By Yoo Jee-ho – Yonhap News
South Korea defeated Japan 4-1 for its first victory in men’s hockey at the Asian Winter Games on Friday.
Four different players scored for South Korea, and goalie Matt Dalton turned in a solid performance at Tsukisamu Gymnasium, as South Korea evened its record at 1-1.
South Korea will close out the Winter Asiad against China at 9 a.m. Sunday. Japan will play Kazakhstan in the finale, also on Sunday. The top three teams after the round robin play will emerge as the medalists.
Kazakhstan leads the tournament with two victories. South Korea and Japan both have a win and a loss, but South Korea is in second place thanks to its superior head-to-head record.
Mathematically, South Korea still has a shot at winning gold here — which would be its first for an Asian Winter Games — but will need plenty of help from other nations to win the tiebreaker.
At the previous Asian Winter Games in 2011, Kazakhstan won the gold, with Japan and South Korea winning silver and bronze, respectively.
South Korea, ranked No. 23, has now beaten the 21st-ranked Japan in three straight games, after suffering 19 losses and one tie in 20 previous meetings.
South Korea began the Asian Games here with a 4-0 loss to Kazakhstan Wednesday, a game that was even more lopsided than the score indicates. And the one that beat Japan seemed to be an entirely different team, as it played with far more oomph and chutzpah.
South Korea opened the scoring at 9:33 in the first, with Seo jumping in on an odd-man rush and beating goalie Yutaka Fukufuji with a slap shot from the right slot.
After a nifty outlet pass, Shin Hyung-yun sprinted up the middle and found defenseman Seo Yeong-jun charging down the right wing. Seo then sent a rising shot that zipped past Fukufuji over his right shoulder.
South Korea spent the majority of the first period in the Japanese zone, as the forwards frequently outmuscled the opposing defenders on forechecks and stripped them of the puck when Japan tried to mount counterattacks.
Japan came out in the second period with a little more juice, but South Korea quickly regained control. Japanese players then started taking some dumb penalties — four alone in the second period — and forward Michael Swift made them play with a power-play goal at 9:49.
With one second left in the second power play of the period, Swift beat Fukufuji with a wrister from the left wing. The forward appeared to have no angle, but somehow squeezed one past the Japanese goalie on the stick side.
South Korea went up 3-0 at 12:04 in the third, as forward Kim Won-jung, all alone at the top of the crease, deflected a point shot by defenseman Kim Won-jun.
Japan, after peppering shots at Dalton for the better part of the final period, finally solved the goalie at 15:53, with Hiroki Ueno banging home a rebound from the point-blank range.
South Korea killed a late penalty, and after Japan pulled Fukufuji for an extra attacker, Park Woo-sang scored one into the empty net to seal the deal.
South Korea was missing No. 1 line forward Michael Testwuide, who hurt his left shoulder in a collision with Kazakhstan goalie Vitaliy Kolesnik on Wednesday. Testwuide has been ruled out of the Asian Games.