Nearly there for Poland

With GB out of race, Poles can earn promotion on Thursday

24.04.2014
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Poland captain Marcin Kolusz, scorer in Poland's 5-1 win over the Netherlands. Photo: Sarunas Mazeika

VILNIUS – Poland's 5-1 win against the Netherlands means promotion can be sealed with one game to go if closest contender Croatia is disposed tomorrow. Second placed Croatia rallied back to beat Romania 4-3 on penalty shots, while Great Britain is out of contention for gold after suffering a defeat to a game-winning 2-1 goal by Lithuania's Dainius Zubrus during day three of the 2014 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship Division I Group B.

Poland vs. Netherlands 5-1 (0-0, 1-0, 4-1)

With two goals in a ten-second final-frame scoring spree, Poland effectively killed off the tie as they charged ahead for their third straight win, beating the Netherlands 5-1.

Aron Chmielewski hit home a rebound at 44:18 for Poland's 2-0 goal, before they only needed ten more seconds before Marek Strzyzowski added another strike to make the game beyond the reach of the Netherlands. Poland scored four goals in a final frame where they won the shots with 20-6 as they cruised to victory.

"It's a good win for us as we tried to play a bit more disciplined hockey today, but if we want to get up to Division IA we need to win all games," said Poland head coach Igor Zakharkin.

While winning all remaining games might boost team-morale, Poland could need only won win. With two games to go versus Croatia and Great Britain, they can seal promotion to Division IA by seeing off Croatia tomorrow, leaving their result on the final day irrelevant as their gold medals would by then be secured.

Following two straight losses, the Netherlands started the game far more accomplished than against Lithuania and Croatia. Martijn Oosterwijk, who has been in goal for the Netherlands since replacing the injured Ian Meierdres during the first game against Lithuania, now experienced a much better start than against Croatia in the second game.

He denied Grzegorz Pasiut when clear on goal after eight minutes and as Poland stamped their authority on proceedings, winning the shots in the first frame with 16-6, the influential Pasiut soon after hit a cross-ice pass from the left side of the blue line to Sebastian Kowalowka who picked out Bartosz Dabkowski's in the slot whose effort was saved by Oosterwijk's glove. Lopuski put Oosterwijk to test again soon after during a hapless Dutch power play, before Krystian Dziubinski steamed down the right towards goal to once again expose the Dutch defence for lack of pace as Oosterwijk once again was called into action with one minute to go of the first frame as he twice denied Aron Chiemlewski.

Not being blessed with the rub of the green during this tournament, the Netherlands hit the post early in the second frame, before shortly after, at the other end Poland's scored on the power-play, Pawel Dronia, instigated the move finding Krzysztof Zalapa charging down the left, the rebound left from his shot saw captain Marcin Kolusz hit home Poland's opener at 25:52.

Going into the final frame Poland dominated the proceedings with their superior speed and puckhandling. Goals from Chmielewski and Strzyzowski put the game beyond the Netherlands. Tomasz Malasinski added Poland's fourth with the best goal of the game as he burst through the Dutch defence, cut inside Jurryt Smid to hit the puck high past Osterwijk. Almost nine periods of play in Vilnius, the Netherlands finally scored, thanks to influential defenceman Jody van Oorschot, but Poland wanted the last say and wrapped up the scoring as Leszek Laszkiewicz was the instigator when picking out Mikolaj Lopuski who made it 5-1 with ten seconds to go.

"I think mentally this team is stronger than last year," said Zahkarkin, who thinks his team has learnt a lesson from last year when his adepts missed out on promotion on the last day against Ukraine.

"Last year when we played the deciding game we started to be a little bit too careful in the second period. In this tournament I think we have looked stronger, and showed in the game against Lithuania that we can deal with difficult situations."

As Poland prepare for Croatia tomorrow, the Netherlands' head coach has seen signs of improvement, despite a heavy defeat.

"I think for two periods we were equal with Poland, but we are just in that situation where the bounces don't come our way and we need to work very hard to score goals, while we are being punished pretty hard for our mistakes," said Chris Eimers as he looked forward for what is to come in their two final games versus Great Britain and Romania.

"The attitude of the guys is good, they are working hard, so if we can play like we did in the first two periods today we could beat Great Britain, but the main focus for us now is to stay up in the division," he said.

Croatia vs. Romania 4-3 (0-1, 1-1, 2-1, 0-0, 1-0)

Winless Romania pushed undefeated Croatia all the way to penalty shots in an exciting encounter where the Romanians felt hard done by after having been in front for most of the encounter as Croatia showed great resilience with a forceful comeback towards the end of the final frame.

Trailing 3-1, defenceman Kenny MacAulay pulled a goal back before with 6:33 to go before Tadija Miric scored the game-tying goal with 2:33 left to play. Veteran blueliner Igor Jacmenjak netted the winning penalty shot for the Croats to stay undefeated after three matches.

"It's like in the NHL, big wins one day and then the next day it is tough to get back at it. I was hoping for three points but in the end I am proud of my guys to battle back and get two points," said Donald MacLean, head coach of Croatia.

