Category: World Championships (Page 1 of 15)

Finland does it!

Finland’s Joel Armia scores the 3-1 goal in the gold medal game against Canada.

By Andrew Podnieks – IIHF.com

Sakari Manninen scored at 6:42 of the three-on-three unlimited overtime with a one-timer on a power play to give Finland a thrilling 4-3 win over Canada to win World Championship gold.

It’s the first medal on home ice in nine tries for Finland, and they join Sweden in 2006 as the only teams to win Olympic gold and World Championship gold in the same year. The double means that Valtteri Filppula becomes the first Finn to join the Triple Gold Club, the 30th member overall.

Finland scored three goals in the third period to erase a 1-0 Canada lead, but Canada responded with two late goals to send the game to overtime. 

This marks a continuation of the most successful period in international hockey history for Finland, which has now won gold or silver in the last four major events – gold at the 2019 Worlds, silver in 2021, gold at the Olympics three months ago, and now gold at the 2022 Worlds. Goalkeeper Jussi Olkinuora, tournament MVP here, and skaters Marko Anttila and Atte Ohtamaa have been on all four teams.

Canada has now won either gold or silver in six of the last seven World Championships (excepting 2018).

Max Comtois is the only returnee from last year’s gold-medal team, but Thomas Chabot and Pierre-Luc Dubois were part of Canada’s 2019 entry, which lost to the Finns in the gold-medal game. 

This was only the second World Championship game ever in Tampere between the two teams. The first was way back in 1965, a 4-0 Canada win when the tournament was strictly a round-robin event.

After Finland took a 3-1 lead with only six minutes to go, matters looked dire for Canada, but as they so often do, they fought back with two goals in the final two minutes.

It was clear from the outset what Canada’s plan was – dump the puck in and make the Finnish defenders chase it and work to get possession. Time and again, though, Canada roared in to get the puck, and although the period was scoreless the tempo and tone were dictated heavily by Canada’s pressure and willingness to use the body.

The home crowd chanted and clapped for their heroes time and again, but there wasn’t a lot to cheer for in the first 20 minutes. The few Finnish shots all had a familiar look to them – long range, right into the logo of Chris Dreidger, who swallowed every puck without giving up a rebound.

The best chance of the period came off pressure from Canada. Saku Maenalanen was slow with the puck inside his line, and he was checked by Matt Barzal, who got the puck to Josh Anderson, trailing the play. Anderson let go a quality shot from the slot, but Olkinuora got his right pad out to make the save.

Canada opened the scoring early in the second on the game’s first power play. With Niklas Friman in the box for hooking, Canada moved the puck around nicely to set up Dylan Cozens with a one-timer. He made no mistake, slapping a cross-ice pass from Barzal high to the open side before Olkinuora could get over. 

The Finns earned a power play of their own later, and although they produced several good chances Dreidger was sensational in goal, kicking out one dangerous shot and smothering several other chances. Suomi had their best chance late in the period when Jere Sallinen hit the post.

After 40 minutes, tight defence, and one goal, no one could have envisioned a third period with five goals. Canada incurred not one, not two, but three overlapping penalties to start, and Finland cashed in big time. Mikael Granlund scored two goals in a span of 1:44, the first with a two-man advantage, and then one man, sending the crowd into a frenzy of delight. His first was a quick shot from the left side, and the second from the other side.

Making matters worse for Canada, Dreidger, who had played so well the last few games, injured himself trying to make the save on Granlund’s first shot. Matt Tomkins, who hadn’t played all tournament, was forced to come in. He surrendered the second power-play goal, a high shot over his glove.

The Finns went up 3-1 at 14:04 off a faceoff win. Joel Armia got to the puck first and wristed a quick shot through traffic that eluded Tomkins. And that seemed to be that. Two-goals lead, six minutes to play.

Canada had other ideas, though. They pressured Finland and got back in it when Zach Whitecloud drew Canada to within one with 2:12 remaining when he snapped a shot in. Tomkins came to the bench after the next faceoff, and Canada took possession immediately. After cycling and passing the puck superbly, Comtois tied the game at 18:36, silencing the crowd and sending the game to a fourth period, where Manninen made himself a part of IIHF World Championship history.

Media All-Star Team

Goalkeeper: FINLAND #45 OLKINUORA Jussi
Defender: FINLAND #4 LEHTONEN Mikko
Defender: USA #4 SETH Jones
Forward: CZECHIA #10 CERVENKA Roman
Forward: CANADA #80 DUBOIS Pierre-Luc
Forward: FINLAND #65 MANNINEN Sakari

Directorate Awards

Best Goalkeeper: FINLAND #45 OLKINUORA Jussi
Best Defender: FINLAND #4 LEHTONEN Mikko
Best Forward: CZECHIA #10 CERVENKA Roman

MVP

FINLAND #45 OLKINUORA Jussi

Czechs rally to thump U.S. for bronze

The Czech men’s national team celebrates after a come-from-behind win against the United States in the bronze medal game.

By Lucas Aykroyd – IIHF.com

The long wait is over. The Czechs exploded for six third-period goals in an 8-4 comeback win over the U.S. in the bronze medal game on Sunday afternoon. It’s Czechia’s first IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship medal since 2012’s bronze.

“It’s good for us, a bronze medal after 10 years,” said an ecstatic David Sklenicka. “It’s amazing for us, it’s unbelievable!”

Boston Bruins superstar David Pastrnak led the third-period rally with a hat trick and David Kampf scored twice. Captain Roman Cervenka got his fifth goal to extend his lead atop the tournament scoring race with 17 points. Jiri Cernoch and Jiri Smejkal also tallied for the Czechs, who trailed 2-0 and 3-1 in the first period.

The relief and happiness for Czech players, coaches, management, and fans is huge. The Central European nation’s 2012 bronze medal also came on Finnish ice in Helsinki. David Krejci, then 26, scored a first-period goal set up by Ales Hemsky that stood up as the winner as Czechia edged Finland 3-2.

“It’s going to be a big thing for [Czechia] and for the young kids who want to play hockey,” said Kari Jalonen, Czechia’s Finnish head coach. “These players are their idols and now they see them win this medal at a World Championship. Hopefully this will give a big push for the juniors too.”

With just seven games played, Pastrnak now shares the 2022 goals lead (seven) with Pierre-Luc Dubois ahead of the Finland-Canada gold medal game.

For the disappointed Americans, Karlson Kuhlman had a pair of first-period goals, and Adam Gaudette added his team-leading sixth goal.

The Americans earned four bronze medals at the last eight tournaments (2013, 2015, 2018, 2021), and have six in total since the IIHF instituted the playoff system in 1992. However, they have never played in the gold medal game, and last won the World Championship tournament in 1933.

