February 21, 2010 / 8:44 AM / 8 years ago

Slovakia go from dark horse to medal threat

VANCOUVER (Reuters) - Switzerland and Belarus bagged their first wins of the Olympic men’s ice hockey competition on Saturday while Slovakia emerged from the shadows as the tournament dark horse into the spotlight as a medal contenders.

With hockey fans gearing up for Olympic hockey Super Sunday when the world’s six top ranked teams will face-off in three successive grudge matches, the tournament minnows took center stage on Saturday at Canada Hockey Place.

Romano Lemm came to the Swiss rescue scoring in sudden death overtime to lift the Alpiners to a 5-4 win over plucky Norway while Belarus bravely fought off a third period Germany rally to escape with a 5-3 victory.

It was ninth-ranked Slovakia, however, who continued to raise eyebrows as they followed their upset win over gold medal favorites Russia with a 6-0 thrashing of Latvia.

After frustrating Russia’s explosive attack, Slovakia netminder Jaroslav Halak made 21 saves to notch the shutout while six different players scored goals in a complete victory that established the Slovakians as legitimate medal threats.

“I think we are getting more confident and now we are starting to get good,” said Zigmund Palffy. “We are playing a simple game and our game is getting better. Everything is working.”

Things did not appear to be working well for Switzerland until Lemm redirected at back pass from Sandy Jeannin past Norwegian netminder Pal Grotnes late in overtime to clinch a seesaw win.

Julien Sprunger, Roman Wick, Raffaele Sannitz and Severin Blindenbacher also scored for Switzerland while Tore Vikingstad had the hat-trick in a losing cause for winless Norway.

Belarus also needed some late game heroics after Germany’s Marcel Goc and John Tripp scored third period goals 21 seconds apart to tie the game at 3-3.

But Belarus would not collapse, Ruslan Salei blasted a slap shot past Thomas Greiss with just over five minutes to play before Aleksei Kalyuzhny added an insurance goal to close out the scoring.

“We got a two-goal lead and kind of sat back,” said Salei. “We didn’t have that many shots so the ones we had we had to make the most of them.”

Editing by Miles Evans; To query or comment on this story email sportsfeedback@thomsonreuters.com

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