Favourite Poland wins again

Also Croatia undefeated; Netherlands & Romania still winless

22.04.2014
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Poland's Leszek Laszkiewicz celebrates after scoring Poland's opener in their 3-2 win against hosts Lithuania in Division I Group B play in Vilnius. Photo: Sarunas Mazeika

VILNIUS – Poland recorded another win after narrowly defeating neighbours Lithuania 3-2 during the second day of the 2014 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship Division I Group B. Croatia also continued to impress after recording their second straight win blanking the Netherlands 4-0, while Great Britain bounced back after their opening day defeat with a 4-1 sweep against Romania.

Great Britain vs. Romania 4-1 (0-0, 2-0, 2-1)

Great Britain had to wait over four and half periods in Vilnius before finally finding the net. Separated by less than two minutes in the middle frame, one goal apiece by Benjamin Davies and captain Jonathan Phillips saw Britain roll on to a well-deserved 4-1 victory. Romania, winless after two games, looks doomed for relegation to Division IIA.

"It was really a matter of going out and executing. A win's a win and we will take it and move onto the hosts on Wednesday," said Great Britain head coach Doug Christiansen.

Despite winning the shots overwhelmingly by 16-6, Great Britain was unable to get on the scoresheet in the first frame during day 2. Instead it was Romania who should have capitalised on at least one of their two clear-cut chances in the first frame such as the one with 5:30 left of the period when Csanad Virag raced down on the right to pick out Ede Mihaly who forced a brilliant save from Ben Bowns in the British goal.

Apart from sporadic Romanian interludes, Great Britain dictated most of the game and possession, but the hard grit in front of the opponents goal was still absent, and only sporadically on show such as captain Phillips leading by example when barging in from the left boards towards the Romania goal at 10:33.

Both teams entered their second game of the tournament with new starting goalies compared to their opening fixtures. Bowns guarding the British net ahead of Stephen Murphy while Gellert Ruczuj who let in seven in the first game gave way to Catrinoi Cornea.

Romania's lack in numbers, especially in defence, were severly exposed as the game wore on as they started to get on their knees. But British inefficiency was finally put to an end as Romania's Csanad Virag were serving a minor penalty. After finally having broken the deadlock by Benjamin Davies at 32:45 it did not take long before they struck again.

Less than two minutes later, a fine piece of British trickery on the left deceived Romania's stand-in defenceman Leonard Pascaru before Phillips hit home Britain's second after 34:35. Soon after Pascaru made amends for his earlier blooper as he cleared the puck from the the goal line as an Ashley Tait shot had hit the Romanian post in a fine move.

Colin Shields struck the killer blow, netting his first goal of the tournament 5:47 into the final period reacting the quickest to poke home a rebound from Catrinoi Cornea.

“This was a chance for us to beat Great Britain. If we would had scored on our fine chances in the first period it could had been different. Now it will be tough with Croatia awaiting next," said Romania's captain Yevgeni Pysarenko.

With the tie effectively over, Otto Biro pulled a goal back with 34 seconds to go for Romania's first of the tournament, before Great Britain replied promptly as a Mark Garside shot slinked in past Catrinoi Cornea for Great Britain's fourth and final goal, which should boost their confidence ahead of their next game versus hosts Lithuania.

"Our goal has not changed," said Christiansen on Great Britain's hopes to bounce back straight to Division I Group A on their first attempt. "There are still a lot of things that can happen and a lot of hockey still to be played."

Netherlands vs. Croatia 0-4 (0-2, 0-2, 0-0)

Croatia went on the knockout with two goals in the first frame which paved the way for their second successive win as newcomers in Division IB. Led brilliantly by their first line, where Borna Rendulic and Alan Letang both had 0+2 points, while Michael Novak got a goal and an assist, the win put Croatia level on points with firm favourite Poland. Mate Tomljenovic recorded his second shutout, while a toothless Dutch team is now without both goals and points after two rounds.

"In our the first game of the tournament against Great Britain we were a bit tired and we had to thank our goalie, Tomljenovic, who then saved many shots. Today we got a much better start and also we played much, much better," said Rendulic, the brightest shining star of a Croatian team, which so far has been the surprise package of the tournament.

Although it was the Netherlands that started the brightest, it was Croatia who against the run of play drew first blood as Tadija Miric's effort from the blueline managed to find its way past Martijn Oosterwijk for an unfortunate start for the Netherlands and their young netminder 4:47 into the game.

