Japan’s Kuji downs Austria

Div. IA: Asians, Great Britain stage upsets

18.04.2012
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Go Tanaka scores the game-winning goal for Japan against Austria in a penalty shootout. Photo: Samo Vidic

LJUBLJANA – Japan celebrated its first win against Austria in 33 years, defeating the favourite 4-3 in shootout thanks to a hat trick from Shuhei Kuji. Great Britain edged Ukraine 4-3 in overtime, causing another surprise in the early game.

Austria vs. Japan 3-4 (1-0, 1-2, 1-1, 0-0, 0-1) PS Photos Video

It was a surprisingly close game between Austria, one of the tournament favourites, and Japan, which had lost the first two games before. But the Japanese succeeded and won their first World Championship game against Austria since 1979 thanks to Shuhei Kuji’s hat trick and Go Tanaka’s game-winner in a 4-3 victory in shootout.

The Austrian eagles did their job well in the first period, outshooting Japan 16-5 and earning a 1-0 lead when Mario Altmann scored from just behind the face-off circle.

But then Shuhei Kuji skated into the spotlight when his shot at 5:25 of the second period slipped through Bernhard Starkbaum’s five-hole – and Kuji didn’t think about leaving it.

The smallish forward, who had just led the Oji Eagles to the Asia League title in his second pro season after graduating at the Waseda University, now also shone on international ice in a game that went back and forth.

“It was a tough game, but winning it made me very happy,” Kuji said. “I was surprised to score a hat trick. There were some lucky goals in there, but you still have to shoot them and to be good to score them.”

Stefan Ulmer reclaimed the lead for Austria only four minutes after Kuji’s first goal when he deflected a shot from Raphael Herburger, but at 16:37 Kuji deked Austrian defenceman Johannes Kirisits to defeat Starkbaum with a wrist shot.

In the third period Austria regained the lead for the third time at 7:20 with Matthias Trattnig’s point shot on a power play, but 73 seconds later Kuji interrupted an Austrian pass and completed his hat trick to tie the game at three.

The game could have gone into either direction in the remaining minutes of play in the third period and the extra time, but as no more goals were scored a penalty shootout had to decide:

Round 1: Hiroki Ueno – save, Gregor Baumgartner – save.
Round 2: Hiromichi Terao – 0-1, Michael Grabner – 1-1.
Round 3: Go Tanaka – 1-2, Thomas Koch – missed.

After Tanaka’s goal the historic win was perfect.

For the favourite it was a bad game as Austrian hockey fans expect their country to get promoted.

“It was not a surprise at all,” Austria head coach Manny Viveiros said. “We knew coming in today that they’re a good hockey team. We knew we would be going to have a tough game. We tried, but we couldn’t score the goal we needed. We’re disappointed, but we’re going to rebound from this.”

For Japan it was a used opportunity to change things in Ljubljana after a start with zero points in two games.

“We haven’t played compact enough especially when Hungary took us apart, but we played really compact today. We were opportunistic, we scored when we needed and we had a special game from Kuji, who really showed up,” Japan’s head coach Mark Mahon said.

“I’m proud of the team. We lost a heartbreaker against Slovenia, but tomorrow we will wake up with a win. But the two points won’t help us unless we do something in the next two games.”

Ukraine vs. Great Britain 3-4 (1-0, 2-3, 0-0, 0-1) OT Photos Video

Player legend Tony Hand debuted as Great Britain’s head coach with a 4-3 victory against Ukraine after having missed the first two games due to the playoffs with the Manchester Phoenix, the club team he’s a player-coach.

It was the second straight victory against Ukraine after the British had played party spoilers one year ago when Ukraine hosted one of the Division I groups in Kyiv.

Olexander Pobyedonostsev scored two goals including the 1-0 lead for Ukraine, but the Brits came out strong for the second period to turn the game. Robert Dowd was the match-winner for the Brits with a hat trick and the overtime goal.

“Ukraine put us under pressure and we had to battle hard, but we got more confident and stronger. In the end both teams had a couple of chances to win,” Hand said and praises the work of assistant coach Doug Christiansen, who led the team for the first two games. “It’s our first time together and he has done a great job.”

“It was nice, all the boys played well together. We all bought into the system,” said Belfast Giants forward Dowd. “We were a bit out the blocks, but we regrouped after the first period. I was pretty happy about scoring my hat trick goal in overtime.”

It didn’t look that well in the beginning. Pobyedonostsev brought the puck past two defencemen and goalkeeper Stephen Murphy at 13:29, but it remained the only marker in the first 20 minutes that were pretty much a one-way hockey by Ukraine.

“We started very well, but scored only once in the first period. We did a lot of stupid mistakes in the second period,” said Anatoli Khomenko, the Ukrainian head coach. “Of course we’re disappointed, but life continues and we will prepare for the next game.”

Coming out from the dressing rooms the Brits had much more initiative in the middle stanza than before.

Dowd converted a penalty shot to tie up the score at 3:05 and midway through the game the British scored twice within 128 seconds to upset the Ukrainians with a 3-1 lead.

First Matthew Myers stole the puck against two (!) Ukrainian defencemen, Sergi Klymentyev and Yevgen Yemelyanenko, to score a shorthander at 10:46.

Two minutes later the Ukrainian defence made another impression of confusion. Dowd’s shot over the crossbar bounced back and it was the player himself who netted the puck for the 3-1 goal.

The Ukrainians reacted immediately after the wake-up call. Klymentyev made up for his mistake with a power-play goal from the blueline at 15:07, and Pobyedonostsev tied it up just 44 seconds later, converting a pass from behind the goal line from Oleg Tymchenko.

Both teams improved their defensive play for the third period that remained scoreless, but Dowd’s third goal at 1:46 of overtime earned Great Britain the extra point and OT victory.

“We’re in for a medal now and try to win the next one and take one game at a time,” Dowd said.

MARTIN MERK
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