By Henrik Manninen – IIHF.com
Romania has won the 2024 IIHF U20 World Championship Division II Group B in Belgrade, Serbia. Dropping just one point from five games seals the tournament top-seeds a straight return to Division IIA.
Despite going undefeated while scoring 25 goals and conceding just five in the process, this was far from a procession for the Romanians in Belgrade´s Pionir Ice Rink. But when the chips were down, they managed to roar back and grind out victories in impressive fashion against Serbia and Iceland.
Romania´s key win came in their opener versus next-door neighbours Serbia. Trailing 0-2 the Romanians left it late before prevailing 3-2 in a memorable shootout win.
Following a spirited start by Romania, the balance of the game tilted in the favour of the Serbs when Roland Ordog went to sit out a kneeing minor. The hosts’ top line needed just 20 seconds to capitalize as Petar Simic scored on a rebound from close range at 4:21.
Serbia doubled their lead five minutes later. Careless defensive build-up play by Romania saw Minja Ivanovic snap up the puck and race through on Romania´s net to zip a wrister that went in off the post.
The two neighbouring rivals’ most recent encounter on Serbian ice at this level was played back in 2016. Romania then took two points in a feisty overtime win in Novi Sad en route to gold.
Eight years on, Romania got back into the game at 37:34 thanks to a brilliant piece of individual skill. Selected as the tournament´s best forward, Csongor Antal won a battle with Filip Lazic in the neutral zone and got up to speed while marching through the Serbian rearguard to finish high past Filip Korenic.
Romania charged ahead searching for that equalizing goal as desperation crept in with time quickly running out. Netminder Nandor Biro had already been pulled twice from the Romanian cage before the third time became the charm.
Akos Nyisztor won the face-off to the right of Serbia´s net, Robert Gyorgy fired a wrister from the point deflecting into the path of Antal who netted his second of the night from the slot to tie the game with just 15 seconds to go.
Following a goal-less overtime penalty shots ensued. Matija Dinic scored Serbia´s lone penalty, while influential team captain Antal and Calin Lupascu both converted for the jubilant Romanians.
Buoyed by their morale-boosting start to the tournament, Romania once again had to dig deep to edge Iceland in the next game. Being a goal down Romania finally got their reward on a one-man advantage at 51:49 when Elod Kovacs tied the game. Benjamin Barabas then netted Romania´s 2-1 winner with 2:58 remaining.
The Romanians then found goals easier to come by. 12-1 versus Chinese Taipei was followed by a Nyisztor hat-trick as newly promoted Australia was downed 4-1. In their final game, the fifth-placed Belgians were blanked 4-0.
Victory in Belgrade marks a winning start for Romania´s Swedish head coach Per Lundell. The win is hoped to herald a new dawn for Romania´s junior national team program which has been unable to keep up with the recent success of its men´s national team. Heading into this season, three levels of World Championship play separated Romania´s U20 national team from that of its men´s team competing in Division 1A.
Hosts finish second, Iceland writes history
Having recovered from their devastating opening-day shootout loss, Serbia took full points from their remaining four games to finish second in Marko Sretovic’s debut as head coach for the U20s. 17-year-old debutant netminder Korenic was selected as the tournament´s top netminder, stopping 97.22% of shots for a GAA of 0.71, while forward Ivanovic led the tournament in scoring with 10 (6+4) points. The duo are among the 15 members on Serbia´s U20 roster eligible to play at this level come next year.
Belgrade´s Pionir Ice Rink remains a happy hunting ground for Iceland. It was right here Iceland´s men´s team celebrated its greatest success winning bronze at the 2014 World Championship Division IIA. Ten years on, the Icelandic U20 crop coached by Vladimir Kolek enjoys its finest achievement to date in the Serbian capital. The youngest team of the tournament beat relegated Chinese Taipei 9-4 in their final game to win bronze. Arnar Helgi Kristjansson led Iceland in scoring with 9 (2+7) points and was also selected as the tournament´s best defender.