Azzurri rejoin hockey’s elite

Div. IA: Italy promoted, Kazakhstan back in the race


The Italian players celebrate the promotion back to the top division after a 2-1 victory against Hungary. Photo: Akos Stiller

BUDAPEST – The first of the two promoted teams for the 2014 Worlds is known. Italy earned its return after a 2-1 victory over Hungary. Kazakhstan is back in the race thanks to a 4-2 win over Korea while Japan secured its place in the Division I Group A after beating Great Britain 4-1.

Kazakhstan has it in its own hands to secure promotion tomorrow in their afternoon game against Italy. The Central Asian nation needs a win – no matter whether in regulation time, overtime or a shoot-out – to seal its return to the top-16 nations. If the Kazakhs lose to Italy, Hungary will be offered the chance to battle for second place in the evening game against Japan.

In the first game on Saturday, Great Britain and Korea will battle for their stay in the Division I Group A. Great Britain needs a win in regulation time to avoid relegation, for Korea a win or tie after 60 minutes will be enough.

Hungary vs. Italy 1-2 (1-1, 0-0, 0-1) Videos

With the fourth win in the fourth game, 2-1 against Hungary, Italy secured a berth among the top-two teams at this tournament and consequently the promotion to the 2014 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship in Minsk, Belarus.

Host Hungary and leader Italy met for a clash in the three-team race for promotion and same like two years ago at the same venue Italy broke the local fans’ hearts with another one-goal win in a clash between the red-white-and-green flagged nations in front of a vocal crowd 8,197 spectators.

“We couldn’t be happier for our team and what we’ve accomplished,” said game-winning goal scorer Patrick Iannone.

“We knew how it was two years ago. We knew it would be the same tonight. It’s an amazing and loud crowd. It’s fun to play here. It’s these kind of games you want to play.”

The game offered enough scoring opportunities for both sides to win the game but both teams played with a cautious defence. The teams exchanged goals early in the game for a 1-1 tie that was followed by 44 scoreless minutes.

Vincent Rocco was responsible for Italy’s lead at 2:46 when making use of the diagonal pass to the crease he received.

It took the Hungarians just three-and-a-half minutes to equalize. After a drop pass that went too far Arpad Mihaly hammered the puck into Adam Dennis’ net. After that both Dennis and Hungarian goalie Levente Szuper kept their teams in the game with great saves.

Midway through the second period the Hungarians had some good scoring chances. Daniel Sullivan tripped Hungary’s Janos Hari in front of the net to give the home team a four-on-three. But apart from the honour of outshooting Italy 10-9 in the period there were no tangible results.

“It wasn’t pretty but it was effective and it got the job done. It was just a one-goal game. One goal, one shot, one save can decide. One power-play shot was the difference tonight. These teams are very even and maybe a little bit of luck was on our side,” Italy coach Tom Pokel said.

“We played a very good first period. We got in trouble a little bit in the second period but we responded well in the third. We worked hard and I’m proud of our players. We won the battles in the third period and were a bit more relaxed. With the fans and crowd and the point difference Hungary had more pressure than us.”

Patrick Iannone opened a new chapter of the game at 10:41 of the third period. Shortly before the expiration of a Hungarian penalty his slap shot from between the face-off circles after a pass from Diego Kostner made it a 2-1 lead for the Azzurri.

The Hungarians didn’t manage to react at first and had to survive a penalty before they could start the catch-up attempt for the last five minutes of the game. Ladislav Sikorcin had a good chance with a quick attack once the penalty was over, but he had little room and didn’t succeed with his attempt. Neither did his teammates who mostly got stuck in the Italian defence.

A closing furore on Dennis’ net failed to appear and Italy defended the 2-1 score before the whole Italian team celebrated the promotion.

“It was a tough game as we expected. They were going hard but we came out pretty strong from the first shift,” Italy’s Alexander Egger said. “It was not our best game but at the end we made it and in the last ten minutes we played very well defensively.”

“The difference in the game may have been one shot but we played against a team that gave only three goals against in four games,” Hungary coach Rich Chernomaz said. “They played their systems and tactics superb tonight. They had better puck management at times.”

Since 2008 Italy has been going up and down between the top two tiers of men’s hockey each year, but this time they hope to stay.

“We are looking forward to stay up,” said Egger. “It’s going to be tough. We’ll play against better opponents but we don’t want to go up and down all the time.”

Hungary now has to hope for an Italian win against Kazakhstan. In such a case the Hungarians would remain in the race for promotion before their evening game against Japan.

