German U18 women return
by Chapin Landvogt|16 JAN 2023
The German players celebrate their gold medal win and promotion to the top level of the IIHF Ice Hockey U18 Women’s World Championship.
photo: Max Pattis
If the ice hockey world learned anything in Ritten, Italy, this past week, it’s that the teams participating at the 2023 IIHF Ice Hockey U18 Women’s World Championship Division I Group A are as close as ever in their development. Despite the wear and tear of five games in a seven-day span, 12 games were decided by a margin of two goals or less. Six of them were decided by one goal, four of those games having first been decided in overtime.

With this kind of intensity and a situation where even the eventually relegated nation kept three of their five games very tight, winning one in the process, Germany couldn’t help but be extremely deserving of gaining promotion.

But everyone had to wait until the final day of action to find that out.

For eventual tourney champion Germany, things got off to a wonderful start with 3-1 victories over Norway and Hungary. They were followed by a 2-0 win over neighbouring rival Austria, in which the second goal was first pumped in in the 59th minute of play. Since Italy managed a 1-0 OT win against Austria followed by a 4-1 win over Norway and a tight 2-0 victory over France, Game 4 of the tournament for both teams proved to be the decisive bout. And the game featured all the suspense you’d want to have from two worthy opponents, seeing the decisive, only goal scored via the shootout by Germany’s Emmi-Lee Hanack.

“We knew that playing the hometown Italians was going to be difficult. We knew they’d have a lot of fans in the stands who’d be emotional and loud,” states Germany coach Franziska Busch. “It was a very intensive game. You could really see how much it meant to both teams, knowing how decisive the outcome could be.

“The game ended 0-0, which doesn’t happen all that often and the longer that game remained scoreless, you just knew that any mistake here or there could prove deadly. As such, I’m very proud of how the team pushed through to the end. Penalty shots can go either way and to get that win after having been shorthanded in overtime... The team carried out our game plan and did all the coaching staff asked of them. Their efforts were rewarded with the winning goal in the shootout.”

After the thrilling 1-0 shootout victory for Germany over Italy, it all came down to the last game of the tournament for Italy, which had to defeat upstart Hungary in regulation time to hop over Germany in the standings for the moment. Of course, that would be before Germany played its final game against France, which was also the final game of the tournament. As fate would have it, the ever-stronger Hungarian side managed a 3-1 win over Italy, burying any aspirations the Italians had of gaining promotion. Hungary’s Tamara Gondos contributed a goal and two assists in the effort.

That meant Germany had gained promotion before their last game took place.

“Definitely, with Italy’s loss, a stone of sorts on their shoulders had been removed heading into that final game,” explained German Ice Hockey Association Sports Director Christian Kunast. “Any pressure was then gone, and the team had truly earned this promotion, being the rightful champion regardless of how the game against France would end.”

”We did it. I’m incredibly proud of everyone involved and tip my hat to the players on this team,” added an elated coach Busch. “We worked very hard over the holidays to prepare for this event and the players managed to flip on the switch and play their best hockey at the right time. They grew together as a team, got better as the event went along, were focussed, and made it a goal to win. They worked very hard and I have a great deal of respect for what they achieved.”  

Of course, there was still that one game to play, but it would have, at the most, meant a 2nd place finish for France had the blue team managed to win in regulation time. A shootout win for the French did end up wrapping up third place in the tournament standings.

For Germany’s captain Lilianne Gottfried, the shootout loss to France to conclude the event could hardly taint what had been accomplished. “It was just incredible how this team came together. Everyone battled for each other and gave it their all. Getting that medal at the end of the tournament was a sign of all the work and effort we put into this. It’s an indescribable feeling. I’m so proud of the whole group and what we’ve done here is unforgettable.”

Work paid off

For Germany, gaining promotion certainly wasn’t something the team was taking for granted.

