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Finland wins historic ice hockey gold after beating ROC in final

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Finland has won its first Olympic ice hockey gold medal, beating the Russian Olympic Committee (ROC) team 2-1 in the men’s final at the National Indoor Stadium in Beijing.

Goals to Ville Pokka and Hannes Björninen cancelled out Mikhail Grigorenko’s first-period score as the Finns came from behind in a tense and absorbing gold medal decider.

The ROC team were defending men’s champions while Finland had medalled in five of the last seven Olympics without ever standing on the top step of the podium.

“It is hard to put in words what this means,” Finland captain Valtteri Filppula said just before he presented each of his beaming teammates with their gold medals.

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“Hockey is a big thing in Finland.

A long-range Grigorenko powerplay goal early in the first period opened the scoring for the ROC team.

But Russian goaltender Ivan Fedotov was always the busier of the two keepers, making 29 saves to his opposite number Harri Sateri’s 16.

Finland knocked on the door a number of times without reward throughout a tense first period but had to wait until the second before making their breakthrough when Pokka equalised with another long-range shot that squeezed under Fedotov’s pads.

Finnish players celebrate Ville Pokka’s goal.(Getty Images: Bruce Bennett)

Fedotov saved a number of solid Finnish chances during the rest of the period but some neat interplay at the start of the third saw the Finns take the lead thanks to a deflected Björninen shot just 31 seconds after the break.

The Finns were popular winners in the media centre, with the final siren being greeted by a round of applause as the players threw off their gloves and celebrated wildly on the ice.

ROC team goal scorer Grigorgenko said he felt “empty and disappointed” by the defeat.

He defended Fedotov for not putting his medal on after the game.

“He (Fedotov) carried our team the whole tournament,” Grigorgenko said.

“All the saves he made, we would not be in the finals if it wasn’t for him. He’s been incredible the whole tournament. He’s our best player, for sure.”

Finland has twice won silver at an Olympics — in 1988 and 2006 — and finished with bronze four times.

“We have come close a couple of times,” Filppula said.

General manager Jere Lehtinen was part of the Finnish side that lost 1-0 to Sweden in the 2006 final in Turin, marking some redemption for that defeat.

The win in Beijing will be celebrated wildly in Helsinki upon the team’s return.

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Earlier, Slovakia thrashed Sweden 4-0 in the bronze medal play-off, with 17-year-old Juraj Slafkovský — a likely future first-round NHL draft pick — scoring twice.

It is Slovakia’s first Olympic ice hockey medal.

“This is quite an amazing group. It is really exciting. The boys were thrilled and I could not be more proud of the young men that played for this team,” Slovakia’s coach Craig Ramsay said.

“We believe in [Slafkovský]. What we thought going into this tournament was, ‘Could he just score a goal?’

Slafkovský — who was the tournament’s top scorer with seven goals — said it was “an amazing feeling” to claim a medal after losing to Sweden 4-1 in the group stage.

“After all that we went through, that we manage to come back from the first two losses and beat Sweden after a tough loss in the group stage  … we give them back four goals and that’s amazing,” he said.

“It has just been [some] amazing weeks since we came into the camp, and I am so happy that I am part of this.”

With ice hockey reaching its conclusion, the sporting aspect of the Winter Olympics has come to a close.

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