LJUBLJANA – The first three games at the 2012 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship Division I Group A ended with victories for the favourites. Hungary defeated Japan 5-1 while Austria (5-4 vs. Ukraine) and Slovenia (3-2 vs. Great Britain) struggled in their opening games.
The attending fans from the countries that were once part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire had all reason to celebrate in Ljubljana before the neighbourly clashes between today’s three winners will be staged later in the round-robin tournament.
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Great Britain vs. Slovenia 2-3 (1-2, 1-0, 0-1)
Slovenia edged Great Britain 3-2 in a hard-fought opening game for the hosts. Tomaz Razingar scored the game winner with four minutes left in regulation time.
The Slovenes had a tough opponent in Great Britain in a sold-out Arena Stozice before 9,861 fans. A game in which the excitement in the stands was well-reflected on the ice. The teams battled for every centimetre and fans enjoyed watching a couple of great open-ice body checks.
“It was a tough first game to open the tournament. We expected it to become hard against Great Britain in the first game, but it’s also fun to play a game like that and the fans enjoyed it,” said defenceman Mitja Robar.
“In first games sometimes the legs are not right, the hands a little bit stiffer than usual and the crowd maybe got us to the point that we tried too much. But most important is that we won and nobody is injured so we can prepare and regroup for tomorrow.”
Usually not among the top contenders for promotion to the elite group, the British surprised last year by winning Division I silver, and the team was eager to confirm the great performance from last year.
“It was a tough battle out there. We just tried to grind out, skate with them out tonight. It did work well for 55 minutes of the game and they scored a nice goal to win it in the end,” said Craig Peacock, who had a goal and an assist, as did his linemate Colin Shields.
“They’re a little bit more of a skilled team than we are. We worked hard, we tried to grind out. We play a different style of hockey, maybe a North American style of hockey.”
It was Slovenia that got the better start and outshot Team GB 18-4 in the first period.
The host nation took the lead at 3:35 when Robert Sabolic skated beside the net and Ziga Jeglic converted his drop pass for the 1-0 goal.
However, Shields silenced the crowd three minutes later when he shot the puck into the net after nice deking and passing from Robert Dowd.
The Slovenes got their well-deserved lead back before the first intermission. At 12:35 David Rodman missed on a wraparound, but after several shots by different players, including one that hit the post, it was Rodman himself who brought the puck over the line.
Great Britain started the second period with the equalizer. Peacock escaped for a breakaway, double-passed with Shields and scored the Brits’ second goal at 1:15. It remained the only goal of the period that was more balanced with 11-9 shots in Slovenia’s favour.
“We played against a really good team. They showed what they want with full heart,” said Slovenian coach Matjaz Kopitar. “I expected it to be a tough game, but I didn’t hope that it would be like this. We had a terrible second period, but we can be happy with the three points and we must keep the good things.”
The third period started with a curiosity. Down scored a goal after only eight seconds of play, but it didn’t count because Matthew Myers stood in the middle of the crease.
The game remained tied at two for most of the period until the Slovenian efforts were rewarded with 3:59 left in regulation time. Captain Tomaz Razingar defeated goalie Stephen Murphy with a shot from the right side after receiving a pass from Andrej Tavzelj.
In the hectic dying minutes Slovenian goalie Robert Kristan kept his net clean and the hosts earned their first three points.
“It was a great game. Both teams played very hard. We were a little bit unlucky in the start of the third period, but that’s hockey,” said Doug Christiansen. “At this level you cannot do too many mistakes.”
Christiansen was coaching the team because head coach Tony Hand’s club team Manchester Phoenix, where he is a player-coach, was busy in the playoffs. Hand is expected to arrive in Ljubljana tomorrow.
Ukraine vs. Austria 4-5 (1-1, 2-4, 1-0)
Austria defeated Ukraine 5-4. After a well-balanced first period the Austrians ran away with three goals within a 97-second span early in the second period. Trailing from a four-goal deficit, the Ukrainians were able to lower the gap later on, but they were not able to stage a comeback.
“It was a very tough game for us. They’re a very good hockey team, but we did a pretty good job in our defence most of the time,” Austria’s head coach Manny Viveiros said. “We scored some goals quick. We were fortunate enough to capitalize on our chances at that time. They were some funny goals scored on both sides, but that’s hockey.”
Austria took the lead on a power play three minutes into the game. Playing shorthanded, the Ukrainians lost the puck and Manuel Geier was alone in front of Ukrainian goalie Igor Karpenko to open the scoring.
The game remained open and Shamil Ramazanov hit the post on a power play at 11:44. At 13:07 the Ukrainians eventually capitalized on the man advantage. Oleg Tymchenko hit the puck in the air after an initial save from Bernhard Starkbaum to tie things up. The video review confirmed that the stick was not too high.
As even the play was in the first period, as dominating was Austria at the start of the second.
After just 47 seconds of play in the second period, Manuel Latusa regained the lead for the red-and-white team scoring on a rebound after a shot from Thomas Raffl.
