Category: World Championships (page 1 of 8)

Tre Kronor golden again!

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By Lucas Aykroyd IIHF.com

Filip Forsberg’s shootout goal lifted Sweden to a 3-2 win over Switzerland and a second straight IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship gold medal in Copenhagen on Sunday.

Forsberg coolly shot low to the glove side to beat Swiss goalie Leonardo Genoni. Oliver Ekman-Larsson also scored earlier in the shootout, as did Switzerland’s Sven Andrighetto. When Swedish netminder Anders Nilsson foiled Nino Niederreiter with his blocker, the celebration was on at Copenhagen’s Royal Arena.

Winning gold via the shootout under head coach Rikard Gronborg has become a habit for the boys in blue and yellow. Tre Kronor last won back-to-back titles in 1991 (Turku) and 1992 (Prague).

In regulation time, Gustav Nyqvist and Mika Zibanejad scored for Sweden. Nino Niederreiter and Timo Meier scored for Switzerland, while Roman Josi added two assists.

The underdog Swiss tragically missed their chance to win their first World Championship ever. While this was a huge achievement after only making the quarter-finals twice in the preceding four years, the loss will still sting for a long time. You just couldn’t come any closer to success.

The defending champions outshot Switzerland 38-27, giving Genoni another busy night after the 3-2 semi-final upset over Canada.

Nilsson, who made the tournament all-star team, entered with a tournament-leading 1.00 GAA and 95.9 save percentage. The towering 28-year-old Lulea native was well-protected in Denmark with an NHL-loaded defence corps, including fellow all-stars Ekman-Larsson and Adam Larsson, but he also rebounded after a lackluster season with the Vancouver Canucks.

The Swedes went wire-to-wire without losing a game. And although the Canadians finished fourth with a disappointing 4-1 bronze medal loss to the United States earlier, the motherland of hockey provided a subtext to this game.

Last year, Nicklas Backstrom got the shootout winner as Sweden edged Canada 2-1 for gold in Cologne. Canada was also the last nation to win back-to-back titles (2015, 2016).

It was a big bounceback for both Sweden and Switzerland after February’s PyeongChang Olympics. There, Germany shocked Switzerland 2-1 in the qualification playoffs and Sweden 4-3 in the quarterfinals, both in overtime.

This was a rematch of the 2013 World Championship final in Stockholm. There, Josi was named tournament MVP with another Cinderella squad, but Tre Kronor triumphed 5-1 with the help of late arrivals Henrik and Daniel Sedin. The victory broke the 27-year-old Worlds “home ice curse,” which dated back to the 1986 Soviet gold medal in Moscow.

This final attracted an enthusiastic sellout crowd of 12,490, dominated by yellow Tre Kronor jerseys, but also featuring lots of Swiss red and cowbells. It was a fitting climax to a tournament that exceeded expectations by selling more than 500,000 tickets.

The Swedes quickly settled into their puck possession groove, but the first good chance went to Niederreiter, who nearly finished off a three-way passing play on the rush by Nilsson’s right post. Seconds later, Viktor Arvidsson, who scored twice in the 6-0 semi-final win over the Americans, got in behind the Swiss defence. He had Genoni beaten with his deke, but backhanded the puck wide through the crease.

At 11:25, Niederreiter took the first penalty when he high-sticked Arvidsson deep in the Swiss zone. The Swedes peppered Genoni with shots, but couldn’t break through.

Atoning for his error, Niederreiter opened the scoring at 16:38. Off a faceoff at the Swedish blue line, Josi carried the puck into the Swiss zone and lost it in a thicket of Swedish defenders, but the Minnesota Wild veteran followed up and pushed it past a surprised Nilsson

Tre Kronor struck back just 1:16 later. With Hornqvist providing the screen in front, Nyqvist knocked down a Mattias Ekhom pass in the high slot and flung the puck over Genoni’s glove. The teams went to the dressing rooms tied 1-1 despite Sweden’s 13-7 edge in shots.

Early in the second period, Nyqvist played the goat when he high-sticked Ramon Untersander, Switzerland’s top-scoring defenceman. The power play looked like it would pass uneventfully – until Enzo found a wide-open Meier streaking down right wing. The San Jose Sharks youngster unleashed a wrister from the faceoff circle that beat Nilsson under his stick arm to make it 2-1 at 3:13. It was the first Swiss shot of the period with 10 seconds left in the man advantage.

Even though the recently retired Sedins aren’t here, the Swedes hemmed Switzerland in with great Sedin-style cycling for long stretches after the midway point. It paid off with Zibanejad’s 2-2 power play goal at 14:53 after Corvi went off for holding. Ekman-Larsson sent the puck cross-ice to the New York Rangers star, and he fired a wrister from the top of the right faceoff circle that sailed home.

Nilsson redeemed himself for the iffy Meier goal when he made huge, back-to-back blocker saves on Sven Andrighetto and Simon Moser in the last two minutes of the middle frame. At the other end, Genoni came out to stop Arvidsson’s slap shot on a 2-on-1 rush just before the buzzer.

The third period was cautiously played until Swedish captain Mikael Backlund stole the puck from Meier at centre and burst in for a backhand attempt. Josi hauled him down as Genoni made a left pad save, and the Swedish power play went to work again at the seven-minute mark. Solid positional play denied the Swedes. 

