World Juniors 2018: Belarus vs. Denmark recap — Sweet Victory

Denmark ensures their appearance in the Top Division next year with a 3-2 shootout victory against Belarus.

After blowing a 2-0 lead, and then coming back with two goals in 19 seconds to win at the last minute in regulation in the first game, Denmark avoided relegation with a 3-2 shootout win to sweep the best-of-three series.

After being out with a suspension for the first game against Belarus, Danish captain Christian Mathiasen-Wejse returned, and Kasper Krog once more got the start.

The game got off to an inauspicious beginning for the Danes, who took a high sticking call just four seconds in. However, the penalty kill made short work of it. Belarus looked stronger than they head through most of the first game, getting four shots to Denmark's one in the first half of the period. Denmark began to push back and find a better rhythm. Mathiasen-Wejse rang the cross-bar on a really nice chance, but with 10:00 to go, it was still tied 0-0.

Daniel Nielsen scored the game's first goal at 10:47, following a good offensive zone shift from the Danes, and a nice behind-the-net pass from Joachim Blichfeld. They went up 2-0 once again with 7:37 to go when Blichfeld's shot squeaked past Andrei Grishenko and Jonas Rondbjerg shoved it across the line.

Head coach Yuri Faikov elected to pull Grishenko following the goal, and sent out Dmitri Rodik in his place. Belarus got a few nice looks immediately afterwards, but Denmark returned the pressure, and with 2:19 to go, drew a high-sticking call. Denmark's power play looked good, moving the puck well, and getting a couple of chances, including another post from Phillip Schultz, but Rodik held the line, and at the end of 20, the score remained 2-0, shots 11-7 for Denmark.

Denmark was whistled off-side for what otherwise would have been a gorgeous two-on-one to start the second, and Belarus got an opportunity of their own going the other way, but Krog smothered the puck.

After getting out to a 3-1 shot lead in the frame, Belarus took an interference penalty 4:14 into the period. The power play did eventually establish possession, but they only got one shot off, and Denmark took a hooking call almost immediately afterwards, as Setkov took a hooking call in a bid to avoid a goal. As is their MO, the Danish penalty kill blocked a ton of shots, and what they didn't block, Krog took care of, which was fortunate, since they headed to the penalty kill once more shortly thereafter.

Blichfeld took a nasty hit with 9:15 to go, and had to be stretchered off, while Dmitri Deryabin received a boarding major, and a game misconduct. Blichfeld gave a thumbs up as he was taken off, and the game resumed 4-on-4 before a lengthy Danish power play. Denmark held the puck in the offensive zone for a large portion of the advantage, and got a couple of shots, but were unable to capitalize yet again.

After 40, shots were 19-16 for the Danes, who still led 2-0.

With 20 minutes between them and relegation, Belarus struggled to get going until Neilsen boarded Sergei Pishuk. Fortunately, Pishuk appeared none-the-worse for wear, and Neilsen only got a minor. Less fortunately, Denmark put themselves down 5-on-3 for 1:14 when Rasmus Heine took an elbowing penalty on a slightly weak call.

They gave up a goal against at the very tale end of the five-on-three, giving Belarus life, and cutting the lead in half with 11:06 to go. Belarus scored again with 11 seconds left on the elbowing call, and just like that, Maxim Sushko and Illya Litinov had tied the game.

Denmark got a chance on the power play to re-take the lead at 10:08. They were unable to muster so much as a shot, and with relegation on the line, Belarus pressed hard.

As time ticked down, Denmark got back on their horse, and got some good shifts in, but neither team could break the deadlock. Denmark had a pretty good chance with 50 seconds to go, but Rodik, who was terrific for Belarus, jumped on the rebound.

Regulation wasn't enough to solve the tie, and the game went into 4-on--4 overtime. Belarus pressured, but Denmark was able to hold them off, and counter-punch. Denmark drew a power play 4:07 into OT. Olaf Eller called his time-out and then the Danes went to work. They got just inches away from the goal, but were unable to capitalize, thanks to the play of Rodik. Belarus very nearly took a too many men call, but avoided it by diving head first into the bench.

In the last couple of minutes, both teams got decent looks, but were unable to beat the respective goalies, despite a couple of close calls on both sides. After each team picked up five shots in overtime, the game went to the shoot out.

Ivan Drozdov and Vladislav Mikhalchuk scored for Belarus, while Andreas Grundtvig, Lucas Andersen, Jacob Schmidt-Svejstrup, and Jonas Rondbjerg all scored, giving Denmark the victory.

Denmark's players of the tournament were their leading goalscorers Jonas Rondbjerg (seven points), and Joachim Blichfeld (six points), and defenseman Jeppe Mogensen, while Krog was their player of the game. Belarus’ players of the tournament were Vladislav Yeryomenkok, Ivan Drozdov, and Maxim Sushko.

Denmark's two relegation round victories ensure that they'll appear next year in the top pool for their fifth straight year, while Belarus returns once again to Division IA.

"It’s unbelievable for Denmark’s hockey program. The seniors did an amazing job and are top-16 in the world, and here (the U20’s) are top 10. It’s amazing for Danish ice hockey,” head coach Olaf Eller said after the game.

“And we started getting so that we can really feel in Danish ice hockey that it is going. It's in the NHL, and it's going through that in the junior system. You have to play in the A pool. It starts that everybody is working for more physicality, to get better prepared for having a challenge, because it is such a huge event.

"The message was try to keep playing, try to stick to our game plan, but I think we didn't succeed in that very well. All credit to Belarus, they did a really, really great job when they get the chance. Score two — five-on-three, five-on-four — and from that point almost took over the game the rest of the time.

“In that 20 minutes, we didn't really get that control over the game as we hoped for. For the first 15 I think we more or less controlled the game. But the penalties turned the game over, and they took advantage on that, and all credit to the Belarusians for an impressive two games."

There was also an encouraging update on Blichfeld.

“I have heard that he's ok, but he still needs x-rays. They test by the moves he was able to do, that he should be good," Eller said. The coach added that he didn't know exactly what the injury was but "saw that his neck was really sore."

He was also pleased with the way his team responded to the injuries to a couple of key players.

“We had already lost Nikolaj Krag (concussion), who is our best centreman, and then when we lost our best goal-scorer, it's tough, but I think that it says something about both Danish ice hockey and the team here that when it was most against, they stepped up really, really well.

“The first game as well. We missed three forwards, so we went through the first game with only 10 forwards. Without Krag, without Svejstrup, without Wesje — three key players — we went through that, so they were more or less used to adversity, and they got through it again today, and that shows a lot of character here in our group."

In the four straight years they've been in the Top Division, that character and resilience has been the beating heart of the Danes, who have never been strangers to overcoming adversity.

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