GAME 4: UKR-EST / Photo: Sarunas Mazeika
Defensive display downs Ukraine
Waterproof defense and clinical finishing lifts Estonia to a surprise 2-0 win with promotion hopefuls Ukraine blanked.
Two first period strikes settled matters for Estonia. Boosted by the return of Robert Rooba, Alexandr Ossipov and netminder Villem-Henrik Koitmaa carried Estonia to a solid win during day two of the 2018 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship Division I Group B in Kaunas.
Rooba set the tone after just 39 seconds while at the back Koitmaa kept out all 33 shots he faced.
"Some bounces went our way today, but I have to raise my hat the guys in front of me in defence. They battled so hard and blocked so many shots so the glory goes to them," said Estonia's goalie who got his first start in the tournament following a stop-start season playing in Hungary for Dunaujvaros.
"As you see I have a big smile on my face and I think that says it all. After having the kind of season that I've had with injuries and now getting a shutout playing for the national team is just unbelievable," he said following Estonia's flying start in Division 1B which sees them being on four points after two games.
Ukraine who arrived in Kaunas looking for a straight return to Division 1A are on three points after two games, following a lacklustre performance leaving plenty of room for improvement.
"Our expectations were very high going into this game, but now we are really disappointed," said captain Viktor Zakharov.
"We gave away a goal in the first shift, then we are not able to score any garbage goals to turn things around. We really wanted to win this game, but it's really hard when you score zero goals," he continued.
Having barely had time to blink and with just 39 seconds on the clock, Estonia had opened the scoring. Marko Kettunen found Andrei Makrov who on a two-on-one breakway showed fine piece of skill as he deked Dmytro Ignatenko to pick out Rooba who cooly slotted home the opener. Ukraine showed some early signs of intent when Vitali Lyalka and Andri Mikhnov combined to test Koitmaa's credentials before Estonia found the back of net to stretch their lead.
Vadim Vasjonkin ripped a shot from a tight angle between the goalline and right circle which sneaked past Sergi Gaiduchenko at 09:03. Now playing on a two goal lead, Estonia was pushed deeper in their zone as Ukraine tried to find their way back to the game. Yet it was Estonia going closest to scoring their third as Makrov raced clear on a Saveli Novikov pass to force a fine save out of Gaiduchenko.
Last time these two teams faced each other at this level was in Division 1B in Zagreb two years ago. Ukraine then rolled to an emphatic 7-1 win, but this time around they looked cumbersome and failed to create much of worth. Any chance of a late fightback was ruined by two double minors as Estonia held out leaving Ukraine with a lot of work to do for the rest of the tournament.
"We will have a rest and then tomorrow it is practise. We don't move the puck very well, we play in the corners, we don't use our defenceman from the blueline and we lose the puck a lot," said a critical Zakharov.
All is not lost however for Ukraine in their chase for promotion. When winning gold in Division 1B in Zagreb two years ago they slumped to one defeat and manage to turn things around in the end. They return to action on Wednesday against Croatia and eager to get their promotion hopes back on track.
"Now we must win every single guy for the rest of the tournament and we'll do our best to win the remaining three games," said Zakharov.
High-flying Estonia will be eager to add to their points tally on Wednesday as Romania awaits.