STEINDORF, Austria – The qualifiers for the 2017 IIHF Inline Hockey World Championship are known. After Brazil and New Zealand, Latvia became the winner of the third regional qualification event to return to the top-16 inline hockey nations.
Latvia stayed undefeated at the 2016 IIHF Inline Hockey Qualification Europe to earn its ticket for the Inline Hockey Worlds after having been relegated in 2015.
A record 13 teams entered the Inline Hockey Qualification in addition to the 13 teams already qualified for next year’s Worlds. Eight teams played in the European qualification tournament that started with a preliminary round in two groups. Latvia and Austria lead ways
Latvia started with an impressive 30-1 win against Turkey and continued with victories against Israel, 15-1, and Belgium, 13-4.
In the other group host Austria had a hassle-free preliminary round as well with wins against Serbia, 11-2, the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, 11-2, and a 12-0 blanking of Bulgaria.
That set up an expected final between the host country in Steindorf and Latvia. Both teams were relegated last year and aimed at a swift return.
The 1,645 fans saw the home team take the lead after a scoreless opening frame. Christoph Draschkowitz, who together with his twin brother Lukas also represented Austria in ice hockey with the U18 national team in 2007, opened the scoring at 2:18 of the second period.
With 32 seconds left in the frame another former U18 ice hockey national team player, from 2008, tied it up with Janis Bullitis.
The game changed into Latvia’s favour after the half-time mark. Frenks Razgals, who last winter earned promotion at the 2016 IIHF Ice Hockey U20 World Championship Division I Group A and had his KHL debut with Dinamo Riga, capitalized on Latvia’s second power play of the game to give his team its first lead at 6:53 of the third period.
At 2:56 of the fourth period Rustams Begovs extended Latvia’s lead to 3-1 but the Austrians didn’t give up. At 8:31 Patrick Gaffal cut Latvia’s lead bringing Austria one goal away with three-and-a-half minutes left in regulation time. However, 28 seconds later Eduards Tralmaks, another young ice hockey player who represented Latvia at the 2015 U18 Worlds, sealed the win with his goal for the final score of 4-2. Israel’s Siberian sniper leads in scoring
With their goals in the final game Razgals and Tralmaks became the leading goal scorers for the Baltic country with eight markers while defenceman Vladislavs Konisevs was the team’s scoring leader with 17 points (6+11).
Israeli forward Ilya Spektor, who captained the men’s and U20 national ice hockey teams earlier this season, became the tournament’s scoring leader with 14 goals and three assists for 17 points. Spektor played his junior hockey in the Siberian city of Omsk before moving to Israel as a 16-year-old. With his goals he led the Israeli team to a third-place finish after a 2-1 record in the group stage and a 10-5 win against FYR Macedonia in the placement game in which he scored five goals. FYR Macedonia writes history
For the Macedonians the fourth-place finish in the qualification tournament was the biggest success ever in an IIHF-sanctioned event. Boosted by a couple of naturalized players who helped ice hockey club team Metalurg Skopje win the Balkan Amateur Hockey League including Slovenian-born scoring leaders Boshtjan Kos and Rok Simshich, the Macedonians started with an 11-5 win against Bulgaria to claim their first victory in their 11th IIHF-sanctioned inline hockey game. They also beat neighbouring rival Serbia 6-5 in the preliminary round.
Serbia beat Belgium 9-5 in the fifth-place game while former World Championship participant Bulgaria had to settle for seventh place after losing all preliminary-round games but beating Turkey 10-4 in the last match. 16 teams set for 2017 Worlds
With the end of the last qualification event the 16 teams for the 2017 IIHF Inline Hockey World Championship, which will take place in the Slovak capital of Bratislava from 24 June to 2 July 2017, are set.
Eight teams will play in the top division including defending champion Canada, host Slovakia, the United States and newly promoted Croatia in Group A, and Finland, Sweden, the Czech Republic and Germany in Group B.
In the two Division I groups the five previously qualified teams from Slovenia, Australia, Great Britain, Argentina and Hungary will be joined by the qualifiers Brazil, Latvia and New Zealand. Click here for highlights and box scores from the Inline Hockey Qualification Europe.