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Men's Ice Hockey Tournament at the Winter Olympic Games 2018

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Set for a showdown

OQ Gr. L: Spain faces Serbia for top spot

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The Serbian players celebrate a goal. After two wins they will battle for first place with host Spain on Sunday

 

Spain overcame a spirited Iceland team to make it two wins out of two and set up a winner-takes-all clash against Serbia on Sunday evening. Earlier, Serbia opened up the second day of Olympic Qualification competition with a comfortable win over China.

Spain vs. Iceland 5-3 (2-1, 2-1, 1-1)

The host nation made it two wins in a row in front of another passionate crowd – but after Friday’s romp against China this was a hard-fought battle against Iceland. Defenceman Jorge Vea acknowledged that he had been in a tough battle of the Division IIA rivals: “We had to fight for everything and it was a really great win for us. Iceland has a good team and they showed that on the ice.”

The first period was fast and frantic. Both teams were determined to play on offence and shared 30 shots on goal as they traded blows. Iceland struck first, profiting from Spain’s all-out attack philosophy. Defenceman Birkir Arnason almost coughed up the puck in his own zone but as the Spanish swooped out of position he recovered to launch a counter-attack that ended with Johann Leifsson silencing a raucous home crowd of 850 fans with a low shot past Ander Alcaine.

Spain redoubled its attacking efforts with Ignacio Solorzano and Javier Garcia-Arias going close to tying the scores before Pablo Munoz made it 1-1 at 10:27. The play went round the back of the net where Gaston Gonzales popped out a pass for Munoz to fire in his second marker of the competition. Iceland still threatened with Alcaine pulling off a double save to deny Robin Hedstrom and Emil Alengaard before Spain hit the front. Alfonso Garcia brought the crowd to its feet with a slapper from the point that deceived Snorri Sigurbergsson as it flew through traffic.

Iceland tied it up early in the second with Spain’s defence slow to react as Falur Gudnason lined up his shot but a turnover in centre ice soon presented the home team with the chance to regain the lead. Alejandro Pedraz was sent one-on-one with Sigurbergsson and won his duel. At the other end Ulfar Andresson also had a golden chance when he was awarded a penalty shot at 14:14 of the second period. However, Alcaine advanced to meet the Icelander and got his body behind the shot. Two minutes later Spain punished that miss and opened up a two-goal lead through Pol Gonzalez. He wrapped up a neat three-man passing move with a shot right under the bar.

The home team’s hopes of calmly closing out the game in the final stanza were hampered when Leifsson got his second of the game at 8:02. He produced a clinical finish after great work on the left boards from Ingthor Arnason to put the game back in the balance. Nerves were jangling louder still when Alcaine was forced into a brave stop at the feet of Olafur Bjornsson a few moments later but when the Icelanders ran into penalty trouble the game turned decisively. Ignacio Solorzano thumped a shot over the bar and it bounced back off the boards for Gaston Gonzalez to make it 5-3.

For many of Spain’s young players, tomorrow’s showdown is the biggest game of their careers, but Vea insists it will be business as usual despite the occasion. “We’ve not seen much of Serbia’s games here but I’m sure it will be another tough game like tonight,” he said. “We’ll just practise the same as usual and do what we usually do to prepare and go and play our game.”

Serbia vs. China 5-1 (4-0, 1-1, 0-0)

Serbia wasted little time in taking control of its game against China. Captain Marko Milovanovic opened the scoring 4:21 into the game with a close-range finish off a Nemanja Jankovic pass for his third goal of the competition. Jankovic was among the assists on Serbia’s second, drilled in from the point by defenceman Aleksa Lukovic at 11:25 before Pavel Popravka put a fine wrist shot upstairs from the deep slot as the Chinese defence was parted by Serbia’s passing game.

Perhaps the pick of the goals came right on the hooter as the Serbs’ third line combined with a nice tic-tac-toe move to give Nenad Rakovic his first goal in the tournament. China, once again, found it hard to get its offence rolling but might have got on the board late in the first period when Tianyi Guan made an interception that put him clean through on Arsenije Rankovic. However, the defenceman fired straight into the goalie’s pads.

But after another slow start China produced some of its best hockey of the competition so far as Benyu Wang’s team held Serbia to 1-1 over the period. Mingxi Yang got the first Chinese goal at 4:06 of the second period with a fine solo run as the team began to show more attacking endeavour. Serbia struck back immediately, Popravka getting his second of the game, but the Chinese offence began to test Rankovic more seriously: nine shots on goal in the session were just two shy of the team’s whole game tally against Spain the previous evening. That pattern continued into the scoreless third period, leaving Serbian captain Milovanovic warning that tomorrow’s showdown with Spain would demand total concentration for the full 60 minutes.

“We started the game well but we’re a bit disappointed with the way we played in the second and third period,” he said. “It’s not a good way to finish a game and go forward to the next. If we want to beat Spain we will have to play better.”

 

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Budapest awaits Estonia

OQ Gr. K: Progress sealed as hosts romp Mexico

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The Estonian players celebrate. After winning all games on home ice in Tallinn, they will advance to the next round of Olympic Qualification.

 

Estonia's goal-barrage continued as Mexico was beaten 13-3 to win Group K and keep Olympic dreams alive. The Baltic nation will now be facing a much sterner test in the next round of Olympic Qualification where Hungary, Poland and Lithuania await in Budapest, Hungary, 11-14 February 2016. In today's other game Israel recorded its first win thanks to a gutsy performance as Bulgaria was beaten 5-2.

Estonia vs. Mexico 13-3 (3-1, 3-2, 7-0)

Despite taking a shock lead and a valiant performance by Mexico, it was Estonia who coasted to a comfortable win hitting double-digits for the third successive game in the Sunday evening showdown.

In front of a crowd of 1,150 at Tondiraba Ice Hall Robert Rooba (3+2) and defenceman Artjom Minin (2+3) led the the winning side in points, while Mexico showed great efficiency scoring three goals in their first five shots with 20-year-old birthday boy Gustavo Martinez notching 1+1.

