Three-team race on Saturday

Austria, Japan, Slovenia hope to go to Czech Republic in 2015

24.04.2014
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Joy and tears were close together as Japan gets a crucial 4-2 win against Asian rival and host Korea. Photo: Soohan Kim

GOYANG – It will be a dramatic finish for promotion on Saturday at the 2014 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship Division I Group A with Austria, Japan and Slovenia battling for the top-two spots. Host Korea is relegated and will be replaced by Poland.

All three teams won their games on Thursday. Slovenia put Ukraine out of contention with a 5-3 victory in the early game and Austria did the same in a 5-4 comeback win in overtime against Hungary. Japan won the Asian clash with Korea 4-2.

Click here for the event website in English and Korean with live scores, stats, photos and videos.

Japan vs. Korea 4-2 (3-0, 1-0, 0-2)

For the first time since coming down to Division I in 2005 Japan will play for promotion. Korea will be relegated to Division I Group B after the 4-2 loss.

Joy and disappointment were close together in this Asian clash. Japan is now closer than ever to qualifying for the top division through Division I play since the end of the era when one Asian team had a fixed spot between 1998 and 2005 that was always taken by Japan as Asian qualifier.

“It was a must-win game for us if we wanted to have any chance to move up. Korea played very fast and the good start helped us,” Japanese defenceman Aaron Keller said.

“In the past we lost the first games of the tournament and didn’t have a chance. This time we were lucky and beat Slovenia in the first game. Our young guys are starting to believe that they can compete at that level. We don’t have the chance to play against European teams that much, so some players may feel intimidated at first. And our goalie is great. If a goalie is the best player every night you can have a chance.”

For Korea it became the last chance to fight against the demotion to the third tier of international ice hockey but zero points from four games means they won’t be able to improve from sixth place in their last game against Ukraine.

The Koreans had high hopes for the first win against Asian rival Japan in an official game between the men’s national teams but those hopes in a full and noisy Goyang Ice Rink dwindled very quickly due to the efficient Japanese offence.

After 74 seconds of play Hiroki Ueno already opened the scoring with a shot from an acute angle after crossing the left face-off circle that caught Korean goalkeeper Sungje Park on the wrong foot.

Less than two minutes later it was already 2-0 for Japan. After Park had saved a Takafumi Yamashita shot, Seiji Takahashi scored on the rebound.

At 11:08 Ueno scored the 3-0 goal with his second marker of the night after a two-on-one and getting the pass from Takuro Yamashita.

“In the beginning we let in goals too easily. That was the reason we lost the game. We tried to come back but we didn’t have that much time,” Korean head coach Sun Wook Byun said.

“We will drop down one level but we still have the hope to make it to the PyeongChang Olympics. We learned a lot at this tournament. We saw a lot of mistakes but also positive things. We need to improve in our defence.”

Although shots on goal were 9-9 after the first period – and 30-26 for Korea in total – the Korean offence had too little to offer in the first 20 minutes of play but the host nation’s players came out for the second period highly motivated with two scoring opportunities from Woosang Park early in the period and further shots from Kisung Kim and Sanghoon Shin. The pattern with Korea being active but luckless in the Japanese zone continued for most of the period.

However, with 80 seconds left also Japan had a great chance to extend the lead with Denis Akimoto’s post shot. Then two penalty calls against Korea followed. Japanese defenceman Aaron Keller capitalized on it with his point shot to extend the lead to four goals at 19:25.

At 1:15 of the third period the fans in Goyang were finally able to cheer on a goal and here the announcer’s “Gooooaal Korea!” when Michael Swift beat Yutaka Fukufuji with a high shot close to the post.

A penalty against Japan’s Kohei Mitamura gave Korea another chance to score and after 16 seconds Don Ku Lee’s shot from the blueline found its way into the net through heavy traffic in front of Fukufuji. With Japan’s lead down to 4-2, the enthusiasm from the stands seemed to energize the players but at the same time Japan remained dangerous on counter-attacks.

