Japan's Daisuke Obara scored twice as his team won 5-1 against the Netherlands in Belfast. Photo: Ian Offers, GBSC.
Japan opens with comfortable win
Two goals and an assist for Daisuke Obara, one of four players who put up three points, got the Japanese off to a flying start in Belfast.
Japan made a winning start to its campaign, overcoming the Netherlands 6-1 in the opening game of the 2017 World Championship Division IB in Belfast.
The Japanese are looking for a swift return to Division IA after relegation 12 months ago, and wasted little time in claiming the first goal of this year’s competition. Defenceman Hiroto Sato scored it, making a rush from centre ice and turning Evo Suurhoff inside out on his way to the net. Up close with Fabian Schotel, the Nikko Ice Bucks man had the edge in that duel and Japan led in the sixth minute.
For the Netherlands, captain Kevin Bruijsten almost found an immediate reply on the power play. His effort from the blue line had Yutaka Fukufuji struggling to hold on under pressure from Guus van Nes.
But the Dutch, awaiting the arrival of several senior players at the end of their seasons, dressed just 17 skaters – five D-men, 12 forwards – for this game and struggled to contain a Japanese team that could roll four full lines. The pressure told: Mei Ushu’s shot looped up into the air, provoking a crowd scene in front of Schotel’s net. Makura Furuhashi’s swing deflected the puck towards the far post where Kenta Takagi stuffed it in.
"In any tournament, the first game is always important," said Japan's head coach Takahito Suzuki. "Today we got into good habits and showed that we could finish the game strongly.
"We wanted to play with speed, and looked to steal the puck where we could. That was our plan, we did that, and I'm very happy."
A power play late in the first presented the Dutch with a great chance to reduce the deficit, but Nick Verschuren fired against the post after Bruijsten’s pass opened up a shooting lane. And with that miss, the Netherlands’ chances evaporated. The middle stanza saw Japan consolidate its advantage with two more goals. Furuhashi made it 3-0 in the 25th minute, collecting Takagi’s pass on the face-off spot and lifting a shot into top corner. Japan began to force more errors and there were big gaps in the Dutch defence as Hiroki Ueno released Daisuke Obara for a successful confrontation with the increasingly exposed Schotel.
There was some consolation for the Netherlands late in the middle frame when Steve Mason potted a power play marker off Briujsten’s feed. That denied former Tilburg Trappers goalie Fukufuji a shut-out against the country where he once plied his trade, but failed to herald a Dutch revival.
Obara got his second at the start of the final stanza, claiming a simple finish at the far post after Schotel failed to keep the puck under his glove and allowed Yushiroh Hirano to restart the play. And he picked up his third point of the day with an assist as Ueno went through to make the final score 6-1.
Dutch head coach Chris Eimers felt that was a harsh reflection of the game. "We played a really good game but we made a couple of mental errors on the first two goals," he said. "You can get away with mistakes like that in our league, but not at international level against a good team like Japan.
"That put us in a position where I didn't think we deserved to be 0-2, but Japan was a little bit better and we had to try to match that with effort."