However, in a weird sequence, Josi went straight back into the penalty box because he had failed to exit it completely. He got an interference play for touching the puck while still standing inside the penalty box gate. Outraged by the call, the Swiss fans whistled deafeningly.

On the ensuing man advantage, Ekman-Larsson exploded down the middle on a solo rush and got shaken up when he crashed into the goal post and the end boards. However, the Arizona Coyotes workhorse would carry on. The Swedes got one more mind-blowing chance in the final minute of the third when Ekholm streaked in unopposed, but couldn’t beat Genoni.

Ekman-Larsson also had a superb chance near the eight-minute mark of overtime when Rakell found him with a back pass on the rush, but Genoni was there again as Ekman-Larsson went flying over a Swiss defender. A few minutes later, the Swiss goalie made a great glove grab on John Klingberg’s quick release from the high slot.

The Swiss came within a hair’s-breadth of victory when Kukan centered it from behind the goal line to Fiala in the slot, forcing Nilsson into a stunning glove save. At the other end, Larsson hammered one off the goal post with under three seconds left in sudden-death.

Prior to 2013’s silver, all the Swiss World Championship medals came prior to the modern era of international hockey that kicked off with the Soviet Union’s golden 1954 Worlds debut: silver in 1935, and bronze in 1930, 1937, 1939, 1950, 1951, and 1953.

With Sweden and Switzerland facing off for gold twice in six years, this could mark a new rivalry in international hockey. Where will it go next? Can the Swedes three-peat? Will the Swiss be back for more? Join us again for the 2019 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship in Slovakia (Bratislava and Kosice).

Bronze for Team USA

By Andy Potts – IIHF.com

Team USA claimed World Championship bronze – and local bragging rights – after it downed Canada 4-1 in Sunday’s afternoon’s match-up in Copenhagen. Chris Kreider led the way with two goals, Nick Bonino claimed the game-winner and Anders Lee scored the first of two empty-netters to give the Americans a winning scoreline that was more comfortable than the game suggested. Marc-Edouard Vlasic delivered Canada’s reply late in the second period.
The decisive goal came with six minutes left to play. Patrick Kane’s slapshot took a deflection on its way to McIlhenney’s pads and bounced away kindly for Nick Bonino to spring into action and push the puck into an empty net. That put the Americans 2-1 up and on the way to securing hardware for the first time since 2015’s bronze-medal campaign in the Czech Republic.
 
It was also a significant landmark for Kane. His assist brought up 20 points for the tournament, the first time a player has reached that tally since Danny Heatley (12+8) for Canada in 2008. Kane is also poised to become the first American player to top the scoring race since 1949, when centre Bruce Mather led the way with 19 goals as the USA took bronze in Stockholm.
There were still some nervous moments for the U.S. Ryan O’Reilly, Canada’s quarter-final hero, almost delivered another crucial blow with two minutes left. The puck dropped kindly for the Buffalo forward, but he squirted his shot wide of the mark. That miss was punished by Lee, who fired into the empty net from his own zone to wrap up the win for the Americans. Kreider then made absolutely sure with a fourth goal for the USA.

Bronze-medal games can sometimes feel like a chore for two teams still coming to terms with the abrupt crash of their championship dreams. That emotion is often intensified when the play-off puts together rosters with genuine hopes of winning it all and the opening period here was an illustration of precisely that.

It wasn’t that it was a poor game, exactly, but the early exchanges stubbornly refused to ignite in the manner we’ve come to expect from USA-Canada clashes of yore. The Americans made the brighter start and bossed the game for the first 10 minutes. Then a penalty on Connor Murphy brought Canada to the table – albeit only after a Dylan Larkin intercept in centre ice created a short-handed rush that drew a good save from Curtis McElhinney. Ironically, Keith Kincaid’s most eye-catching moment of the first frame also came with his team on the power play. Bo Horvat was bearing down on the net but Kincaid rushed from his crease to hack the puck to safety.

The opening goal took time to arrive but the USA finally turned its supremacy into a goal in the 27th minute. But while Chris Kreider’s finish – calmly dragging the puck around McElhinney’s outstretched leg – was composed, there was a kindly bounce on the play as Dylan Larkin’s feed into the Canadian zone got tangled up in Connor McDavid’s skates present Kreider with the chance for his third of the tournament.

Nick Bonino then got a great pass from Johnny Gaudreau and wriggled in front of Josh Bailey as he bore down on McElhinney’s net. This time, though, there was no space to squeeze the puck past the Canadian goalie. Canada was still struggling to create clear openings, but Matt Barzal almost fashioned one when he moved along the goal line to shoot from the doorstep. Kinkaid made a fumbling save but recovered to deny Ryan O’Reilly a sniff of the rebound.

The game’s pivotal moment came late in the second period. The Americans carved out a glorious chance to go 2-0 up when Bonino slid the puck across the face of the net for Nick Jensen at the back door, but the defenceman’s shot found the side netting and bounced to safety. Canada came straight back up the ice and swiftly punished that miss.

