Slovenia falls; Solarev shines

Div. IA: Kazakhstan promoted, Australia relegated

17.04.2009
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Kazakhstan made it back to the top division World Championship. Photo: Andrius Petrulevicius

VILNIUS – Kazakhstan will be back with the elite nations after three years in Division I. The Kazakhs edged top-seed Slovenia, 2-1. Japan wins bronze after defeating host Lithuania. Australia has to go back to Division II.

Slovenia vs. Kazakhstan 1-2 (0-1, 0-1, 1-0) Game sheet Photos: Game, Ceremony

Slovenia was relegated last year despite having NHL star Anze Kopitar as their dominating player on the team. This year, the Slovenes were not good enough without Kopitar. Kazakhstan qualified for the 2010 World Championship in Germany thanks to a 2-1 victory against the Slovenes.

The Kazakhs finally overcame their Baltic trauma after their relegation at the 2006 World Championship in Riga, Latvia. Since then, the team has struggled to rejoin the top-16 teams of the world. They finished 3rd (behind France and Poland) in 2007 in Qiqihar, China, and 2nd after host Austria in Innsbruck last year.

Finally, they finished on top in the Lithuanian capital of Vilnius to get their ticket to Germany for next year.

The promotion comes not completely as a surprise. Their U20 national team managed to be among the best ten nations for two years until the relegation last January. And Barys Astana’s joining to the Russian KHL gave Kazakh players a platform to play at a higher level.

Nine players came from Barys and coach Andrei Shayanov was hired after the team didn’t qualify for the 2010 Olympics. Two more players in the roster came from Russian KHL teams.

This skill level proved to be too much for the Slovenes. They tried hard to keep blue jerseys away from their zone but somehow the Kazakhs always managed to penetrate.

Ilya Solarev, for instance, was let alone at the boards and after receiving a pass, he found time and space to skate towards Slovenia goalie Andrej Hocevar and to open the scoring at 8:24.

After 30 minutes of play, it was again Solarev who shone. Despite three Slovenes around, he was able to strike again.

Solarev is one of the players who joined the team in recent years. He came to his new homeland Kazakhstan in 2006 after a career in the two highest Russian leagues, debuted for the Kazakhs last year in Innsbruck and is one of the Barys players.

Another hero with a similar background is goalkeeper Alexei Kuznetsov. The Kazakhstan-born Barys goalkeeper went throught the Avangard Omsk junior organization before he returned and debuted for Kazakhstan after having played in the country for four years. Kuznetsov had the best goalie stats in Vilnius.

With time running out, Slovenia cut the lead to one as Mitja Sivic’s run ended with a goal at 56:11. But it was too little, too late.

“We had the same goal as Kazakhstan; they won, we lost. They had more quality chances,” Slovenia forward Marcel Rodman explained after the game. “We didn’t manage to score and were always a step behind. It would have been easier if we scored earlier.”

“It was quite a difficult game,” said matchwinner Solarev. “I still have my emotions on the ice and didn’t have time to think about the goals I scored.”

Coach Shayanov was happy to win the tournament after his short time with the Kazakh national team. “It was a very good game with two equal teams, so we are very glad that we won this championship. We felt very welcome in Vilnius, everybody was nice to as and the fans were good here,” Shayanov said at the post-game press conference.

Will he remain Kazakhstan’s head coach after the promotion? “I’ll be waiting the decision of the Kazakh hockey federation. But I would be ready to continue the work. I like this job and especially after winning the tournament, I’m eager to continue next year.”

But first it is time to celebrate for him and his players.

Japan vs. Lithuania 5-1 (1-0, 3-1, 1-0) Game sheet Photos

In a country where basketball is kind of a religion and the only suitable, all-season hockey rink is located outside of the big cities in a small town called Elektrenai, people in the capital Vilnius could breathe the air of hockey for a week at the 2009 IIHF World Championship Division I Group A.

Even though their team wasn’t playing as well as they hoped, almost 9,000 spectators filled the city’s biggest arena up to the last seat for their last game against Japan. The game for bronze. Most of the fans in the country of Kasparaitis and Zubrus might have seen hockey in action live for the first time. And the crowd seemed to enjoy it in this atmospheric place.

While the tournament was a success for the organizers and the game entertaining, Japan set the tone in the first period. The Asians had 14-6 shots on goal and one time they could capitalize when speedy Toru Kamino had a breakaway.

Lithuania came out strong and playful in the middle stanza and tried hard to crack the Japanese defence but they rarely succeeded and goalkeeper Masahito Haruna showed a great game.

On the other end, Shuhei Kuji extended the lead at 26:47. At 33:38, Japan had a two-man advantage. Makoto Kawashima got the puck at the blue line, skated towards Lithuania goalie Nerijus Dauksevicius and scored. Three minutes later Daisuke Obara scored on his own rebound while falling down and forced Lithuania coach Dmitrij Medvedev to ask for a time-out.

The speech seemed to help as the Lithuanians cut the lead with two minutes remaining in the second period. Dovydas Kulevicius passed from behind the net to Povilas Verenis, who stood right to score.

At the end, the Japanese could defend their cage and Tetsuya Saito scored the 5-1 goal to take home the bronze medals.


Japan beat Lithuania and takes home the bronze medals. Photo: Andrius Petrulevicius

Croatia vs. Australia 5-1 (1-0, 2-1, 2-0) Game sheet Photos

The first season in Division I for Australia will also be the last for the moment. Croatia won the meeting of the winless teams and stayed in Division I.

Croatia was the better team entering the game with a -18 goal differential (Australia: -29) and with the Australians down two players, Croatia was favored to win the relegation battle.

But in the first period, the Croatians surprised. Both teams had chances to take the lead but the Croats were more dangerous in front of the net. Veljko Zibret opened the scoring after a drop pass from Mato Mladjenovic at 12:04.

Zibret shot down the hopes of the Austrians to remain at Division I. The 190 cm and 103 kg player from Medvescak Zagreb was scoreless in the four previous games, but in the most important game, the first-line winger scored a hat trick.

Just 16 seconds into second period, the 30-year-old deflected a high shot from Mladjenovic with his stick. And at 34:13 he scored the 3-0 goal with a long shot. The game seemed to be decided, but the Aussies started the last period with new hope as Robert Starke scored a power-play goal at 39:35.

After the tally, the reduced Australia team lacked energy and Croatia cruised. Todd Stephenson lost the puck in his own zone. Mario Novak took the puck and passed in front of the net where Janko Kucera scored at 52:44. Two minutes later, Mladjenovic made it 5-1.

“Both teams were very tired but we had maybe a little more discipline, more experience in Division I and our players also compete in a tougher league,” Croatia coach Pavle Kavcic said. “However, we expected more at this tournament. Especially in the game against Lithuania we played bad and undisciplined.”

Awards selected by the Tournament Directorate:

Best Goalkeeper: Andrej Hocevar (Slovenia)
Best Defenceman: Aaron Keller (Japan)
Best Forward: Vadim Krasnoslobotsev (Kazakhstan)

MARTIN MERK


Croatia’s Veljko Zibret scored a hat trick against Australia. Photo: Andrius Petrulevicius


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