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.