Kazakhstan is back for 2012

Div. IB: Britain scores silver as Ukrainians can’t score enough

23-04-11
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Promoted for 2012, Kazakhstan celebrates after winning gold in Division I Group B. Britain took silver and Ukraine bronze. Photo: Pavlo Kubanov

KYIV – With a tournament-closing 3-2 overtime win over host Ukraine on Saturday, Kazakhstan returned to the elite division for 2012 after just a one-year absence. In earlier Division I Group B action, Great Britain earned silver by beating Poland 3-2, and Lithuania relegated Estonia with a 5-2 victory.

Kazakhstan – Ukraine 3-2 (0-0, 1-1, 1-1, 1-0) Game Sheet Photos

Earning its fifth straight victory on what was ultimately an inconsequential OT goal by Fyodor Polishuk at 2:01, Kazakhstan parked Ukraine’s hopes of rejoining the elite 16 like the two Skoda cars at either end of the packed Palace of Sports. The Ukrainians settled for bronze.

"Kazakhstan has been the best team of the tournament," said Ukrainian head coach Dave Lewis. "They deserve where they're going next."

"If you win something, it’s always special, especially with your national team,' said happy Kazakh forward Konstantin Pushkaryov. "It’s twice as good."

Although Ukraine brought the tournament’s top scoring trio in the Minsk-based line of Oleg Shafarenko, Oleg Tymchenko, and Olexander Materukhin, it couldn’t muster the offence it needed – victory by four or more goals – to take top spot.

Even the relentlessly enthusiastic crowd, including the military cheering section that occupied the Kazakh end of the arena for Periods One and Three, wasn’t able to lift the home team quite high enough.

It was a physical, fast-skating game with stickwork aplenty in front of the net and along the boards.

"This was the most difficult game for us, both psychologically and because Ukraine created more chances against us than anyone else did," said Kazakh head coach Andrei Khomutov.

The Ukrainians ran into penalty trouble at the outset, giving Kazakhstan an extended two-man advantage. However, they killed it off with authority, and goalie Kostyantyn Simchuk grabbed the puck with extra flourish when he made a save.

At 8:24, Ukraine’s Dmytro Nimenko was sent off for checking from behind in the Kazakh zone. Simchuk stood tall again again, stopping Vadim Krasnoslobodtsev on a golden chance from the right faceoff circle. While the Ukrainians managed another kill, they wasted precious time that should have gone toward goal-scoring.

"We were forced into penalties because of how fast Kazakhstan played," said Lewis. "They came at us hard."

Kazakhstan’s Roman Savchenko tripped up Alexi Mikhnov to give the Ukrainians a man advantage to close out the period. Yet Kazakhstan’s strong box play left Ukraine without a single prime scoring opportunity.

The penalty parade continued in the second period. Ukraine’s Sergei Klymentiev clipped Yevgeni Fadeyev with a high stick in the Ukrainian end just after the four-minute mark.

It was with Tymchenko in the box for tripping that Maxim Belyayev opened the scoring with a solo power play effort for Kazakhstan at 11:11 of the second, coming around the net and putting it upstairs on Simchuk.

After that, the Kazakhs began clogging up the neutral zone to frustrate their opponents. Still Ukraine, continued to press and the Kazakhs bent, taking three consecutive minor penalties.

Ukraine finally broke through with 20 seconds left in the period, as Yuri Navarenko grabbed the puck to the right of Kazakh goalie Vitali Yeremeyev and banged it in the open side. (Navarenko, quirkily, once played three years in Spain before returning to his native land.) The crowd exploded with relieved joy.

There was more excitement just past the five-minute mark of the third when Tymchenko backhanded home a rebound to make it 2-1 Ukraine. The Ukrainians lost some momentum, though, when Klymentiev took a slashing penalty almost immediately afterwards.

