Japan arrived at the IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship Division I Group B in Tallinn, Estonia with the clear goal of getting promoted and looked strong in its opener, defeating the Netherlands 8-1. In his first World Championship game, 21-year-old Teruto Nakajima led the Japanese offence with two goals and one assist.
“It was the first game and a very good experience for me,” said Nakajima. “If we continue to stick to the game plan as we did today, I think we will be successful.”
Dutch goaltender Ruud Leeuwesteijn did all he could to keep his team in it, especially in the first 40 minutes when he was often under siege and stopped 30 of 34 shots. At the other end, Yuta Narisawa was much less busy but had to be sharp at times to preserve his shutout until the dying seconds.
“I had a lot of work, but I think I could have been better to give us a better chance,” said Leeuwesteijn, who made 39 saves in the game. “We knew it was going to be a tough game against Japan. We worked hard but came up short in some parts on the ice.”
Japan carried the play in the first period, but the Dutch team held them off until the last five minutes. Kosuke Otsu set up the tournament’s first goal at 15:33, winning a puck battle in the corner and feeding out front for a Kento Suzuki one-timer. Then late in the period, Jiei Halliday’s low shot through a crowd found the inside of the far post behind a screened Leeuwesteijn.
“I wasn’t really aiming it, I was just trying to put it on net and hope for a rebound or something, but the puck just kinda flew off my stick and went in. A bit lucky, I guess,” said Halliday.
Japan scored twice more in the second period – once early and once late. Makuru Furuhashi made it 3-0 when he converted a rebound after a shot from the point, and in the last minute Teruto Nakajima scored on a breakaway to make it 4-0. In between was a barrage of shots by the Japanese – they held a 20-4 edge in shots in the middle frame.
“There was a turnover and my winger (Chikara Hanzawa) made a great pass to me,” said Nakajima. I’m good on breakaways so I was really calm and smooth, and that made it successful.”
The best Dutch chance came when defender Jordy Verkiel received the puck after stepping out of the penalty box and got a partial breakaway, but his backhand attempt was stopped by Narisawa.
Early in the third period, Japan put the game away with three more goals in the first 5:26. Shogo Nakajima – no relation to Teruto – made it 5-0 just 13 seconds in, and then Teruto Nakajima on the power play with his second of the game and Yushiro Hirano struck 19 seconds apart.
Japan didn’t press much after that, instead concentrated on defence and had to kill a couple of penalties, but Taiga Irikuara scored his team's eighth goal on a shorthanded breakaway with under three minutes remaining.
There was only one question to be answered and Deigo Hofland answered it when he scored the Netherlands' first goal of the tournament with 12 seconds on the clock after receiving a nice pass from captain Danny Stempher.
“It’s nice to get a goal at the end,” said Leeuwesteijn. “It didn’t help us in this game, but it gives us a better feeling for tomorrow.”