After three games that ended in shut-out victories, this was a real contest. The two teams were evenly matched and produced an absorbing encounter decided by the predatory qualities of Slovenia's scoring leaders Pia Pren and Julija Blazinsek, while line mate Sara Confidenti's pace was a persistent threat all evening.
"The three of us are kind of almost the only Slovenian girls that have been playing hockey right from the start," Pren said of their powerful combination. "Girls usually start later in Slovenia.
"From the beginning it was no problem for us to play together. We have a good feel for each other on the ice and it’s like a good mix of different types of players. For example I’m creating more, Sara is the fast one and Julija just has a feeling for scoring, it’s unbelievable to see. It’s really a pleasure for me to play in a line like this. I’m bringing some experience and they are bringing the youth and the confidence."
The first period was a fast-paced, sometimes frantic affair. Slovenia jumped out of the blocks and almost caught the host nation cold with two efforts against the post in the opening minutes. Blazinsek and Tamara Svetina rang the iron as Britain took early penalties and ceded the initiative.
By the midway stage, though, the game had stabilized. There was more evidence of the ‘sticks-in-lanes’ play talked up by head coach Mike Clancy and the home offence began to create some opportunities. However, the Slovenian power play remained a threat and Confidenti forced a big double save from Nicole Jackson that kept the game deadlocked.
It was helter-skelter stuff at times and there was a growing sense that the player who could demonstrate a touch of composure would fashion the breakthrough. Charlotte Harris came close with a blast that drew a great save from Dukaric in the Slovenia net. But the opener had to wait until the final minute of the frame when Britain got its first power play of the night. After the win over Iceland, GB talked about its ability to punish teams on the PP and tonight that came true once again. Lucy Beal, who worked so hard on the penalty kill early on, was the scorer. She picked up on a broken play, turned away from Pren, and circled to the right-hand dot before releasing a quick wrist shot to get past the 21-year-old netminder.
"We knew that today's game was going to be a little different than against Korea," Pren added. "We expected GB to dominate the puck so we knew we had to stay strong in our D-zone and counter attack when we could.
"We had to stay relaxed and we knew that a goal would come more easily today than it would yesterday."
And so it proved. If Britain hoped that a goal so close to the hooter would prove to be a game-breaker, Slovenia had other ideas. The second period was as intensely contested as the first but this time it was the Slovenian power play that made the breakthrough. Perhaps inevitably, it was captain Pren who got the all-important goal, squeezing a shot inside Jackson’s near post after the British goalie robbed Blazinsek with a superb glove save.
And within two minutes, Slovenia had the lead. Confidenti’s solo rush saw her get away from two defenders before Jackson shut the door. However, the puck remained live and Blazinsek was the first to react, lifting it over the goalie’s outstretched pad and over the goal line. Moments later, Eva Dukaric attempted a repeat of Confidenti’s surge but this time Britain got the loose puck to safety after another good stop from Jackson.
The talk from the GB camp was defiant at the second intermission but Slovenia showed resilience of its own in the third period. An early British penalty was efficiently killed and later the home nation failed to make a 5-on-3 advantage pay. In between, Slovenia too enjoyed a two-player advantage but both goalies remained obdurate and the game stayed on a knife edge until the dying moments.
The result boosts Korea's chances of topping the group, with even an overtime loss good enough to book a ticket to the next round of qualifying. If Slovenia defeats Iceland in the early game, that could force a three-way tie at the top of the standings if Britain can win in regulation. However, the host nation would need a two-goal margin to get in front of Korea. Slovenia, which cannot improve its -2 goal difference against the other two contenders, is unable to advance to the next round.