Romanian fight back sinks Lithuania
by Andy Potts|30 APR 2023
Romania's Matyas Kovacs is flanked by his team-mates after scoring his country's first goal in a 3-2 victory over Lithuania in World Champioship Division IA.
photo: Karl Denham
Romania rallied from 0-2 to defeat Lithuania as Sunday’s World Championship Division IA action got off to an exciting start. The victory is Romania’s first at this level since a 2004 success over Korea, at a time when Division I was contested in two equally weighted groups.

This 3-2 verdict also avenged Romania’s 4-5 loss to Lithuania in last year’s Division IA. On that occasion, Lithuania battled back from 0-2 and 2-3 to get a win that secured bronze in the Baltic country’s best-ever IIHF performance.

"It's unbelievable," said team captain Alpar Sallo. "This is one of the best results we've ever had and it feels wonderful.

"We used to be the underdogs, but now we're not. We're surprising everybody."

Both teams came into Sunday’s lunchtime game looking to bounce back after opening day losses. Lithuania had a tough time in a 0-7 reverse against Poland, while Romania enjoyed a few brighter moments before going down 2-6 to Italy.

Balazs Peter, who scored twice for Romania is hoping that today's win can be a catalyst for bigger things for his country.

"At the start, our target was obviously to stay in this group," he said. "Now we have three games left and everything is possible.

"This win could be enough for us to stay in the group, so we can go into the next games and see what comes for us."

Lithuania was the first to show, opening the scoring after 69 seconds. Emilijius Krakauskas, the team’s top scorer in last season’s bronze medal campaign, got his country off the mark in Nottingham when he battled to the slot in time to convert the rebound from Kostas Gusevas’ point shot. 

Once again, an early goal handed one team the initiative, and Lithuania created a couple more good chances. Ilja Cetvertak caught Romania’s Yevhen Yemelianenko in possession in centre ice and sprinted to the net. However, he attempted backhand finish proved to be one trick too many and Patrik Polc made the save. Polc came to his team’s rescue again when he got a hand to a wrister from Eimantas Noreika than scrambled across the paintwork to get behind Aivaras Bendzius’ attempt on the rebound.

There was no stopping Bendzius a couple of minutes later, though. Egidijus Binkulis fired in a shot, the rebound got away from Polc and Bendzius gleefully slammed it home from a tight angle to double Lithuania’s lead.

"We had a pretty good start but we kinda lost the game in the second period," said Krakauskas. "We tried our best to get back into it in the third. We need better power play, I think, so that's something to look at in the next games."

Down by two, Romania could still make a case that it deserved better. And almost immediately, it began to prove it. Matyas Kovacs got into the Lithuanian zone and, after his initial backhand shot came back to him, he returned the puck to the danger zone. That effort was blocked, but under pressure from Tamas Farkas, defender Jaunius Jasinevicius could only deflect it past his own goalie.

Then, early in the second, a penalty for Krakauskas saw Romania take just 12 seconds to tie it up. Peter got the puck at the top of the right-hand circle and, after his first shot was blocked, he collected the rebound to shoot past Nerijus Alisauskas and into Armalis’ top corner.

More Romanian pressure followed, with Andrei Filip waltzing through the Lithuanian defence and Hugo Gecse getting on a solo rush during the penalty kill. Back at full strength, Peter got his second of the game to give Romania the lead for the first time. Pavlo Borysenko fired in the point shot and Peter’s outstretched stick steered it into the net while Farkas provided the screen.

"I had a great day today," he smiled. "Some days it's me, some days it's another player," he said. "I try to do my best. I feel like I'm one of our leaders on the offensive side so I try to take advantage of that and help my team as much as possible."

As Lithuania tried to chase the game in the third, Ron Pasco’s team created the better opportunities. Krakauskas caught the eye with an audacious attempted Michigan, but couldn’t quite find the gap in the top corner. In addition, Polc had to make sharp saves to deny Mark Kaleinikovas and Dovydas Laimutis as Romania closed out the win.

With 63 seconds to play, Lithuania removed Armalis from his net in search of one last chance to save the game. But the yellow wall of Romanian defence remained resolute, sparking jubilant scenes among the players and the vocal fans in a crowd of just under 2,000 at the Motorpoint Arena.

For Lithuania, though, this was a tough loss to take. After bronze last time, a survival battle beckons. "I think we have the same goal as last year," Krakauskas concluded. "We came here trying to stay in the same division. We'll start from simple things like that and we'll see where that takes us."
Lithuania vs Romania - 2023 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship Division I Group A