For Slovenia it will be the first top-level participation since the 2017 Worlds and the 2018 Olympics. Third time was the charm as the Slovenes reach promotion in their third attempt after placing fifth and fourth respectively at the last two Division IA tournaments.
“We knew that it would be going to be the hardest game of the tournament and I think we were dominating all game but you never know. A quick mistake and the result can go the other way,” said Robert Sabolic, who scored two goals. “We controlled the game and in the end scored a couple of goals. It looked like an easy win but it wasn’t easy, it was a good game.”
Slovenia outshot Hungary 40-18 throughout the game.
The last time Hungary beat the Slovenian players in a men’s senior World Championship tournament was in 1982 when Slovenes made up most of the roster of Yugoslavia.
“It was a tough game. The game could have gone either way in the second period. They came out hard and we had some penalties. We had power plays we didn’t capitalize on. Usually you get punished if you don’t score at the right time. We were lucky,” said Slovenian head coach Matjaz Kopitar. “The focus was at a really high level. Our guys really wanted to win this game in front of this nice big crowd. I think we deserve it and now we take it.”
With two teams getting promoted nothing is lost yet for Hungary. Thanks to previous wins against Korea and Lithuania those two opponents won’t be able to overtake second-ranked Hungary. The only team beside Hungary that has a theoretical chance for promotion is Romania. However, the winless Romanians would need regulation-time wins both against Lithuania tomorrow and against Hungary on Sunday and depending on Korea’s game against Slovenia may even need to beat Hungary with a margin of two or more goals to take second spot from their neighbours.
“We played alright. They pushed us in the beginning of the first period and we conceded a goal. In the second period we made a couple of mistakes. It’s a game of mistakes and they used it and scored on it,” Hungary captain Gergo Nagy said.
“We have to move forward and have to focus on the next game. Congratulations to Slovenia, they deserved it.”
The game went into one direction for most of the first 10 minutes and when the Slovenes got their first power play after 11 minutes it didn’t make the task any easier for the Hungarians.
However, at 15:06 they capitalized on one of their few chances of the period on a quick attack when Istvan Terbocs sent a centering pass to the crease with Csanad Erdely deflecting the shot to tie the game at one much to the joy of about one third of the crowd of 4,200 fans at a full Hala Tivoli in Ljubljana.
Hungary had the better start into the middle frame but it was the Slovenes who made use of their first two chances for two goals.
At 6:45 Sabolic brought the puck to the net to Rok Ticar, who saw his shot saved and sent the puck back to Sabolic. This time he shot himself and scored.
Only five seconds later it was already 3-1 for Slovenia and the Slovenian folk song that serves as goal song back from the loudspeakers. The Hungarians won the face-off but defenceman Milan Horvath lost the puck as last man to Ziga Pance, who capitalized on the opportunity for Slovenia’s third goal.
Despite Hungary under pressure it was Slovenia which had the game under control and with six minutes left Anze Kuralt almost scored the fourth goal on a breakaway.
In the final minutes a 2+2 penalty for high-sticking against Balint Magosi proved costly for Hungary. The Slovenes capitalized on both with goals from Sabolic and Ken Ograjensek to increase the lead to 5-1 with 2:31 left in the game. The goals came within a span of nine seconds.
“It was an important game in front of our spectators. I think we controlled the game from the first minute and in the end it was a clear win. Congrats to the whole team. We battled throughout 60 minutes and didn’t let them even a minute to come back into the game,” said Slovenian captain Mitja Robar.
Slovenia will play its last game on Sunday evening against Korea but is determined as tournament winner no matter of the score and will receive the gold medals and trophy after the game. And a spot with the top-16 nations at the 2023 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship after a six-year break.
“We have to get ready also mentally to be on a better level. Against those top teams you have to be at your A game otherwise you don’t have a chance. You just have to be ready and battle,” said Robar.
Coach Kopitar agreed: “It's always a challenge for us. We don’t have that many players who can play at that level. We need to be focus on every details, on every player. We hope that everything’s going to go well and that we can be competitive against the top teams.”
But first the tournament will continue with two more days and three more games in Ljubljana.
Tomorrow Lithuania will play for a bronze medal against Romania while Romania can set up a game for silver against Hungary on Sunday if they first beat Lithuania in regulation time.