“It is not over yet. I hope that in the game between Italy and Kazakhstan tomorrow Italy will show a lot of Italian pride to win the gold and then we still have our chance,” Chernomaz said.

Then he turned and called out to Italy coach Pokel.

“I hope you guys can do a good job tomorrow, Tom.”

Japan vs. Great Britain 4-1 (1-0, 1-0, 2-1) Video

Japan avenged for the defeat on home ice in the Olympic Pre-Qualification five months ago and beat Great Britain 4-1 to maintain in the Division I Group A for next year.

Great Britain is still without points after four games and needs a regulation time win against Korea tomorrow to stay in the group. For Korea, which was promoted to this tier one year ago and hopes to host the event in Seoul next year, a win or a tie after regulation time will be enough.

“We didn’t play well enough and they took their chances and scored more goals than we did,” summarized Robert Farmer, the only British goal scorer of the day.

“We just have to win this game, that’s it. Korea are a really tough team, very skilled, but hopefully we will win.”

Japan vs. Great Britain was as usual a tight battle with different styles of play between the fast and skilled Asians and the more intimidating British play.

This time it was the Japanese, who had the upper hand. In a defensive first period the Japanese got the lead when they pushed their opponent into the defensive zone during a four-on-four play. Ryo Hashimoto fired a slap shot from the blueline that touched Naoto Mizuuchi, who did great screening work in front of the net and was credited for the goal.

The British had a couple of scoring chances early in the second period when they got three power-play opportunities but mostly the Japanese defence kept the British away from their goalkeeper Yukata Fukufuji.

It came even better for the Asians during their third box play. David Phillips passed at the blueline to Jonathan Weaver, who missed the puck. Hiroki Ueno got the disc and scored a shorthanded goal on the breakaway.

The British fought hard and saw even two teammates (Robert Dowd, David Phillips) leaving the ice due to injuries but the battle seemed to be at no avail. In the end of the second period the British also ran into penalty trouble but managed to keep the score low.

75 seconds into the third period Yuto Osawa seemed to seal the win when receiving a centering pass in front of the crease for the 3-0 goal. But at 4:44 Great Britain was eventually rewarded for their effort. Mark Richardson shot from the blueline and Robert Farmer deflected the puck.

However, Shuhei Kuji restored the Japanese three-goal lead midway through the period and the 4-1 remained until the final buzzer.

Kazakhstan vs. Korea 4-2 (3-0, 1-0, 0-1) Video

The Kazakhs reacted after their first-ever loss to Hungary and some loud words from coach Vladimir Krikunov. They didn’t underestimate Korea again and defeated their opponent 4-2.

Thanks to the win Kazakhstan gained new hope in the race for the top-two places for promotion to the top division. The Kazakhs have it in their own hand and can get promoted if they beat Italy tomorrow.

“We played the game the way we wanted to. We played with confidence and as a team at least for one period,” Krikunov said.

“Tomorrow we need to play our game the way we can all 60 minutes. Italy is a good team. They are organized and disciplined with a good defence.”

Kazakhstan opened the scoring on the first power play at 3:26. Team captain Alexei Troshinski tipped in the puck after a pass from Vadim Krasnoslobodtsev before deciding the game already in the second half of the first period.

Talgat Zhailauov scored the 2-0 goal at 12:56 with a shot from the face-off dot in the near corner.

Less than two minutes later it was already 3-0. Roman Starchenko scored after a solo along the right boards and firing a shot from the face-off circle.

The goal cheering went down a bit as it became clearer and clearer what the outcome of this game would be. Although the Koreans managed a comeback win against Hungary in the exact same situation they were not capable for such an upset against the Kazakhs.

At 6:28 of the middle frame Starchenko scored his second goal of the day against a surprised Korean defence when the puck bounced back from the end boards.

Woosang Park had the biggest scoring chance for Korea with 2:18 left and what a highlight-worthy attack it was. The 27-year-old did a video-game-like trick when he brought the puck between two Kazakh defencemen with a wraparound in the offensive zone but was hooked before the goal. He was awarded a penalty shot but just hit the pads of Pavel Poluektov, who came in midway through the game for an unchallenged Vitali Kolesnik.

At 5:29 of the third period the Koreans eventually scored the consolation goal. Won Jung Kim netted the puck on a quick odd-man rush after a horizontal pass from Minho Cho. And with 2:48 left in regulation time Brock Radunske capitalized on a power play to make it 4-2. But that was it and Kazakhstan got the three points it needed.


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