“We came here expecting things to be very close. We did not necessarily reckon with this promotion and it wasn’t a fixed goal that we had stated or expected,” explains Kunast. “Our preparation had shown us that the teams in this group are basically on equal footing and that’s what made this tournament special. It was very exciting. All of the teams played passionately. And in my eyes, it’s exactly that which made the final result so wonderful and well-earned.”

He adds: “We are very happy about this victory and it is of extreme importance that we’ll now be playing in the top group next year. It’s something we’ve earned and it’s a wonderful achievement.”

The real work has just begun. Moving up at this level places Germany with several of the world powers in the sport. There’s much ahead of the team if it’s going to have a fighting chance next winter.

“I think that the time we have until the next tournament is unfortunately not enough to have our women’s program developed to the point we want to have it. It’s difficult and we know that,” states Kunast. “Next year’s tournament will be a herculean task. We’ll be playing against relegation and we’re all fully aware of that. We will face this challenge and have ourselves as well-prepared for it as possible. We will be sending in a very capable team that will be full of passion for the task at hand.”

Coach Busch is well aware of what the outgoing class of players contributed and the work that lies ahead. “Unfortunately, as is always the case, a number of our players will be aging out. The most important thing we could give the team this year is the value of setting goals, believing in ourselves, and that hard work can pay off. These were lessons for everyone, but particularly for the younger players looking forward. Now they need to continue living this out in the team and then pass it on to the players coming up. The players moving on have left those coming in with a legacy. Now we have a year of work ahead of us to prepare for the next challenge.”

Overall thrilling results

For the neutral viewer, there’s no getting over how impressive both Hungary and Italy played at this tournament. Aside from Italy’s push to gain promotion basically coming down to the 1-0 shootout loss at the hands of Germany in their 4th game, Hungary courageously put together back-to-back 3-2 wins over Norway and Austria after coming into the tournament with a 2-1 loss to France and a 3-1 loss to Germany. Maintaining the class was the key goal and they achieved that with aplomb. They then got to play the role of spoiler in their final match-up against Italy, winning 3-1 to cap off a mighty impressive performance.

Austria finished fifth overall, but was out of relegation danger by the final day of play thanks to an overtime win against France and two OT losses to neighbours Italy and Hungary. The final day loss to Norway played no role by that point. In light of that, these results speak very much for the kind of parity the various national programs have been striving to create.

Heading down

When you think of the sport of ice hockey at any level and you see a country like Norway competing against countries like Hungary and Italy, one can’t be faulted for thinking of Norway as one of the likely favourites for the respective tournament. This week, Norway was relegated to the Division I Group B for next winter’s event before their last game against Austria was even played. A 3-1 loss to Germany to open up the tournament was followed by a 4-1 loss to Italy, placing the team under immense pressure entering its game against Hungary. Things looked good when Norway took a 2-1 third period lead with less than 15 minutes to play, but two goals by Regina Metzler over the final 12 minutes to play sank Norway’s ship. 

That game was followed by a resounding 5-1 loss to France, but gave way to a 3-1 victory over Austria in the final game. Alas, that was too little, too late in avoiding relegation, even if the players were clearly relieved by gaining a moral victory to conclude things.

Norway will be replaced in this group by Scandinavian neighbour Denmark, which swept their way to promotion at the Division I Group B in Poland.

Top performers

As an attest to how tight and low-scoring the event was, only six players scored at a point-per-game pace. Leading the way was Hungary’s Regina Metzler with four goals and six points. The top goal scorer was Norway’s captain, Gina Kristiansen, who was good for five tallies.

The goalkeepers, on the other hand, put up some very nice statistics. Italy’s Margherita Ostoni didn’t allow a goal against, save for the shootout winner scored by Germany. Alas, she was only in goal for two of the team’s outings. Right behind her was Germany’s Chiara Schultes, who had two shutouts in three games played, putting up a fantastic 0.32 goals against average along the way.
2023 IIHF Ice Hockey U18 Women's World Championship Division I Group A