The U18 Irish National Team kicked off its 2009 IIHF World U18 Championship Division III B against host nation Turkey on Monday evening. It was the first appearance by an Irish team in this age category in ten years! However, it wasn’t the return to the international stage, the team would have wanted. The Turkish team surely surprised everyone including themselves that they defeated the Irish by a score line of 16 – 4. It was a tough loss for the Irish team but many positives can be taken from the game.
Adam Pepper started in net for the Irish team who traded blows with the Turks for the first couple of minutes. This was followed by the Turks being penalised for too many men on the ice. However, the Irish were unable to capitalise on the power play opportunity. The Turkish team gained some momentum from the penalty kills as they then went on to score two goals seven seconds apart from one another. A minute later, the Irish team found themselves down a man with Stephen Balmer going to the box for kneeing. They did kill off the penalty but found themselves down another goal two minutes later. Scott Bickerstaff came in to give Pepper a break after facing twelve shots in less than ten minutes. However, Bickerstaff was to face a further 16 shots with 4 of them unfortunately crossing the goal line behind him. This included one shorthanded goal. The score was 7 – 0 after the 1st Period in favour of Turkey. They also outshot the Irish 28 – 12. Ireland was finding it hard to get the puck past Yigit Onart.
Turkey got off to a quick start scoring after only a minute of play. Adam Pepper was now back in goal and again the shots kept on coming. A minute after it was 8 – 0, it was 9 – 0. However, soon after Ireland found themselves with a power play opportunity. They were playing 4-on-3 when Jason McGrainor found the back of the net. The score was now 9 – 1. However, Ireland was taking quite a few penalties and were no doubt becoming tired because of this. Turkey was able to add two more goals before Ireland responded with a goal from Colin Grimason. Stephen Balmer picked up the assist. Unfortunately though, Turkey scored two more goals before the end of the period. The score after the 2nd Period was 13 – 2.
The 3rd Period was probably the best for Ireland. Ireland Scored two goals while keeping Turkey to only three. Adam Pepper put in an impressive performance, stopping 20 out of 23 shots. Turkey was first on the board in the period followed by a goal from Stephen Balmer off a pass from Colin Grimason. This was followed by a shorthanded goal from Grimason to make it 14 – 4. However, Turkey managed to round off the scoring with two goals to make it 16 – 4 at the end of the game.
A tough game for this young team certainly but positives can be taken. All reports back say that the players worked extremely hard and never gave up. This was evident by the score line of 3 – 2 in the 3rd Period. Both goalkeepers also worked hard with Adam Pepper’s 20 saves in the 3rd Period extremely impressive. It is also worth noting that of the 16 goals scored by Turkey, only one of those was on the power play. This was despite a total of 16:06 minutes with a man advantage. The Irish penalty kill is very good and dangerous too with Grimason getting a shorthanded marker. It is also worth remembering the high altitude of Erzurum, 2,500 metres above sea level. This may have had an effect on the players as they may have struggled to breathe. While host nation Turkey will attempt to use this advantage in all of their games in the tournament. The major positive though must surely be that all reports suggested that spirits remained high. That will be the key to this tournament as it will allow Head Coach, Sean Dooley, and his assistant, Kenny Redmond, to identify mistakes and help the players improve on their performances.
Special congratulations go to Colin Grimason who was selected as Ireland’s best player. Grimason managed to score 2 goals and 1 assist for 3 points while getting 12 shots on goal. He also led the team with a minus 1 and no penalty minutes.
Final Score: Turkey 16 – 4 Ireland (7 – 0, 6 – 2, 3 – 2)
SOG: 70 – 39 (28 – 12, 19 – 18, 23 – 9)
PIM: 34 – 38 (16 – 6, 8 – 20, 10 – 12)
Goals: (23:11 – J. McGrainor), (30:26 – Colin Grimason, S Balmer), (47:16 – S. Balmer, C. Grimason), (48:20 – Grimason)
Saves: Y. Onart (31/33), F. Atali (4/6) – A. Pepper (42/54), S. Bickerstaff (12/16)
Photograph courtesy of www.derektuitephotography.ie