49 seconds later defenceman Johannes Kirisits made it 3-1 with a point shot and 48 seconds later the Austrian fans had reason to cheer again when Daniel Welser was left alone in front of the Ukrainian net to score the 4-1 goal on a rebound.
“I think it was two even teams, but one got lucky breaks, and if you get lucky breaks you win,” said Tymchenko, who scored three goals for Ukraine. “I’m really disappointed that we lost. We had a bad start in the second period. We got a penalty that we shouldn’t have taken. They had their chances and they scored.”
Austrian captain Thomas Koch added another marker midway through the period after Welser had outskated the Ukrainian defence.
“We had a good start and the goals in the second period gave us momentum,” said Michael Grabner, who joined the Austrian team on Friday from the New York Islanders. “It’s a bit different to play here compared to the NHL, but after two practices on the big ice it has already worked out well. The most important thing is that we won. It took a load off my mind.”
It was 5-1 for Austria, but the game wasn’t over yet. Ukraine reacted with two goals in the second period.
Olexander Pobyedonostsev cut Austria’s lead with a perfect shot into the top-left corner at 12:20 and two minutes later Tymchenko netted another one from behind the face-off circle to make it 5-3.
After most of the third period had been scoreless, Tymchenko completed his hat trick with three minutes left to play in regulation time. Suddenly excitement was brought back and the Austrian fans stopped to party for a moment, watching the dying minutes of the game carefully.
Ukraine played the last minute with six-on-five skaters, but Starkbaum didn’t let in another puck. Austria won its first game of the tournament 5-4.
“We were ready for this game, but we had lots of penalties that broke our game. That’s the main reason why we have this result,” Ukraine head coach Anatoli Khomenko said.
Japan vs. Hungary 1-5 (0-2, 0-2, 1-1)
Hungary had a strong start at the 2012 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship Division I Group A with a 5-1 victory against Japan before 1,500 mostly red-white-green dressed fans, who created a home-ice atmosphere in Ljubljana.
Although shots on goal suggest a close clash with Japan outshooting Hungary 34-25, the Hungarians were the more dangerous and efficient team during most parts of the game.
After a 2-0 lead in the first period they never looked back, but needed some luck too as two Japanese goals were disallowed before the Hungarians sealed the win with two additional markers in the second half of the middle stanza.
“It’s my first World Championship game. It’s a very nice feeling to celebrate it with a victory in front of the Hungarian fans,” said 21-year-old goalkeeper Bence Balizs from Fehervar AV19, who debuted with a 97.06 save percentage.
“Overall I’m very happy. We played a pretty solid game,” Hungary head coach Kevin Primeau said. “We got a number of new players on our team, new line combinations. You’re never sure what’s going to happen. We were very disciplined and kept our focus. We didn’t give them too many chances and got a couple of breaks.”
Hungary’s fourth line opened the scoring after less than six minutes of play. Balint Magosi tried to defeat Japanese goalie Masahito Haruna with a shot from an acute angle and he eventually succeeded when scoring on his own rebound.
The Magyars continued to be strong. A commercial break came at the right time for Japan head coach Mark Mahon to wake his team up his team.
However, the speech wasn’t effective for long. At 12:02 Istvan Bartalis passed from behind the cage to defenceman Andras Horvath. At first the Japanese prevented the shot, but eventually Horvath prevailed as winner and scored the 2-0 goal.
“We were unfortunately not ready for this game. Hungary played very well,” Japan’s defenceman Aaron Keller said.
The Japanese came out with more determination for the second period. On a box play Yosuke Haga scored on his own rebound at 1:28, but did so by skating into Hungarian goalkeeper Balizs and standing in the crease. The officials immediately signalled it was no goal.
The Japanese didn’t give up, but their streak of bad luck continued. At 9:03 the puck went into Balizs’ net again after a long shot, but a Japanese player deflected it with a high stick. The goal was disallowed after a video review and the 2-0 score stayed, but not for long.
“We started really nervous and didn’t execute well. They got two hard-working goals from the third and fourth line that gave them some energy,” Mahon said. “The no goals took the wind out of our sails a little bit when the momentum could have turned our way, but that’s hockey.”
Hungary had more luck on the other side when Istvan Sofron scored with his slap shot at 13:28 after a side pass from Balazs Ladanyi.
With 47 seconds left in the period Hungary even made it 4-0 with Csaba Kovacs’ shot from the face-off circle.
Arpad Mihaly added the 5-0 goal with 4:47 left in regulation time after double-passing with Janos Vas, and Shinya Yanadori spoiled Balizs’ shutout with his goal two minutes later after Takuro Yamashita had outplayed the Hungarian defence.
Hungary takes on Ukraine on Monday while Japan will face host Slovenia.
“Slovenia is a strong and skilled team. We’re going to have a tough game tomorrow,” Keller said. “Obviously we’re a team that’s small and young, but we skate pretty well. We will have to use our speed to our advantage.”