China dominates but keeps things close
China finished first with a perfect 5-0 record and was clearly the best team. Perhaps most impressive was that all of their games were close. They won two games by one goal and three by two goals. They also tied with Denmark for most goals (14) and led all nations with a goals differential of +8. Individually, Minghui Kong led the team with four goals and five points, but six players had at least three points. Spreading the scoring around is going to be essential when they play in the top pool.
Back to avenge the 0.1 second heartbreak
Denmark earned promotion by the narrowest of margins after a three-way tie for second favoured the Danes because of better records against the other two teams, Netherlands and Austria. No matter. They’ll be playing with China against three other teams in Group B—Sweden, Japan, and Germany. For both China and Denmark, that means to avoid relegation again next season they’ll likely have to win the head-to-head game as well as defeat one of those other teams, not a small task. Recall also how sickeningly close Denmark was to staying in the top pool in 2022 on home ice, losing to Germany, 3-2, on a Tanja Eisenschmid goal with 0.1 seconds remaining in the game.
Austria showed the hockey world it belongs at this level and might be poised to move up—if they can fix their scoring woes. They put the puck in the net only eight times, and captain Anna Meixner was the leading threat with five points. She and Tamara Graschner each had three goals, and no other player had more than one. Like so many teams that struggle with the tougher competition, Austria’s downfall was in the offensive end, so if they can find a way to generate more chances, promotion is possible.
Close to history…but not quite
Netherlands had an impressive tournament and were only one goal away from earning promotion at Denmark’s expense. It would have been the first time they’d have qualified for the top level. If they had only gotten to overtime with China in that final game, they’d be booking plane tickets to Utica now. As it is, they can be content with the knowledge they were that close to history, and hopefully that will be the inspiration that can fuel a slightly better run next year. In Shenzhen, they were one of the top-scoring teams with 13 goals, but also one of the worst teams for goals allowed, 12. They also had the best power play in the tournament by a long shot, scoring six goals with the extra skater (no other team had more than three), and allowed only one goal on 21 short-handed situations. They have a good blend of youth and experience, but in 5-on-5 play they scored only seven goals and allowed eleven.
Goaltending great across the board
The puckstoppers stole the show in Shenzhen. Consider that Norway’s Linnea Holterud Olsson played all five games and made 153 saves, more than any other goalie. Tiya Chen (Tia Chan) recorded two shutouts for China to go with a sparkling 1.20 GAA. But Austria could boast of the best goalie in the tournament, Selma Luggin, who kept her team in every game. She posted consecutive shutouts to start, and allowed only four goals to go with a 0.81 GAA and 97.4 save percentage. If there were an award for tournament MVP, she would have garnered serious attention.
Norge a “nope” in ‘23
Norway had its moments, but in the end play behind their blue line was the big problem. They allowed a whopping 21 goals, nearly double of any other team. But the offence also generated a low of 128 total shots and allowed seven power play goals, also more than double any other team. Their only win was a 4-2 decision over Slovakia, which kept them away from relegation.
Three players led the tournament in scoring, with 7 points, and two were Dutch—Bieke van Nes (4+3) and Savine Wielenga (3+4). The third was Norway’s Millie Sirum, who also led everyone with five goals.
Youth will be served
Of the 132 players registered for the tournament, some 81 were born in the 2000s. This might be a senior-level event, but there are plenty of young stars to watch out for, from the youngest, 15-year-old Emily Olsthoorn of the Netherlands, to 16-year-old Danish defender Silja Rasmussen to 20-year-old Austrian goalie Selma Luggin.
Down but not out
Slovakia leaves Shenzhen as they came, without a win. They lost a squeaker to open against the hosts, 1-0, and never got on track, scoring only four goals in the five games despite having the second-most shots among the six teams. They are a young team with much promise, so it’s only a matter of time before they’re back, but for now they have to learn and develop. Even more so than Austria, they need to score more, but they also need to work on specific aspects of game play. Their power play, for instance, was 0-17, a number alone that would expain their winless tournament.
Korea making history
The ascending Koreans will be in I-A next year for the first time. They have been gaining ground slowly but surely over the last dozen years, working their way up from II-B (2012-13) to II-A (2014-17), I-B (2018-23) to I-A for 2024. They have been in I-B in the Women’s U18 category since 2020 and have the 2018 Olympics under their belts as hosts.