Fukufuji leads Japan triumph

Goalie has huge impact in victory over Ukraine


Japanese goalie Yutaka Fukufuji celebrates with the winners' plate. Photo: Yuuri Tanimoto

SAPPORO - Stellar play from goalie Yutaka Fukufuji helped Japan edge Ukraine 2-1 in a tough battle on the final day of play in the Men's Olympic Qualification Preliminary Round 2 Group J on Sunday at the Tsukisamu Arena in Sapporo. The victory advances the Japanese men’s national team to the next round of qualifying in September where it will try to make the Olympics for the first time since hosting the 1998 Nagano Games.

Japan vs. Ukraine 2-1 (0-0, 0-0, 2-1)

It was clear from the outset that this would be speed vs. power and that's exactly what it was. Ukraine played a very physical game from the outset, while Japan raced around their larger opponents. The game was a tight one until the third period when winger Kenta Takagi knocked in a rebound with 13:41 left.

Veteran centre Daisuke Obara made it 2-0 for Japan when he scored on a one-timer from the point past Ukraine goalie Eduard Zakharchenko on the glove side with 7:56 remaining.

The two-goal advantage was short lived, however, as Ukraine answered back on a shot by Yuri Petrangovsky past Japan goalie Yutaka Fukufuji on the stick side with 5:24.

The final five minutes were tense as the hosts tried to hang on with Ukraine applying huge pressure. Japan prevailed in the end, but it was not easy.

Fukufuji made 32 saves in the win and received profuse praise from both coaches afterward.

Japan coach Greg Thomson was relieved after the victory.

“I think both teams battled very hard until the end,” said Thomson. “It could have gone either way. We got some timely goals in the third period. Playing aggressive and smart is the right way to play. We have to use our speed. That is one of our biggest assets.”

Thomson cited Fukufuji's play as being a huge part of the result for Japan.

“Fukufuji was unreal today,” Thomson stated. “We played good hockey over all three games.”

Fukufuji said his performance was all in a day's work.

“It was a tight game. We expected that and our defence played well,” Fukufuji said. “The goal they got was deflected by one of their players to the scorer. They are big and have skills. We scored on a couple of chances and that was the difference.”

Zakharchenko, who had shutouts in the first two games, stopped 28 shots in the loss.

The first period ended scoreless despite both teams having multiple power play chances. Japan killed off three power plays, while Ukraine stopped two.

Ukraine's Volodomyr Aleksyuk was assessed a five-minute major and a game misconduct for spearing and with 3:11 left in the first.

Ukraine had 12 shots on goal in the period, while Japan mustered nine.

In the second period Ukraine had four power-play opportunities but was unable to convert any of them into a goal as the pace of play picked up.

Ukraine got off 10 shots on goal in the second, while Japan had just seven.

Petrangovsky said he was ready when his chance came.

“I took a pass from my teammate (Artem Gnidenko) and put it in,” Petrangovsky commented on his goal. “It is a play we have used in practice many times.”

Petrangovsky felt the Japan team utilized their strengths in the triumph.

“They are fast and have several skill players,” Petrangovsky said. “There were no surprises. We have gone against them before in the World Championships. They just played their game.”

Ukraine coach Olexander Savystky was not down despite the loss.

“We are building a new team,” Savystky commented. “This was the first tournament for many players. We are proud of both the veterans and young players.”

Savystky summed up the difference in the game in concise fashion.

“Modern hockey today is a game of mistakes and today we made one more,” Savystky said. “Today the goalie is 80-90 per cent of the game. Fukufuji played more than very well.”

Romania 1 Croatia 4 (0-1, 1-2, 0-1)

Croatia defeated Romania 4-1 on Sunday at the Tsukisamu Arena in Sapporo. Both teams entered the contest with 0-2 records, having lost their games against Japan and Ukraine.

Croatia goalie Mate Tomljenovic made 24 saves in the victory.

Croatia set the pace in the first period, attacking relentlessly and taking 20 shots on goal against Romania's Attila Adorjan. Dominic Kanaet gave Croatia the lead with 13:01 left in the opening period when he flipped in a backhander directly in front of the goal.

Romania squandered a good chance to score when they had a two-man advantage on a 5-on-3 power play with 2:57 left in the period but came up empty. They had just seven shots on goal in the first.

The game opened up in the second period with both teams playing more fluidly. Romania equalized with 13:30 left in the second when Zsolt Molnar fired in a shot past Tomljenovic from the slot.

Croatia retook the lead with 8:52 left on a slapshot by Luca Mikulic from the slot.

The Croats boosted their lead to 3-1 on a spinning shot by Mario Novak in front of the net with 51 seconds remaining in the second.

The final period was a wide open affair with both teams being aggressive but unable to find the net until near the end of the frame.

Romania called a time-out with 2:49 left and pulled Adorjan, but could not capitalize with the extra attacker.

Croatia closed out the scoring when Marko Sakic fired the puck into the empty net with 1:07 left.

Adorjan stopped 37 shots in the loss.

Croatia coach Danijel Kolombo was happy to end the competition with a win.

“This was a great tournament for us,” stated Kolombo. “All three games were good. We knew we could play against Romania and compete against the other two even though they are a level higher than us.”

Kolombo said his squad did what they came for in Sapporo.

“We accomplished all of our plans,” commented Kolombo. “The players have played many games this season so fatigue is an issue. But I'm happy with how hard they played.”

Romania coach Kjell Lindqvist did not hide his disappointment after his team's third straight defeat.

“With this roster we only scored one goal in three games. That isn't good enough,” said Lindqvist. “After two tough games we had no power today. Our penalty-killing was good, but that was about it.”

Lindqvist admitted that his side was in a tough situation.

“The team is tired and we are missing key players,” he noted. “But we have to battle better.”

Japan will face Ukraine in the evening match with the winner advancing to the Final Olympic Qualification in September.

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