The stage was set for a week-long hockey fiesta as Spanish ice hockey celebrated its centennial season by hosting its inaugural World Championship within the city limits of its capital Madrid.
The hosts did not disappoint. In front of a vociferous crowd of 1,500 inside Pista de Hielo de Madrid, Luciano Basile's coached team beat Croatia 5-2 on the final day to remain top of the standings with a perfect record. En route to their gold, Spain had earlier in the tournament beaten Israel (8-2), Australia (8-1), Georgia (2-0) and Iceland (7-4).
Despite the Royal Spanish Ice Sports Federation turning 100, youthful enthusiasm out on the ice was Spain´s recipe for success. Fourtneen out of Twenty-two players representing Spain were born after 2000 with only one player aged over 30.
Spain´s win marks a remarkable turnaround from last year when they battled to avoid last place in the division. This year the Spaniards were ready right from the get-go; scoring 30 goals and conceding just nine.
During the 2016/17 season goaltender Raul Barbo made headlines when winning triple gold with Spain´s national teams at World Championship play.
At the age of 23, the goalie now celebrated gold once again and established himself as their first choice in net. Barbo clocked up full minutes during the tournament and was voted top goalkeeper by the directorate. His finest hour in Madrid was saving all 27 shots in a man-of-the-game shutout performance against Georgia.
Incidentally, both sons of Spain´s head coach Basile and his assistant Miguel Baldris´ skated for the national team in Madrid. Luca Basile, a 20-year-old forward of Briancon in France´s top division made his debut and scored once. Bruno Baldris patrolled the blueline in his fifth World Championship and was voted best defender by the directorate.
Beyond the individual accolades, Spain´s forward Dorian Donath requires a special mention. He was meant to debut for Spain in Division IIA back in 2019 before a last-gasp injury forced him to watch the tournament from the stands with his arm in a bandage. Finally debuting last year he then played a peripheral role with one assist. Fast forward a year later and the 23-year-old stepped out from the shadow notching 8 points (5+3) in five games. He got Spain off the mark in the middle frame in their narrow 2-0 win over Georgia. Needing a point in their final game against Croatia, the Spaniards trailed 0-2, when Donath played a key role scoring a brace as they rallied back to a 5-2 win.
The win sees Spain rise to the 2024 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship Division I Group B. They now return to heights most recently enjoyed back in 2011. Then as now, the team was led by head coach Basile who in 2010/11 enjoyed his first season out of a total of ten in charge of the Spanish men´s team.
Georgia hits new heights with silverRapid-rising Georgia has come a long way since their winless debut at the 2014 World Championship Division III Group A in Luxembourg. Players have since come and gone, but Mikheil Davitashvili and Giorgi Jeiranashvili were two still on the roster in Madrid dating back to those early days.
Newcomers in the division, the Georgians did not need much time to settle. They comfortably beat both Iceland and Israel and edged Australia 3-2 in their final game. Their only defeat came in a tight contest against Spain where the eventual gold-medal winners scored their second unanswered goal with an empty netter at 59:59.
But Georgia immediately bounced back to blank one of the pre-tournament favourites Croatia, 6-0.
A goal in each period scored by Nikita Bukiya and Danila Slesarev gave them a two-goal cushion entering the third stanza. Instead of an expected Croatian fightback, it was Georgia who surged ahead. Final frame goals by Ivan Karelin, a powerplay goal by Oliver Obolgogiani, Ivan Shvetsov and Vitali Dziov in their demolition of a lacklustre Croatia with Georgia´s Ivan Starostin enjoying a shutout for the team coached by Gocha Jeiranashvili. Karelin was second overall in scoring in the tournament, notching 9 points (6+3) in five games.
Croatia bronze winners once againBronze medalists last year, Croatia had arrived in Spain with high hopes. Danijel Kolombo has returned as head coach and forward Borna Rendulic returned to add star-gloss to a youthful Croatian roster.
Following their shock 0-6 loss against Georgia, they took on Spain in their last game. The Croats had initially silenced the Spanish home crowd by going 2-0 in front after goals by Luka Jarcov and Bruno Kegalj. They were tied for two apiece right at the mid-way mark of the third frame when Borna Rendulic spurned a golden opportunity to put them back ahead by missing a penalty shot. Unable to recover, Spain then surged ahead to win 5-2.
Despite a second consecutive bronze medal at this level, the future looks bright for Croatia following the tumultuous KHL years and the demise of Medvescak Zagreb. Rendulic was selected as the top forward by the directorate and was also the tournament top scorer with 11 points (4+7) in five games.
Final day drama sends Iceland downAfter a four-year hiatus, Australia returned to World Championship play. Matti Luoma had been promoted from assistant to head coach and the Aussies battled valiantly in Madrid ahead of returning home to start their domestic season. Mackenzie Caruana netted a hat-trick and an assist in a 7-1 win against Israel. It turned out to be the sole win for the Mighty Roos, but enough to finish fourth.
Israel was winless heading into their final-day clash against newly promoted Iceland. Despite being outshot 30-41 against the Scandinavians, Israel found another gear with Aviv Milner scoring a hat-trick as they rallied back to win the game. Key to their win was debutant David Levin. The 23-year-old Nottingham Panthers forward notched 2+4 in Israel´s final game against and ended up as joint second in scoring despite a late arrival and only playing four games.
Newly promoted Iceland had recalled two illustrious veterans to add more experience to their team. Veteran blueliner Ingvar Jonsson returned to skate in his 22nd World Championship. He was joined by centre Emil Alengaard with 13 men´s tournaments under his belt. Despite a spirited 4-2 victory against Australia, Iceland narrowly finished last to move down to 2024 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship Division II Group B.