KYIV – Facing a virtual must-win situation, Ukraine defeated Lithuania 5-1 on Monday night to keep its dream of promotion for 2012 alive. The host’s Group B rivals thrived earlier. Kazakhstan held off a resilient British side 2-1, while Poland romped 8-3 over Estonia.
Ukraine – Lithuania 5-1 (2-0, 1-1, 2-0)
Olexander Pobyedonostsev scored the eventual winner for Ukraine late in the first period, and also recorded an assist. Dmytro Nimenko and Oleg Shafarenko chipped in a goal and an assist as well, while Vitali Lyutkevych added two helpers.
“Toward the end it opened up a bit for us,” said Ukrainian head coach Dave Lewis. “We improved from last night’s game. It takes a while for a team to learn how to play together.”
With three games remaining, Ukraine has no room for complacency. It still faces tough tests against unbeaten Kazakhstan and Poland, and can’t even afford to take low-ranked Estonia lightly. Lithuania’s record, meanwhile, dropped to two losses.
“Our team isn’t fully professional,” explained Lithuanian head coach Sergej Borisov, a former player for Sokil Kyiv. “We only practice two or three times a week. The Ukrainians have more experience and skill. If Dainius Zubrus [of the NHL’s New Jersey Devils] were here, it would have been a more competitive game, but he’s not.”
The Ukrainians came out visibly determined to avenge their 5-3 loss to Great Britain. They were harder on the puck, caused more turnovers on the forecheck, and showed more determination in battles along the wall. They also looked more confident than in the tournament opener, after which Dave Lewis said his players were “very nervous”.
It took just 2:33 to get the first goal, as Dmytro Nimenko put a rebound past Lithuanian goalie Mantis Armalis. Fervent chants of “Ukraina!” echoed through the Palace of Sports, led by a huge, flag-waving, uniformed military cheering section.
Thirty-seven seconds into a power play, Olexander Pobyedonostsev stretched the lead to 2-0 with a howitzer from the right point that beat Armalis high on the stick side. However, Ukraine would fail to take advantage on its next four power plays.
The Lithuanians struck back 2:11 into the second period when Mindaugas Kieras capitalized on a breakdown and put the puck past Ukrainian goalie Olexander Fedorov.
Ukraine continued to press late into the period. With 2:27 left in the second, veteran blueliner Andri Sryubko put Ukraine up 3-1 to the delight of the crowd.
Would a lack of discipline prove to be Ukraine’s undoing? Olexander Materukhin was sent off for hammering Egidijus Bauba from behind in the Lithuanian zone. However, it was the Ukrainians that scored seconds after that penalty expired.
At 4:43 of the third, Sergi Chernenko made no mistake on an odd-man rush, cutting to the middle of the ice and lifting a backhand past Armalis for an insurmountable 4-1 lead. And with the teams playing four men a side, Oleg Shafarenko rushed to the net and tapped in a loose puck less than two minutes later to put Ukraine up by four.
After a day’s rest, Ukraine resumes play on Wednesday versus Poland, while Lithuanian will take on Kazakhstan.
Kazakhstan – Great Britain 2-1 (0-1, 1-0, 1-0)
With a tight 2-1 win over Great Britain on Monday, pre-tournament favourites Kazakhstan joined Poland atop the Division I Group B standings with six points apiece. Dmitri Dudarev scored the winner with 5:26 remaining in the third period.
Set up by Fyodor Polishuk from behind the British net, Dudarev made no mistake with a one-timer inside goalie Stephen Murphy’s right post.
“The score isn’t important, only the win,” said Kazakh coach Andrei Khomutov, who said he told his players to watch out for the British after seeing their first practice and predicting they could defeat Ukraine.
A stellar performance by Murphy kept his mates in it until the end, as Kazakhstan outshot Great Britain 32-14.
“We knew we’d be outshot,” said British coach Paul Thompson. “Murphy’s a key player for us. He makes us strong. I see him on a regular basis with the EIHL’s Belfast Giants.”
“This result shows how far our program has come,” said Britain’s Danny Meyers. “We’re very upset about losing this game. We’re still hoping for a gold medal.”
Undefeated Kazakhstan, which meets Lithuania on Wednesday, has boosted its hopes of returning to the top division after just a one-year absence.
Territorially, Kazakhstan had the better of the first period, using puck control to pressure the British in their zone. Yet British assistant captain David Longstaff opened the scoring at 14:46 with a wraparound that got up high and surprised Kazakh goalie Vitali Yeremeyev.
Early in the second period, the British squandered a great opportunity by failing to convert on a 5-on-3. But they stood their ground during a subsequent Kazakh man advantage, and Murphy made several fine saves, including a close-range, partially screened attempt by Fyodor Polishuk.