Marc-Edouard Vlasic got the tying goal, collecting a Bo Horvat feed between the hash marks and shooting home through traffic. In the space of 15 seconds, Canada went from staring down the barrel of a two-goal deficit to being right back in the game. But the third period saw the USA take control in the closing stages and leave Denmark with the bronze medals.

The puck stops here! Here comes the IIHF World Championships

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By CHP Post Online

Copenhagen and Herning bracing for fan influx as Denmark hosts tournament for first time.

On Friday, arguably the biggest sporting competition ever held in Denmark will commence when the puck drops on the 2018 IIHF World Championships in Copenhagen and Herning.

Over 300,000 tickets have already been sold and ice hockey fans from around the world are about to descend upon Denmark, which is hosting the massive annual event for the first time.

Day one sees several mouthwatering match-ups, including the US lacing up against their Canadian rivals at the Royal Arena in Copenhagen, and the Danish hosts facing off against Olympic silver medalists Germany at Jyske Bank Boxen in Herning.

Usual suspects favoured
2017 winners Sweden must be considered among the strongest favorites, along with Canada and Russia. The Swedes, who will bring at least 10 NHL’ers to the tournament, will be boosted by a massive fan base coming across the bridge to Denmark.

Canada are always rock solid. Brimming with NHL talent, the Canadians have made the last three finals, losing only one – to the Swedes last year.

The reigning Olympic champions Russia are also a force to be reckoned with. They did make a surprising coaching change recently, but the KHL has taken significant strides in recent years in terms of quality and they have some of the most gifted players on the planet. Can they work as a team?

Just outside the top three are Finland, the US and the Czechs. The Finns won in 2011 and were finalists in 2014 and 2016, while the Czechs won in 2010. And despite being a perennial powerhouse, the US have generally disappointed at the IIHF World Championships, last winning in 1960, but you know they’ll bring plenty of NHL players to Denmark.

Danish delight?
And how about those Danes? Can the underdogs mount an upset campaign on home ice? They’re missing the vast majority of their NHL players (yes the Stanley Cup scheduling issue persists), but they have managed to get legend Frans Nielsen (Detroit Red Wings) and top net minder Frederik Andersen (Toronto Maple Leafs).

Furthermore, a squad that includes five KHL players can’t be considered a slouch by any stretch of the imagination. No doubt, Canada, Finland and the US are big favourites to progress to the knockout stage from Group B, but the Danes are well capable to squeezing into that fourth place slot – a challenge that makes the opener against Germany so important.

Germany will likely also fancy their chances in Group B, while Slovakia might have the best chance of the outsiders to finish fourth in Group A behind stalwarts Sweden, Russia and the Czech Republic.

HE BETTING

The Big Six:
Canada 13/10
Russia 4/1
Sweden 4/1
Finland 10/1
USA 11/1
Czech Republic 14/1

Quarter-final contenders:
Switzerland 40/1
Germany 40/1
Slovakia 100/1
Denmark 125/1

Daring to dream:
Latvia 175/1
Norway 200/1
Belarus 250/1
France 300/1
Austria 750/1
South Korea 1,000/1

source: bwin.dk

Dutch Dominance

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By Joeri Loonen – IIHF.com

Similar to 2016, the Netherlands made sure their stay in Division IIA would be limited to just a single year. Carrying the pressure of being the gold medal favourite, the Netherlands thrived on home ice at the 2018 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship Division II Group A in Tilburg.

In front of a capacity crowd at the IJssportcentrum in Tilburg, the hosts did not leave anything to chance and defeated unbeaten Australia 9-2 on the final day to win promotion to Division IB. Serbia claimed bronze while Iceland was relegated to the Division IIB.

Although the colour of the medal is similar, the 2018 Dutch team is not to be compared with the one that won gold two years ago. The majority of the best Dutch players are representing the Tilburg Trappers team, which has successfully transitioned to the German Oberliga boasting three consecutive championship titles. Whereas the move to Germany offered the players to play at a more competitive level, the long playoff runs consequently resulted in the players to be unavailable to participate in the World Championships to represent the Netherlands.

No such issues this year as this year’s tournament schedule allowed for the Tilburg players to join the squad of head coach Doug Mason. No less than 15 players were selected by the veteran coach and it paid immediate dividends.

The Dutch dominated the scoring charts with the top six of the scoring leaders all donning the orange jersey. On top of that the Dutch defence was rock solid allowing just five goals in five games.

“The team was fantastic. From the very first minute until the last they have played super ice hockey,“ Mason lauded his players. “An unbeaten record makes a coach look good but with these players it made my job really easy.“

Playing in front of their home crowd, the Netherlands sent out a clear signal to the rest of the teams brushing aside China 7-0 in their opening game before settings aside Iceland 11-1.

Serbia was the first team that was able to somewhat neutralize the Dutch offence but eventually had to concede a 5-0 loss. The Netherlands recorded double digits once again in game 4 against neighbours Belgium, who were swept 10-2.

With four straight wins, the Netherlands were on course to complete their mission but they had to wait until the final game day before being able to lock the first spot. On Game Day 5, the hosts met an Australia side which had been a positive surprise all tournament long. The Ozzie team coached by Brad Vigon had impressed with a solid performance in Tilburg.