By taking four penalties in the last 11 minutes of play the Koreans made their life difficult and prevented a final rush to change the 4-2 score.

“We knew it’s going to be a tough game. It’s never easy to play against them,” Japan head coach Mark Mahon said.

“It’s an exciting time for us to play this last game to move up to the top division. It’s the first time for us, so it’s an exciting time for Japanese hockey.”

Mahon also praised the Korean Ice Hockey Association for the organization and leadership in hosting the event in Asia and bolstered the Koreans on this tough day for the hosts.

“It takes time to build a national team program. It takes years, more than an Olympic cycle. Korean hockey is going into the right direction,” Mahon said.

The Japanese go into the last game day as second-ranked team and have the chance to earn promotion with a win in Saturday’s early game against Hungary no matter of the outcome in the Austria-Slovenia game later that day.

Hungary vs. Austria 4-5 (0-0, 3-3, 1-1, 0-1) OT

Austria remains undefeated after beating Hungary 5-4 in overtime. The Magyars meanwhile are out of contention for promotion since they needed a regulation-time win in this tight thriller between the neighbouring countries.

Hungary outshot Austria 38-26 throughout the game but didn’t earn the three points it needed. Like the day before against Korea, Austria wasn’t ready for the game and needed a wake-up call to earn a come-from-behind win.

“We fulfilled our obligations but we made it unnecessarily difficult for ourselves with too many penalties,” said Dominique Heinrich, who scored two goals for Austria.

“Under no circumstances do we want to oversleep the beginning and run behind a deficit against Slovenia since it may not work out next time. We have to be ready from the beginning and cannot wake up just in the second period. Now we have one day to recover for this game.”

Hungary came out from the dressing room red hot and outshot the Austrians 16-3 in the first 20 minutes of play.

The biggest difference compared to yesterday’s goal galore against Korea in the Austrian game was that their goalkeeper Bernhard Starkbaum was in the form needed today. The 28-year-old netminder of Swedish club Brynas Gavle kept his team in the game and was one reason Austria survived three Hungarian power plays to keep the game scoreless for 27 minutes.

After 16 minutes in the opening frame the over 100 Hungarian fans who travelled to Korea were cheering for the first time. After a pass from Andras Benk it was Balazs Sebok who pushed the puck over the line but the officials had stopped the play because Benk was standing in the goal crease and interfered Starkbaum.

Hungary was also the better team at the start of the second period. Istvan Bartalis had a shot that was deflected by Starkbaum’s shoulder after six minutes in the middle frame.

At 7:21 the Hungarians eventually earned the well-deserved opening goal. Bence Sziranyi’s shot from the blueline went through the legs of Austrian forward Michael Schiechl and past by a screened Starkbaum. Balazs Sebok made it 2-0 just 66 seconds later after a wraparound attempt of Andras Benk that landed at Sebok’s stick via Starkbaum’s pad.

After ten minutes Istvan Bartalis interfered Schiechl on a breakaway by hooking him close to the net but Zoltan Hetenyi saved Schiechl’s penalty shot.

Despite the missed opportunity the Austrian reaction came soon enough. At 11:50 Thomas Hundertpfund scored one of the highlight-worthiest goals of the tournament when he deked Hungarian defenceman Viktor Tokaji with fine stickhandling before moving the puck under his opponent’s skate and beating Hetenyi for the 2-1 goal.

And at 13:32 Heinrich tied the game after converting a horizontal pass from Thomas Koch. Two minutes later during a power play Heinrich scored again by capitalizing on a rebound after a Hundertpfund shot.

The Hungarians didn’t give up. Just tenths of seconds before the buzzer for the second intermission Sabok beat Starkbaum through his five-hole. The players and fans needed patience since the officials reviewed the play to confirm that the puck had crossed the line in the last second but not after.

