Set for a showdown

OQ Gr. G: Netherlands-Italy 2-4, Great Britain-Serbia 6-2


Italian forward Kevin Devergilio scores on Dutch goalie Martijn Oosterwijk. Photo: Stefano Darin

CORTINA D’AMPEZZO – It’s winner takes all on Sunday night as Italy and Great Britain improved to 2-0 in this tournament. Both teams had to battle to win their games on Saturday but Italy got past the Netherlands 4-2 after the Brits downed a hard-working Serbia 6-2 in the earlier game.

Netherlands vs. Italy 2-4 (1-2, 1-1, 0-1)

Italy paid tribute to its hockey history before taking another step towards Olympic qualification with a 4-2 victory over the Netherlands on Saturday night.

The evening began with a celebration as Cortina commemorated two favourite sons. Brothers Gianfranco and Alberto da Rin were born in the town in the 1930s and became mainstays of SG Cortina and the Italian national team. Gianfranco played here in the 1956 Winter Olympics and was joined by younger brother Alberto in Innsbruck in 1964. The two were on hand for a special pre-game ceremony attended by IIHF President Rene Fasel.

There was also a minute’s silence in honour of 1956 Olympic goalie Giuliano Ferraris, who passed away last Sunday before the action got underway in breathless style.

Just 39 seconds had been played when Marco Insam put the Italians in front, wrestling in the slot and forcing the puck inside Martijn Oosterwijk’s near post. But that lead lasted just minutes as the Netherlands hit back through youngster Tom Marx to tie the scores.

The two teams traded chances but it was Italy that got back in front in the tenth minute thanks to another pair of brothers. Simon Kostner set off on a rush from centre ice, slaloming through the defence to set up Diego for the decisive touch on the slot.

The Dutch thought they’d tied the scores during a 5-on-3 power play. Kevin Bruijsten found the net when he swung at a bouncing puck but Orange boom turned to Orange bust when it was chalked out for a high stick. Furious, the Netherlands lost some focus and failed to threaten for the rest of its advantage.

But the Netherlands did make it 2-2 eight seconds into the second period. Mitch Bruijsten harried from the face-off and picked out captain Diederick Hagemeijer in space at the far post.

“It wasn’t pretty,” admitted Italy’s head coach Stefan Mair. “This is a young group and a lot of them don’t get to play that many minutes in important games for their clubs. Situations like this are a big thing to help them get better down the road and gain experience.”

That stung Italy into action and the host nation proceeded to have the better of the middle stanza. Luca Frigo should have done better when a loose pass from Jordy van Oorschot presented him with the puck and the freedom of the Italian zone.

Then Insam thought he had his second of the evening midway through the frame. His slap shot from the blue line rattled both posts but the video showed that it did not go in. Simon Kostner also hit the bar before Kevin Devergilio finally made the pressure tell, touching home a tic-tac-toe move involving Paul Zanette and Armin Helfer in the 34th minute.

“I’ve got to give Holland credit,” added Mair. “They played with a lot of grit. Playing Serbia first maybe wasn’t the best start because they didn’t really hit us. The Dutch came out and hit us hard from the start and we had to adjust because we’re not used to that physical game. But in the end, with the times we hit the crossbar, I think we deserved the win.”

The third period saw the Netherlands absorbing more pressure as Italy’s extra pace began to tell. But the home offence was having to work hard for its opportunities and it wasn’t until the 52nd minute that Italy finally got some breathing space. The impressive Diego Kostner wrestled for the puck down on the boards and fed Luca Frigo for a wrist shot that flashed upstairs to make it 4-2.

Great Britain vs. Serbia 6-2 (2-1, 2-1, 2-0)

GB’s Colin Shields became his country’s second-highest goal scorer in the modern era with a goal in a 6-2 victory over Serbia. He took his tally to 34, and two in this competition, moving to within six goals of British hockey legend Tony Hand. Gerry Davey, a star of the British team of the ’30s and ’40s, holds the all-time record with 43 goals in 45 games.

“When I was growing up Tony was a legend in his own right, someone who we all look up to and who did a lot of great things for British hockey,” Shields said. “I’m still a few behind him but this is a proud moment.

“I’ve had a lot of years on the national team and played with some great players. A lot of good guys have passed me pucks and this is something to remember.”

But while the Brits go forward to a win-or-bust showdown against Italy tomorrow there was also much for Serbia to celebrate after a big improvement on Thursday’s 0-8 reverse against the host nation.

The Balkan nation generated far more offence than it managed in game one and it wasn’t until an extended 5-on-3 power play late in the second period that Britain finally earned the comfort of a two-goal lead.

GB shaded the first period after Shields opened the scoring in the fifth minute. The Belfast Giant circled off the left-hand boards and found open ice in front of goal as he fired past Arsenije Rankovic from between the hatchings.

But Serbia had learned from its opening day experience and tied the scores five minutes later. The goal came from a defensive error – GB turned over the puck on its blue line – and Andrej Zwick quickly fed Nenad Rakovic for his country’s first goal here in Cortina d’Ampezzo.

That gave the Serbs a visible boost in confidence and the White Eagles began to produce far more offence than it managed against the host nation. By the first intermission Marko Kovacevic’s team had produced twice as many shots as it managed in the whole of its first game.

However, it was unable to get on the scoreboard again and GB found a way back in front thanks to Matty Davies’ first ever international goal. Robert Lachowicz was the architect, skating across the deep slot to pull the defence out of position before a well-weighted backhand pass picked out Davies with a clear look at the net for the finish.

That didn’t deter the outsider, though. Serbia began on the front foot in the middle session and GB quickly ran into penalty trouble. Mark Garside and Stephen Lee were cooling their heels in the sin bin when Uros Bjelogrlic forced the puck home at the far post to tie the scores once again.

“It was a tough game,” Shields added. “We knew that they would come out hard, their goalie came up with some big saves and blocked a lot of shots but we knew if we kept getting the puck to the net, kept making our plays, we would get the rewards.

“Maybe we tried to over-complicate things at times – it was a scrappy game – but we got the win.”

Shields helped to put GB back in front, getting an assist as David Phillips’ shot from the point was tipped in by Jonathan Boxill for his first goal for his country, but it wasn’t until Serbia ran into penalty trouble of its own that the British gained that two-goal lead. Lee thumped a shot against the post and it flashed out for Dave Clarke to sweep low past Stefan Ilic’s desperate attempt to clear on the line.

The third period produced fewer opportunities until a power-play goal from Clarke, finishing from close range off Craig Peacock’s pass, and a short-handed solo effort from Lachowicz made the final score 6-2.

For Serbia a second defeat was no disgrace. Recently-appointed head coach Marko Kovacevic admitted before the tournament that his team’s main goal was to acquit itself well and make progress towards its World Championship campaign in Spain later this year.

“We won’t face teams like this so often so it’s nice to see players who are on a different level than us,” Kovacevic said. “Maybe we can pick up some stuff that we see and use it ourselves.

“Don’t get me wrong – we’re all athletes, we all want to win every game, but we understand that the main goal of our season comes in April and that’s what we’re working for here. We know what we want to see in these games and if we can do what we agree in the dressing room that’s a success for us.”

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