“I’m extremely proud of the guys to see how my team has achieved in Tilburg. Most players haven’t been playing competitively for seven months before we got here,“ Vigon refers to the Australian AIHL league only having started last week.

“The players have to make personal sacrifices in terms of funding and taking time off work to participate in this championship. We only had a single exhibition game in the Czech Republic, so I was anxious to see how the players responded during the tournament. I believe we took a step forward with Australian hockey capturing two consecutive silver medals.“

The Ozzies were off to a good start thanks to a pair of goals in the final two minutes to defeat Iceland 3-0 in game one which built the momentum.

Goaltender Anthony Kimlin recorded his second shutout against Belgium; 6-0 before his team scored three unanswered third period goals against China to claim a 3-1 victory.

Australia continued their run by dashing Serbia’s hopes of grinding out a gold medal after a penalty shot victory on day four. The Serbs started the game emphatically taking a 2-0 lead but saw Australia take over control of the game scoring four unanswered goals.

Credit to Serbia for not giving up. Marko Sretovic scored shorthanded to cut the deficit to one and with time running out and the goalie pulled, Petar Novakovic scored 10 seconds left to play to tie the game 4-4. Beau Taylor scored the fifth and decisive penalty shot ensuring Australia to remain unbeaten ahead of the clash against the Netherlands on the final day.

The Dutch were off to a great start against Australia taking the lead after just one minute and never looked back. Raymond van der Schuit converted a beautiful tic-tac-toe combination with Reno de Hondt and Danny Stempher. Five minutes later Van der Schuit scored his second of the game and defensemen Jurry Smid and Jordy van Oorschot also tallied to put a 4-0 lead after 20 minutes of play.

Australia was unable to keep up with the tempo of the Netherlands who outshot their opponents 66-19. Mickey Bastings and Jordy Verkiel had lifted the score to 6-0 before Kieren Webster put Australia on the scoreboard after 31 minutes.

Misery wasn’t done yet.

Defenceman Giovanni Vogelaar’s trademark booming slapshot has been terrorizing opposition netminders throughout the tournament and also against Australia he found the net twice. Vogelaar ended up as the tournament’s top goal scorer with eight goals.

“We kept our focus and stuck to our game plan for the full 60 minutes,” Vogelaar commented. “We always felt we were going to win this tournament. Most of the Tilburg Trappers players know by now what it takes to win and that mentality was brought over to the rest of the team.“

Eventually the scoring spree stopped at nine goals with Thomas Powell saving the honour for Australia with a late goal to make it 9-2.

“The moment that first goal came I knew it was going to be a long game. It was such a high-quality goal as well from high-quality players,“ admitted Vigon. “We felt like we had no pressure on us to play this game so we were loose. In the end of the day the Dutch were just plain better than us. They are at a different level than us.”

Newly promoted China finished a respectable fourth after victories over Iceland (3-1) and Belgium (5-2), which had to settle for fifth place. Avoiding relegation was the main goal for the team of head coach Jyrki Aho, who knows his team still has a long way to go if they want to be competitive for the 2022 Olympic Winter Games the country will host in Beijing.

Belgium coach Gil Paelinck was visibly upset after his team’s disappointing fifth place finish.

“We have been outworked by most teams here this week. Our guys let their heads down the moment we fell behind,” he expressed afterwards. “Some players entered the tournament with the wrong attitude coming off a good season with their club team. I had rather seen a hard working gritty team on the ice instead.”

Last year’s surprise team Iceland could not repeat miracles and was relegated to Division IIB. The team of head coach Vladimir Kolek lost the crucial match against China and bowed out the tournament pointless.

“It was unfortunate we could not select our best players for this tournament,” Kolek said. “We now had to play a number of young players who are not yet ready for this level. Each game we made a couple of costly mistakes we could not overcome. However, I’m confident they will use this experience to improve and compete for promotion next year.”

Great Britain & Italy up!

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By Martin Merk IIHF.com

“We are going up! We are going up!” the British fans chanted on the tribune. 15.8 seconds were missing in regulation time that changed everything. For a long time it looked like host Hungary would win the game in regulation time and get promoted together with Kazakhstan in a four-team tie at nine points. But the last-minute bounce made Great Britain tournament winner and Italy will be promoted too as second-placed team.

After the 2-2 tie the rest of the game wouldn’t change anything anymore but Great Britain continued its party on the ice by beating Hungary in shootout with Ben O’Connor scoring the winning goal in the fifth round. Great Britain tried to get into the game for most of the time and outshot Hungary 43-33.

It was the fitting ending of a tournament that was full of drama, surprises and a tight standing from the first to the last day, to the last game and the last minute. Five teams were still in run for promotion before the final day and four teams could still have made it before the last game’s result.

For Great Britain it will be a return to the top division after 24 years. And like in the ‘90s they made it from the third to the top tier with two consecutive promotions.

While Hungary and Italy will be promoted to the 2019 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship in Slovakia, Kazakhstan had to settle for bronze before Hungary, Slovenia and Poland, which will be relegated.

In front of a loud and passionate sell-out home crowd of 7,870 spectators Hungary had a perfect start also thanks to a tripping call against British goaltender Ben Bowns. At 3:31 the Hungarian players covered him with shots and had several rebounds until Christopher Bodo eventually succeeded and beat Bowns for the 1-0 goal. The British had their chances too but didn’t manage to create enough danger to tie the game.

