The New Zealand Ice Blacks overcame an early three-goal deficit to beat North Korea 8-5 in the penultimate round of games at the IIHF Division 2B World Championship in Mexico City.
Opting to rest number one goalie Rick Parry ahead of their game against Iceland, Ice Blacks head coach Anatoly Khorozov elected to give Vince Mitalas his first career IIHF start in net.
The decision initially appeared to backfire. Within the first seven minutes of the game, North Korea had slotted three shots past Mitalas, including a shorthanded goal, to give the New Zealand side an early scare with their opponents’ speed catching them by surprise.
But if there’s one thing the Ice Blacks don’t have trouble doing, it’s scoring goals, and the Queenstown combination of Matt Schneider and Ryan Strayer looked to erase New Zealand’s earlier mistakes by teaming up for a pair of goals later in the first period.
New Zealand continued to look threatening on the man-advantage with both goals coming on the powerplay after North Korea’s Ryu was penalised for hooking, followed by a two-minute bench penalty for having too many men on the ice.
Ahead by one goal heading into first intermission, North Korea opted to swap goalies with Kwang Su Jo coming in to replace starting netminder Il Pak.
New Zealand started the second period on the powerplay and it only took 31 seconds for Schneider to convert and tie the game, claiming his second goal of the night, assisted by Strayer and captain Nick Craig.
Following a string of penalties, the Ice Blacks found themselves on the backfoot again. While they managed to kill off the first two, Kwang Ho Kim breached their defences on the third opportunity to reclaim a one goal lead for North Korea.
Nick Henderson set up Benjamin Gavoille with a well-placed stretch pass to allow the Ice Blacks winger to best Kwang Su Jo in a one-on-one battle and lock the teams up 4-a-piece after two periods of play.
Facing a total of 36 shots on net, Mitalas allowed one more before the tides started to turn in New Zealand’s favour for the remainder of the game.
North Korea struggled to handle New Zealand’s combination of skill and physical play as the game worn on. By applying relentless forecheck pressure on the North Koreans, the Ice Blacks were able to take advantage of their opponent’s mistakes deep in their own end.
Four unanswered goals by Alex Polozov, Andrew Cox, Stefan Amston and Chris Eaden secured the 8-5 victory.
Schneider was awarded team MVP for his five-point effort, scoring two powerplay goals and three assists. While with a goal and two assists, Andrew Cox surpassed Brett Speirs’ previous record of 49 points to become the Ice Blacks leading all-time scorer with 51.
Mitalas also claims his first win for New Zealand, a significant achievement for the 40-year-old netminder from London, ON who was called into the side as an emergency backup and has filled that role admirably in support of Parry.
New Zealand’s final game of the tournament will be against Iceland, Sunday 9:30am (NZ time). Depending on the result in the preceding Israel v Georgia game, the Ice Blacks could be playing for either a gold or silver medal. If the Georgians are able to continue their current hot streak after beating Iceland 6-3 today, then gold (and IIHF promotion) is potentially up for grabs.
New Zealand: 8
Matt Schneider (Strayer & Polozov), Ryan Strayer (Schneider & Cox), Matt Schneider (Strayer & Craig), Benjamin Gavoille (Henderson & Challis), Alex Polozov (Cox & Schneider), Andrew Cox (Henderson & Schneider), Stefan Amston (Gavoille & Strayer), Chris Eaden (Heyd & Mawson).
North Korea: 5
IH Kang (KC Kim), CR Hong (SG Ri), HJ Kim (CM Ri & KH Kim), KH Kim (HJ Kim)
Main photo: Mike Froger