By Szabolcs Zavodszky – IIHF.com
After coming up just short against Poland in a heroic comeback on Day 4, the Hungarian national team was given one last chance during an exciting final day to win the gold medal on home ice. And it used it.
Poland had to settle for silver, tournament favourites Slovenia and Italy finished in third and fourth place respectively while Ukraine avoiding relegation in the final game of the tournament with a 3-1 win over Great Britain.
This 2017 IIHF Ice Hockey U20 World Championship Division I Group B was filled with excitement from start to finish as by the second match it was clear that nothing was going to be according to the paper rankings.
Poland beat Ukraine 4-2 in the opening game of the championships, host nation Hungary upset Italy, who was relegated last year from the Division I Group A. Poland coach Torbjorn Johansson had the following to say after the Polish win: “The first game is always the hardest. I think we played well we had a number of scoring chances but did not score on them at the start. Ukraine is a hard opponent as they never give up, our third and fourth goals were nice. The Slovenia game will be a different game.”
The real surprise of the opening day was Great Britain forcing overtime and stealing a point from heavily favoured Slovenia. Great Britain held a late one-goal lead until Kristof Potocnik scored a power-play goal to tie the game up at 3-3. Blaz Tomazevic scored the game winner.
Ukraine defeated Italy in overtime as both teams picked up their first points in the tournament. Hungary followed up their five-goal performance on the opening day by putting five into the British net as well. Martin Sagi finished with two goals as the line of Sagi, Revesz and Peter started to come together. The closing game on Day 2 showed that if the favourites still wanted to have a chance at promotion they needed to do some math as Poland took on Slovenia.
The Polish team came out strong as Alan Lyszczarczyk scored an early power-play goal with Patryk Krezolek doubling the lead in the second period. A quick goal by Potocnik had Slovenia back within one, however, a third Polish goal meant that Slovenia needed to do some work in the third period. But in the final 20 minutes every time Slovenia closed the gap to one goal. Poland managed to go back up by two, Slovenia scored in the early part of the third period to go up 3-2. Back-to-back penalties gave Poland a two-man advantage which they capitalized. Jan Drozg made it 4-3 but Poland scored an empty-net goal for the 5-3 win thus taking control of their tournament fate.
After Slovenia cruised past Italy with a 7-0 shutout win and Hungary rode the Sagi-Revesz-Peter line to a 3-1 win over Ukraine it looked as if the third game of the tournament would follow the paper form but the day’s closing game brought more excitement. The Hungarian win over Ukraine was the first one that might not have been the smoothest according to head coach Chernomaz: “In the last ten minutes of the first period we got outplayed and after the first seven period of hockey the guys found themselves in a tied game. We had some shock therapy in the locker room and the guys reacted well, we started to battle harder and stuck to the game plan.”
In the third game of the day a Glenn Billing power-play goal in the first period and Liam Kirk score in the second period had Great Britian up 2-0 and Poland back on their heels. Head Coach Johansson and the Polish team turned to what was their bread and butter all tournament and Lyszczarczyk scored a power-play goal to get Poland back within one goal. In the final period Poland turned up the heat and scored with just under ten minutes left as a Mateusz Goscinski shot squeezed through the pads of Remy Marr to tie the game up at 2-2. It was clear in overtime that Great Britain was hoping to get the game to a shootout, which they did. Mateusz Studzinski stood tall in net as he stopped all three British shooters. On the other end Kamil Wrobel as the first Polish shooter converted his chance and Poland picked up two points and setting up a potential gold-medal match against Hungary on the second-to-last day of the championship.
Slovenia opened Day 4 knowing that they would need to take care of business on their end as well as get some help if they wanted to get promoted. They took a 2-1 lead after the first period against Ukraine and scored twice in the second to pick up the 4-1 win thanks to Zan Jezovsek, who scored twice for Slovenia.
The two remaining undefeated teams, Hungary and Poland, faced off against each other. With a win Hungary could capture the gold medal. The game started out with a five-minute major penalty against Hungary and as Poland did throughout the tournament they converted on the power play. The proficient special teams unit scored three times in the span of five minutes to open up a 3-0 lead. They followed this up with an equal strength goal to make it 4-0. At this time Hungarian coach Rich Chernomaz made the goalie change as David Kovacs, who played every minute of the tournament before, was replaced by Bence Kiss in the net.
In the second period Poland found the back of the net again as they opened up what looked as an insurmountable 5-0. In the third period Hungary came out ready to prove that they game was not over as less than a minute into the period Peter scored from close range. Ten minutes later Hungary scored two quick goals to make it a two-goal game as Revesz and Sagi both scored to join their linemate on the score sheet. In the closing minutes of the game Hungary kept up the pressure on the Polish net. Wwith less than a minute to go and the goalie pulled, Bence Stipsicz sent a shot on net from the blueline that was redirected by Kevin Szabad, went off the post and into the net.
Hungary was unable to complete the comeback as Poland picked up the win and knew that with a win against Italy on the last day they would be champions. Sometimes you need luck and according to coach Johansson, luck was on the Polish side. “We were very satisfied with our first period, in the second period we were expecting them to be coming, they had some good chances but we were lucky. In the third period suddenly they started to score goals and they were coming. We won’t change anything for our last game. We have been playing well. We just need to concentrate in the final,” he said. The Italians closed out the day with a win over Great Britain 4-1 to avoid relegation.
On the final day all Poland had to do was beat an Italian team that had nothing on the line. Regardless of what happened, Italy would finish in fourth place. The Italians took a 1-0 lead in the game but Poland tied it up on a Bartlomiej Jeziorski power-play goal. Italy scored twice before the period was over, the second one on the power play to take a 3-1 lead into the locker room. The two teams exchanged goals in the second period as Italy held onto the two-goal lead going into the third period. Poland made it 4-3 on a goal by Wrobel, but the Azzurri answered to go back to a two-goal cushion.
Poland pulled their goalie and Lyszczarczyk scored to make it 5-4, however, Poland ran out of time. With the loss this meant that the Hungarians controlled their own destiny and Poland needed help from Slovenia.
With a second chance at capturing the gold, Hungary was determined not to miss out on it. Like throughout the tournament the forward line of Peter, Revesz and Sagi was on the ice for the opening goal. Revesz won the faceoff and Peter one-timed it past the goalie.
In the second period Slovenia flipped the score on goals by Zorko and Maver. In the second intermission coach Chernomaz fired up his team for a comeback attempt in the third period, and this time they did it.
101 seconds into the third frame Revesz banged home a goal to make it a one goal-game with team captain Stipsicz scoring from the right face-off circle on the ensuing shift to tie the game at three. Minutes later Sagi put his stick on a bouncing puck in front of the goal and slapped it in for the Hungarian lead.
Stipsicz summed up the past week for his team: “It is huge that this team stuck together the way it did. I don’t think I have ever been a part of a team like this that came back so many times and in so many games in such hard circumstances. We had cohesion and team spirit. Tt was amazing how this team came together. This is what helped us prevail in all the games throughout the tournament.”
With the win Hungary won the gold medals, earned promotion to the Division I Group A and is ranked 17th overall in the U20 program – the highest ranking since reaching the same place in 2008.
Like last year Poland finished in second place and Slovenia was third. In the closing match of the day Ukraine beat Great Britain 3-1 in a battle to avoid relegation.