TILBURG – After two days of play in Division I Group A the three top-seeded teams have virtually made the tournament a three team race for the medals. Austria, Ukraine and Japan all won their second consecutive game today.
Ukraine - Netherlands 9-2 (3-0, 4-1, 2-1)
Ukraine continues to keep its offense busy. After their 12-5 win over Lithuania they blasted past the Netherlands 9-2.
The Ukrainians were dominating all areas, especially collecting rebounds. Five of their seven goals were a direct result of outsmarting the Dutch players.
The lone highlight for host Netherlands was a goal scored by Tilburg native Peter van Biezen. Although trailing 6-0 at the time, the goal had more personal value as it was his first in 37 world championship games.
"To score my first world championship goal in front of home audience gave me a big kick, but also a double feeling given the score at that time," Van Biezen admitted. "It was time to end the goal drought."
Right from the start, the Ukraine made clear its intention was to spoil the home party. Oleksandr Matvichuk scored after exactly three minutes. The slick skating and smooth passing game dismantled the Dutch defence that always seemed to be a man short.
Kostiantyn Kasianchuk, Vadim Shakhraychuk and Artem Bondariev each scored twice. Denys Isayenko and Dmytro Nimenko also tallied for Ukraine, who slowed down a gear in the final period.
Nick de Jong scored the Netherlands' second goal with a slapshot from the blueline.
After two days, the three top seeds have opened up a six point gap from the three other teams. Austria leads on goal difference (+17) followed closely by Ukraine who has scored 21 goals already (+14).
Ukraine's victories have been lopsided, but the real challenge comes when they play Japan and Austria. "These games are the ones that matter to us," Sergi Klymentiev said. "We have shown we are in good shape offensively, but we need to improve our defence. We concede too many goals."
After a day off tomorrow, the tournament resumes on Thursday with Austria-Japan as the main attraction.
Japan - Serbia 5-0 (1-0, 3-0, 1-0)
While the sun went down in Tilburg, the land of the rising sun posted its second victory in as many days after Japan shut out Serbia 5-0. The Serbs improved from their 13-0 hammering against Austria yesterday, but remain goalless.
Serbia got off to a bad start conceding the first goal within a minute. Hiroki Ieno's deflection in front of the net gave Japan the lead on their first power play chance. But while many expected the Asians to run up the score, Serbia regrouped and stay focused. The team came close to tying the game up, but were punished for not taking their chances.
At 29:37, Yoshinori Iimura wristed home the second goal with Takahito Suzuki sitting in the penalty box.
Serbia coach Mark Pederson felt that goal was the key point in the game. "We tried to keep Japan to the outside as much as possible. We played very well, but then get punished while on a power play. That really hurt," said Pederson. "We're improving every day and today I did see improvement in several areas, so I'm looking ahead to the other games."
Masahito Nishiwaki made it 3-0 at 35:40 after a clever play behind the net from Ueno, and Tesuya Saito rubbed some salt into the Serbian wounds scoring the 4-0 with yet another short-handed goal before the end of the second period.
The third period had merely statistical value as Serbia was trying to get a consolation goal while the Japanese tried to keep up the scoring race with Austria and Ukraine. Both teams didn't succeed. Sho Sato was the lone player to find the net in the final period while Serbia could not beat Masahito Haruna, who collected a shutout in his first game of the tournament.
Japan coach Mark Mahon will be using the off day to prepare his team for Thursday's meeting with Austria. Both teams have the six points from their first two games. "The start of the game will be the key," Mahon said. "We've got to get our power play up and stick to our game plan, which is based on skating hard."
The Serbs know they will face another tough opponent in second-seeded Ukraine.
Japan celebrates Sho Sato's goal in the 5-0 win over Serbia. Photo: Ronald Goudberg.
Austria - Lithuania 6-2 (1-1, 3-0, 2-1)
Coming off a convincing 13-0 win over Serbia yesterday, Austria had to work harder against Lithuania. The tournament favourite didn't take the lead until Robert Lukas reacted quickest on a puck in front of the net at 28:16.
Coach Bill Gilligan must not have been a happy man in the dressing room after the first period. Despite outshooting Lithuania 18-9, the Austrians were glad to escape with 1-1 tie. Arturas Katulis gave Luthiania the lead when he released a wrister from the inside the slot that found its way over Reinhard Divis' glove.
Austria was unable to answer and was thwarted by excellent goaltending from Nerijus Dauksevicius, who replaced Arturas Kuzimicius. Eventually Dauksevicius had to surrender when Mattias Trattnig's powerful onetimer with under two minutes left in the period blasted into the far corner on a two-man advantage.
"Lithuania surprised us," Gilligan said. "We were not as concentrated as we should be and learned the valuable lesson not to take any opponent lightly."
Austria goaltender Reinhard Divis had a far busier game than against Serbia. Two goals in 64 seconds turned the game in Austria's favour. At 34:45 Thomas Koch rifled home from the point with the Lithuanian goalie screened. Barely a minute later Thomas Pöck was lucky to see his low shot deflect over the netminder via a Lithuanian stick.
In the final period, Lithuania ran out of gas and presumably saving energy for upcoming games. The Austrians, playing towards their loud singing fanbase, applied a fast skating fore checking game giving Dauksevicius all kinds of trouble. After Austria ran up the score to 6-1, Dauksevicius was replaced by Kuzmicius having made 44 saves.
"We were forced to play the counter attack. Austria was better in all areas of the game,"Lithuania head coach Rimantas Sidaravicius said. His team was outshot 55-23.
Daniel Welser, who collected seven points againt Serbia, went pointless for Austria, who had goals from Markus Peintner and Patrick Harand. Dalius Vaiciukevicius scored Lithuania's second midway the third period.
Tomorrow is a non-game day in Tilburg. Austria resumes their gold quest on Thursday against Japan. Lithuania faces the Netherlands in the evening game.
Gregor Hager, Patrick Harand and Thomas Pock celebrate Austria's sixth goal against Lithuania, Nerijus Dauksevicius is visibly upset. Photo: Ronald Goudberg