IZMIT, Turkey - Despite four straight losses so far, a final day win will cap off a fine tournament for newcomers Turkey as they look to ensure their survival in Division IIB.
Heading towards the halfway mark during Turkey's second game during the 2013 World Championships Div. IIB, captain Emrah Özmen sent the home crowd to its feet as his power play goal saw the newly promoted hosts go in front of Israel 3-2 and hold on to their lead going into the second intermission.
Despite battling valiantly throughout the final frame, the Turks in the end were forced to succumb to an Israeli onslaught as the eventual runaway winners of the tournament clocked up a hard-fought 5-3 win. As Israel celebrated their three points, Turkey were left to lick its wounds from yet another defeat during a ill-fated tournament as far as results were concerned for Turkey.
"We could have won all our games so far. We start playing well during the two first periods before we get tired in the third," said Turkey head coach Eduard Hartmann about Turkey's 0W-4L record so far during the IIHF World Championship on home ice in Izmit, which apart from defeat to Israel also have seen them being lose narrowly to Mexico (4-6 ) China (2-3 ) and New Zealand (1-2 ).
Hartmann, a former goaltender who was on the Czechoslovakian roster that won bronze at the World Championships in 1990 and later represented Slovakia, as the newly independent country's first choice goalie during the 1994 Olympic Games. Following his retirement, he had worked at the top level in Slovakia ranging from various coaching positions to General Manager, before raising a few eyebrows when signing up as head coach of Turkey in October last year.
Penning a one season deal with Hartmann, Turkey were eager to continue their progress with their senior men's national team after winning gold and promotion during last year's Division III World Championships on home ice in Erzurum. Ahead of this season the aim was to take yet another step forward and consolidate their position in the higher tier.
"For us the season really only started with this World Championship and the training camp we had a couple of weeks ahead of the tournament," Hartmann said. "But in order to progress you need tough games every week, but the problem for my players is that they only have between two to four difficult games a season in Turkey. Now during the World Championship we play five hard games in one week, but for that the players lack experience."
An IIHF-member since 1991, Turkey has during its short life as a hockey nation made steady progress in building up a hockey program that from top to bottom, including having senior and junior national teams for both men and women and building hockey schools for budding players across the country.
Turkey has now eight Olympic-sized ice surfaces in five different cities - a rink each in Ankara, Istanbul, Izmir and Izmit while three are located in Erzurum in Eastern Turkey, and since last year's appointment of Orhan Duman as President of the Turkish Ice Hockey Federation there has been progress on all levels that has continued at an even faster pace.
"The steps we have taken since Duman's appointment have been considerable," said Tarik Göcmen, Sports Manager at the Turkish Ice Hockey Federation. "Last year we won gold with the men's senior team in Division III, we have competed well in the Balkan Cup with our under-16 national team, we won the bronze medals with the under-18 team in Division III, we will have a women's under-18 team and we are now having close scores with our senior men's team here in Izmit during the World Championships."
But while the scores might narrow down on international level, further development would also be much welcomed in its domestic championship, the seven-team Turkish Süper Lig. On their way to wrapping up the Turkish championship this season, Baskent Yildizlari needed only a paltry twelve regular season games and six play-off ties before the gold medals were hanging around their necks.
The vast gulf between the teams mean that free-scoring affairs and lopsided scorelines are staple diet in Turkish hockey, which has had an direct effect on the Turkish national team players in this year's world championship.
"In the Turkish league, the few games that are somewhat even still finish up with scorelines such as 10-8 or 12-9. Games with few goals are still very uncommon for most Turkish players and the effect these tight games have had during this year's world championship is that many have become stressed and then don't know what to do," said Serdar Semiz, a 31-year old forward now playing his second world championship for Turkey.
Born and bred in the Swedish capital of Stockholm, Semiz has in the past played full two seasons in Turkish ice hockey. With plenty of experience from Swedish ice hockey he is eager to help Turkey in moving forward as a hockey nation, and highlights a number of issues that he would like to see being addressed.
"In order for Turkish senior hockey to progress you need to cut down on the quota on foreign players in the team, because as it is now with four foreigners you are building your team only around them. But we also need more games and we should look at more regional matches instead of travelling long and far for road games.
As it is now teams in the Süper Lig play two games in one weekend and then spend the next two weeks waiting for the next ones. Finally, we also need to look at other countries for inspiration, but not only the leading countries but also nations at our own level or the one just above us to see what they have done, and from there pick an choose what is best for Turkey," said Semiz.
One step in the right direction would be a victory again neighbours Bulgaria during the closing day of the 2013 World Championships Div. IIB, which would ensue survival and a much-welcomed experience and boost of confidence for the so far luckless Turkish players.
"To stay in division IIB would be a good platform for us to stand on and to continue build from," said Semiz. "Looking at our games so far in this tournament I believe we should have been finishing top-three. Now we instead will be delighted if we manage to beat Bulgaria to stay in the division."