BRASOV, Romania – An internationally inexperienced Japan team outskated their opponents to earn promotion at the 2013 IIHF Ice Hockey U20 World Championship Division II Group A in Brasov, Romania, winning all games and the gold medal before the final round of games.
"We are dealing with 15 guys who never played internationally before, as the U18 World Championship participation was cancelled in 2011 because of the tsunami earthquake that hit Japan, so the learning curve for the team is pretty steep, but there has been a lot of positives," Japan head coach Mark Mahon said.
"To win all five games was important. We played very good in all the third periods of this tournament. We only gave up one goal throughout the tournament in the last period and we scored a lot. Stamina, ability to skate for 60 minutes and to stick to our game plan was our key to success," he continued.
Despite their perfect record in the tournament, Japan got off to a tough start in their opening game at the World Championship which saw them 2-1 down against Hungary after two periods.
"We were not hungry enough during the first 40 minutes against Hungary. During the second intermission we talked about getting more traffic in front of the goal and have good offensive habits. When we skate we force other teams to take penalties, so we were able to score four powerplay goals in the final period which was a big plus for us," said Mahon after Japan stormed back in the final frame scoring six times, including two goals from team captain Yuto Osawa, to win 7-2 and set the tone for the free scoring Japanese team for the remainder of the tournament.
Japan then found the net six times against Spain, followed it up with 8-1 against the Netherlands, before facing the hosts, undefeated Romania in a Friday night game at the newly built Pationarul Olimpic in Brasov.
"Although we were behind 2-1 against Hungary, the game against Romania was the toughest, simply because they had some energy from their crowd. In both those games we took some unnecessary penalty calls, and both those teams seemed quite dangerous. It is always more difficult when you expected to win, so the fact that we got the job done is something I am very proud of," said Mahon.
Japan came out and frantically outplayed their Romanian hosts in the first frame. Winning the shots 16-1, Japan scored only once, thanks to an inspired Zoltan Toke between the pipes. Romania crawled back into to the encounter, tied the game to give Japan a scare after two periods. A Shogo Nakajima goal 43:26 into the final period weighed back the game into Japan's favour who in the end won the game 4-1, sealing their gold medals and promotion to next year's U20 Division I Group B with one game to go.
Targeting a medal ahead of a tournament on home ice, newly promoted Romania had to work hard to reach their goal, finishing the tournament as bronze medal winners after losing only their final two matches. A tricky opening game against Spain ended up with a victory, before Romania, spearheaded by captain Roberto Gliga, who already featured in three senior world championships for his country, grinded out wins against the Netherlands and Lithuania before losses against the eventual winners and then to Hungary in the final game.
"I have worked with the U20 team for two years now and we progressed a lot over the last few years, so and I am very pleased to have such a competitive team who have done really well in this tournament," said Romania head coach Otto Keresztes on his team where roughly 75% of this year's team will be eligible for next year’s U20 World Championship.
If Romania were pleased with their overall performance, Hungary might be slightly less so, starting their World Championship with a final period breakdown following a plethora of penalty calls against Japan. Hungary arrived to Brasov with a roster with an emphasis on a strong unit wanting to play for their team instead of individuals wishing to step out on the ice for personal gain, which explains the absence of a number of high-profile players from their roster. It was a team without any standout stars that in the end can look back at a solid performance overall where they atoned themselves in the final game in the tournament, beating their neighbours Romania 5-1 to finish second.
The tournament's top scorer, Tony Ras, was found in the Dutch team. The Netherlands, who showed flashes of brilliance but lacked the consistency which led to a fourth place and at times frustrated their head coach Bo Subr:
"We started each game very well, then the mentality of the kids starts to take over thinking it will be easy in the second period," said Subr. "We made too many crucial mistakes that cost us goals and took some bad penalties, but overall were almost reached our goal which was a medal."
Tight games and narrow losses were the outcome for the Lithuanians who after three straight losses, against the Netherlands 2-1, Hungary 3-1, Romania 5-3 were up against Spain in a potential slippery relegation decider. Going up 5-1 after two frames Lithuania won the game conformably 6-3 and head coach Andrius Jadkauskas’ crop of youngsters will undoubtedly be stronger already for next year especially if players such as 15-year-old Ilja Cetvertak, with four goals in the tournament, continue his development.
Spain, who kept the home crowd on the edge of their seats after taking the lead against Romania 3-2 in the final period of their opening game, before in the end losing the game 6-3, are relegated to the 2014 IIHF Ice Hockey U20 World Championship Division II Group B after five tight games.
1. Japan 15 (promoted)
2. Hungary 11
3. Romania 9
4. Netherlands 7
5. Lithuania 3
6. Spain 0 (relegated)
Individual Awards as selected by the Tournament Directorate:
Best Goalkeeper: Zoltan Toke, Romania
Best Defenceman: Hiroto Sato, Japan
Best Forward: Roberto Gliga, Romania
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