Kazakhs finish with comeback win
by Derek O'Brien|22 MAY 2023
Action in the neutral zone between Slovenia and Kazakhstan.
photo: © International Ice Hockey Federation / Matt Zambonin

Maxim Mukhametov scored on a partial breakaway with 3:27 remaining in regulation time, lifting a backhander into the roof of the net to break a 3-3 tie, paving the way for a 4-3 win over Slovenia – the last game for both teams at the 2023 IIHF World Championship.

“It was a very fun game,” said Kazkakh forward Batyrlan Muratov. “It’s very good for Kazakhstan. We had a lot of guys playing their first World Championship this year, but we will continue to grow and get better every year.”

“We were a little naive,” said Slovenian forward Rok Ticar. “We played an up-and-down game too much, which we didn't want. But that’s how they (Kazakhstan) play, and that's the way the game went, and when it does they are very dangerous, as they showed.”

It was Kazakhstan’s third win of the tournament but the first in regulation. The Kazakhs finish with seven points, which will place them either sixth or seventh in Group B, depending on the result of Norway’s game tomorrow. The loss was a difficult pill to swallow for the Slovenes, who were hoping to finish with a win despite having already been relegated. It was their fourth one-goal loss and the fourth game in which they blew a lead.

“We had zero points,” said Ticar. “We had games when we played well and did some things well, but unfortunately when you have zero points and not many goals, you can’t be too happy about the tournament.”

Slovenia scored early in all three periods to take the lead, but Kazakhstan responded each time, and then added one more for good measure.

It took just 90 seconds for Slovenia to open the scoring, taking advantage of a missed shot on a Kazakhstan 2-on-1. The puck went around the boards and out of the zone where Anze Kuralt picked it up and carried it the rest of the way, beating Andrey Shutov to the blocker side.

Kazakhstan tied it for the first time on the power play with less than two minutes to play in the opening period. Surveying his options with the puck on the half-wall, Nikita Mikhailis decided to do it himself, cutting toward the middle and using a Slovenian defender as a screen before ripping a shot past Zan Us, who was making his first start of the tournament.

In the second period, they did it again. Slovenia was applying early pressure and a rebound bounced into the air, where Kuralt batted it in just below the height of the crossbar for his second goal of the game.

With a minute to go in the middle frame, the Kazakhs were on the power play for the second time and scored for the second time. This time, Valeri Orekhov made a cross-point pass to Muratov, who cut into the slot and beat Us over the glove to make it 2-2 after two.

“Orekhov on defence passed to me and I saw a little bit of an opening so I shot it,” Muratov smiled. “It was my first goal in the World Championship – I’m happy for that.”

In period three, Slovenia once again struck early to take the lead. This time, Ziga Pance won a battle for the puck behind the net and centred out front to Nik Simsic, who took a couple whacks at the puck before kicking it to Jan Drozg, who hammered it in.

Kazakhstan tied it for the third time with 8:08 to play in regulation time when Roman Starchenko sprang fellow veteran Yevgeni Rymarev on a breakaway. Rymarev went to his backhand and then slid the puck through Us’ pads.

Slovenia pushed for another go-ahead goal but it wasn’t to be. Even after Mukhametov’s goal they pushed for the equalizer but fell short.

“We definitely played as a team,” said Slovenian captain Jan Urbas, who emphasized how proud he was of his team despite not winning a game. “We worked hard and showed on the ice. We were close in a lot of games but in the end, it just wasn’t enough.”

“We played pretty solid, I think,” Kazakh forward Tamirlan Gaitimirov concluded. “We’re the youngest and least experienced team here. Lots of first-time experiences here and we managed to stay in it. We’ll grow from this and next year, we’ll see what we can do.”