Japan survives a scare
by Andy Potts|28 APR 2022
Japanese goalie Yuta Narisawa looks to stifle the danger as Yusuke Kon tries to stop Estonia's Kevin Parras reaching the puck.
photo: Michal Chwieduk
Japan picked up its second win of its Division IB campaign, but was pushed all the way by Estonia. The Japanese let a 4-1 lead slip as Robert Rooba’s hat-trick helped to tie the scores at 5-5. However, Yushiroh Hirano scored twice in the third period to give Japan a 7-5 verdict.

After three games ended in shut-out wins, Thursday’s afternoon encounter was a very different affair. Neither Japan nor Estonia was interested in taking a backward step and the goals flowed freely at both ends on a day that the defences will look to forget.

Certainly, Japan's Jiei Halliday was clear about what went wrong for his team. "We need to work on our defence, we can't give up five goals like that," he said. "It's not the goalie's fault at all, it's on all of us, especially us defencemen.

"We have to get our games up and defend as a team."
Japan vs Estonia - 2022 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship Division I Group B
JPN EST 28 APR 2022
Japan continued its good habit of scoring early goals, taking the lead on 3:19. It started with defenceman Riku Ishida, back in the team after missing Tuesday’s opener, blocking Eduard Slessarevski’s shot. Controlling the puck, he sent Kosuke Otsu racing clear to beat Villem-Henrik Koitmaa in a one-on-one duel.

With Estonia still seeking its first goal of the tournament, that was hardly the start the Baltic state wanted. But the response was strong. On the power play, Estonia pressured the Japanese net and barely had Yusei Otsu returned to the game than the scores were level. Polish-based forward Vadim Vasjonkin, familiar with this arena as a visitor with HC Torun, opened his country’s account at this championship when he shot high from a tight angle. That was also the first goal Japan allowed here.

Although both teams created chances in an open first period, Japan’s pace and persistence made its offence more dangerous. Typical of the team’s workrate, Shigeki Hitosato went scampering around the back to feed  Halliday in the left-hand circle for a second goal. If you’re thinking Halliday isn’t a common Japanese surname, you’d be right. The 25-year-old defenceman is Tokyo born and raised, but his dad is an expat Leafs fan from Toronto who brought his love of hockey to the Land of the Rising Sun.

More harrying and hassling from the Japanese offence saw Yushiroh Hirano and Shogo Nakajima force an error from Slessarevski and Hitosato added a goal to his earlier assist. Then, with turnovers continuing to hurt Estonia, possession was given up cheaply once again and Taiga Irikura found time at the centre point to line up a wrist shot that sizzled through traffic and beat Koitmaa over his right shoulder.

"I think we had too many turnovers in our zone, we gave the puck away and they got too many easy chances, too many easy goals," lamented team captain Rooba. "We knew their offence would be very disciplined, and we weren't disciplined enough. Letting in seven goals is too many; if we score five goals, we should be winning the game."

After defending so bravely against Poland, Estonia had every reason to be disappointed with the way the opening stanza went here. However, in the last minute before the hooter the team’s two KHL players combined to reduce the deficit and revive the contest. Kristjan Kombe, an occasional player with Jokerit Helsinki last term, took over the puck on half way and carved a path into the Japanese zone. His pass bisected two defencemen and set up Rooba, lately of Severstal Cherepovets, who squeezed his shot through Narisawa’s pads in the last meaningful play of an entertaining first period.

And the first meaningful action of the second put Estonia right back in the game. Slessarevski got down the right-hand channel and picked out a perfect feed for Rooba to snaffle his second of the game, cutting the arrears to one goal. The game was offering plenty of encouragement to the Polish supporters in the arena, with Estonia causing problems for one of the host nation’s biggest rivals for top spot. Even after Yusei Otsu made it 5-3 with a point shot that Koitmaa would surely like to see again, Estonia stayed in the contest. Uncharacteristically slack Japanese defence invited Silver Kerna to fire in a shot from the top of the circle. Silver’s aim was golden, and it was back to a one-goal game.

Late in the second stanza, Rooba completed his hat-trick to tie the game at 5-5. Robert Arrak’s shot went high into the side netting and Narisawa lost the puck beside his post. Amid a flurry of sticks Rooba managed to steer it inside the net and, after a video review, Estonia was level.

"It was very important [to start scoring]," Rooba added. "Against Poland we had good chances but the goalie did well and maybe we didn't get some luck. Today we stepped up our offensive game but the defence was not the same as against Poland."

Japan needed its leaders to step up, and Hirano did exactly that in the 46th minute when he put his team back in front with a devastating wrister from the left-hand circle. That area of the ice has been a profitable hunting ground for the 26-year-old: two of his three goals against Serbia came from a similar spot. Then, as the game moved into the last five minutes, the assistant captain added an opportunistic snipe from the doorstep to make the game safe.

Just as important as Hirano's goals, Japan also got its defence back in shape. Estonia was limited to just five shots in the final frame.

"It was a very hard game for us, but in the end we stayed tight and thankfully we got the victory," concluded Halliday. "Tomorrow we can look at the videos and hopefully get better for the next game."
Japan vs Estonia - 2022 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship Division I Group B