The Senior Irish National Team played China this afternoon (Monday) at the 2011 IIHF World Championship Division II Group B in Zagreb, Croatia.
Following a tough opening game against Bulgaria on Sunday, the team were hoping that another night’s rest would help and allow them to put in a better showing. This appeared to be the case at the end of the first period when it remained 0-0 on the scoreboard. It was end to end hockey with China outshooting the Irish side by 22:7 in the first twenty minutes in play as Adam Pepper played a blinder in between the pipes.
The second period saw Ireland on the back foot much more. Just over five minutes into the game China opened the scoring followed by a powerplay goal whilst Ross O’Driscoll served a hooking penalty to make it 2-0 at the end of the second. Ireland had three powerplay opportunities but was unable to convert. Pepper had stopped a future fifteen shots in the 2nd period.
The third period broke Irish hearts, both in Croatia and at home. The Chinese squad scored a further three goals in this period, but everyone of them was a powerplay goal. The powerplay kill from Ireland didn’t show on the day, something that Coach Tibbets will no doubt work on during training sessions throughout the week. The final score was 5-0 in favour of China, but the score line never reflects the effort a team puts into a game.
It was another tough game for Ireland but the team looked a lot more organised. The Irish constantly hounded the Chinese players on the puck before calming down in the defensive zone.
Special congratulations go out to Rian Larkin who was selected as Ireland’s best player. This is Rians first year representing Ireland at Senior Level, having played with the Ireland U18’s for three consecutive years and most recently in Mexico City last month where we was awarded Best Player of the Irish Team. Larkin has sure made a great impression on the coaching staff in his debut game. As I said in my preview ahead of the tournament, I reckoned Rian would be looking for some ice time and that he would make the most out of the opportunity and he has done just that. He’s definitely a player to watch out for in the future.
Goalie Adam Pepper has to be congratulated as well. Pepper played all three period of the game and saved a whopping 53 out of 58 shots. Adams training with the Belfast Giants throughout the year and early mornings has paid off. Peppers performance has been unbelievably and is an inspiration to all young hockey players in Ireland. Brothers Mark and David Morrison pressured the China net with Gareth Roberts and Sean Dooley. Dean Kelly, Niall Mc Evoy and Robert Lecky were challenged in defence but remained solid throughout.
One main robbed the Irish team today of a draw or even a win – penalties. It has been the major setback for every Irish team at every level for the last number of years. Ireland’s tactics of killing powerplays will have to be brushed up for the rest of the week’s game along with Irelands own powerplay.
Ireland will have a rest day tomorrow (Tuesday) ahead of their tough game against Romania on Wednesday at 3:30pm local time. Romania has already won 9-4 against China and upset Iceland by winning 4-2, so Ireland will have their work cut out for them.
Romania will be looking to continue their winning ways. One of the positives to take from the game against Bulgaria is how much more organised Ireland looked and getting more scoring opportunities. The penalty kill was also need to be looked at. Another big performance will be needed in between the post from Adam Pepper, Kevin Kelly or Scott Bickerstaff, whoever coach Tibbetts selects.
Stats from the tournament can be viewed at http://www.iihf.com/channels1011/wm-iib/statistics.html
Heads up lads and keep the faith – Everyone at home is proud of you.
COME ON THE BOYS IN GREEN!!!