Friday evening saw Ireland take on Turkey in its fourth game at the IIHF World U18 Championship Division III B in Erzurum, Turkey. The previous day, Ireland played Bulgaria and came out 5 – 4 winners while Turkey suffered a drubbing of 18 – 1 at the hands of Iceland. This was game number eight and the winner would advance to the Gold Medal Game on Sunday evening. This was the game that Ireland wanted to be in because they had something to prove against Turkey. Both teams faced off against each other on Monday in their opening game. However, Turkey were fastest out of the blocks storming to a 16 – 4 victoey in that game. Ireland though, felt they had not preformed to the best of their ability and now they had a chance to rectify that. Face off was at 7:00 pm (local time) and once more the teams would be playing in front of a huge audience. Over two thousand Turkish spectators poured in adding to the eleven strong Irish fan base!
The game got under way and it wasn’t a great start for Ireland. Turkey put the puck past Adam Pepper after only forty seconds. The Turkish team were certainly watching Ireland’s game against Bulgaria. They knew they had to come out strong or an upset would be on the cards. Ireland was given a powerplay opportunity when Berkay Aksoy went to the box for tripping. However, they gave up this man advantage when Niall McEvoy went to the box for holding. The 4 on 4 play was to Turkey’s gain as they took advantage of the open space. Sinan Yildirim scoring with 2:33 played. However, less than two minutes later Ireland were within one goal. Colin Grimason scoring with 4:29 played. Stephen Balmer assisting on the goal. Unfortunately, Ireland spent far too much time in the penalty box. Although the penalty kill was quite strong, the team was tiring and it was once the penalties were over that Turkey took full advantage. Niall McEvoy went to the box for charging and even though Ireland killed off the penalty, they were down by another goal two minutes later. Cuneyt Baykan making it 3 – 1 with 8:58 played. With just over twelve minutes played, Ireland found two players in the box. Rían Larkin and Colin Grimason went to the box for slashing and hooking respectively. Turkey had a 5 on 3 for two minutes and Ireland was immense on the penalty kill. They stood strong and Turkey were unable to add to their tally. However, forty seconds after the penalties expired Turkey scored their fourth goal. This was followed by another penalty. Grimason went to the box for tripping. This time though, Turkey took full advantage scoring with the man advantage with less than three minutes left in the period.
Despite gaining a man advantage thirty seconds into the 2nd Period, Ireland was soon down by five goals. Turkey’s Serkan Gumus scoring shorthanded with 21:48 played. Ireland suffered a major blow when their top goal scorer of the tournament, Colin Grimason, received a ten minute misconduct. Two minutes later, Ireland were down another goal with Sinan Yildirim scoring his fourth goal of the tournament. Scott Bickerstaff came on for Adam Pepper. Pepper had been solid in goal for Ireland, stopping 29 shots. Ireland were again penalised for their indiscipline when Rían Larkin went to the box for roughing. Turkey took full advantage and were up by eight goals with 24:46 played. Again, the penalties were piling up for Ireland with Cíaran Mundow, Adam Patience, Niall McEvoy, Rían Larkin and Colin Grimason all going to the box in the space of six minutes! Turkey could only manage one more goal though from Yusuf Halil with 35:19 played. The score was now 9 – 1 but Ireland did pull one more back through Grimason who scored his seventh goal of the tournament with just over forty seconds remaining in the period. The score was 9 – 2 going into the 2nd intermission.
In order to get something from this game, Ireland needed to stay out of the penalty box. In the first forty minutes, Ireland had taken 32 minutes in penalties. Far too many. Unfortunately, it was no different in the 3rd Period with Stephen Balmer, Niall McEvoy and Mark Goodall all taking penalties. However, for once it benefitted Ireland with Balmer scoring shortly after his penalty expired. It was a short handed goal with 49:23 played. The score was now 9 – 3 and that’s how it remained after sixty minutes. Another game full of emotion and I’m certain the coaching staff and supporters were nothing but proud of the players. Once more, they had given it their all right to the very death. The third period was the most impressive with Ireland scoring more than Turkey despite spending over nine minutes down a man. Adam Pepper was impressive in goal for Ireland in the first period while Scott Bickerstaff played extremely well in the final forty minutes stopping 26 of the 28 shots he faced. An excellent effort and I’m sure Ireland will relish the next time they get to play Turkey at this level. However, for now all eyes are on Sunday at 11:30 am (Irish time) when the team faces Bulgaria once more but with the Bronze Medal on the line this time.
Special congratulations go to Colin Grimason who was selected as Ireland’s best player. He had two goals on eight shots and he led the team with a plus two. This is the second time Colin has been selected as Ireland’s best player in a game during this tournament. He currently has seven goals and one assist for eight points in four games. He is having an excellent tournament and currently sits joint fourth amongst the goal scoring leaders.
Final Score: Turkey 9 – 3 Ireland (5 – 1, 4 – 1, 0 – 1)
SOG: 64 – 22 (32 – 4, 19 – 10, 13 – 8)
PIM: 6 – 44 (2 – 10, 2 – 22, 2 – 12)
Goals: (4:29 – C. Grimason, S. Balmer), (39:17 – C. Grimason, S. Balmer), (49:23 – S. Balmer)
Saves: Y. Onart (16/19), F. Atali (3/3) – A. Pepper (29/36), S. Bickerstaff (26/28)
Photograph courtesy of www.derektuitephotography.ie