Japan – Korea 3 – 2 (1-0, 1-1, 0-1, 1-0)
NIKKO – Korea didn’t make it easy, coming back yet again in the Olympic Pre-Qualification tournament to tie the game in the dying seconds, but Japan came through in overtime to win 3-2 and move to the top of Group J.
Shuhei Kuji, one of Japan’s most talented players (see feature in April), scored two goals including the OT winner and earned Best Player honours for his team.
In what has become the premier hockey rivalry in Asia, the Koreans gave Japan and its fans a scare in the Saturday night game, held at Kirifuri Ice Arena in the forests outside Nikko and filled to capacity for the highly anticipated match between the top two hockey nations in Asia.
The game turned for Japan two and a half minutes into the extra period, when Korea was penalized for a boarding call by Bungchun Jung on defenceman Yosuke Haga. On the four-on-three man advantage, defenceman Aaron Keller dragged the puck across the blue line and passed off to Kuji, who rifled the shot home to win the game.
“It was such an exciting feeling, to see the puck go in,” said a smiling Kuji after the game. “Indescribable.”
The victory gives Japan three points and a clear lead atop Group J, with one game remaining against Great Britain. A win against the Brits tomorrow, and the host team is off the Final Qualification tournament.
Great Britain can win the tournament with a regulation time win against Japan and in some scenarios an overtime or shootout win can be enough. Korea has a slim chance to win the tournament if they defeat Romania in regulation time and Great Britain beats Japan in overtime or shootout with the score of 1-0, 2-1 or 3-2.
“It was a very exciting game,” said Japan head coach Mark Mahon. “Coming in we said we had to find a way to win tight games and we found a way tonight.”
Both teams came out flying right from the opening faceoff, showing off the great end-to-end speed and quick transition game that is the hallmark of Asian hockey. Japan drew first blood after Korean captain Donghwan Kim was sent to the penalty box for elbowing. On the power play captain Go Tanaka found Kuji in the left circle with a pass from the point. Kuji wasted no time rifling a shot past the glove of goaltender Hyunseung Eum for the 1-0 lead.
Korea outshot Japan 8-3 in the opening frame and had two great chances to score, the first coming when goaltender Yukata Fukufuji’s clearing attempt was intercepted by Hyung Joon Kim along the boards, forcing the goaltender to scramble back to the net in time to make a diving save with his paddle.
Later on Fukufuji was called upon again to make a key save, this time on a penalty shot taken by Sang Wook Kim, who made a good backhand deke but was shut down by a pad save from Fukufuji.
But Korea managed to tie the game 8:51 into the second period after Japanese forward Kohei Mitamura was penalized for charging. Sangwoo Kim scored the equalizer with a one-timer from the high slot area that went past Yukata Fukufuji’s stick and in.
Japan answered quickly with a one-timer of its own less than a minute later, when Ryo Hashimoto passed the puck down to Daisuke Obara in the left circle. Obara’s shot beat Eum short side and the Japanese went back up by a goal.
But the Koreans, who came back in their first to defeat Great Britain in a shootout, weren't ready to quit just yet. With 12 seconds left to go in the third period and the goaltender pulled, forward Wooje Sung threw the puck on net from the point, which after travelling through a maze of legs ended up on the side of the net and on the blade of Sangwoo Sin, who fired it home to tie the game and silence the home crowd.
But the upset was not to be, as the costly overtime penalty by Jung led to Kuji’s goal that sealed the win for Japan.
“It was a tough loss, but I am proud of our team and the mental strength that we have shown in these two games,” said Korea head coach Sun Wook Byun. “It used to be that we were looking up at Japan in terms of skill, but now we can say that we can compete on equal terms with them, which makes both our teams better.”
Romania – Great Britain 0–3 (0-2, 0-0, 0-1)
NIKKO – Great Britain stayed in the hunt for Sochi on the second day of competition in Nikko, Japan, defeating Romania 3-0 and getting much-needed three points at the Olympic Pre-Qualification tournament Group J.
Leigh Jamieson, Ben O’Connor, and Robert Dowd scored for the Brits, who managed to keep Romania hemmed in their own zone for much of the game and outshot them 47-17.
“It was a good performance,” said Leigh Jamieson, who had a goal and an assist in the game and was selected Best Player for Great Britain. “We played well defensively and took our chances when we needed to.”
Great Britain got on the board early with a goal from Jamieson 3:17 into the game, assisted by Jonathan Weaver and David Longstaff, who played his 100th national team game.
After Romania missed on a breakaway chance, the Brits scored again to go up 2-0. Jamieson got the puck in front of the Romanian net and passed it off to an open Ben O’Connor sitting in the circle to the left of the net. O’Connor’s shot beat goaltender Gellert Ruczuj and Great Britain went up 2-0.
After being outshot badly in the first period, 22-2, Romania was able to find its legs and get a few more chances on net in the second period. But British goaltender Stephen Murphy did not give up any goals to the Romanians and the score remained 2-0. Dowd added the final goal with eight minutes left in the third period to seal the 3-0 win.
Great Britain now has four points through two games. They will face Japan on Sunday. Romania is eliminated from contention and will play Korea in its final game. The Brits will be cheering on Japan in its game against Korea, as they lost their opening game 5-4 in a shootout to the Koreans.
“They’re a good team, very mobile, smart, it’ll be a very tough game tomorrow,” said Great Britain head coach Tony Hand about the Japanese team. “I feel we played much better than we did in the first game against Korea, but we’ll be in for a tough game against a team with a lot of speed, but we’re in a good position.”
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