SOFIA – The European Qualification for a spot in the 2015 IIHF Inline Hockey World Championship Division I took place in Sofia, Bulgaria, last weekend and the host team once again was triumphant in the end to earn a ticket for Tampere.
The last game of the tournament was a real final with the two unbeaten teams facing each other – Bulgaria and Israel. In the first period both teams played very cautiously, but the hosts had more chances to score. In the middle of the second quarter the tie was broken after a beautiful wrap-around goal by 46-year-old veteran player Ivaylo Velev just after the expiration of the penalty on captain Plamen Veselinov for hooking.
After the 10-minute intermission Bulgaria was rolling on all cylinders using the speed and the technical skills of its top players. At 3:12 the best Bulgarian ice hockey prospect, 19-years-old Ivan Hodulov, who played for SHK 37 Piestany in Slovakia (2010-13) and for Dynamo St.Petersburg in the MHL last season, scored two successive goals with individual rushes in the Israeli’s half.
Then it was Stanislav Muhachov’s turn – another solo action just before the end of the third quarter. In the 2nd minute of the last period Muhachov tallied a shorthanded goal only 12 seconds after another penalty to Veselinov it was 5-0. Israeli’s coach Dimitri Gromkov changed the goalies – Alexander Loginov was replaced by Maxim Gohberg – but soon after that there was another Bulgarian goal by 17-year-old Tomislav Georgiev.
Six minutes before the end of the game there was a change of guards in front of the Bulgarian net too. The local legend Konstantin Mihailov, who turned 50 recently, who played in 25 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship tournaments, was given a standing ovation for his brilliant efforts and his place was taken by Teodor Pondev. The Israeli players were able to score their only goal in the match two minutes later. Captain Dmitri Rozenman found the net, but there were two more tallies for the hosts – by Velev and Hodulov again – to finalize the big win 8-1.
“We have always had problems making mistakes in the defensive end, so I wanted the team to play very tactical and a secure game in the beginning. Even playing cautiously we had many opportunities to decide the game in the first half, but we didn’t execute those situations the right way. It’s typical for us in ice or inline hockey,” said Bulgarian coach Stoyan Bachvarov, who was in dual role in the previous years. “Yeah, I could play again, but this time there were some young talented players interested to participate and we have to give them the chance to succeed. Tomislav Georgiev even scored a goal today. Veselin Dikov is just 16.”
The last time Bulgaria and Israel played Inline hockey was five years ago in another qualification in Sofia and Bulgaria won convincingly 11-3, but lost the decisive game against Croatia. The next two European qualifications that Bulgaria participated (2011-12) were both in the same Winter Sports Palace in the capital of the country and finished with a trip to the IIHF Inline Hockey World Championships Division I (2012-13). Two years ago the decisive game in the Qualification was against Latvia and Stoyan Bachvarov scored the overtime goal after Latvia was able to tie the game to 5-5 after trailing 2-5.
This time there was another thrilling game and Bachvarov was in different position – on the bench: “I knew that the game with Serbia will be the most difficult for us. To tie the score eight seconds before the end of regulation time and win it in overtime 4-3 was the most enjoyable moment. The Serbs made their debut in inline hockey and that was on display in their first game, when they allowed Israel to make a turn-around in the last period – from 7-5 and 8-7 to 8-10.”
FYR Macedonia was the fourth team in the Qualification and lost in all games: 6-3 to Bulgaria, 14-6 to Israel and 16-4 to Serbia. Two players from Bulgaria won individual prizes – Konstantin Mihailov for the Best Goalkeeper and Stanislav Muhachov for the Best Forward. Vladislav Nosankov from Israel was named the Best Defenceman.
“It’s a team game and I don’t want to put someone ahead of the others, but those veterans who are close to 50 years old and giving everything deserve the acknowledgment – Mihailov, Veselinov and Velev. Of course we have to point to Stas (Muhachov) and Ivan (Hodulov) as well. Our main target has to be to put two, three young players on the team every year. I’m looking for next year when Bulgaria will play again in the IIHF Inline Hockey World Championships Division I in Tampere and our goal will be to stay in this division and play also in the 2016 IIHF Inline Hockey Championship in Canada,” said Stoyan Bachvarov.
Another qualification tournament for teams outside of Europe will be played later this year with the details and participants to be announced. Click here for box scores from all games.