LJUBLJANA – Austria and Slovenia will be promoted to the 2013 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship in Stockholm, Sweden, and Helsinki, Finland, after securing the top-two spots at the ongoing Division I Group A in Ljubljana, Slovenia.
The two teams that will be promoted are already known on the second-last day after Austria’s 7-2 victory against Hungary on Thursday evening. Slovenia followed with a 3-2 win against Ukraine to take first position in the standings prior to the last day.
The Hungarians have one more game left on Saturday against Great Britain, but with six points on their accounts they can’t overtake Austria (10) and Slovenia (12) anymore.
It will be a quick return for both the host nation and Austria. Both teams were relegated at the 2011 IIHF World Championship in Slovakia in a tight and dramatic relegation-round battle that also involved Belarus and Latvia.
Austria and Slovenia will face each other on Saturday night for the gold medal game of the 2012 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship Division I Group A.
Meanwhile Hungary will have to play in Division I for the fourth straight year. Hungary can still win the bronze medal ahead of Japan on Saturday.
The Japanese secured their Division I Group A slot earlier the day after blanking Great Britain 5-0. Either Great Britain or Ukraine will be relegated to the Division I Group B following the last round on Saturday.
Slovenia vs. Ukraine 3-2 (0-1, 2-1, 1-0) Photos Video
With the assurance of being promoted after Austria’s win over Hungary some hours earlier, the Slovenian team didn’t impress as much as in earlier games against a Ukrainian team that was hungry to earn its first win of the tournament.
But after a false start the Slovenes found their way back and edged Ukraine 3-2 before 9,450 fans at Arena Stozice. All three goals were scored by the first line including two from Rok Ticar.
Head coach Matjaz Kopitar was happy with the way his team played despite the early struggles.
“I was most afraid of the game against them. We normally don’t play so well against teams from the former Soviet Union, and they lost all games by one or two goal only. That says it all,” the father of Los Angeles Kings star Anze Kopitar said.
“It’s a huge win for us. We don’t have so many players in Slovenia. We have four forwards missing for the top-two lines including two in the NHL, but other players stepped up very well.”
Andri Mikhnov opened the scoring for Ukraine at 12:45 after receiving a pass from behind the net and the first-period lead for the underdog was well-deserved as it had 16-5 shots on goal.
“We didn’t start like we wanted to, but we talked in the locker room and our coach told us to change up and skate more and we started better in the second period and controlled the game,” Ticar said.
“It was the first time the opponent scored the first goal. Our great supporters helped us to stage this comeback. I’m very thankful to the fans and to my teammates who played so well.”
Slovenia had a better start into the second period. It began with a power play and soon after it was Robert Sabolic who tied the score at 1:53.
By taking three penalties within a short time, the Slovenes opened the gates for Ukraine to put pressure on Robert Kristan’s net. At 4:25 Oleg Shafarenko succeeded on the two-man advantage by deflecting a shot from Oleg Tymchenko.
Slovenia reacted and Ticar tied the game again. He netted the puck after he saw Mitja Robar’s shot deflected by Ukrainian netminder Igor Karpenko at 9:13.
At 4:25 of the third period the fans were able to celebrate a Slovenian lead in the game for the first time as Ticar beat Karpenko with a low shot for his second goal of the night.
At 11:32 Tomaz Razingar skated for the fourth goal, but it was disallowed after a video review because Ukrainian defenceman Denys Petrukhno displaced the goal.
With Petrukhno landing in the penalty box the Slovenes had a man advantage. They didn’t capitalise on it, but Ukraine wasn’t able to stage a comeback either. The fans celebrated a 3-2 win on the day their team was promoted back to the top division.
Hungary vs. Austria 2-7 (2-1, 0-2, 0-4) Photos Video
After a disappointing loss to Japan the day before, the Austrians made up for it by defeating Hungary 7-2 to secure promotion to the 2013 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship in Stockholm and Helsinki. Defenceman Gerhard Unterluggauer scored two goals from the blueline in the coming-from-behind win.
“We’re very happy with the way we played today. We didn’t play bad yesterday, but we were upset about the loss and were under pressure,” Austria head coach Manny Viveiros said.
“We scored at the right time and we probably had more energy because we could play with four lines today.”