With the odds heavily stacked against their favour, the tactics were clear for Mexico from the outset.

"We tried to be really disciplined in defensive zone and not to be as aggressive as we had been in our previous two games while also not giving up too much space in the middle of the ice. I think it worked out for about two periods," said Mexico head coach Diego de la Garma.

Setting out their stall early to concentrate on their defensive duties, Mexico's diminutive goalie Alfonso de Alba had to break sweat from the outset as Estonia came out full throttle.

But instead of Estonia's sustained pressure materialising in early goals, it was instead Mexico who silenced the crowd with an opening shorthanded first strike.

Enrique Arturo Samperio was serving time in the penalty box for a hooking offence when Estonia went all on attack and temporarily forgot about defensive duties as Carlos Gomez drove up the puck to feed Gustavo Martinez, who surprised Estonia's Roman Shumikhin with a fine finish to put the Mexicans in front at 10:29.

The lead was shortlived as Aleksandr Kuznetsov picked out Artur Fedoruk to tie the game at 12:22 and 33 seconds later Estonia was in front. Captain Lauri Lahesalu fed Jan Lukats, who unleashed a wrister from the right faceoff circle that flew high past de Alba. Lahesalu had a hand in Estonia's third as he found Kuznetsov flying down the right boards with pace and Alexander Ovechkin's good friend since their junior hockey days hit a threading cross-ice pass to the blade of Mihkel Vorang, who reacted quicker than Mexico's Guillermo Diaz to make it 3-1 with just over five minutes to go of the first frame.

Robert Rooba boomed home a shot in the slot while on power play to stretch Estonia's lead to 4-1 at 2:24 of the second period. The same Rooba found the net once against just over eight minutes into the middle frame thanks to fine work by Artjom Gornostajev, who set up the assistant captain in front of de Alba's net for Estonia's fifth marker.

While Mexico replied at 10:39 when Bryano Arroyo converted fine work by Carlos Gomez for their second goal, Estonia hit back 1:25 later with Rooba completing his hat trick to stretch Estonia's lead to 6-2.

While Estonia stamped their authority more into the game and parked long spells in Mexico's defensive zone in a period where the hosts won the shots 22-2, it was instead Mexico that 15 seconds before the buzzer added a bit of nerve into the game with a finely taken goal starting from Luis David Gonzalez on the blue line, feeding captain Fernando Ugarte at the right faceoff circle, who picked out Roberto Chabat clean in slot and sent the puck low past Shumikhin for 6-3.

Estonia eventually got out of sight when Jaanus Sorokin scored Estonia's seventh goal at 3:09 of the third period and starting with Robert Arrak's 8-3 goal at 8:15 Mexico was to concede five unanswered goals in the space of 3:20 with Gornostajev, Minin, Sorokin and Risto Teppan also finding the net. The final score finished 13-3 with Minin closing the scoring for Estonia with 3:56 to go.

"We played with three lines, got a guy injured while Estonia played with four full lines, so in the end there was a huge difference in energy as we started to lose some easy goals and in the end they are way, way better than us," said Mexico coach de la Garma, who despite the defeat was far from dejected when looking ahead for the upcoming World Championship events at both senior and U20 level play on home ice in Mexico City.

"I think it looks pretty good. We had a lot of young players here and one of our top scorers here in Tallinn is a U18 player, Jorge Perez. There were a lot of surprises in terms of performances that we were not expecting especially not in a game like against Estonia, so we are going to have very good teams in both World Championships," said de la Garma.

"When the game was close, we could had been negative, but we were always very positive," said Estonia's defenceman Michael Mahkwa Auksi of today's win while also looking back at being back on the national team set-up during this week.

"The practices we've had were quite intense. Focusing on what we have to do, working on offensive schemes and respecting the game, each other and the other teams. I thought we did a great job with that. It is a tough tournament to play, because you cannot stop playing just because there is a high score as it is preparation for what is to come now in February," he said.

Group H of the Olympic Qualification Preliminary Round 2 is played in Budapest, Hungary between 11-14 February 2016 with Hungary, Poland, Lithuania and Estonia taking part. The winner will progress to the Final Olympic Qualification played 1-4 September 2016.

Bulgaria vs. Israel 2-5 (1-0, 0-1, 1-4)

Israel bounced back from their two losses in the Olympic Qualification by winning a tight final game 5-2. Despite being outshot 30-24, 19-year-old Ilya Spektor became the hero of the day for Israel as he sealed his hat trick and the win thanks to an empty netter with 1:17 to go. Maxim Gokhberg in the Israeli net made 28 saves.

Israel's head coach Derek Eisler had ahead of this match called on his team to redeem themselves from a 10-5 defeat to Bulgaria at the 2015 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship Division II Group A in South Africa last spring.

Captain Martin Boyadjiev had put Bulgaria in front at 17:42 as he picked up the puck on the right during an ineffective Israeli power play and skated past a passive rearguard to finish high past Gokhberg for the only goal of the first period.

Having been outshot 9-4 in the first period, Israel came out with renewed energy in the second frame after a few well-chosen words during the intermission by head coach Eisler. After managing to ride out an initial storm on box play it was the individual skill of captain Spektor that got them back into the game as he picked up the puck at centre ice and skated through the cumbersome Bulgarian back line and slotted the puck past Bulgaria's netminder Dimitar Dimitrov for Israel's equalizer and the sole goal of the period.

Once the third frame was underway Rosen Hristov's low shot at 5:09 got Bulgaria back in front but Israel was not to give up that easily on this afternoon and it was Spektor, who once again tied the game as he skated clear at 10:24 with a goal that invigorated the Israeli team.

With the game very much in balance, Bulgaria piled the pressure and with Israel's Nissim Botbol sitting out two minutes for holding offence, Georgi Iskrenov created havoc but couldn't get the puck behind Gokhberg and Bulgaria's spurned chances proved costly as on an Israeli breakaway Raiter found Roey Aharonovich, who found the net as Israel had turned the game at 15:07 to go 3-2 in front.

