LJUBLJANA – Slovenia earned promotion to the 2011 IIHF World Championship in Slovakia following its 4-1 victory in the Division I Group B over co-favourite Hungary on home ice in front of a capacity crowd of 4,000 fans. Poland claimed bronze after edging Great Britain, 2-1. Korea sent Croatia to Division II after its first-ever victory on that level.
Hungary vs. Slovenia 1-4 (1-1, 0-1, 0-2)
After two years in Division I, Slovenia won the 2010 IIHF World Championship Division I Group B and got promoted on home ice following a convincing 4-1 victory against Hungary, the only other team that was undefeated after four games.
20-year-old Acroni Jesenice forward Rok Ticar was the player of the game with his two goals early into the first and third period.
“I feel great. It was just my second World Championship. I didn’t expect to win against Hungary 4-1, but we played better tonight, especially in the second and third period,” Ticar said. “We skated very hard, we really wanted this victory and were maybe also a bit luckier. We’re really proud to win the gold.”
It was this young line that surprised the whole country and entered the tournament as the “third line”. Centre Ticar together with his wingers Ziga Jeglic and Jan Urbas scored 11 of Slovenia’s 29 goals in five games. Jeglic was also named best forward of the tournament voted by the teams’ representatives in the tournament directorate.
The trio also led Slovenia in scoring with only Detroit prospect Jan Mursak in between.
“Our line played really well in these five games,” Ticar said. “I didn’t expect that we would play that much and that well, and I’m proud of our line and our team. We stayed together like a big family.”
Slovenia’s men’s national team remains undefeated against Hungary in IIHF competition, extending its record to 6-0 and 35-9 goals.
Last time the teams met was in 2007, also at Hala Tivoli in Ljubljana, when Slovenia defeated Hungary 4-1 to qualify for the 2008 IIHF World Championship in Canada. It was the last time the Slovenes played in the top division before getting relegated after a year despite Anze Kopitar on the roster.
Same as three years ago, Slovenia took the lead early. After only 50 seconds, Ziga Pance skated around the net to feed Rok Ticar, who was alone in front of Hungary netminder Zoltan Hetenyi to put the puck in.
While the Slovenes went on scoring in their last meeting three years ago, Hungary replied this time at 8:37 while playing shorthanded. Marton Vas hit the back of the net with his distance shot after a face-off in the offensive zone.
The 1-1 score remained for almost 30 minutes while both teams had the chance to turn the game into either direction, but it were the Slovenes that brought more energy onto the ice and eventually capitalized on the third power play of the second period with a goal from Ales Kranjc at 37:42.
“The first goal hurt us and the amount of penalties in the second period took any chance away from us,” Hungary coach Ted Sator said. “We didn’t have anything left to score goals and it’s hard to win with only one goal.”
For Hungary it came even worse when Janos Vas took a penalty for high-sticking in the last minute of the middle stanza and Slovenia put much pressure on Hetenyi’s goal when the third period started.
With 16 seconds remaining on the power play, Ticar scored his second goal of the night. Jeglic took the puck after a rebound and passed to Ticar, who scored from the crease.
Twelve minutes later, Jan Musak’s 4-1 goal definitely sealed the win for Slovenia. Mursak skated from his own end towards Hetenyi and neither the defencemen nor the Hungary netminder were able to prevent him from scoring with a shot in the top-left corner.
“The early goal gave us and our crowd confidence that we could win today. Hungary played well and killed many penalties, but then we scored two power-play goals,” Slovenia coach John Harrington said. “We had some guys missing, but other guys stepped up and we had some good young players who were outstanding, who showed that they can be effective and win games for Slovenia.”
Hungary, which qualified for the 2009 World Championship after a 70-year absence, will have to wait another year to fight for promotion, but around 1,000 noisy Hungarian fans celebrated their team like champions, singing the national anthem while the silver medals were awarded.
The true champions of this tournament got the medals at the end before starting the celebration of Slovenia’s comeback with the elite nations. The 2011 IIHF World Championship in Bratislava and Košice, Slovakia, will mark Slovenia’s sixth participation in the top division after 2002, 2003, 2005, 2006 and 2008 since the country joined the World Championship program in 1993 following the split-up of Yugoslavia.
“I’m looking forward to next year,” Ticar said. “I hope everything will be okay that I can play there. It would be a new experience for me. Maybe we can play Sweden or Denmark as I could meet some old friends again.”
Ticar had a two-year stint in the Swedish junior league for Timrĺ IK – including five Elitserien games – before he came back to his hometown in 2009 to play as a hockey pro for Acroni Jesenice in the Austrian league.
