TILBURG – An average of over 10 goals per game was scored on the opening day of the World Championship Division I Group A. The top seeded teams made no mistakes.
Netherlands - Japan 1-3 (0-1, 0-2, 1-0)
Japan spoilt the homecoming party of the Netherlands. In front of a sold-out IJsportcentrum the 2,500 spectators witnessed Japan outskate and outscore the hosts 3-1.
Opposed to the two games played earlier on the day, this wasn't going to be a blow-out score. Nevertheless, Japan dominated most of the game and never really looked threatened to lose their lead. Sharp as a samurai sword, the Asians slid through the Dutch defence on several occasions leaving the men in orange behind and bewildered.
The opening goal fell at 3:39 with Japan just having built up pressure on a power play. As Dutch Marco Postma raced back on the ice, Takahito Suzuki found Go Tanaka free in the slot. From a close range the forward made no mistake and put his team in the lead.
The second period saw the Netherlands try to fire some more pucks on Yutaka Fukufuji in order to be relieved from the pressure. They achieved the first, but had to pay a heavy price.
While the Dutch went off for a line change, Fukufuji's stickhandling led to Japan's second goal at 25:14. This time Suzuki was the goal scorer himself as he could freely skate into the offensive zone and fire home.
Despite outshooting Japan 17-14, the Asians scored a vital third goal with thirty seconds left on the clock. During a scrimmage in front of the net, Masato Domeki burried the puck underneath Groeneveld.
"That third goal killed the game," Dutch head coach Hartogs knew afterwards. "We played very well in the second period but that goal fell at the worst time possible."
The game levelled off in the third period, but the Dutch offence was too weak to create any sort of a comeback. With one second on the clock, Mike Dalhuisen ruined Yutaka Fukufuji's shutout bid. The goal was awarded after video review by referee Lars Brueggeman.
"We anticipated a tough to play against the hosts in front of a sold out arena, so yes I'm satisfied," said Team Japan coach Mark Mahon. "Our aim here is to improve from last year's performance when we went bronze. If we wouldn't aim for anything higher than the federation better search for a replacement."
Japan, who outshot the Dutch 47-30, will aim to stay perfect when they play Serbia tomorrow while the Netherlands will be looking for their first points against Ukraine.
Serbia - Austria 0-13 (0-7, 0-3, 0-3)
Austrian fans who are not in Tilburg can be assured: the Austrians are a team on a mission. The goal is to be back at the elite level next year. Against lowest seed Serbia, Austria ensured they would not fall victim to understimating their opponent. Like a bull reacting on a red flag, Austria reacted on Serbia's red jerseys. The team of coach Bill Gilligan started the first period furiously. When the dust had settled and the intermission horn sounded, Austria was leading 7-0.
A monster score like Norway's 25-1 win over China back in 2005 was in the making. "We wanted to go out hard to ensure we got off to a good start," defenceman Thomas Pöck said.
Much to the delight of goaltender Milan Ludkovic, the pressure on the Serbian net decreased somewhat. The 23-year-old goaltender didn't expect to start in this game as Serbia was counting on having Murray Cobb obtaining a passport. This failed and as a result, Lukovic found himself in front of countless Austrian attacks.
Despite not running up the score, Austria finished the second period with double figures in the one-sided contest. Ten different players scored including two power play and one short handed goal.
The Alpine nation still has bad memories of the 2009 World Championship. Last year Austria finished ahead of Germany and Hungary in the relegation round, but found themselves down to Division I as Germany will host this year's World Championship and therefore could not be relegated. Austria kicked off their gold campaign with a convincing 13-0 victory, but nothing else than a win was expected.
Serbia travelled to the Netherlands without a string of players that won the Division II last year and coach Mark Pederson will have used this game to get his team ready for the games that do matter later on in the tournament.
Veteran Reinhard Divis earned his first shutout after coming out of retirement of national team play while Daniel Welser scored a genuine hat trick in the final period and finished with a team leading four goals and eight points and best player of the game honours.
Serbia's goaltender Lukovic also won the award for his team after a 38-save performance. "He's a real fighter and he showed tonight," forward Fred Perowne commented. "He is the reason we are at this level as he won us gold last season. We're now in Division I to learn and Austria's one of the best teams to do this from."
Darcy Werenka (not visible) scores the 9-0 late in the second period. In total Milan Lukovic was beaten 13 times. Photo: Ronald Goudberg
Lithuania - Ukraine 5-12 (0-2, 4-4, 1-6)
The main question before the tourament opener was which team had recovered best. Both Lithuania and Ukraine had just come off gruesome bus trips (48 hours for LTU) due to the unavailability to fly into Western Europe. Lithuania did not arrive in Tilburg before Sunday evening around midnight which meant anything but a smooth preparation.
Perhaps because of fatigue the first period was played without a lot of intensity. After Lithuania missed the first scoring opportunity of the game it was Ukraine that converted immediately themselves. Lithuanian goalkeeper Artiras Kuzmicus could not hold on to an Oleg Timchenko shot leaving Oleksandr Materukhin with a juicy rebound in front of an open net. At 14:17 the lead was doubled. Andrei Mikhnov was at the end of a beautifully executed 2-on-1 with Kostiantyn Kasianchuk.
The first intermission seemed to do both teams as the game exploded in the second period. Within the first two minutes, Ukraine extended their lead to 4-0 by goals of Sergei Varlamov and Timchenko. The fourth goal earned Timchenko the applause of the 500 spectators as his high quality deke sent the Lithuanian netminder completely wrong footed.
Tadas Kumeliauskas got Lithuania on the board when he scored the first of his three goals, but Ukraine countered barely 90 seconds later via a high backhand shot of Roman Salnikov. The three points seemed in the pocket for Ukraine, who then slowed down their offensive waves.
Lithuania smelled blood and rallied back with three unanswered goals to come within one thanks to a pair of goals of Kumeliauskas and one breakaway goal by Martynas Slikas.
The hope of a comeback got a blow when Kasianchuk scored at 36:35 and they were shattered in the final period in which Ukraine restored their surplus in quality on the ice. Ukraine scored six more goals as the crowd got teased by 17 goals. Oleg Timchenko led his team in scoring with a goal and three assists, while Tadas Kumeliauskas also had a four point game for Lithuania.
"We were very tired after such a long trip but I was happy with the production of my young thrid line who were involved in four of our goals," said Lithuanian coach Rimantas Sidaravicius.
His Ukrainian counterpart Mikhail Zakharov was content with the three points but saw enough room for improvement. "Offensively we were ok but we need to work on our defense if we want to win the tournament. We made too many mistakes today."
Ukraine's quest for gold will continue tomorrow when they play Serbia. Lithuania faces top seed Austria in the afternoon game on Tuesday.
Dmytro Tsyrul takes one of Ukraine's 43 shots on Lithuanian Arturas Kuzmicius. Photo: Ronald Goudberg