ERZURUM, Turkey – The Turkish men’s national team won the 2012 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship Division III on home ice in Erzurum. It was the first-ever gold medal for the nation in an IIHF event.
“Ice hockey champion of their class” reads the headline on the website of Hürriyet, one of the biggest newspapers in Turkey. On Saturday the sport that is rather unknown in the country hit the headline when the Turkish men’s national team claimed its first-ever gold.
Although Turkey got promoted to Division II already in 2004, 2006 and 2009, it was the first time the Turks did so by ending up in first place.
The tournament with nations from rather smaller ice hockey communities was one with many hockey enthusiasts on the ice (see our extended feature from Erzurum) in which the Turks lived up to their role as one of the favourites.
The Turks had strong performances against the lower-seeded opponents of the group, defeating Greece (6-1), Mongolia (10-0) and Luxembourg (8-1).
A first real challenge came on the third day when the Turks met Ireland on home ice in Erzurum at an altitude of 1,890 metres. Ireland was relegated from Division II last year, as was DPR Korea because of forfeiting all games as the participation had to be cancelled for financial reasons.
The Irish, who lost their only ice hockey rink in their country recently, kept up well and even scored the 3-2 lead late in the second period thanks to a hat trick from Gareth Roberts, an Irish-trained player whose performances with the Irish national team helped him get a contract with the Belfast Giants of the British top league in 2010.
But Turkey staged a comeback and eventually won 5-3 thanks to five goals from as many players.
The bigger challenge followed the day after when Turkey was outshot 33-25 by DPR Korea, but after a scoreless opening period it was the Turks who gained the lead with two goals early in the second period. The game ended 4-2 for Turkey with four goals from four different players and a 31-save performance by goalkeeper Fikri Atali.
Turkey’s top scorers in the tournament were Emrah Özmen (5+5=10), Swedish-born Serdar Semiz (6+3=9) and Yusuf Halil (4+5=9) while Ireland’s Roberts was the scoring leader with 14 (7+7) points.
DPR Korea recovered from the loss in the deciding game and claimed the silver medals after blanking Ireland 5-0. Luxembourg won the bronze with a 3-2 record ahead of Ireland, Greece and Mongolia. The Mongolians are still hunting for their first win in the World Championship Division III after also finishing their fourth tournament winless.
1. Turkey 15 (promoted)
2. DPR Korea 12
3. Luxembourg 9
4. Ireland 6
5. Greece 3
6. Mongolia 0
Individual Awards as selected by the Tournament Directorate:
Best Goalkeeper: Philippe Lepage, Luxembourg
Best Defenceman: Pong Il Ri, DPR Korea
Best Forward: Gareth Roberts, Ireland