It was a gritty effort, as the Americans again played with just four regular defencemen: captain Seth Jones, Nate Schmidt, Andrew Peeke, and Luke Hughes. The U.S. blue line has been decimated by injuries, COVID-19 issues, and departures due to family issues.

“I’m tired,” said Schmidt. “These last four days we were down to four defencemen, and it was tiring. We had a couple forwards come and help us out, which isn’t an easy thing to do, especially on the world stage with some of the best players in the world and playing a position you’re not used to. I don’t envy that position.”

“It was a learning experience,” added Sam Lafferty, who filled in on defence. “It felt pretty comfortable overall but the team needed me to play defence, so I was able to play D.”

Shots on goal favoured the Czechs 33-24.

Jalonen and U.S. coach David Quinn each started the NHL netminders that got them this far. However, Jalonen pulled Karel Vejmelka of the Arizona Coyotes after he let in three first-period goals on eight shots.

Substituting backup Marek Langhamer to start the second period paid off. Langhamer, who plays in Tampere for Ilves, looked comfortable and confident and was named the Czech Player of the Game, allowing just one goal on 16 shots.

Bruins netminder Jeremy Swayman, who backstopped the U.S. to within one goal of the final in the 4-3 semi-final loss to host Finland, recorded 25 saves.

This was the most goals ever scored by the Czechs versus the U.S. at the Worlds in the era of Czechia. Czechoslovakia beat the U.S. 11-2 in both 1981 and 1985.

“It got out of hand a little bit,” said Jones. “Going 3-2 into the third period, we were in a good spot. We’re not where we wanted to be. We gave up six goals in the third period. Obviously it happened against a high-score offence.”

The Americans opened the scoring at 9:33, profiting from a fortunate bounce. Off a faceoff in the Czech end, Andrew Peeke’s shot from the blue line deflected off the skate of defender Michael Kempny, enabling Kuhlman to put the puck into the open side.

At 12:14, Gaudette gave the U.S. a 2-0 lead on the power play. T.J. Tynan fed Matthew Boldy down low and he centred it to the Ottawa Senators forward, who fired it home. It was a mirror image of the late third-period goal Gaudette scored against Finland.

Swayman stopped Matej Blumel on a partial break with under seven minutes left in the first period. But the Czechs persevered and cut the gap to 2-1. Jakub Flek came out of the corner with the puck and fed Cernoch, who took the puck off his skate and fired it through Swayman’s five-hole despite being surrounded by three U.S. checkers.

Showing great anticipation, Kuhlman scored shorthanded with just 13 seconds left in the opening frame. The U.S. broke out of its zone, and after Kuhlman pivoted to send a backhanded pass to Sam Lafferty, he hustled to the net to convert a subsequent feed from Nate Schmidt.

Kuhlman, a fourth-year NHLer who was acquired by the Seattle Kraken off waivers from the Boston Bruins, isn’t known as a big scorer. The former University of Minnesota-Duluth captain had just two assists in his nine previous games in Finland. In 100 career NHL games, Kuhlman has nine goals and 14 assists. Unfortunately, his hot first period was as good as it got for America.

At 12:12 of the second period, the Czechs made it a one-goal game. Sklenicka’s release from the left point hit Peeke in front, and as the U.S. rearguard struggled to find the puck at his feet, Smejkal banged the rebound past a surprised Swayman.

“Thank God our goal came there,” said Smejkal. “That really helped us going into the third that we were down by just one goal.”

The third period was wild. Just 51 seconds in, the Czechs drew even at 3-3. Peeke tried to clear the puck out on the right wall, but it barely got over the blue line, where Tomas Hertl and the linesman stood. Herlt got the puck to Pastrnak and he swooped into the faceoff circle to score on a quick release, using Peeke as his decoy.

“We switched the lines a little bit,” Hertl said. “Me and Pasta, we played together a couple of times in summer hockey, so we found some chemistry and scored some goals. I know he’s one of the best goal-scorers in the NHL, so I just tried to find him and he can did the rest. It worked out and I’m just happy we won.”

At 2:29, Cervenka gave Czechia its first lead of the game. Off a draw in the U.S. end, Krejci won it back to the Czech captain and he zipped it past Swayman’s glove before the netminder could budge.

“After the second period we said in the locker room that we have 20 minutes and we have to put it all in,” Cervenka said. “We scored in the beginning of the third and one goal came after another. We controlled the game and were better and faster and we made it.”

Truly, smelling blood, the Czechs kept coming. They got the U.S. goalie moving side to side, and Michal Jordan found Pastrnak right in front for the 5-3 marker.

With 5:18 left in the third period, Swayman stretched out to stop Smejkal’s backhand deke on a shorthanded breakaway, but couldn’t prevent Kampf from gobbling up the rebound for Czechia’s sixth goal.

Kampf put the icing on the cake with an empty-netter at 18:08 as the Czechs rejoiced. Bordeleau spoiled Langhamer’s unblemished performance 33 seconds later, but it hardly mattered.

“We were close to closing the tournament out in the right way and 20 minutes is what did us in,” Schmidt said.

At 19:23, Pastrnak, set up by Hertl, completed his hat trick with a wicked power play one-timer, and ball caps were tossed on the ice. At the final buzzer, Jalonen’s team flocked together behind the net to hop up and down with glee.

Jalonen received a big round of applause from the Finnish fans as he received his bronze medal from IIHF President Luc Tardif. Jalonen coached Finland to the silver medal at the 2016 Worlds in Moscow.

The Czechs have not won the gold medal since shocking a stacked Russian roster 2-1 in Cologne in 2010. So they’ll now put gold on their must-do list when they take part in the 2023 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship (Tampere and Riga).

“I hope this can help us a lot for next season, and we can come back and earn the gold medal next year,” said Sklenicka.

Icelandic women win thriller

The Icelandic players celebrate with their gold medals and trophy after winning the 2022 IIHF Ice Hockey Women’s World Championship Division II Group B in a nailbiter of a game against Australia.

By Henrik Manninen – IIHF.com

Iceland kept a cool head to win gold by the tiniest of margins at the 2022 IIHF Ice Hockey Women´s World Championship Division II Group B in Zagreb, Croatia.

Team captain Silvia Bjorgvinsdottir led by example by scoring the shootout winner to give Iceland a 2-1 victory over Australia. Her coolly dispatched backhand high past Australia’s netminder Olivia Last seals top spot for the Scandinavians. The Icelandic team captain was the sole skater to convert in a nailbiter of a shootout contest lasting six rounds.

“We have been working so hard for the past three or four years for this moment. I am so proud of all the girls on the team, and I think that we deserved it this year,” said the 22-year-old following an afternoon of high drama inside Zagreb’s Velesajam Ice Rink.

