IIHF World Championships Div 1B Belfast April 2017
Four points from Obara sink Estonia
Another impressive display from Japanese forward Daisuke Obara proved too much for Estonia as Japan maintained a perfect start in Division IB in Belfast.
Daisuke Obara led the way for Japan with 2+2 in a convincing 6-2 victory. The Oji Eagles forward with the distinctive shaven head moved on to seven points in this year’s World Championship as Estonia slipped to a third defeat.
And Obara had a warning for Japan's promotion rivals after his team's latest success. "The key to our offence is the communication on each of the lines," he said. "It's been very good from the start, and game by game, shift by shift, we're getting better. There's more to come here."
The game went according to form, with Japan once again showing the kind of pace and offensive power that has seen it navigate the opening games in Belfast with little cause for alarm. Estonia, hard-working as ever, did what it could to frustrate its opponent but had few answers after Obara broke the deadlock in the final minute of the first period.
With Japan enjoying a power play chance, Obara had all the time he wanted to skate up to the net and pick his spot to squeeze the puck inside Roman Shumikhin’s near post, undoing the solid work Estonia had put in during that opening session.
The game tilted decisively in Japan’s favour in the second period. Just 43 seconds after the restart Keigo Minoshima skated onto Yushiroh Hirano’s feed in the high slot to unleash a one-timer past Shumikhin.
Midway through the session, Obara claimed his second of the game and his fourth of the tournament, pouncing on the rebound after a Hiroki Ueno shot got caught up in Filipp Svarogin’s skates. Then Shojo Nakajima got Japan’s fourth goal of the game, marauding down the left and holding up play in the face-off circle while a lane opened up for him to find the top shelf.
While the Japanese offence has been impressive throughout this championship, the defence has been a little less imposing. And that, once again, saw the team caught out with a consolation goal for Estonia late in the middle stanza. Riho Embrich claimed it, converting a Robert Rooba rush with a shot that ricocheted crazily around the crease before bouncing in off goalie Yukata Fukufuji’s helmet. That got a rousing cheer from the neutrals in the arena, and the noise was even greater when Vadim Vasjonkin made it 2-4 early in the third with a nice finish over Fukufuji’s shoulder off a Kevin Parrass pass out of the corner.
Ueno responded immediately, snuffing out any hope of a revival with a nice bit of skill to unpick the Estonian defence before shooting home goal number five for Japan. Obara’s assist on that one took him to four points from the game and gave him a lead at the top of the tournament scoring chart. Go Tanaka soon made it six, snaffling a loose puck on the blue line and crashing home another great shot. The remaining minutes saw tempers flare, with Jegor Petrov and Yushi Nakayashiki getting an early trip to the locker room after trading blows with eight minutes left. Estonia will look for more of that fighting spirit in its remaining games against Croatia and the Netherlands as it looks to escape relegation.
For Japan, three wins from three keep the team firmly on course for top spot. Now though, the gloves are coming off. Battles against Lithuania and GB are still to come in the final medal shakedown at the end of the tournament.
"We've been good in the three games we've played so far," Obara added. "But we know that it's all about the next two. If we keep battling hard and stick to our game plan, we can go back up to Division IA."