TILBURG - It promises to be Super Sunday in Group A tomorrow. Austria and Ukraine both won their fourth straight game and will face each other to decide who will go to Slovakia in 2011. Lithuania avoided relegation defeating Serbia 10-4.
Austria - Netherlands 4-1 (2-1, 2-0, 0-0)
Unbeaten Austria defeated hosts Netherlands 4-1 and by doing so, tied Ukraine with the maximum of 12 points from four games.
The Netherlands started with backup goaltender Ian Meierdres on net. His first task was to grab the puck out of the net when Darcy Werenka scored from close range after just 33 seconds.
The young netminder recovered strong though. He twice stopped Oliver Setzinger on a clear breakaway and the Dutch were growing in confidence.
At 6:40 Marcel Bruinsma tied the game when he poked in a loose puck on a delayed penalty. Bruinsma was hooked by an Austrian defenceman, but was on the mark to beat Reinhard Divis for the first time.
Austria regained the lead at 14:36 when Meierdres lost sight of the puck and Manuel Latusa was left with an easy finish.
The second period was almost completely dominated by Austria. The difference between their full pros and the Dutch semi-pros became evident. Thomas Koch converted a penalty shot after Marco Pewal was stopped illegaly and Johannes Reichel saw his shot from the side trickle in via the skate of defenceman Stanislav Nazarov.
Austria limited the Netherlands to just a handful of shots, but couldn't score themselves as Ian Meierdres proved he is the Dutch goaltender of the future. In total Austria outshot their opponents 43-18 including 17-2 in the final period.
The score remained 4-1, but could have been bigger if not for a disallowed Dutch goal by Ronald Wurm and three Austrian players hitting the iron.
"It was tough mentally to play this game, I think for both teams," said Bill Gilligan. The Austrian head coach referred to the importance of tomorrow's games which will be decisive on the team's fortunes.
A win against Serbia will earn the Dutch most probably the fourth spot, an improvement over their last three years in which they finished fifth.
"If we play like today then I'm confident we will do well against Serbia," said Tom Hartogs.
Serbia - Lithuania 4-10 (0-3, 1-3, 3-4)
Serbia's comeback effort was heartwarming, but not enough to cause an upset.
Down 6-0, Serbia scored four unanswered goals and comes close to an upset, but eventually they had to pay the price for a lacklustre first 40 minutes.
In a game between the lone two winless teams, Lithuania picked up its first points in Group A against Serbia after a lobsided 10-4 victory.
The Serbs knew a victory against Lithuania would mean avoid relegation after Lithuania had already lost to the Netherlands on Thursday. But any hopes of realising the miracle were soon gone as the Lithuanians proved too strong.
At 5:36 Rolandas Aliukonis scored on a power play and Lithuania never looked back.
Tada Kumeliauskas (twice), Arturis Katulis, Darius Pliskauskas and Povilas Verenas all scored as Lithuania looked on its way to a monster score after just 40 minutes of play.
Daniel Jacob's goal late in the second period seemed no more than a consolation goal, but his blast brought back the spirit in the Serbian hearts. The Serbs stormed out the third period passionately scoring three unanswered goals within six minutes to cut the deficit to two.
"We didn't expect to be up by so much and lost concentration," Lithuania head coach Sidaravicius admitted afterwards. "Coming into this tournament, our goal was to avoid relegation. We succeeded and who knows we can even win the bronze medal tomorrow."
But Lithuania wasn't going to let the lead slip out of their hands. They restored their six goal lead by scoring four unansewered goals themselves.
"It's so frustrating. Everytime we pick ourselves we get it right back in our face," said Serbia's player of the game Daniel Jacob.
Serbia's head coach Mark Pederson also looks ahead of this game. "If we still wanted to have a chance to avoid relegation tomorrow we needed some goals, so the team responded in great fashion," Pederson said. "Unfortunately we didn't play for the full 60 minutes today."
The result ensures Lithuania's participation in Division I based on goal differential. Serbia still has an outside chance to escape the drop, but they will need to beat the Netherlands by at least five goals difference.
Lithuania finally found itself on the winning end against Serbia scoring 10 goals. Photo: Ronald Goudberg
Ukraine - Japan 2-1 (0-0, 1-0, 1-1)
For the fifth consecutive time Japan will have to play for the bronze medal after being on the losing end of a close game against Ukraine. Oleksandr Materukhin scored the game winning goal with less than 90 seconds to play.
Although Ukraine has yet to lose to Japan in international play, games between both teams have been agonizingly close in recent years with the last two mutual games ending up equal after 60 minutes.
Today's game was not different.
The Japanese were able to put sand in the Ukraine scoring machine which had scored 36 goals in three games. Especially goaltender Fukufji thwarted numerous Ukraine opportunities.
His best save of the first period came at 8:54 when Oleksandr Materukhin raced clear on the left side and release a quick wrist shot from the point. "Fuji" earned the applause of the fans when he turned away the shot with a quick glove save.
Ukraine turned up the pressure in the second period and tested Fukufji even more. Eventually the goaltender had to surrender at 32:24 when Ukraine had a 5-on-3 situation. Dmytro Tolkunov's shot from just inside the blue line found its way through traffic and surprised Fukufuji.
Japan, which required a victory in order to stay in contention for promotion, had to open up play and took the upper hand in the last five minutes of the period. Kostiantyn Simchuk, as vocally present as ever, was on his guard though when his flexibility was tested on a flurry of Japanese shots.
One period away from at least a silver medal, Ukraine tightened up their defence. Japan was forced to make the play and find an opening in the maze of yellow-blue jerseys.
They tried passionately and got rewarded with less than 2.5 minute left to play. Team captain Takahito Suzuki went around the net unmarked. His wrist shot beat Simchuk in top right corner.
Their joy was shortlived. Stung as a bee, Ukraine responded immediately. Barely a minute after the equalizer, Ukraine took the lead again. Standing in front of the net, Oleksandr Materukhin one-timed an Oleg Timchenko pass behind Fukufiji.
"Ukraine pushed a player into our goaltender who then lost his stick," defenceman Aaron Keller said about the play. "A defenceman then handed him a player's stick and a forward gave his to the defence, but by then we were unorganized and the player could score."
Mark Mahon tried to pull his goaltender for the remainder of the game, but Ukraine made sure not to blow the lead again and held on to make tomorrow's game against Austria decisive for promotion.
"We have to make baby steps in order to take these games to overtime," Mahon commented. "I'm still proud on my guys to be so competitive here. As a developing nation we've come closer and closer to beating teams like Ukraine. A couple years ago we'd lose these games by a score of 5-1, now we can play along with them."
Oleksandr Materukhin was decisive for his country against Japan . Photo: Ronald Goudberg