A vital cog in the Icelanders’ memorable promotion success was also netminder Birta Helgudottir, who kept all of Australia’s half-a-dozen penalty shots out of her net. Helgudottir and Silvia Bjorgvinsdottir were selected as the tournament’s best goalkeeper and forward respectively by the Directorate.

“It was a very important win for us in a game where the difference between the teams was small in details but huge by going up a division. Everyone contributed as we rolled four lines for most of the game so for me the win came from a team effort,” said Iceland head coach Jon Gislason.

“Our focus was to grow fast as the tournament went on and save the best for last and that worked out for us this time. I felt we improved our puck game throughout the tournament and we had to work hard for any possession against a strong forechecking Australian team that I feel belongs in the group above. But I think we do as well and ahead of next year with good preparation I believe we can play good games and compete for a win against any team in Division IIA,” he said.

The win sees Iceland promote to skate at the 2023 IIHF Ice Hockey Women’s World Championship Division II Group A. It also marks the highest overall position Iceland’s women’s national team has been at since entering World Championship play in 2005.

“Huge compliments to our girls who have worked very hard for this for many years and also to all our former players who have made this all possible. Our new generation of players are bringing new skills to our program while our veteran players guide them well and share their experience to take this team to new levels,” said Gislason, who as a player himself was an influential member of the Icelandic men’s national team, who back then punched well above their weight.

In Zagreb, Iceland had gotten the tournament underway by scoring double-digits in a 10-1 win against South Africa. A tougher nut to crack came against eventual bronze-medallists Turkey in game two as Sunna Bjorgvinsdottir scored the winner early in the third period in a 3-2 victory. An 11-1 blowout against Croatia then set them up in a winner-takes-it-all game for gold against Australia on the final day.

In a see-saw battle in Velesajam Ice rink, Australia started the brightest, but as the period wore on Iceland worked themselves into the game, winning the shots 10-6 during a goalless first frame.

Iceland’s men’s national team won gold as recently as last month at the 2022 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship Division II Group B. Now eager to emulate their success, the women’s team came one step closer during the second period against Australia.

Despite being outshot the Scandinavians broke the deadlock with 2:23 left of the second period. From her position along the boards Silvia Bjorgvinsdottir picked out Teresa Snorradottir whose shot from the point was saved by Last before Sunna Bjorgvinsdottir reacted quickest on the rebound to score Iceland’s opener.

Australia’s men’s team had withdrawn from World Championship play contested last month at this very same venue. With the women’s team now being able to return to the world stage as first team from Down Under in two years, the “Mighty Jills” were eager to make up for lost time.

They were level at 7:31 of the third peirod. Iceland’s Sunna Bjorgvinsdottir failed to control the puck in her defensive zone, it was snapped up by the lighting quick Kristelle van der Wolf. From her position in the slot between the two face-off circles, she unleashed a wrister between the pads of Helgudottir to tie things up.

With the game appearing now appearing to tilt over into Australia’s favour, 60 minutes of regular time were unable to separate the two evenly matched teams. With overtime and three-on-three taking over, it appeared to suit the pacy Australians better. They outshot Iceland 7-2 but failed to find a way to get the puck behind Helgudottir in the Icelandic net.

“I felt our speed and skating ability was a little bit better than theirs. However, they were able to skate with us during that time and outmuscle us during the 3-on-3. Even though we had a lot of the play at their end, we had a few high scoring chances but we were just unable to put the puck into the back of the net,” said Australia’s head coach Stuart Philps.

Throughout the tournament, Last of Finland’s RoKi Rovaniemi played 125 minutes and conceded just one goal for Australia. She shared goaltending duties with 33-year-old Tina Girdler of the Sydney Sirens, who did not concede a single goal in 120 minutes of play. Rylie Ellis also stood out for Australia being voted the best defender by the Directorate. Going forward they found the net with ease scoring 38 goals while conceding only twice in four games.

“A shootout is not a good way to win or lose a tournament. But that’s the way it is, which we have to accept. The performance of the Australian team has been outstanding. For a team brought together with short notice and to only concede one goal in regulation time in the entire tournament is a credit to our players and goaltenders,” said Philps.

Perfect finish for Slovenia

By Martin Merk – IIHF.com

Slovenia beat Korea 4-1 in its last game of the 2022 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship Division I Group A on home ice for a perfect finish in Ljubljana that ended with the gold medals for the Slovenes.

Slovenia ends the tournament with a 4-0 record. The Slovenes won all games with a clear margin of three or more goals except the first one, a 4-2 win against Lithuania where they also held a four-goal lead until five minutes before the final buzzer.

Slovenia outshot the Koreans 29-13 although the margin came from the first period when Slovenia had five power plays while the teams had equal numbers of shots on goal in each of the other periods.

At the closing ceremony the Slovenian team got the gold medals awarded and Hungary took silver. The top-two teams earned promotion to the top division for next year. Lithuania didn’t play today and was awarded the bronze medals yesterday.

The game came after a media conference where the ice hockey associations from Slovenia and Hungary announced to bid together to host the top-level 2023 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship in Budapest and Ljubljana (see here) to replace the original host St. Petersburg, Russia. It would be a bonus for the two countries few days after having earned promotion to the top level.

“It’s sometimes tough for focus when the games doesn’t change the standings but we started off well, had chances to score goals,” said Ziga Jeglic.

“It’s fun to be back in the top division. I hope we can stay this time and I really hope that it’s going to work out with Hungary to host. It would be great for hockey around this area. It’s important to develop hockey not just in the top hockey nations and not to have it there every time. It would mean a lot for us and we would have the support from our fans.”

Jeglic led the tournament in scoring with seven points (3+4), same as his teammate Jan Urbas (0+7). He was selected as best forward by the tournament directorate and as MVP in the media vote.

“I have to thank first my team and then my linemates Jan [Urbas] and Miha [Verlic]. For sure I couldn’t do that without them,” Jeglic said.

Slovenia and Korea entered the game knowing in advance that they would finish the tournament in first and fourth place respectively. Despite that 4,000 fans came to almost fill the arena for a farewell of the tournament and to see the medal ceremony with gold for Slovenia.

For the Slovenes it was also a chance to avenge the 5-3 loss in the teams’ last Division I encounter three years ago.

“It’s great to win this kind of tournaments in front of the own fans with such a great atmosphere,” said captain Mitja Robar.

“We were a strong team, individually and as a team. We achieved all these good results thanks to our team spirit. We are like a family, a closely tied group. That’s our advantage. When we needed we just changed up a gear and dominated.”

Favorites on paper by the teams’ performances earlier this week the Slovenes lived up to the expectations. Also thanks to its many power plays – Korea took five minor penalties – the Slovenes outshot Korea 18-2 in the opening frame.

With a slapshot from the blue line Robar opened the scoring for Slovenia at 5:54 with the second power play.