With 7:38 remaining, Kazakhstan fought back and got the tying goal courtesy of Andrei Gavrilin on a nice setup by Alexei Troshinski.

Facing a desperate situation, the Ukrainians tried to break through the Kazakh defence. But there was no way for them to score enough goals with the limited time remaining.

"As far as our approach to the tournament, I don't know that I would change a lot," said Lewis.

When the buzzer sounded to end regulation time, the Kazakhs rushed to the bench to congratulate one another, knowing they'd won whatever happened next, since they would get at least one point. It was certainly an unusual way to celebrate, but that didn't matter to Kazakhstan.

"This was a tough game," said Pushkaryov. "We scored, they scored. Lots of power plays, lots of penalty-killing. But we stayed in the game and we did the right things."

Now Kazakhstan will look ahead to 2012, wondering whether it can stay up in the top division or even improve on its all-time best finish, 12th place in 2005.

Despite not getting promoted, Ukraine can take pride in a hospitable, well-organized, and well-supported Division I tournament. The Ukrainians will now look forward to news next month from the IIHF World Championship in Slovakia. Competing with Denmark and Russia, they’re bidding to host the 2016 Worlds, and the allocation will be announced during the IIHF General Congress in Bratislava.

Final Ranking:
1. Kazakhstan 14
2. Great Britain 12
3. Ukraine 10
4. Poland 6
5. Lithuania 3
6. Estonia 0

Individual Awards as selected by the Tournament Directorate:
Best Goalie: Stephen Murphy, Great Britain
Best Defenceman: Roman Savchenko, Kazakhstan
Best Forward: Olexander Materukhin, Ukraine

Poland – Great Britain 2-3 (1-2, 1-0, 0-1) Game Sheet Photos

Great Britain ultimately earned silver with a hard-fought 3-2 victory over Poland in Saturday’s Division I Group B action.

With 6:56 left in the game, working with a 5-on-4 advantage, Ben O’Connor scored the winner from the side of the net, stuffing one past Polish goalie Rafal Radziszewski’s pad and punching the air in exultation.

"We're obviously elated," said British coach Paul Thompson. "Poland is a very good team, and we had to contain lots of pressure. Our goalie, Stephen Murphy, proved he's as good as any goalie."

After Kazakhstan beat Ukraine 4-3 in overtime in the closing game, Britain's 12 points assured it of silver.

Jonathan Weaver chipped in a goal and an assist and David Clarke added two helpers for the British.

"Great Britain was very good, maybe better than in previous years," admitted Polish coach Wiktor Pysz.

For this game, the Poles were drastically undermanned. They played with just 16 skaters, lacking injured forwards Jakub Witecki, Damian Slabon, and Krzysztof Zapala, and defenceman Jaroslaw Klys. Yet they outshot the British 37-20.

With the loss, Poland finished fourth in Group B. It’s just the second time in the last nine years that Poland has wound up lower than second in a Division I group.

The Poles grabbed a 1-0 lead at 6:51 when Filip Drzewiecki accepted a slick Krystian Dziubinski centering pass from behind the goal and beat Murphy from the edge of the crease. That tally sparked the red-and-white squad for a while, as they carried the play with crisp passes and put the British back on their heels.

A pair of quick goals restored the Union Jack’s momentum. The British capitalized with 6:45 left in the first period, using a sweet three-way passing play on the man advantage. Jonathan Weaver finished it off by beating Radziszewski high to the glove side from the slot.

"We were banking on our power play and it paid off," said Thompson.

Just 40 seconds later, Britain took a 2-1 lead when Russell Cowley burst into the zone and flung a wrister that tipped off the Polish defender into the net.

The second period was a tense duel. The crowd gasped when Britain’s Danny Meyers stepped into the Polish zone and rang one off the goal post. Apart from the small but vocal contingent of British fans, they heartily chanted “Polska!”, knowing that a Polish victory would make it easier for host Ukraine to earn promotion. 

