KHABAROVSK, Russia – Japan won the second edition of the IIHF U20 Challenge Cup of Asia. The Japanese U20 national team defeated the MHL Red Stars from Russia 6-4 in the deciding game.
The U20 Challenge Cup of Asia was hosted in co-operation with the Russian major junior league MHL in Khabarovsk. This year’s Russian selection was comprised of players from the local junior team, Amurskie Tigry Khabarovsk.
While Japan won the trophy, it was again a special experience for everybody involved, bringing hockey in Russia’s Far East and in the top Asian countries closer together.
The co-operation started one year ago when the question arose whether an Asian team should participate in the top Russian junior league.
“We’re interested to expand our league to the Far East of Russia and the Asian countries are looking for opportunities,” said MHL Managing Director Dmitri Yefimov.
IIHF Vice President Thomas J. Wu calls the situation a win-win situation for both sides.
“This co-operation is a perfect opportunity and model for our Asian core countries for their development. More importantly we’re focusing on the youth of those nations so the players can collect international experience and play on a higher level,” Wu said. “On the other side the MHL has the possibility that younger players of their selection can demonstrate their performance in the Far East.”
The Asian teams Japan and Korea made one step forward compared to last year’s inaugural tournament that was hosted in Seoul, Korea.
In the first game in Khabarovsk the Koreans were able to compete with the Russians for more than two periods against the MHL Red Stars. It was 1-0 for most of the game thanks to Kirill Voronoi’s goal at 16:45 of the first period. In the last frame the Russians did a better job capitalizing on their chances. Sergei Smurov, Igor Ishayev and Vitali Teslenko added three markers for the 4-0 win.
Japan entered the tournament on the second day and took advantage of a seemingly exhausted Korean team. Although Japan outshot Korea 30-21, the score of the game became much clearer. Already after one period it was 4-0 for Japan. Korea improved in the second period and added two goals from Junahee Kim and Kiseon Park.
In the end Japan won 9-2. Kota Takada, Shun Tateda and Yushiroh Hirano each scored a pair of goals. Kakeru Osawa, Kazunari Koizumi and Kenta Takagi added the other markers.
Everything was ready for the final day and a showdown in which the MHL Red Stars hosted Japan on Sunday. In front of 4,182 fans the MHL Red Stars created more scoring chances in the beginning but the hard skating Japanese players had more opportunities throughout the game.
Sergei Abramov scored the only goal of the opening period at 13:55 to give the MHL Red Stars the lead.
At the beginning of the second period the Russians made it 2-0 with a goal from Sergei Smurov at 4:05 and this was the beginning of three special minutes in which the spectators haven’t had time to breathe. One minute later Makuru Furuhashi made it 2-1 but Roman Kopienko quickly restored the two-goal lead for the MHL Red Stars.
The Japanese continued to create strong offence resulting in two more goals from Tsuyoshi Osawa and Kota Takada to tie the game at two.
At 8:13 of the third period Kenta Takagi made it 3-2 and Furuhashi scored his second goal of the day for a two-goal lead. Goals from Japan’s Kosuke Otsu and the second marker MHL Red Stars forward Smurov in the dying minutes of the game levelled the final score to 6-4.
For IIHF Asian Sport Development Manager Harald Springfeld the entire tournament itself was again a success.
“We’re thinking in the big picture and will enforce our co-operation,” Springfeld said. “This tournament series is very important for the next generation of national team players and at the same time a showcase for the youth development in our Asian core countries. The discussions we had in the last couple of days were very positive and from the sportive point of view the games were challenging for everybody.”
Japan’s men’s national team coach Mark Mahon coached the U20 team together with Teruhiko Okita. He compares the situation with Europe.
“We need to have a look for opportunities to have tournaments like this which we really need in the Asian region,” Mahon said. “In Europe it is very easy to organize exhibition and national team games as there are many countries next to each other. The co-operation with the MHL and the Far East of Russia we have is a very good one and also they can have a benefit of it. It’s a good project!”
With the end of the tournament the ice hockey season in Asia comes to an end and the preparation for next year’s programs inside the Asia 2022 long-term development program started already.
The Asian Strategic Planning Group worked on the two Challenge Cup of Asia tournaments – the men’s tournament was held in Bangkok, Thailand, earlier this year – and on systematic and continuous coaching and officiating education that has been introduced and implemented.
HARALD SPRINGFELD (Khabarovsk)
MARTIN MERK (Zurich)