The Slovenes also capitalized on the next man advantage with Sangwook Kim in the penalty box. At 11:26 Sabolic’s shot from the right face-off dot bounced from the right goal post to Korea goalie Matt Dalton and from there into the net.

The Koreans played more disciplined in a second period that allowed them to create chances and find back into the game. Shots were 7-7 but the only goal was scored by Slovenia at equal strength.

At 15:35 Sabolic finished a breakout with his second goal after a centering pass from Rok Ticar.

Ticar himself was in charge of Slovenia’s fourth marker just after a successful penalty kill. He intercepted a pass from Korean defender Heedoo Nam in the Korean zone and beat Dalton one-on-one.

“The game didn’t make a difference but we’re all professional. We won the game, that’s what we wanted,” said Urbas.

“Next year it’s definitely going to be a challenge. You always dream to play against the best and that’s going to happen next year. We’re excited about it,” he said. And the Ljubljana native hopes it could happen in his hometown with the bid. “It would be awesome to play in Ljubljana. I hope it happens.”

With 4:37 left on the game clock it was time for the Korean goal song. After Hyeongcheol Song saw his shot from the right side deflected, Jong Min Lee was well positioned to capitalize on the rebound and make it a 4-1 game.

For Korea the game and the tournament didn’t go as well as hoped. With little game experience at home due to tougher Covid-19 rules in the Far East than in Europe and the integration of new and younger players the tournament was a learning experience for the team. Thanks to a 4-1 win against Romania on Thursday the Koreans stay in this group.

“It was a good experience for us. We will try next year to get promoted,” said Sanghoon Shin.

Final Ranking

  1. Slovenia 12 (promoted)
  2. Hungary 9 (promoted)
  3. Lithuania 6
  4. Korea 3
  5. Romania 0 (relegated)

Gold for Poland

Poland’s Arkadiusz Kostek celebrates the opening goal as Poland defeats Japan in the Division IB championship decider in Tychy.

By Any Potts – IIHF.com

Arkadiusz Kostek was Poland’s unlikely gamewinner as the host nation took gold in Division IB. The 27-year-old defenceman is very much a stay-at-home type – until the 26th minute of today’s game. That’s when he grabbed his first ever World Championship goal, breaking the deadlock and setting Poland on course for a hard-fought 2-0 victory over Japan. Alan Lyszczarczyk added a clincher 96 seconds from the end.

Goaltender John Murray, so impressive throughout the tournament, also had another great game. He made 21 saves for his second shut-out of the championship, none bigger than his stop to deny Makuru Furuhashi a tying goal late in the third period. Murray finished with an impressive 97.78% save ratio but head Robert Kalaber would not be drawn into singling out individuals.

“We don’t have any one hero,” he said. “We have a team of heroes.”

The result secures a return Division IA for the Poles, who were relegated in 2018. Prior to the tournament, head coach Kalaber told journalists that he believed IA was Poland’s natural level and now he has led his team back there.

Japan wins silver, its fourth medal in a row at this level, but a return to the second tier of global hockey remains elusive. Head coach Rick Carriere, who was the Oilers’ director of player development before taking the Japanese job last season, was disappointed with the outcome but encouraged by what he saw in Tychy.

“Games like this are what makes our program better,” he said. “You don’t always get this playing at some other events.

“But playing in a final against a good team like Poland, we learned some lessons and we’re going to get better from it.”

Poland had Aron Chmielewski in its line-up for the first time in this tournament. The forward slotted straight into the first line alongside Lyszczarczyk and Filip Komorski. All three are signed to Ocelari Trinec in Czechia, but while the latter have been available throughout the World Championship after ending the season on loan at farm club Frydek-Mystek, Chmielewski is part of the Ocelari first team that won the Czech championship on Thursday.

“I’m so happy,” Chmielewski said as his second championship party in four days got started. “I didn’t have much time to party with my friends in Trinec before coming here, but now it feels so good.

“The national team had to wait four years for this because of Covid. I’m so happy to be here and to be a part of it.”

In the first period, though, Chmielewski and his teammates found it hard to get much of a result from the Japanese defence. With a typically hard-skating performance, Japan limited Poland’s opportunities and that top line managed just one shot on goal in an opening stanza shaded by the visitor.

At the other end, helped by two power plays, Japan was more threatening. Early in the game, John Murray made a good stop from Yushiroh Hirano and Shigeki Hitosato fired a dangerous shot into the side of the net. Later in the frame, Hitosato was even closer when he forced a sliding pad save out of Murray on the second Japanese power play of the afternoon.

“I was worried before this game,” admitted head coach Kalaber. “When we played exhibition games with Japan, they were very strong. I expected them to be our closest rivals here.

“But I want to talk about our heroes. The way we sacrificed ourselves on defence. The way we stayed solid and organised. That was the key to this victory.”

If the weight of expectation hampered Poland in the first period, the host nation stepped things up after the intermission. Early on, Chmielewski set up Lyszczarczyk for a shot off the crossbar and Japan struggled to clear its lines for long spells. That pressure paid off: five minutes into the middle frame, Lyszczarczyk played the puck out from behind the net, Mateusz Bryk’s point shot was padded away and fellow defenceman Arkadiusz Kostek put in the rebound. Normally, the 27-year-old blue liner would have no business trying to emulate a centre; gold-medal showdowns, though, are a bit different and Kostek could hardly have picked a better moment to open his international account.

Poland hoped to extend its lead on a power play midway through the session, but instead Japan almost grabbed a short-handed goal when Makuru Fukuhashi jumped on a loose puck and engaged the turbos to sprint down the ice and shoot from the top of the circle. Murray made the stop, but in the subsequent puck battle Poland took a penalty.

During the brief Japanese power play that followed, Yusuke Kon had a decent look but the defenceman could not get the puck out of his skates and Hitosato’s follow-up shot lacked punch. Almost immediately, Patryk Wadja jumped out of the box and straight onto an odd man rush but the defenceman could not get clear of the Japanese defence and the chance was lost.

In the third period, Poland looked to protect its advantage. Mindful of the danger of Japan’s pacy forward line, the Poles opted for a ‘safety first’ approach and, for long periods, there were few chances at either end.
There were still some anxious moments, though, none more so than Furuhashi’s 54th minute breakaway. The speedy forward came out of the penalty box and straight onto a stretch pass that left the Polish defence floundering in his wake. Murray, once again, saved his team and that stop was greeted with a cheer as loud as any goal in this arena.

“He’s just a wall,” Chmielewski said of his netminder. “He’s like 70%, 80% of this team and we’re delighted to have him with us. We have a great goalie.”

But the final cheer was for Lyszczarczyk’s goal. Japan will lament a treacherous bounce off an official’s skate the presented the Polish forward with the chance to seal the deal, but few in the Tychy crowd will worry about that as the celebrations of a home gold got started in earnest.

