BUDAPEST – The two top-seeded teams Hungary and Netherlands opened their quest for an Olympic ticket on a bright note. Hungary defeated Lithuania by a score of 5-1 while the Dutch overcame Croatia 8-2.
Lithuania - Hungary 1-5 (0-2, 1-3, 0-0)
Tournament favourites Hungary made no mistake on the opening day and defeated Lithuania 5-1.
With nearly 4,500 fans behind them the host nation accomplished mission one without too many problems. With an entertaining pre-game show the crowd was all warmed up to see the home favourites face Lithuania and it didn't take long to have the arena rocking.
At 2:48 Andras Benk succesfully converted a wrap-around attempt into the far corner behind Lithuanian goalkeeper Mantas Armalis to give Hungary a 1-0 lead. Their rhythm was broken not much later when Lithuania was taking back control on a 77-second long 5-on-3 power play.
Whereas Lithuania failed to score with the man advantage, Hungary did twice on its first three opportunities.
At 14:10 Marton Vas rocketed home from the blue line and 90 seconds into the second period Janos Hari made it 3-0 on a wrap-around copy of the first goal of the evening.
Once again Lithuania was able to keep Hungary from running away in the game when the power play was clicking for the Baltic country. Sarunas Kuliesius's found room behind Bence Balisz to put Lithuania on the scoreboard.
The home crowd didn't have to wait long though before they could cheer again. Just past the halfway mark of the game, Janos Hari struck a one-timer on the power play before Marton Vas also got credited with his second goal of the game two minutes later.
Hungary, which outshot Lithuania 42-22, applied heavy pressure on the Lithuanian net in the final period but found equal opposition in Armalis, who came up big on numerous occasions.
"I think we did fairly well especially considering this team has only been together since October," Lithuania coach Bernd Haake said after the game. "But you can not win games when sitting in the penalty box. Today this was proven once again as we conceded three power play goals."
On the Hungarian side there were all smiles afterwards. "This is a good way to open the tournament in front of your own fans," forward Daniel Koger knew. "We did what we had to do in getting the victory and we were able to save some energy for the upcoming two games in the final period.'
Both teams will play again tomorrow. Hungary will play Croatia while Lithuania will try to hand The Netherlands their first loss of the tournament.
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Netherlands - Croatia 8-2 (3-0, 3-0, 2-2)
The Netherlands opened their quest for an Olympic ticket on a bright note. The Dutch team defeated Croatia by a lopsided score of 8-2.
Croatia went undefeated in their preliminary qualification tournament but soon learned that they were facing a different level of opposition in Budapest.
Although the Netherlands controlled most of the play in the first period, it was Croatia, who were most dangerous on the counter attack. Borna Rendulic came closest when his shot hit the inside of the post after four minutes of play.
Eventually it was Marcel Kars who rebounded home from close range at 10:32 to bring the Netherlands the lead and turn the game in Dutch favour. Within two minutes the Netherlands extended their lead to 3-0 thanks to goals by Kevin Bruijsten and another one from Marcel Kars to definitely set themselves apart from the Croats.
Marcel Kars has never been a prolific goal scorer when donning the orange jersey. But against Croatia the 35-year old forward had one of his most productive games since first representing the Netherlands in 2004 with three goals and four points.
"It's nice that I can contribute on the scoreboard now," said the hat trick hero who saw the C stripped from his jersey. "The coaching staff decided to hand the captaincy to a younger player and told me to lead by example on the ice. I think I managed to do so today."
Having just 15 skaters registered, Croatia had a hard time keeping up with the energetic skating orange squad. The Netherlands ended the period with a 6-0 score and also saw Kevin Bruijsten ringing a penalty shot on the iron.
The Netherlands scored two more goals in the third period before they took their foot of the pedal.
With 3:29 left to play Croatia ruined Ian Meierdres shutout bid when Marko Tadic's shot from the blue line found a way past the Dutch goaltender. One minute later Croatia earned another goal after Rendulic scored on a breakaway to earn the applause of the fans of the Laszlo Papp Sportarena. Any hopes of a miraculous comeback were thwarted by the final buzzer though as the Dutch hung on to their 8-2 lead.
"After seeing their roster we did expect to win," Marcel Kars said afterwards. "However, I expected the game to be much close 5-2, 5-3 like."
Marco Postma led the Dutch with a goal and four assists as the Netherlands outshot Croatia 44-19.
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