Favourites open with wins

OQ Gr. H: Lithuania-Hungary 0-4, Poland-Estonia 6-2


Patryk Wronka celebrates his opening goal with Polish teammate Krystian Dziubinski while Estonia’s Deniss Konyshev looks on. Photo: Laszlo Mudra

BUDAPEST – Hungary opened the Olympic Qualification Preliminary Round 2 Group H on home ice with a 4-0 blanking of Lithuania while Poland had a clear 6-2 win over Estonia in the afternoon game.

Lithuania vs. Hungary 0-4 (0-1, 0-1, 0-2)

Hungary had a successful start on home ice in Budapest with a 4-0 shutout win against Lithuania before ending the day with a teddy-bear toss as a donation to children.

The Lithuanian national team travelled to Budapest for an Olympic Qualification event for the third consecutive time and like in 2012 (5-1) and 2008 (5-2) it was the Hungarians, who won at the Laszlo Papp Sportarena in front of 7,110 fans.

“Lithuania competed very hard, they were missing some of their best players here but their goaltender was very sharp. We had good chances in the first period and then finally scored,” Hungary coach Rich Chernomaz said.

“We played a simple game and continued to play a hard game although in the second period we became a bit sloppy with the puck management and allowed some turnovers. Tomorrow we want to continue play the right way against Estonia.”

Hungary came out strong right from the start and outshot its opponent 60-19. Being the team recently promoted to the top division of the IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship and playing in front of their own fans in a crowded and loud arena the Magyars visibly wanted to fulfil their task.

Csaba Kovacs and Janos Vas had the best chance early in the game at 2:16 with a nice combination but the Lithuanians stood strong and tried to create offensive action as well although they had the best chance while playing shorthanded with a Paulius Gintautas breakaway. During those minutes Hungary had the chances for an early lead as Lithuania took two straight penalties but the game remained scoreless.

It was especially thanks to goaltender Mantas Armalis, who plays in the Swedish top league for Djurgarden Stockholm, that the game remained scoreless until 14:25. That’s when the work eventually paid off for the Hungarians with a shot from Vilmos Gallo on the right side that first hit Armalis. Krisztian Nagy stood ready for the rebound but the puck moved in via Armalis pads as he turned around. Like Armalis also Gallo plays in the top Swedish league, for Linkoping. The 19-year-old moved to Sweden as a junior six years ago and it was his first goal in his first-ever game with the senior national team.

“It was an amazing atmosphere and it was very special to score in my debut game. It was not a nice goal but a goal is a goal,” Gallo commented after the game.

Hungary also had more puck possession and scoring chances then their Baltic opponent in the middle frame and at 7:43 Janos Hari scored on a rebound after Armalis had blocked Istvan Bartalis’ shot.

The game was still far from over when the teams entered the ice for the third period but when Frank Banham made it a three-goal lead for Hungary with a long shot during a man advantage at 2:23, Lithuania’s hopes for a comeback were diminished.

At 5:09, just after the Lithuanians had missed out on a chance on the other side, Daniel Kiss even made it 4-0 with a shot into the top-right corner on a counter-attack.

“For the first time in [post-war] history Lithuania played against a top-division team and we saw why they play there,” Lithuania head coach Bernd Haake said. “4-0 is not so bad. They had a lot of shots but we had an outstanding goaltender. We had two hundred-per-cent chances that could have made the score friendlier and if you’re an underdog you better capitalize on such chances.”

Poland vs. Estonia 6-2 (3-0, 2-1, 1-1)

Seven places separate Poland (22nd) and Estonia (29th) in the IIHF World Ranking and also in the last two meetings at Division I tournaments Poland won both clashes when going head to head against Estonia, 5-3 in 2013 and 8-3 in 2011, both times in Ukraine.

Also in Budapest the Poles wanted to make it right and dominated the game from the beginning until the end, outshooting their opponent 64-16.

“It was a good start for us. Estonia has been getting better and better the last few years. 6-2 is a good score but we have to play better,” Polish forward Aron Chmielewski said about his team’s first game and the upcoming ones against better-ranked Lithuania and Hungary.

Patryk Wronka, in the so far biggest tournament for the 20-year-old, already opened the scoring after 110 seconds of play in a first period that was one-way hockey for most of the time. Aron Chmielewski, who spent the last two seasons in the top-three Czech leagues, made it 2-0 on the Poles’ second power play after a horizontal pass in front of the crease from Grzegorz Pasiut at 15:00. Four minutes later Kacper Guzik made it a three-goal lead for Poland.

Estonia had a good start into the second period with team captain Aleksandr Petrov scoring the team’s first marker on a breakaway. However, the Poles reacted fast. 51 seconds later Mateusz Bepierszcz capitalized on his own rebound and another minute later Marcin Kolusz made it 5-1 for Poland, forcing Estonia coach Jussi Tupamaki to take his time-out but as it turned out the game was more or less decided with this score early in the second period.

“It was a rough start but we got better period by period and gained confidence. I hope we can continue getting better with the things we do but it will be probably even harder against Hungary. Most of our players don’t play hockey professionally,” said Estonian assistant coach Mart Eerme.

The game flow didn’t change much after the time-out but Estonia kept its net clean for the remainder of the period and at 3:08 of the third frame Petrov even scored his second goal to make it 5-2. However, Poland continued to be in charge of the game and Mateusz Rompkowski replied two-and-a-half minutes later to restore the four-goal cushion that stayed until the final buzzer.

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