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.