Austria avoids shocker

Japan, Slovenia also in promotion race

23.04.2014
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Austria's Daniel Oberkofler with a scoring chance in front of the Korean net. Photo: Kim Soohan

GOYANG – Korea shocked Austria with a 3-0 lead after nine minutes but Austria fought back for a 7-4 win and first place after three days in the 2014 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship Division I Group A. Japan scored late for a 3-2 win over Ukraine while Slovenia defeated Hungary 2-0 with Luka Gracnar’s second shutout.

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Austria vs. Korea 7-4 (5-4, 0-0, 2-0)

It was a shocker of a score when Korea led 3-0 against odds-on favourite Austria after nine minutes but the “eagles” turned the score to 5-4 before the first intermission and won 7-4 to top the tournament standings.

Brian Lebler scored a hat trick for Austria but wasn’t too happy about his team’s performance.

“It was a pretty ugly game with many chances on both sides. They played a hell of a game. We capitalized on our chances and they did too,” Lebler said.

Austria had a bad start with two penalties. Woosang Park opened the scoring for Korea at 3:45 on a rebound after Kisung Kim has hit the post during the two-man advantage. But the Koreans also had dangerous rushes with five-on-five.

At 7:42 the Korean goal song was played again. Minho Cho received a diagonal pass to the crease from Michael Swift and beat Bernhard Starkbaum. Austria coach Emanuel Viveiros already had to take his time-out but to no avail. 31 seconds later the Korean (and Austrian) fans at the arena couldn’t believe their eyes when Kisung Kim’s shot from the right face-off dot went in to give Korea a 3-0 lead. It was a strong wake-up call for the Austrians and they found the right answer.

At 9:49 Michael Schiechl received a pass just behind the blueline and skated toward Hoseung Son’s goal before shooting the puck into the net via the right goal post.

At 11:12 Thomas Hundertpfund scored as well after a diagonal pass to left of the net from Thomas Koch and 56 seconds later Lebler tied the game after a horizontal pass to the crease again from Koch.

At 14:50 Lebler scored again when deflecting a Mario Altmann shot from the blueline. With his fourth marker at this tournament he brought Austria the lead for the first time in this game. But 15 seconds later it looked brighter for the Koreans when Kisung Kim got his second marker of the game as well. After Brock Radunske had outplayed Markus Schlacher on the left, Kisung Kim scored from the right side.

The goal galore in the first period ended with a 5-4 lead for Austria. At 16:52 Hunderpfund increased his goal account to two as well. He came from behind the net and tried to push the puck between the goal post and Hoseung Son’s pads. With success since the Korean netminder didn’t notice it and moved his leg in the worst moment.

Korean coach Sun Wook Byun changed goalkeepers for the second period with Sungje Park coming in and although both teams created chances they didn’t get to score that easily anymore. Hyung Joon Kim had the biggest chance after 12 minutes when he got the puck at the blueline unnoticed by the Austrian defence but he stumbled on the breakaway and missed out on the opportunity.

The Koreans, who had to play without Bryan Young after an injury in the last game, continued to skate hard for the game-tying goal. Swift had a huge chance during a power play but missed the puck in front of an open net after a horizontal pass while Daniel Oberkofler missed to score a shorthander on a breakaway.

Offensive action went down a bit but at 13:31 of the final frame Konstantin Komarek deked Wooyoung Kim and scored on goalkeeper Park to make it 6-4. And with 2:30 left on the match clock, Lebler completed his hat trick and destroyed Korea’s hope for catching up in the dying minutes of the game.

“Korea played very well today. We were not ready to play today,” Austria coach Viveiros said. “Sometimes in a tournament we have a game you don’t play the best and we were fortunate that we won this hockey game.”

Korea coach Sun Wook Byun tried to take the positives out of this match. “It was a good game. Everybody got better and gained confidence. We had the lead but they had a strong team and came back. We’re getting better and better each game,” he said ahead of tomorrow’s neighbouring clash against Japan.

Ukraine vs. Japan 2-3 (1-2, 0-0, 1-1)

Japan and Ukraine have surprised so far in this tournament but only one team could win on Wednesday and it was Japan thanks to Takuro Yamashita’s 3-2 game-winner with 104 seconds left to play.

The win lifts Japan to first place before today’s last game between Austria and Korea and well in race for the first two spots at the end of the tournament that mean promotion to the top division.

“It’s very exciting. We stayed disciplined, skated well and played smart. We need to play according to our game plan and did that today,” Japan captain Go Tanaka said.

