WM18 1B: Advantage Slovenia ahead of final day
by Henrik MANNINEN|19 APR 2024
photo: © International Ice Hockey Federation / Catherine Kortsmik

Slovenia took high-flying Lithuania back to earth to move to the top of the standings at the 2024 IIHF U18 World Championship Division I Group B in Tallinn, Estonia. France blanked Italy and Estonia edged Korea.

Going into the final day of action, any kind of Slovenian victory against France in the first game on Saturday guarantees a top finish and promotion. Third-placed Estonia plays Lithuania in second, while Italy will battle it out with Korea in the relegation decider.

Italy 0 - France 6

photo: © International Ice Hockey Federation / Catherine Kortsmik

France turned on a commanding display to score half a dozen past neighbours Italy.

Djian Robinson opened and closed the scoring for France and netminder Kirill Dorofeev enjoyed a memorable World Championship debut stopping all 26 shots. 

Skating at the top level in 2018, France then became a mainstay in Division 1A before suffering relegation last year. Following a disappointing start with two defeats in three games in Tallinn, they went ahead versus Italy after just 23 seconds.

Mathis Dufour flew down the left boards to set up Robinson scoring after two attempts in the slot past Italy´s Filippo Matonti in his first start of the tournament. France tallied a second with just over five minutes left of the period when Matteo Bertrand converted his first of the tournament on a wraparound. 

The most recent meeting between this pair goes back to 2014 when France prevailed 5-3. A decade later in Tallinn, France stamped its authority in the middle frame and raced into a three-goal lead. 

Nathan Riu first won a draw at the right face off circle to Paulin Hostein who whipped a wrister into the top corner on Matonti´s catcher side at 26:14. Winning the shots 17-6 in the middle frame, France´s Tom Vidal was sitting out a tripping minor when Nathan Riu scored France´s fourth goal being one man short. 

France piled on the misery for Italy adding another couple of goals in the third frame. On a rush 15-year-old Alexandre Monarque opted to go for glory himself to bury his shot low past Matonti. Robinson closed the scoring with his second of the afternoon when tipping home a Dufour pass from the slot for 6-0.

Slovenia 5 - Lithuania 2

photo: © International Ice Hockey Federation / Catherine Kortsmik

Despite being outshot 24-29, five different scorers tallied for Slovenia when dominating Lithuania in efficiency to move top of the standings.

Newcomers Lithuania stepped out on the ice knowing that a regulation win on day four would mean back-to-back gold medals. But the Slovenians had other plans. 

In a spirited first period, Slovenia drew first blood when Erazem Por scored for Slovenia on a feed by Gaber Zupan Skrlj just ahead of the three-minute mark. 

Lithuania, backed by a vocal contingent of fans throughout the tournament had even more reasons to cheer when Titas Krakauskas potted his first of the tournament to level the score at 6:43. 

Silver medalists last year, Slovenia got back in front courtesy of the tournament´s top scorer, 16-year-old debutant Aljaz Hrobat Plemelj finishing an audacious move for 2-1 at 11:28.

The most recent match-up between these two at the U18 Worlds dates back to April 2015 when Slovenia pulverized Lithuania 10-1 on home ice in Maribor. Nine years on, Slovenia imposed their authority in the middle frame with Azbe Glavic scoring 3-1. 

In their previous game, Lithuania valiantly rallied back from a two-goal deficit to victory against Korea. Versus Slovenia, there was no way back for the Balts as Nik Christian Petrovic ended a flying move by converting 4-1 at 29:20. 

Allowing only four goals in three games ahead of his one, the Lithuanians shipped their fifth against Slovenia when Gal Sodja Zalokar slotted home 5-1. Lithuania tallied a consolation empty netter 38 seconds before the end from Simas Ignatavicius.

Lithuania now pins their hopes for gold on a French win versus Slovenia and then winning their final game against Estonia.

Korea 3 - Estonia 4

photo: © International Ice Hockey Federation / Catherine Kortsmik
Three power-play goals edged Estonia to victory versus Korea. David Timofejev scored twice and had an assist, while Maksim Burkov potted a goal and two helpers.

Following a dreary start to the tournament with a couple of losses, Estonia has bounced back earning two straight wins, and currently sits third in the standings. Korea is living dangerously at the bottom and will need to beat Italy in their final game to avoid demotion.

Korea opened the scoring after 8:39 when a Junsu Kwak pass from the left face off circle carved the Estonian defence wide open with Ryul Kwon scoring at the far post.

But as the period progressed Estonia soon was rewarded two-fold. At 13:42 and on the powerplay Artjom Abeljanov snapped a wrister from the top of the left face off circle past netminder Taeyi Koh who got his second start for Korea.

Estonia then went ahead with 3:36 left of the first period. Pinning Korea in their zone, Timofejev had first forced two saves from Koh before Burkov got the 2-1 goal over the line.

Two years have passed since Tondiraba Ice Hall last staged the U18 Worlds. Back then Korea finished first with Estonia second as both teams celebrated promotion to Division IB.

This time around, Estonia finished on top. Two minutes into the second period and with Estonia on the powerplay, Burkov did all the hard work before serving Timofejev at the back post for 3-1. Just over four minutes later and once again working on a one-man advantage, Timofejev boomed home his second of the night to stretch the lead to 4-1.

With Estonia seemingly taking the foot off the gas, Mookyung Kang scored Korea´s second goal and his fourth goal of the tournament at 48:31. Junseo Lee cut Estonia´s lead to one on the powerplay with 4:12 left of the third period.

With netminder Koh yanked from the Korean net, Jeongheon Choi´s effort hit the post right at the end as Estonia narrowly held out and now all of a sudden has a medal within their grasp.