In a scoreless second period Daniel Koger had the probably best chance for Hungary when Bowns deflected a shot with his hands. A bit later on the other side Adam Vay had to be sharp when Mark Richardson shot after a great pass from Mike Hammond.

A lucky bounce gave Hungary the 2-0 lead at 1:53 of the third period. Janos Hari brought the puck high to the crease where it hit Csanad Erdely’s shoulder and from there went in. The goal was confirmed after a video review.

The British still continued to work hard and when they were looking for a rebound Robert Down eventually broke the spell and beat Adam Vay for the 2-1 goal with nine minutes left for GB to tie.

The British were pushing but the best chance was Hungary’s when Hari missed out on a penalty shot with four minutes left.

The Hungarians seemed to win it and to go up with Kazakhstan. But then, with 15.8 seconds left a nightmare broke out for the hosts. The British occupied their zone, had their time-out and their goalie pulled for a sixth skater. Farmer brought the puck from a sharp angle to the goal and surprised Vay. The puck slid down from his glove and slid across the goal line. It was 2-2. Now suddenly Great Britain would be tournament winner and take Italy as second-place team to the top division.

It was not over yet. Now Hungary took its time-out. With eight seconds left and after a glove block from Bowns the fans started to cheer after a rebound but the puck just came onto the net from outside. Great Britain won and the players and the “Barmy Army”, their loud fans on the ice, celebrated loudly.

It was the start of the British party while the Hungarian fans chanted farewell to their visibly broken players with the traditional singing of the national anthem as they do even in defeat.

Lithuania moving up Next stop: Division 1A

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By Henrik Manninen – IIHF.com

In the battle of the Baltics, Pavilas Verenis scored a brace while blueliners Nerijus Alisauskas and Jaunius Jasinevicius scored one apiece as Lithuania went undefeated through the 2018 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship Division I Group B in Kaunas.

Lithuania’s 4-1 final day win sealed their promotion to the 2019 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship Division I Group A. Japan finished second to win silver while Estonia slipped down to third in Division I Group B.

“I think one of the biggest influence to our success was the arrival of Darius Kasparaitis and Dainius Zubrus to our team. We had read about them, but we never had them together in our locker room. We have a good team, but those two guys made the difference,” said Lithuania’s captain of the evening, Mindaugas Kieras who played his 100th and last game for Lithuania this evening.

Robert Rooba got Estonia’s marker as they went ahead before conceding four straight unanswered goals. Villem-Henrik Koitmaa recorded 39 saves and was voted the best goalkeeper of the tournament by the Directorate.

“They guys gave it all and I am very proud of them. You could see right after the game that the players are disappointed as there was so much at stake. In the third period we still had chances which could have gotten us close, but tonight we lost against worthy winners and the best team of the tournament” said Estonia’s head coach Jussi Tupamaki being gracious in defeat.

The clash got off to an intriguing start as it was the surprise package Estonia that got in front. Lithuania’s netminder Mantas Armalis had lost his stick when Rooba surprised by snapping a trademark wrister from the left boards after 4:20 for a shock lead that helped settle Estonian nerves.

“It was such an important game for gold or bronze, and I’ve never played in front of so many people so it was a bit nervous, but when you got into the game it was ok,” said Estonia’s Artjom Gornostajev.

The lead only lasted for just over three minutes before Zubrus won a draw and Alisauskas hit a bullet from the blueline for this first of the tournament to tie the game at one.

“I was impressed by Estonia, they have a young team now and new guys stepping in and playing really good hockey without trying to make any mistakes. We knew they were a good team, but we felt that they would have to do something extra in order to take the win away from us,” said Kieras.

Winning the shots in the first frame 14-7, Lithuania went in front when Daniel Bogdziul fed Jasinevicius who lofted a shot past Koitmaa for 2-1 after 15:42.

With the game still in the balance, Tadas Kumeliauskas collected the puck from his own defensive zone and charged towards Estonia’s net, got intercepted by Marko Kettunen before the puck went to Verenis who showed no hesitation to hit high past Koitmaa to stretch Lithuania’s lead to 3-1 at 35:58

With Verenis serving a cross-checking minor at the start of the final frame, Estonia piled up the pressure on powerplay with Robert Arrak and Andrei Makrov both denied by Armalis.

As Estonia’s energy level deteriorated, Tupamaki called a timeout with 8:53 for a well-deserved breather. With 3:41 left of the game, Estonia pulled Koitmaa from the net, but it took only 20 seconds before Verenis converted an empty-netter as the crowd got on their feet to celebrate a memorable night for Lithuanian hockey and its

 

Georgia’s joy Emerging nation claims first gold

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By Andy Potts – IIHF.com

Georgian hockey is celebrating after the former Soviet republic produced its best-ever result in IIHF play to win the Division III title in Cape Town.

The mountainous nation, high in the Caucasus, only played its first internationals in 2010 and competed in IIHF events for the first time in 2013. For two seasons, it could not manage a single victory, but those struggles were all forgotten after four wins from five games in South Africa secured the sought-after gold medals and elevation to Division IIB.

