VILNIUS – Sebastian Kowalowka scored twice to lift Poland to Division I Group A thanks to a 4-1 victory over Croatia in Thursday’s first Division I Group B game. In later action, Great Britain edged the Netherlands 4-3 while Lithuania is in the driving seat for the silver after a 5-2 win over Romania.
Poland vs. Croatia 4-1 (1-0, 1-1, 2-0)
Poland wasted no time to seal their gold medals and promotion to the 2015 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship Division I Group A.
Sebastian Kowalowka became the big hero as his two goals arrived at crucial stages of the game as Poland's 4-1 win moves them up to the Division I Group A while newly promoted Croatia still has a chance to finish second.
It was a case of third time luck for Poland in their quest to move up to the second tier of international hockey following the IIHF’s restructuring of the World Championship format to a vertical system. Final day defeats against Korea on home ice in Krynica in 2012 and last year's loss against Ukraine in Donetsk are now forgotten after Igor Zakharkin has guided them to promotion during his second season as head coach of Poland.
"We worked harder and are more disciplined than the others. We have a very good team with four even lines and we have a game-plan which the players followed the entire tournament," said Igor Zakharkin on his recipe for success after Poland won the 2014 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship Division I Group B.
Kowalowka set the tone for Poland's march upwards after firing the first puck of the afternoon into Mate Tomljenovic's net after his linemates Aron Chmielewski and Grzegorz Pasiut had set him up for an easy finish midway through the first frame where Poland won the shots 17-4.
Marcin Kolusz, Poland's captain, added a second on the power play five minutes into the second period. Krzysztof Zapala had fed defenceman Pawel Dronia from the right corner who picked out Kolusz whose shot zinged high into Tomljenovic's net.
The Croats replied seven minutes later to put a bit of nerve into the game as Dominik Kanaet's power-play goal meant Poland only carried a one-goal lead going into the final period.
As Croatia started to show signs of wear and tear, matchwinner Kowalowka stepped up and took charge, as he rounded Tomljenovic's net to press home the decisive 3-1 goal after 55:21 before Leszek Laszkiewicz scored an empty netter with 11 seconds as unbridled Polish joy ensued.
With Zakharkin joining Vyacheslav Bykov, who currently is in the role of a consultant for the Polish national team, as the new coaching duo at SKA St. Petersburg, the question is now how Poland will flourish in Division I Group A next year without his expertise.
"I think they can make it," he said. "But a lot of hard work is needed also in terms of strengthening the organisation side to have success in Division I," while being very coy on the questions whether he will continue to assist the Polish national team in any shape of form in the future.
"That is one of the things we will be discussing tonight," said a joyful Zakharkin.
For Croatia, they can look back at a hard-fought game against the best team in the division as they aim for the silver medals on Sunday.
"I am not happy that we lost against Poland, but as far as the team goes we hung in there for 55 minutes, not all our guys are professional, so now we got to regroup ahead of our big game in the last game against Lithuania," said Croatia head coach Donald MacLean.
Netherlands vs. Great Britain 3-4 (1-2, 0-1, 2-1)
Two goals conceded in the first 51 seconds of the game left the Netherlands on the back foot against Great Britain.
Goals by Colin Shields and David Clarke put the Brits ahead as they edged the Netherlands 4-3. Nardo Nagtzaam scored a brace for the Netherlands.
Great Britain kept alive their hopes of a bronze medal ahead of the final round of games, while winless Netherlands now have to beat Romania to stay in the division.
"We made lots of mistakes but we found a way to win," said Great Britain head coach Doug Christiansen. "We have played better in this tournament and lost, so we will take a win any way it will come."
Having to chase the game from start to finish, the Netherlands won the shots on goal with 14-5 during a frantic first frame which saw them concede twice early, before Nagtzaam pulled a goal back midway through the first period. Influential defenceman Jordy van Oorschot did all the hard work as he weaved past the British defence and from his position on the right served Nagtzaam on a plate.
With Ivy van den Heuvel back in the Dutch team after a-one game absence, head coach Chris Eimers had once against shuffled around his lines, with Nagtzaam, Ronald Wurm and Levi Houkes being the most prolific troika during this encounter.
