International Ice Hockey Federation

Japan plays for promotion

Japan plays for promotion

Host Korea loses battle for survival

Published 24.04.2014 22:42 GMT+9 | Author Martin Merk
Japan plays for promotion
Joy and tears were close together as Japan gets a crucial 4-2 win against Asian rival and host Korea. Photo: Soohan Kim
For the first time since coming down to Division I in 2005 Japan will play for promotion. Korea will be relegated to Division I Group B after the 4-2 loss.

Joy and disappointment were close together in this Asian clash. Japan is now closer than ever to qualifying for the top division through Division I play since the end of the era when one Asian team had a fixed spot between 1998 and 2005 that was always taken by Japan as Asian qualifier.

“It was a must-win game for us if we wanted to have any chance to move up. Korea played very fast and the good start helped us,” Japanese defenceman Aaron Keller said.

“In the past we lost the first games of the tournament and didn’t have a chance. This time we were lucky and beat Slovenia in the first game. Our young guys are starting to believe that they can compete at that level. We don’t have the chance to play against European teams that much, so some players may feel intimidated at first. And our goalie is great. If a goalie is the best player every night you can have a chance.”

For Korea it became the last chance to fight against the demotion to the third tier of international ice hockey but zero points from four games means they won’t be able to improve from sixth place in their last game against Ukraine.

The Koreans had high hopes for the first win against Asian rival Japan in an official game between the men’s national teams but those hopes in a full and noisy Goyang Ice Rink dwindled very quickly due to the efficient Japanese offence.

After 74 seconds of play Hiroki Ueno already opened the scoring with a shot from an acute angle after crossing the left face-off circle that caught Korean goalkeeper Sungje Park on the wrong foot.

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Less than two minutes later it was already 2-0 for Japan. After Park had saved a Takafumi Yamashita shot, Seiji Takahashi scored on the rebound.

At 11:08 Ueno scored the 3-0 goal with his second marker of the night after a two-on-one and getting the pass from Takuro Yamashita.

“In the beginning we let in goals too easily. That was the reason we lost the game. We tried to come back but we didn’t have that much time,” Korean head coach Sun Wook Byun said.

“We will drop down one level but we still have the hope to make it to the PyeongChang Olympics. We learned a lot at this tournament. We saw a lot of mistakes but also positive things. We need to improve in our defence.”

Although shots on goal were 9-9 after the first period – and 30-26 for Korea in total – the Korean offence had too little to offer in the first 20 minutes of play but the host nation’s players came out for the second period highly motivated with two scoring opportunities from Woosang Park early in the period and further shots from Kisung Kim and Sanghoon Shin. The pattern with Korea being active but luckless in the Japanese zone continued for most of the period.

However, with 80 seconds left also Japan had a great chance to extend the lead with Denis Akimoto’s post shot. Then two penalty calls against Korea followed. Japanese defenceman Aaron Keller capitalized on it with his point shot to extend the lead to four goals at 19:25.

At 1:15 of the third period the fans in Goyang were finally able to cheer on a goal and here the announcer’s “Gooooaal Korea!” when Michael Swift beat Yutaka Fukufuji with a high shot close to the post.

A penalty against Japan’s Kohei Mitamura gave Korea another chance to score and after 16 seconds Don Ku Lee’s shot from the blueline found its way into the net through heavy traffic in front of Fukufuji. With Japan’s lead down to 4-2, the enthusiasm from the stands seemed to energize the players but at the same time Japan remained dangerous on counter-attacks.

By taking four penalties in the last 11 minutes of play the Koreans made their life difficult and prevented a final rush to change the 4-2 score.

“We knew it’s going to be a tough game. It’s never easy to play against them,” Japan head coach Mark Mahon said.

“It’s an exciting time for us to play this last game to move up to the top division. It’s the first time for us, so it’s an exciting time for Japanese hockey.”

Mahon also praised the Korean Ice Hockey Association for the organization and leadership in hosting the event in Asia and bolstered the Koreans on this tough day for the hosts.

“It takes time to build a national team program. It takes years, more than an Olympic cycle. Korean hockey is going into the right direction,” Mahon said.

The Japanese go into the last game day as second-ranked team and have the chance to earn promotion with a win in Saturday’s early game against Hungary no matter of the outcome in the Austria-Slovenia game later that day.


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