Japan – Romania 2–0 (1-0, 0-0, 1-0)
NIKKO – Japan got off to a winning start on home ice in Nikko, keeping Romania bottled up in its own zone and dominating in shots on net 57-22 for a 2-0 win.
“The Romanian team played a very structured system and had a great goalie,” said Japan’s head coach Mark Mahon. “They were a tough team to beat tonight. It wasn’t impressive tonight, guys weren’t committed to shooting the puck and that led to a very close game through to the end. But the important thing is that we got the victory and the three points.”
The Japanese took a 1-0 lead into the first intermission, thanks to a goal from Tetsuya Saito. His linemate Kohei Mitamura took the puck into the Romanian zone, stopping by the boards and passing it off to an open Saito streaking down the middle of the ice for the score.
Despite falling behind by a goal and getting badly outshot by the Japanese, Romania stayed in the game through the opening two periods, keeping Japan from scoring the all-important insurance goal and keeping them away from quality scoring chances. But the team caught a bad break at the start of the third period when a shot by Takuro Yamashita was initially stopped by Romanian goaltender Adrian Catrinoi Cornea. Despite making the save Cornea allowed the puck to slide past him, and when Romanian forward Zsolt Molnar tried to clear it from the crease the puck deflected into the net, giving Japan a 2-0 lead.
“They continue to play a very good system of hockey, Mark’s done a very good job here, and this game will make us better in the long run,” said Romania head coach Tom Skinner. “The sign of a good team, which Japan is, is when they really pushed us hard in the third period, and I think they will get even better as the weekend moves on.”
Japan (1W-0L) will move on to face Asian rivals Korea, who earlier in the day won in a shootout against Great Britain. Whoever wins that game will have the inside track at winning the Pre-Qualification tournament and advancing to the Final Qualification stage in February.
Great Britain – Korea 4–5 (3-1, 2-1, 0-1, 0-0, 0-1)
NIKKO – The opening game of the Olympic Pre-Qualification tournament Group J gave fans at the Kirifuri Ice Arena in Nikko, Japan quite a show, as Korea overcame three two-goal deficits to upset top-seeded Great Britain 5-4 in a shootout.
“We expected to win, we didn’t think we were the underdogs,” said Won Jung Kim, who scored a hat trick in the game and earned Best Player honours. “We are a fast team and our coach told us that we could outskate them.”
Falling behind by two goals three times in the first two periods, Korea showed great resiliency in coming back each time to trim the lead to 1. Down 4-3 after the second intermission, Geunho Kim tied the game just over a minute into the third period. His teammates then held off a relentless British attack and took the game first to overtime then to a shootout, where the Korean shooters went two for two and goaltender Sungje Park blanked Colin Shields and David Longstaff to seal the victory.
The Brits got out to a quick start in their opening game, shaking off the jetlag of a long trip to Japan with three goals in the opening frame. Colin Shields got a shot off on the Korean net on a two-on-one. Park stopped the puck but let out a big rebound that went directly to the stick of Craig Peacock, who put it into the net for the 1-0 lead. Great Britain went up 2-0 soon after when the puck came free out of a scrum in from of the Korean net for and easy goal from Longstaff.
“We knew we could skate faster than them,” said forward Wooje Sung. “I think we started slow today but throughout the game we picked it up and found our confidence.”
Following the second goal Korea settled down and managed to respond with a score of its own a minute later, when Sang Wook Kim got the puck behind British net and found Woo Jung Kim in front with a quick one-time pass. With the score 2-1, Great Britain had an open net and a sure goal with the Korean goaltender down after making a save, but at the last moment forward Geunho Kim dove across the crease and prevented the goal.
Although Korea was finding its game in the second half of the first period, stringing together crisp passes and getting a few shots on net, a giveaway in the Korean zone set up forward Ben O’Connor to the net unchallenged. He rifled a shot in the top right corner and Great Britain went up once again by two goals.
Sparked by an early second period goal from Won Jung Kim, the Koreans got some momentum on their side, and kept Great Britain out of their zone. But a great effort from British goaltender Stephen Murphy stopped what would have been the equalizing goal from Geunho Kim, who had an open chance from the side of the net but was denied by a diving save. Murphy’s teammate Colin Shields returned the favour, scoring a goal to go up 4-2 midway through the period.
Down by two again, Korea’s resiliency paid off with a third goal from Won Jung Kim, coming again on a two-on-one advantage, to trim the lead to one goal going into the final frame.
“It was disappointing to be giving up leads, I thought we had the better possession but we sat back a bit too much and let them come at us,” said Great Britain captain Jonathan Phillips. “We played them a few years ago and we knew they were a good skating team. We need to make sure that we play a full 60 minutes in the next game.”
Great Britain will go up next against Romania, needing a win badly for the team to stay in contention for a berth in the Final Qualification tournament. Korea will take on Asian rivals and tournament host Japan.
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