Hungary tops Lithuania to stay perfect
by Lucas AYKROYD|09 FEB 2024
Hungary's Janos Hari (#22) led the way with two goals and an assist in a 7-1 win over Lithuania in Olympic qualification play in Budapest.
photo: © MJSZ / Dávid Vörös

Hungary 7-Lithuania 1

A four-goal first-period explosion sparked Hungary to an 7-1 win over Lithuania on Friday in Budapest. The host Hungarians and the Japanese, both 2-0, will battle on Saturday for the right to advance in the men’s Olympic qualifiers.

With two goals and an assist, forward Janos Hari took over the Round 3, Group G scoring lead with six points (2+4=6). Hungary outshot Lithuania 44-18.

“Janos Hari showed today that he is a fantastic player,” said Hungarian coach Don MacAdam. “His performance was the highlight of this evening.”

For the second consecutive game, Lithuania’s Mark Kaleinikovas opened the scoring. On the power play, he blasted a centre point drive through the pads of Hungarian goalie Bences Balizs at 8:15. But Lithuania’s lead lasted less than two minutes.

Hungary’s Vilmos Gallo backhanded home a rebound to tie it up at 10:08. It was his team-leading third goal. The play was video-reviewed to rule out goaltender interference.

Then, in a span of 5:33, Akos Mihaly, Marton Nemes, and Hari got goals to give Hungary a 4-1 edge before the first period ended.

A scoreless second period saw Lithuania fail to capitalize on two power plays with Istvan Sofron off for stick infractions.

“I think after the first goal we scored, they pushed us a little bit harder,” said Lithuanian assistant captain Ugnius Cizas. “So they got the goals they needed, four goals. And then maybe they started to fall back a little bit to not let any goals in during the second period.”

Sofron, a 35-year-old veteran who led Hungary with four goals at the 2023 IIHF World Championship in Tampere, atoned for his sin bin time by scoring the host nation’s sixth goal in the third.

That was Hungary’s first power play goal of this tournament, providing some relief after the hosts struggled with the man advantage in their 7-3 win over Spain.

“I am satisfied because we played much better then yesterday in every part of the game,” said MacAdam. “We showed that we are better and it is good news for tomorrow.”
photo: © MJSZ / Dávid Vörös

Japan 6-Spain 3

For the second straight game, Japan survived a scare. Underdog Spain jumped out to a 2-0 first-period lead, but Japanese coach Perry Pearn’s team bounced back to prevail with three goals in both the second and third periods.

Final shots were 41-20 in favour of Japan, which also trailed Lithuania before rallying for a 6-4 opening win. Taiga Irikura, an assistant captain with Red Eagles Hokkaido, stepped up with four assists.

Looking ahead to the showdown with Hungary for first place, Pearn said: “Hungary is a really good team. We played them three times last year and all three were great games. We will have to play really well. They have much more experience after playing in the top division at the World Championship last year. It will be a big challenge. Our team game and passing have not been very good, and we haven’t been clean on our breakouts.”

At 1:26, Spain’s Jaime Capillas snared a loose puck in front and tucked it past Japanese starter Eiki Sato’s right pad to draw first blood. Liam O’Hare doubled Spain’s lead before the six-minute mark.

Late in the opening stanza, the Spaniards had a huge opportunity when Yushiroh Hirano was ejected with a five-minute major for checking to the head. But they couldn’t cash in, and that would prove costly.

Yuri Narisawa replaced Eiki Sato in net to start the second period and the Japanese got to work. Near the midpoint, goals by captain Shogo Nakajima and Shigeki Hitosato tied it up. With 2:11 left in the middle frame, Kotaro Yamada split the Spanish defence and converted his own rebound to make it 3-2 Japan.

In the third period, Japan just kept coming, and even though Adrian Torralba cut the deficit to 4-3 at 6:21, Spain didn’t have the firepower to pull ahead again.

“I think we ran out of gas,” said Spanish coach Luciano Basile. “Japan has been training for two weeks in Europe, and they are a really well-conditioned team. They showed it yesterday when they came back from a three-goal deficit against Lithuania and won the game, and they showed it again today. They were the better team in the third period.”