Second time lucky

Turkish delight as Division II awaits

07.04.2016
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The Turkish team celebrates with the trophy after winning the 2016 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship Division III. Photo: Burkay Altuntas

ISTANBUL – A first-period scoring spree during the final day sees hosts Turkey comfortable beat South Africa to go undefeated on home ice to win gold at the 2016 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship Division III.

Goals by Serdar Semiz, Emrah Ozmen and Alec Kocoglu within the space of 95 seconds set the tone in a 7-2 sweep against South Africa. The victory sealed top spot following wins against Georgia (5-4), Luxembourg (10-2), Bosnia and Herzegovina (8-2) and Hong Kong (5-1) sending Turkey back to Division IIB after a two-year hiatus.

Suprise package Georgia led by the tournament's top scorer Boris Kochkin (10 + 9) finished second while newly-relegated South Africa had to settle for bronze. At the other end, Bosnia and Herzegovina record their first World Championship win while a depleted Hong Kong finished bottom of the pile with five straight defeats.

While Turkey's promotion hopes had derailed in the most dramatic fashion last year, with a heart-stopping overtime defeat with 11 seconds to go in their decider against DPR Korea on home ice in Izmir, the pressure had been piling up on Ince and his group of players since then to step up and deliver as Turkey hosted the World Championship Division III for the second year running. With the Silivrikapi Ice Sport Hall in Istanbul's Zeitynburnu district hosting this year's edition of the tournament, the tournament had been reduced in games and days following the United Arab Emirates’ late withdrawal.

Having made the bold decision to select eight players still in their teens into his 20-man roster, Ince's youthful Turkey roster entered the final round of games in this year's edition in the driving seat for the gold medals. Their road up to that point had been bumpy at times, especially during their opening day scare against Georgia, where their title credentials were immediately put to its test against their much-improved neighbours.

Having succumbed a 4-2 lead in the third period, Turkey were bailed out with just over three minutes left on the clock thanks to the Kocoglu brothers with Alec finding older brother Andy to secure a winning start, 5-4. Having got into their stride and easy disposed of Luxembourg and Bosnia and Herzegovina, their penultimate game of the tournament against Hong Kong left a lot to be desired as they huffed and puffed to an unconvincing 5-1 win, with many players required to step up ahead of their final game against South Africa to lay their hands on the gold medals.

Turkey did not get off to their best start, going down early in the game when South Africa's Xander Botha silenced the home crowd as he unmarked in the slot to hit home the opening goal on a power play high past Turkey's netminder Erol Kahraman. But despite that early setback, the Turks kept their composure as they worked themselves back into the game.

Influential Serdar Semiz forced out a fine save from Ashley Bock following a careless pass from South Africa captain Andre Marais and as Turkey kept on skating hard cheered on by an boisterous crowd it soon were to paid dividends.

Playing on a two-man advantage, Semiz redeemed himself for the earlier miss when reacting quickest to forcing home the puck past Bock's right-hand post to level the score at 13:55 which set the tone for a scoring spree which firmly tilted the game into Turkey's favour. Turkey's top scorer and captain Emrah Ozmen put Turkey in front 2-1 and as Andy Kocoglu picked out brother Alec in front of the net Turkey had needed only 1:35 to build up a two goal cushion, which left the South Africans scratching their head as the first period came to an end.

We took the lead and thought it was going to be easy, so had to slow the players down, said South African head coach Mark Kumpel. "Around that time we also lost one of our top defencemen, Jason Gonsalves, so we were standing a little thin there. We made a mistake, having too many guys on the ice and it put us down to 5-on-3 where Turkey scored two. Then we tried to get back into it, had a turnover in our own end and the puck was again in the back of our net. The home crowd energized them and I think they had the sixth man in the stands," he continued.

With the game being broadcast live on a national sports channel, Turkey came out in the second period in buoyant mood. Andy Kocoglu got the crowd at his feet at 5:19 as he stretched Turkey's lead to 4-1. With Turkey continuing to surge on forward cheered on by a vociferous crowd waving a sea of red and white flags, South Africa's saw the game slip through their fingers. When Marc Giot was serving a minor penalty for interference, the Kocoglu brothers combined with Semiz with Andy Kocoglu hitting home Turkey's fifth of the afternoon. Any attempts of a South African fightback was quashed when failing to capitalize on a two-man advantage late in the second period as fine work between the pipes by Erol Kahraman kept the puck out of Turkey's net.

