By Joeri Loonen – IIHF.com
After three consecutive silver medals, Lithuania finally managed to claim gold at the IIHF Ice Hockey U20 World Championship Division II Group A. Four unanswered goals including an Emilijus Krakauskas hat trick were key in a 6-4 victory over Japan on the final day of the tournament.
Both teams came into this game undefeated and had proven to be a class apart from the rest of the teams in the group out. In what was expected to be a close final game. Japan came out strong to stun the vocal Lithuanian crowd in the stands.
Japan took a commanding 2-0 lead halfway the first period by goals from Atsuki Ikeda and Jin Sawade. Lithuania head coach Jim Setters was pleased to see that his team was able to shake off the nerves and didn’t collapse. His men responded strongly and found a way back into the game when a Kostas Gusevas shot from the blue line deflected off a Japanese player into the net to cut the deficit to one at 12:03.
The goal sparked the Lithuanian team who were suddenly in full control, led by tournament top scorer Emilijus Krakauskas. The forward who plays for EHC Biel in the Swiss junior league continued to cause havoc in the opposition’s defensive zone and turned the game around with three unanswered goals.
First his wraparound at 12:38 tied the game 2-2 and early in the second period he added another pair. Coming in from the left wing, Krakauskas slotted home in the top right corner with the first shot of the second period. Two minutes later he did the same but then from the opposite side. It was Krakauskas’ 11th goal of the tournament.
The goal forced Japan coach Teruhiko Okita to execute a goalie change. Yuuki Mizuta was taken off and replace by Yujiro Isobe. The wake-up call worked as Japan stopped the Lithuanian dominance.
Daichi Saito scored the 3-4 goal and later on Japan had an excellent chance to equalize but Koki Ishikura saw his penalty shot saved by Artur Pavliukov with four minutes left to play in the second period.
Two more power-play goals including an empty netter in the final period sealed the deal for Lithuania. Daichi Igari’s tip-in goal with three seconds before the final buzzer did not change the smiles on the Lithuanian bench as they knew the gold was theirs.
The 6-4 victory means Lithuania will return to the Division I Group B for the first time since 2010. Japan, who were relegated to Division II Group A last year after withdrawing from the tournament in France, will remain playing in the Division II for another year.
In a game with the bronze medal at stake, three third-period goals ensured Romania won a roller coaster game against hosts Estonia, 6-5.
Croatia was relegated to Division II Group B after squandering a 2-0 lead against the Netherlands. The Dutch were pointless before this game but leapfrogged Croatia in the standings after a 3-2 victory and with that, sent the Croats down.
Emilijus Krakauskas finished the tournament as the tournament’s top scorer with 15 points from five games and was selected the Best Forward of the tournament by the directorate.
His team mate Artur Pavliukov was voted Best Goaltender whereas Japan’s Yusuke Kon claimed the best tournament defenceman award.