Japan surprises everyone
by Szabolcs Zavodszky|22 APR 2019
The Japanese players celebrate with the trophy for the 2019 IIHF Ice Hockey U18 World Championship Division I Group B winner.
photo: Soos Attila Etele
The Japanese U18 national team went to Szekesfehervar, Hungary, for the 2019 IIHF Ice Hockey U18 World Championship Division I Group B, and they claimed first place with one day left and four wins in four games. The Japanese did not lose until the final day when they had already locked up promotion and the gold medal. In the final game they lost to the host nation of Hungary.

It’s is safe to say that only Japan left the tournament happy with the gold medal around their necks. Austria, Slovenia and Hungary were considered the three favourites for promotion. Despite this Japan came in and took care of business. “We already had the gold after the fourth game, however, it was still hard mentally to play the fifth game,” said Takeshi Yamanaka, the Japanese coach, after the close of the tournament.

The opening day started off with three close games but none of the results could have been considered a surprise of an upset. Japan defeated Italy 3-2 on two goals by Miura. The second game of the day had the same score as Slovenia got past Great Britain 3-2 despite Britain out shooting Slovenia 30-17. Thanks to the great work by Usnik and two goals by Kremelj Slovenia picked up the three points. Austria got past Hungary on goals by Lindner, Nickl and Harnisch. “We played a good game today, both teams worked hard and created chances, but we were able to score on the ones that we created. Unfortunately one of our top forwards was injured and could not finish the game. We will need to change the lines for the next game,” said Christian Dolezal, the Austrian coach, after the game. 

The second day of the tournament still did not bring any major surprises, however, there were some high scoring games. Great Britain and Japan scored eight goals between each other as Japan took the game 5-3 thanks to two goals and assist by Ando. Austria cruised past Italy as they put seven into the back of the net. Interestingly all seven goals were scored by different players but Nickl finished the game by setting up three goals. Hungary and Slovenia were not able to win in regulation as a late Slovenian goal sent the game into overtime. In the end it was settled in a shootout where Krmelj scored the winning goal for Slovenia.

After a day off to get their head cleared all six teams were back on the ice to battle for promotion. The first real upset of the tournament came during the first game of the third match day as Italy beat Slovenia 2-0. Fadani picked up the shutout win with Cristellon and Soelva scoring for Italy. The second game was a battle of undefeated teams as Japan took on Austria. Austria jumped to a 2-0 lead after two periods on goals by Harnisch and Kandemir but in the third period Japan battled back as Ando and Ueno scored to tie the game with Hanzawa scoring the game winner with just under five minutes left to play. After the game Japanese coach Takeshi Yamanaka had the following to offer: “Our players worked hard today, both goals against us were unlucky. We picked up our play in the second period, we moved well and skated a lot, this was the key to today’s victory. This is the past now and we need to look forward to the next game to pick up another three points.” The third game of the day produced nine goals as Hungary came back from being down 4-1 and tying it up at four all before Britain scored in the final minute of play to take the three points in the upset win. The day of upsets really shook up the standings in the Division I Group B.

Austria took a big hit in their chance to passing Japan when they followed their one goal-defeat with an overtime win over GB. Great Britain held a 1-0 lead thanks to an early Alderson goal until the 55th minute when Austria quickly scored two to flip the score, but Alderson scored again to send the game into overtime. Felix Beck was the hero for Austria they took two out of the three points. Hungary beat Italy 7-3 thanks to two goals each by Keresztes and Szucs. In the final game of the day it was Japan picking up the shutout win over Slovenia. Sato played lights out in the win for Japan while Ueno scored twice for the Japan. With the win the Asian nation had locked up the gold medal and promotion to the next level. “We are happy with the win, we played well all game and we controlled it from start to finish. We really played as a team today. We know that we have won the tournament but we still have a game tomorrow,” said Japanese coach Takeshi Yamanaka.

The tournament win and 17th place overall in the U18 World Championship program is the best result for Japan in seven years.

On the final day of the tournament the rest of the positions were up for grab as well as some teams trying to avoid relegation. Italy got past Great Britain in their final game by the score of 3-1 to avoided relegation with GB needing Hungary to lose their last game to also avoid relegation. Austria defeated Slovenia to pick up second place. Hungary defeated Japan 5-3 to go from last place when the game started up to third and picking up the bronze.
2019 IIHF Ice Hockey U18 World Championship Division I Group B