The change in fortune came namely thanks to Russian-trained players who have joined the Georgian national team in the past two years. Of the five best scorers three have names hailing from Russia or Ukraine and all five learned their hockey abroad. The tournament’s scoring leader Alexander Zhuzhunashvili originally came from Moscow to play for the country of his ancestors and made it to the second-highest junior league MHL-B in Russia. Also Alexander Vasilchenko, Artyom Kozyulin and Artyom Kurbatov played their hockey in Moscow while Oliver Obolgogiani, second in scoring, played junior hockey in Finland, and goalie Andrei Ilienko is a native of St. Petersburg.

The free-scoring offence put Georgia in control of the group. The country started with a 6-2 win in a neighbouring clash with Turkey and followed that up by beating Bulgaria 5-3. Next came a crushing 11-1 demolition of Hong Kong before a stumble against the host nation saw South Africa win 4-2 and threatened to halt the promotion parade. Going into Sunday’s final round of games, Georgia knew that it had to defeat Chinese Taipei or be overtaken when Turkey and Bulgaria played later that day.

In the event, there was little to worry about. Zhuzhunashvili opened the scoring after just 17 seconds, potting the first of four goals for him in the game. Defenceman Artyom Kurbanov doubled the lead soon afterwards and Georgia was looking comfortable. There a momentary wobble: captain Vitali Dumbadze took a 5+20 for a high hit and Taipei got one back on the PP, but Semyon Kharizov hit back with a short-handed goal to calm the alarm. Once the teams were back to equal strength, normal service was resumed: Georgia jumped to a 5-1 lead at the end of the first period and added three more in the two remaining frames. Kharizov completed a hat-trick, Zhuzhunashvili completed his four-goal haul with a short-handed marker four seconds from the end. The final score was 11-2, with Yen-Lin Shen and Po-Yun Hsiao getting the consolation goals for Chinese Taipei.

The earlier head-to-head results meant that nobody could catch Georgia now. Bulgaria pipped Turkey to bronze with an overtime victory and South Africa safely navigated a potential relegation showdown against Hong Kong by winning 6-0. But this tournament was all about Georgia’s historic triumph. The team was led by the free-scoring Zhuzhunasvili, one of several Russian-Georgian players on the team. A generation earlier than him, head coach Roland Svanidze underwent a similar journey, starting his career as a player of Georgian descent at Metallurg Novokuznetsk before a stint playing in Dubai and a move into coaching with the Georgian national program. However, this is no mere team of imports playing under a flag of convenience. Most of the roster does indeed have Georgian names and many players come from the domestic system.

So where does Georgian hockey come from? There is a Soviet history to the game here: the first recorded appearance of a Georgian team dates from the Winter Spartakiad of 1962, where Soviet Georgia competed in a kind of Winter Olympics for the republics of the USSR. At the competition in Sverdlovsk, now Yekaterinburg, the team defeated the Armenian and Kyrgyz SSRs but lost to the Kazakhs and all three Baltic republics.

The modern-day team is entirely drawn from the country’s four-team national championship. The bulk of the players, perhaps surprisingly, do not represent the three teams from the capital, Tbilisi, but come from Mimino in the small mountain village of Bakuriani. That community of 2,500 people high in the Borjomi region is something of a winter sport’s hub: a popular ski resort, it was also home to Nodar Kumaritashvili, the luger tragically killed in training at the Vancouver Olympics in 2010. Mimino supplied 11 of Svanidze’s 20-man roster for Cape Town.

Although the early days of Georgia’s new hockey era were tough – no wins in two years of IIHF competition and a chastening -75 goal difference in 2014, then a disqualification in 2016 for selecting ineligible players in Division III in Istanbul – the team has progressed quickly. Last year’s event in Sofia saw the team claim bronze, with only a group-stage loss to eventual champion Luxembourg denying the team a place in the gold-medal game against host nation Bulgaria. With something to build on, Svanidze and his team refined their plans. In 2018, the efforts paid off: a sparkling performance in South Africa secured promotion for the first time and a highest-ever World Championship ranking of 41st.

Fourth gold for Spain

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By Andy Potts – IIHF.com

Spain’s golden season continues with the men’s national team winning the 2018 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship Division II Group B on home ice in Granada.

The senior team’s success means the Spaniards have picked up four gold medals this season, securing promotions for the men’s U18 and U20 teams and the senior women’s roster. No other country, at any level of IIHF competition, has managed a comparable medal haul, with Spain ending its campaign with four golds from a possible five. All the successful teams were playing in Division IIB of their respective competitions.

The latest triumph came on home ice in Granada. The Andalusian city hosted the Winter Universiade in 2015, but it has a greater sporting tradition in bullfighting and football. This week, though, it had a chance to enjoy a glut of goals from a Spanish team determined to bounce straight back to Division IIA after relegation 12 months ago. The host nation rattled in 49 goals in five games, allowing just six, as it powered to top spot ahead of New Zealand thanks to a 6-4 success when the teams met.