It is a shootout win that keeps newly promoted Croatia in second place after the third round of games with their fate still in their own hands to achieve a surprise second consecutive promotion with games against Poland and Lithuania remaining. Romania with one point is second from bottom and plays Lithuania and the Netherlands in their final couple of fixtures.

Dubbed as a potential relegation decider ahead of the 2014 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship Division I Group B, it was surprise package Croatia chasing their third straight win as the red-and-white chequered team welcomed Dominik Kanaet back into the fold after having been absent for one match.

Yevgeni Pysarenko sent the winless Romanians to a shock lead after 7:32. Croatia replied almost immediately after when Ivan Jankovic hit the post, and for the remainder of the period Croatia dominated with most of the threat instigated by Borna Rendulic, who also showed brilliant individual skill when he slalomed through the Romanian team before Adrian Catrinoi Cornea denied him with 2:33 to go of the first frame.

"Before the match I told my players to stop being so scared and instead start fighting," said Kjell Lindvist, Romania's head coach. "We were fighting well, putting pressure on their defencemen, and for once we got the first goal of the game so we don't have to start chasing the game."

After Rendulic had tormented the Romanian rearguard at the start of the second period, Romania scored against the run of play. Csanad Fodor's crisp skating on the left set up Ede Mihaly, who lashed his shot high in the far corner past Mate Tomljenovic in the net stretching Romania's lead to 2-0. Levente Zsok could had made it three for Romania soon after, but instead it was Rendulic who open his scoring account, after Jacmenjak, Croatia's 35-year veteran, had skated clear along the right side and picked out his teammate in the slot to pull a goal back.

But Romania kept going. After Rendulic was serving an unnecessary penalty for hooking caused in offensive zone, Huba Bors increased Romania's lead to 3-1, before an onslaught by the Croats took over which saw them win the shots in the final frame 14-5, pull the two goals back and then win the game on penalty shots.

"We led with 3-1 with six and a half minutes to go, but we know we don't have the strongest of teams here, but we are happy a point," said Lindqvist. "Now we need the Netherlands to lose their game tomorrow to set us up for a relegation decider."

Great Britain vs. Lithuania 1-2 (0-1, 1-1, 0-0)

Great Britain's hopes of bouncing back to Division IA at the first attempt ended after a gutsy Lithuania prevailed.

Dainius Zubrus showed the way to a 2-1 victory for the hosts after notching up and assist for Arnoldas Bosas opening goal before it was the New Jersey Devils man who scored the game-winning goal in the middle frame.

"Zubrus was immense tonight and had a great game being at the heart of everything we did and dominated," said Lithuania head coach Bernd Haake, who also heaped praise on his rising star between the pipes, Mantas Armalis. "When you get outshot and still win, it is thanks to your goalie."

This crucial win means that Lithuania with two games to go now are safe from relegation and are currently at third spot and well-placed to reach their initial goal of claiming a medal.

Equal on points with one win apiece before tonight’s encounter, defenceman Mindaugas Kieras instigated the move that set the tone for Lithuania's win during day 3. His pass found captain Dainius Zubrus, who barged down the ice on the right, forced his way past Jonathan Weaver to pick out Arnoldas Bosas, who now got the reward for his hard work by scoring his first goal of the tournament as Lithuania got off the mark after 3:59 in an even first frame.

Great Britain's captain of the night was Ashley Tait, who celebrated his 100th match for the British national team and now only being one game short of all-time leader David Longstaff. Tait and David Clarke were both denied by Mantas Armalis as Great Britain raised the ante during the middle frame. They soon got their reward, thanks to a piece of fine individual skill from the lively Robert Dowd. Starting off his move behind Armalis net, he first went past Tomas Vysniauskas, then deked Aivaras Bendzius before lashing home Britain's equaliser 4:41 into the middle frame. When Bosas then got sent off for a tripping call 29 seconds later, the momentum seemed to have swung over in GBs favour, but once again they overworked their powerplay, trying to walk in with the puck instead of having a go and testing Armalis' growing reputation.

As Great Britain's David Phillips were unable to keep his cool out on the ice, Lithuania needed only 27 seconds to capitalise on the power play after he was sent off for two minutes. Nerijus Alisauskas’ shot from left point created havoc in front of Bowns' net, before work from Donatas Kumeliauskas and Bosas saw Zubrus score Lithuania's second for the night at 31:06.

The biggest attendance of this World Championship event so far with 6,312 inside the Siemens Arena saw Great Britain push for an equaliser to keep their hopes of winning gold alive. But Lithuania defended stoutly with Armalis stopped everything that was fired at him as the hosts claimed their second win out of three. Great Britain is out of contention for gold, but not safe from relegation as the Netherlands await next ahead of Poland in their final fixture.

"Lithuania are a great side and they were very good tonight," said Doug Christiansen, head coach of Great Britain. "We played hard and committed and our guys battled for 60 minutes, so I am disappointed to lose and we have to pick ourselves up for tomorrow against the Netherlands."

HENRIK MANNINEN

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