“It was amazing that we just did that. With both new guys and experienced players on this team, that was the key for us, having a good mix.”
The opening Para ice hockey match at the PyeongChang 2018 Paralympic Winter Games on Saturday (10 March) certainly did not disappoint, as 20-year-old Nils Larch scored the game-winning goal in a penalty shootout to lead Italy to a 3-2 victory over favoured Norway.
It marked Italy’s second win in preliminary round history at the Paralympics, as it had previously lost all of its round-robin Paralympic matches in 2006 and 2010 before beating South Korea at the Sochi 2014 Games. The game-winning goal at the Gangneung Hockey Centre was the first Paralympic goal for Larch in his career.
“It was amazing that we just did that,” Larch said. “With both new guys and experienced players on this team, that was the key for us, having a good mix.”
Following a scoreless first frame in which Italy outshot Norway, 4-3, forward Sandro Kalegaris lived up to lofty expectations in his Paralympic debut with Italy. The 27-year-old, who previously competed for Austria until 2014 while its programme was starting up, opened the PyeongChang tournament’s scoring with a strike to the back of the net 1:02 into the second period.
Four-time Paralympian Morten Vaernes responded just over 10 minutes later for Norway to even the score on a power play. Working through a scramble, he knocked the puck into the net off a helper from defenceman Knut Andre Nordstoga, who previously competed in Para alpine skiing at the Salt Lake City 2002 Paralympics before switching to Para ice hockey.
At 3:19 into the third period, Gianluigi Rosa’s mother jumped up from her seat behind the team bench in elation after her son smacked the puck straight through the middle of the crease and into the net to help Italy regain its one-goal advantage. Larch, in his fifth year with the national team, was credited with the assist.
Norwegian forward Audun Bakke then recorded the third Paralympic goal of his career with just 2:35 left in regulation, sending a wrist shot into the right side of the goal to knot the score up at two apiece and send it to overtime.
In the penalty shootout, two-time Paralympian Larch was the only player on either team to score.
Italy’s goaltender Gabriele Araudo recorded the win between the posts with 10 saves, while Norway’s Christian Kjell Hamar stopped the puck 15 times over 50 minutes of regulation play.
Italy now sit in first place in Group A in the preliminary round with two points and will face world champions Canada next.
Every competition as well as the Opening and Closing Ceremonies can be watched live right here on the International Paralympic Committee’s website. Highlights of each day’s action will also be made available.