Down but never out. A game of two halves sees Great Britain's under-18 national team finish top at the 2018 IIHF Ice Hockey U18 World Championship Division II Group A in the Estonian capital of Tallinn.
The victory in Tallinn marks a winning start for Tony Hand as head coach of Great Britain's U18 national team and a significant improvement to last year's fifth-place finish. 16-year-old Mason Alderson finished as Great Britain's top scorer with 9 (6+3) in five games followed by Kieran Brown on 8 (4+4) points.
“This is an amazing achievement. They have done fantastic. Everyone pulled together. We knew we were up against some great opposition but we have come on leaps and bounds,” said a delighted Hand following a week of action with many twists and turns. Lithuania finished second, level on points with Great Britain. A dejected Poland finished third, having entered their final game with high hopes and eying an instant return to Division IB.
With Great Britain having edged Korea 4-3 during the final round of games, the British contingent joined the home crowd inside Tallinn's Tondiraba Ice Hall to cheer on Estonia. If the hosts grabbed at least a point in their closing game of the tournament against front-runners Poland, the gold medals would be hanging around British necks at the end of the night.
23:31 into the game and following three unanswered goals by first-liners Kamil Walega, Jan Soltys and Jakub Lewandowski, the chase for gold had firmly tilted in Poland's favour. But Estonia sparked into life soon after. A Nikita Puzakov penalty shot crept just over the line and when captain Rasmus Kiik led by example four-and-a-half minutes later and added another it was game on. With 7:51 left of the game, playing four against three, Estonia's Morten Arantez Jurgens hit a wrister from the point to tie the game at three. Thanks to final minute acrobatics by netminder Oliver Soovik, Estonia held on to a morale-boosting point which sent the British young guns ballistic in the stands. The tournament's top scorer Damian Tyczynski (5+7) delightfully scored Poland's overtime winner, but by then Poland had already lost the gold with Estonia finishing fifth.
Great Britain got a comfortable start to the tournament, courtesy of a 6-3 win against Estonia followed it up by putting nine past Australia. Their only blip came in their third game. Despite outshooting Poland 40-28 and rallying back from 1-3 to go in front, Poland hit back and replied with two unanswered final frame goals to take all three points. With all left to play for, tight encounters against Lithuania and Korea awaited. Prevailing 3-2 and 4-3 respectively saw Liam Kirk play a pivotal role scoring Great Britain's game winners in both games.
With Great Britain celebrating and Poland coming to terms with having to spend another year in Division IIA, silver medallists Lithuania will be left wondering what could have been. Having conceded only eight goals and with Laurynas Lubys being the tournament's top goaltender with a 94.74 save percentage, the Baltic nation got off to a great start. A brace by Martynas Grinius downed pre-tournament favourites Poland, 4-3. They then followed it up with wins against Estonia and Korea which put them on the verge of winning a surprise gold with one round to go. Having needed a regulation-time win against Great Britain, they fell short in a tight encounter 3-2, which was to be their only loss of points during a fine tournament by Aleksej Nikoforov's youngsters.
At the other end of the table, newcomers Australia showed signs of promise upon their arrival despite losing 1-4 against fourth-placed Korea in their opener. It was to be as close as they would get in Tallinn. Following five straight defeats, including 0-8 against second from bottom Estonia, Australia will have to regroup in Division IIB come next season. Click here for scores and stats.