Game 3: CRO - LTU // Photo: Sarunas Mazeika
6,050 saw Lithuania brush aside Croatia
Having receiving a rapturous heroes welcome even before the puck was dropped, Lithuania did not disappoint in a comfortable opener as Croatia were blanked 3-0.
With Darius Kasparaitis and captain Dainius Zubrus receiving the loudest cheers as they were presented ahead of Lithuania's inaugural game at the World Championship Division I Group B in Kaunas, it was another couple of homecomers that also were keen to show themselves from their best side.
Tadas Kumeliauskas' return to the national team after eight years out, saw him set the tone with the opener just six seconds before the buzzer sounded for the end of the first period.
Playing on the first line together with Zubrus and Arnoldas Bosas was another player eager to shine. 19-year-old Mark Kaleinikovas who returned to his home-town playing in front of friends and family.
"I've left Kaunas as an eleven year old so it was very special for me to come back and play in front of my mum and dad, and know that my brother and friends were also watching," said Kaleinikovas who this season played for MHL's Chinese newcomers Kunlun Red Star Juniors.
Kaleinikovas was lively throughout the game, playing with the likes of Kasparaitis and Zubrus and thoroughly relishing every second of it.
"They are both very good guys and I enjoy it a lot to play with them. They are the ones us young guys are looking up to an see how they prepare for games, how they talk and act. When they talk I listen and learn," he said.
Kaleinikovas spurned a few good opportunities in a game where Lithuania won the shots 33-26. Kasparaitis also went close to get Lithuania off the mark in the first frame and Zubrus was influential throughout the contest. Between the pipes, Mantas Armalis also celebrated his return after a two-year hiatus with a shutout.
Emilijus Krakauskas doubled Lithuania's lead when raking home a rebound after Croatia netminder Mate Tomljenovic spilled a Ugnius Cisas shot from the blueline 2:23 into the middle stanza. Ilja Cetvertak then pounced on a Edgar Rybakov back door pass to close the scoring at 34:59.
Croatia looked most likely to hurt Lithuania whilst on powerplay. Captain Borna Rendulic was leading the line and often linking up well with Dominik Kanaet and Mislav Blagus, who all three played together for Croatia since their junior national team days.
"I think we competed hard, we had our chances, but did not score. We gave a goal up with six seconds left in the first period and that hurt us. We had our five on three that we could make it two-one, but we couldn't capitalize, so I think lack of scoring was a big issue for us tonight," said Croatia's head coach Enio Sacilotto rued the missed opportunity that arose in the second period with Cypas and Arturas Katulis both served minor penalties for Lithuania.
"We're a small hockey country, so if we can come here to compete and win a game or two, we're happy with that," continued Sacilotto as a tricky contest against Japan awaits tomorrow.
Meanwhile for Lithuania, they are next up in action against Romania, with Kaleinikovas eager to get off the mark in for the promotion chasing hosts.
"I know I had a lot of opportunities tonight, so next game I'll score," he said.