Hungary ends with a win
by Andy Potts|29 AUG 2021
photo: Ansis Ancovs
Hungary finished off its Olympic Qualification campaign with a morale-boosting 2-1 win over Italy. Sean Simpson’s team, which was the lowest-ranked team in Riga after winning through the previous round in Great Britain, bucked the formbook as Italy’s goal-shy offence continued to splutter.

A power play goal late in the second period made the difference in this game: Italy had created slightly the better chances in the game, but after firing blanks in its first two games the Azzurri lacked assurance in front of Miklos Rajna’s net. Hungary, meanwhile, grew in confidence after a slow start and began to apply pressure to Andreas Bernard as the middle frame wore on. That culminated in a penalty on Alex Petan and the power play saw Istvan Sofron fire in a shot that captain Gergo Nagy was able to steer beyond the Italian goalie.

Then, midway through the third period, Istvan Bartalis came flying down the boards and dropped off a perfect pass for Akos Mihaly to fire home across the face of Bernard and put the game beyond Italy’s reach.

"It's a great feeling to win a game," said goalscorer Nagy. "We knew we had to bounce back from the game against Latvia and we were ready from the get-go today. Everybody did their job and we are proud of what we achieved today."

The Italians were now in serious danger of going through all three games in Latvia without scoring a single goal. Yet, when the drought finally ended it was a fine piece of play to snap a 173-minute wait to light the lamp. Giovanni Morini was the hero, bursting into the Hungarian zone and exchanging passes with Luca Frigo before going top shelf on Rajna.

That offered a lifeline, but could not prevent a third defeat in a frustrating tournament for Italy. Defenceman Thomas Larkin was blunt in his assessment. "We expected much more of ourselves. There's not much more to say," he said. "We have to figure out a way to score more goals, to capitalize on our chances, on our power play, and we couldn't do it. That's on us.

"We were well prepared by our coaching staff and we have to deliver more as players, expect more from ourselves."

There was one more big chance to come for the Italians: a high-sticking call on Daniel Szabo with just over two to play piled the pressure onto the Hungarian net. But, even with Bernard replaced by a sixth skater, there was no way through the Magyar penalty kill and Hungary took the win.

Sunday’s early game in Riga was a battle for respectability. Both Hungary and Italy lost their first two games; the Hungarians produced five battling periods before running out of steam in the final frame against Latvia, while the Italians showed some good goaltending but struggled to generate offence in its appearances so far.

Defeat left Italy's head coach Greg Ireland disappointed with the tournament. "When you only score one goal and you don't get a win, that's not good enough," he said. "I put a lot of responsibility on myself and I feel that we want to be able to get a lot more out of this group, to elevate our game a little bit better.

"This maybe wasn't what we always wanted or planned, but at the same time it's a group that really cares and has a lot of passion to pull that jersey over their heads and I'm proud to be associated with that."

There were few chances in the first period. Italy twice got on the power play, but struggled to generate more than a shot off the draw from Angelo Miceli. At the other end, Daniel Glira almost cost his team when he lost possession in his own zone and presented Krisztian Nagy with a glorious chance that was stopped by Andreas Bernard.

Hungarian goalie Rajna, starting in place of the injured Zoltan Hetenyi, also produced a big save in the opening frame, getting a stick in the way of Daniel Frank’s effort. The 30-year-old came into the game against Latvia after 20 minutes and suffered a torrid time in the third period, allowing eight goals as the host ran riot. 

Italy had more shots in the first period, but Hungary started the second on a power play after Marco Magnabosco’s clumsy foul on Milan Horvath right on the hooter. However, the PP offered little threat and the game remained goalless.

And 'goalless' was Italy’s problem throughout this tournament. Even though the Azzurri power play showed greater coherence in the second period, Rajna was equal to everything that came his way as Hungary ended with a win that gives the team a boost ahead of its World Championship Division IA campaign next year.

"If you look at the tournament as a whole, we had maybe one-and-a-half bad periods out of nine," said head coach Sean Simpson. "We finished third and that's a big accomplishment for us. Now we're looking to move forward."