Tomislav Zanoski threatens the Dutch net during Croatia's 6-2 victory at the IIHF World Championships Div 1B Belfast April 2017. Photo: Ian Offers, GBSC.
Three quick goals give Croatia the win
A blistering passage of play in the 14th minute lifted Croatia past the Netherlands and delivered a first win of the competition for Enio Sacilotto's team.
Three goals in 21 seconds saw Croatia power to its first victory of this year’s World Championship with an impressive performance against the Netherlands.
After a pair of 2-4 losses to Great Britain and Japan, the Croatians felt that they hadn’t got the results their performances deserved – and quickly set about putting that right at the expense of the Dutch.
With less than two minutes on the clock, Ivan Jankovic opened the scoring when he rushed down the right and exploited some poor positioning on the Dutch D before scoring through Fabian Schotel’s five-hole.
The Netherlands carved out an opportunity to respond quickly when Kevin Bruijsten followed up a Jeffrey Melissant shot but could not hit the target. And before long, the game was all but settled after a stunning goal blitz put Croatia well out in front.
It started on 13:29 when Borna Rendulic bossed another power play. He moved the puck neatly around the Dutch zone before firing in a shot that Schotel couldn’t reach as he scrambled across his crease. Twelve seconds later, Croatia scored again through an unassisted Matija Milicic strike. And, on 13:50 Luka Jarcov and David Brine exchanged passes and Jarcov added a fourth.
That was a big lift for the team, but head coach Enio Sacilotto admitted that jumping out to such a big lead brought its own pressures. "We got those three goals and that helped us a lot, even though we got a bit lucky," he said. "Actually, though, when you get a big lead like that it's harder to play. You're more relaxed and there's a temptation to stop doing the things you have to do. It's comfortable, but it's not comfortable, if you know what I mean."
His opposite number Chris Eimers described that defensive collapse as a "brain cramp". He added: "I think we just forgot the simple agreement that we made about dealing with face-offs and we can't do that. We need to be more mature in international games."
Overpowered in the opening stanza, the Dutch had to find a way to restore a little pride, but the opening moments of the second period saw a fifth Croatian goal, scored by Mislav Blagus. Gradually, though, the Netherlands found a way to slow the opposition down. The teams were closer in terms of shot on goal, and Raymond van der Schuit grabbed only the second goal for his team in this tournament to reduce the arrears. That offered something to cheer a party of schoolchildren from some of West Belfast’s Community Centres who had adopted the Dutch team on their visit to the World Championship.
There was another small success for the Dutch in the third period when replacement goalie Sjoerd Idzenga pulled off a fine save to deny Rendulic’s penalty shot. Rendulic tried to stick-handle his way to goal; Idzenga stuck out a long leg to close the door at the last moment. Then, on a 5-on-3 power play, van der Schuit got his second of the game when he turned home a Steve Mason feed to the back post. But Rendulic scored a short-handed effort late on to give Croatia the final word and a 6-2 margin.
Croatia’s first victory of the competition moves it on to the fringes of the medal race, three points off third place. For the Netherlands, though, it’s looking like a final-day showdown against Estonia will decide its bid to stave off relegation 12 months after returning to this level.