ZAGREB – Croatia lived up to expectations in the Olympic Qualification’s first of three stages, advancing to the second round with a clean record after defeating rivals Serbia.
“We played better than the two games before. Serbia was the toughest opponent,” said Petar Trstenjak. “We play with them a lot because we’re neighbours, so we know most of the players. It’s always a good game between Croatia and Serbia. Now we’re looking forward to the next round in Budapest.”
The tournament went perfect from the beginning until the end for the home team. Although they iced only three lines in the first game on Monday because the country’s top club team Medvescak Zagreb had a league game at Pula’s amphitheatre the night before, the Croats defeated Mexico 9-2.
In their second game with four more players on the roster they steamrollered Israel 15-2 before playing the deciding game against Serbia on Wednesday night.
Serbia, which had only two practices due to the late opening of their ice rinks, had a difficult pre-game scenario. After defeating Israel 7-1 on the opening day, the Serbs lost against Mexico, which is ranked three places behind Serbia in the IIHF World Ranking.
Diego Linares took the lead for Mexico midway through the first period, but goals from Dimitrije Filipovic and Srdjan Ristic made it a 2-1 lead for the Serbs. The Mexicans came back with a pair of goals from Alexander Gutierrez to regain the lead midway through the second period, and Brian Arroyo – the top goal scorer of the tournament with five markers – and Miguel Colas added two more goals to seal the win, 5-3.
The win wasn’t enough for Mexico to have a chance for the tournament win because in the case of a three-team tie between Croatia, Mexico and Serbia they would have a negative goal difference in the head-to-head games.
However, Serbia was still in the running – at least mathematically. But in order to cause a three-way time they needed to defeat Croatia in regulation time. And to end up on top of the standings, they needed to do so with a margin of at least five goals.
The vague hope for Serbia became even more distant after the first period against Croatia. The Croats outshot their rival 17-7 to gain a 3-0 lead before the first intermission. Serbia cut the deficit two times in the middle stanza, but the game ended with a 6-2 win for Croatia.
Petar Trstenjak scored a pair of goals. The other markers came from Igor Lazic, Ivan Sijan, Tomiscav Cunko and Ivan Brencun for Croatia, and from Nemanja Vucurevic and Robert Sabados for Serbia.
Marko Lovrencic didn’t hit the back of the net in Croatia’s last game, but ended up as scoring leader with four goals and four assists.
“I scored two goals and I’m happy that we won the game and everybody in this tournament scored a lot of goals,” Trstenjak said. “Playing Serbia was a good preparation for the next round.”
For the 20-year-old forward it was a homecoming in Zagreb. The last five years he played for junior teams of Slovan Bratislava and he hoped to join the senior squad in the Slovak Extraliga. That hope faded since the club joined the Russian KHL during the off-season and reinforced the team with veterans rather than include fresh talent from its junior squad.
“I hope I will play with Medvescak in the EBEL,” Trstenjak said. “I’m practising with the team and I hope the coach will give me the chance to play.”
Croatia now advances to the second stage of the Olympic Qualification that will be played 8-11 November. The Croats will play in Group G in Budapest where they join host Hungary, the Netherlands and Lithuania. Two other men’s tournaments will be staged in Kyiv, Ukraine, and Nikko, Japan.
The winner of each tournament advances to one of the three tournaments of the Final Olympic Qualification in February 2013 that will determine the three qualifiers for Sochi 2014. The tournaments in November and February will be played during the international breaks.
“It will be a lot different from this tournament because here we were the best team and in Budapest we will have stronger opponents,” Trstenjak said, “but I hope we will have a bigger roster and that we won’t lose by high scores.”
The Olympic Qualification for the women’s ice hockey tournament in Sochi 2014 starts with one of the first-round tournaments next week in Jastrzebie-Zdroj, Poland. A second event of the first round will be played in Barcelona, Spain, 12-14 October. The second round will be played in November and the two final tournaments in February.
Olympic Qualification overview
Scores & Stats Group K in Zagreb