Favourites bounce back

Ukraine earns crucial win against Hungary

21.04.2014
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Slovenian forwards Jaka Ankerst and Tomaz Razingar try to score on Korean goalkeeper Hoseung Son. Photo: Kim Soohan

GOYANG – After losing points on the first day, top-seeded Austria and Slovenia bounced back with wins against Japan and Korea respectively while Ukraine earned its first victory in the 2014 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship Division I Group A against Hungary.

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Slovenia vs. Korea 4-0 (0-0, 2-0, 2-0)

Slovenia bounced back from an opening day loss and earned its first tournament victory by blanking host Korea, 4-0.

Slovenia’s Asian Easter package continued against Korea after a 2-1 loss to Japan on Sunday but the players learned their lesson and this time they came out determined from the very beginning.

“We knew we had to play better than against Japan and we did,” Slovenian forward Miha Verlic said. “We played according to our game plan and scored the goals. It’s an important win for our future in this tournament.”

It was a lopsided start. Slovenia already had seven shots on goal before the Koreans recorded their first attempt at 8:50. Then came a Slovenian team penalty for too many players on the ice and another one against Ziga Pavlin for handling the puck with the hands and a third one against Jan Mursak for slashing. There were no discounts made and the penalties gave Korea a 5-on-3 for over two minutes followed by a one-man advantage. But the Slovenian defence stood strong and withheld the pressure.

However, the Slovenes didn’t have the same energy like in the beginning of the game. The only big scoring chance until the end of the period originated in a Korean giveaway in the neutral zone with a double-pass play of Jan Mursak and Blaz Gregorc on a two-on-one breakaway but Mursak missed the puck in front of the open net. And for the end of the period Bostjan Golicic was sent out for high-sticking Wooyoung Kim but Shanghoon Shin followed him later for interference.

Also early in the second period the Slovenes didn’t create the same kind of offence like in the beginning of the game but at 5:51 Jan Urbas broke the deadlock with his shot into the top-right corner after a diagonal pass during a Slovenian power play. And 57 seconds later Miha Verlic made it 2-0. Rok Leber got the puck at the end boards from Anze Kuralt, skated towards the net and sent a horizontal pass to Verlic, who scored into the wide open net.

“It was a tough game for us because of the loss yesterday. The players were not relaxed and had to play against a host team that played well today,” Slovenian coach Matjaz Kopitar said.

“We will take this win and tomorrow is a day off and we will prepare for the next days. In tomorrow’s practice we want to eliminate some mistakes in our game and come back to track and win our next games.”

A cross-checking penalty against Marcel Rodman and 49 seconds later another one against Mitja Robar gave Korea the opportunity to fight back but like before the Korean power play units were unsuccessful. Despite 14 shots for each team in the period it was the Slovenes who had the more dangerous scoring chances and it was those which earned them the lead.

39 seconds into the third period the Slovenes destroyed any hopes for a Korean comeback at the Goyang Ice Rink with Ales Music’s 3-0 marker on his own rebound. With 54 seconds remaining and Korea on a power play, Jan Urbas scored the fourth goal into the empty net.

“The players worked hard today and gave it all. We worked hard and had a lot of chances but their goalie was unbelievable and made great saves,” Korea head coach Sun Wook Byun said. “I’m more satisfied with the team than I was yesterday. There are other games coming up and we have to prepare for those games.”

While the victory keeps Slovenia’s chances for promotion alive, the Koreans will have to battle hard in their three remaining game if they want to fulfill their goal of bettering last year’s fifth-place finish.

Hungary vs. Ukraine 0-3 (0-1, 0-2, 0-0)

After bad luck in an overtime loss against Austria, the Ukrainian national team blanked Hungary 3-0 to get its first win at the 2014 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship Division I Group A.

Since Ukraine was relegated from the top division in 2007 it had lost both games against Hungary. It was key games as Ukraine missed promotion in 2008 due to a 4-2 loss in the “final” against Hungary and in 2012 a defeat against this opponent led Ukraine down to Division I Group B.

This year’s Ukrainian team seems to be ready for more. Like against Austria it showed it can play at this level and against Hungary the blue-and-yellow team created more offensive action than their opponent may have expected.

“It feels pretty good. It’s a good thing we beat them without conceding a goal,” said Oleg Tymchenko and praised goalkeeper Sergi Gaiduchenko.

“We played very well, had a couple of lucky bounces and capitalized on our chances,” Ukraine coach Andrei Nazarov said.

