Great Britain – Japan 2–1 (2-0, 0-0, 0-1)
NIKKO – The Union Jack will be flying at the Final Olympic Qualification tournament in February, as Great Britain defeated Japan 2-1 in the final game of the Pre-Qualification tournament, taking a big step forward on the road to Sochi 2014.
“Never known a team with so much heart, it’s just incredible, and to win in their own backyard was even better,” said British forward Leigh Jamieson.
Staying true to their disciplined play throughout the tournament, Great Britain weathered the initial surge of momentum from the host team, playing at home in front of a capacity crowd at Kirifuri Ice Arena.
The Japanese, on the other hand, were unable to stay out of the penalty box which cost them the opening goal. Following a scrum in front of the Japan net, two Japanese and one British player were sent to the penalty box for roughing.
In three games at the tournament Great Britain scored seven of its nine goals in the first period. On the man advantage, Robert Dowd came away with the puck on the goal line after two Japanese players collided with each other behind the net, allowing for an easy centering pass to Craig Peacock for the 1-0 lead
With the momentum now on their side, the British added another goal 30 seconds later, taking advantage of a disorganized Japanese defence with a one-time slapshot from Ben O’Connor that was tipped and beat goaltender Yukata Fukufuji on the glove side.
The British defence followed up with a strong effort in the closing minutes of the period, and goaltender Stephen Murphy made a few key saves, including two point-blank stops on Takuro Yamashita.
“We just had to make sure that we kept to our strengths,” said team captain Jonathan Phillips. “Japan is a very good skating team but we felt we were bigger and stronger, so we just had to get the puck deep and work the boards which we did well in the first period and that was the deciding factor.”
Through two periods, Great Britain outshot Japan 25-16, and was able to use its size advantage to clog up the middle of the ice and keep the Japanese forwards away from Murphy’s net.
But Japan was not going to go down without a fight. Four minutes into the third period, Shuhei Kuji manoeuvred the puck into position in front of the net, taking advantage of a breakdown in the British defence to score and cut the lead to 2-1.
The goal put as much pressure on the British as it did the Japanese, as Great Britain needed a win in regulation to advance. If Japan had scored and Great Britain ended up winning 3-2 in overtime, Korea would have advanced and not the British.
“We knew the situation,” said head coach Tony Hand. “But we just focused on the job at hand and were able to keep them from scoring again.”
The victory sends Great Britain on to the Final Qualification, one more tournament to win in order to gain a spot amongst the best countries in the world at the Winter Olympics.
“Hard working, a lot of heart,” said O’Connor when describing British hockey. “We play for our country and we play for each other. We’re a very proud team and everyday we come to work for each other and we’re not afraid to play any team.”
The rest of the Olympic hopefuls at the qualification tournament better take notice, because the Lions are now in the hunt for Sochi.
Korea – Romania 2–0 (1-0, 0-0, 1-0)
NIKKO – Korea finished the Olympic Pre-Qualification Group J tournament on a positive note, shutting out Romania 2-0 at Kirifuri Ice Arena in Nikko, Japan.
“It was a positive tournament for us,” said head coach Sun Wook Byun. “Korean hockey has benefitted much from this competition, and we look forward to the next challenge.”
The game started slowly for both teams, shots on net were nearly equal in the first period, with Romania able to neutralize the speed of the Koreans. But with thirty seconds left on the clock Sang Wook Kim got the puck to linemate Hyeok Kim for the opening score.
Following a scoreless second period, Kisung Kim was able to give his team the all-important insurance goal 4:12 into the final frame, with assists form Sang Wook Kim and Yoonhwan Kim. Defencemen Seungyup Lee of Korea and Szabolcs Szocs were selected as Best Players for the game. It was a tough tournament for the Romanians, who go back home without having registered a goal.
Korea now has six points on the tournament, and will be rooting for Great Britain to defeat Japan in overtime the evening game. If this occurs Great Britain, Japan, and Korea will be in a three-way tie for first place, with the winner determined by the tie-break system. But if Japan wins this game in regulation time or overtime/shootout, the hosts will then advance to the Final Olympic Qualification tournament to be played in February. If Great Britain wins in regulation time, the British will advance to the next round.
Regardless of what happens, the Koreans made a good impression on their future Division IA opponents, the Japanese and Brits, and all three teams will be in for a great competition when they travel in April to Budapest, Hungary along with Hungary, Italy, and Kazakhstan to compete in the IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship Division I Group A.
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