Slovakia makes history
by Andy Potts|14 JAN 2019
The Slovak players and staff celebrate after historically earning promotion to the top-level IIHF Ice Hockey U18 Women’s World Championship.
photo: Nicolas Zangerle
Slovakia’s U18 women’s national team won promotion to the top division thanks to a convincing 5-1 victory over Germany in the 2019 IIHF Ice Hockey U18 Women’s World Championship Division I Group A decider. The result means Slovakia will face the best in the world for the first time in its history, becoming the 12th nation to make it to the highest level in this age group.

The teams went into Sunday’s match-up with the Germans in the ascendancy. Slovakia’s 5-2 loss against Italy on Thursday left it two points behind and knowing that only a win in regulation would be good enough to take gold in the Austrian town of Radenthein. Germany, meanwhile, had won all four games but needed at least one point to edge by Slovakia.

However, a blistering start from Slovakia saw Peter Kudelka’s team jump into a 2-0 lead inside the first seven minutes. Germany ran into penalty trouble early on, handing the Slovaks a 5-on-3 advantage. It took just nine seconds for Michaela Hajnikova to convert that opportunity, and Nina Cengelova added a second with the Germans still on the penalty kill.

“We were well prepared for Germany,” Kudelka was quoted on the website of the Slovak Ice Hockey Federation website. “We studied their game and we knew what to expect. Of course, those two quick power-play goals really helped us, but even after they got back into the game we showed the tenacity, spirit and organization to regain control and get the win.”

Germany did make it tough. Three seconds after a 5-on-3 power play came to an end, Sarah Kubiczek pulled one back. Then the second period saw the Slovak goal under intense pressure; a solitary shot on the German net was testimony to the balance of play but Nikola Zimkova preserved her team’s slender advantage. However, the second intermission gave Slovakia the chance to regroup and three unanswered goals in the final frame secured the victory and the gold medal.

Germany, relegated from the top division 12 months ago, was left frustrated at missing out after a tournament where it was comfortably the leading scorer. “We just didn’t have enough to beat a physically strong Slovak team,” head coach Franziska Busch told the German Hockey Federation site. “We had a nervous start but then we got into the game better and began creating scoring chances, we just weren’t able to use them. The team never gave up and left everything out there on the ice but unfortunately four wins from five games was only good enough for second place.”

Hungary took bronze, helped by impressive individual contributions from two forwards. Emma Kreisz led the scoring with 10 (2+8) points, one ahead of Mira Seregely (5+3). Seregely tied with Kubiczek on five goals to share the leading goalscorer honours and was chosen as best forward at the tournament. Goalie Zsofia Toth had a goals against average of 1.80 to win the award for top netminder. Slovakia’s Diana Vargova was the leading blue-liner with 5 (2+3) points in her country’s gold medal run.

Italy, bronze medallists 12 months ago, dropped to fourth while newly-promoted Denmark preserved its position in the group thanks to a crucial 4-1 victory over host nation Austria. Two goals from Alberte Schlie in the first period set the Danes on the way to that win; the newcomer also took the Italians to overtime before losing 2-3.

That left Austria rooted to the foot of the table. This year’s host had finished fourth last time out, ahead of Hungary and relegated Norway. But in 2019, home advantage could not save Jyri Kuivala’s team. Losses in the first four games condemned the Austrians to the drop; an overtime victory against Italy thanks to Katherina Heuberger’s goal 16 seconds into the extras was scant consolation on the final day.

Next season’s Division I Group A will see France return to this group after winning promotion in Dumfries on Saturday. Japan drops down from the top division after losing out against the Czechs in the relegation playoff on home ice in Obihiro.
2019 IIHF Ice Hockey U18 Women's World Championship Division I Group A