Date: April 28, 2017

Korea promoted!

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By Martin Merk – IIHF.com

It will be the first time in history that the host of the 2018 Olympics will play in the top division of the IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship next year in Copenhagen and Herning, Denmark, where they will be joined by tournament winner Austria.

“The first and second periods were a little tough but we did our best and skated hard so we could get out with a good result. Now we will be focusing on the top division and will do our best to stay there,” Sanghoon Shin said.

It will be the first time for an Asian team to play in the top division since Japan between 1998 and 2004 when the Asian qualifier had a spot. Korea overtook Japan as the top-ranked Asian nation for the first time in 2016.

Korea finishes the 2017 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship Division I Group A in second and the World Championship program this year in 18th place overall. The previous best placing was 21st in 2013 and 2016.

“It was a very exciting game until the last shot. The Ukrainian players played extremely hard, they blocked shots, they’re physical, they have individual skill. Their goalie was outstanding all tournament. They took us all the way to the shootout,” Korea head coach Jim Paek said.

“It’s very important for us [to be promoted]. We get to play against top-division teams and get this experience. For many years we haven’t been able to play against such countries so it’s important to get this experience.”

Kazakhstan finishes the tournament in third place ahead of Poland, Hungary and Ukraine. The host earned its first and only point tonight but will be relegated.

“You want to come in and win every game. We played five games. We started the tournament 3-0; then Austria set us back. It was pretty tough today. Ukraine is a top team. They’re good to play against. We knew [if] we win we’re going up so that was in the back of the mind all game. It put a lot more pressure on the guys but we came through. It was a nail-biter but it was fun for the fans,” said Michael Swift, who was credited with the game-winning goal after opening the shootout with a marker.

“The next 12 months that are coming up will be something very special for Korean ice hockey. They’ve never been to the top [division]. We’re there now and we want to stay there. We’ve got a lot of work to do.”

Korea out shot Ukraine 36-23 during the 65 minutes of play but did too little with its opportunities.

Korea had more opportunities in a scoreless first period also during two power plays and eventually opened the scoring at 4:59 of the middle frame.

Shangwoo Shin got the time and space to patiently wait on the right side of the Ukrainian net before sending a pass to Jin Hui Ahn to the left, who gave Korean the lead. However, Ukraine stepped up in the period and was rewarded.

Sergi Babynets took Korea goalie Matt Dalton the puck away behind the net, skated back and put the puck in to tie the game.

“Our team was doing the best, sometimes even more than they could. There’s of course always the desire to do something magic but it’s not always possible,” Ukraine head coach Olexander Savitsky said after the game. “We have youngsters with good potential and hopefully in the next championship they will be good.”

There were several hot moments in the third period like when defenceman Vsevolod Tolstushko saved a Korean shot with his skate and on the other side a Ukrainian shot missed the net me millimeters.

For the last 29 seconds of regulation time and 71 seconds of the overtime period the Koreans played with a man advantage but Eduard Zakharchenko in the Ukrainian net had a strong night. Korea out shot Ukraine 8-0 in the 3-on-3 overtime. They managed to skate close to the Ukrainian net to shoot several times but missed out from great positions.

However, in the shootout the Koreans were eventually more efficient while Dalton made two great saves to lead Korea to the top division.

Shootout:

Round 1: Micheal Swift (KOR) 1-0, Nikita Butsenko (UKR) save.

Round 2: Minho Cho (KOR) missed, Vitali Lyalka (UKR) save.

Round 3: Sanghoon Shin (KOR) 2-0.

Austria returns to Worlds

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By Martin Merk – IIHF.com

Brian Lebler scored a hat trick, Konstantin Komarek and Lukas Haudum each had two goals and an assist.

With the result Austria is not only promoted but also the tournament winner.  The only open question is which will be the second team and follow the Austrians to the elite level. Korea can do it by beating Ukraine in its last game. If they lose, Kazakhstan will take the second place instead.

“I thought it was a really good game tonight. We started off the game very well. We got a 3-0 lead after the first period. In the end of the night it was a little high. We are happy. We take it as it is and are happy to move to the top division,” Austrian captain Thomas Raffl said.

“It feels nice. We’ve been working hard the last five days. It was different and hard games for us. We struggled too, especially at the start of the tournament. We showed that we have a mentally strong team. We got better every game.”

Austria knew it would be promoted with a regulation-time win while Poland entered the day with small hopes for promotion and these were more or less destroyed with Kazakhstan’s win against Hungary. And if not the by that, then by a strong start of the Austrians, who went up 3-0 after just ten minutes of play.

Martin Ulmer opened the scoring after just 104 seconds. Then Brian Lebler converted a centring pass from Konstantin Komarek at 7:01.

At 10:02 Fabio Hofer made it 3-0 with his second goal of the tournament. Raffl shot from the right side and although Hofer fell down between three opponents, he managed to shovel the puck over the line.

“Of course it helped us to score two quick goals early in the game, our self-confidence grew and we played a great game until the end. We didn’t think about the score or whether it’s a record, we were just thinking about the game and the tournament,” Austria head coach Roger Bader said.

The Poles entered the second period with Rafal Radziszewski in the net replacing number-one goalie Przemyslaw Odrobny but still without success in the offensive zone despite becoming more initiative.

Midway the second period the Austrians extended the lead. Raffl shot at 8:36 and was lucky that the puck was deflected by a Polish stick to find its way into the net. Just half a minute later Lukas Haudum shot for the 5-0 goal, also that one went behind Radziszewski deflected. And at 15:39 Komarek deflected the puck into the net after a pass to the crease from Fabio Hofer to extend the lead to 6-0.

“We lost 11-0, it’s hard to find words. We were not good from the beginning and after they scored the first goals it was really hard,” said Poland head coach Jacek Plachta. “It’s not so easy when you go down 3-0, we started the second period pretty well and had chances but we didn’t score and then the puck went in on the other side. In all I think we played a good tournament.”

Poland’s biggest chance came with 36 seconds left in the period when Damian Kapica was hooked by Heinrich during a breakaway and got a penalty shot but he lost the puck in front of Bernhard Starkbaum, who again had a strong night and earned his shutout with 26 saves. Instead of the Poles, it was Komarek who scored his second goal of the day on the other side nine seconds before the intermission on a rebound.

Steven Strong added another marker in the third period with a shot from the left face-off dot through Radziszewski’s five-hole. Haudum deflecting a long pass toward the goal from Heinrich and Lebler added two more goals in the end for the final score of 11-0.

For Austria it was an important win after a bad year 2016. For the first time since 1991 did the Austrians not earn promotion when playing at Division I level after having gone up in 1992, 1997, 2006, 2008, 2012 and 2014. That was in spring at the Division I Group A in Katowice. A few months later Austria underperformed at the Final Olympic Qualification in Riga and missed a spot at the 2018 Olympic Winter Games.

The results also led to changes in the coaching position. Roger Bader took over in November and ended his first IIHF tournament as Austria’s men’s national team head coach with gold.