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.”
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.
- Slovenia 12 (promoted)
- Hungary 9 (promoted)
- Lithuania 6
- Korea 3
- Romania 0 (relegated)