Ukraine capitalized on its first power play at 4:57 to put itself on the scoreboard.

Russian-born forward Yevgen Belukhin, who plays his first tournament after earning Ukrainian citizenship, scored after pass to the crease from behind the net from Andri Mikhnov, who won a tough battle at the end boards with Bence Sziranyi.

Oleg Tymchenko almost scored another goal on a loose puck around the 12-minute mark in the opening frame but despite a heavy 17-3 shot advantage for Ukraine the period ended with a 1-0 lead.

In the second period the Ukrainians were rewarded for their strong offensive work and Oleg Shafarenko made use of a rebound after several players were shooting from a close range in front of Zoltan Hetenyi during a 5-on-3 while Tamas Pozsgai and Istvan Sofron had to serve penalties.

The Ukrainians also converted the second Hungarian penalty as Oleg Tymchenko scored on a rebound 63 seconds later. Denys Petrukhno’s shot from the blueline bounced back from the boards and Tymchenko was at the right spot to move the puck over the unprotected goal line.

Hungary’s coach Rich Chernomaz was all but happy with his team’s discipline, or the lack thereof.

“We had ten penalties and the majority was stupid stick fouls,” Chernomaz said. “They manhandled us on their power play.”

With four points from the two games against the second- and third-seeded teams the Ukrainians underlined their ambitions in Goyang while Hungary will need to improve from today’s game if it wants to make its fans’ dream of promotion come true.

Austria vs. Japan 4-1 (0-1, 1-0, 3-0)

Austria had to come from behind again against Japan like the day before against Ukraine but it got the win it wanted, this time after 60 minutes, 4-1. After a weak start the Austrians improved in the second and third period to turn down a Japanese miracle.

Some of the players know how it is to lose against the Asians. Two years ago in the Division I Group A tournament in Ljubljana, Japan had its first win against Austria in 33 years and in the beginning it seemed like the Japanese would be ready for another upset after scoring a historic win against Slovenia the day before.

After just over five minutes of play in the game, the Japanese players won the battles at the end boards and Takeshi Saito sent a drop pass to Takuro Yamashita, who scored with a perfect shot from the left face-off circle at 5:29.

The 1-0 score remained until the end of a first period, in which Austria outshot Japan 14-11 but allowed the Asians the better scoring opportunities.

“The game was like expected. The Japanese are fast, skate a lot and they had a good start,” said Austrian goalkeeper Bernhard Starkbaum, who was selected as best player of his team. “We were getting better throughout the game and capitalized on our chances in the third period. We have learned a lot since the last game [two years ago] and earned the victory thanks to our team spirit.”

Austria came out more determined for the second period and when Masahito Nishiwaki was sent to the penalty box for slashing against Konstantin Komarek, the Austrians got the chance to search for the game-tying goal. The Austrians didn’t capitalize on it but Stefan Geier scored at 5:10, after the penalty’s expiration. Japan’s Aaron Keller lost the puck to Geier in his own zone and the Austrian accepted the invitation to score with a wraparound.

Late in the middle frame Austria’s Stefan Bacher hooked Go Tanaka on a breakaway at 17:17 and offered Japan the chance to regain the lead. A group of ten Austrian fans was loudly cheering on Starkbaum and the Austrian goalkeeper won the penalty duel against Tanaka with a glove save down on the ice after Tanaka’s attempted deke.

For the Japanese it came worse because they had one player too much on the ice and with Seiji Takahashi in the penalty box the Austrians had the chance to gain the lead. During the power play Shun Sakata had to go out for hooking but the Japanese defence stood strong and survived the penalty trouble at the end of the second and the beginning of the third period.

However, after 4:13 in the final frame the Austrians eventually managed to gain the lead for the first time in this game. After a deflected horizontal pass, Thomas Hundertpfund got the puck between the face-off circle and caught Japanese goalkeeper Yutaka Fukufuji on his glove side for the 2-1 goal.

The situation didn’t improve when Kenta Takagi checked Stefan Geier into the boards from behind, offering the Austrians another power play. Mario Altmann capitalized on the opportunity with a laser of a shot from the blueline to extend the lead to 3-1. Brian Lebler made everything clear with a shot into the empty Japanese net with 66 seconds remaining on the match clock.

“Austria has size and skill and they dominated us at times,” said Japan head coach Mark Mahon. “They forced us to take penalties and deserved the victory.”

MARTIN MERK

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