by HENRIK MANNINEN
Israel bounced back from their two losses in the Olympic Qualification by winning a tight final game 5-2. Despite being outshot 30-24, 19-year-old Ilya Spektor became the hero of the day for Israel as he sealed his hat trick and the win thanks to an empty netter with to go. Maxim Gokhberg in the Israeli net made 28 saves.
Israel's head coach Derek Eisler had ahead of this match called on his team to redeem themselves from a 10-5 defeat to Bulgaria at the 2015 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship Division II Group A in South Africa last spring.
Captain Martin Boyadjiev had put Bulgaria in front at as he picked up the puck on the right during an ineffective Israeli power play and skated past a passive rearguard to finish high past Gokhberg for the only goal of the first period.
Having been outshot 9-4 in the first period, Israel came out with renewed energy in the second frame after a few well-chosen words during the intermission by head coach Eisler. After managing to ride out an initial storm on box play it was the individual skill of captain Spektor that got them back into the game as he picked up the puck at centre ice and skated through the cumbersome Bulgarian back line and slotted the puck past Bulgaria's netminder Dimitar Dimitrov for Israel's equalizer and the sole goal of the period.
Once the third frame was underway Rosen Hristov's low shot at got Bulgaria back in front but Israel was not to give up that easily on this afternoon and it was Spektor, who once again tied the game as he skated clear at with a goal that invigorated the Israeli team.
With the game very much in balance, Bulgaria piled the pressure and with Israel's Nissim Botbol sitting out two minutes for holding offence, Georgi Iskrenov created havoc but couldn't get the puck behind Gokhberg and Bulgaria's spurned chances proved costly as on an Israeli breakaway Raiter found Roey Aharonovich, who found the net as Israel had turned the game at to go 3-2 in front.
Bulgaria, who for the first time this tournament played the entire goalie with one goalie, pulled Dimitrov with to go, but despite piling up pressure, it was Israel's Aharonovich, who got hold of a loose puck and found Spektor, who thanks to an empty netter scored his third of the game before further misery was added to Bulgaria's afternoon when Israeli prospect Ori Kafri netted the final goal with 50 seconds to go.
"Both teams were pretty equal, but in the end they wanted it more," said Bulgaria's Iskrenov. "We played alright for a period or so, then got down in the second, but I thought it could have been anyone's game, but unfortunately I could not buy a goal today."
Meanwhile in the winning camp, Eisler, now in his second year working with Israel's senior team and with a previous experience of working with Israel's junior set-up sees the victory as a sign of progress as he is set to continue down the road of transition in Israeli hockey.