KYIV – Hosting Division I Group B, Ukraine got off to a rough start, dropping a 5-3 decision to Great Britain. In the earlier Day One games, Kazakhstan beat Estonia and Poland defeated Lithuania, both by 5-1 scores.
Great Britain – Ukraine 5-3 (0-1, 3-2, 2-0) Game Sheet Photos
Colin Shields scored the winner for Britain in the third period, and David Clarke paced the British attack with two goals.
"We had a lot of respect for Ukraine," said Clarke. "That helped us as the game went along. It's a high standard here. Once we found our feet, I thought we made a good account of ourselves."
"We managed to match their intensity in our defensive zone," said British head coach Paul Thompson.
The Ukrainians, who have historically suffered from poor discipline in international hockey, ran into penalty trouble early with a pair of minors. However, the British had even more difficulty staying out of the box in the first period.
Ukraine exerted enormous pressure with a two-man advantage, and it paid off at 11:40 when captain Olexander Pobyedonostsev blasted a drive past British goalie Stephen Murphy’s left skate. The partisan crowd, including strong representation from the Ukrainian military, erupted with cheers.
Ukraine maintained its territorial edge through 20 minutes, but the British took the game to Ukraine early in the second period. Their pressure paid off with a David Clarke goal 4:15 in, to the delight of a small but vocal contingent of their supporters.
It took less than two minutes for the Ukrainians to respond. At 6:12, Oleg Tymchenko made it 2-1, set up by linemates Oleg Shafarenko and Olexander Materukhin, whom coach Dave Lewis identified as key contributors in his pre-game comments.
Mid-period, wild scrambles ensued around Murphy’s crease as Ukraine attempted to take control. But instead, Britain found the equalizer at 11:11 when Robert Dowd, perched at the edge of Ukrainian goalie Kostyantyn Simchuk’s crease, grabbed a loose puck and flung it high into the net.
Clarke gave the British their first lead of the game with 3:38 remaining in the second when he potted his second of the game from the slot, the puck squeezing past Simchuk’s left pad.
Ukraine wasn’t cowed, however. Pobyedonostsev slammed home a shot from just above the hash marks at 18:03, set up from behind the net on a Gretzky-like feed from Tymchenko.
In the third period, Britain jumped ahead 4-3 when Colin Shields, last year’s UK scoring leader with the Belfast Giants, tallied at 3:05 with Shafarenko serving a double minor for high-sticking.
Ukrainian head coach Dave Lewis wasn't happy with the call: "The game was decided on a referee's call that resulted in the winning goal, and it was a mistake."
With 7:36 remaining, Jonathan Phillips added some insurance for Britain. It was a nice role reversal for the visitors, who lost 4-2 to Ukraine in their last Division I encounter on April 11, 2009. Whistles of frustration were heard from Ukrainian fans as the clock wound down.
"The bottom line is we gave up five goals," said Lewis. "That's our responsibility to prevent that. You're not going to win big games giving up five goals."
"We've worked really hard in our program the last few years," said Clarke. "There's been a big change in terms of how we conduct ourselves outside the UK, on and off the ice, and it's starting to pay dividends."
Neither team has time to exult or despair. The British face another big challenge in Kazakhstan tomorrow afternoon, while Ukraine must bounce back against Lithuania in the evening.
"The toughest game is the first one," said Thompson. "Going forward, it's a game of chess. Now we've got to motivate the boys and get them up for tomorrow."
The pre-game opening ceremonies included local minor hockey players circling the rink with the national flags of the six competing nations, speeches from organizers, the Ukrainian anthem, and mascot fun.
Ukraine hasn’t played in the top division since Moscow 2007. The British are seeking to return to the world's elite for the first time since their appearance at Italy 1994.
Lithuania – Poland 1-5 (1-2, 0-2, 0-2) Game Sheet Photos
In a hard-fought, penalty-filled affair, Poland scored three power play goals and defeated Lithuania 5-1 in Division I action.
"The first game was a tough game, but we got going, and the power play worked well," said Polish forward Kristian Dziubinski. "The Lithuanians played well, but we played better."
The win came at a cost for Poland, which suffered three injured players against a Lithuanian squad composed primarily of domestic talent from Energija Elektrenai.
Czech referee Jan Hribik was busy with his whistle, calling six minors in the second period alone – mostly interference penalties or stick fouls.
The first period saw the teams pitting their power plays against each other, and Poland got the better of that confrontation.
At 9:19, Mateusz Danieluk opened the scoring for Poland on the power play, beating Lithuanian netminder Nerijus Dauksevicius high to the stick side on a beautifully executed breakaway.
The Lithuanians drew even with the man advantage at 7:39, when Pijus Rulevicius’s blast from the centre point eluded Polish goalie Rafal Radzizewski.
Working another 5-on-4, the Poles went up 2-1 with five minutes left in the first as Grzegorz Pasiut found Jakub Witecki open in front of the net, and he deftly slid the puck past Dauksevicius.
