Hirano hatty leads Japan
by Derek O'Brien|26 APR 2023
photo: © International Ice Hockey Federation / Catherine Kõrtsmik / Eesti Hoki

Japan remains perfect after three Divsion I Group B games but received a legitimate scare from Serbia. With the game tied 3-3 early in the third period, the Japanese finally pulled away and won 8-3, thanks in part to three goals and an assist from their leader, Yushiroh Hirano.

“We got a couple of goals at the beginning of the game, but after that we slowed down, so we had to change and simplify our play,” he said. “As I said to my teammates, don’t be afraid, be confident.”

For Serbia, this marked the first time since 2010 that they got a goal in Division I from somebody other than Mirko Djumic. In fact, they got three of them, although Djumic had two assists.

“It’s really encouraging for us to see that other players can score too,” said Serbian captain Nemanja Vuvurevic. “We are really proud of our energy and how we stuck together. We relied on the qualities we know we have but it wasn’t enough. Japan is a really good team and we just didn’t have enough consistency to finish this game, but this really encourages us for the future of the tournament.”

It looked like the Japanese would run away with the game when they scored twice in the first 2:34.

First it was Hirano on a rebound and then Kenti Tagaki taking a pass down low and going top-corner on the backhand. But despite carrying the play for the rest of the opening period, they could not add to their lead.

In the second period, the Serbs showed what they could do on the power play, taking advantage twice to tie the game by the 26:42 mark.

First it was Djumic finding Popovic in the slot, and his one-timer beat veteran Yatuka Fukufuji over the shoulder. On the next one, Marko Dragovic set up Pavle Pondunavac for the wrister from the point, which again beat the screened Japanese goalie high.

Just 13 seconds after the equalizing goal, however, Japan was back in front. Shogo Nakajima won a faceoff in the Serbian zone and Hirano was quickly on it and fired the puck top corner for his second of the game. A minute later, the Japanese thought they had restored their two-goal lead but the goal was quickly washed out for being contacted with a high stick.

Serbia tied it again in the first minute of the third period when Dragovic capitalized on a rebound off the end boards, beating Fukufuji short side.

After that it was all Japan, however.

Shigeki Hitosato scored the eventual game-winner at 44:21. Carrying the puck down the right wing, he made a move at just the right time to use the defenceman as a screen and fool Rankovic. Less than two minutes later it was 5-3 when Rankovic couldn’t hold onto Chikara Hanzawa’s shot and Teruto Nakajima swept in the rebound.

At that point, Rankovic was relieved by Akim Padalica but he wasn’t able to stop the bleeding. Just 49 seconds after the switch, Hirano completed his hat trick by making a great move and fake behind the net to move Padalica the wrong way, then tucked it into the open side.

“That was a good goal, actually,” Hirano smiled. “Sometimes in practice I do something similar to the goalie, that fake, but that was the first time in a game. That was awesome, yeah.”

Late goals by Teruto and Shogo Nakajima made the final score 8-3.