WM18 1B: Ruthless Slovenia moves up to Division 1A
by Henrik MANNINEN|21 APR 2024
photo: © International Ice Hockey Federation / Catherine Kortsmik
Slovenia crushed France 11-2 to win gold at the 2024 IIHF U18 World Championship Division I Group B in Tallinn, Estonia. The victory vaults the Slovenians to next year´s Division 1 Group A event.

Newly promoted Lithuania finish second after narrowly beating bronze-medalists Estonia 4-3. Korea wins the relegation decider 4-2 to send Italy down to Division 2A.

Lithuania’s Daniil Cepov was selected top goaltender of the tournament. Jan Golicic from Slovenia was the top defender and a second Slovenian, Nik Christian Petrovic was named as the best forward.

France 2 - Slovenia 11

Blueliner Jan Golicic potted two goals and had four helpers as Slovenia tormented France right from the outset to hit double figures and earn gold. Slovenia moves up to Division 1A where it most recently competed in 2018.
The top scorer of the tournament, Nik Christian Petrovic also stood out for the Slovenians netting a hat-trick and adding a couple of assists in the match-up between the two top-ranked teams ahead of the tournament.

Icing the most evenly balanced team in Tallinn the Slovenians got goals from all across the board. Versus France six different scorers tallied as Slovenia had raced into a five-goal lead after just 15:31.

From the dot of the left circle, blueliner Golicic fired home the powerplay opener from the left dot past Kirill Dorofeev after 2:27. The lead was doubled when Aljaz Hrobat Plemelj raced along the right boards to supply Petrovic to convert in front of Dorofeev at 6:10.

France had entered the game having a bronze medal within its grasp. Slovenia, on the other hand, knew that a win would give them an unassailable lead at the top.

Slovenia´s Tevz Zibert picked up a pass on centre ice and managed to shake off blueliners Gaspard Vanwormhoudt and Robin Guidoux to score a third unanswered goal with less than eight minutes played.
France replaced Dorofeev with Guillaume Schoch in net as Slovenia piled on the misery adding another three goals before the first intermission. Silky stickhandling saw Petrovic pot from the slot at 13:15, Gal Sodja Zalokar added a fifth before Golicic made it 6-0 on the powerplay.

Despite both teams firing eleven shots on goals each in the middle frame, Slovenia raced further ahead on the scoreboard.  Val Marn added Slovenia´s seventh and eighth early in the period. A breakaway by Zan Spari Leben tallied a ninth unanswered goal midway through the game.

Going into the final frame and with the game effectively over Slovenia put netminder Gal Hebar on in place of Bor Glavic. Petrovic completed his hat-trick as Slovenia steamed ahead to hit double figures at 51:51. Alexandre Monarque finally got France on the board scoring in his third consecutive game. Tom Vidal then added another consolation for France. Slovenia´s Spari Leben closed the scoring on the powerplay with his second of the game 2:06 before the end.

The triumph in Tallinn gives Sabahudin Kovacevic a golden start as head coach of Slovenia´s U18. It also brings an end to a successful season for the Slovenian men´s junior program with their U20 and U18 teams both having won promotion to Division 1A. Spari Leben, Petrovic, Maj Tursic Seckar, and Matic Percic skated on both gold medal-winning rosters.

Estonia 3 - Lithuania 4

Second-period goals by Simonas Valivonis and Deimantas Sulinskas sparked Lithuania to edge its Baltic neighbour 4-3 on the final day and finish with the silver medals.

Promoted from Division 2A last year and now finishing second at an upper level continues the progress made under head coach Mario Durocher. A former Canada U20 head coach, he was on the bench for two World Juniors in 2003 and 2004 with a roster including Sidney Crosby, Ryan Getzlaf and Marc-AndrĂ© Fleury. For the second year running in charge of Lithuania´s next generation, Durocher is ably assisted by two former Lithuanian national team stalwarts Arturas Katulis and Dovydas Kulevicius.

Against the Estonias, Titas Krakauskas and Kajus Zeynalov twice put Lithuania ahead in the opening period in Tondiraba Ice Hall. With Slovenia already having sealed the top spot, Estonia needed a regulation-time win to leapfrog Lithuania to win silver.

Having relied heavily on David Timofejev´s rich vein of goalscoring form earlier in the tournament, others now stepped out in the spotlight for Estonia. One such was 15-year-old Arseni Koltsov potting his first goal of the tournament to even the score in the first period. Maksim Burkov scored on a penalty shot for 2-2, before Partel Kose 56 seconds later got Estonia in front 3-2 netting his first of the tournament with 2:18 left of the first frame.

Lithuanian fought back to tie the game at 24:48 through blueliner Valivonis, who last year played at the Men´s Worlds Division 1B in Nottingham. The youngest player on Lithuania´s roster, Sulinskas rose to the occasion to put the Lithuanians back in the lead with his first goal of the tournament with 3:17 left to play in the middle frame.

A tempestuous final frame saw both teams parade to the penalty box with Krakauskas also being thrown out for a misconduct penalty. With Estonia failing to convert on its numerous powerplays, they got themselves involved in penalty trouble at the tail end of the game. With 28 seconds left, Estonia yanked netminder Daniel Nefedov, but it proved to be too little, too late for the hosts.

Despite their narrow defeat on the final day, Estonia´s third-place finish marks the best overall finish for an Estonian U18 team in World Championship play. 

Italy 2 - Korea 4

Junsu Kwak notched a goal and three assists as Korea remained in the division. Sungkyu Lim was also influential in the relegation battle versus the Italians scoring a double and a helper.

Instead of playing for a third straight bronze medal at this level, Italy entered the final day second from bottom and a point ahead of Korea.

In a nervy opening period, Lim got Korea on the scoreboard at 4:53 assisted by Kwak.

Italy replied in the second frame to equalize through defender Josef Prast. The goal appeared to temporarily invigorate the Italians. They hit the post and soon after had a goal ruled out for violation in the crease.

Knowing that only a win would suffice, Korea then got back in front. Having several potential match-winners on their team, one of those being Kwak who converted on a feed by Lim at 34:10.

Italy had blanked Estonia 4-0 on the opening day but had since lost steam as the tournament went on. Korea charged ahead and added a vital third just 14 seconds into the third period with Lim scoring his second of the evening.

Prast then hit back and potted his and Italy´s second goal at 44:44 to narrow the score to 3-2.

Italy then called a time-out with 1:20 left of the third period. Carlo Giordani was pulled from the net in a hunt for a game-tying goal. Instead, the lighting-quick Mookyung Kang stole the puck and netted Korea´s fourth goal of the encounter to finish fifth in the standings.

Having played in this division since 2015, Italy now has to regroup in next year´s Division 2A.