Bulgaria, who for the first time this tournament played the entire game with one goalie, pulled Dimitrov with 2:17 to go, but despite piling up pressure, it was Israel's Aharonovich, who got hold of a loose puck and found Spektor, who thanks to an empty netter scored his third of the game before further misery was added to Bulgaria's afternoon when Israeli prospect Ori Kafri netted the final goal with 50 seconds to go.

"Both teams were pretty equal, but in the end they wanted it more," said Bulgaria's Iskrenov. "We played alright for a period or so, then got down in the second, but I thought it could have been anyone's game, but unfortunately I could not buy a goal today."

Meanwhile in the winning camp, Eisler, now in his second year working with Israel's senior team and with a previous experience of working with Israel's junior set-up sees the victory as a sign of progress as he is set to continue down the road of transition in Israeli hockey.

"Most of the players we brought along have been kids who I've started with in the U18. It's been a three-year process and we are trying to build a stepping stone for the players, and you can see a bit more hockey maturity in some of the players, but we need to keep building on that," said Eisler.

 

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White Eagles fly on

OQ Gr. L: Serbia advances after battle with Spain

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Reason to celebrate: After edging host Spain, Serbia advances to the next round and will play in Italy

 

Serbia broke home hearts with a dramatic 5-3 victory in the decisive game in the Olympic Qualification Group L, topping the group and booking a trip to Italy in February for the next stop on the road to PyeongChang 2018.

Serbia vs. Spain 5-3 (0-2, 2-0, 3-1)

A dramatic third period saw both sides experience joy and despair before Serbia edged a 5-3 verdict on captain Marko Milovanovic’s fourth goal of the competition.

He snapped a 3-3 tie with 2:34 left in regulation time as the game was getting more and more stretched. With chances flowing at both ends Milovanovic was the man to capitalize when he fired home a Marko Brkusanin pass for what proved to be the game winner. Brkusanin himself then wrapped it up with an empty net goal, finally ending Spain’s brave resistance and sparking wild celebrations on the Serbian bench.

“This is a great result for Serbian hockey,” said coach Nikola Bera. “It’s the first time in our history that we’ve come through an Olympic Qualification group, and we’ve done it without some of our best players.”

But Bera admitted there had been some nervous moments, especially in 32 crazy seconds when Serbia thought they’d all but won it only for Spain to equalize. The drama started when a Serbian goal was ruled out for offside at 9:55 of the third period. At 10:27 Spain took full advantage of that reprieve as a shot thundered in from the point and Alejandro Pedraz reacted fastest to squeeze the puck home.

Earlier, though, Spain made a dream start. First-period pressure led to a power-play goal at 11:51. Serbia cleared its zone but goalie Ander Alcaine quickly fired the puck down the ice, releasing Guillermo Bertan to score high on the glove side.

The home crowd was celebrating once again at 17:48 when Pat Fuentes made it 2-0. Ignacio Solorzano saw his shot beaten away but the goalie was powerless to stop Fuentes’ shot creeping inside the top corner from a tight angle.

“I thought we started the game really well, we got the pace that we wanted and now there’s a lot of disappointment,” said Spain’s coach Luciano Basile.

That disappointment began in the second session, which belonged to Serbia, and to Dimitrje Filipovic in particular. The forward scored twice to tie the game as Alcaine found himself busy throughout the session. Filipovic got his first at 7:29 of the second period, finding the top-right corner off Ugljesa Novakovic’s pass to put his team back in the game. Spain had a big chance to respond almost immediately, but Rankovic thwarted Javier Garcia-Arias down low by the post. Alcaine then showed his class with a fine glove save to deny Srdjan Ristic.

But there was no denying when Filipovic was sent through on the net by Nemanja Vucurevic and flashed a wrist shot high on the stick side to level the scores.

That had the game poised for a dramatic finale, and Serbia gained the edge at 4:56 of the third when Pavel Popravka put his country up for the first time on the night, assisted by the impressive Filipovic.

“Tonight was a real grand final,” Serbian coach Bera added. “Spain has a really good team, we know each other well and we play often in World Championship play. But I think this time Serbia really was better and deserved the win.”

The teams will meet again in April, when the Division II Group A comes to Jaca, in Northern Spain. And for Basile that’s a chance to build on what was achieved here.

“I think we’ve found an identity here,” he said. “We played seven of the nine periods with the kind of energy that we wanted. We’re disappointed because we had a good week at work, two good games and a fantastic first period tonight but we just couldn’t go through.”

China vs. Iceland 3-11 (0-7, 1-2, 2-2)

Iceland ended its tournament on a high note with a convincing win over China. Two narrow defeats in the opening games left the Nordic nation with no prospect of qualifying but Magnus Blarand’s team was not about to give China an easy ride. The first period saw the Chinese run into serious penalty trouble: two of Iceland’s seven goals came from 5-on-3 power plays, with a third coming from a one-man advantage.

Robin Hedstrom led Iceland’s scoring with five goals to finish as the weekend’s leading goalscorer, and there were two each for Ingthor Arnason and Robert Palsson. Petur Maark and Andri Helgason also scored for Iceland; Jiachang Bao, Longtan Liu and a short-handed goal from Tianyu Hu completed China’s most successful game on offence in the competition.

