International Ice Hockey Federation

First night nerves?

First night nerves?

How the hosts have opened up in recent Games

Published 13.02.2014 08:50 GMT+4 | Author Andy Potts
First night nerves?
Canada had a smooth start against Norway in Vancouver 2010. How will this year's host Russia do against Slovenia? Photo: Matthew Manor / HHOF-IIHF Images
The history books suggest that Russia might face a tense start against Slovenia - but can anticipate a comfortable victory when the puck drops on the Sochi ice.

Anytime you host a party, those first few moments are always anxious. And when you host an Olympics, the world is watching and waiting for any sign of opening night nerves.

So, as the Russian men's national team gears up for its first ever Olympic hockey engagement on home ice, let's take a look back at how past host nations have fared when the curtain goes up.

Recent history suggests we'll see a close first period before the favourite pulls away for a convincing win - that's been the pattern in the past four competitions, regardless of whether a top nation has hosted (as in Vancouver or Salt Lake City) or whether an outsider has faced a top contender on home ice (as in Turin).

Russia has never previously hosted, but provided the opposition for Norway in its first game as host in 1994. Although many rated that roster as the weakest ever iced by a Russian or Soviet team, it racked up a 5-1 win on the night even if it could not claim a medal by the contest's end.

2010 - Canadian cruise

Much like this year's Russian roster, Canada opened with the weight of a nation's expectations bearing down on it. Norway faced the unenviable task of facing the combination of a talented team and a fanatical crowd, and despite holding the game scoreless in the first the Europeans eventually melted in the heat of Canada Hockey Place in Vancouver. Canada romped to an 8-0 rout, with Jarome Iginla (3) and Danny Heatley (2) leading the scoring. The rest of the group phase stretched the host nation, but a thrilling overtime win against the USA fulfilled home hopes and secured a longed-for gold medal.

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2006 - Italy overwhelmed

Four years earlier Canada was the guest as Italy opened up in Turin, and produced a ruthless display to win 7-2. Italy, a wildcard entry as the host nation, had little hope of causing a shock but still battled hard to tie the first period at 1-1 thanks to Cirone's goal, but the Maple Leafs upped their game in the second. The Heatley-St-Louis-Lecavalier line combined for two goals as Canada eased to a 6-2 lead by the second intermission. Italy failed to progress from the group stage - a pair of 3-3 ties against Switzerland and Germany were the highlights of a tough campaign.

2002 - Smooth start for USA

By the time Team USA took to the ice in Salt Lake City, the tournament was already well underway with the preliminary round already completed. But the eventual silver medallists got off to a strong start with an imposing 6-0 win over Finland. After a scoreless first period Scott Young broke the deadlock just before halfway and John LeClair went on to score a hat trick. The Americans proved to have the edge on Russia in this tournament, but missed out in the final against old rival Canada.

1998 - A low-profile start

With Japan hosting the Games there was little hope of a home-team triumph, and despite battling hard there was no way out of the preliminary group stage. The first game for the hosts saw yet another tied first period, but Germany edged ahead in the second and ultimately skated to a 3-1 victory. Japan went on to get a creditable 2-2 tie with Belarus and a shoot-out win in the classification round condemned Austria to 14th and last place in the tournament.

1994 - Norway's new dawn

In hindsight, the 1994 Games was a turning point for Norwegian hockey. Current national team coach Roy Johansen recalls how hosting the Olympics inspired a new generation of players to take up the sport rather than the Nordic skiing disciplines so popular in the country. But the tournament itself was a tough one for the host nation, and its opening game saw a 5-1 loss against Russia. The Gusmanov-Kudashov-Berezin trio led the way, combining for two goals as Russia made its first ever winter Olympic appearance as an independent country. Without a clutch of NHL stars, however, Viktor Tikhonov's team could only manage a fourth-placed finish; Norway wrapped up with a 3-1 win over Austria to escape last place.


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