By Andy Potts – IIHF.com
Belgium’s women made it back-to-back gold after sweeping all-comers in Cape Town to win the 2023 IIHF Ice Hockey Women’s World Championship Division II Group B. A year after taking a Covid-hampered Division IIIA, the Belgians secured another gold in impressive style in South Africa.
The key game was against Australia, with Belgium grabbing a 1-0 victory against last year’s silver medallist. Goalie Nina van Orshaegen produced a fantastic performance, stopping 48 shots in a game that was dominated by the Aussies. Belgium was limited to just 12 shots on goal, but a power play goal from Femke Bosmans after 25 minutes made the difference.
“Collectively, our ladies played an incredible game,” head coach Sven van Buren told the Belgian Royal Ice Hockey Federation’s website. “They executed our tactical plan in detail. On defence, we wanted to keep Australia to the outside. That, in combination with Nina’s excellent performance in goal, meant we were able to beat the title favourite. The entire staff is very proud of this achievement.”
Van Orshaegen, 28, featured in all four of Belgium’s games. She finished with a GAA of 1.00 after giving up 3 goals in 180 minutes of game time. The Olen native, who plays her club hockey for Cold Play Sharks Mechelen in the German second division, also stopped 96.51% of the shots she faced. That form earned her the directorate award as leading goalie ahead of Australia’s Sasha King, who played 160 minutes and stopped 20 shots without allowing a single goal. Van Orshaegen played a leading role between the piping alongside understudy Charlotte Swinnen. Swinnen, 20, played three periods in total in Belgium’s wins over South Africa and Croatia, gaining experience of international play.
Lotte de Guchtenaere was another key figure for Belgium. Her four goals in a 4-2 win over New Zealand wrapped up top spot with a game to spare. She finished with eight goals in the tournament, many of them assisted by line-mate and leading scorer Anke Steeno, who had 11 (2+9) points.
Now Belgium is celebrating its first ever back-to-back gold medals in IIHF play. Meanwhile, promotion to Division IIA would put the Blades at their highest ever level in international women’s hockey.
For Australia, the failure to break down Belgium’s defence proved costly. The top seed scored freely in its other games, putting 10 past South Africa and 19 past Croatia before winning a Southern Hemisphere showdown against New Zealand 5-2. However, after losing out to Iceland in a shootout last season, the Aussie Flyers once again suffered a narrow loss in a crucial game. The Australian team included two players from the gold-medal U18s team that won Division IIA last, with Molly Lukowiak and Katrina Rapchuk stepping up to the seniors here. Rapchuk, 15, made a good impression in her rookie championship and was named MVP for her team in the Belgium game.
New Zealand, back in action after withdrawing from last season’s tournament in Zagreb, came closest to halting Belgium’s progress. The Ice Fernz got a 2-1 lead in the first period of the teams’ meeting, but a fine attacking display from Lotte de Guchtenaere scored twice in the middle frame to turn the game around. She finished with all four markers in a 4-2 victory.
That denied the host nation a bronze medal, with New Zealand taking third place in the tournament. Defender Donne van Doesburgh won the directorate award for her position. Croatia, which came fifth on home ice a year ago, had another tough tournament and brought up the rear after again failing to win a game. Türkiye had to withdraw from the competition following the devastating earthquakes that hit the country earlier this month.
Among the individual achievements, de Guchtenaere tied with Australia’s Michelle Clark-Crumpton on eight goals. The Belgian forward also got the nod as top forward in the competition. Sharna Godfrey was the leading scorer in the competition, with 14 (6+8) points, just ahead of Clark-Crumpton. Anke Steeno was the leading Belgian scorer with 11 (2+9) points, tied with New Zealand’s Anjali Mulari.