Turkey's captain Ozmen doused any hopes of a South African rally as he added Turkey's sixth on power play at 1:58 of the third period before Serkan Gumus added further gloss to the scoreline with Turkey's seventh unanswered goal with 10:39 left of the game. A late consolation goal by South Africa's Joaqium Valadas settled the score at 7-2 before unbridled joy ensued inside the Silivrikapi Ice Sport Hall on the European side of Istanbul.

This is a good step for Turkish hockey and now we will start working on having a good strong team in next year's Division IIB. We were prepared for this game and we knew we’re going to play against South Africa in this group for the gold medals and we have been working on our game for the last six months, so we were ready and I had big confidence in our players. They basically outskated their opponents, worked very hard and stuck to our game plan, said a delighted Turkey's head coach Deniz Ince.

For the South Africans, who entered the tournament with high hopes of bouncing straight back in Division III, instead had to settle for bronze after recording three wins and two defeats during a World Championships where a thin roster and injuries took its toll.

The Turks played hard, they are well-coached, they play tight and they really beat us well, said Mark Kumpel, who was appointed as head coach four weeks ahead of the tournament. "But I feel another big test for us was against Georgia. Unfortunately in that game our arguably best forward, Cameron Birrell, broke his ankle within the first five minutes and all of a sudden you are down on one. I thought our team had three solid lines and after that it was a bit of a question mark, and now it is a long tournament, we are just coming to training camp to start their season, so I think our condition level also hurt us a little bit too."

While a dejected South Africa will look to come back stronger next year, Georgia will be in celebratory mood having won silver in their third participation. In what has been a remarkable transformation since they went without a win and recorded a goal difference of 3-78 as newcomers at the 2013 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship Division III.

They have added in eight new players onto their team from last year, including an entire first line where whirlwind youngster Boris Kochkin was their brightest shining star. Having pushed Turkey to the wire in their opening game, they went undefeated in their final four matches including roaring back in fine fashion from being 5-3 down to South Africa in the third period to record a fine 6-5 victory.

I could see the potential of the team ahead of this tournament during our three preparation camps, said head coach Dmitri Afanasyev, who believes their displays in Istanbul will make more people aware of the existence of hockey in Georgia.

I think our performances here will open up the eyes of potential sponsors and the government and that will definitely increase the budget of the Georgian Ice Hockey Federation, but whether there will be more new players in the team next year is hard to say right now as some of the players that were invited this year are not happy with the performance so we'll see, he continued.

At the lower end of the table, Luxembourg dropped from bronze medal winners to fourth spot this year. Pushing newly relegated South Africa until the end in their key opener. Conceding 1:16 before the end to lose the game 4-3, they then recorded emphatic wins against Hong Kong and Bosnia and Herzegovina, but were also on the receiving end of heavy defeats against both Turkey and Georgia. New head coach and former German national team player Petr Fical arrived to Istanbul with a depleted roster, which had a visible impact on the team’s performances as they were visibly running out of steam towards the end of their games.

We missed a lot of good players, at least one line as well as two defencemen, which was noticeable especially against Turkey, South Africa and Georgia, where we were a bit too slow and too tired and that's when we start to take a lot of penalties, said 26-year-old Marcus Eriksson, one of Luxembourg's most prolific attacking threats in the tournament.

Following last year's debut at the World Championship, Bosnia and Herzegovina now made their mark in the history books, but recorded their first ever win at this level. Despite being outshot 35-16 in their opening match against Hong Kong, the Balkan nation rallied back from being 2-0 down to end up as 5-3 winners, with newcomer Dino Cordalija scoring a double.

"The biggest thing for us it that we always want to compete and now we won our first game, which was a relief for all the guys who were here last year and the new guys coming in as well, as it took a lot of pressure off. Unfortunately I don't think we were able to re-focus after that," said head coach Kevin Auberbach as his adepts followed up their fine win with four straight defeats. Hong Kong, who ended up going through the tournament without picking up any points, arrived to Turkey with a depleted roster where nine players were missing from last year, including two out of their three top scorers. Losing in their opening fixture against Bosnia and Herzegovina despite being two goals up in a game that head coach Barry Beck labelled the "most frustrating match I've ever coached" thanks to missed chances and unlucky bounces set the tone for Hong Kong this year.

Final Ranking:
1. Turkey 15 (promoted)
2. Georgia 12
3. South Africa 9
4. Luxembourg 6
5. Bosnia and Herzegovina 3
6. Hong Kong 0

Individual Awards as selected by the Directorate:
Best Goalkeeper: Erol Kahraman Turkey
Best Defenceman: Andre Marais, South Africa
Best Forward: Boris Kochkin, Georgia

Click here for scores and statistics.

HENRIK MANNINEN

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