In day two action from the IIHF Division 2B World Championship in Mexico City, the New Zealand Ice Blacks have hit a bump on the road to gold after losing 5-3 to Israel in what was a closely fought battle throughout.
Israel controlled the flow of the game early on and showed that perhaps their 6-3 win over Iceland yesterday wasn’t an upset as initially thought. Evgeni Kozhevnikov opened the scoring eight minutes into the game to put New Zealand behind 1-0.
Following on from that goal, the Ice Blacks struggled to get through the neutral zone to mount their own attacks with several icing penalties called against them, hemming the New Zealand side in their own zone.
Six minutes later New Zealand forward Frazer Ellis drew an interference penalty against Israel’s Itay Ben Tov, with a second infraction by Israel moments later giving the Ice Blacks a two-man advantage for 21 seconds.
While time expired on the first penalty, the NZ attack enjoyed sustained pressure and kept the momentum of their powerplay going from yesterday’s game – Matt Schneider using his quick wrist shot to beat Israel’s starting goalie Nir Tichon.
With the score 1-1 after the first period, this could have been anyone’s game. New Zealand head coach Anatoly Khorozov and former NHL centre come Israel head coach Bobby Holik were locked into their own battle to see who could take the advantage.
The powerplay chances continued to come New Zealand’s way but were unable to convert despite enjoying a wealth of possession. Against the run of play Israel scored the go-ahead goal with eleven minutes remaining in the second period.
The Israelis doubled their lead late in the second, Evgeni Kozhevnikov scoring his second of the night by beating Ice Blacks goalie Rick Parry on an unassisted breakaway.
Eager to ignite a third period comeback for New Zealand, Paris Heyd closed the gap down to one after cutting through the offensive zone to send the puck over the shoulder of goalie Tichon.
The momentum gained from that play was quickly quashed however when Ellis was penalised for a late hit, a new rule put in place by the IIHF as of this season. Kozhevnikov scored his hat-trick goal on the ensuing powerplay.
The back and forward continued midway through the final period. Stefan Amston’s recent run of form saw the Queenstown-based defender bag his second goal in consecutive games, sending home his own rebound to claw the Ice Blacks back within one.
It was all to no avail however, with Parry pulled from New Zealand’s crease to provide an extra attacker, Israel scored an empty-net goal to seal the deal and bury the Ice Blacks’ hopes of going five-for-five in 2019.
Such is the harsh reality of these short five-game tournaments, New Zealand will now need to win their remaining three game in regulation and hope other results go in their favour to keep their aspirations for gold alive.
The Ice Blacks have a day off tomorrow to recover from back-to-back games before facing their next opponent, Georgia, on Thursday (NZ time). Puck drop is scheduled for 6am.