Sunday afternoon, Ireland played Bulgaria in its final game at the GSIM Ice Arena in Erzurum, Turkey. They were playing for the Bronze Medal at the 2009 IIHF World U18 Championship Division III B. Following a tough 9 – 3 loss to Turkey on Friday evening, the young Irish squad were looking to prove that their 5 – 4 win against Bulgaria on Thursday was not a fluke. The anticipation of this game was felt amongst the players, coaches, supporters and folks back home. “Good luck” texts were sent in their dozens to Turkey while “thank you” was the general reply accompanied by “let’s hope we get a medal” or “say a prayer.” No doubt little was eaten at the breakfast and brunch tables in Erzurum as the butterflies made their presence felt. Back home, we all rose with a cup of tea in search of a Turkish television station called “ TRT 3” who were supposedly showing the game live but all we could find was some Turkish music played with a banjo! Although, the hockey would probably be on later when Turkey were playing for Gold!
We would have to settle for the live action on www.iihf.com and when we were eventually updated we were shocked to see that after five minutes of action, neither team had been penalised. However, we were slightly disappointed to see that Bulgaria’s Dimitar Mioshev had scored his third goal of the tournament. Ireland was down by a goal with 5:16 played. It was another five minutes before we were updated again. However, this time we saw a familiar name on the score sheet. Colin Grimason had scored his eight goal of the tournament to bring Ireland level with 9:53 played. Just over three minutes later, Grimason had brought Ireland ahead scoring on the powerplay with Rian Larkin assisting. Ireland was unable to capitalise on the man advantage when Bulgaria’s Martin Nikolov went to the box for hooking a minute after the goal. Unfortunately, Bulgaria were the benefactors as a second after killing off the penalty they had tied the game 2 – 2 through Miloshev. Before the Irish squad could recollect their thoughts at the break, they needed to kill off one more penalty having been penalised for too many men. They were successful in killing off the penalty and the score remained two goals apiece after twenty minutes. It had been a tight opening to the game and Ireland knew they had the measure of Bulgaria. However, they needed to sustain the pressure while Scott Buckerstaff needed to remain solid in the goal. He looked impressive stopping 14 of the 16 shots he faced in the 1st Period.
Ireland needed to take the game to Bulgaria and that’s what they did in the 2nd Period. Back home, we were all on a knife’s edge as it was over seven minutes into the period before we received an update. Again, we were shocked to see that neither team had been penalised. However, we were delighted to see that Aidan Morris had restored Ireland’s one goal lead. Adam Patience picking up the assist. This was followed by Mark Goodall going to the box for tripping. It could have been the penalty which allowed Bulgaria back into the game. However, Ireland killed the penalty and built on the momentum and went on to extend their lead by two goals. Rian Larkin scoring with 33:06 played. Less than thirty seconds later and Ireland were leading by three goals. Grimason netting his hat trick in the game and his tenth goal of the tournament. Ireland was cruising while Bulgaria was running out of ideas and decided to switch goalkeepers. It was no use as with twelve seconds remaining in the period, Larkin scored his second goal of the game. Ireland was up 6 – 2 after forty minutes with Scott Bickerstaff looking increasingly confident. He had stopped all 14 shots that he faced in the period.
The Irish players could be forgiven for being confident going into the second intermission. However, Sean Dooley and Kenny Redmond will have certainly reminded them that there are no guarantees in ice hockey. They need look no further than their own 5 – 4 come from behind win on Thursday as an example. Any complacency would be punished so it was important that everyone came out focused for the 3rd Period. The period started with both teams exchanging penalties. Neither team benefitted as a result. Soon though, Ireland found themselves down two men when Jack Murphie went to the box for kneeing followed by Aidan Morris for elbowing. Bulgaria took advantage and pulled a goal back through Petar Mihov with just over seven minutes remaining. However, it was too little too late for Bulgaria as Ireland, in particular Bickerstaff, weathered the storm. Ireland had won 6 – 3 and these young players made history in the progress. Each of them experienced their first bit of success in international competition. Also, the first success for any underage Irish squad. Certainly, it is the first of many medals for this group of players.
Special congratulations go to Craig Fay who was selected as Ireland’s best player of the game.
Also, congratulations to Colin Grimason who was selected as Ireland’s player of the tournament. He was also selected as the Best Forward in the tournament having finished seventh with 11 points and fourth with 10 goals. He was also selected as Ireland’s best player in the two games against Turkey on Monday and on Friday. An excellent tournament from this young player and a name to remember for the future.
Final Score: Ireland 6 – 3 Bulgaria (2 – 2, 4 – 0, 0 – 1)
SOG: 27 – 45 (9 -16, 12 – 14, 6 – 15)
PIM: 20 – 24 (4 – 4, 2 – 0, 14 – 20)
Goals: (9:53 – C. Grimason), (12:57 – C. Grimason, R. Larkin), (27:52 – A. Morris, A. Patience), (33:06 – R. Larkin), (33:31 – C. Grimason), (39:48 – R. Larkin)
Saves: S. Bickerstaff (42/45) – T. Asenov (9/14), R. Petrov (12/13)
Photography courtesy of Mick Cummins