Posted: Feb 16, 2014 1:44 PM
Updated: Feb 16, 2014 1:44 PM
SOCHI, Russia (AP) Michael Grabner's goal-scoring spree in Sochi has propelled Austria to its first Olympic hockey win in 12 years.
Grabner had two goals and an assist and Mathias Lange made 34 saves as Austria held off Norway 3-1 on Sunday for its first victory in the Sochi Games.
Michael Raffl scored in the first period for Austria, which finished third in its group at 1-2. Austria and Norway both lost to powerful Canada and Finland, who met later in the day to decide the group winner.
Grabner, the New York Islanders forward, has five goals in his first three Olympic matches after scoring early and late against Norway. Grabner had a hat trick in his Olympic debut three days earlier, and his breakaway goal against Norway with 1:37 left secured the victory.
That's better than he's doing back home on Long Island, where Grabner has just nine goals in 56 games.
"I should have probably 20, but I didn't score as many goals over there as I want yet," Grabner said. "It's nice to get some here, and maybe get the confidence when I go back."
Austria's reward for its victory is a matchup with Olympic newcomer Slovenia in the qualification round on Tuesday.
Austria is in its first Olympic tournament since 2002, and six players from that Salt Lake City team are still in the lineup. Grabner was too young to play back then, but his speedy partnership with the Philadelphia Flyers' Raffl has been dynamic in Sochi.
"I think there's a lot of guys here with speed and skill," Grabner said. "Michael Raffl, I've been playing with him all tournament, and he's doing a great job of finding me. He's a great playmaker."
Per-Age Skroder scored and Lars Haugen stopped 24 shots for Norway, which hasn't won an Olympic hockey game since its home Lillehammer Games in 1994.
The challenge is only getting tougher: After going winless in the preliminary round, Norway must take on the host Russians on Tuesday.
"Obviously, we're going to be meeting better opponents," Norway captain Ole-Kristian Tollefsen said. "It was a big carrot for us in this game to meet Slovenia in the next game, but we couldn't pull the effort off. We just didn't play good enough."
Both teams played hard-nosed, physical hockey that culminated in a shattered pane of glass next to the penalty box when Austria's Andreas Nodl and Norway's Jonas Holos collided in the second period. Play continued while workers swiftly repaired the broken glass, which wasn't directly on the ice.
Lange got his first start in place of Bernhard Starkbaum after Austria yielded 14 goals in its first two games at the Olympics. Coach Manny Viveiros also shook up his roster.
Norway launched 17 shots at Lange in the first period, but Austria went ahead less than five minutes in when Thomas Pock threaded a clever cross-ice pass to Grabner, who tipped it home.
During a power play just 2:25 later, Raffl walked in untouched from the corner and beat Haugen in front for his first goal in Sochi.
Norway failed to score during 73 seconds of a 5-on-3 advantage later in the first period, but Skroder trimmed the lead in the second period with a one-timer in front of Lange on a slick pass from Patrick Thoresen.
Norway pressed in the third period, but Lange was solid until Daniel Welser found Grabner behind the defense for his second goal.
With this victory, Austria avoided the most daunting matchups of the first elimination games on Tuesday.
"It might give us somebody on our own level again, rather than the Russians or the Swedes or whoever is not going to get that second spot," Pock said. "We knew that going into the game. There's a few teams here that are on our level."