 

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3rd PRELIMINARY QUALIFICATION ROUND

Tournament 1

:ITA Cortina d´Ampezzo (ITA) - 11.02.2016 - 14.02.2016 :ITA

 

Participating Nations:

  • :ITA Italy
  • :GBR Great Britain
  • :NED Netherlands
  • :SRB Serbia

 

 

Round-Robin

4 Nations, Round-Robin Tournament, 1st Nation will Qualify to the 2nd Olympic Preliminary Quailfication Round

 

:GBR Great Britain  6 - 5  Netherlands :NED

(Score by Period: 2-1, 2-2, 2-2)

11th February 2016, h. 17:00 (GMT +1), Stadio Olimpico, Cortina d´Ampezzo

 

:ITA Italy  8 - 0  Serbia :SRB      

(Score by Period: 3-0, 3-0, 2-0)

11th February 2016, h. 20:45 (GMT +1), Stadio Olimpico, Cortina d´Ampezzo

 

:GBR Great Britain  6 - 2  Serbia :SRB   

(Score by Period: 2-1, 2-1, 2-0)

13th February 2016, h. 17:00 (GMT +1), Stadio Olimpico, Cortina d´Ampezzo

 

:NED Netherlands  2 - 4  Italy :ITA 

(Score by Period: 1-2, 1-1, 0-1)

13th February 2016, h. 20:45 (GMT +1), Stadio Olimpico, Cortina d´Ampezzo

 

:SRB Serbia  3 - 7  Netherlands :NED       

(Score by Period: 0-2, 2-2, 1-3)

14th February 2016, h. 17:00 (GMT +1), Stadio Olimpico, Cortina d´Ampezzo

 

:ITA Italy  6 - 2  Great Britain :GBR    

(Score by Period: 3-0, 1-1, 2-1)

14th February 2016, h. 20:45 (GMT +1), Stadio Olimpico, Cortina d´Ampezzo

 

 

Round-Robin Standing

RANK NATION GAME WINS W(OT) L(OT) LOSE SCORE POINTS
1 :ITA Italy 3 3 0 0 0 18:4 9
2 :GBR Great Britain 3 2 0 0 1 14:13 6
3 :NED Netherlands 3 1 0 0 2 14:13 3
4 :SRB Serbia 3 0 0 0 3 5:21 0

 

 

 

Following Nation Have Qualified to Final Olympic Qualifying Round

  • :ITA Italy

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3rd PRELIMINARY QUALIFICATION ROUND

Tournament 2

:HUN Budapest (HUN) - 11.02.2016 - 14.02.2016 :HUN

 

Participating Nations:

  • :EST Estonia
  • :HUN Hungary
  • :LTU Lithuania
  • :POL Poland

 

 

Round-Robin

4 Nations, Round-Robin Tournament, 1st Nation will Qualify to the 2nd Olympic Preliminary Quailfication Round

 

:POL Poland  6 - 2  Estonia :EST

(Score by Period: 3-0, 2-1, 1-1)

11th February 2016, h. 16:00 (GMT +1), Laszlo Papp Budapest Sport arena, Budapest

 

:LTU Lithuania  0 - 4  Hungary :HUN       

(Score by Period: 0-1, 0-1, 0-2)

11th February 2016, h. 19:30 (GMT +1), Laszlo Papp Budapest Sport arena, Budapest

 

:POL Poland  9 - 1  Lithuania :LTU    

(Score by Period: 2-0, 5-0, 2-1)

12th February 2016, h. 14:30 (GMT +1), Laszlo Papp Budapest Sport arena, Budapest

 

:HUN Hungary  7 - 1  Estonia :EST  

(Score by Period: 2-0, 2-1, 3-0)

12th February 2016, h. 18:00 (GMT +1), Laszlo Papp Budapest Sport arena, Budapest

 

:EST Estonia  4 - 1  Lithuania :LTU       

(Score by Period: 3-1, 0-0, 1-0)

14th February 2016, h. 14:30 (GMT +1), Laszlo Papp Budapest Sport arena, Budapest

 

:HUN Hungary  0 - 1 (GWS)   Poland :POL    

(Score by Period: 0-0, 0-0, 0-0, OT: 0-0, GWS: 0-1)

14th February 2016, h. 18:00 (GMT +1), Laszlo Papp Budapest Sport arena, Budapest

 

 

Round-Robin Standing

RANK NATION GAME WINS W(OT) L(OT) LOSE SCORE POINTS
1 :POL Poland 3 2 1 0 0 16:3 8
2 :HUN Hungary 3 2 0 1 0 11:2 7
3 :EST Estonia 3 1 0 0 2 7:14 3
4 :LTU Lithuania 3 0 0 0 3 2:17 0

 

 

 

Following Nation Have Qualified to Final Olympic Qualifying Round

  • :POL Poland

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3rd PRELIMINARY QUALIFICATION ROUND

Tournament 3

:JPN Sapporo (JPN) - 11.02.2016 - 14.02.2016 :JPN

 

Participating Nations:

  • :CRO Croatia
  • :JPN Japan
  • :ROU Romania
  • :UKR Ukraine

 

 

Round-Robin

4 Nations, Round-Robin Tournament, 1st Nation will Qualify to the 2nd Olympic Preliminary Quailfication Round

 

:UKR Ukraine  3 - 0  Romania :ROU

(Score by Period: 0-0, 2-0, 1-0)

11th February 2016, h. 14:30 (GMT +9), Tsukisamu Arena, Sapporo

 

:CRO Croatia  0 - 3  Japan :JPN       

(Score by Period: 0-0, 0-1, 0-2)

11th February 2016, h. 14:30 (GMT +9), Tsukisamu Arena, Sapporo

 

:UKR Ukraine  6 - 0  Croatia :CRO    

(Score by Period: 3-0, 1-0, 2-0)

13th February 2016, h. 14:30 (GMT +9), Tsukisamu Arena, Sapporo

 

:JPN Japan  7 - 0  Romania :ROU 

(Score by Period: 0-0, 5-0, 2-0)

13th February 2016, h. 18:00 (GMT +9), Tsukisamu Arena, Sapporo

 

:ROU Romania  1 - 4  Croatia :CRO       

(Score by Period: 0-1, 1-2, 0-1)

14th February 2016, h. 14:30 (GMT +9), Tsukisamu Arena, Sapporo

 

:JPN Japan  2 - 1  Ukraine :UKR    

(Score by Period: 0-0, 0-0, 2-1)

14th February 2016, h. 18:00 (GMT +9), Tsukisamu Arena, Sapporo

 

 

Round-Robin Standing

RANK NATION GAME WINS W(OT) L(OT) LOSE SCORE POINTS
1 :JPN Japan 3 3 0 0 0 12:1 9
2 :UKR Ukraine 3 2 0 0 1 10:2 6
3 :CRO Croatia 3 1 0 0 2 4:10 3
4 :ROU Romania 3 0 0 0 3 1:14 0

 

 

 

Following Nation Have Qualified to Final Olympic Qualifying Round

  • :JPN Japan

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Japan, Ukraine win openers

OQ Gr. J: Croatia-Japan 0-3, Ukraine-Romania 3-0

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Japan's Hiroki Ueno (right) and Croatia's Borna Silovic battle for the puck.

