Following a rest day on Wednesday, Ireland was back in action at the IIHF World U18 Championships Division III B on Thursday afternoon against Bulgaria. Both countries were without a win in the tournament going into this game. Ireland had suffered tough defeats of 16 – 4 and 19 – 0 against Turkey and Iceland respectively. Iceland defeated Bulargia 11 – 0 while Turkey defeated them 8 – 4 in a tighter game. This game would not only give the victor its first win of the tournament but also guarantee their spot in game number eight on Friday at 7:00 pm (local time). If Ireland won they would play the loser of Iceland versus Turkey which would give them the opportunity to advance to the Gold Medal game on Sunday at 5:00 pm. For the young Irish players, this would also be a great opportunity to prove themselves after those tough defeats against Turkey and Iceland. The game itself proved to be a game full of disappointment, soul searching, hard work and team spirit followed by elation.
Adam Pepper started in goal for Ireland having impressed in the previous two games. He has stopped more pucks than any other goalkeeper in this tournament having made 132 saves. He will have certainly wanted to build on his 3rd Period performance against Turkey and his 2nd Period performance against Iceland. He stopped a combined 48 shots in those forty minutes of play. However, neither he nor the team will be happy how they started this game. They found themselves down by a goal after only 2:41 played. Dimitar Miloshev got the goal with the teams playing 5 on 5. Ireland then found themselves in the penalty box too frequently. Stephen Balmer and Colin Grimason went to the box for elbowing and charging, respectively. This gave Bulgaria a powerplay for a continuous three minutes including a 5 on 3 for over a minute. Ireland killed the penalty successfully, no doubt Adam Pepper stood on his head during this three minute spell. Bulgaria were penalised midway through the period to allow Ireland the man advantage. However, the opportunity was not seized upon and Johnathan Stewardson was then penalised for elbowing. This meant 4 on 4 action for a minute. However, Stewardson was back in the box again a few minutes later, this time for tripping. Again Ireland killed off these penalties, the penalty kill was ticking over nicely. Ireland received another opportunity to tie up the game with Kristian Radovanov going to the box for elbowing. Unfortunately though, the team could not get the puck in the back of the net. Bulgaria was leading by a goal at the end of twenty minutes.
Ireland started the 2nd Period with the man advantage for 1:20 but was unable to find a way past Teodor Asenov, the Bulgarian goalkeeper, and Ireland soon down by two men. Stewardson and Grimason were side by side in the penalty box for cross checking and hooking. Unfortunately, Bulgaria took adavantage of this latest 5 on 3 opportunity and made it 2 – 0 with 23:27 played. Both teams then traded penalties before Bulgaria found itself playing 4 on 3 when Stephen Balmer went to the box for charging. Bulgaria pulled the trigger once more with Petar Mihov scoring. It was now 3 – 0. Things were not looking good for the young Irish team; they were down three goals and taking far too many penalties. However, Bulgarian player Stefan Georgiev was penalised for hooking. Ireland had another powerplay opportunity which they took advantage of. Grimason pulled Ireland back to within two goals with 31:51 played. However, Bulagria restored their three goal lead less than thirty seconds later to make it 4 – 1. Again Ireland went to the penalty box finding three players were in there together! Niall McEvoy, Stephen Balmer and Adam Patience all went for tripping, slashing and hooking. However, the Irish players were immense and killed off the penalties. This gave Ireland a bit of momentum going forward and they were rewarded when Aidan Morris fired past the Bulgarian goalkeeper. Rían Larkin picked up the assist to make the score 4 – 2 with 37:11 played. The score stayed that way into the second intermission.
A lot of soul searching must have gone on in that dressing room before the 3rd Period with Sean Dooley and Kenny Redmond surely inspiring the players with the kind of self belief needed to do what they did in the final twenty minutes of this game. They came out and at first started to trade penalties with Bulgaria. Craig Fay went for charging while Aidan Morris found himself in the box twice in the space of five minutes for hooking and kneeing. Neither team was able to gain anything from these penalties as they cancelled each other out every time. However, soon the teams found themselves playing 4 on 4 once again with Mark Goodall going to the box for tripping followed by Alexander Tanev going for high sticking. Ireland took advantage of the open ice with Niall McEvoy scoring to make it 4 – 3 with 52:30 played. Assists went to Rían Larkin and Aidan Morris. Less than thirty seconds later, Colin Grimason pulled the teams level with an unassisted goal, again the teams were playing 4 on 4. With only three minutes remaining in the game, Bulgaria’s Kristian Radovanov was penalised for hooking. This gave Ireland a powerplay opportunity to get the winning goal. They did, Colin Grimason scoring with thirty three seconds remaining in the game. Ireland were up 5 – 4. However, before Ireland could celebrate they had to kill off one more penalty. Adam Pepper was penalised for delaying the game. They were truly immense here and victory was theirs. Ireland had won its first ever international game in an underage competition. The players, coaching staff and supporters went insane!
An absolutely thrilling game which will surely go down in the history books and a game that these young players will remember for a long time. They always kept their heads up and never gave up. Coming from 4 – 1 down to win 5 – 4 is an excellent feat made all the more impressive by the fact it was in international competition. Well done lads and we now look forward to the two remaining games.
Special congratulations go to Aidan Morris who was selected as Ireland’s best player. He had one goal and one assist for two points in the game as well as having four shots on net. He also led the team with a plus two.
Final Score: Ireland 5 – 4 Bulgaria (0 – 1, 2 – 3, 3 – 0)
SOG: 36 – 34 (6 – 13, 11 – 13, 19 – 8)
PIM: 36 – 34 (8 -4, 16 – 20, 12 – 10)
Goals: (31:51 – C. Grimason), (37:11 – A. Morris, R. Larkin), (52:30 – N. McEvoy, R. Larkin, A. Morris), (52:55 – C. Grimason), (59:27 – C. Grimason)
Saves: A. Pepper (30/34) – A. Teodor (31/36)
Photograph courtesy of www.derektuitephotography.ie