China marching to gold

The Chinese players celebrate with their gold medals after winning all games in Zagreb.

By  Henrik Manninen – IIHF.com

Two-and-a-half months after skating at the 2022 Olympic Winter Games, the Chinese men’s national team stormed through the 2022 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship Division II Group A in emphatic style and same as the women’s team recently earns promotion this spring.

The Chinese men will play in the Division I next year for the first time since 2007 when China hosted in Qiqihar.

Sweeping the field with a perfect record of four straight wins and a goal difference of 28-4, China skated in a class of their own. The gold medals were secured after just three games courtesy of a 5-1 win against hosts and bronze winners Croatia on Friday night.

With an entire roster skating for Kunlun Red Star of the KHL, China had earlier in the tournaments rolled past Israel 14-1, beaten their closest rivals, the Netherlands, 5-1 before dispatching the youngest team of the tournament, Spain, 4-1 in their final game.

“We were expected to win and we won, so that is important,” said China´s head coach Ivano Zanatta. “This is the first step of our heritage group of players participating at the World Championship. They showed the qualities that we need. Patience, determination, the right attitude, commitment, and that’s what’s important. I am really happy for Team China.”

The Netherlands defeated Croatia 6-2 in the closing game of the tournament to get their hands on the silver. At the opposite end of the table, promoted Israel lost all four games to finish bottom to drop down to Division IIB. Australia, bronze winners at its most recent World Championship appearance in 2019 was unable to compete due to Covid concerns and travel restrictions.

23-year-old Fu Shuai of China and Nick Verschuren of the Netherlands both tallied 4+6 in four games to top the scoring charts. China’s Fu Jiang also collected 10 points, with three goals and seven assists in just three games. The directorate awards went to Vilim Rosandic, Croatia (best goalkeeper), Jordy Verkiel, Netherlands (best defender) and Fu Jiang, China (best forward).

Structural damage caused by an earthquake in 2020 on Zagreb’s main rink Dom Sportova saw the tournament being relocated across River Sava. It was inside the spartan surroundings of Zagreb’s Velesajam Ice Rink that a new chapter of China’s World Championship history would be written.

Blueliner Kelin Zhou and forward Shen Jialei replaced Dannisi Auxibofu and Rudy Ying from China’s Olympic roster in Beijing. Another notable omission was netminder Jieruimi Shimisi. Ouban Yongli, who was in the net during five Olympic periods, took over as the first-choice goalie. Playing full minutes in Zagreb, the 22-year-old recorded a save percentage of 95.60 and a GAA of 1.00.

Backup goalie Han Pengfei remained as one of only three players who skated for China at their most recent World Championship in Belgrade in 2019. Back then China had avoided relegation by a whisker. Three years on, this new-look China team was in a class of its own up at the top.

China’s key game in the Croatian capital came in their second game against the Netherlands. Their most recent meeting at this level in 2018 had seen Netherlands blank China 7-0. With the Dutch now being underdogs, they fearlessly set out facing China in a fast-paced first frame.

Outshooting their European opponents 15-4 in the first frame, China struck first blood with 2:17 left of the period. Jian An picked up the puck in his defensive zone rounded his own net, fed Jieke Kailiaosi with a pass his father, the former NHL great Chris Chelios, would have been proud of. Jian An collected it at full speed to burst through a Dutch rearguard caught off-guard to clinically dispatch low to get China off the mark.

Ten seconds before the end of the first period, China scored again. Ruian Sipulaoer bounced a cross ice pass to Taile Wang who brought it down with his hand, picked out Jialei Shen in front of the Dutch net who outmuscled Verkiel before scoring on his rebound to double China´s lead behind 25-year-old netminder Ruud Leeuwesteijn.

Diego Hofland, making his first World Championship at the age of 31, clanged one off the post for the Netherlands only 90 seconds into the middle frame. But once again it was China being clinical in front of the net as the period wore on. They were three goals up at 5:02 of the middle frame. Jieke Kailiaosi fired a wrister and on the rebound from Leeuwesteijn, 37-year-old veteran Jinguang Ye grabbed the puck, turned around past Ties van Soest of the Dutch defence to dispatch home China’s third.

Skating with an all-Dutch born roster, the Netherlands had arrived to Zagreb with ten debutants at this level. One of those, 23-year-old blueliner Noah Muller, instigated the move offering the men in orange and white a lifeline late in the second period. Behind China’s net, he picked out Verschuren in the slot who showed great composure burying it top shelf at 16:17.

The lively Taile Wang capped a fine afternoon for China at 6:36 of the third frame. He got his third point of the afternoon as he raced past Mike Collard to score at the back door from a pass by Ruian Sipulaoer. Firmly in control of the proceedings, China closed the scoring with 2:56 left to play. Fu Jiang lobbed a backhand pass out of his defensive zone over three Dutch players and onto the path of Fui Shuai who from the face off circle to the right of Leuwesteijn finished high to close the scoring at 5-1.

“This would be the first game at this level I’ve experienced with this kind of tempo, so it was a pretty good hockey game for Division IIA,” said the Dutch head coach Doug Mason, who first coached the Netherlands back in 1993 and experienced a game or two at this level.

“Our players weren’t afraid at all, they wanted to put pressure on China whenever they had the opportunity to and wanted to try things. China’s second one was a cheesy goal. The fifth one too, but our goalie made some really good stops so they could have had other goals. The bottom line regardless of the score, is that I am very happy that our guys went out to play.”

Equally content with his performance and relishing every moment in Zagreb was China’s Zheng Enlai.

“It’s my second time representing China. The Olympics was my first. This setup at this tournament is not quite on the same level as the Olympics, but once you are out on the ice and representing your country it’s just an awesome experience,” he said.

Born in British Columbia, the 25-year-old is one of the so-called heritage players on China’s roster who has returned to his roots to bring the promise of a new dawn for Chinese hockey.

“It is awesome not just for myself but also for my family and my grandparents,” he said. “I still have a lot of family in China. They even tried to call me just a few seconds ago. They are really happy for me and I am happy that I have the option to do this.”

Throughout the history of international hockey, national team programs have been looking at various ways to speed up their progress. The Netherlands during the 1970s and Croatia from the last decade are just two examples. But despite the superiority of the Chinese team in Zagreb, head coach Zanatta dismisses any claim that China would now frantically start climbing up the divisions. Next up they will skate at the 2023 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship Division I Group B.

“I’ve been through this with Italy, both as a player and as a manager and it’s very difficult. This is one level and it’s still a battle as you saw against Spain and the next level is even more difficult,” Zanatta said.