 

Japan and Ukraine posted comprehensive 3-0 victories on the first day of play in the Men's Olympic Qualification Preliminary Round 2 Group J on Thursday night at the Tsukisamu Arena in Sapporo. The hosts beat Croatia in the evening, while Ukraine bested Romania in the afternoon.

Croatia vs. Japan 0-3 (0-0, 0-1, 0-2)

Yuto Osawa's two goals powered Japan to the win in a game that was close until late in the second period. Despite a huge difference in shots on goal (43 for Japan, 8 for Croatia), the Croats hung in to make it a close contest for most of the night.

The opening period was a scoreless affair in which Japan dominated possession of the puck. Croatia had few chances on offence as it spent much of the period defending.

Croatia faced multiple challenges on this night, as in addition to playing the tournament hosts, they did not arrive in the city until hours before the match due to inclement weather.

Yuto Osawa put Japan up 1-0 with 5:10 remaining the in the second with a shot from the edge of the crease. A penalty had been called, but as play continued, Croatia seemed to lose concentration momentarily and Japan capitalized. Ryo Hashiba assisted on the goal.

There was an air of inevitability about Japan's first goal, as Croatia goalie Mate Tomljenovic had made several fine saves before finally allowing Osawa's score.

Croatia seemed to find their footing in the third, when the played well for the first 10 minutes but could not come up with the equalizer.

Osawa's second goal came from the slot with 4:21 left in the third with an assist by Kohei Mitamura.

Go Tanaka clinched the triumph for Japan with a goal from the slot just 20 seconds later.

Japan killed off five power plays in the win.

Japan coach Greg Thomson was relieved after the victory.

“This was a very important game today,” Thomson said. “We knew the situation with Croatia having to stay in Tokyo last night and travel today. They didn't quit.”

Thomson was impressed by the efforts of the Croats.

“They made the first period tough for us,” Thomson stated. “We had a lot of scoring chances in the second but only got one goal. Croatia made the third period tough but we got two more goals. Our goal was to use our speed and create scoring chances.”

Osawa said he worked well with his teammates during the victory.

“I'm very happy. I was surprised with the two goals,” commented Osawa. “It was hard work. I had good communication with my linemates.”

Japan goalie Yutaka Fukufuji didn't see much action, but was content with the scoreline.

“It was a tough game, but a shutout is a good result,” Fukufuji said. “We were able to dominate for 60 minutes.”

Croatia coach Danijel Kolombo believes his team accomplished what it set out to.

“After such a long trip to get here, we wanted to make a tough game for Japan and we did,” noted Kolombo. “We knew the Japanese were better skaters. We came with an amateur team but showed we could still compete.”

Tomljenovic praised his team's result under the circumstances.

“This is an amazing game for us,” Tomljenovic said. “We came only two hours before the game and played great. We didn't want to get embarrassed. We have 12 players playing in the national team for the first time.”

The winner of this tournament will advance to the Final Olympic Qualification round that will be played 1-4 September 2016 in three groups.

The Japan men have participated at Olympics eight times, most recently on home ice in Nagano 1998.

Ukraine vs. Romania 3-0 (0-0, 2-0, 1-0)

Second-period goals by Vladyslav Luhovy and Andri Mikhnov sparked Ukraine to a 3-0 victory over Romania. Ukraine dominated the contest with their power and defence, but Romania put up a valiant fight to keep it tight most of the way. Ukraine outshot Romania 48-27 in the win.

The first period was scoreless despite both teams having several power-play opportunities. Ukraine outshot Romania 12-3. Goalies Eduard Zakharchenko (Ukraine) and Attila Adorjan (Romania) each came up with fine saves to maintain the stalemate.

Ukraine began to take the initiative in the second period and broke the deadlock on Luhovy's goal with 10:28 left in the period on a shot from point-blank range. Sergi Kuzmik was credited with an assist on the play.

Adorjan stopped a penalty shot by Viktor Zakharov with 9:51 left after a tripping penalty on Istvan Nagy to keep it 1-0. Ukraine, ranked 21st in the world, kept heavy pressure on Adorjan throughout the second.

Ukraine tallied again when Mikhnov scored from close in with 1:41 remaining. Artem Bondaryev got the assist.

Romania, ranked 28th, was on the defensive side for the majority of the second period and had few chances to score.

Artem Gnidenko put the game away for Ukraine with a shot from the point with 5:25 left in the third.

Ukraine coach Olexander Savytski was satisfied with the victory;

“A win is a win. Some moments we should have been better,” stated Savytski. “Our goalie played well. There were a few moments when he should have played better. Romania kept the game close.”

Zakharchenko, who played well in the crease, credited his players for the shutout win.

“It is thanks to my teammates that they did not score,” Zakharchenko commented. “My team blocked a lot of shots and Romania did not have long possessions because of our defence.”

Romania coach Kjell Lindqvist was philosophical after the defeat.

“Ukraine is a good hockey team. They are big and heavy,” stated Lindqvist. “We had chances. I'm satisfied because we tried hard. If we could have scored in the third it might have been different.”

Lindqvist cited the play of Adorjan as a positive.

“Our goalie played solid. He is only 20 years old,” noted Lindqvist. “He stopped the penalty shot and many others.”

