Croatia surprises with silver

Newcomers finish second in Div. IB, host Lithuania wins bronze

27.04.2014
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Alan Letang was one of the main men behind Croatia's surprise Division I Group B silver in Vilnius. Photo: Kiril Cachovskij

VILNIUS – Croatia edged Lithuania 3-2 for second place during the final day of the 2014 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship Division I Group B. In the fight for relegation, the Netherlands sent Romania down a division after a 9-1 romp, while Great Britain inflicted gold medallists Poland on their first loss, 4-2, to finish fourth.

Netherlands vs. Romania 9-1 (3-0, 2-0, 4-1)

The Netherlands demolished Romania in the relegation decider to comfortably stay in Division I Group B.

9-1 against Romania saw the Netherlands finally get their first points on board. Dutch captain Diederick Hagemeijer led the scoring with a goal and three helpers while Martijn Oosterwijk celebrated his first shutout in the tournament. Romania finished the tournament with a paltry point and is demoted to Division II Group A.

"We absolutely deserved to stay up, we played 40 minutes of great hockey against Lithuania, 40 minutes against Poland, we deserved to beat Great Britain and we were in a different league to Romania today," said Dutch head coach Chris Eimers.

Having trailed in all in their previous four games, the Netherlands were 3-0 up after the first period against Romania. Hagemeijer and Ivo van den Heuvel, combined for the lively Steve Mason who found the top corner to put the Netherlands in front after 6:52. Shortly after a second was added as van den Heuvel hit home a rebound for 2-0 and before the frame came to an end Marco Postma had scored a third.

"Before they get their first goal we have our chances but don't score, and then after 3-0 the game is effectively over," said Romania head coach Kjell Lindqvist.

After Kevin Bruijsten from the left corner found younger brother Mitch who hit the back of the net with a low shot to make it 4-0, Lindqvist pulled Adrian Catrinoi Cornea from the net and gave Gellert Ruczuj another chance. Before the period had come to an end the Netherlands scored again with Hagemeijer adding their fifth unanswered goal steering past a Tummers feed from the blueline on the power play at 11:17.

"One huge difference between us and them is size. Look at the size of the Dutch team, we don't win a 50-50 challenge in the game," said Lindqvist of his roster, who on average was 5 cm shorter and 6 kilos lighter than that of the Netherlands.

Lightweight in defence helped Maarten Brekelmans sneak up in the slot to make it 6-0. Soon again, Romania's rear-guard was turned inside out as Attila Imecs was taken for a ride behind his own net by Nardo Naagzaat before scoring the Netherlands' seventh of the afternoon. Tony Demelinne made it 8-0 and although Mihai Georgescu broke Romania's deadlock after Oostwewijk failed to hold on to shot from the blueline, van den Heuvel wrapped up the scoring as the Netherlands rolled on to a easy 9-1 a final win.

"We probably had the most difficult opponent to start the tournament as we played our first game against a Lithuanian team boosted by the arrival of Zubrus," said Eimers when asked to summarize the tournament from a Dutch perspective. "But we also didn't get all our equipment here on time as our luggage got lost and out on the ice, we lost our number one goalie (Ian Meiderdres) to injury, so it just did not go our way."

Meanwhile, Romania can look back at a miserable end of the season which has seen results suddenly plummet. Last year, performances at world championships by Romania's three national teams yielded a fourth place finish for the seniors while the U20 and U18 teams ended up in third place. One year later, seniors and U18 have been relegated while the U20 survived in their division by the skin of the teeth.

"Now it is time for a re-start, and we need to plan long-term," said Lindqvist on the future of Romanian hockey. "We need to get young, hungry guys into the team because we cannot continue playing with players who look that they don't want to be here."

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

Great Britain finished on a high by beating gold-medal winners Poland in their final game of the Division I Group B.

Colin Shields led the way with three goals and one assist as Great Britain finished off the tournament with a fine 4-2 victory.

"We were fantastic and I am so proud of them. We had a game plan and we executed it perfectly, it was an excellent performance," said Great Britain head coach Doug Christiansen. "Everyone gave their all, everyone stuck to the system and they did what they had to do.”