The Lithuanians began throwing their weight around on the forecheck late in the period, led by Rulevicius, and Witecki was shaken up along the side boards in his own zone. Witecki went back to the dressing room before the closing buzzer, and wouldn’t return. He is done for the tournament, as he'll go back to Poland and likely undergo shoulder surgery.
Dauksevicius looked sharp during yet another Polish power play early in the second period, stoning Mikolaj Lopuski with a glove save from the high slot. Yet it was Lithuania that got the best chance shorthanded. Radzizewski had to foil Donatas Kumeliauskas on a breakaway.
The Lithuanians got a two-man advantage for nearly a minute, but couldn’t generate anything. Instead of looking for a neat set-up down low, they kept feeding point men Petras Nauseda and Arturas Katulis for big slappers. Dalius Vaiciukevicius did force Radzizewski to make one fine glove grab.
Poland’s injury woes continued when forward Damien Slabon went down in the neutral zone after banging up his left shoulder. He was helped off the ice to the bench, where an ice pack was applied. Slabon didn’t see another shift, and will be evaluated further by the Polish medical staff.
The Poles grabbed a 3-1 lead with under two minutes left in the second period when Jaroslaw Rzeszutko curled through the Lithuanian zone, got to the front of the net, and flung home a backhander. Then, with just 22 seconds left, Poland went up 4-1 on a Mikolaj Lopulski goal, putting the game out of reach for Lithuania.
Lithuania switched goalies for the third period, throwing Mantas Armalis between the pipes. Midway through the period, Polish defenceman Patrick Wajda got hit with the puck near the start of a power play that Marcin Kolusz scored on with 8:58 left. Wajda left the ice and had a hard time standing. He's expected to be back for Poland's next game against Estonia, however.
"We've struggled so much over the years," said Dziubinski. "In my opinion, we have four good lines, but they're on the same level. We need somebody who can step up as a leader, perhaps somebody who can play in the NHL. Still, hopefully we can win this tournament. We always play close games against Ukraine, and we've done that against Kazakhstan too. But our focus now is on the next game against Estonia. They have a couple of good lines, and we'll have to be ready."
Poland is vying for its first promotion to the top division since 2002. Lithuania made its lone appearance at that level back in 1938, when it came tenth out of 12 teams.
Estonia – Kazakhstan 1-5 (0-2, 1-1, 0-2) Game Sheet Photos
Kazakhstan defeated Estonia 5-1 in the opening game of the 2011 IIHF World Championship Division I Group B at the Palace of Sports. Vadim Krasnoslobodtsev led the way with a goal and two assists.
Fyodor Polishuk, Dmitri Dudarev, and Talgat Zhailauov also shone with a goal and an assist each for Kazakhstan.
"I think we played pretty well," said Polishuk. "We got a lot of shots on net, even though they played really tight around their crease, blocking lots of shots."
Kazakhstan has won seven straight games at the Division I level. Its last loss was 4-3 to then-host Austria on April 18, 2008.
This afternoon tilt featured teams coming from different divisions. Kazakhstan was demoted to Division I after finishing 16th at the 2010 IIHF World Championship in Germany, while Estonia secured promotion from Division II with five straight wins and a 62-5 goal differential.
"We knew we had to play strong defensive hockey because Kazakhstan is a powerful opponent," said Estonian coach Dmitrij Medvedev.
The slower-footed Estonians tried to clog up the middle of the ice to stymie the Kazakhs in the early going. But that didn’t work for long. At 7:58, Fyodor Polishuk opened the scoring for Kazakhstan from close range on a nice cross-crease pass from Dmitri Dudarev.
With just under four minutes left in the first period, Vadim Krasnoslobodtsev unleashed a wrister from left wing that got through Estonian goalie Villem-Henrik Koitmaa to make it 2-0 on the power play.
Kazakhstan weathered an early Estonian man advantage early in the second period. At 8:46, Estonia’s Andrei Makrov – the 2010 Division II Group B MVP with 28 points in five games – cut the deficit to 2-1 as he deftly stickhandled his way to the net and put the puck between Kazakh starter Vitali Yeremeyev’s legs.
Estonia buzzed the Kazakh cage in the late stages of the second, but couldn’t capitalize even with its second power play of the game.
In the last minute of the middle frame, the teams began trading chances, certainly not the game that Estonia wanted to play. Dmitri Dudarev finished off a nice passing play with 42 seconds left in the period, giving Kazakhstan a 3-1 lead.
"When we succeeded in scoring at the end of the second period, it helped us to relax and get the win," said Polishuk.
Koitmaa kept his team in it during two mid-third period power plays for Kazakhstan. A fantastic rush by Maxim Belyayev where he split the Estonian defense barely failed.
Talgat Zhailauov and Roman Starchenko rounded out the scoring in the dying minutes. Kazakhstan outshot Estonia 37-18.
"Only in the third period did our guys do their job well," said Kazakh coach Andrei Khomutov, who once starred on the Soviet national team of the 1980s.
A large Kazakh flag waved behind the team bench, and enthusiastic, drum-boosted chants of “Kazakhstan!” and “Shaibu!” buoyed the victors in the sparsely populated arena.
Kazakhstan’s next game is against Great Britain on Sunday, while Estonia faces Poland that day.