Romania forward Zsolt Molnar knew his team would be in for a challenge this day.

“I thought it would be hard,” said Molnar. “Ukraine played good. We tried our best and fought until the end.”

Ukraine played at the Olympics in 2002 but hasn't qualified for a top-level event since 2007.

 

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Favourites open with wins

OQ Gr. H: Lithuania-Hungary 0-4, Poland-Estonia 6-2

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Patryk Wronka celebrates his opening goal with Polish teammate Krystian Dziubinski while Estonia’s Deniss Konyshev looks on.

 

Hungary opened the Olympic Qualification Preliminary Round 2 Group H on home ice with a 4-0 blanking of Lithuania while Poland had a clear 6-2 win over Estonia in the afternoon game.

Lithuania vs. Hungary 0-4 (0-1, 0-1, 0-2)

Hungary had a successful start on home ice in Budapest with a 4-0 shutout win against Lithuania before ending the day with a teddy-bear toss as a donation to children.

The Lithuanian national team travelled to Budapest for an Olympic Qualification event for the third consecutive time and like in 2012 (5-1) and 2008 (5-2) it was the Hungarians, who won at the Laszlo Papp Sportarena in front of 7,110 fans.

“Lithuania competed very hard, they were missing some of their best players here but their goaltender was very sharp. We had good chances in the first period and then finally scored,” Hungary coach Rich Chernomaz said.

“We played a simple game and continued to play a hard game although in the second period we became a bit sloppy with the puck management and allowed some turnovers. Tomorrow we want to continue play the right way against Estonia.”

Hungary came out strong right from the start and outshot its opponent 60-19. Being the team recently promoted to the top division of the IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship and playing in front of their own fans in a crowded and loud arena the Magyars visibly wanted to fulfil their task.

Csaba Kovacs and Janos Vas had the best chance early in the game at 2:16 with a nice combination but the Lithuanians stood strong and tried to create offensive action as well although they had the best chance while playing shorthanded with a Paulius Gintautas breakaway. During those minutes Hungary had the chances for an early lead as Lithuania took two straight penalties but the game remained scoreless.

It was especially thanks to goaltender Mantas Armalis, who plays in the Swedish top league for Djurgarden Stockholm, that the game remained scoreless until 14:25. That’s when the work eventually paid off for the Hungarians with a shot from Vilmos Gallo on the right side that first hit Armalis. Krisztian Nagy stood ready for the rebound but the puck moved in via Armalis pads as he turned around. Like Armalis also Gallo plays in the top Swedish league, for Linkoping. The 19-year-old moved to Sweden as a junior six years ago and it was his first goal in his first-ever game with the senior national team.

“It was an amazing atmosphere and it was very special to score in my debut game. It was not a nice goal but a goal is a goal,” Gallo commented after the game.

Hungary also had more puck possession and scoring chances then their Baltic opponent in the middle frame and at 7:43 Janos Hari scored on a rebound after Armalis had blocked Istvan Bartalis’ shot.

The game was still far from over when the teams entered the ice for the third period but when Frank Banham made it a three-goal lead for Hungary with a long shot during a man advantage at 2:23, Lithuania’s hopes for a comeback were diminished.

At 5:09, just after the Lithuanians had missed out on a chance on the other side, Daniel Kiss even made it 4-0 with a shot into the top-right corner on a counter-attack.

“For the first time in [post-war] history Lithuania played against a top-division team and we saw why they play there,” Lithuania head coach Bernd Haake said. “4-0 is not so bad. They had a lot of shots but we had an outstanding goaltender. We had two hundred-per-cent chances that could have made the score friendlier and if you’re an underdog you better capitalize on such chances.”

Poland vs. Estonia 6-2 (3-0, 2-1, 1-1)

Seven places separate Poland (22nd) and Estonia (29th) in the IIHF World Ranking and also in the last two meetings at Division I tournaments Poland won both clashes when going head to head against Estonia, 5-3 in 2013 and 8-3 in 2011, both times in Ukraine.

Also in Budapest the Poles wanted to make it right and dominated the game from the beginning until the end, outshooting their opponent 64-16.

“It was a good start for us. Estonia has been getting better and better the last few years. 6-2 is a good score but we have to play better,” Polish forward Aron Chmielewski said about his team’s first game and the upcoming ones against better-ranked Lithuania and Hungary.

Patryk Wronka, in the so far biggest tournament for the 20-year-old, already opened the scoring after 110 seconds of play in a first period that was one-way hockey for most of the time. Aron Chmielewski, who spent the last two seasons in the top-three Czech leagues, made it 2-0 on the Poles’ second power play after a horizontal pass in front of the crease from Grzegorz Pasiut at 15:00. Four minutes later Kacper Guzik made it a three-goal lead for Poland.

Estonia had a good start into the second period with team captain Aleksandr Petrov scoring the team’s first marker on a breakaway. However, the Poles reacted fast. 51 seconds later Mateusz Bepierszcz capitalized on his own rebound and another minute later Marcin Kolusz made it 5-1 for Poland, forcing Estonia coach Jussi Tupamaki to take his time-out but as it turned out the game was more or less decided with this score early in the second period.

“It was a rough start but we got better period by period and gained confidence. I hope we can continue getting better with the things we do but it will be probably even harder against Hungary. Most of our players don’t play hockey professionally,” said Estonian assistant coach Mart Eerme.

The game flow didn’t change much after the time-out but Estonia kept its net clean for the remainder of the period and at 3:08 of the third frame Petrov even scored his second goal to make it 5-2. However, Poland continued to be in charge of the game and Mateusz Rompkowski replied two-and-a-half minutes later to restore the four-goal cushion that stayed until the final buzzer.

 

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Goals rush in Italy

OQ Gr. G: Italy-Serbia 8-0, Great Britain-Netherlands 6-5

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Kevin Devergilio and Stefano Marchetti celebrate a goal for Italy while Serbian netminder Arsenije Rankovic looks on

 

There were 19 goals in two games as host nation Italy made an impressive start to its Olympic campaign with a dominant display over outsider Serbia after the British and the Dutch served up a thriller in the opening game in Group G.

