AUT but not out

All teams in three points before last games of Relegation Round

07-05-11
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Ondrej Nepela Arena Bratislava  Slovakia
It was a battle for every puck. Photo: Matthew Manor / HHOF-IIHF Images

BRATISLAVA – Austria took its first points in the tournament when it beat Slovenia 3-2, turning the last day of the Relegation Round into a thriller. The winners of the two games (Slovenia-Belarus, Latvia-Austria) stay in the top division.

Austria - Slovenia 3-2 (1-0, 1-2, 1-0) Game Sheet Photos

Thomas Raffl scored one and added an assist for the Austrians. Goaltender Fabian Weinhandl made 31 saves.

"This was a very important win. It was tough for us to find our way into the game. We haven't played like we can here in the previous games," said Weinhandl.

"We tried our best but things didn't work out today," said Slovenia forward Ales Kranjc.

Of the 16 teams in the tournament, only one had zero points before today: Austria. Slovenia, in turn, was looking to clinch a top division spot for the 2012 World Championship. In their previous three games in the World Championships, Austria had come out on top twice, although, Slovenia won their last meet at the 2005 World Championship.

Austria had had trouble scoring in the 2011 tournament. Before the game against Slovenia, their leading scorers were Michael Schiechl, Marco Pewal, Oliver Setzinger, with one each. Now there are six one-goal scorers on the team.

It didn’t look good in the first period today, either, but at 19:03, the team got a new goal scorer when team captain Gerhard Unterluggauer’s wrist shot from the blue line beat Robert Kristan in Slovenia’s goal.

Despite their three penalties in the first period, Austria outshot Slovenia 15-8 in the first period, and when Thomas Raffl gave Austria a 2-0 lead 4:15 into the second period, Slovenia was in trouble. Raffls sent a quick wrist shot from the hash marks of the right hand side face-off circle and beat Kristan high on the glove side.

Slovenia didn’t give up, and with 3:30 remaining in the period, Slovenia’s captain Tomaz Razingar drove to the net, and deflected Marcel Rodman’s slap shot past Fabian Weinhandl in Austria’s net to make it a one-goal game.

"After the 2-0 we felt great. They they got a lucky bounce and then, suddenly it was 2-2. We fought our way back well, though," said Weinhandl.

And with just 19 seconds remaining in the period, David Rodman faked a shot, and when Weinhandl hit the ice, Rodman tied the game with a nice wraparound.

Austria took the lead back at 5:52 when Philipp Lukas found Rafael Rotter right on Kristan’s doorstep. Rotter stopped the puck with his skate and slammed it in to make it 3-2.

Coach Bill Gilligan took a time out with 7:02 remaining when Austria got a 5-on-3 power play opportunity, for 1:17. Slovenia managed to kill the penalties, but it left them with only five minutes in the clock to try to tie the game.

But Austria fought until the end, and got very important three points.

Tomorrow, Austria will play against Latvia for a spot in the top division. Winner stays, loser goes down.

"Had we lost today, we would have been relegated. For us, it's the same situation tomorrow," said Weinhandl.

Slovenia takes on Belarus in an equally crucial game.

"We'll put all our energy into that game, and see what happens," said Kranjc.

"A win is a must tomorrow. Belarus has skilled players so we'll have to stay out of the penalty box and score on our chances," he added.

RISTO PAKARINEN

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