As the seedings suggested, it all came down to Friday night’s decider against the Kiwis. Both teams had progressed through the competition without dropping a point, although the rampant form of the Spanish offence suggested the host nation might have the edge. Opening with a 15-1 drubbing of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Spain also enjoyed a 14-0 rout of Mexico and a 10-1 success over Luxembourg. With all-out attack at the heart of Luciano Basile’s team for this tournament, Spain took the same approach into the showdown with New Zealand, firing in 53 shots net Daniel Lee’s net.

Despite that, it took most of the first period to find a way through the opposing defence. A power-play goal in the 18th minute – Carlos Rivero winning the puck in the corner and feeding Alejandro Carbonell for a close-range wrist shot – finally broke the deadlock to give Spain a lead that its first-period dominance deserved. Carbonell, who plays his hockey in the French second tier with Annecy, is one of four players on the roster playing abroad. Bruno Baldris (Angers Ducs), Gaston Gonzalez (Montpellier Vipers) and Adrian Ubieto (Anglet Hormadi) also play across the border in France.

In the middle frame, the Spanish offence was rampant once again – and this time it converted chances into goals more readily, scoring four times on Lee. Patricio Fuentes set the tone in the 22nd minute, adding a second after Spain repeatedly prevented New Zealand from clearing its lines, and there were further tallies from Oriol Rubio, Oriol Boronat and Ignacio Granell.

However, the hitherto reliable defence – which had allowed just two goals in four games – began to wobble. New Zealand scored three of its own to remain in contention. Paris Heyd quickly converted a power play when he tipped home Callum Burns’ point shot, Aleksandr Polozov finished off after Jacob Ratcliffe’s shot was deflected into his path and Andrew Cox saw his point shot bounce off a defenceman and find the net. At the end of the middle frame, Spain led 5-3 and New Zealand, despite facing an onslaught, still believed it had a chance.

Boronat got his second of the night to make it 6-3 early in the third, but a power play tally from Frazer Ellis kept the Kiwis in contention. Now, though, a more cautious Spain slowed down the offence and closed out the victory to spark the gold medal celebrations at the final hooter. For New Zealand, it was a second successive silver medal after finishing runner-up on home ice last year.

Not surprisingly, Spanish players dominated the scoring charts to take four of the top five places. Boronat (5+7) led the way, with the Puigcerda player finishing one point ahead of team-mate Fuentes from San Sebastian. Seven goals for Boronat’s clubmate Pablo Munoz made him the top goalscorer and he was joined on 10 points by the tournament’s most productive defenseman, Ubieto. New Zealand’s Jordan Challis (3+7) also made the top five. Spain’s dominance ensured that the team allowed just 70 shots on its net over the five games. Ander Alcaine faced most of them and finished with a GAA of 1.49 on his way to the directorate award for top goalie, but Israel’s Nir Tichon also made a good case for honours with an SVG of 91.82%. Fuentes was the top forward and New Zealand’s Stefan Helmersson was top D-man.

Israel secured third place with a victory over Mexico in its final game to finish on nine points. That result also condemned Luxembourg to relegation. The team from the principality won its last game against DPR Korea and would have survived on that head-to-head result if Mexico had gained at least a point against Israel. Instead, though, the teams finished in a three-way tie with Mexico and Luxembourg sharing the same goal difference. The Mexicans’ 3-1 success in the head-to-head meeting kept the Central Americans in this section and sent Luxembourg back to Division III after just one season.

Italian scores only goal for promotion

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By Andrew Podnieks – IIHF.com

Linda DeRocco scored the only goal of the game midway through the second period and Giulia Mazzocchi stopped all 21 shots to give Italy a 1-0 win over China on the final day of the 2018 IIHF Ice Hockey Women’s World Championship Division I Group B.

The win puts Italy ahead of Korea in the final standings and give it a spot in the Division I Group A for next year. Italy will finish this year’s Women’s World Championship program 16th overall – its highest ranking it also reached in 1999 and 2005 – and will for the first time compete in the second tier of the Women’s Worlds. Its only previous appearance at higher level came when it hosted the 2006 Olympics in Turin.

Italy won the Division I Group B on home ice in Asiago before 550 fans in the final game. A tournament that saw a dramatic turn of events on the final day of the tournament. In the early game on Saturday, Korea hammered Poland, 9-2, to move into top spot with 11 points and a record of 3-1-0-1, putting Italy in a must-win situation in the evening.

The first period was tense and with few scoring chances, and China had a chance early in the second to open the scoring when Xin He hit the post from the slot.

DeRocco put the puck in at 10:17 of the second when her point shot hit a Chinese player in front and dribbled slowly past goalie Yuqing Wang.

Italy played flawless defence, but China nearly tied the game under most improbable circumstances. With a little more than two minutes left to play in the third, Zhixin Liu took a double-minor penalty, and all seemed to be lost for the Chinese.

At one point, though, they fired the puck down the ice and Mazzocchi mishandled the puck behind her goal. Minghui Kong picked it up and tried a quick wraparound. Mazzocchi made the acrobatic glove save facing her own goal, and Italy hung on for the win.

Korea was the only team to beat Italy, 3-2 thanks to two goals in the last three minutes of play from Randi Griffin and Chaelin Park, but had to settle for second place because of losing four points elsewhere. After their Olympic experience the Koreans, who came in as the promoted and lowest seeded team, were on fire and just one point away from earning a second straight promotion. But the Koreans lost an Asian clash between the last and next Winter Olympics host China 3-2 and lost a point in the 2-1 overtime win against Kazakhstan of the opening day.