Daniel Meyers' only goal of the middle frame meant 3-1 for Great Britain before Nagtzaam scored his second of the game 34 seconds into the final frame.
But a Dax van de Velden tripping penalty, tipped the game firmly into Great Britain's favour against as a Matthew Myers power-play goal gave Brits a renewed two goal cushion at 42:35.
Kevin Bruijsten soon after replied with his first marker of the world championships and also the Netherlands' first power-play goal which at 45:58 gave renewed Dutch hope as went pressing for an equaliser. Maartel Brekelmans cracked a shot against Ben Bowns' post, and despite pulling Martijn Oosterwijk from the net for the final couple of minutes Great Britain held out for their second win.
"A bronze medal is still a possibility and the boys have set their sights on that," said Christiansen who need his men to beat Poland in regulation time on Saturday and hope Lithuania defeat Croatia in order to finish in third place.
The Netherlands, pointless so far, will need to bounce back after yet another disappointing defeat to record their first win in order to stay in the division.
"Luck was once again not on our side as we fought ourselves back into this game and hit the post at 4-3," said Eimers. "It is what it is, but I think we deserve a bit more than what we have got here so far, and now we have to go out and beat Romania in our final match," he added.
Romania vs. Lithuania 2-5 (0-1, 0-1, 2-3)
A decider for silver between Lithuania and Croatia awaits during the final day of the 2014 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship Division I Group B after Lithuania's first line were on imperious form as Romania were convincingly beaten.
Donatas Kumeliauskas led the way with two goals and two assists, Dainius Zubrus had three helpers while Arnoldas Bosas hit a double in a 5-2 win over Romania. Kumeliauskas and Zubrus are now also joint top in the scoring charts with eight points apiece.
"Romania gave us hard times and our team did not work that well, apart from when we were playing short-handed, because we took too many stupid penalties," said Lithuania head coach Bernd Haake. "But games like these happen at all World Championships and after 60 minutes we won and now we have a silver medal game against Croatia," he continued.
Romania had finished above Lithuania in the final standings during the last two World Championships, but with home ice advantage and the added Zubrus factor the tables were now drastically turned. Once again, it was their inspirational captain who led the way against a Romanian team desperate for points in order to avoid the drop. Blueliner Mindaugas Kieras instigated the move that picked out Zubrus bursting through at the blueline as he picked out Kumeliauskas who rushed behind Romania's rearguard and fired home Lithuania's first after 6:40.
But Romania had no wish to appear pushovers for the hosts and settled more into the game during a penalty-ravaged second period. Working on a one-man advantage, Ervin Moldovan picked out Ede Mihaly who saw his effort blocked by Mantas Armalis after 14:23. Soon after the troika of the Biro brothers went close, before their momentum was put to an end heading into midway of the game when Zubrus fed Arturas Katulis whose low drive from the left point found a way through Gellert Ruczuj's pads for a 2-0 lead for Lithuania
Otto Biro was soon after thrown out of the game following the aftermath of a tackle involving his younger brother Matyas, but Romania soon got a lifeline, when a Levente Zsok power-play slapshot into the top corner put a bit of nerve back into the game. Careless defensive play from Romania's Zsolt Mastareliu changed all that, as he fed the puck straight to Kumeliauskas who clear on goal made no mistake stretching Lithuania's lead to 3-1 in front of a vocal crowd of 5,687.
Bosas' first of the evening, on the power play with less than ten minutes to play increased Lithuania's lead to 4-1, and despite Csanad Fodor cutting the deficit with a well-taken goal when Romania had pulled their goalie, Bosas settled matters with 28 seconds netting Lithuania's fifth in an empty cage.
While Lithuania will fight it out for silver or bronze during the last day, Romania is facing a battle to stay in the division.
"Tonight Lithuania was better than us," said Kjell Lindqvist, head coach of Romania. "We had our chances to score, but with the individual mistakes we are making we don't make it easy for us."
"We are now facing a do or die match and I hope now that we can go and beat the Netherlands in our final match," added Lindqvist.