Poland gained courage, bagging the equalizer with 6:24 left in the second period, as Krystian Dziubinski one-timed home a Filip Drzewiecki feed from behind the goal line. The Poles began going hard to the net, and Murphy had to be sharp to foil a 2-on-1 attack with under two minutes left.

Vigorous Polish forechecking slowed the pace and forced Britain into the third period’s first penalty, as Corey Neilson was sent off for tripping at 6:48. But considerable pressure around Murphy’s crease yielded nothing.

The Poles pulled their netminder with under a minute left, but no avail. The British mobbed their goalie in celebration before the playing of "God Save The Queen."

Thompson spoke afterwards about the importance of continuing to add players in their teens and 20's to the British roster, preparing for the day when valued veterans like David Longstaff and Ashley Tait no longer carry the load. "We had just four days to prepare," he added, noting that an increase in that area would also pay dividends.

Lithuania – Estonia 5-2 (2-1, 1-1, 2-0) Game Sheet Photos

Povalis Verenis scored two goals to lift Lithuania to a 5-2 win over Estonia in Saturday’s Division I Group B opener. The result gives Lithuania fifth place and a Division I berth next year, while Estonia is relegated.

Lithuania has hung on to its spot in Division I each year since securing promotion from Division II in 2004.

Verenis got the winner midway through the game. At 11:57 of the second, he took a pass from Arnoldas Bosas, cruised to the top of the hash marks, and shot a low wrister past Koitmaa, restoring Lithuania’s two-goal lead.

Donatas Kumeliauskas led Lithuanian point-getters with a goal and a pair of assists, and Bosas and Egidijus Bauba had two helpers apiece.

"The key to our victory was good discipline," said Lithuanian coach Sergej Borisov. "I am satisfied with the result."

The Estonians were outscored 29-8 over five games and will treat this as a learning experience. They topped Division II in 2010 with a massive goal differential of 62-5. But the speed and intensity of Division I, relatively speaking, was a bit too much for them to handle, although they improved in their last two games, including a 5-2 loss to host Ukraine.

"We had some problems with goaltending in this tournament," said Estonian coach Dmitrij Medvedev. "Our top goalie, Mark Rajevski, couldn't play because he couldn't get away due to work commitments. In this game, Villem-Henrik Koitmaa had some difficulties. Also, we took a lot of penalties and you can't win that way."

The power play was a major key for Lithuania.

Leading Lithuanian scorer Mindaugas Kieras drew first blood at 5:12 on the power play, sending a center point drive past Koitmaa. At 9:49, it was Arturis Katulis firing home a power play slapper from the left faceoff circle before Koitmaa could get across. Despite skating hard, the Estonians didn’t move the puck well enough to capitalize on either of their two man advantages.

Estonia got on the board with 43 seconds left in the first period when Vassili Titarenko poked the puck past the left post of Lithuanian goalie Mantas Armalis.

In the second period, the Estonians started laying on the body to slow down their Baltic rivals, but they ran into more sin bin trouble with stick fouls.

Underdog Estonia refused to quit, making it 3-2 with 4:40 remaining in the middle frame. Aleksandr Petrov knifed through the Lithuanian defence before dishing a lovely pass right to Toivo Sursoo, who fired it in the open side.

The Lithuanians got some breathing room at 8:28 of the third period when Kumeliauskas came down the right side and unleashed a shot that squeaked through Koitmaa's glove.

Hopes of an Estonian comeback faltered in the last 10 minutes with more untimely penalties, including a double-minor for high-sticking to top sniper Andrei Makrov. Verenis added an empty-netter with 1:02.

There is a bright spot for the future of Estonian hockey in 18-year-old Robert Rooba. Although the tall Espoo Blues junior forward went pointless in his Division I debut, he is ranked 92nd among European skaters for the upcoming NHL draft. No Estonian-born and trained player has ever played in the NHL.

LUCAS AYKROYD

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