Italy advances

Beats Great Britain 6-2 in decisive game


The Italian players celebrate a first-period goal against Great Britain. Photo: Stefano Darin

CORTINA D’AMPEZZO – Italy’s new-look team booked itself a trip to Norway for the Final Olympic Qualification after a first period full of pace and power proved too much for Great Britain in the decisive game. Earlier the Netherlands took third place in Group G with a 7-3 victory over Serbia.

Italy vs. Great Britain 6-2 (3-0, 1-1, 2-1)

On paper it looked like a clash between Italian speed and British character. The host nation had used its pacey offence to great effect in the first two games, while GB showed plenty of grit to see it through some awkward moments.

But on the ice, the Italians found all the answers after cashing in on a 2+2 penalty against Colin Peacock early in the game. That power play brought two goals for the squadra azzurra. Christian Borgatello opened the scoring when his slapshot deflected off a British stick and deceived Ben Bowns. Two minutes later Anton Bernard doubled the lead, muscling his way to the loose puck as the goalie sprawled on his crease to block Alexander Egger’s shot.

GB forced its way back into the game early in the third but when SG Cortina defenceman Alexander Gellert made it 5-2 with 12 minutes to play the outcome was settled.

Gellert’s goal was greeted by a huge roar from his home fans and he was thrilled by the experience of representing his country on home ice.

“I feel really lucky to be able to play here with this great support from the fans,” he said. “Thanks to the GB fans as well – they really got some electricity into the building.”

After Italy took that early advantage, Britain had to take more risks to generate offence and find a way back into the game. That led to a more open encounter with both teams enjoying odd man rushes in a sometimes breathless passage of play. Simon Kostner, whose rush created a goal for his brother in yesterday’s win over the Netherlands, went one better in the 16th minute here, slicing through the defence before lashing an unstoppable shot past Bowns from close range to make it 3-0 at the first intermission.

“We can’t make any excuses,” GB head coach Pete Russell said. “The team that played the better hockey won the game and won the tournament. That early power play killed us, it killed the game.”

The Brits needed to seize the initiative at the start of the second period but failed to create much on a power play carried over from the first session. And, not for the first time, a lack of discipline cost GB – as against Serbia on Saturday – Russell’s team found itself with three men in the bin for a time as the midway point approached. Italy failed to add to its lead at that stage, but was able to eat up the clock and protect its advantage with ease as tempers began to bubble on the ice.

And just as yet another British penalty wound down the Italians got a fourth from another Borgatello slapshot, this time from the point. Britain then got on the scoresheet at last with a well-worked power play goal: Stephen Lee opened up a shooting lane for David Philips from the top of the circle and Ashley Tait poked it in from the slot under pressure from a defenceman.

The third period began with GB pushing hard for a way back into the game and Dave Clarke’s power play marker offered exactly that. Clarke loomed over Andreas Bernard in the Italian goal and got the vital touch on Ben O’Connor’s shot to make it 4-2 with 15 minutes to play.

That reawakened the Barmy Army as the away fans began to believe in a fairy-tale fightback but they were soon drowned out by the loudest roar of the night as Gellert made it 5-2.

“It’s mission accomplished but it wasn’t easy at all,” Gellert added. “We came here knowing we were favourite but every team put up a good fight.”

With Italy in control GB gambled on withdrawing goalie Bowns for the last minute but Italy capitalized as Anton Bernard broke and presented Joachim Ramoser with a simple goal to wrap up the win.

For Gellert and Italy that means progress towards the Olympic Games – and also progress towards a strong showing in World Championship Group I Group A in April.

“We learned a lot here,” he said. “We can’t take any team for granted and we have to stick to our style, stick to our systems, but it was a great experience for our younger players and even for older guys like me.

“International hockey is that bit quicker so it’s always good experience.”

Serbia vs. Netherlands 3-7 (0-2, 2-2, 1-3)

The battle for third place also served as a dress rehearsal for this year’s Division IIA action in Spain – and both teams will have positives and negatives to take into their meeting in Jaca on 9th April.

The Netherlands celebrated a first victory in this competition, and impressive defenceman Mike Dalhuisen felt that it was the least his team’s efforts deserved.

“I thought overall we were surprisingly good considering we only had one practice coming into the tournament we hung in there against Great Britain and, to be honest, I thought we should have beaten them,” he said. “Then we were a little better against Italy but they are a good team.”

The Dutch, relegated on home ice in Eindhoven last year, made a confident start as Mitch Bruijsten scored twice in the first half. Bruijsten moved on to 3+2=5 for the tournament, while Dalhuisen – one of the players added to the roster since the last worlds – picked up his fifth assist.

But Serbia struck back in the middle session, tying the scores on goals from Mirko Djumic and Nemanja Vucurevic by the halfway stage. With Marko Kovacevic’s men targeting a promotion push in April, this was good news against the likely favourite for the tournament in Spain.

The Netherlands regrouped, though, and rebuilt that two-goal lead late in the middle frame. Nardo Nagtzaam added a power play goal to his pair of first period assists before the impressive Dalhuisen – possibly the pick of the Dutch roster in this competition – potted his first goal in Cortina to make it 4-2.

That revival seemed to deflate Serbia and the Dutch offence was dominant in the final session, outshooting the Serbs 15-0 in the first 10 minutes without adding to the score. Then, as the pace seemed to be dropping, a short-handed goal from Dimitrije Filipovic brought the score back to 4-3 with five minutes to play.

That stung the Netherlands into life. Dalhuisen, Rainier Staats and Kevin Bruijsten found the net in the closing moments to give the final result a more emphatic look.

But for Dalhuisen it’s impossible to read too much into this game ahead of April. “I think we’ll have a totally different team for that tournament,” he said. “The Tilburg guys will be in their play-off – hopefully for them but not hopefully for the national team. We will have to keep going like we did here. It wasn’t easy to get up for this game, both teams knew it was a meaningless game, but it’s never meaningless when you win.”

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