4,250 fans attended the game in Ljubljana. Some 300 fans from Austria had most reason to cheer among the mostly Hungarian spectators at Arena Stozice despite a bad start for their team.
Nikandrosz Galanizs tipped in the puck after a centering pass from Balint Magosi to bring the early lead for Hungary. At 10:17 Marton Vas scored the second goal on a rebound when he was left alone in front of the Austrian goal while Stefan Geier had scored in between from a short angle after a diagonal pass from Johannes Kirisits.
After the 2-1 first-period lead for Hungary, however, the game went into a different direction.
Unterluggauer, who joined the team practice for the first time in the morning after having sat out due to a groin injury, hammered the puck into the top-left corner on an Austrian two-man advantage to tie the score at 2:58 of the second period.
“It’s so great, I didn’t know whether it will work out with the groin problems, and then I scored two goals and we got promoted,” the 36-year-old blueliner said. “Our team showed character and that was the key to victory. I’m happy for the young players here who haven’t played in the top division yet and can experience this next year.”
With 1:11 left before the intermission Manuel Latusa beat Hungarian netminder Bence Balizs on the glove side when converting a rebound.
At 3:26 of the third period Patrick Harand extended the lead with a deflected shot and Hungary seemed to give up towards the end of the game.
With eight minutes left Unterluggauer scored his second goal from the blueline to make it 5-2. More goals followed from Manuel Latusa and Gregor Baumgartner for the final score of 7-2.
“We knew there are two good hockey teams to be promoted and we wanted to be one of them,” said a disappointed Hungary coach Kevin Primeau.
“The key was the start of the third period. We didn’t do enough as they did. We did mental mistakes. I was a little disappointed also that we let our goalie down in the last eight minutes. He had battled so hard to give us the opportunity to win the games at this tournament.”
“Everybody is disappointed, but we want to finish as high as we can,” Primeau said.
Although this season was declared a restart with a new head coach for Austria and with the mission of developing a new, younger team, the expectations in the country and among the players were clear. And they were fulfilled with the promotion.
“We wanted to give young players a chance, especially our goalkeeper Starkbaum, who had a perfect answer tonight,” Viveiros said. “Going back to the top division wasn’t the main goal, it’s more about long-term development of the team, but we’re happy that we made it.”
Austria will face Slovenia on Saturday night in a sold-out Arena Stozice for a game for the gold medals between the two promoted teams.
“We’re looking forward to the game on Saturday. It will be a full house here, it will be exciting. There’s no pressure, so we will see a good high-tempo game,” Viveiros said.
“It would be nice to win the tournament, although the most important thing is that we earned promotion,” said Unterluggauer. “With the pressure away from both teams it will be an interesting game for first place.”
Great Britain vs. Japan 0-5 (0-2, 0-2, 0-1) Photos Video
It was a battle between David and Goliath when looking at physical aspects. However, the smallish but fast and a dynamic Japanese shut out Great Britain 5-0.
With the victory the Japanese have ensured their Division I Group A slot for next year while the British are in danger of relegation to the Division I Group B.
Although the British had 30-25 shots on goal to their favour, their comparably sluggish players were sometimes overrun by the agile Japanese forwards who came out of the locker room with much confidence after the shootout win against Austria the day before.
“I’m proud of the team with many young and new guys,” Japan coach Mark Mahon said. “Great Britain is a tough team to play for us because they’re big and strong. I was worried, but the team surprised me with how much energy they brought.”
At 9:10 British netminder Stephen Murphy blocked a shot from Suhei Kuji during a Japanese man advantage, but Hiroki Ueno stood right in front of him to capitalise on the rebound.
The British tried to react during a power play, but Ueno had a breakaway with the penalty expiring. He outplayed defencemen David Phillips and Corey Neilson before deking Murphy in a highlight-worthy goal.
Although Great Britain had its chances for a more even score, they failed in front of Japanese goalie Masahito Haruna while they were struggling with the Asians’ quick attacks.
“Japan was a great team. They were fast with the puck. We couldn’t match with our speed,” Great Britain’s head coach Tony Hand said. “We battled hard, but when you get one or two goals down, the players open up.”
At 11:35 Makoto Kawashima extended the lead and two minutes later Shinya Yanadori made it 4-0. Takuro Yamashita added the fifth goal midway through the period. The Japanese simply made their bigger opponents look like pillars to earn a 5-0 win.