Slovenes win thriller vs. Japan

Div. IA: Hosts, Austria, Hungary still undefeated

16.04.2012
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Slovenia celebrates the 2-0 goal against Japan. David Rodman scored on a rebound. Photo: Samo Vidic

LJUBLJANA – Three teams are still undefeated in the 2012 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship Division I Group A. While Austria faced little challenge in a 7-3 vs. Great Britain, Slovenia (4-2 vs. Japan) and Hungary (3-1 vs. Ukraine) had tougher games.

Slovenia vs. Japan 4-2 (1-0, 1-1, 2-1)

Slovenia also won its second game, but the 4-2 victory against Japan eventually became a close game that was decided with Ales Kranjc’s game-winner 80 seconds before the end of the game after the home team had blown a 2-0 lead.

“Sometimes you are a winner, sometimes a loser. I’m proud of my boys that we won the game,” said Slovenia head coach Matjaz Kopitar, who wasn’t happy that his team blew a lead. “We need to be better, to drive our car safely when we have a lead. We should be more disciplined, but we stay too long on the ice. We were with three forwards behind the goal line and they capitalised for the 2-2 goal.”

For a long time the game didn’t look that thrilling. In an evenly matched first period only Slovenia found the net.

The first goal was scored by Slovenia’s Mitja Robar at 11:03 when Japanese goalkeeper Masahito Haruna let in a shot from the outer part of the face-off circle.

The game changed and became more one-way in the second period when the host nation rarely allowed the Asians a scoring opportunity.

The Slovenes did it better. David Rodman scored on a rebound at 7:24 after he had seen Kranjc’s shot from the blueline blocked by the Japanese netminder.

While the Japanese didn’t find the means to challenge the Slovenian defence, they used one of their only two scoring chances in the period. Ryo Tanaka scored on a breakaway at 14:57.

The Slovenes continued to be the more dangerous team in the third period, but the Japanese never gave up and that was very visible when they tied the game at two at 7:23 of the third period to the disbelieve of the 8,070 fans at Arena Stozice.

Takuro Yamashita‘s shot was first saved by Slovenian goalkeeper Andrej Hocevar, but then the goalie left the crease and collided with Japanese forward Kohei Mitamura. The game continued with confusion in the Slovenian defence. Hocevar returned to his net, but was powerless against Yamashita’s shot.

“Finally we showed up,” Japan coach Mark Mahon said. “I told my players if we compete hard we can win any game. I think we had our chances, but we weren’t able to capitalise.”

The 2-2 goal brought back emotions to the game and on the stands, and the game officials got their hands full.

The teams were approaching overtime, but with 80 seconds left Kranjc made the fans explode in happiness when his shot went in through Haruna’s five-hole.

“Two more minutes and we would have reached overtime. It’s tough,” Haruna said. “I should have saved the puck. It was my fault. I’m very disappointed.”

Tomas Razingar sealed the win with his empty-netter with 11.5 seconds left in regulation time.

Austria vs. Great Britain 7-3 (3-0, 2-2, 2-1)

Austria also won its second game at the 2012 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship Division I Group A, 7-3 against Great Britain. The eagles faced little challenge after scoring a 3-0 lead in the first half of the opening period. Gregor Baumgartner and Manuel Latusa each scored twice, Colin Shields netted a pair of goals for Great Britain.

Thomas Hundertpfund opened the scoring at 7:48, defeating British goalie Stephen Murphy with a low on the stick side.

Two minutes later Great Britain invited Austria to score goals twice by losing the puck in the own zone. At 9:12 Stephen Lee lost the puck to Baumgartner behind the net following a face-off. Baumgartner capitalised on the mistake for the 2-0 goal.

Only 25 seconds later it was already 3-0. Again the Austrians fought for the puck in the offensive zone. Daniel Oberkofler won the battle at the boards and saw his shot deflected by the goalkeeper, but Latusa scored on the rebound.

Baumgartner’s second goal at 1:27 of the second period on a power play became the eventual game-winner.

