KYIV – In Wednesday’s most hotly anticipated Group B tilt, host Ukraine delivered the goods, staying in the race with a 4-1 victory over Poland. In earlier Division I action, Kazakhstan beat Lithuania and Great Britain defeated Estonia, both by 7-0 scores, ending the Baltic states’ chances of promotion.
Ukraine – Poland 4-1 (1-0, 3-1, 0-0) Game Sheet
Oleg Shafarenko led the Ukrainian charge with two goals and an assist. Oleg Tymchenko contributed a goal and an assist, and Vitali Lyutkevych had two helpers. The opening goal came from Andri Mikhnov, who was a looming force all night long.
"This is probably the best game Ukraine has played for me," said head coach Dave Lewis. "We were fortunate to get some loose pucks in front of their goalie. That was the difference. It was a close, hard-fought game."
Grzegorz Pasiut had the lone marker for Poland.
"The main reason we lost is that we have two injured players [Jakub Witecki and Damian Slabon]," said Polish coach Wiktor Pysz. "But it was the best game of the tournament, and the Ukrainian team showed its skill."
The charged-up Ukrainian crowd at the Palace of Sports reveled in its team’s urgent play in its biggest test so far. With Kazakhstan unbeaten and boasting a 14-2 goal differential, Ukraine has no more margin for error.
Two wins and a loss – it’s the record that Great Britain, Poland, and Ukraine now all share. The door is wide open for the top four teams with two days of competition left.
The first period revolved around power plays. Initially, the Ukrainians struggled. Shortly after the five-minute mark, they got a chance as golden as an Orthodox church cupola: a two-man advantage for 1:12. But even with top defencemen Olexander Pobyedonostsev and Vitali Lyutkevych firing bullets from the point, they couldn’t break through.
Happily for the home spectators, it took just nine seconds to get on the board after Polish forward Marcin Kolusz was sent off for high-sticking Pobyedonostsev in front of Ukraine’s bench. With 5:13 left in the first, Andri Mikhnov took a pass from Vadim Shakhraichuk down low, cut around Rafal Radziszewski’s crease, and powered the puck past the Polish goalie’s right skate.
The Ukrainians also killed off a pair of minors late in the period. Optimism grew.
The crowd erupted again at 3:54 of the second period when Ukrainian pressure down low paid off and Oleg Shafarenko’s charge to the front of the net produced the 2-0 goal.
"The puck hit our goalie in the mask when Shafarenko scored," said Pysz. "In my opinion, the referee should have stopped the play, but it's his decision."
A mid-game power play for Poland saw the Ukrainians back on their heels, but as the crowd exuberantly did the wave, the Polish advantage finally washed away.
The Ukrainians grabbed a 3-0 lead at 14:37 when Oleg Tymchenko took a Shafarenko feed and snapped the puck home from the right faceoff circle. Chants of “Molodsty!” (“Good fellows!”) echoed through the arena.
Poland got some life when, on a shorthanded 2-on-1, Grzegorz Pasiut raced down right wing and unleashed a shot that beat Ukrainian starter Kostyantyn Simchuk. That cut the deficit to 3-1 with 37 seconds left before the end of the period.
But the Ukrainians had a swift answer. Shafarenko collected a loose puck in the crease at the end of the power play and banged it into the open side of the net at 19:58, restoring the three-goal edge and the crowd’s joy.
The Poles replaced Radziszewski with backup Przemyslaw Odrobny for the third period, but it didn't make a difference.
Showing some of the North American influence that Dave Lewis has brought, the Ukrainians continued to press in the third period rather than sitting on their cushion. Halfway through, they had Poland bottled up while Olexander Materukhin did his best Wayne Gretzky impression behind the goal line, which generated a couple of good scoring chances.
Even though there was no further scoring, the Ukrainians stayed quicker and hungrier than Poland right to the end.
"If the Polish team thought they had a chance in this game, they were wrong," said Shafarenko.
The Ukrainian army’s massive coordinated cheering section ramped up its efforts for this key game, introducing a horns section and full battery of drums into the mix.
The race for promotion continues Thursday, as Poland tackles Kazakhstan and Ukraine plays bottom-ranked Estonia in the evening game.
Estonia – Great Britain 0-7 (0-7, 0-0, 0-0) Game Sheet
A seven-goal first period eruption lifted Great Britain to a 7-0 romp over Estonia on Wednesday. The game was effectively over halfway through the first period. All the British had to worry about after then was preserving their first shutout of the tournament. Their record improved to two wins and one loss.
"It's taken five years to get to this point," said British coach Paul Thompson of his team's success thus far. "You have to develop players, and that's what we've been doing over the last four or five years. We've got young, talented British players that didn't make this team. The future is bright."
Estonia is now officially out of the running for the elite division in 2012, and will likely find itself battling Lithuania on the last day to avoid going back to Division II. Estonia just got promoted to Division I this year.
"The start of the game was very bad for us," said Estonian coach Dmitrij Medvedev. "The British team is very strong with talent and experience. We saw that from their games against Ukraine and Kazakhstan."
