Halla pick up wins on the road at Daemyung
Only two teams were in action this weekend. It was an all Korean affair as Anyang Halla made the trip not too far up the road to Incheon to faceoff against the Daemyung Killer Whales.
Having not played in the second game in Nikko during the previous midweek games there was some concern about the fitness of Halla goaltender Matt Dalton. These fears were confirmed as Hyun Ho Hwang was named on the teamsheet to start between the pipes, with Jong Hun Chun as his backup. This was also the first chance for a lot of the Halla fans to see Masahito Suzuki in action, this being his first game for Halla in Korea since his groin injury after the first game of the season. Halla always seems to play better when they are in Korea but Daemyung were not expected to be a walkover given some of their impressive performances in the league this season.
Neither team gave up much in the opening exchanges, with Halla just shading it in terms of clear-cut chances but they were the first to get on the score sheet from a powerplay in the 15th minute of the first period. Eric Regan finding Min Ho Cho on the left side of the offensive area, who was able to place a shot through the 5-hole of Tyler Weiman. A nice shot but you would have felt Weiman could have done better. Daemyung finished the period strongly, getting a number of shots on Hwang‘s net just before intermission, but unable to get themselves on the board.
The second period saw Woo Sang Park double Halla’s lead with less than two minutes gone on the clock. Some excellent interplay between Scott Barney and Ruslan Bernikov on the left side allowed Bernikov to slide a beautifully weighted pass to the right wing into the path of Woo Sang who had plenty of time and space to one touch the puck past Weiman‘s left pad. Daemyung once again went in search of a goal before Doo Hyun Hwang, following his shot on goal, lost his balance and crashed head first into the boards at full speed. Doo Hyun appeared to be hurt pretty badly and needed to be assisted off the ice. From the restart, Halla picked up the puck through Ki Sung Kim and headed down the ice. After some work behind the net by Sang Wook Kim, he got the puck back to Ki Sung in front of the net who could hit the twine for Halla’s third of the day. Just over halfway through the period, Woo Sang Park was once again on the scoresheet, this time a shorthanded effort. Woo Sang started and finished the move as he was able to dig out the puck from his own defensive area and get it to Kuk Hwan Mun who raced forward forcing a two on one in the offensive zone. Kuk Hwan only needed a simple pass to set up Woo Sang to smash a shot into the roof of Weiman‘s net for his second of the game and Halla’s fourth.Clearly not happy with Weiman‘s contribution so far, Daemyung coach, Kevin Constantine, switched Weiman out for backup goalie Chang Min Lee after 31:40. Just under two minutes later Don Ku Lee got to hit the showers early after catching Yae Hun Hwang high with a challenge on the center line. Don Ku subsequently received a 5 min Checking to the Head penalty and a Game Misconduct for his troubles.
Almost three minutes into the third-period goal number five came for Halla. A very fortunate backhand pass from Woo Sang, which was fresh aired by one Daemyung player before going through the legs of another, found it’s way to the stick of Scott Barney who only had to slide the puck across net to Ruslan Bernikov for the easiest of tap-ins. Both teams traded shots on goal with both Chang Min and Hyun Ho making some good saves before Scott Barney and Bernikov combined well again going forward to get Bernikov his second of the night with 4:20 left on the clock. Then with just under 5 seconds remaining in the game, Ruslan Bernikov‘s nonchalant backhand on net was inadvertently deflected past Chang Min off the stick of Ho Sung Lee to give Bernikov his hattrick on the day and 100th Asia League goal.
Daemyung 0:7 Halla
Following the blowout in game 1, we expected to see some kind of retaliation on the scoreboard from Daemyung. Matt Dalton was still out injured so Hyun Ho kept his spot after picking up a shutout in the previous game.Doo Hyun Hwang was also out for the Killer Whales after his heavy collision into the boards the day before. After a fairly even opening exchange, Daemyung were first off the mark today. Following an initial save by Hyun Ho in the Halla net, Bong Jin Lee picked up the loose puck behind the net to set up Yae Hun Hwang for a one-timer past Hyun Ho into the back of the net, although it may have taken a slight deflection off the skate of Min Ho Cho.
