Lithuania recovered from a bad start and 2-0 first-period deficit to secure the bronze medals. With this win Lithuania will be ranked 19th overall in the 2022 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship program to tie its best placing in history also achieved in 2006.
“It was a final for us. Nobody in Lithuania trusted in us and then we played for third place. We played very well three games. Today was a bit difficult, we were down two goals in the first period but we came back in the game. It’s a good team win,” Gintautas said.
“We are a very young team. For us it means a lot. We can say we’re better than other people think. It’s very nice.”
Entering the game as third-ranked team after beating Korea, the Lithuanians were favourites against winless Romania. A win in regulation time would secure the Baltic nation a bronze medal without having to wait for tomorrow’s results of the other teams.
However, what looked straightforward on paper based on Lithuania’s and Romania’s scores during the previous days was much more than a mere formality on ice. After a day off the Romanians started the game passionately, had more shots on goal (10-9) and won more face-offs (12-8) in the first period. And more importantly, the built a 2-0 lead.
Although Romania entered the weekend with zero points they had two games left and were thus the only other team beside Hungary with a theoretical chance for second place and promotion to the top level but needed two regulation-time wins against Lithuania and Hungary for that miracle to happen.
The Lithuanians reacted and had several chances but while having a power play Nerijus Alisauskas lost the puck when entering the zone attached by Robert Ferencz-Csibi and Balazs Peter. Peter passed it for a breakaway perfectly executed by Tamas Reszegh for a 2-0 lead.
“We didn’t start that well. We were not focused but we made good decisions in the breaks and had a good comeback,” said Emilijus Krakauskas.
“We gave 100 per cent for our nation, did everything to make it happen. The number-one thing in our team is that everybody gives everything and cares for each other. That makes it special for me, for all our team and the nation.”
The Lithuanians tried to come back in the second period and created some danger in the offensive zone but too often lacked in precision with the puck to live up to the potential.
Eventually a giveaway from Norbert Rokaly in his own zone gave Lithuania the chance to come back. Eimantas Noreika intercepted the puck and beat Romania goalie Patrik Polc with a top-shelf shot at 11:10.
Two-and-a-half minutes later the Lithuanians were on power play with the penalty against Albert Zagidullin just expired when defenceman Jaunius Jasinevicius hammered the puck into the net from the blue line through traffic to tie the game at two.
The Lithuanians had taken over the initiative and outshot Romania 11-5 until the tie but that also woke up the Romanians, who capitalized on the next power play to regain the lead.
Reszegh and Zsombor Molnar broke through the Lithuanian defence with the latter hitting the back of the net for the 3-2 goal at 16:47.
However, the Lithuanians used the next power play to tie the game at three just 27 seconds later. Ugnius Cizas and Gintautas put pressure around the crease and Cizas’ shot from behind the goal line went in via goalie Polc.
“We fought for the bronze and we got it. We didn’t start really well, it was the worst period of our tournament but we came back, we showed our character. I’m proud of my boys,” Captain Alisauskas said.
Two minutes later the Lithuanians also used their next opportunity. Gintautas skated around Romanian defenceman Tamas Farkas to increase the lead to 5-3. At the other end the team in yellow defended well and didn’t allow Romania a shot on goal for the first 10 minutes of the period. That’s when Szilard Rokaly break through and beat Armalis for the 5-4 goal at 10:07.
“The scoring efficiency was the main thing. They scored five goals we scored four. Unfortunately our defensive game was so bad that we can’t win. Our offence was way better than the last games. We were so much better than the last games but unfortunately we were struggling in the defensive zone and unfortunately in this group you can’t win like that,” Reszegh said.
“In every game the first period was good and the second period was terrible especially in this game. Maybe we can fix this for Sunday’s game and play better.”
The Lithuanians didn’t allow Romania to come any closer than 5-4. They defended the lead well during the last ten minutes and were awarded the bronze medals.
For the Lithuanians the tournament ended today with a 2-2 record this week in Ljubljana. The team, with an average age of 25 years clearly the youngest at this tournament, will head back to Lithuania tomorrow with medals and many new experiences.
Romania will finish the tournament tomorrow afternoon in a neighbouring clash for pride against Hungary. Korea and host Slovenia will play the evening game.
Due to the head-to-head games that serve as tie-breaker the games won’t change anything in the order of the standings that will stay the same: 1. Slovenia (promoted), 2. Hungary (promoted), 3. Lithuania, 4. Korea, 5. Romania (relegated).