By Andy Potts – IIHF.com
In the latest instalment of that big Nordic rivalry, Sweden eased to a 3-1 lead against the current World and Olympic champion. Theodor Lunnstrom opened the scoring midway through the first period, converting the first power play of the game after Tommi Tikka sat for tripping. At the start of the second, Hardy Haman Aktell got his first goal in international hockey. The Vaxjo Lakers defender saw his shot deflect into the net off an opposing player to double Sweden’s lead. Anton Bengtsson added a third midway through the game and after that, Tre Kronor had little difficulty protecting that lead. The only blemish came a fraction of a second before the hooter when Robert Leino’s consolation goal denied Lars Johansson a shutout.
The victory secured top spot for Sweden for the third time in three Euro Tour competitions. That’s a great start for new head coach Sam Hallam, who replaced Johan Garpenlov at the end of last season. The 43-year-old, a three-time Swedish champion with Vaxjo and twice named Coach of the Year, stepped up to the national team in the summer and is enjoying the role so far.
“The big thing is that we have very good players out there in Europe,” he told TV6 after the tournament in Malmo. “If you look at the guys we put on the ice today, and in the other tournaments, we have a very good team.
“But really, it’s all about May and another World Championship.”
The game against Sweden was a test too far for the free-scoring Finns. Earlier, they edged Switzerland in a shootout after a 5-5 tie, then thumped Czechia 6-1. Team manager Mika Kortelainen told Leijonat.fi: “I have to admit that Sweden was better today. They had more energy, they skated better. We had a hard week, we did a lot of work, but we couldn’t meet that final challenge.”
Sweden’s victory in its home tournament consolidates its position at the top of the overall Euro Hockey Tour standings. Tre Kronor has 19 points from nine games over the three tournaments to date, five clear of Czechia. Finland is third with 13 points and Switzerland remains in fourth with eight points.
Although Switzerland finished at the foot of the standings in Malmo, there was some good news. Two of the three games were tied in regulation, including the clash with Finland. That game was the first chance for the Swiss national team to play at the new Swiss Life Arena in Zurich, one of the venues for the 2026 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship. That inaugural fixture turned out to be a barn-burner, with the Swiss powering to a 5-2 lead against Jukka Jalonen’s Finns, only to end up tied at 5-5. Finland took the verdict in a shootout after Ahti Oksanen beat Melvin Nyffeler.
Boost for Austria against Elite Pool opponents
Austria triumphed at a four-team tournament in Denmark, enjoying victories over Norway and the host nation. That’s an encouraging result for the Austrians, who escaped relegation from the top division of the World Championship last season thanks to a big fightback in the third period of their final game in Tampere.
Against Norway, Austria grabbed the lead with a shorthanded goal from Thomas Raffl midway through the first period. Eskil Wold, a 20-year-old forward establishing himself on the national team this season, tied it up for Norway in the 33rd minute and the game remained locked at 1-1 until Manuel Ganahl gave Austria the shoot-out verdict.
That win sent Austria into a final against Denmark, 3-0 victors over France in Friday’s other game. David Madlener made 26 saves to backstop a 3-0 win for Roger Bader’s team. Paul Huber, Fabian Hochegger and Lucas Thaler got the Austrian goals. In the game for third place, Norway edged France 2-1 with Mats Rosseli Olsen potting the winner 90 seconds before the hooter.
Ticar leads Slovenia to success in Italy
Slovenia claimed top spot at the Michele Bolognini Tournament in Bolzano, Italy, by the narrowest of margins. A goal from Roc Ticar three minutes into overtime snapped a goalless tie between the Slovenes and the host in their first action of the competition. Ticar’s effort decided the whole tournament: the two countries would finish tied on seven points, with Slovenia getting the verdict thanks to the head-to-head result.
Both nations are looking to prepare for World Championship action in May. Here they were joined by Hungary, back in the top flight after winning promotion last season, and Korea. The Hungarians took third place and also had the distinction of scoring the only goal on Slovenia before going down in a shootout. Korea, though, found things tough, allowing 19 goals in three games that included a 0-10 hammering against the tournament winner.
That emphatic win over Korea helped Ticar finish the tournament as leading scorer. He had a five-point game (1+4) to claim 6 (2+4) points in total. Next came a clutch of six players on four points apiece – Italy’s Peter Spornberger, Phil Pietroniro, Brandon McNally and Daniel Tedesco, plus Slovenia’s Ziga Pance and Anze Kuralt.
GB tunes up for promotion push
Great Britain rarely takes part in international play outside of the World Championship and Olympic Qualification programs. However, as part of the country’s preparations for its Division IA campaign in Nottingham in the spring, the Brits hosted a four-team tournament. The opposition came from Poland and Romania, two opponents in that World Championship group, plus Japan, runner-up in Division IB last season.
The tournament went well for the host nation, which won all three games. A 3-0 victory over Japan started things off, followed by a 4-1 success against Poland and a 6-1 thrashing of Romania. In particular, the return of Liam Kirk – still part of the Coyotes organisation and currently on loan at Jukurit Mikkeli in Finland – was a lift for GB. He had 5 (2+3) points from his two appearances. Kirk scored seven goals in his last World Championship campaign in Latvia in 2021 but was injured as Britain suffered relegation from the top division last May.
Japan, looking to secure promotion to Division IA after three silver medals in its last four IB campaigns, can take several positives from this tournament. The Japanese finished second after defeating Romania and Poland, both of which will play in the higher group this season.