Italy vs. Serbia 8-0 (3-0, 3-0, 2-0)

A goal after just 60 seconds set the tone for Italy’s opening game against Serbia. Stefano Marchetti struck in the first minute as a youthful Serbian team, more accustomed to Division II hockey, got its first look at an opponent at this level.

That was the prelude to an opening stanza of almost total Italian domination: two further goals and a shot count of 20-1 in favour of the home team. Without some brave goaltending from Arsenije Rankovic, especially in a flurry of action late in the period, the damage could have been even greater.

As it was Nicholas Plastino doubled the lead in the 13th minute off a Marco Insam pass before Kevin Divergilio added to his assist on the opener by unleashing a savage wrist shot that whipped upstairs after Paul Zanette’s drop pass opened up a look at goal.

Italy’s play had the home crowd in party mood, greeting each attack with a clanging cow bell – a mountain tradition not confined to Switzerland – and serenading the goals with a thunderous pounding on the wooden frame of the venerable Olympic Stadium.

The middle session followed a similar pattern, with Italy continuing to fire in an average of one shot every minute. Three further goals followed, while the piping denied Thomas Larkin and Daniel Frank as the game often resembled an offence vs. defence training drill.

To Serbia’s credit, though, the defence stuck doggedly to its task and kept Italy at bay for almost 13 minutes of the second period with Rankovic again providing good resistance to the onslaught. Frank beat him on 32:59, and after hitting the post twice Italy went on to add two more before the second intermission.

A good combination involving Marchetti and Zanette got the puck to the net where Markus Gander sowed confusion before the puck was bundled over the line. Then Alexander Egger added a sixth before Serbia enjoyed its first power play of a difficult evening, finally earning a little respite from the blue tide surging inexorably towards its goal.

“I think we went out there with the right approach,” Egger said after the game. “We kept going to the end, all four lines were skating hard. We kept them down in the their own end and it was a good start to the tournament for us.”

By now it was already a question of ‘how many?’. Diego Kostner added a seventh early in the third, Plastino got his second of the night on a solo rush. That brought Rankovic’s evening to a merciful end with eight minutes left to play and gave 19-year-old Petar Stepanovic a spell in the firing line. He managed to keep the Italians at bay with 19 saves despite some intense pressure. At the other end goalie Andreas Bernard needed just four saves for his shut-out.

After such a convincing opening-day victory, Italy now has to prepare for tougher tests ahead.

“We didn’t know what to expect from Serbia, it’s a team we’ve never played before, so it was a good start but we are aware that there will be probably be tougher opponents coming up,” Egger added. “It’s a win and we’ve started the tournament the right way.”

Great Britain vs. Netherlands 6-5 (2-1, 2-2, 2-2)

These two countries have been rivals in recent World Championship Division I events and they demonstrated that they had a good understanding of each other’s weak spots as fans in the Dolomites witnessed an avalanche of goals.

Britain finally claimed victory – by the odd goal in 11 – on a Mark Richardson goal in the 56th minute. His initial shot got caught up in a Dutch defenceman but he was first to the rebound and scored on the wrong-footed Martijn Oosterwijk to end the Netherlands’ resistance. Dutch penalty trouble in the closing stages helped GB to close out a game that was high on entertainment but that will give both defences sleepless nights as the goals flew in.

Russell Cowley, a double goalscorer for GB, admitted that the result was better than the performance. “There’s a few things we need to clean up. We can definitely say we’re happy with the win but as a team we know we are better defensively than we showed at times tonight.”

GB was officially the home team for this one, and with a raucous travelling band of about 100 supporters the atmosphere in the arena was loudly pro-British. But those fans were stunned into silence in the third minute when the Netherlands opened the scoring on the first power play of the game. Ronald Wurm got the goal, exploiting the extra space around the net to score from close range after Mitch Bruijsten shot into Ben Bowns’ pads.

Back to full strength, the Brits were back on level terms almost immediately. Defencemen David Phillips and Ben O’Connor combined in centre ice and the latter pulled out a defence-splitting pass to set Cowley through on goal. The Coventry Blaze frontman slipped his shot through the five-hole to level the scores.

The O’Connor-Phillips axis was back in business for the second British goal. O’Connor fed the puck along the blue line and Phillips launched a slap shot from the point to send his team into the first intermission with a 2-1 advantage.

And the pair combined again midway through the third to make it 3-1. This time it was Phillips’ pass and O’Connor’s shot, with Matt Myers forcing the puck through Oosterwijk’s pads.

If GB thought it had built a decisive advantage, it was quickly proved wrong as a double Dutch strike in just 55 seconds levelled the scores. Mike Dalhuisen assisted on both of them. First, on 33:06, his shot from the point deflected off a GB skate for Kevin Bruijsten to fire home. Then on 34:01 the defenceman stepped up to send in a rising shot that had Bowns juggling on the crease before the puck dropped for Maarten Brekelmans to slip it into an empty net from a tight angle.

GB head coach Pete Russell added: “At 3-1 I thought we controlled it a little bit but those two goals in 55 seconds were not good. We certainly didn’t help ourselves at times but it was a win and that’s what sport is all about.”

Parity lasted just two minutes. Britain had been profiting from diagonal plays all evening and when Ashley Tait slipped the puck into the danger zone from the top of the circle, Cowley stretched out with his stick to deflect it past Oosterwijk and make it 4-3.

“At least we showed good character,” coach Russell added. “When team loses a lead, then loses a lead again, sometimes it can collapse a bit but I don’t think we ever did that.”

The action remained frenetic in the final stanza. Dalhuisen was prominent once again, racing round the back before popping up the puck for an unmarked Kevin Bruijsten to join his brother on the scoresheet and tie it at 4-4 before GB edged in front once more with 10 to play. Colin Shields shot from the point, Myers threw up the screen on Oosterwijk.

