MANNHEIM – Italy rallied from being down 1-0 to beat Kazakhstan 2-1 in a key Relegation Round game today at SAP Arena. The win leaves Kazakhstan in the basement of the relegation round with no points and only one game remaining and lifts Italy into a second-place tie with France with three points each. The Americans are in first with six points.
"Finally!" said a relieved John Parco. "We hadn't won a game in a while. It's a great feeling."
Christian Borgatello and Michael Souza scored for Italy while goaltender Daniel Bellissimo was solid in goal for the winners stopping 32 of 33 shots. Kazakhstan fired 26 shots at Vitali Yeremeyev.
"Obviously the Relegation Round is a little bit different from playing Canada and the Swiss, but those are two of the best teams I've ever faced. The level here has been very good, very high," said Italian defenceman Trevor Johnson.
The scoreless first period was about fear and confidence on both sides. The teams knew what the stakes were – loser likely to be demoted – and neither wanted to make a critical error. There weren’t many scoring chances, although the Kazakhs did have the edge in play and territorial advantage.
Although the game opened a little in the middle period, there was still nary a goal to be had. Kazakhstan had one great opportunity when Andrei Spiridonov came down the left side and went in on goalie Bellissimo, but the goalie made a fine save on Spiridonov’s shot.
Several minutes later, the Italians had their best scoring chance when a quick wrist shot from the point fooled Yermeyev and hit the post, but the puck bounced back under the goalie’s pad.
Near the end of the period, Patrick Ionnone found an opening in the slot and fired a quick shot which Bellissimo again got in front of, and after 40 minutes the game’s score was just as when it began, 0-0.
Kazakhstan finally got on the board early in the third period on the power play. Roman Starchenko, along the right boards near the end red line, dropped the puck to Konstantin Shafranov who fired a quick shot on goal. Starchenko had skated towards the net in the meantime and made a beautiful deflection, tipping the puck between Bellissimo’s pads and in to make it 1-0.
That woke up the Italians, and less than two minutes later they responded. This time it was a quick point shot by Christian Borgatello through a screen in front that fooled Yeremeyev and beat him to the stick side to tie the game, 1-1.
And then the Italians got their first lead, thanks to a nice pass from Alexander Egger to Souza. Egger was bringing the puck through centre and saw Souza streaking down the left side. He made a perfect pass, and Souza went in and beat Yeremeyev with a perfect shot between the pads.
Try as they might, the Kazakhs couldn't generate enough offence to pressure the Italians late in the game. Yermeyev had to stay in his net, and Italy won the game, 2-1.
The final relegation games will be played on Tuesday. In Mannheim, Kazakhstan plays France, while in Cologne it’s the Italians playing the Americans. The top two teams in the group will remain in the top division for 2001 while the bottom two will be relegated to Division I.
"Hopefully we can carry this into the next game against the USA," said John Parco. "I know it's going to be a tough one. We're just going to work hard and see what happens."