Following some good saves from Hyun Ho again to keep the score at 1:0, Halla were able to tie up the game five minutes into the second period. Some great work by Min Ho Cho all around the net allowed him to get the puck to the onrushing Sang Woo Shin who was able to find his way past a couple of defensemen before squeezing a shot through the five-hole of Tyler Weiman. Both teams went on to make a few more chances each but nothing good enough to break the deadlock.
The third period started off quickly with Tyler Weiman having to pull off a fantastic string of saves to deny Brock Radunske and keep the score tied. With just over 7 minutes gone in the period, Daemyung were back in the ascendency. Young Jun Lee was able to come out of a battle with Alex Plante with possession of the puck, he got the puck to Bum Jin Kim who’s shot on goal was blocked by Hyun Ho‘s pad but went straight to the waiting Brett Parnham for his 9th goal of the season.
Then with just over 90 seconds left in the game one of the strangest calls in a hockey game I’ve seen to date occurred. The referee in the Daemyung defensive zone had moved away from the boards towards the net as to not obstruct the puck in play. Although not in the way of the puck it seemed as though he was going to be in the way of some of the players. After Sang Won Yoon narrowly missed the ref, Ryan Caldwell, turning back towards the net in pursuit of the puck and unaware of the ref’s position, bumped into the referee. Caldwell got on with his job as a defenseman, got around the ref and got his stick down ready to block any shots. As he got his stick down and in position, it appeared to make light contact with the ankle of the referee. The ref blew the whistle and a Match Penalty was issued to Caldwell.
With not much time left Halla threw everything they had and the kitchen sink at Daemyung, and it paid off. With just 5 seconds left on the clock Sang Wook Kim‘s shot from deep hit Tyler Weiman‘s left-hand post and into the back of the net to send the game into OT. Still hurting from the 5min penalty for the Caldwell incident they had received, Daemyung had to skate with a man down for most of OT. This worked in Halla’s favor as Eric Regan was able to pop up with just over 3 of the 5 minutes gone to blast home the GWG. Daemyung 2:3 Halla
The end of the game saw some unsavory scenes develop as Daemyung skated straight off the ice and refused to shake hands with any of the Halla players. Some lewd gestures and strong words were given out by some of the Daemyung players as well as their coaching staff which ruined what had been an exciting game of hockey to watch for the neutrals. No doubt frustration boiled over for some of the players and staff, especially in regards to the Caldwell decision, but starting scenes usually only found in junior hockey leagues is not something a team of professional players should be doing.
Halla looked to have found their scoring shoes again on Saturday but on Sunday they were back to the story of their season so far, not putting away chances and getting caught on the break or with loose pucks. They definitely need to cut down on wasted opportunities if they want to guarantee a playoff spot and try to make it deep into the postseason.
Daemyung in the Sunday game once again showed the improvements they have made since last season, toe to toe they can hang with most of the teams in the league, albeit they were fired up from the previous game which may have helped. If they want to make the playoffs they need to get more consistent and grind out wins especially against the teams in the bottom half of the table. It’s always going to be hard to beat Halla, Sakhalin and the Freeblades, as they have been the top 3 teams over the last number of seasons, but they are more than capable of beating any of the other teams in the league. They need to pinpoint these games as 6 pointers, 3 points gained for you and 3 points dropped for them, and go all out to win them. If they can get a few more wins off these teams then they definitely have a chance of picking up a top 5 spot and their first-ever playoff berth.
Coming into the final stretch of the season Sakhalin, Freeblades, Halla and , to an extent, the Icebucks seem to be opening a little bit of a gap at the top of the table. At this moment in time, I would say the current top 3 are the favorites to make the playoffs. The Icebucks are up in 4th place but the next two teams, the Eagles and Cranes, are only 5 points behind with 4 games in hand on the Bucks. The Bucks main problem, as it has been for the last couple of seasons, has been holding onto leads when they have them. If they can kill games off they have a good chance of making the postseason. The bottom 4 teams are all extremely tight. The difference between 5th and 8th place is 2 points so I can see this turning into a dogfight for the next month and a half. Sakhalin have looked dominant but not unbeatable this season, similarly, Daemyung and High1, in 7th and 8th place respectively, have shown they can beat anyone on any given day so this should make for some interesting games.
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