Game 11: EST - CRO / Photo: Sarunas Mazeika
Baltic clash for gold awaits
Estonia's success story continues. A 5-1 win against Croatia sets up a sensational showdown with hosts Lithuania for top spot in Div. 1B.
Riho Embrich scored a double to set up a mouthwatering clash with Lithuania for top spot at the 2018 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship Division I Group B in Kaunas.
Robert Rooba opened the scoring with Roman Andrejev and Robert Arrak also on target for Estonia. Netminder Villem-Henrik Koitmaa continues his rich vein of form and recorded 33 saves after conceding a goal against Croatia after 145:17 minutes of play in the tournament.
With three straight wins and one overtime loss, Estonia is currently top of the standings in Division I Group B with ten points ahead of their final game against the host team in Zalgiris Arena.
"It is a big thing for us that we have secured a medal, but we want more," said a delighted Estonia head coach Jussi Tupamaki. "This result shows that we have done good things at the Estonian federation during the last few years. It is also nice to see that we already have fans present here as this is good exposure for Estonian hockey,"
Estonia's 30-year-old defenceman Alexandr Ossipov who plays his tenth World Championship for his country is already relishing the challenge awaiting tomorrow evening with a big turnout expected for the Baltic clash.
"The arena has a capacity of 13,500 and I think that us older players need to support our younger ones. But first we need to recover quickly. It is very hot inside the arena and tomorrow Lithuania will be favourites but we will have our plan ready," said Ossipov.
Breaking the deadlock just four minutes into the game, Rooba sneaked up from behind Croatia's net to fire the opener from an Alexandr Petrov feed. With 11 seconds left ahead of the first intermission, Estonia won a battle in their defensive zone, Embrich fed Andrejev who staved off Borna Rendulic for a composed finish past Mate Tomljenovic.
"Estonia played skilled technical hockey. They waited for us and we struggled with their style of play," said Danijel Kolombo, assistant coach of Croatia.
On a pass by Mislav Blagus, Rendulic burst through centre ice towards the left circle to snap a wrister past Koitmaa at 25:17 to half Estonia's lead.
But this was an afternoon when Estonia proved to be unstoppable. Riho Embrich lifted the puck over a hapless Tomljenovic as the Estonian's stretched their lead to 3-1. With Croatia seeking a way back into the game, they got their chance on a 5-on-3. Ivan Jankovic went close near Koitmaa's cage with Nikola Senzel also missing the target from the slot.
Holding a two-goal lead and going into the third period, Estonia's head coach Tupamaki did his bit in the locker room to keep his players keeping their heads cool.
"There was a strong will to win within the team, so we needed to calm things down a bit, focus on what you have to do with short simple advice. We did not have to come up with anything new as we know how we should play," said Tupamaki.
Estonia was 4-1 up at 53:49 after Aleksei Sibirtsev picked out Arrak from behind the net before they hit the final hit the nail in the coffin after Croatia's Dominik Kanaet dithered with the puck behind Tomljenovic's cage. Kevin Parras snapped up the puck to find the on-form Embrich for the final goal of the game with 3:45 left.
"I was a good effort from the Estonian team and I think they were the better team this afternoon," said Croatia's assistant coach Kolombo who now have a do-or-die encounter for relegation awaiting against Romania.
"We play the first game tomorrow and we only have 15 hours rest. We will be ready, but we expect a really, really tough game," he said.