“I think we are taking steps in the right direction. But you need a lot of patience in hockey. It’s a sport that requires time. You aren’t wearing shoes you are wearing skates, so people forget about the dynamics. But China has great infrastructure and obviously, they are going to have to continue working with the youth and kids and I think it looks good.”

France returns to Women’s Worlds

The French players celebrate after a win at the 2022 IIHF Ice Hockey Women’s World Championship Division I Group A on home ice in Angers.

By Martin Merk – IIHF.com

The French women’s national team defeated Norway 4-1 to win the 2022 IIHF Ice Hockey Women’s World Championship Division I Group A on home ice in Angers at a packed IceParc and earns promotion back to the top division of the Women’s Worlds for 2023.

The 3,586 fans at the rink also created a new attendance record for women’s hockey in France and saw a tight game in which France outshot the Norwegians 40-37. Four different players scored for France with Estelle Duvin having three points (1+2).

“It was a really good thing in front of our audience. We played a great game from the beginning until the end. We started well, we showed them that we are here and we are ready. We are very happy about that,” Duvin said.

France and Norway were on par after three games with the French having the upper hand in the head-to-head game against a hard fighting Norwegian team.

Both France and Norway entered the last game with two wins against the Netherlands and Slovakia, and an overtime loss to Austria, with seven points and a +6 goal difference. It was a winner-takes-it-all game. Whoever would score more goals after 60 minutes, or after overtime or a shootout, would win the tournament and promotion to the 2023 IIHF Ice Hockey Women’s World Championship.

It turned out to be the return to the top level for France where it was relegated from in 2019 while Norway’s dream of getting back for the first time since 1997 was postponed.

“It’s been a goal for Norway for a very long time now. We almost made it a couple of times. For everyone on the team who has seen the ups and downs and never quite made it to the top division it would be huge,” Norwegian forward Andrea Dalen said before the game. The wait for the promotion will continue.

Norway had the better start into the first period. After eight minutes of play the Norwegians had a 10-5 shot advantage and were about to start their second power play when they fatally lost the puck in the neutral zone.

Chloe Aurard took the puck for a two-player rush on Norwegian goalie Ena Nystrom and sent a horizontal pass to Estelle Duvin, who opened the scoring for Les Bleues while playing shorthanded.

“It’s unreal. We’ve been waiting for years to have a World Championship at home and then it finally happened and we got the gold. It’s a dream come true,” said Aurard.

“It wasn’t an easy start. It was tough but we had our systems and we followed them. We knew how to stop them. We shot the puck to the net, we brought traffic. We just did what we had to do.”

With the goal France also improved its game and created more danger in front of the Norwegian net.

At 10:28 of the middle frame the French efforts paid off as the Norwegians struggled with the second offensive line of the French again. Defender Lucie Quarto netted the pack with the assist coming from Duvin.

1:39 later Duvin was again in the spotlight with a takeaway in the neutral zone and feeding Clara Rozier for the 3-0 goal.

The Norwegians tried hard to come back but struggled created high-calibre scoring chances against a tight-knit French defence.

In the third period the Norwegians came out strong putting pressure on the French net and were eventually rewarded when Andrea Dalen spoiled Caroline Baldin’s shutout with the 3-1 marker at 8:15. However, the French restored the three-goal lead three minutes later. With Lene Tendenes in the penalty box for an illegal hit Lara Escudero made it 4-1.

“We worked hard. We finally played our best game of the tournament. We just came back together today in front of the crowd so it’s quite a perfect night,” Baldin said.

“Norway played a really good game but we played as a team. It’s the heart of the team that made the difference. We say quite often “Team France Family” and it’s not just an image, it’s the truth and the solidarity between each other that worked.”

The French managed to defend the score before starting their celebration in blue with their home fans.

Also the top players of the tournament were split up between these two teams. French players Baldin and Aurard were named Best Goalkeeper and Best Forward respectively while Norway’s Emma Bergesen was voted Best Defender.

Slovakia edges Austria for bronze

In a neighbouring clash Austira wanted to keep its chances for gold alive while Slovakia had the chance to win bronze with a regulation-time win. It was the Slovaks who succeeded. The 2-1 victory against Austria meant third place and the best finish since 2013 for the Slovak women’s national team.

Slovakia had a dream start with Tatiana Korenkova’s opening marker after just 37 seconds of play. Austria had a surplus of scoring chances but struggled putting the puck past Slovak goalie Nikola Zimkova. Instead it was Lucia Haluskova, who scored the second goal of the game at 15:13 of the middle frame.

“Best feeling in my life!” Haluskova said quick as a shot after the game.

Annika Fazokas eventually put Austria on the scoreboard just 52 seconds later but seemed to run out of energy while looking to tie the game.

“We came here from the beginning to win a medal and even after the tough losses it remained our goal,” Haluskova said. “We worked for each other and stuck to our systems. We just wanted it more than they did.”

No medal instead of gold medal for Austria

Austria started the tournament with three overtime/shootout wins against tournament favourites France and Norway and against underdog Netherlands making them the only undefeated team going into the last day but having one point less than France and Norway.

With a regulation-time win the Austrians could have kept their chance for gold and promotion alive but instead were left empty-handed after losing to Slovakia.

For Austria it’s the second bitter ending this season in their quest to join the top nations. Last November the Austrians upset Germany with a 3-0 win in the Final Olympic Qualification but a 1-0 loss to Denmark sent the Danes to Beijing 2022 instead.

Learning experience for the Netherlands

For the Netherlands it was only the second time after 1999 that the orange team played in the second tier of women’s ice hockey. The Dutch won both the Division IIA in 2018 and the Division IB in 2019 to earn promotion. They managed to keep up with their opponents in most games and scored a goal in each of the four games but finished on bottom of the ranking with one point from a 2-1 shootout loss against Austria.

More women’s hockey is coming soon with two tournaments that were moved to summer months due to Covid concerns. The Division IIB will take place in Zagreb, Croatia from 17-22 May.

The top-level 2022 IIHF Ice Hockey U18 Women’s World Championship will take place from 6 to 13 June in Madison and Middleton in Wisconsin, USA the Division IB of the category is scheduled for 5-11 September in Radenthein, Austria.

For the first time a top-level IIHF Ice Hockey Women’s World Championship will take place in an Olympic year. Denmark will host the tournament from 25 August to 4 September in Frederikshavn and Herning.

The tournament program, dates and hosts for 2023 will be determined in late May.

Gold for Iceland

By Andy Potts – IIHF.com

Iceland held its nerve to see off a spirited Belgian team and secure top spot as it staged 2022 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship Division II Group B.

The host nation reeled off four victories, culminating in a 3-2 win over Belgium on Saturday evening to clinch gold in Reykjavik. Georgia, which began the tournament with a surprise win over the Belgians, took silver and recorded its best ever result in IIHF play.

