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Defending Champs Finland Settle For Draw; Slovaks Tie Canada

April 22, 1996

VIENNA, Austria (AP) _ It was a disappointing start for defending champion Finland, a so-so start for Canada _ billed by some as the favorites _ and a day to remember for Slovakia.

Finland settled for a come-from-behind 1-1 draw Sunday with Norway on the opening day of the 12-team World Ice Hockey Championships, backing up pre-tournament suggestions that the Finns probably won’t win it again. They were first-time winners last year.

``It was a very tough game for us psychologically ... we had the puck most of the game but just couldn’t score,″ said Finnish coach Curt Lindstroem.

Finland’s Janne Niinimaa scored a third-period goal to save the tie after Ole Eskild Dahlstrom gave Norway a 1-0 lead in the second period.

Slovakia _ nobody’s favorite _ suddenly became a hot property with a 3-3 draw against Canada, a club stocked almost exclusively with talent from the National Hockey League.

``This was a very good start for us, maybe not so much expected,″ said Slovak coach Julius Supler. ``Getting a result like this against Canada is very encouraging.″

The Slovaks tied Canada with 2:03 left in the game Sunday on Jozef Dano’s goal. That sent the heavily pro-Slovak crowd, most of whom had made the short drive across the border to the Austrian capital, into a frenzy.

Slovakia, a state born three years ago when Czechoslovakia broke into two countries, has fought its way back from hockey oblivion to the ranks of the world’s best. This is its first appearance in the worlds after playing in smaller qualifying tournaments.

In Sunday’s other opening day games, the Czech Republic beat Sweden 3-1 and Russia defeated Germany in a tight-checking 2-1 game.

Canada fell behind 2-0, but rallied to go ahead 3-2 when the New York Islanders’ Travis Green scored what appeared to be the winning goal late in the third period, setting the stage for Dano.

Slovakia jumped on Canada goalie Martin Brodeur for a 2-0 lead on second-period goals by Lubomir Sekeras and Rene Pucher, a lead Canada cut to 2-1 when Jeff Friesen of the San Jose Sharks scored late in the period.

Green scored his first of two goals to tie the game 2-2 with 9:29 left when he picked the puck out of mid-air as it was loose around the net and deflected it past Slovak goalie Jaromir Dragan.

``Our play was maybe a little bit disjointed,″ said Canadian coach Tom Renney, whose team is composed almost exclusively of NHL players from clubs that missed the Stanley Cup playoffs.

The Canadians held Slovakia’s top three players in check _ New York Islanders’ Zigmunt Palffy, and Edmonton’s Zdenko Ciger and Miroslav Satan _ but were surprised by some of its lesser-knowns.

``We did a pretty good job with the NHL guys, but some of the other talent they have got us,″ Renney said.

The Czech Republic’s 3-1 win over Sweden saw all four goals come in the final period.

Sweden, runners-up last year to Finland, went ahead on a goal by Tommy Sjoedlin at 8:01 of the final period. But the Czechs tied the game 28 seconds later when Robert Reichel scored on a scramble in front of the net.

Martin Prochazka added the second goal _ and winner _ at 13:54 and Viktor Ujcik insured the Czech victory at 17:43 on an assist from Jiri Kucera.

Russia had a narrow 2-1 escape against Germany. Alexei Yashin of the NHL Ottawa Senators scored the winner at 14:50 of the second period, just 39 seconds after Germany’s Peter Draisaitl tied the game.

Russia, which won the title three years ago but has failed to medal the last two times, went ahead on a first-period power-play goal from New Jersey Devils center Sergei Brylin.

``Speaking honestly, we didn’t expect so much pressure from this game,″ Russian coach Vladimir Vassiliev said. ``Our NHL players have only been over here four days _ that’s the hardest day for adjusting to the time difference.″

Russia, winners a record-22 times, is stocked with about a dozen NHL players. Clubs like the Czech Republic and Sweden are fielding four or five.

Russia, Canada, the United States and Slovakia are favored to advance to the quarterfinals from Pool A, with Sweden, Finland, the Czech Republic and Norway favored in Pool B.

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