If there was a slight favourite to emerge from the early going it was the Finns.

Finland have regularly featured on the Olympic podium, only twice since Lillehammer failing to return home without a medal, and in Beijing are targeting the top step.

Sakari Manninen grabbed the Games’ first hat-trick to lead Finland past Slovakia, while Miro Aaltonen chipped in with two and Harri Pesonen a single.

Seventeen-year-old Juraj Slafkovsky, who is tipped as a top-five selection in this year’s NHL draft, got Slovakia’s goals.

“We scored six goals, that’s always a good sign,” said Aaltonen. “Every line was good today so it was a good start for us.”

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