Japanese captain Go Tanaka and Lithuanian forward Daniel Bogdziul at the face-off during the 2017 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship Division I Group B in Belfast. Photo: Tom Scott
Lithuania finishes second in home tournament
Three of the teams participating in the 2018 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship Division I Group B had their first tests of the season in November 2017.
Second-seeded Japan hopes to get back to the Division I Group A with new head coach Yuji Iwamoto and had a good start with a second-place finish in the Euro Ice Hockey Challenge tournament in Budapest where they had a 2-1 record against Division IA nations.
Two goals within a span of 62 seconds during the middle frame from Makuru Furuhashi set up a 2-1 upset win against Italy on the opening day.
Only tournament winner Poland was able to stop the Asians on the second day. Alex Szczechura, Pawel Dronia and Kacper Guzik scored for the Poles in the 3-2 win against a Japanese team that fought back with Ryo Hashimoto’s two goals.
After recovering from the tight loss, the Japanese beat host Hungary 4-3 in shootout on Sunday evening. Hungary dominated the game with 43-18 shots on goal and held the lead during most of the game until Hiromichi Terao tied the game at three with 3:09 left in regulation time. Kenta Takagi scored the shootout-winner for Japan, which thanks to the win finished in second place before Hungary and Italy.
23-year-old Furuhashi, who’s just in his second season with the Japanese men’s national team, was the tournament’s scoring leader with five points (3+2).
Lithuania will not only host the 2018 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship Division I Group B in the biggest arena of the Baltic countries in Kaunas, it also hosted the November event of the Baltic Challenge Cup in the port city of Klaipeda. Instead of the city’s usual rink in a shopping mall, an ice rink was built into the multifunctional Svyturis Arena.
Svyturis means lighthouse in Lithuanian (and is also the name of a popular beer brand from the city) and Lithuania’s lighthouse on ice was Darius Kasparaitis. The former NHL defenceman left Lithuania during Soviet times when he was 14 to develop into a well-known and tough defenceman first in the Soviet Union and then in the NHL. Since he represented Russia at Olympic Winter Games and World Championships, he has never played for his native country but made that dream come true in Klaipeda and had points in each of the three games.
Lithuania arguably had the strongest setup ever present in Klaipeda with former NHLer Darius Kasparaitis as captain and the second and third Lithuanian to play in the Russian-based KHL after Kasparaitis, defenceman Nerijus Alisauskas and goaltender Mantas Armalis. And the other former Lithuanian NHLer Dainius Zubrus, who retired this year, was also in Klaipeda albeit just on the tribune. Lithuanian fans hope that he’ll be back on ice when the Lithuanians host the 2018 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship Division I Group B in Kaunas and the federation plans to request a change of nationality for Kasparaitis, who has played games in the Lithuanian league during the past four seasons, to make him eligible for the spring event.
In the 7-2 win against Estonia, 45-year-old defenceman Kasparaitis helped set up two early goals scored by his 18-year-old linemate Markas Kaleinikovas to give Lithuania a 2-0 lead against their Baltic rivals and scored the sixth goal on his own.
However, like in previous editions of the competition Latvia took first place even if it doesn’t play the Baltic Challenge Cup with the regular national team but with a selection of its league. Kasparaitis and Zubrus symbolically pushed a button before the game to start the ticket sale for the 2018 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship Division I Group B but then the Latvians entered the stage and won the first period with two goals from Edgars Homjakovs and Andris Siksnis. The Lithuanians tried to keep the score close and eventually Emilijus Krakauskas, Aivaras Bendzius and Arturas Katulis scored goals for the host in a 5-3 defeat.
The Latvians secured first place with a 13-0 blanking of Estonia on the last day while Lithuania defeated the Ukrainian U20 national team 3-2 to finish the tournament in second place.
|Euro Ice Hockey Challenge in Hungary|
|10 Nov.||Budapest (HUN)||Japan||Italy||2-1|
|10 Nov.||Budapest (HUN)||Hungary||Poland||1-4|
|11 Nov.||Budapest (HUN)||Poland||Japan||3-2|
|11 Nov.||Budapest (HUN)||Hungary||Italy||5-2|
|12 Nov.||Budapest (HUN)||Poland||Italy||3-4|
|12 Nov.||Budapest (HUN)||Japan||Hungary||4-3 SO|
|Standings: 1. Poland 6, 2. Japan 5, 3. Hungary 4, 4. Italy 3.|
|Baltic Challenge Cup in Lithuania|
|10 Nov.||Klaipeda (LTU)||Latvia B||Ukraine U20||9-2|
|10 Nov.||Klaipeda (LTU)||Lithuania||Estonia||7-2|
|11 Nov.||Klaipeda (LTU)||Estonia||Ukraine U20||3-1|
|11 Nov.||Klaipeda (LTU)||Lithuania||Latvia B||3-5|
|12 Nov.||Klaipeda (LTU)||Latvia B||Estonia||13-0|
|12 Nov.||Klaipeda (LTU)||Lithuania||Ukraine U20||3-2|
|Standings: 1. Latvia B 9, 2. Lithuania 6, 3. Estonia 3, 4. Ukraine U20 0.