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By Jack Gallagher –IIHF.com

Kazakhstan captured the gold medal in the men’s top division at the 2017 Asian Winter Games with a comprehensive 7-0 victory over Japan on Sunday afternoon at Tsukisamu Gymnasium.

Yaroslav Yevdokimov and Ilya Kovzalov had two goals each in the win for Kazakhstan, with Konstantin Savenkov, Kirill Savitski and Madiyar Ibraibekov also scoring.

Japan struggled against their bigger and faster opponents, who dominated puck possession for the majority of the contest, and outshot the hosts 41-12.

“This game was very important. We got off to a very good start,” Kazakhstan coach Sergei Starygin commented. “We have a young team here, but we will have the official national team at the World Championship [Division I Group A] in April.”

Despite the scoreline, Starygin indicated the triumph was hard-earned.

“Japan has a strong team, so we prepared well for this,” Starygin said. “It was not an easy game for us.”

Kazakhstan came into the final with a 2-0 record, having defeated Korea (4-0) and China (8-0) in the four-team tournament for a total 19-0 goal record in three games.

Japan was 1-1 with a victory over China (14-0) and a loss to Korea (4-1). Japan needed to beat Kazakhstan by four goals to win the gold medal.

Korea, which beat China 10-0 earlier on Sunday, claimed the silver medal with six points, with Japan (three points) settling for the bronze. The final ranking does represented the hierarchy of the four Asian countries in last year’s World Championship program.

“We played well today and had some good moments,” said Kazakhstan captain Savenkov. “I promise that this will be only the start of the goals for my career because I am very young.”

Starygin told his players beforehand to retain their poise and stay with their game plan.

“We wanted to play the right way and not have any distractions like fighting,” Savenkov stated. “We knew we had better speed and skills than them.”

Kazakhstan wasted little time getting on the board Sunday, with Yevdokimov beating Japan goalie Yutaka Fukufuji from close in on the right side just 31 seconds into the first period.

“It was a very emotional game and an important result for us,” said Yevdokimov. “We had good speed and moved well. It was important that we had a good start in the first period. We felt confident after that.”

While Kazakh KHL team Barys Astana is busy in the playoffs, the players like Savenkov and Yevdokimov were recruited from the Kazakh league.

The Kazakhs tallied again less than two minutes later when Kovzalov scored. The margin went to 3-0 at 15:14 of the period when Savitski flipped a shot past Fukufuji from close range.

Ibraibekov made it 4-0 when he ripped a blast from the slot at 7:16 following a pair of nice passes from Maxim Volkov and Ilgiz Nuriev, who were both credited with assists on the play.

Japan pulled Fukufuji for Takuto Onoda with 6:48 remaining in the first period, but the damage had been done.

Kazakhstan scored on a power play at 10:21 of the second period when Yevdokimov punched a rebound of his own shot past Onoda. The advantage ballooned to 6-0 with just over four minutes remaining in the frame when Savenkov fired in a slap shot from the point.

Kazakhstan closed out the scoring with 1:27 left in the final period on a goal by Kovzalov.

Japan coach Takahito Suzuki bemoaned how his team was put in an early hole by the Kazakhs.

“We didn’t play very well in front of our own goal today in the first period and that was key,” noted Suzuki. “We need to improve our one-on-one game moving forward.”

Suzuki acknowledged that the Kazakhstan players utilized some of their strong points in the tournament.

“They have good skills and big bodies and have improved in the past few years,” Suzuki said. “We lost (4-1) to Kazakhstan in the final of the last Asian Winter Games in 2011 in a closer match.”

Thailand won the Division I tournament with four regular-time victories and an overtime win for 14 points, with Chinese Taipei taking second on 12 points, and the United Arab Emirates (9 points) coming in third.

Turkmenistan prevailed in the Division II competition, defeating Kyrgyzstan 7-3 in Sunday’s final. The Philippines, who like Turkmenistan gave their international debut, routed Macau 9-2 in the third-place game.