Kazakhstan drew even at 9:08 of the second period when assistant captain Andrei Gavrilin’s quick shot from the right side fooled Murphy. After the goal, the tempo increased considerably, and Murphy had to be sharp on a Yevgeni Bumagin blast on a 3-on-1 break. Kazakhstan would outshoot Great Britain 18-9 through two periods.
The British got a rough ride at the end of the middle frame. Dudarev was sent off for high-sticking Jason Hewitt at 18:37. Then Yevgeni Fadeyev laid out Matthew Myers in the Kazakh end with a heavy hit, and the trainer came out to tend to him, but he skated off under his own power.
The Kazakhs continued to press during an early third-period power play that saw Murphy sliding around as if channeling the spirits of both Dominik Hasek and Tim Thomas. When captain Vitali Novopashin hammered a slapshot from the slot, Murphy took it manfully off his chest.
Trailing 2-1, the British pulled Murphy with 1:02 left, but couldn’t get the equalizer.
“We wanted to win and we didn’t think of anything but the win,” said a relieved Gavrilin afterwards.
Despite this loss, the British have made their presence loud and clear, much like the drums and chants of the Great Britain Supporters’ Club that graces each of their games. Showing better discipline than in the past and a never-say-die attitude, they might still have a shot at promotion if they don’t let up against beatable Baltic opponents Estonia and Lithuania. But there’s a lot of hockey to be played at the Palace of Sports before Britain meets Poland on the final day.
On a curious note, a Kazakh journalist asked Paul Thompson which Kazakh players he’d take if he could. After jokingly responding, “The first and second lines,” Thompson settled on Vadim Krasnoslobodtsev, Vitali Novopashin, and Andrei Gavrilin.
Poland – Estonia 8-3 (1-0, 2-1, 5-2)
The Poles are rolling in Division I, defeating winless Estonia 8-3 Monday for their second straight Group B victory. They pulled away with five third-period goals. Mikolaj Lopuski keyed the Polish attack with two tallies and an assist.
Also lighting it up were Krzysztof Zapala and Marcin Kolusz, who had a goal and two assists apiece. Grzegorz Pasiut scored two late goals, and captain Leszek Laszkiewicz and Pawel Kolonia had two helpers apiece.
“It was a good game,” said Polish forward Krystian Dziubinski. “We played well on offence and defence, although we shouldn’t have let Estonia score their last two goals. We don’t know what’s going to happen at the end of the tournament – maybe goal differential will come into play.”
It was a cleanly played game, with just five minor penalties. German referee Richard Schütz spent plenty of time wearing a headset, as three goals in this game required video review.
Estonia, which has never ranked higher in the world than 19th (as of the 1998 IIHF World Championships, has three games left to secure a win and avoid being sent back down to Division II. The Estonians dominated that level last year en route to promotion with a 62-5 goal differential.
At 5:47 of the first period, Poland’s Zapala deked his way in on goal, and lifted a high backhand past Estonian goalie Villem-Henrik Koitmaa to open the scoring.
The Estonians tied it up one minute into the second period. Aleksandr Petrov bulled his way to the net, catapulting both himself and the puck over Polish netminder Rafal Radziszewski. Video review confirmed the puck crossed the goal line before the net was dislodged.
Poland went up 2-1 at 3:58 when Mikolaj Lopuski’s shot fluttered high up over Koitmaa and bobbled over the goal line as players clustered around the net. Again, video review – this time lengthier – was required, and again the goal stood.
The men in red kept coming. With under four minutes left in the second, Maciej Urbanowicz capped off a beautiful rush down left wing by roofing a shot over Koitmaa’s glove to make it 3-1 Poland.
Yet another video-reviewed Lopuski marker made it 4-1 just 1:05 into the third period, and Kolusz gave Poland its fifth goal 1:34 later. Lopuski set up Jaroslaw Rzeszutko nicely on a shorthanded odd-man rush to make it 6-1 midway through the third.
As the Poles buzzed the Estonian cage, Grzegorz Pasiut capped off Poland’s offense with a late pair. After the seventh goal, Koitmaa was pulled in favour of Aleksandr Kolossov to finish off the game.
“It’s good for our guys to score so much,” said Dziubinski. “Maybe we’ll get more creative and feel like we can compete at a level up, too.”
A mix-up between Radziszewski and his defence resulted in the Polish goalie putting the puck in his own net on Estonia’s second goal, and Estonian captain Dmitri Suur scored with a high wrister at 18:01 to make the final score 8-3.
The Poles have no “easy” games remaining, as they’ll next face (in order) Ukraine, Kazakhstan, and Great Britain.
“After Ukraine lost yesterday, they have to win the rest of their games if they want to make the top division,” said Dziubinski. “I hope we’re going to stop them.”
Poland triumphed despite playing with 11 forwards and seven defencemen. Forwards Jakub Witecki and Damien Slabon were both sidelined with shoulder injuries in the opening 5-1 win over Lithuania.