Villem-Henrik Koitma stopped Ugljesa Novakovic to end the shootout to close out a nerve-racking 2-1 victory for Estonia over Serbia before an enthusiastic home crowd of 1564. Through 65 minutes of hockey, Estonia outshot Serbia 53-15, but each goaltender – Koitma and Serbia’s Arsenije Rankovic – was beaten once.
“We expected a hard game. We played against them last year and it was a tough one too,” said Estonian captain Robert Rooba. “We struggled because they played really tight defence. They just tried to play for counterattacks so we need to stay alert.”
The Serbs, playing in Division I for just the third time, were agonizingly close to their first-ever win at this level.
“We were going for a win today,” said Mirko Djurmic, who scored today and also scored all four of Serbia’s goals last year. “They won but it was definitely hard for them. They were expecting an easier game but we gave our best today.”
Estonia held a wide edge in the first period and increased the pressure in the second, but the game remained scoreless.
Just past the game’s midpoint, Estonia finally broke through. With heavy action in the slot and bodies everywhere, defender Eduard Slessarevski slid in from the point, took a pass from Rasmus Kiik and fired a shot through the maze of players and over Rankovic’s arm.
The arena exploded again just 31 seconds later when it looked like they’d made it 2-0. However, video replay determined that Marek Potsinok had batted the puck in from above the height of the crossbar.
Estonia kept pressing, and Andre Lind appeared to have a sure goal when he received a cross-ice pass with Rankovic on the far side of the net but the Serbian goalie slid across and made an amazing pad save.
Estonia went to the power play in the first minute of the third period and pressed hard to increase the lead. However, upon expiration of the penalty, Djumic took a breakaway pass from Marko Dragovic and skated in alone on Koitmaa. Djumic faked backhand and beat the Estonian keeper on the forehand to tie the score. Goalie Rankovic drew the second assist.
“They got one counterattack and they scored and we got a lot of good chances but just couldn’t score,” said Rooba. “Their goalie played a great game but I think we were missing a bit of a killer instinct around the goal. Also, some soft hands and patience were missing, so we just need to figure out that and it will be fine.”
With just under five minutes to play, Kiik got a partial breakaway shorthanded, but lost the puck trying to make a move on Rankovic. With two minutes to play, Robert Arrak faced the Serbian goalie at point-blank range and tried to go five-hole, but was denied.
It went to overtime and Estonia’s dominance continued, with Rooba ripping a shot from the slot that Rankovic snared with the glove. Then Serbia went to the power play and nearly won it but Djumic hit the post.
In the shootout, Rooba for Estonia, Djumic for Serbia and Kristjan Kombe for Estonia scored on the first three shots before the two goalies shut the doors.
“At that moment, they were better and they took two points,” said Djumic. “But for us, this isn’t the end. It’s just the first game of the tournament and we still have a chance to stay in this division, and that’s what we’re going for.”