SEOUL – After the Russian MHL Red Stars had secured gold at the 2012 IIHF U20 Challenge Cup of Asia, Japan won the game for second place against host Korea 8-7 in overtime.
“Our game was not good,” said Japan’s Hiroto Sato. “We can do better and we didn’t play the way we planned before the game, but we won and we have learned, that’s positive.”
Japan took a 3-0 lead after 21 minutes of play before 1,348 fans in Seoul, but the Koreans never gave up and found their way back into the game thanks to strong team play.
They shortened the deficit to 3-2, but Japan added to goals midway through the game to make it 5-2. In the last minute of the middle stanza Korea added to goals within a 37-second span for the 5-4 period score.
“It was amazing. We did not have a good start, but we become better and better during the game,” said Korean goalkeeper Shinchul Yu. “We wanted to win this game, but at the end we couldn’t make it. But I’m sure that this experience and these games will help us a lot.”
Korea tied it at five at 4:46 of the third period. Although Japan regained the lead twice, Korea tied it up each time including the 7-7 goal with 49 seconds left in regulation time.
In the extra period, however, it was the Japanese who cheered. Captain Makuru Furuhashi scored his second goal of the night after 18 seconds to seal second place for Japan.
“We tried to do our best before and during this game, especially in front of the spectators and for our country,” Korean head coach Sungyoup Yoon said. “I’m more than happy with our team. We played very well. We will do our best to improve in the future.”
The Koreans ended up in third place before China and Chinese Taipei.
The gap between the winning Russians and last-ranked Chinese Taipei was enormous, showed in the 29-0 score when the first- and last-ranked teams met on the last day, but all teams could draw positive conclusions for their programs.
“It was an honour to play against the Russian selection,” said Chinese Taipei’s Poyun Hsiao. “We knew we can’t compete for a win against them, but we tried our best. The result is hard for us, but it was amazing to play against such a team. I think our team has improved a lot during the tournament and this is positive.”
Although the Russians were clearly the best team with a 4-0 record and a 57-0 goal record, there were also players on the other teams that impressed the crowd in Seoul.
Japan’s Makuru Furuhashi was the leading scorer and goal scorer with 12 goals and 17 points from four games. And beside undefeated Russian goalkeepers Vasili Demchenko and Vsevolod Kondrashov, Korea’s Changmin Lee was the only netminder with a save percentage above 90% having blocked 93.18 per cent of the shots on his cage.
The tournament was the last one of the four Challenge Cup of Asia events during the 2011/2012 season played in the men’s, U20, U18 and women’s categories.
“We can be happy with the past season and our activities,” said IIHF Vice President Shoichi Tomita. “We evaluated everything and the Asian countries will meet again in August in Macau to work on the details and the upcoming season.”
The group will emphasize on player development, improving coaching and officiating in Asia next year and the Learn to Play programs. New ice rinks that opened in Thailand in Singapore offer new possibilities.
“We focus on domestic development projects. This is our main priority,” said Tomita. “Every Asian IIHF Member National Association is encouraged to work together with the IIHF Asian Office to reach our goals.”
Also the positive partnership with the Russian junior league MHL will be continued for next season after the discussions in Seoul.
“It was the first time we played in Asia. Everybody has learned from each other and the tournament was a very positive experience for us,” said Dmitri Yefimov, the MHL’s Managing Director. “We’re thinking in the long run.”Click here for scores and photos from the tournament.