A mere 18 hours after their loss to China, the New Zealand Under-20s faced a quick turnaround as they aimed to pick things back up for game 2 against Bulgaria.
The back-to-back situation would prove too much however, losing their second game of the tournament 9-0. They now find themselves out of contention to progress beyond the preliminary rounds with only the top-two teams advancing to the semifinal rounds. In group B, China and Bulgaria both have 6 points and look set to qualify.
The first period saw Konstantin Dikov, Ivailo Penchev, and Kaloyan Vachkov score to give Bulgaria a 3-0 lead.
NZ came close to drawing back the gap by putting in a stronger second period performance with scoring chances coming on the powerplay. However, much like game 1, the Junior Ice Blacks struggled to get meaningful shots on goal with Bulgaria out-shooting them 2:1 (42-21).
Starting goalie Drew Kinney had a strong outing for New Zealand despite the final score as he continuously held back the Bulgarian attack on several close range opportunities – his glove hand proving to be a difference maker on those attempts.
But the run support hasn’t been there for him so far this tournament with one goal in two games. For extended periods of time they were often hemmed into their own zone, suffocated by the aggressive Bulgarian forecheck and unable to clear the puck in transition through to the forwards.
The U20s never looked like giving up, however fatigue had other ideas. It clearly showed that they were playing the second half of a back-to-back. Shots and passes both weren’t connecting as crisply with their sticks as they could have.
The highlight of the game was Miroslav Vasilev’s individual effort to extend Bulgaria’s lead to 5-0. On the man-advantage with 1:25 remaining in the second period, Vasilev begins the move from behind his own net, streaking past four defenders before beating the goalie with a swift backhand-to-forehand move.
New Zealand will get a chance to regroup and come back strong with their third and final game of round robin against South Africa on Thursday night (2:30am Friday NZ time).
You can imagine the U20s will come out firing looking to prove they can play better hockey and push for a higher finishing position. The pieces are there, now it’s time to click together.
Main photo supplied by Ice Hockey Iceland