Oosterwijk, who had replaced injured first-choice goaltender Ian Meierdres in their opening game versus Lithuania, soon had another puck to pick out from his net. But for Croatia's second it was little he could have done as it was a brilliant goal from start to finish instigated by Rendulic. This season's top-scorer for HPK Hämeenlinna in Finland's top division, Liiga, showed great strength as the raced along the boards while holding off the Dutch defence before a magnificent behind-the-net feed picked out Michael Novak, who doubled Croatia's lead from the slot with his second of the tournament, which prompted Dutch head coach Chris Eimers to call for a time-out.

Despite winning the shots 9-3 in the first frame, and failing to capitalize on chances such as when Mitch Bruijsten and Nardo Nagtzaam both were clear through on Tomljenovic would soon come back and haunt them.

"We had a two on zero late in the first period, and we really have to bury those chances, but finishing has been one of our major problems of late," said Eimers.

Instead of coming out roaring in the middle frame to try and pull back the deficit, it was Croatia who stretched their lead to 3-0. Rendulic once against showed strength along the boards before the rebound left by his shot was steered in by Mislav Blagus. When Ivan Jankovic then was sitting off a hooking call, a feeble power-play by the Netherlands, led to Alan Letang picking up Marko Ljubic in the slot who feeds it to Ivan Brencun to score Croatia's fourth answered goal which was the final nail in the Dutch coffin as Croatia went on to control proceedings in the final frame and now very much look like best-equipped to try and challenge the Poles.

The Netherlands play Poland next, while Croatia will be looking for more goals against Romania

Poland vs. Lithuania 3-2 (1-0, 1-1, 1-1)

At least on the scoreboard, Lithuania was on the back foot for most of their second game of the tournament. Poland spread out their goals on three lines while the hard-working Lithuanians relied heavily on their first line with Dainius Zubrus and Donatas Kumeliauskas scoring two points each in the most competitive and physical encounter of this tournament so far that ended up in a 3-2 win for Poland.

"We had big respect for the Polish team, but we were not afraid. We knew if we played a good tactical game as a team. I think overall over 60 minutes, there were not a lot of times where you could see that the Polish team were much better than us, and the goals they scored were just what in English would be called as garbage goals, especially their first one," said Lithuania's head coach Bernd Haake.

Hardly had the 6,138 fans inside the Siemens Arena found their seats before neighbours Poland did their best to try and spoil the party. Only 1:55 into the game Poland opened the scoring, as influential Leszek Laszkiewicz worked himself around the Lithuanian net and showed great determination to force the puck past the Lithuanian defence and Mantas Armalis. But inspired greatly by Zubrus, Kumeliauskas and the lively Arnoldas Bosas as their main offensive threat, Lithuania showed that there was not much between the two teams in an even first period where Lithuania won the shots 12-10.

Poland added a second at 7:11 of the middle frame. Krzysztof Zapala picked out Pawel Dronia, who shot from the point where in front of the goal Tomasz Malasinski steered the puck past Armalis.

In what was a physical encounter, Lithuania now showed greater urgency going forward but with Przemyslaw Odrobny being alert and keeping the pucks out. Then with seven minutes to go of the middle frame, Lithuania got a golden opportunity to reduce the lead playing 5-on-3. Zubrus was the man to dictate the power play from the right hand side as they piled up the pressure and when Lithuania's goal finally came, it was the New Jersey Devils man who was the instigator. From the right hand side, he held on the puck until hitting a pin-point pass across the goal for the far post where Kumeliasukas scored Lithuania's first of the evening as the ringing chants of "Lietuva" reverberate inside the arena.

Lithuania went into the final frame looking for that game-tying goal. The lively Arnoldas Bosas put Odrobny to test, while in their next shift, Zubrus picked up the puck centre circle and trundles down the boards like a locomotive, but found Bosas and Kumeliauskas unable to convert. Instead it was Poland´s Grzegorz Pasiut who augmented Poland's lead to 3-1 as he stormed down the left side, attacked the net and found Aron Chmielewski in front of net, who forced a save from Armalis before Pasiut himself hit home the rebound with 7:57 left on the lock. Poland defended majestically and with 1:22 to go, Armalis was pulled from the Lithuanian net. Darius Pliskauskas immediately pulled a goal back for the hosts but it was all in vain as Poland held on to a morale-boosting victory.

"I am proud of our team to win this type of game and also the great strength of character they showed against a Lithuanian team that were very strong," said Poland head coach Igor Zakharkin. Poland is now undefeated after two games and takes on the Netherlands in the next game following tomorrow's day off.

Lithuania will look to bounce back against one of their main contenders Great Britain as their goal for the tournament remains very much alive. "We worked so hard for 60 minutes in what was an outstanding game and a good advertisement for ice hockey in Lithuania. Our route to win a medal goes on," said Haake.

HENRIK MANNINEN

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