Advantage Ukraine
by Henrik MANNINEN|09 FEB 2024
photo: © Michal Chwieduk / Polish Ice Hockey Federation / IIHF
Ukraine edged hosts Poland in a memorable shootout win during the second day of the 2023 Men’s Olympic Ice Hockey Qualification Round 3, Group J in Sosnowiec, Poland.

With one round left to play, Ukraine sits top of the standings, one point ahead of Poland for a place in the final round of the IIHF Men's Olympic Ice Hockey Qualification.

On Sunday, the tournament concludes with Ukraine taking on Estonia, while Korea will face hosts Poland.

POLAND 2 UKRAINE 3 SO (1-0, 1-1, 0-1, 0-0, 0-1)

Silencing an expectant crowd in Sosnowiec, Illia Korenchuk and Olexi Vorona tallied for Ukraine in the shootout. Krystian Dziubinski got one for Poland.

Bogdan Dyachenko got his first start of the tournament and enjoyed 32 saves. Korenchuk was also in prolific form for Ukraine with two helpers during regular time.

After a cagey start, the home crowd had to wait five minutes before the first chance presented itself with Poland´s Bartlomiej Jeziorski seeing his effort from the slot blocked by Dyachenko. In a period where Poland where firmly in command and winning shots 16-4 they will rue themselves for only scoring once. At 07:15 Kamil Gorny got Poland ahead when Dyachenko was beaten through traffic.

Following a well-deserved breather, Dmytro Khrystych´s men came out rejuvenated and pressed Poland right from the outset and got their reward at 22:22 when Korenchuk won a battle along the boards before Artem Hrebenyk´s drive was tipped home by Denys Borodai in front of Maciej Miarka in Poland´s goal.

When Poland got into penalty trouble with two consecutive minors, it was the visitors who started to make a greater impression. But failure to capitalize proved costly for Ukraine as Poland regained their lead at 33:45. Having lost the puck in Ukraine´s zone, Marcin Kolusz redeemed himself in the next offensive surge when the 39-year-old 2003 Minnesota Wild draft pick netted with a finish reminiscent of the days when the blueliner was a feared free-scoring forward.

But Ukraine was not beaten yet, not by a long chalk. At 43:43 Korenchuk charged into Poland´s zone and from the left boards picked out Yevheni Ratushny who saw his shot find its way past Miarka to take the game to overtime before a nail-biting shootout was required to separate the two teams.

Ukraine has so far one Olympic appearance from 2002. They now have it all in their own hands to earn a place for progress to the final round of the Olympic qualification. Going into their final game versus Estonia, the equation is simple. Any kind of Ukrainian victory guarantees a top finish.
photo: © Michal Chwieduk / Polish Ice Hockey Federation / IIHF

ESTONIA 2 KOREA 4 (1-1, 0-1, 1-2)

Korea rallied back to beat Estonia to earn their first win at the men’s Olympic qualification in Sosnowiec.
Winning the shots emphatically 43-21, Heedoo Nam led the way with a goal and an assist while Sangwook Kim and Jungwook Hong both tallied two helpers for Korea.

Both teams had suffered 0-4 setbacks in their respective opening games. Heading towards the midway stage the opening stanza, Estonia´s went ahead. Lively Rasmus Kiik had first raced through on a breakaway to force a couple of saves from Yeonseung Lee in Korea´s net. But Estonia battled valiantly to keep the puck in Korea´s zone with Maksim Lovkov directing Daniil Kulintsev´s pass high past Lee from the slot at 9:33.

20-year Henrik Virro saved 39 shots in a solid Olympic qualification debut for Estonia and was unlucky when Korea drew level at 11:59. Sangwook Kim won a draw to Virro´s right and Nam´s drive from the point hit a deflection and went into the net.

Hardly had the Estonians had a chance to blink as Korea got a flying start to the second frame. With 21 seconds gone, Hong raced into the Estonian zone to pick out Chong Min Lee who zinged a wrister from the top of the left faceoff circle for 2-1. As the game opened up with fine scoring chances at both ends, Korea piled on the pressure during a string of Estonian penalties but failed to add to their tally before the stanza was over.
Korea tangling with Estonia is not a regular occurrence. They most recently met in 2015 at World Championship level when Korea prevailed 7-3. Lauri Lahesalu and Robert Rooba were the two remaining members from that Estonian team out on the ice in Poland almost nine years later.

It was veteran blueliner Lahesalu who sat out a tripping minor when Korea stretched their lead to 3-1. Hong´s initial shot from the right faceoff circle had forced a save from Virro before Ahn converted on the rebound at 48:11.

With 10:16 left of the third period, Estonia´s Mark Viitanen cut the deficit to 3-2 forcing past his shot from the slot with Seungjae Lee serving an interference call. But the joy was short-lived. 58 seconds later Korea surged forward as Sangwook Kim fed Sangoon Shin clear in the slot to restore Korea´s two-goal cushion. With 71 seconds left, Estonia pulled Virro from the net, but Korea held out to the delight of the contingent of Korean fans who tirelessly cheered on their favourites throughout the game.