Japan was leading for most of the game. After two periods Japan outshot Ukraine 19-13 and was leading 2-1 before the Ukrainians came back into the game in a strong third period.

Japan opened the scoring already at 4:31. On the first power play of the game, Japan Shuhei Kuji converted a pass from defenceman Aaron Keller.

Soon later Japan already had its second power play and Takuma Kawai’s shot hit the post but the score remained and after the penalty had expired, the Ukrainians had the chance to react. After a horizontal pass through the crease from Oleg Tymchenko, Olexander Materukhin scored into the open net from the left side to tie the game at one.

But at 13:11 Kuji made the Japanese fans in the arena cheer again when his shot from the face-off circle went in after a drop pass from Ryo Hashimoto.

Also the second period started with chances on both sides like a Kazumasa Sasaki shot that hit the upper side of Sergi Gaiduchenko’s pad but went down just in front of the Ukrainian netminder and a wraparound attempt from Sergi Varlamov.

At 11:32 the Ukrainians were closest to the equalizer but a shot hit the post as the video review showed. On the other side the fast Japanese players were waiting for counter-attacks like one by Seiji Takahashi, who decided to shoot himself on a two-on-one but the puck went slightly over the crossbar.

The Ukrainians eventually tied the game early in the third period. After a rebound, Roman Blagy sent a pass to Andri Mikhnov, who shot the puck past Yutaka Fukufuji. The game continued with chances on both sides although with more for the Ukrainians who also had one power play late in the game.

Just when the match was approaching overtime, Takuro Yamashita regained the lead for Japan with 1:44 left to play after receiving a pass along the side boards from defenceman Denis Akimoto. That was the decision. The Ukrainians pulled their goalkeeper for a sixth skater but were not able to use the little time to tie the game again.

Slovenia vs. Hungary 2-0 (0-0, 2-0, 0-0)

Slovenia had a slow start into the tournament against Japan but earned the second win in a row, 2-0 against Hungary, at the 2014 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship Division I Group A. 20-year-old goalkeeper Luka Gracnar, who was in the net against Korea and today against Hungary, already earned his second shutout in his second game.

“We played tactically very well with just smaller slumps and we were disciplined. We took just a few penalties,” said Gracnar, who had 31 saves against Hungary. Despite his success at a young age, he doesn’t get bigheaded though.

“I don’t like to talk about who is number one or number two. It’s a short tournament and you need two or three quality goalies. Everybody has to be ready. But of course I try to enjoy every day. I’m happy and it’s a pleasure to play.”

Slovenia indeed had the better start, especially in the second period. At 1:47 Tomaz Razingar broke the deadlock when he deflected a distance shot from Ziga Pavlin shortly after his team’s third power play.

A few seconds after the face-off at centre ice Blaz Gregorc took a penalty for high-sticking giving Hungary the chance to tie but they didn’t capitalize like during the remainder of the game.

Once the penalty was over it was again Slovenia’s turn. After a big hit of Mitja Robar against Hungary’s Istvan Sofron in the Hungarian zone the Slovenes were quick on a counter-attack. Gregorc passed to Anze Kuralt, who doubled the gap with the 2-0 goal at 5:21 of the middle frame.

Six minutes later the Slovenes were a few centimetres away from their third goal. After a blocked Matic Podlipnik shot, Marcel Rodman lobbed the puck over the goalie but it stopped before the goal line and Hungarian goalkeeper Zoltan Hetenyi got the situation under control in time.

Hungary was strongest in the third period when it created nearly half of its scoring chances of the entire game and outshot Slovenia 15-8. But Gracnar stood tall in the Slovenian net.

Daniel Koger had one of the biggest chances in the third period after seven minutes during the power play when he suddenly got the puck in front of the net after a drop pass from Tamas Posgai but seemed too surprised to lift the puck.

With 71 seconds left in regulation time and the goalie already pulled, Hungary coach Rich Chernomaz took his time-out for a last attempt but the Slovenes defended their 2-0 lead well.

“We had lots of chances. We dictated the tempo and pace in the third period but they capitalized on their chances and that was the difference,” Chernomaz said.

“We are back on track. For two periods we were pretty solid in both ends but after two periods we stepped down. We started to play complicated and that gave them chances,” said Tomaz Razingar, who was selected Slovenia’s best player of the game.

While Hungary’s chances for promotion became slimmer, the Slovenes have recovered from the historic opening-day loss against Japan and have it in their own hands in the last two games against Ukraine and Austria.

MARTIN MERK

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