A hat-trick from Sakari Manninen helped Finland defeat Slovakia 6-2 in its opening men’s Olympic hockey game in Beijing.
The game was just the second meeting between the two nations at the Olympics, with Finland winning 5-3 in 2010 to win bronze in Vancouver. Over the past decade, Finland has a 6-0 record at the World Championship with a 19-5 goal advantage, so the result was expected by a team many expected to compete for gold.
The game started out positively for the Slovaks, who held a 6-0 shot advantage and a 1-0 lead after 10 minutes of play. Juraj Slafkovsky, a potential top 10 pick for the 2022 NHL draft, scored his first Olympic goal at 5:33 when he picked up the loose disk in front of Harri Sateri and knocked in the rebound to capitalize on a strong start by the Slovakian attack.
But five minutes later, on the team’s first shot, Finland tied it up. Manninen scored on a breakaway to take away Slovakia’s mid-period momentum and swing it back the other way. At 14:22, Harri Pesonen scored after outlasting Branislav Konrad on a rebound attempt to make it 2-1, only to have Miro Aaltonen score one of his own to give the Finns a 3-1 lead heading into the break.
Like he did to get the Finns on the board originally, Manninen scored on a breakaway early in the second. This time, Markus Grandlund made a quick tap-pass to a streaking Manninen, who rushed in and beat Konrad in the five-hole to make it 4-1.
After becoming the youngest goal-scorer in men’s Olympic hockey history in the first period, Slafkovsky potted another goal. This time, Slafkovsky won a puck battle behind the net and skated out in front, ripping a wrist shot behind Sateri for his second of the evening.
That goal sparked a bit of a late second-period rush for Slovakia, but they couldn’t put another on the board. Instead, Manninen’s goal after just 16 seconds into the third made it 5-2, putting the game way out of reach for the Slovaks before Aaltonen scored his second with 5:03 left in the game.
Both teams will be in action on Friday, with Slovakia facing off against Sweden at 3:10 AM ET before Finland battles Latvia at 8:10 AM.