Brits beat Romania to advance
by Andy Potts|11 FEB 2024
Great Britain's Brett Perlini opens the scoring in the decisive Olympic Qualification Group H game against Romania in Cardiff.
photo: © Ian Offers
Great Britain overcame a spirited Romanian performance to secure top spot in Men’s Olympic Qualification Group H. A 7-4 victory on Sunday evening completed a perfect weekend for the host nation, which now advances to the final qualification phase at the end of August. Earlier, China claimed third place in the group with an entertaining win over Serbia.

Great Britain 7 Romania 4 (2-1, 3-1, 2-2)

Romania stayed in this game until deep into the second period. However, two quick goals late in the middle frame put Britain on the way to a decisive victory.

"All three games this weekend we needed the first period to get going," said forward Ben Lake, who finished the game with 3 (1+2) points. "But once we found our stride the floodgates opened. 

"Tonight we didn’t have our best game, we gave up a few too many opps, they came back to bite us, they scored a few goals there, but all in all we’re happy to move on to the next round."

In its previous games, Romania started slowly. Tonight, things were different. There was a step up in quality from both teams and the outsider ensured that it was very much in the game from the start. Within 90 seconds Albert Zagidulin forced a smart glove save out of Ben Bowns, warning a confident home crowd not to expect another blow-out win.

Even after GB opened the scoring on 8:07 – Lake releasing Brett Perlini for a successful duel with Zoltan Toke – Romania responded at once. It took just 22 seconds for the puck to get past Bowns, with Otto Sandor Szekely stuffing home the loose puck after a big rebound on a shot from wide on the left.

Some doubts were creeping in among the home crowd, but a power play late in the first period saw Britain gain momentum. Four seconds after Matyas Kovacs returned to the game, Lake redirected a Ben O’Connor blast into the net to send GB into the first intermission with a slender advantage.

"We have a very capable first line and we know that [Liam] Kirk, Cade [Nielson] and [Robert] Dowd are going to score most nights," Lake added. "So if our secondary scoring can chip in, we'll have a chance to win every night. It was nice get on the scoresheet and help to get that win."

At the start of the second, Lake and Perlini combined once again to increase that lead but Romania continued to ask questions. When Yevgeni Skachkov blasted home a thunderous shot on his team’s first power play the game was very much in the balance.

However, two quick goals at the end of the middle frame gave the Brits an insurmountable lead. First, Sam Jones stepped off the blue line to pick up a puck that bounced through Cade Nielson’s skates. The defender’s shot went through traffic to make it 4-2. And within a minute, another point shot brought a fifth goal, with Sean Norris’s effort redirected into the net by Sam Ruopp.

Britain extended its lead in the third period with goals from Liam Kirk and Cade Nielson, moving both to 10 (3+7) points at the top of the tournament scoring chart. In between, Hugo Gecse pulled one back for Romania. However, the celebratory atmosphere was dampened with eight minutes to play when Romania’s Vladislav Teamriuc landed a heavy hit on Ruopp. Britain’s Evan Mosey sought retribution and both players were booted from the game for fighting.

Romania got a consolation goal on the power play with four minutes left, but Matias Haaranen's tally could not change the outcome. Great Britain emerged as the only host nation to progress from this stage of qualifying after a professional performance throughout the weekend.

"We expected to go through but that doesn’t mean it’s just going to happen. You still have to work for it," Lake concluded. "It’s about the performance you put in and I think we put in three performances that we can be proud of."
China’s Guo Jianing celebrates his empty net goal to seal a 7-5 victory over Serbia
photo: © Ian Offers

China 7 Serbia 5 (3-2, 0-2, 4-1)

Before the decisive encounter on Sunday evening, China and Serbia served up a wild game to determine third place. The teams managed just two goals between them in the opening two days of the tournament, but traded 12 when they went head-to-head.

The lead changed hands repeatedly in an entertaining battle. Serbia was the first to show, jumping to a 2-0 lead. Midway through the first period, Pavle Podunavac’s point shot produced his country’s first goal in Cardiff. Two minutes later, Marko Dragovic added a short-handed goal that was more likely to take its place among a bloopers compilation than a highlight reel as the Chinese defence fell apart.

China hit back with two goals in barely 30 seconds. Zheng Mingju got one back with a play that resembled a penalty shot. Then Podunavac used his hand to freeze the puck on the crease and Zhang Zesen converted a genuine penalty shot to tie the game. Then, with 12 seconds left in the first, Guo Jianing went around the back before producing a terrific finish into the top corner from a tight angle to send China into the intermission with a 3-2 lead.

Serbia fought back in the second period. Dragovic’s second of the game tied the scores midway through the session after Chinese goalie Sun Zehao presented him with the puck in the centre of the zone. And there was more hesitant Chinese defending as Lazar Lestaric fired Serbia back into the lead.

China had a habit of scoring goals in flurries, and did just that at the start of the third. Another trademark solo rush, this time from Yan Ruinan, tied it up on 40:42. Within 20 seconds, Zheng Pengfei made it 5-4 when he rifled home Hou Yuyang’s feed from the corner. Midway through the third, the Chinese got some breathing space when Zong Hanming became the latest player to score on the breakaway.

That got the red flags flying as a vocal Chinese contingent in the arena started to celebrate. But there were anxious moments to come: Marko Mladenovic smuggled a shot through Sun’s pads and China had to kill a late penalty before Guo found the empty net to complete the win.