Best Goalkeeper: Stephen Murphy (Great Britain)
Best Defenceman: Andras Horvath (Hungary)
Best Forward: Ziga Jeglic (Slovenia)
Media All-Star Team:
GK: Zoltan Hetenyi (HUN)
DE: Andras Hovath (HUN) - Sabahudin Kovacevic (SLO)
FW: Rok Ticar (SLO) - Ziga Jeglic (SLO) - Jan Urbas (SLO)
Great Britain vs. Poland 1-2 (1-0, 0-1, 0-1)
After a disappointing tournament last year, Poland won the Division I bronze after edging Great Britain, 2-1, thanks to a late goal from Mikolaj Lopuski.
The Great Britain vs. Poland meeting was a rematch of last year’s game in Torun, Poland, the Brits ended with a 2-1 overtime win. They also met one year earlier, in Innsbruck, when Poland won with the same score after a shootout to claim the bronze.
This year in Ljubljana, it was not different.
The game began with the puck going back and forth. Both teams had only a few good scoring chances. Poland had more shots, but Great Britain put the first goal on the scoreboard.
After getting a pass with 2:47 left, Phil Hill scored with a laser of a shot, hitting the upper part of the net and goalkeeper Krzysztof Zborowski’s bottle to make it 1-0.
Things went back and forth again in the second period while both teams successfully managed to avoid penalties, but this time the Polish team dominated the play with 18-4 shots advantage, and eventually their players scored in the dying minutes of the period.
Jaroslaw Rzeszutko scored on a rebound with 2:03 left. Great Britain goalkeeper Stephen Murphy deflected Michal Kotlorz’s shot from the blueline and Rzeszutko’s first attempt in the crease, but third time was a charm for the Polish players.
With the score tied, nobody was willing to give presents. It remained 1-1 until Poland took its first lead at 53:43. Krystian Dziubinski entered the offensive zone and dropped the puck back to Mikolaj Lopuski, whose shot hit the back of the net.
Great Britain pulled the goalkeeper with one minute before the buzzer and coach Paul Thompson took a time-out with a few seconds left, but Poland kept the Brits away from their goal.
For Poland, it was a good finish after suffering two losses at the beginning of the tournament including a painful 6-0 loss against Hungary. Since their second game, Poland has won all its games to overtake Great Britain on the final day.
“We were well-prepared for this game, I think we had more energy left, we were quicker and had more shots,” Poland coach Wiktor Pysz said.
For Great Britain it was a tournament with close games – they lost three games by one or two goals only – but they remain a serious candidate for a medal next year.
Poland forward Mikolaj Lopuski celebrates the game-winning goal against Great Britain. Photo: Iztok Novak
Croatia vs. Korea 2-5 (1-3, 0-1, 1-1)
Korea overcame its offensive hurdles and defeated Croatia, 5-2, in the deciding game to avoid relegation. The first four goals were scored by Korea’s top line.
For Korea, it’s the first time in its four Division I appearances that it won a game to stay in Division I.
“It’s the first time in the last 10-20 years that we won such an important game. Our young players worked hard and wanted to get this victory and stay in Division I,” Korea coach Hee Woo Kim said. “Next year we want to repeat and improve our game.”
Korea came out more determined and took the lead after 41 seconds. Defenceman Yoon Hwan Kim shot from the blueline and the puck bounced from Croatia goalkeeper Vanja Belic’s glove to Dong Hwan Song, and from him over the goal line.
Song celebrated again when Korea capitalized on its first power play and Song was at the right place to score his second goal at 8:01.
Croatia replied one minute later when they capitalized on a goalie mistake. Sung Je Park’s reflex came too late to catch the puck when Marko Lovrencic scored after a face-off in the offensive zone.
Woo Sang Park restored the two-goal lead at 11:05 when the speedy forward skated away in the middle to receive a pass from Ki Sung Kim.
Kim scored 2:49 into the middle period with a shot from the right face-off circle to make it 4-1.
Croatia became more active and had more scoring opportunities than the Asians in the second period, but couldn’t capitalize while Korea remained dangerous with their quick counter-attacks.
With 2:34 remaining in regulation, Won Jung Kim became the first Korean from another than the first line to defeat Croatia goalie Belic.
Kim skated between two Croatian defenceman to appear in front of Belic. Ivan Sijan hooked from behind, but instead of waiting for a penalty shot, Kim moved the puck in while falling down and sliding towards the end boards.
Dominik Kanaet cut the lead with 63 seconds remaining, but the game was already decided.
It took 20 games for the Korean players, with their hands on the chest and visibly affected by the accomplishment, to become the first to sing their national anthem following a win at Division I level.
For Croatia, the Division I stint ends after three years. In the last two years, it finished with one victory against Australia and Estonia respectively to avoid relegation, this time it was the team to go down to Division II. But with Croatia's ambitious Medvescak Zagreb project, it might just be a matter of time until the Croats are back in Division I.
“I’m not satisfied with the outcome. We didn’t play as well as in the last two years, but it’s the reality of Croatian hockey,” Croatia’s Slovenian coach Pavle Kavcic said. “We don’t have a big pool of players and we have to play in Division II now.”
Dong Hwan Song scored two goals in Korea's first ever victory at Division I level. Photo: Iztok Novak