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By Henrik Manninen – IIHF.com

Following last year’s ill-fated display at Division IB level, Romania made wholesale changes to their roster and seek an immediate return as the country hosts the 2017 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship Division II Group A in Galati starting today. All games will be streamed live.

What a difference a year makes. In April last year it was all doom and gloom as a goal-shy Romanian team leaked goals to finished bottom of the pile after five straight defeats at the 2016 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship Division I Group B in Zagreb, Croatia.

With the industrial city of Galati welcoming back World Championship hockey on a senior level after a 38-year absence, Romania will now be eager to turn up the heat in their own backyard with a string of steely displays during the 2017 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship Division II Group A.

With only seven survivals from last year’s roster, a younger new-look Romania will enter the tournament as top seeds and lock horns with Australia, Belgium, Iceland, Serbia and Spain during a tournament played between 3rd and 9th April.

Romania’s newly appointed head coach, Martin Lacroix, is relishing the task that lies ahead: “It’s very exciting, a great challenge and an honour,” said the French-Canadian of being selected as the man to hoist the hosts to glory while putting his own mark on the team: “We want to play very smart defensively and we have good forwards who can skate very well and put a lot of pressure on the other teams, but smart defensive hockey will be the key for us,” said Lacroix.

It is a formula which brought him success during his first season in Romanian hockey. Lacroix steered Corona Brasov to the Romanian championship title and was the only non-Hungarian team to qualify for the play-off stages of the international MOL Liga that also includes teams from Hungary and Serbia. Nine players from Brasov are included in Romania’s World Championship roster, where centre Roberto Gliga and blueliner Huba Bors will have key-roles this week.

Gliga, 23, and Bors, 22, both missed out on last year’s World Championship debacle in Zagreb. Now returning back to the national team fold, the duo is leading the way for a new generation that could move Romania’s national team up a level.

Both got their World Championship debuts when another Canadian, Tom Skinner, worked as head coach of Romania. During Skinner’s five seasons in charge, Romania notched up two consecutive fourth-place spots at Division IB level in 2012 and 2013. Following Skinner’s departure, Romania has embarked on an elevator ride of relegation and promotion with little hint of any stability or settled roster.

I believe the reason for our performances during the last years might have been down to our preparations, said Gliga, who made his senior World Championship debut as a 16-year-old in 2010. “During the last years we have also tried to replace the older generation but never managed to have a full roster. But when we have all players available and prepare properly, we will be able to stay in Division IB,” continued Gliga.

Gliga, who first teamed up with defenceman Bors at junior national team level in 2010, both hail from historical hockey centres that of late have fallen on hard times.

Bucharest-born Gliga and Bors, from Miercurea Ciuc, were united at club level this season at Corona Brasov. In his first season away from his home town, Bors can look back on a fine debut season where he is full of praise for head coach Lacroix for showing faith in him.

I enjoy playing for Lacroix as a coach and he also gave me the chance to show what I can do as I came back from the injury, said Bors, who missed out big parts of 2016 because of an injury and returned back to full fitness following a successful surgery in mid-November last year.

With both players having played an integral part when the national championship trophy was raised at the end of March, they now hope their winning streak will continue into April as the battle will commence for top spot at the 2017 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championships Division II Group A.

I think our main strength is that we work hard and have good speed in our team. But none of the teams will be weak so every game will require hard work and focus, said Gliga, who hopes the citizens of Galati will turn up in droves to carry Romania on to success.

It is always a good feeling playing in front of your fans and I hope that plenty of people will come and watch the games. Now all I want is to have a good tournament and earn promotion, said Gliga.