Two quick Shields strikes in the second period set the tone for Great Britain's third victory this week. The first coming after 2:54 before Great Britain doubled their lead as fine work by Robert Lachowicz and Ben Davies picked out Shields in the slot who hit it high past Kamil Kosowski, who guarded Poland's net today with first choice Przemyslaw Odrobny getting a rest.

Poland's first line soon pulled a goal back as Pawel Dronia fired home a bullet from the blueline after a pass from Krzysztof Zapala from the right hand corner at 15:38 as Britain's Stephen Lee was serving a minor penalty.

Krystian Dziubinski reacted first to a loose puck to tie the game at three at 5:31 of the third period before Poland got into penalty trouble with Patryk Wajda and Pawel Dronia sent off, which saw Robert Dowd once again get the British in front scoring past Kosowski from close range.

With less than two minutes to go, Poland pulled Kosowski from his net, cue Shields who needed 13 seconds later scored an empty netter to the rousing cheers of the large British contingent within the 3,206 fans in attendance.

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

A year after winning promotion, newcomers Croatia finished second in the Division I Group B after seeing off hosts Lithuania in the battle for the silver medals.

Borna Rendulic scored the winner with six minutes to go and despite 30-17 in shots for Lithuania, inspired goaltending from Mate Tomljenovic saw Croatia hold out for a 3-2 win

"When we arrived here we did not know what we could do, but when we started to play today we knew it was possible and we made history for Croatia and achieved something big for our country," said Croatia defenceman Igor Jacmenjak after his team was the surprise package of the tournament losing just one game versus gold medal winners Poland.

After a goalless first period, Croatia's Geoff Waugh broke the deadlock midway through the middle frame when Donatas Kumeliauskas served a 2+10 minute penalty. On the power play, Croatia's captain Dario Kostovic burst through centre ice with pace, found Mislav Blagus in the slot, who with a pass behind his back found Waugh, who got the better of Mantas Armalis in the Lithuania net to silence the 7,500 inside Siemens Arena.

Lithuania came into this vital tie without Nerijus Alisauskas serving a one-game suspension issued after their previous game against Romania. In his absence veteran Arturas Katulis took the step up to the first line.

As Lithuania pressed forward to look for an equaliser, it was instead the wily Croats who notched a second. Michael Novak raced through with the puck on the left and in front of goal Tadija Miric reacted faster than Lithuania's defenceman Tomas Vysniauskas to double Croatia's lead.

Edgar Rybakov needed only 73 seconds to give the hosts hope as he reduced Croatia's lead weaving himself past the last line of Croatian defence and shot low past Tomljenovic.

The goal keyed-up the Lithuanians squad as their intensity in attack increased with Zubrus’ desire to win shone through to his teammates. Darius Pliskauskas tied the game carrying the puck into Croatia's zone left-hand side before hitting the game-tying goal up in the top corner. Chants of "Lietuva" rang out from the stands as the game looked like it had swung over in the hosts´ favour winning the final frame shots 15-5.

Dangerous on the breakaway, Croatia had already missed a penalty shot by Luka Vukoja when less than two minutes later individual skill from Rendulic won the game and silver medal for Croatia as Roman Aliapkin was unable to hold off the Croatian prospect as he raked a backhand up in the left corner with 6:19 to go.

Despite a frantic ending where Lithuania pressed on and where Mindaugas Kieras hit the post, Lithuania failed to capitalise which meant bronze instead of silver medals for the hosts.

"This tournament was an unbelievable success for hockey and for sport in Lithuania," said Lithuania head coach Bernd Haake. "Our big target was the silver medal, but if you look from the start of the tournament, we beat Great Britain, the team that came down, we beat the Netherlands whom we haven't won against for many years, so all these games have been good promotion for hockey."

Final Ranking:
1. Poland 12 (promoted)
2. Croatia 11
3. Lithuania 9
4. Great Britain 9
5. Netherlands 3
6. Romania 1 (relegated)

Individual Awards selected by the Directorate:
Best Goalkeeper: Przemyslaw Odrobny, Poland
Best Defenceman: Alan Letang, Croatia
Best Forward: Dainius Zubrus, Lithuania

HENRIK MANNINEN

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