At the other end of the table, Mexico lost all four games and finishes last of the five teams. New Zealand was unable to compete due to Covid restrictions.

Ragnarsson denies Belgian forwards

Saturday’s showdown between top seed Belgium and host nation Iceland saw the Nordic country come into the game with a three-point advantage. After its 3-4 reverse against Georgia, Belgium needed to win by at least two goals against the undefeated Icelanders if it was to succeed in a three-way tie.

After an even first period, Belgium took lead in the second when Jacques de Ceuster potted his third goal of the tournament. Suddenly, Iceland’s grip on top spot looked less secure and Belgium was one marker away from assuming the lead. However, the home team responded with two goals in the middle frame to move ahead in the game and enliven the Laugardalur Arena crowd.

First, Gunnar Arason’s stretch pass sent Axel Orongan into the danger zone and he deked his way past a defender before beating Arne Waumans in the Belgian net. A needless foul by Hakon Magnusson put Iceland back under pressure, with Johann Ragnarsson called upon for a couple of big saves during the penalty kill, but late in the frame the host nation got in front. This time, it was a spectacular coast-to-coast effort from Halldor Skulason, who managed to squeeze the puck past Waumans just before his momentum sent him crashing into the net. The Belgians protested, claiming the frame was off its moorings before the puck crossed the line, but the officials awarded the goal.

Down, but not yet out, Belgium began the third period with a flurry of chances. The best of them went to Bryan Henry, who found himself clean through on Ragnarsson’s goal but could not find a way past the teenage goalie. Ragnarsson is rated as one of Iceland’s top prospects: this season he has been with Czech club Rytiri Vlasim in the country’s fourth league, gaining experience of junior and senior play in a country with a stronger hockey infrastructure than his native Reykjavik can offer. At this tournament he was deservedly named the top goaltender, thanks in no small part to his impressive performance against Belgium.

Ragnarsson finished the game with 44 saves; his opposite number Waumans faced just 26 shots. But Belgium was unable to find its way back into contention and a tripping call on Alec James handed Iceland the chance to finish the job. The home power play delivered: Orongan blasting home his second of the night from between the hash marks off Bjorn Sigurdarson’s feed. That wasn’t quite the end for Belgium: with 2:34 left on the clock, Frank Neven’s one-timer made it 2-3 as his team converted a power play chance. But there was no late drama as Iceland closed out the final minutes to secure its first gold medal in IIHF competition since winning Division 3 in 2006. Belgium, relegated from IIA in 2019, had to settle for bronze here.

The tournament triumph also saw Iceland’s head coach Vladimir Kolek banish the spectre of relegation in his first season in charge of the team. The Czech, who played several seasons in the Czechoslovak top flight with Dukla Jihlava, took on the Iceland role in the 2017/18 campaign when the team dropped out of Division IIA. The following year brought IIB silver behind Israel before the pandemic halted international play at this level. Back in action, Iceland returned with a youthful roster including seven teenagers while Orongan, a two-goal hero against Belgium, is a 21-year-old making his World Championship debut. There is still room for experience, though: Iceland’s leading scorers here were 28-year-old alternate captains Bjorn Sigardarson (3+6 points), Johann Leifsson (2+6) and 31-year-old Andri Mikaelsson (3+4).

Georgia celebrates best result

This year’s tournament was also a big success for Georgia, which won silver and clinched its best ever result in IIHF play. In contrast with the winning Icelandic roster, this was an experienced team – average age 28 – featuring many players who have been involved throughout the country’s rise. Just eight years ago, Georgia played its first Division III campaign, losing all five games and allowing 78 goals in the process. In Reykjavik, though, victory over Belgium was followed with further success against Bulgaria (10-3) and Mexico (5-0). Only a 2-5 loss to Iceland slowed the progress of Roland Svanidze’s team.

Georgia also had the tournament’s leading scorers: Nikita Bukiya (7+4) and Ivan Karelin (5+6) both finished with 11 points from four games. Like many on the team, they learned their hockey in Russia, Bukiya playing two seasons in the second-tier VHL in his hometown of Saratov while Novosibirsk native Karelin was part of the system at KHL organisation Sibir before joining Mimino in the Georgian mountain resort of Bakuriani in 2018/19.

The directorate awards went to Ragnarsson (best goalie), Belgium’s Neven (best defenceman) and Leifsson (best forward).

China top Ice Hockey Women’s World Championship Group B

Players of China celebrate scoring during the match against Poland at the 2022 IIHF Ice Hockey Women’s World Championship Division I Group B in Katowice, Poland, April 14, 2022.

Source: CGTN

Team China finished first in Group B of the 2022 Ice Hockey Women’s World Championship after beating hosts Team Poland 7-2 on Thursday, securing a spot in Group A of Division 1.

Both teams had clinched four straight wins before the encounter, as the Chinese squad delivered strong performances against Team South Korea, Team Italy, Team Slovenia and Team Kazakhstan throughout the tournament.

China’s Lin Qiqi scored just one minute into the game, and soon doubled the lead with a pass from captain Yu Baiwei.

Four Chinese players, including Liu Zhixin, Mi Le, Zhang Xifang and Lin Ni, contributed goals to help China expand the gap to 6-0 after the first period, while Poland struggled to find form.

Poland’s Klaudia Chrapek scored two goals after the break, but the team couldn’t reverse the match.

Ten minutes before the game ended, veteran Yu fired in a shot to seal the deal for China at 7-2, as China returned to Group A of Division 1 for the first time in 11 years.

Belgian women win

The Belgian players celebrate with the trophy after winning the 2022 IIHF Ice Hockey Women’s World Championship Division III Group A.

By Ivan Tchechankov – IIHF.com

Belgium edged Lithuania on goal difference to finished first at the 2022 IIHF Ice Hockey Women’s World Championship Division III Group A. This unique situation occurred as the tournament held in Sofia, Bulgaria, from 4 to 9 April, took place in a double-round-robin format with just three teams. Belgium won one out of two games against second-placed Lithuania but with the better goal difference in the head-to-head games.

Originally there were six teams in this group, but Hong Kong, China withdrew because of Covid-19 related issues. Soon after Ukraine had to withdraw due to the Russian invasion of the country. Then the Romanian Ice Hockey Federation informed that their team was withdrawn because it would not be able to fulfill the Covid portocols, which would forsee a quarantine for non-vaccinated players.

The last time that the three teams – Belgium, Bulgaria and Lithuania – participated at the world stage of women’s ice hockey was during the 2020 IIHF Ice Hockey Women’s World Championship Division III, which was held at the very same Winter Sports Palace in Sofia. Belgium finished second behind South Africa, Bulgaria was fourth and Lithuania finished fifth in its international debut.

