By Martin Merk – IIHF.com
Brian Lebler scored a hat trick, Konstantin Komarek and Lukas Haudum each had two goals and an assist.
With the result Austria is not only promoted but also the tournament winner. The only open question is which will be the second team and follow the Austrians to the elite level. Korea can do it by beating Ukraine in its last game. If they lose, Kazakhstan will take the second place instead.
“I thought it was a really good game tonight. We started off the game very well. We got a 3-0 lead after the first period. In the end of the night it was a little high. We are happy. We take it as it is and are happy to move to the top division,” Austrian captain Thomas Raffl said.
“It feels nice. We’ve been working hard the last five days. It was different and hard games for us. We struggled too, especially at the start of the tournament. We showed that we have a mentally strong team. We got better every game.”
Austria knew it would be promoted with a regulation-time win while Poland entered the day with small hopes for promotion and these were more or less destroyed with Kazakhstan’s win against Hungary. And if not the by that, then by a strong start of the Austrians, who went up 3-0 after just ten minutes of play.
Martin Ulmer opened the scoring after just 104 seconds. Then Brian Lebler converted a centring pass from Konstantin Komarek at 7:01.
At 10:02 Fabio Hofer made it 3-0 with his second goal of the tournament. Raffl shot from the right side and although Hofer fell down between three opponents, he managed to shovel the puck over the line.
“Of course it helped us to score two quick goals early in the game, our self-confidence grew and we played a great game until the end. We didn’t think about the score or whether it’s a record, we were just thinking about the game and the tournament,” Austria head coach Roger Bader said.
The Poles entered the second period with Rafal Radziszewski in the net replacing number-one goalie Przemyslaw Odrobny but still without success in the offensive zone despite becoming more initiative.
Midway the second period the Austrians extended the lead. Raffl shot at 8:36 and was lucky that the puck was deflected by a Polish stick to find its way into the net. Just half a minute later Lukas Haudum shot for the 5-0 goal, also that one went behind Radziszewski deflected. And at 15:39 Komarek deflected the puck into the net after a pass to the crease from Fabio Hofer to extend the lead to 6-0.
“We lost 11-0, it’s hard to find words. We were not good from the beginning and after they scored the first goals it was really hard,” said Poland head coach Jacek Plachta. “It’s not so easy when you go down 3-0, we started the second period pretty well and had chances but we didn’t score and then the puck went in on the other side. In all I think we played a good tournament.”
Poland’s biggest chance came with 36 seconds left in the period when Damian Kapica was hooked by Heinrich during a breakaway and got a penalty shot but he lost the puck in front of Bernhard Starkbaum, who again had a strong night and earned his shutout with 26 saves. Instead of the Poles, it was Komarek who scored his second goal of the day on the other side nine seconds before the intermission on a rebound.
Steven Strong added another marker in the third period with a shot from the left face-off dot through Radziszewski’s five-hole. Haudum deflecting a long pass toward the goal from Heinrich and Lebler added two more goals in the end for the final score of 11-0.
For Austria it was an important win after a bad year 2016. For the first time since 1991 did the Austrians not earn promotion when playing at Division I level after having gone up in 1992, 1997, 2006, 2008, 2012 and 2014. That was in spring at the Division I Group A in Katowice. A few months later Austria underperformed at the Final Olympic Qualification in Riga and missed a spot at the 2018 Olympic Winter Games.
The results also led to changes in the coaching position. Roger Bader took over in November and ended his first IIHF tournament as Austria’s men’s national team head coach with gold.