By Andy Potts –

The Netherlands powered to gold in the 2018 IIHF Ice Hockey Women’s World Championship Division II Group A with a flawless week’s work in Maribor, Slovenia. Unbeaten in five games, with just three goals allowed, the Dutch were a class above the opposition throughout the competition and wrapped up the title in fine style with an impressive 4-0 victory over Great Britain in Friday’s decisive game between the best two teams of the tournament.

As a result, the Netherlands returns to Division IB. Relegation in 2016 in Asiago was followed by a silver medal in Korea last year at one of the preparation events for the Olympics in PyeongChang, but this time the Dutch went one better.

The game against Great Britain was a clash between two nations with 100% records, but even in the early rounds of the tournament the Dutch had looked stronger. More goals scored and fewer allowed at the other end meant the Netherlands would be the favourite ahead of the gold-medal showdown.

Joep Franke’s team lived up to its billing from the start. The first period was one-way traffic, with the Brits limited to just a couple of shots at Nadia Zijlstra while the Netherlands fired in 13 efforts at Nicole Jackson. Britain was fighting to stay in the game, but lost that battle in the middle frame when the Dutch scored three without reply. Captain Savine Wielenga got things started with a power-play goal shortly after the intermission before feeding Kayleigh Hamers for a rocket of a shot to make it 2-0.

Britain’s best hopes of a recovery came and went with a 5-on-3 power play towards the end of the second period. The Dutch, though, not only killed the penalty but went on to kill off the game with a third goal seconds after Hamers escaped the box. Julie Zwarthoed scored, with Wielenga among the assists again, to make it 3-0 and take her to 11 points for the tournament. Another power play saw Bieke van Nes add a fourth early in the final frame, and the outcome was beyond doubt.

Zwarthoed and Wielenga led the Dutch scoring with 11 and 10 points respectively, while Zijlstra’s goaltending brought her two shutouts from three starts, and just one goal allowed in the 2-1 win over Slovenia. That game was the tightest battle for the eventual champion: the other results were a 5-2 win over DPR Korea and big shutout wins against Australia and Mexico.

For Britain, a silver medal was an improvement on bronze in 2017 and that gave cause for encouragement for head coach Cheryl Smith. “We have plenty to be proud of, and the program is clearly going in the right direction,” she said after the game. The tournament also marked the end of Angela Taylor’s international career after two spells on the national team totalling more than a decade brought 54 appearances and 70 points for her country.

The tournament also brought a bronze medal for DPR Korea. The roster featured several players who gained Olympic experience as part of the Unified Korean team in PyeongChang in February. Un Hyang Kim, who made five Olympic appearances, was the top goalscorer with six; Hyang Mi Kim, who featured in three games in PyeongChang, led the scoring with nine points. Su Hyon Jong, who famously joined her South Korean colleague Jongah Park to carry the Olympic Torch to the cauldron during the Opening Ceremony, contributed with six assists in five games.

Australia edged the Slovenian hosts for fourth place, winning 4-2 when the nations went head-to-head on Friday; Slovenia’s Pia Pren had some consolation as her two assists lifted her to 11 points and a share of the tournament scoring lead with Zwarthoed. Mexico struggled throughout the competition and was relegated after failing to win a game and scoring just three goals.