28 months later they were back in the same place, but with some new faces on the rosters and with different success. Belgium and Lithuania exchanged victories and both teams won against the host, so in the end the winner was the one with the better goal difference in the direct games. In the opening game of the tournament Lithuania beat Belgium 3-2 but three days later Belgium got a commanding 8-0 revenge.

“We took a good advantage from the double-round-robin format. After the first game we still had a shot on the gold and in the end, we got it. We changed the tactics for the second game against Lithuania. We put some players on Klara Miuller and tried to keep her out of the game and I think we succeed in that. Of course, they have a good goalie, but we always say: ‘When the first or second goal falls it would be our game.’ At 3-0 they changed the goalie, which was a surprise and then the game was actually over,” said Tim Vos, head coach of Belgium.

Klara Miuller, just 16 at her debut two years ago, shone in her previous visit to Sofia with nine goals in five games and was awarded as the best forward in the 2020 tournament. This week she scored nine goals too, but eight of those were in the first two games including six against Bulgaria. Miuller was unstoppable in the first game versus Lithuania – two goals, an assist and seven shots at the net from the team’s total of 15. The first period finished 2-0, but Femke Bosmans scored the first goal for Belgium in the 35th minute. After a series of ten penalties (seven for Lithuania) to start the third period 16-years old Anke Steeno tied the game on 4-on-3 power play with 5:07 left in regulation time. The parade to the sin bin continued with two infractions in 57 seconds for Belgium and Miuller capitalized on the 5-on-3 advantage for the game-winning goal at 56:43.

“We were the better team in the first game too. We had triple the amount of shots on net – 45 to 15, but we didn’t score as much. In the second game we had a 53-6 shot advantage. We were in a good shape and kept pushing, we outskated them. We were a more complete team. The girls are together for few years now and we grow every year. I think we have a good chance to stay in the above group, but our scoring ability has to go up. For some time that has been a problem for us,” admitted Vos, who was the captain of Belgium men’s national team at 13 World Championship tournaments in the period 1996-2010 and coached the women’s team from 2017 to 2019. In those three tournaments, as well in 2020 Division III Championships, Belgium was always second in the ranking.

On this year roster there were 11 women from the Cold Play Sharks Mechelen, a team that plays in Germany’s second-tier league, and four who are competing in the Netherlands. “We didn’t have friendly games before the championship. We tried to play with Dutch teams, but with the Covid rules everything was cancelled. We practised just once a week for one hour during the season,” explained Vos.

After a day of rest, Lithuania did not look like the team that won the first round-robin stage. The women were slower, didn’t have enough energy and Klara Miuller was not the dominant figure she was at the start of the event. In the first two periods Emilie Simonsen, who plays in Aalborg (Denmark), made 33 saves and was the only reason that Belgium led only 1-0. In just 65 seconds at the beginning of the third period Lotte de Guchtenaere scored two goals and Simonsen was replaced by Vilte Belicenkaite. The latter allowed three goals on six shots in 4:40 minutes and Simonsen, who was selected best goalkeeper in the tournament for second time in a row, was back on net, but the damage was done. 

“Before we came, we said that we want more than bronze medals and now we have silvers. I must say: congratulations to the Belgium team. They were the best; they play as a team. It was not an easy tournament for us. The girls didn’t play one single game during the season because of the Covid-19 situation. The Latvian and Lithuanian leagues are playing together, but this season it was not possible. At any level, if you want to have success and winning, then you must have a summer training and that’s what the girls didn’t do. Our team was not in good conditioning shape and the game experience wasn’t there. During the season we had two practices a week and just before the tournament a week-long training camp with two friendly games. We beat Belgium in the first game here, which was a big surprise, but for the second game against them the girls were very tired,” said Bernd Haake, Lithuania’s head coach.

In their last game the Lithuanians scored three goals in five minutes in the middle of the first period after defensive lapses from Bulgaria, but in the second the lionesses stormed back with two tallies – by Maria Runevska and Mirela Zareva and had a 19-4 shot advantage. In the end Bulgaria had few chances to score, but the game finished 3-2 for Lithuania.

“We were lucky to win this game. The Bulgarian team was in good shape and our goalie Emilie saved us, especially in the second period. We want to host the tournament next year and I hope for better results. Klara Miuller has double citizenship – German and Lithuanian, so she will go to play in the German first league next season, probably in Mannheim, and that will bring her level up,” said Haake, the German expert, who has coached different Lithuanian’s national teams in the last decade.

Kaunas, the second-largest city in Lithuania, was scheduled to host the cancelled 2021 IIHF Ice Hockey Women’s World Championships Division III with eight participating countries as Estonia decided to come back to competition for the first time since 2008 and Bosnia and Herzegovina was due to make its debut. For this year there were three more debutants – Serbia, Israel and Iran (later withdrew), and it was decided to create Group A and B in the Division III with all the new and returning countries in Group B, which was staged in Belgrade, 22-25 March 2022, won by Estonia.

The Lithuanian team will receive the silver medals from Sofia by mail because it had to leave Saturday morning before the last game of the tournament and there was a theoretical possibility to finish with the gold if Bulgaria had taken a point from Belgium. The intrigue was there for almost twelve minutes, but then the favorites took control with four goals in just 2:11 minutes. In the end the score was the same as in the first game between those teams – 8:0. In addition to gold, Belgium earned two individual awards – Chinouk van Calster for the best defender and Lotte de Guchtenaere for best forward after she finished with seven goals and six assists.

In December 2019, Bulgaria had thee wins in five games and a 22-13 goal difference. The only defeats were against Belgium (2-4) and South Africa (1-2) and there were wins over Lithuania (2-1), Romania (4-3 OT) and Hong Kong, China (5-0). This time around the host finished with zero points and 5-27 goals.

“It is sad when you finish last and you don’t have any points. We can’t complain about our preparation for the championship. The team was practising the whole season two times a week and played 12 games in the men’s amateur league winning the title in the end. But we were missing some key players in the tournament. We had many problems with the goaltending, allowing soft goals. At the same time, we were not effective in capitalizing on our scoring chances. We were missing the precision and the composure in these situations,” explained Krasimir Monov, Bulgaria’s head coach.

The captain from the last three championships, Stefani Stoyanova, was injured during an exhibition game. The best player from the 2020 event, goalie Paulina Georgieva, suffered a knee injury in the first game and had to be replaced on the roster. And Veronika Metanova, who was at Concordia University Wisconsin and works in Chicago as policewoman, could nоt come. She had 14 goals in nine games for Bulgaria at the world stage since making her debut.

“We had chances against Lithuania. Even in the first game that we lost 3-7, the score was 2-3 until the end of the second period. We couldn’t contain Klara Miuller, but in the two games we scored five goals on a great goaltender as Simonsen. I’m happy with the character that the team showed coming back in the second game and fighting to the end,” said Monov.

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