Sunday showdown awaits in Group H
by Andy Potts|10 FEB 2024
Romania’s Balazs Gajdo celebrates after scoring on China’s Sun Zehao in Olympic Qualification group H.
photo: © Ian Offers
Great Britain and Romania are poised for a winner-takes-all battle on Sunday in Cardiff after both nations recorded convincing wins on Saturday. Romania started the day with a 6-1 success over China, before the host nation disposed of Serbia with another double-digit scoreline.

Romania 6 China 1 (1-1, 1-0, 4-0)

With two wins from two, Romania’s hopes of progress from Group H are very much alive. With a roster refreshed following last season’s World Championship IA campaign, there’s a sense that big things could be happening in Romanian hockey.

Forward Tamas Reszegh, who claimed the game-winner over China, summed up the mood among his team-mates after a strong start in Cardiff. 

“I think we are a better team than last season,” he said. “We are much more professional here. The federation leadership and management has changed. There are much better things going on for us right now. This is just the start for us and I think it’s going to be good.” 

China was celebrating the dawning of the Year of the Dragon, and for a time the auspices looked good for the national team. After five minutes, Jing Wang raced onto a Zimeng Cheng stretch pass and produced a close-range finish to beat Romania’s goalie Attila Adorjan. The finish resembled China’s goal against Great Britain on Thursday, but this time it came from the team’s first shot of the game.

Adorjan, 27, was making his first appearance for Romania since the 2015/16 Olympic qualification tournament, and he was retrieving the puck again a couple of minutes later. China’s joy was cut short, though: Jiahao Hu kicked the puck into the net and the play was called back after a review.

That jolted Romania into life. China’s defence parted in the 12th minute to present Patrik Imre with a shorthanded goal to tie the scores and although the opening stanza finished 1-1, the shot count was a commanding 18-3 in the Romanians’ favour. Another shorthanded play at the start of the second period saw Tamas Reszegh put Romania in front, with Balazs Peter getting his second helped of the game.

“We’re starting our games a bit slowly,” Reszegh admitted. “I don’t know the reason, but each time as the game goes on we’re getting better and better, every minute, every shift, every period.”

However, China dug deep and refused to allow the game to get away. There were few chances at either end, and the game was very much alive after 40 minutes with the score at 2-1. Otto Sandor-Sekely’s goal at the start of the third was greeted from some relief among the men in yellow jerseys, who finally had some breathing space.

In the closing stages, Romania took the game away. Vladislav Teamriuc grabbed a solo effort before late goals from Balasz Gajdo and Matyas Kovacs completed an emphatic win.

“We know we are not the favourite [against Great Britain],” Reszegh concluded. “They’re a good team, they’re on home ice, their fans will be behind them. But it’s a 60-minute game, it starts at 0-0. If we compete, we play hard, do our jobs and stick to our systems then anything is possible.”
Great Britain captain Robert Dowd battles with Serbia's goalie Arsenije Rankovic during the countries' Olympic Qualification Group H clash in Cardiff.
photo: © Ian Offers

Serbia 0 Great Britain 11 (0-1, 0-8, 0-2)

GB joined Romania on two wins from two games after seeing off Serbia in the Saturday evening game in Cardiff. The Serbs resisted bravely in the first period, but were blown away in the second as Britain scored eight unanswered goals. Captain Robert Dowd led the way with a hat-trick.

"It's a different mentality for us in this tournament," Dowd said. "We're used to being the underdogs, but here we're coming in as heavy favourites. We've had to approach it differently, but so far we've done very well."

After scoring 10 on China in the opening game, the tournament host was primed for a fast start here. Britain got its first power play after 65 seconds and, although it couldn’t score, rode that momentum to open the scoring through captain Rob Dowd on 3:20. However, that was the only marker of the opening frame. Arsenije Rankovic continued his impressive form in the Serbia net, stopping 26 shots in the first period. His best moment came when he beat away a vicious close-range effort from Brett Perlini.

In the second period, Perlini found the net after 57 seconds and triggered a goal avalanche. Britain scored eight in the session, Serbia managed just one shot. Captain Robert Dowd went on to complete a hat-trick, Perlini got his second of the game and Cole Shudra took the puck from his own blue line to the net to score his first international goal. Brandon Whistle matched that feat on a night when his brother Jackson collected a shut-out. Sam Jones also collected his first marker in a GB jersey. In the midst of it all, Lazar Ilic replaced Rankovic between the pipes for Serbia but found himself hopelessly exposed as the defence crumbled in front of him. 

There was more of the same in the third. Nathaneal Halbert and Cade Nielsen extended the lead, Ben Davies saw his penalty shot saved and Pavle Podunavac did brilliantly to dive behind Ilic and swat the puck off the line as GB continued to press. The piping denied Perlini a hat-trick as it finished 11-0.

Now all attention turns to Romania on Sunday, with Dowd looking forward to a tougher test. "I think it will suit our game better," he said. "In some of these games we're almost second-guessing ourselves because we're getting more time on the puck than we're used to. I think the step up in speed will suit our game and get us into better habits."

Last time the teams met in Division IA in Nottingham, Britain finished with a 7-0 win. But after this week's goal rush, Dowd warned that patience might be needed. "It was a straightforward win last time but I think it took us 30 or 35 minutes to break them down. It was a 0-0 game for a long time. We're not taking Romania lightly by any means, but we're full of confidence at the moment and we believe we can do the business tomorrow."