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Norway tops Slovenia, 1st Olympic men’s hockey win since ’94

February 20, 2018

Norway players celebrate after winning the qualification round of the men's hockey game against Slovenia in overtime at the 2018 Winter Olympics in Gangneung, South Korea, Tuesday, Feb. 20, 2018. Norway won 2-1. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

GANGNEUNG, South Korea (AP) — Patrick Thoresen knows it has been a long time since Norway won a men’s hockey game at the Olympics.

It’s not even a sure thing to qualify.

So on Tuesday night, one of Norway’s elder statesmen was all smiles when his team beat Slovenia 2-1 in overtime in the qualification round to advance to the Olympic quarterfinals for the first time in history. It’s Norway’s first victory in Olympic men’s hockey since the 11th-place game on home ice against Austria in Lillehammer in 1994, the last time NHL players didn’t participate.

Even as Norway has its focus on other sports and leads the medal count by a wide margin, winning a game at the Olympics is a special accomplishment for Thoresen and his teammates.

“It means a lot, especially we won the right game,” Thoresen said. “We lost obviously the three games in the group play, but this was the big game to win and now we are where we wanted to be before the tournament started.”

Norway will play the favored Russians in the quarterfinals Wednesday, and players know the odds of pulling off the upset are long. Just coming back to beat Slovenia on a third-period goal by Tommy Kristiansen and the overtime winner by Alexander Bonsaken is a measure of success.

“We talked about it before the third period,” Bonsaken said. “We’re down one goal, and let’s be historic here.”

Norway had lost 11 in a row at the Olympics and didn’t qualify in 1998, 2002 and 2006. Captain Jonas Holos, who along with Thoresen is among six players who participated in the past three Olympics, said it’s hard to describe the feeling but doesn’t think fans back home are partying in the streets.

“Hockey isn’t that big in Norway,” Holos said. “They love the cross-country skiing.”

That’s why Thoresen set the goal going into the tournament of getting a win on a team coached by his father, Petter, and his brother, Steffan. The 34-year-old winger took a winding road through eight professional leagues to get to this point and said he doesn’t regret any decisions.

Thoresen, who played two NHL seasons for the Edmonton Oilers and Philadelphia Flyers, is probably best known to North American fans for his cringe-worthy injury in the 2008 playoffs. Thoresen was on the receiving end of a slap shot from then-Washington Capitals defenseman Mike Green that ruptured one of his testicles.

“It hurts quite a bit,” Thoresen said. “For a guy I think everybody can recognize how much pain that can be.”

Thoresen only played a handful more Stanley Cup playoff games after that before returning to Europe. On Tuesday, he got to celebrate arguably Norway’s biggest men’s hockey victory and hope for another.

“I felt like we grew stronger throughout the tournament,” he said. “We kept going the right direction, so hopefully we haven’t played our best game yet.”

NOTES: Goaltender Lars Haugen stopped 33 of 34 shots. ... Slovenia played without forward Ziga Jeglic, who was suspended earlier in the day for doping. ... Slovenia goaltender Gasper Kroselj, who beat the United States in overtime in Slovenia’s opener, stopped 24 of 26 shots and thought the winning goal should not have counted. Officials reviewed the play for goaltender interference that happened a few seconds before the play, which is allowed internationally but not in the NHL, but the call on the ice stood.

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Follow Hockey Writer Stephen Whyno on Twitter at https://twitter.com/SWhyno

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More AP Olympics: https://wintergames.ap.org

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