Slovenia earned promotion to the 2011 IIHF World Championship in Slovakia following its 4-1 victory in the Division I Group B over co-favourite Hungary on home ice in front of a capacity crowd of 4,000 fans. Poland claimed bronze after edging Great Britain, 2-1. Korea sent Croatia to Division II after its first-ever victory on that level.
Hungary vs. Slovenia 1-4 (1-1, 0-1, 0-2)
After two years in Division I, Slovenia won the 2010 IIHF World Championship Division I Group B and got promoted on home ice following a convincing 4-1 victory against Hungary, the only other team that was undefeated after four games
20-year-old Acroni Jesenice forward Rok Ticar was the player of the game with his two goals early into the first and third period.
“I feel great. It was just my second World Championship. I didn’t expect to win against Hungary 4-1, but we played better tonight, especially in the second and third period,” Ticar said. “We skated very hard, we really wanted this victory and were maybe also a bit luckier. We’re really proud to win the gold.”
It was this young line that surprised the whole country and entered the tournament as the “third line”. Centre Ticar together with his wingers Ziga Jeglic and Jan Urbas scored 11 of Slovenia’s 29 goals in five games. Jeglic was also named best forward of the tournament voted by the teams’ representatives in the tournament directorate.
The trio also led Slovenia in scoring with only Detroit prospect Jan Mursak in between.
“Our line played really well in these five games,” Ticar said. “I didn’t expect that we would play that much and that well, and I’m proud of our line and our team. We stayed together like a big family.”
Slovenia’s men’s national team remains undefeated against Hungary in IIHF competition, extending its record to 6-0 and 35-9 goals.
Last time the teams met was in 2007, also at Hala Tivoli in Ljubljana, when Slovenia defeated Hungary 4-1 to qualify for the 2008 IIHF World Championship in Canada. It was the last time the Slovenes played in the top division before getting relegated after a year despite Anze Kopitar on the roster.
Same as three years ago, Slovenia took the lead early. After only 50 seconds, Ziga Pance skated around the net to feed Rok Ticar, who was alone in front of Hungary netminder Zoltan Hetenyi to put the puck in.
While the Slovenes went on scoring in their last meeting three years ago, Hungary replied this time at 8:37 while playing shorthanded. Marton Vas hit the back of the net with his distance shot after a face-off in the offensive zone.
The 1-1 score remained for almost 30 minutes while both teams had the chance to turn the game into either direction, but it were the Slovenes that brought more energy onto the ice and eventually capitalized on the third power play of the second period with a goal from Ales Kranjc at 37:42.
“The first goal hurt us and the amount of penalties in the second period took any chance away from us,” Hungary coach Ted Sator said. “We didn’t have anything left to score goals and it’s hard to win with only one goal.”
For Hungary it came even worse when Janos Vas took a penalty for high-sticking in the last minute of the middle stanza and Slovenia put much pressure on Hetenyi’s goal when the third period started.
With 16 seconds remaining on the power play, Ticar scored his second goal of the night. Jeglic took the puck after a rebound and passed to Ticar, who scored from the crease.
Twelve minutes later, Jan Musak’s 4-1 goal definitely sealed the win for Slovenia. Mursak skated from his own end towards Hetenyi and neither the defencemen nor the Hungary netminder were able to prevent him from scoring with a shot in the top-left corner.
“The early goal gave us and our crowd confidence that we could win today. Hungary played well and killed many penalties, but then we scored two power-play goals,” Slovenia coach John Harrington said. “We had some guys missing, but other guys stepped up and we had some good young players who were outstanding, who showed that they can be effective and win games for Slovenia.”
Hungary, which qualified for the 2009 World Championship after a 70-year absence, will have to wait another year to fight for promotion, but around 1,000 noisy Hungarian fans celebrated their team like champions, singing the national anthem while the silver medals were awarded.
The true champions of this tournament got the medals at the end before starting the celebration of Slovenia’s comeback with the elite nations. The 2011 IIHF World Championship in Bratislava and Košice, Slovakia, will mark Slovenia’s sixth participation in the top division after 2002, 2003, 2005, 2006 and 2008 since the country joined the World Championship program in 1993 following the split-up of Yugoslavia.
“I’m looking forward to next year,” Ticar said. “I hope everything will be okay that I can play there. It would be a new experience for me. Maybe we can play Sweden or Denmark as I could meet some old friends again.”
Ticar had a two-year stint in the Swedish junior league for Timrĺ IK – including five Elitserien games – before he came back to his hometown in 2009 to play as a hockey pro for Acroni Jesenice in the Austrian league.
Best Goalkeeper: Stephen Murphy (Great Britain)
Best Defenceman: Andras Horvath (Hungary)
Best Forward: Ziga Jeglic (Slovenia)