Korea and Estonia both ended the tournament on 12 points, but Korea’s last-gasp rally and 2-1 win over Estonia on Friday night proved decisive in separating the teams.
Earlier in the tournament, Korea had come from behind twice to grind out a 5-3 win against Lithuania in their opener. Serbia was then steamrolled 15-2 in their second game, before outshooting Great Britain 33-14 but still managing to lose the game 3-2. Their gold medals were sealed in the closing game of the tournament when a final-frame goal explosion saw Korea storm ahead to blank Romania 9-0 to gain promotion.
It marks a winning start for Hyonho Oh as head coach of Korea´s U18 national team. Oh, a former national team player whose career highlight was skating for Korea in PyeongChang 2018, believes his crop of solely home-based youngster will have a bright future ahead of them.
“We came here with only one purpose, which was to win. Our boys worked extremely hard and never gave up. I told them we are here for a reason and we made a lot of effort to be here. So don´t destroy it, but believe in yourself and your teammates. Then we will be successful. And they made it. I really appreciate all players and my staff. The future of Korean hockey is promising,” said Oh.
The win sees Korea promote to the 2023 IIHF Ice Hockey U18 World Championship Division I Group B. It also marks a return to a level they most recently skated at back in 2016.
Korea’s key win in Tallinn came during round four in a thriller against high-flying hosts Estonia. Cheered on by a boisterous crowd of 1,857 inside Tondiraba Ice Hall, Estonia knew that a regulation-time win against Korea would had sealed top spot with a game to go of the tournament.
Estonian nerves were eased when a second-frame power-play goal by Estonia’s top scorer Erik Potsinok had put the hosts in front against a valiantly battling Korean team. With the clock ticking down during the third period, the game appeared to be slipping through Korea’s fingers. Then the game suddenly took a sudden turn to tilt firmly into Korea’s favour. After Estonia’s Marek Potsinok failed to double Estonia’s lead on a breakaway, only moments later Korea’s Sihwan Kim tied the game with 2:15 left in regulation time. A fine piece of individual skill from the blueline saw Kim first deke Deniss Kontseus before snapping a wrister from the left face-off circle past Estonia’s goalie Georg Vladimirov.
With the momentum now with the Koreans, a nervous looking Estonia was punished with 1:22 remaining by having too many men out on the ice. In an attempt to get all three points, Kyungmin Seo was pulled from the net as Korea charged ahead for a winner. With 18 seconds left of the third period, their gamble paid off. Following a scramble in front of the Estonian net, Dongkyu Lim, voted as the best defenceman of the tournament by the directorate, snapped up the puck at Vladimirov’s left post, turned and found his effort deflect into the Estonian net. The goal sparked jubilant scenes among the Koreans, who held out for a monumental last-gasp win.
“The last-minute goal against Estonia is still surreal. The hockey I played before was not hockey, but this was real hockey I’ve experienced here. I hope I can play at high-level hockey in my career and I would also like to thank my teammates and coaches for a great lesson not only on the ice but also off it,” said Sihwan Kim, who ended up being the tournament´s top-scorer with six goals and as many assists in five games.
Despite an overriding sense of disappointment lingering over second-placed Estonia, the future for the Baltic nation looks bright. Led by Erik Potsinok, captain of the team and selected as the top forward of the tournament by the directorate, Estonia has an exciting generation coming through. Four months prior, eleven members of this current U18 roster finished fifth with Estonia at the U20 World Championship Division I Group B. One such player is 15-year-old prospect Maksim Burkov. Half of this current Estonian U18 roster will be eligible to redeem themselves at next year’s tournament.
Great Britain, gold-medal winners at this level at the very same venue back in 2018, had an outside chance for gold ahead of the final round of games. In the end, they had to settle for bronze, despite having beaten Korea and only losing one game against Estonia. Benjamin Norton capped off a fine tournament by being selected as the best goalkeeper of the tournament by the directorate.
At the bottom, Serbia, who had won promotion to this division way back in March 2019, failed to record a single point and finished last.