It was the last game of the Pre-Qualification Round 2, Group H in Bytom, Poland and both teams involved knew they wouldn’t be advancing, but both teams had something to play for nonetheless. Both wanted to get a win in the tournament, and for the Mexicans it was mission accomplished, getting a 6-1 victory thanks to three goals and one assist from Maria Chavez. And despite getting handed their third straight loss, the Turks had a chance for most of the game – the score was 1-1 after two periods – and managed to break through with their first goal of the tournament.
“We’ve played Mexico before and we knew what kind of game it would be,” said Turkish head coach Yucel Citak. “We worked hard the whole game and the first two periods went pretty well for us.”
“It feels good (to get the hat trick), but the important thing is we were able to win the game,” Chavez said afterwards. “We all worked hard and weren’t really focused on who got the goals.”
The Mexicans struck early. Just over a minute in, Chavez crossed the blueline, made a move to avoid a defender and sent a high wrister on net that found its way under Merve Karatas’ arm and into the net.
Karatas, who was great in Turkey’s opening game against Poland but was then injured in warmup before the team’s second game, wasn’t 100 per cent in this game but after the early goal, turned in a heroic performance and was unbeatable for the next 40 minutes. She made 43 saves in the game.
“Turkey played really structured so it was a little complicated,” said Mexican head coach Diego de la Garma. “We couldn’t score. Their goalie was great. It was tough at the beginning but we kept working and being patient, and in the end it paid off.”
A couple of minutes later came a Turkish 2-on-1 failed to generate a shot on goal but did draw a penalty. On the ensuing power play, Turkey generated two shots and some of their best offensive chances to the tournament to this point.
Otherwise, the first period and most of the second was dominated by Mexico in terms of puck possession, but Turkey continued to play a tenacious defensive style that gave up very little in the way of quality scoring chances.
With less than seven minutes to go in the middle frame, Ayse Kocak circled out of the corner and her initial shot attempt was blocked, but the puck came back to her in the high slot and this time she sent a shot into the crowd in front that went through everybody and into the back of the net. It drew a big cheer from the Turkish bench and their group of supporters in the stands behind, as the players on the ice, led by Kocak, excitedly gave their high-fives.
“Every shift, with my linemates we work hard and try to play well. Finally, we got a chance and we scored,” said Kocak. “I think we could have won this game but I’m not sad because we worked hard, so in the future we’ll just have to work even harder so we can improve.”
Late in the middle frame, the Mexicans started to turn on the pressure and generated some good chances but lacked finish around the net, with a couple of loose pucks in the slot swept wide. With about a minute to go, Chavez was looking for her second goal of the game and tried to pick the top corner but Karatas got her left shoulder on it.
“We were outplaying them but we just had to stay calm,” said de la Garma. “I said, ‘You know what, girls? We’ve just gotta keep working, keep pressuring.’ We talked a little bit about having more net-front presence, keep getting shots on net and being patient and it’s gotta go in eventually.”
The Mexicans came out with a purpose to start period three and Chavez scored her second of the night – and eventual game-winner – in the second minute, as her centring pass from below the goal line went off Karatas’ stick and in.
“We were just trying to put pucks on net as much as we could, and in that case I shot from near the boards and the goalie made a bit of a mistake,” Chavez described.” To be honest, I didn’t see what happened but my linemate told me.”
Four minutes later, she completed the hat trick when she put in the rebound from Thelma Escobedo’s point shot. Captain Claudia Tellez then got into the action with a couple of goals, and Joanna Rojas rounded out the scoring in the last minute.
“After the second goal, my players got a bit down,” said Citak. “We worked hard after that but it’s a fast game and it got away from us a bit. But I’m proud of my players and we’ll take this experience and look ahead next to the World Championship.”