Last year Romania entered their final day in the Division IB playing for survival. One year later their change of fortune has been remarkable. Top of the standings and facing the Netherlands in their closing game of the tournament, Romania got it all in their own hands to win a sensational gold and promotion to the Division IA.
“If we would win gold it might change a lot of things. We would play in a group against Hungary or Slovenia and be looked at differently. We hope our success can mean more focus on hockey, because right now it´s all about football in our country,” said Romania’s Tamas Reszegh.
Romania can earn promotion with a regulation time win in the first game against the Netherlands, otherwise, Poland could overtake them in their game against Japan.
Romania’s results in Tallinn have so far gone from strength to strength. Starting off by beating Estonia on penalty shots, they then downed Japan (3-2) which was followed up by a nail-biting overtime win against Poland (3-2) before Ukraine was toppled (5-1).
Undefeated after four matches in Tallinn, it marks a remarkable upturn of fortunes against opponents who for decades had the upper hand.
Romania fell behind Japan on the World ranking back in 1982 and has yet to recover. Romania´s previous three meetings against Poland at this level between 2012-14 ended all in defeats with one goal scored and 23 conceded. In the six games at World Championship level versus Ukraine they previously lost all of them with a total goal difference of 4-39.
“It is a great feeling knowing that we now can beat these teams. It also feels good to win when you look at how many registered players and the number of rinks they have compared to us,” said Reszegh.
A glance at the statistics from the Divison IB is eye-catching reading. Not only are Romania´s netminders Patrik Polc and Zoltan Toke top of the standings in save percentage in Tallinn. Romania are also heading the charts in penalty kill, power play and scoring efficiency.
Reszegh assisted Rokaly for their opening marker of the tournament against Estonia and it was Rokaly who scored the game-winning penalty shot. Reszegh then got off the mark with a goal in the second game as Romania rallied back to beat Japan. He was the provider for Rokaly when Romania scored first in their overtime win against Poland. Rokaly then notched a helper and scored on a penalty shot in their 5-1 win against Ukraine.
Playing in Tallinn’s Tondiraba Ice Hall brings back sweet memories from the 2017 IIHF Ice Hockey U20 World Championships Division II Group A when Reszegh and Rokaly teamed up on the same line in the blue, yellow and red colours of Romania.
“The first time we played together was for the U20s right here in Tallinn. It immediately felt really good to play together. Since January this year, we also play on the same line on the club team,” said Reszegh, who together with Rokaly represent Sport Club Csikszereda from Miercurea Ciuc.
“He is a fast player and we are thinking the same out on the ice. He likes to pass, is not selfish and always helping out in both offensive and defensive zone,” said Rokaly on playing together with Reszegh.
While both players are born and brought up in Eastern Transylvania, a major contributing factor in Romania’s success has been the cooperation with the ambitious Hungarian hockey program. Reszegh was 12 when he and his teammates started to spend half a day travelling by bus to compete against Hungarian opposition. He was 15 when he moved to Slovakia and the Czech Republic to continue his development. Rokaly, on the other hand, moved to Hungary to speed up his junior development before they came together this season in Romania skating for Sport Club Csikszereda.
“We have many very experienced players on our club team with 300-500 KHL-games and they are great leaders for us younger players. One such example is Andrei Taratukhin, the kindest guy I ever met in the locker room and we can learn a lot from them,” said Reszegh as Sport Club Csikszereda this season lost the final series in the Erste Liga where teams from Hungary, Romania and Austria compete.
As Reszegh and Rokaly are getting prepared to try and gun Romania to gold in Tallinn, one player whose experience will be vital versus the Netherlands is blueliner Attila Goga. He was 19 when he skated for Romania on home ice at the 2001 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championships Division II Group B in the now demolished Mihai Flamaropol rink in Bucharest. Now 38, he was also part of the Romanian national team coached by Canadian Tom Skinner who in 2012 and 2013 twice finished fourth in Division IB.
“Since those days our league has become stronger. With the speed level also higher in our championship, you can clearly see the difference between this team to those a few years ago,” said Goga, who expects a stern final test against a Dutch team playing for their survival.
“It’s the mentally toughest game for us so it’s good to have had a free day and time to prepare. We hope to have learned from our mistakes from our previous games and will quickly try to get the puck out of our zone and play more in their end,” said Goga.
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