Perfect start for Kazakhs
by Martin Merk|13 NOV 2018
Kazakhstan with a scoring chance against Hungary. After meeting in Budapest in November, these two teams will meet in Astana next spring to battle for promotion to the top level.
photo: Laszlo Mudra
The teams that will battle for promotion to the top division at next spring’s 2019 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship Division I Group A were busy testing their players for the first time this season during the November International Break.

For the host nation of the Division I Group A in Astana it was a successful weekend as Kazakhstan won all three of its games in a Euro Ice Hockey Challenge tournament in the Hungarian capital of Budapest. Victories over Hungary (3-1), Korea (5-3) and Italy (3-2) gave the Kazakhs top spot.

The Kazakhs won the tournament without their established KHL players. Most of the players in the line-up play in the domestic league a few got little ice time at KHL team Barys Astana this season. Offensively Yegor Petukhov was shining with three goals (and four points) while Valeri Gurin (1+4=5) and Dmitri Gurkov (0+5=5) were the scoring leaders of the team. Nikita Boyarkin, who was on the U20 national team that earned promotion to the top-level World Juniors last winter, was in the net for all three games.
Hungary and Italy finished with one win apiece. Hungary got second place thanks to the head-to-head win against Italy but was unable to play its game against Korea, which went home without a point, due to ice issues. The Hungarians impressed by beating Italy 7-1 with goals from six different scorers including two markers from Janos Hari. Zoltan Hetenyi made 38 saves in the win.

In its first tournament since playing top-level hockey at the Olympics and Worlds last year, Korea came to this tournament with only native players even though six North American born, naturalized players from last season’s roster still play with the Korean teams in the Asia League and could join the national team in the Division I Group A.

At another tournament played in Minsk, host Belarus looked to bounce back after relegation from the World Championship top division and showed some promise as it took second place in its tournament. Latvia got the win thanks to a shootout success in Sunday’s decisive game, but the host enjoyed victories over France (5-2) and Slovenia (4-1).

Latvia clinched the title thanks to Egils Kalns’ winner in the shootout. Earlier, the Baltic nation had taken a first-minute lead thanks to Edgars Kulda, but Vladimir Denisov got Belarus level late in the second period. The tournament was also the first for France following the retirement of long-serving head coach Dave Henderson. Under the guidance of Renaud Jacquin, Les Bleus took third place thanks to a shootout win over Slovenia. The Slovenes, who will also play in the Division I Group A, finished in last place.

Behind Kalns and Kulda two Belarusians were third and fourth in scoring: Andrei Stepanov (2+1=3) and Artur Gavrus (1+2=3). Both goalies had good numbers to even though they were outshone by the Latvians. Dmitri Milchakov had a 95.8 save percentage in this two stars, Mikhail Kamaukhov a 96.0 save percentage in the win against Slovenia.

The sixth team that will play in Astana is Lithuania. The rejuvenated Lithuanians hosted the Baltic Challenge Cup in Vilnius and started promising with a 3-2 shootout victory against Japan but then lost 1-0 against Belarus’ B-team and finished last in their group. In a game for fifth place they beat Baltic rival Estonia 6-3.

While several veterans retired after promotion, some established players were still part of the team that was for the first time coached by Daniel Lacroix including last spring’s Division IB scoring leader Arnoldas Bosas, who led the team in scoring with three goals, goaltender Mantas Armalis and KHL defenceman Nerijus Alisauskas.


Euro Ice Hockey Challenge in Hungary
7 Nov.   Budapest (HUN)   Hungary   Kazakhstan   1-3
7 Nov.   Budapest (HUN)   Italy   Korea   5-2
8 Nov.   Budapest (HUN)   Korea   Kazakhstan   3-5
9 Nov.   Budapest (HUN)   Kazakhstan   Italy   3-2
9 Nov.   Budapest (HUN)   Korea   Hungary   cancelled
10 Nov.   Budapest (HUN)   Hungary   Italy   7-1
Standings: 1. Kazakhstan 9, 2. Hungary 3, 3. Italy 3, 4. Korea 0
Euro Ice Hockey Challenge in Belarus
8 Nov.   Minsk (BLR)   Latvia   Slovenia   4-1
8 Nov.   Minsk (BLR)   Belarus   France   5-2
9 Nov.   Minsk (BLR)   France   Latvia   1-4
9 Nov.   Minsk (BLR)   Belarus   Slovenia   4-1
10 Nov.   Minsk (BLR)   Slovenia   France   2-3 SO
10 Nov.   Minsk (BLR)   Belarus   Latvia   1-2 SO
Standings: 1. Latvia 8, 2. Belarus 7, 3. France 2, 4. Slovenia 1
Baltic Challenge Cup in Lithuania
8 Nov.   Vilnius (LTU)   Latvia B   Estonia   4-1
8 Nov.   Vilnius (LTU)   Lithuania   Japan   3-2 SO
9 Nov.   Vilnius (LTU)   Estonia   Romania   3-7
9 Nov.   Vilnius (LTU)   Belarus B   Japan   1-5
10 Nov.   Vilnius (LTU)   Romania   Latvia B   1-2
10 Nov.   Vilnius (LTU)   Lithuania   Belarus B   0-1
11 Nov.   Vilnius (LTU)   Romania   Belarus B   3-4
11 Nov.   Vilnius (LTU)   Latvia B   Japan   3-0
11 Nov.   Vilnius (LTU)   Lithuania   Estonia   6-3
Standings: 1. Latvia B, 2. Japan, 3. Belarus B, 4. Romania, 5. Lithuania, 6. Estonia.