WEIDEN – Pre-tournament favourites Germany long lived dangerously, before a couple of final period goals by Tanja Eisenschmid and Julia Zorn saw them overcome China 3-1 in their quest for reaching the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi.
"First and foremost, it was important that we won. We knew how hard it would be as the Chinese are a tough opponent," said German head coach Peter Kathan. "But it was also a game with many silly penalty calls from our side, and I told my players that we cannot win games with only three or four players out on the ice."
Winning the shots, 16-6, Germany got the sole goal in the first period thanks to a Julia Zorn strike 10:52 into the encounter. But despite the early dominance it was not to be a walk by any stretch for the black-uniformed hosts.
Hardly tested throughout the first period, Germany goaltender Viona Harrer was forced to put in a much harder shift during the middle frame as the Chinese got themselves back into the game. Helping by Germany's penchant for taking penalty calls, the Asians tied the game at 10:24 of the second period. Eisenschmid and Zorn occupied the penalty box when China, playing five against three, saw captain Rui Sun shuffle the puck into the net assisted by Ben Zhang and Fengling Jin.
China head coach Zhinan Zhang had every reason to be content with his team's second period performance. "In the first period we did a good job in defence, but then we got used to Germany's game, especially on Germany's right side of the attack," he said.
13th-ranked China continued to frustrate 8th-ranked Germany in the final frame, but with 8:41 gone University of North Dakota's Eisenschmid scored from a feed by Manuela Anwander to give the Germans a 2-1 lead.
Following the goal China's netminder Shi Yao was replaced between the pipes by Dandan Jia, while China ventured forward looking for an equaliser. With the game opening itself up, it also woke up the 458 present inside the Weiden Arena. They rose to their feet with 3:36 left of the game when Germany's first line was rewarded for having piled up the pressure in China's defensive zone. Zorn grabbed her second of the evening after assists from Andrea Lanzl and Franziska Busch to make it 3-1.
Despite pulling their goalie with three and a half minutes to go and pressing frantically for goals, Germany withstood the Chinese pressure, sent the supporters home happy and the German team one step closer to Sochi 2014.
China will be looking to atone themselves tomorrow against Kazakhstan. Czech Republic, who earlier today beat Kazakhstan 5-1, will be next up for Germany. Peter Kathan, head coach of Germany since 2002, looks ahead to the tie with a combination of respect for the opponents and careful optimism:
"We know that the Czech Republic are very strong, with very good first and second lines. But we hope that our more experienced team and playing with four lines compared to their three in the end will decide the game in our favour," he said.
HENRIK MANNINENClick here for scores, stats and photos.