Strong class for Lithuania

U18 team earns promotion to Division I

31.03.2014
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Underdog Lithuania celebrates one of their five wins at the 2014 IIHF Ice Hockey U18 World Championship Division II Group A. Photo: Colin Lawson

DUMFRIES, Great Britain – In its best result in four years, fifth-seeded Lithuania won the 2014 IIHF Ice Hockey U18 World Championship Division II Group A and earns promotion to Division I.

Free-scoring Lithuania took the Dumfries Ice Bowl in Scotland by storm over the past week to secure their return to Division I after a three-year absence.

Their pace and power impressed everyone throughout the week and their 23 goals and solid goaltending made them a force to be reckoned with.

Going into their final-day game with Great Britain, Lithuania needed only a point to win gold but their hosts needed a point for very different reasons – to avoid a surprise relegation.

Two of the sides who could've clinched promotion had gone head-to-head earlier in the day, with Korea coming out on top with a 4-2 victory and Croatia having to settle for bronze.

It put Korea temporarily in top spot, but all they could do is wait and become GB fans – and hope their hosts won in regulation time.

Fittingly, the tournament's final game was a thriller as the lead changed hands twice in the second period.

Dominyk Bogdziul and Arturas Laukaitis had already given Lithuania a two-goal first-period lead, but it was a merely sign of what was to come.

Ivan Antonov, 15-year-old Sam Duggan and Alex Forbes scored within eight minutes of each other and GB were bouncing.

But step forward Laukaitis, who completed his hat trick with two goals in a little over two minutes, on his way to becoming the tournament's highest scorer with eight goals.

The loyal and passionate following from Lithuania, who had chanted non-stop throughout, felt the gold medal getting closer.

Meanwhile, GB needed a goal to secure their Division II Group A status and, with less than 10 minutes to go, they found an equaliser from an unlikely hero.

Luc Johnson, who injured his shoulder earlier in the tournament and had to have it popped back in and sat out a game, pounced on the doorstep to level the game at four.

Both sides pushed for a winner with Korea desperately watching on from behind the goal, hoping that GB could sneak just one more.

It didn't happen and the hooter to signal the end of regulation time saw celebrations from both sides, all be it a little muted from the hosts, who never thought they would have a relegation battle on their hands.

Lithuania went onto win the penalty shootout after no goals in overtime and their party could really begin, while onlooking Korea had to be content with silver and, with it, no immediate return to Division I.

After securing promotion from Division I in 2007 for the first time, the Lithuanian youngsters were relegated in 2010 but they have risen again, much to the delight of their coach Andrius Jadkauskas.

"We are obviously so happy to win promotion," he said. "It is a great feeling for everyone.

"I am a very proud coach and, as you can imagine, we have lots of smiles.

"It has been a fantastic tournament and GB made it tough for us in this last game.

"We knew it wouldn't be easy with them needed a point to avoid relegation, but we stuck to what we had to do and now we are promoted."

GB head coach Martin Grubb felt his side did not play to their true potential throughout the tournament, but acknowledged they came big when they needed too.

Grubb said: "I asked them for a character performance and they delivered.

"When we needed to pull something out of the bag, we managed to do it and I am proud of them.

"We did not have a great week, we know that, but when the chips were down we found a way.

"We played with energy, passion and heart tonight and got the job done.

"We know we have a lot to learn but this will build our character and is only good for the future."

Lithuania showed their intentions on opening day with a shutout for netminder Artur Pavliukov in a 4-0 victory over Croatia and followed that up with a 3-1 success over fourth-placed Netherlands.

They then dropped their first points of the tournament in a 6-5 defeat by Korea after penalty shots, before brushing side Romania 6-1, who were relegated to Division II Group B.

This was the third international tournament to be held at the Dumfries Ice Bowl and everyone who attended commented on the excellent competition.

Thousands came into the rink over the five game days and over 7,000 more watched the live webcast feed from all around the world.

The tournament ended with a thriller which decided both the promotion and relegation battle – and crowned a memorable week for the six teams in the UK.

Click here for scores, stats and photos.

CHRIS ELLIS

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