The scoring and award race was dominated by the top-two ranked countries. Italy’s Eleonora Dalpra led with nine points (3+6) ahead of two Koreans, captain Jongah Park (4+3) and goal-scoring leader Yoonjung Park (5+0). Jongah Park, who two months earlier carried the Olympic torch to lit the cauldron as second-last athlete together with North Korean player Su Hyon Jong, was voted best forward by the tournament directorate. The other two individual awards when to Italians. Mazzocchi, who had the best save percentage with 94.62% tightly before China’s Yuqing Wang (94.44%), was named best goaltender and Nadia Mattivi best defenceman.

After starting the tournament with a loss, Latvia moved up in the standings and beat Kazakhstan for third place on the last day – 1-0 thanks to Sarma Ozmena’s goal.

China, which won bronze one year ago and had hope for more thanks to its ambitious program that includes two teams in the Canadian Women’s Hockey League, finished the tournament in fifth place with two wins and three losses and will remain in the Division I Group B for 2019.

Although Poland finished in last place, it will not be relegated because the top level is going to ten teams. The group will be completed by the Netherlands next year.

France moves up

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By Andrew Podnieks – IIHF.com

Home ice suited France well in Vaujany this weekend as the French women claimed first place in the 2018 IIHF Ice Hockey Women’s World Championship Division I Group A to earn promotion to the 2019 Women’s Worlds.

France will complete the top division that will be extended to ten teams for next year’s event in Finland.

The French finished their five-game round robin campaign with four wins and a loss, including today’s impressive 7-1 win over Slovakia ahead of Austria and Hungary, teams they had beaten before.

“We knew every game would be a challenge, but we were here at home playing in front of family and friends, so we felt we had to win,” said winning goalie Caroline Baldin. “Today, we played well again. We have a lot of solidarity among us, which was the difference. We fought hard every game.”

Although France has participated in the IIHF’s women’s program since 1999, this is the first time the nation will be in the top pool. The team’s only loss was a 2-1 decision to Norway last Monday.

“I think the thing we look forward to next year the most is playing against the top teams,” Baldin continued. “We’ll be able to see if the gap between us and the top teams is small or not. We hope to fight against every team.”

Although France has only a small number of women’s players, the advantage is that they are a dedicated group – to the game, and to each other.

“Many of us have played together for seven or eight years,” Baldin explained, “so we know each other really well. We grew up together and have known each other since we were 12. This year we were a bit lucky and came together. But even though we’ve been together a long time, we’re still a young team. I think our average age is about 23.”

Slovakia finished in last place with one win, but because the top pool is expanding from eight to ten teams it won’t be relegated.

In truth, tonight’s result didn’t mean much for France as it had advanced earlier in the day after Austria beat Norway and Hungary beating Denmark, both by 3-0 scores. Before Day 5, Norway had been the only team to beat France and could have caused a tie for first place at nine points with France and other teams if they had won in regulation time and if France had lost in regulation time. Neither happened.

France sealed its victory tonight thanks to three goals in a span of 4:20 early in the period. Chloe Aurard opened the scoring with a low shot that fooled Romana Kiapesova at 3:37.

A minute and a half later, Clara Rozier went end-to-end and finished with a pretty wrist shot to the far side to make it 2-0, and Margot Desvignes made it 3-0 on another chance from in close.

Slovakia’s coach, Jenny Potter, long-time star with Team USA, changed goalies, but that move couldn’t help the team’s offensive struggle. Late in the period the Slovaks had a two-man advantage for 52 seconds but didn’t generate any great scoring chances with the opportunity.

Aurard got her second midway through the middle period to give France even more breathing room but just a few minutes later Nikola Rumanova got Slovakia on the board.

Soon after, the team had a great opportunity to make a game of it when Lea Villiot was given a major and game misconduct penalty for hitting from behind, but Slovakia gave up a goal with the lengthy advantage, more or less sealing its fate.

For Baldin, the win caps a memorable season which saw her backstop the ZSC Lions Zurich to the women’s championship in Switzerland.

“I’ve made a lot of good friends with my club team in Zurich,” she enthused. “They’re like family to me. Even though they might play for Team Switzerland, that doesn’t matter. For the moment, this win today is the biggest win of my life. But last year at the Olympic qualification, we came close to beating Germany, and really close to beating Japan, so tonight it was amazing to finally win.”

Austria, after opening the tournament with a loss, improved to a silver-medal finish while Hungary won the bronze. Norway’s Ena Nystrom was named best goaltender by the tournament directorate while Gwendoline Gendarme of France was voted best defender and Fanni Gasparics, who led the tournament in scoring (6+4), won the award as best forward.

The 2019 IIHF Ice Hockey Women’s World Championship will include the United States, Canada, host Finland, Germany, Russia, Sweden, Switzerland, the Czech Republic, Japan and France. The host city and the dates will be announced soon. Next year’s Division I Group A will include Austria, Hungary, Denmark, Norway, Slovakia and Italy, which earned promotion tonight

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