IIHF World Championships Div 1B Belfast April 2017
Top seed has too much for Croatia
Japan got a second successive victory at the start of its World Championship campaign, while Croatia went down to a 2-4 loss for the second day running.
Top seed Japan made it two wins from two after downing Croatia in Monday lunchtime’s World Championship Division IB clash in Belfast. Yutaka Fukufuji impressed between the piping for the second game running, while the Japanese power play helped itself to two goals in a 4-2 success.
As in yesterday’s opening game, Japan broke the deadlock with an eye-catching goal from a defenceman. This time, Kazunari Koizumi got it with a powerful slap shot from the blue line in the ninth minute. Croatia, though, matched its opponent shot for shot in the opening exchanges. Yutaka Fukufuji dealt with a few scrambles around his net and had to be alert in the 15th minute to avoid being caught out by Borna Rendulic after an Ivan Jankovic slap shot came back off the glass.
The Japanese power play put a dent in Croatia’s ambitions shortly afterwards and, when Tadija Miric sat out a minor penalty, Sho Sato touched home a Go Tanaka shot to double Japan’s lead. Again, though, Fukufuji had to make a big save when Mislav Blagus forced a reaction stop low on the glove side as the opening stanza ended 2-0.
Fukufuji, a much-travelled netminder who once hit the headlines as the first ever Japanese player to make the NHL, has had a busy start to the tournament, making 49 saves in two games. But he's encouraged by his country's performances so far.
"Winning these first games is always very important in a tournament," he said. "Now I feel like there's more to come for us, we have a few young guys on the roster and they are learning with every game, every win."
The middle frame saw Sato and Tanaka reverse their roles, with team captain Tanaka getting his first goal of the tournament off a Sato assist following a scramble on Vilim Rosandic’s doorstep to stretch the Japanese advantage to 3-0. Now Croatia was beginning to run out of ideas; a combination of penalty trouble and tighter defence meant that Fukufuji had less to do as the session came to an end.
Croatia finally had something to cheer early in the third when Andy Sertich pulled goal back on the power play. Domen Vedlin’s shot got caught up in David Brine’s skates and fell kindly for the Nottingham Panthers D-man to snaffle up a one-timer. Japan responded almost immediately, though, with Yushiroh Hirano’s long-range effort squirming through Rosandic’s pads to make it 4-1.
Along 5-on-3 advantage for Croatia in the closing minutes of the game brought a second goal for Sertich, but that late strike could not spark a revival. Japan saw out another encouraging victory in its bid to return to Division IA at the first time of asking.
For Croatia, meanwhile, two games against the top seeds for the tournament have ended in two losses by the same 2-4 scoreline. But head coach Enio Sacilotto is far from disappointed with the performances so far.
"It's hard for us but our goal is come here and be competitive every night," he said. "Right now we're doing that. We're a small country - we only have maybe 60 senior players - and we're up against places with hundreds or even thousands, so for what we have we're doing pretty good."