Colin Shields opens the scoring for Great Britain in its World Championship Division IB clash with Lithuania. Picture: Dean Woolley
Host stays unbeaten with Lithuania win
In a showdown between two unbeaten teams, Great Britain found the key to unlock Lithuania's miserly defence and skated to a 5-2 victory.
Great Britain joined Japan on three victories after coming out on top in a helter-skelter affair against Lithuania in front of a lively crowd in Belfast.
It was billed as the first heavyweight clash of the competition – two unbeaten teams going head-to-head to enhance their medal prospects – and the contenders came out trading blows from the start. Local hero Colin Shields got GB off to a flyer when he tucked away the rebound from a Ben O’Connor shot from the point to open the scoring in the second minute. For Lithuania, it was the first goal given up in the competition.
O'Connor, who had moved back to his accustomed role at the top of the power play, acknowledged that finding a way through that defence so early was crucial.
"We knew they hadn't conceded a goal before tonight," he said. "They had a good core on the D, they play good D-zone hockey but in the end we managed to put five past them."
But the Baltic nation hit back right away, tying the game on 02:12 with a power play goal that was made in Britain. Darius Pliskauskis, of Peterborough Phantoms, swung a diagonal pass for Arnoldas Bosas (Sheffield Steeldogs) to beat Ben Bowns. The volume in the SSE Arena went up another notch as the colourful contingent of Lithuanian fans made their presence felt.
They were soon silenced: Paul Swindlehurst banged in a slap shot, Jonathan Phillips screened Artur Pavliukov and got the vital touch to reinstate GB’s lead. A video review confirmed that Phillips’ stick stayed low and the British fans were making the noise again.
Next, the Brits killed a 5-on-3 penalty in clinical fashion, with only one blocker save from Bosas to disturb Bowns in the home net. Back at full strength, Evan Mosey plundered his third goal of the tournament, stripping Ugnius Cizas of the puck and slicing past two defencemen to score. A power play goal as the first period came to a close saw Robert Farmer smash home an O’Connor feed to make it 4-1 and wrap up a thoroughly satisfying start for the host nation.
Mosey, enjoying the plaudits for his scoring form, was quick to pay tribute to the hard work from the special team's at both ends of the ice. "When you kill off big penalties, like that huge 5-on-3 we faced in the first period, if just lifts everyone," he said. "We want to keep doing what we're doing through the whole tournament."
Lithuania still had cause for optimism. In the previous two games, Britain had struggled in the second period, prompting calls for greater intensity across the full 60 minutes. Lithuania, by contrast, had smashed four unanswered goals past the Dutch and dominated Estonia 2-0 in its middle stanzas up to now.
This time, despite not matching the scoring power of the opening session, the host continued to defend strongly. Lithuania was restricted to just seven more shots on Bowns’ net, although there were anxious moments when young Emilius Krakauskas rattled the post and Cizas squirted an effort wide after Bosas saw his attempt saved. Britain also had its chances, with Brendan Brooks denied in a solo rush and Liam Stewart missing the target when well placed.
"In the second period maybe we got a bit cute," admitted head coach Pete Russell. "But I still think this team has a complete game in it and hopefully that will come when we really need it. Overall, I thought we did well tonight, we had a blitz in that first period and it put us in a really good position to go and win the game."
Seconds into the third period, though, Lithuania did find the net … and once again it was a combination forged in the English Premier League that did the damage. Cizas, who plays for Hull Pirates, smashed the puck into an open goal after Bosas spun and picked out a pass to the right channel from a central position. At the other end, it was time for Pavliukov to shine with a reaction save to deny Stewart after a slick interchange with Farmer sliced through the Baltic defence. Both sets of fans got their drums beating in response to an action-packed start.
The next goal was going to be crucial, and it was a cruel deflection that took it past Pavliukov. O’Connor intercepted the puck in centre ice, got away from Aimas Fiscevas and tried his luck from the blue line. A bounce off a Lithuanian stick sent it squirming through the five-hole and O’Connor added a goal to his two assists.