But there was still more to come. Diederick Hagemeijer went high on Bowns off a Nardo Naagtzam pass to tie it up once again before Richardson got the eventual game-winner in the 56th minute.

 

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Hungary, Poland set up final

OQ Gr. H: Hungary-Estonia 7-1, Poland-Lithuania 9-1

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The two co-favourites of the Olympic Qualification Group H, Hungary and Poland, were on fire also on the second day. Host Hungary beat Estonia 7-1 while Poland was on a roll in a 9-1 victory in the neighbouring clash with Lithuania. The two teams set up a winner-takes-it-all game on Sunday at 18:00.

Hungary vs. Estonia 7-1 (2-0, 2-1, 2-0)

Like against Lithuania, Hungary entered the game against Estonia as favourite and left it with a safe and sound 7-1 win in front of 8,100 fans at the Laszlo Papp Sportarena.

“We played with the same mentality like in the game before [against Lithuania]. We have a hard game on Sunday and we need to play well for 60 minutes and that’s what we did,” said Peter Vincze, who scored a pair of goals in the last period.

This time the Hungarians had to wait even less long to see their team take the lead. At 1:50 Estonian goaltender Villem-Henrik Koitmaa blocked two shots but when Istvan Sofron scored high on the second rebound it was the one shot too much for him.

The Estonians had few chances to score a goal and just as they had missed out on their first man advantage, Vilmos Gallo had a breakaway and beat Koitmaa with fine stickhandling for the 2-0 goal at 15:12.

In the middle frame the Magyars converted their first power play. At 3:31 Istvan Sofron scored after nice drop pass from Daniel Koger, however, with a similar play on the other side Robert Rooba, assisted by Andrei Makrov, brought Estonia on the scoreboard three minutes later and cut the home team’s lead to 3-1.

Rooba was not surprised about the clear score in the end. “It’s a bunch of professional guys against a bunch of amateur guys. It was a tough game the second day in a row and we became tired. I’m proud of our guys, we battled hard and gave our best and learned a lot,” said Rooba, one of the few pros on the team as he plays in Finland.

The goal didn’t change the direction of the game too much and Frank Banham with a goal midway through the game and Vincze with a point shot at 4:15 of the third period extended the lead to 5-1. The 20-year-old added another goal on a power play with 3:33 left in the game, which means that three of the seven goals were scored by players nominated for the fourth line.

“In the end it’s a team game, so it doesn’t matter who scores but of course we are happy that we managed to score,” Vincze said with a smile.

After contributing two assists, also Andrew Sarauer scored tipping the puck in after a rebound on a power play with 87 seconds left.

Despite the result, Hungary head coach Rich Chernomaz was not entirely satisfied and wants to see more from his team in the last game.

“I thought we were a little bit slow in our thinking and moving pucks. It wasn’t the way it was in last night’s game. I was thinking maybe our team was fatigued but in the third period the passion and fire came back in the third period,” he said. “These are things we definitely need to have for three periods to have a chance to beat Poland. The team that makes the least amount of mistakes will probably be the successful team.”

The teams will have a day off on Saturday before Hungary takes on Poland in a showdown for first place. The winner of that game will advance to the Final Olympic Qualification. Lithuania and Estonia will be looking for their first win and third place in the all-Baltic afternoon game on Sunday.

Poland vs. Lithuania 9-1 (2-0, 5-0, 2-1)

Poland had another strong showing and beat Lithuania 9-1 in a game they were outshooting their opponent 56-39.

Poland was the stronger and most notably more efficient team while the Lithuanian underdogs seemed exhausted from their game last night against Hungary. The second period made the difference for the Poles with five unanswered goals.

Krystian Dziubinski and Krzysztof Zapala each had a pair of goals while Przemyslaw Odrobny had 38 saves in what seemed to become a shutout until Daniel Bogdziul’s marker for Lithuania late in the game.

“The second period was very good for us. We played very well,” said Tomasz Malasinki. “But the most important game will be on Sunday. It will be a very hard game because the Hungarian team is very strong.”

Like in the last game against Hungary the Lithuanians showed a remarkable penalty kill to start the game, however, they’d do better if they didn’t test their four-man and three-man units too often against higher-ranked opponents.

After Poland hadn’t capitalized on a 5-on-3, the game flow became a bit more balanced, however, at 15:01 Grzegorz Pasiut opened the scoring for Poland on a rebound.

The Poles used these strong minutes for a momentum chance and Aron Chmielewski made it 2-0 on a rush just two minutes later.

Poland tried to blow away any doubts about the winner of this game early in the second period. After 35 seconds Lithuania was outskated and Zapala netted the puck for the 3-0 lead.

Although the teams were almost equal in shots on goal during the last two periods, the Poles outskated the team from their northern neighbours and added one goal after another against the seemingly tired Lithuanians.

Maciej Urbanowicz hit the back of the net at 3:12 of the second period. After a few shifts the Poles were back on power play and Dziubinski converted for the 5-0 goal. Tomas Malasinksi added another one with 2:31 left in the period and Dziubinski increased the damage for the Lithuanians with another power-play marker 18 seconds before the end of the middle frame.

The Lithuanians changed goalies for the last period. Mantas Armalis, who had a strong game the night before, made space for Artur Pavliukov, who was beaten by Zapala after just 33 seconds. Mateusz Bepierszcz added another marker at 12:20 before Bogdziul scored Lithuania’s consolation goal to cut Poland’s lead to 9-1 and spoil Odrobny’s shutout.

“We were tired from yesterday, it was really tough for us. A day off would have helped us today,” Bogdziul said. “We are a very young team, some are just 18 years old. Now we have the last game against Estonia and want to win it.”

Also Poland will have a day of rest before the deciding game against host Hungary in the quest for a berth in the Final Olympic Qualification. Hungary missed out on it last time when losing to the Netherlands while Poland was beaten by Ukraine in the deciding game. This time one of the two teams will likely make it.

 

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