The third period thus started with a 3-3 score but at 7:40 the Austrians found the right answer with Matthias Iberer regaining the lead with his shot at via the right goal post after Daniel Oberkofler’s pass from the end boards.

At 12:55 another tight decision had to be reviewed when Austrian defenceman Martin Schumnig cleared a puck on the goal line but the disc didn’t fully cross the line and the game went on with Austria’s 4-3 lead. But less than one minute later the Hungarians were able to celebrate the equalizer thanks to Csaba Kovacs’ precise shot from the face-off circle into the top-left corner.

Hungary coach Rich Chernomaz took his time-out and pulled his goalkeeper while the game was 4-4. The Hungarians needed a regulation-time win to have at least a theoretic chance for the first two places but the third period ended without a goal.

“It was an unbelievable game. I was satisfied for most part of the game but unfortunately we had two major brain farts,” a disappointed Chernomaz said. “One or two points wouldn’t be good enough, we needed three.”

At 3:45 of the extra time Brian Lebler found the hole between Hetenyi and the goal post to clinch the win for Austria and defend first place in the standings before the game against Slovenia on Saturday.

Slovenia vs. Ukraine 5-3 (2-0, 0-2, 3-1)

Slovenia kept it hopes for promotion alive and defeated Ukraine 5-3 before its final game against undefeated Austria on Saturday at the 2014 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship Division I Group A. Slovenia dominated the beginning but Ukraine came back with three power-play goals.

“Ukraine didn’t give up, they kept pushing. We have to give them credit for their power play which is really good. We have to play better on the penalty kill and get less penalties,” said Bostjan Golicic.

It was a lopsided start for his team. Slovenia dictated the play in the first period and it never looked like they would lose the game after a 2-0 first-period lead with a 15-4 shot-on-goal advantage.

The Slovenes opened the scoring at 12:12. Anze Kuralt kept the Ukrainian defence busy on the right side and passed to Miha Stebih, who went unnoticed on the left side and beat Sergi Gaiduchenko for the opening goal.

A few minutes after the goal Ukraine got its first power play but the biggest chance came after Olexander Materukhin’s giveaway. Jan Mursak, too fast for the Ukrainian defence, left for a breakaway but didn’t bring the puck past Gaiduchenko.

The Slovenes continued to put pressure on the Ukrainian net. Ziga Pance missed one opportunity when he was blocked from converting a centering pass but Jan Urbas had more luck at 18:09 when he skated toward the net and sent off a perfect shot into the top-right corner.

The second period started like the opening frame. The Slovenian pace was too much for the yellow-and-blue team that was assessed two penalties after less than three minutes of play. But then Ales Music missed the puck during a shot and hit an opponent. The Ukrainians capitalized on the high-sticking penalty when Andri Mikhnov deflected Yuri Navarenko’s shot from the blueline at 6:57.

That renewed Ukraine’s hope to get back into the game making the team more pro-active. At 18:57 they eventually capitalized on their next power play. Denys Petrukhno’s shot from the face-off circle went into the top-right corner after Materukhin’s pass from behind the net to relaunch the game with two goals each.

Ukraine had a great start into the third period with Yevgen Belukhin’s power-play goal at 2:13 but Slovenia reacted just half a minute later with Ales Music scoring on a rebound. Four minutes later Slovenia was on the power play and Jan Mursak beat Gaiduchenko with a wrist shot through the Ukrainian netminder’s five-hole to regain the lead.

At 17:04 Bostjan Golicic’s goal after Anze Kuralt had conquered the puck on a giveaway made it 5-3 and sealed the win to set up a possible final for first place with Austria. The Austrians have been undefeated in three games and can in the best case already earn promotion today while Ukraine is out of contention for promotion and will end the tournament between third and fifth place.

“The promotion is our goal,” Golicic said. “We showed after the first game that we have character and we bounced back.”

MARTIN MERK

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