“We controlled the play and forced them to do mistakes, but we know that we have to play better,” Austria head coach Manny Viveiros said.

“We score many goals, but we have to be more focused in our own zone. At this level you can’t sleep a minute, otherwise they score a goal.”

The British didn’t find a way to score in the first half of the game, but Shields hit the back of the net at 13:03. Austria reacted immediately with a goal from Tratnig one-and-a-half minutes later.

With 97 seconds left in the middle stanza Shields scored his second goal of the day as his line outplayed the Austrian defence with two centering passes for the 5-2 score after 40 minutes.

The British fans at the arena remained positive about the possibility of a comeback in the third period, but Latusa took away hope when he completed a quick attack after three-and-a-half minutes with the 6-2 goal on a power play.

Austria ran into penalty trouble later on and Corey Neilson scored with a shot from the blueline midway through the period, but at 12:56 Herborger restored the four-goal lead on a breakaway for the 7-3 score.

The British were again coached by Doug Christiansen because head coach Tony Hand was battling as a player-coach with the Manchester Phoenix in the playoffs of the English Premiere Ice Hockey League, a minor league in Great Britain.

His team lost on Sunday against the Slough Jets and Hand hoped to be behind the bench for Great Britain’s second game, but he missed the connecting flight and landed in Ljubljana only midway through the game.

Hungary vs. Ukraine 3-1 (2-0, 0-0, 1-1)

Hungary celebrates its second win at the 2012 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship Division I Group A, 3-1 vs. Ukraine, which lost its second game.

Two first-period goals within 92 seconds led Hungary to the victory.

“It was a very strong opponent today and it will get only harder in this tournament,” Hungary coach Kevin Primeau said.

Like in yesterday’s 5-4 loss against Austria the Ukrainians conceded goals within a short time span and were not able to complete their comeback attempt.

“In the start of the game we made two mistakes and had later lot of opportunities to score,” Ukrainian coach Anatoli Khomenko said, “but the Hungarian goalie played very well.”

The game remained scoreless until fourth-liner Nikandrosz Galanisz had his chance to score midway through the first period. And what a goal it was! Galanisz received the puck behind the blue line, outskated Artem Bondaryev and deked Olexander Pobyedonostsev before scoring on his own rebound.

An amazing exploit of the 23-year-old, who plays for Dunaujvaros, a team that participates in the Hungarian league as well as in Austria’s second-tier league.

One-and-a-half minutes later the many Hungarian fans at Arena Stozice had again reason to cheer. Mykhailo Balaban, who played his first World Championship Division I game yesterday when he replaced veteran goalie Igor Karpenko midway through the encounter, deflected a shot from Istvan Bartalis, but Ladislav Sikorcin was left alone in front of the Ukrainian net to extend Hungary’s lead.

As in yesterday’s game against Austria it was a few minutes of a collective blackout in the Ukrainian defence that cost the yellow-and-blue team points. During most of the game it was a well-balanced game with more shots on goal for the Ukrainians, but World Championship rookie Bence Balizs had another strong game in the Hungarian net.

Early in the third period, when Ukraine had a two-man advantage, the efforts eventually paid off. Pobyedonostsev scored with a shot into the top-left corner at 3:43 just when the first of the two penalised Hungarian returned to the ice.

While pressure increased for the Ukrainian teams, the Hungarians were speculating on counter attacks. At 12:54 Istvan Sofron was obstructed by Denys Petrukhno on a breakaway and was hurt after being hit. Balazs Ladanyi took the puck at centre ice, but his penalty shot landed at the goal post.

In a hectic final of the game the Ukrainians didn’t manage to score another goal while Janos Vas sealed the victory for Hungary with an empty-netter with 74 seconds left in regulation time.

Despite the win, the Hungarians remain modest and know that other tough challenges will come after the day off tomorrow.

“We are on top now, but we haven’t reached anything yet,” warns Ladanyi. “We have to keep going with our game, with our tactics, with our system if we want to be the best team in the end.”

MARTIN MERK
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