GREAT BRITAIN Under-20s were forced to settle for a World Championship bronze medal in Dumfries, missing out on promotion on the final day.
With first place in the Division 2A tournament and the accompanying promotion at stake in Saturday night’s meeting with Japan, hopes were high for Slava Koulikov’s team – which contained Sheffield Steelers’ duo Cole Shudra and Liam Kirk.
But, following a positive week in Dumfries, they were beaten 5-2, a result which saw their opponents move up to Division 1 Group B, with Korea – who beat the hosts 5-4 after a shoot-out on Thursday night – earning the silver medal after they finished their schedule with a 5-2 win over Romania.
Afterwards, head coach Koulikov – a former Hull Stingrays forward – said: “It’s a difficult one to take. There were two good teams out on the ice who gave it their all.
“All in all I think it was a very even game – you could say they maybe had a bit more luck, but I’m very proud of the group of guys that we’ve had here this week.
“Every single player bought into the coaching team’s views and tactics and everything we tried to give to them, they tried to execute.
“I’m just proud of them for even just setting up a gold medal game here, but, ultimately, it just wasn’t meant to be.”
Great Britain found themselves chasing the game when they went in 2-0 behind at the first break.
Japan went ahead when Masato Kume slid the puck past Jordan Lawday on a rebound at 4.22 before Daiki Miura doubled the advantage just over four minutes later after constant pressure on the powerplay.
Sam Duggan was denied from point-blank range after teenager Kirk broke down the right-hand side moments after coming out of the penalty box.
The hosts came out hard in period two with both Shudra and Jordan Buesa going close on the same shift.
But star propsect Kirk, who along with Shudra has blossomed under Paul Thompson at the Steelers this season, took his tournament tally to seven goals and halved the deficit when he closed the gap by firing through traffic into the roof of the net during a five-on-three powerplay (29:21).
Lawday then pulled off a magnificent point-bank save from Hiroya Tokuda on the powerplay to keep the deficit to one after 40 minutes.
But Japan took a two-goal lead again when Hayato Aiki bundled in a rebound at 42.33 and they made it 4-1 with Miura’s shot on the powerplay at 51.09.
I’m just proud of them for even just setting up a gold medal game here, but, ultimately, it just wasn’t meant to be.GB Under-20s coach, Slava Koulikov
Koulikov took his timeout at 55.22 and lifted netminder Lawday for the extra skater, the move paying off almost immediately when Shudra netted on the rebound at 55.37.
But, despite a further three minutes of relentless pressure, the hosts were unable to find a way past Eiki Sato, Junki Shinoda wrapping up the game with a last-minute empty-net strike.