Robert Dowd, Ben O'Connor, and David Clarke chipped in a goal and an assist apiece, while Jonathan Weaver and Greg Weaver both had two helpers.
Great Britain stormed the Estonian goal from the get-go, and that steadfast approach soon bore fruit. Suffice it to say the Estonians had difficulty clearing loose pucks from scoring areas.
At 3:06, Phil Hill cashed in his own rebound right in front of the net on the power play. An easy goal, it was an omen of things to come.
Just before the five-minute mark, a turnover inside the Estonian blueline spawned a British 3-on-1, and after having his initial attempt blocked, Ashley Tait zinged a shot high past Estonian starting goalie Villem-Henrik Koitmaa for a 2-0 lead.
The British set up neatly in the Estonian end and a sweet Jonathan Weaver feed from the right faceoff circle was converted at the opposite post by David Longstaff at 8:19. It took a mere 26 seconds for Jonathan Phillips to capitalize on another breakdown, and Estonian coach Dmitrij Medvedev had seen enough, yanking Koitmaa in favour of Aleksandr Kolossov.
Not that the goaltending change made much difference. David Clarke blazed to the net shortly after the halfway mark of the opening period and beat Kolossov on the stick side for a 5-0 British edge.
Ben O’Connor’s blueline drive along the ice with 1:43 left in the first gave Great Britain its sixth goal, and Dowd made it 7-0 on the power play when he streaked down the right side and roofed one glove side with 18 seconds before the buzzer. Those seven tallies came on just 16 shots.
In the scoreless second period, neither team mustered much conviction – what was there left to fight for? Koitmaa returned between the Estonian pipes, improving his save percentage slightly. A little bad blood was stirred when Vassili Titarenko hammered Jeff Hutchins near the Estonian bench seconds before the period concluded.
British second-string goalie Nathan Craze replaced starter Stephen Murphy early in the third period, getting his first playing time in Kyiv. With 8:38, the Estonians thought they’d finally scored after a goalmouth scramble, but referee David Lewis ruled no goal after a video review.
"The change was to give Stephen a rest and Nathan an opportunity," said Thompson, explaining that Murphy would start again versus Lithuania on Thursday.
An interesting sideline to Estonia's anticipated tournament-closing showdown with Lithuania on April 23: Dmitrij Medvedev previously served as Lithuania's head coach for nine years. He knows his opponent well.
Kazakhstan – Lithuania 7-0 (2-0, 3-0, 2-0) Game Sheet
Talgat Zhailauov and Yevgeni Bumagin both scored twice to pace Kazakhstan to a 7-0 win over Lithuania in Wednesday’s first Group B game. While Kazakhstan remains undefeated in Division I play, the result ends Lithuania’s slim hopes of earning promotion.
Goalie Vitali Kolesnik, who won the Gagarin Cup earlier this month as a backup with the KHL’s Salavat Yulayev Ufa, earned an easy shutout in his tournament debut. Shots were 41-12 for Kazakhstan.
Konstantin Romanov tallied a goal and an assist for the Kazakhs. Andrei Gavrilin, Alexei Troshinski, Alexei Vassilchenko and Konstantin Pushkaryov recorded two assists apiece.
“It was a pretty easy game for us,” said Pushkaryov. “We scored some quick goals. We were focused on working on all areas of our game, from defence and offence to power plays and penalty kill’s. This game was like a practice for us.”
Kazakhstan quickly established its dominance with skillful puck movement and a tempo Lithuania couldn’t match. About the only weakness in the victors’ game was not scoring more than once on the power play, as Lithuania took eight minors, mostly stick fouls.
It took just 3:05 for Zhailauov to open the scoring, cutting through the Lithuanian defense and sliding a shot inside the right point of goalie Nerijus Dauksevicius. Just over four minutes later, Bumagin made it 2-0 Kazakhstan with his first goal of the tournament.
In the second period, the Kazakhs jumped into a 3-0 lead at 6:54 when Bumagin finished off a rush, flipping the puck up over the glove of Dauksevicius. At 11:26, Konstantin Romanov waltzed into the Lithuanian zone and fired home a laser slapshot to make it 4-0.
Only 38 seconds later, Roman Starchenko deked his way in from the left side and got a backhand up over Dauksevicius to put Kazakhstan up by five.
With under seven minutes remaining in the game, the Lithuanians had a chance on a 2-on-1, but shot the puck into the corner. That summed up their performance this afternoon.
“I think the Lithuanians probably knew they couldn’t beat us,” said Pushkaryov. “They’re waiting for their game against Estonia, which will be the big one for them. They want to stay in this division.”
The Kazakhs added another goal on the power play at 13:45 of the third as Zhailauov was left wide open in the slot to make it 6-0. Maxim Khudyakov rounded out the scoring with just over four minutes left.
Kazakhstan will face Poland in a battle of contenders on Thursday, while Lithuania will look for its first tournament win against Great Britain.
“It looks like Poland’s playing pretty well,” said Pushkaryov. “The coaches say they’re quite quick and physical, and we expect a good game from them.”
Kazakhstan has spent more time in the elite division recently than any other Group B team – four appearances in the last seven years – except Ukraine, which had a nine-year run from 1999 to 2007.