Croatia claims gold in Belgrade
by Andy Potts|28 APR 2024
Croatia is celebrating promotion after a perfect week at the Men’s World Championship Division IIA in Belgrade. A 3-0 victory over host nation Serbia on Saturday secured a return to Division IB for the first time since relegation in 2018.

It all came down to Saturday’s showdown. Both Serbia and Croatia rolled through the competition, winning their first four games. Even the aggregate scores were close: both teams scored 23, Croatia allowing six to Serbia’s eight.

However, the decisive game was less of a contest than the 800-strong crowd in Belgrade’s Pionir Arena had hoped. Croatia controlled the game throughout and claimed a shut-out success. Faced with a strong defence, Serbia seemed listless, a shadow of the team that had eased through its earlier games. The host could not muster its first shot on Vilim Rosandic’s net until midway through the first period. By then it was already down 2-0.
The opener came on 6:30. Arsenije Rankovic went behind his goal, but a breakdown in communication enabled Filip Kasparek to steal possession. His attempt to get play to the doorstep saw the puck deflect into the net off the back of the luckless goalie. A couple of minutes later, it was two. Croatia had the Serbs pinned into their zone and defender Marko Katic fired one point shot off the piping before finding the target with a similar effort in the next phase. Katic, who played 11 games for the Islanders, made his international debut here aged 34. The Ontario native has Croatian ancestry and played several seasons for Medvescak Zagreb, securing his eligibility.
Katic finished the tournament as Croatia’s leading scorer: an assist on Bruno Izdan’s second-period tally moved him to 9 (3+6) points from five games. Izdan was second in goals with four, one behind Luka Jarcov. The Sisek forward scored four in the opening 11-2 thrashing of Iceland, then added one more in a 3-2 success against Australia before picking up an injury that limited him to just three appearances in total.

Serbia tried to raise its attacking tempo in the closing stages. Head coach Nemanja Jankovic threw caution to the winds, removing Rankovic from his net on a power play midway through the third period, and also looking to play with six skaters as early as the 56th minute. Although that saw Serbia outshoot Croatia 16-7 in the final frame, any hopes of a fightback ended when Marko Mladenovic’s frustrations got the better of him and he picked up 2+2+10 for interference, unsportsmanlike conduct and misconduct. Croatia closed out the win, and Rosandic finished with 27 saves for the only shut-out of the tournament.

That helped Rosandic, currently with Neuilly-sur-Marne in the French second division, finish as the leading goalie of the tournament. He played in four of his team’s games, stopping 94.94% of shots faced for a GAA of 1.25. Team-mate Katic was selected as top defender, while Serbia’s Mirko Djumic took the best forward prize.

Levin brothers send Iceland down

Earlier on Saturday, Israel met Iceland in a relegation showdown. The Israelis had the advantage going into the game thanks to a shoot-out win against Australia; Iceland knew that only victory in regulation would suffice. That win seemed possible when Gunnar Arason opened the scoring with the only goal of a tight first period.
However, Israel’s offence in Belgrade was led by the Levin brothers, David (24) and Mike (18). Born in Tel Aviv, they moved to Canada with their family as kids. Big brother Dave thrived with Sudbury Wolves in the OHL and was named forward of the year in this season’s Erste Liga after piling up 59 points in 37 games for Romania’s Czikszereda. His assist on little brother Mike’s tying goal changed the course of this game midway through the second period.

The breakthrough came in the 53rd minute when Israel grabbed two quick goals. A long spell of Israeli pressure ended when Mike Levin broke a 1-1 tie with a one-timer from the right-hand circle, again assisted by David. Just 25 seconds later, it was 3-1 when Gleb Khvoles raced onto Maxim Khubashvili’s feed and comprehensively beat Johann Ragnarsson in the Iceland net.

With less than five minutes left to save the game and their Division IIA status, the Icelanders benched Ragnarsson in favour of an extra skater. However, the gamble backfired when Mike Levin completed his hat-trick to put the game out of reach. Despite a last-minute consolation goal from Unnar Runarsson, Iceland was down.

UAE clinches bronze

The day’s opening game also had plenty of drama. Australia took on UAE needing a win in regulation to secure bronze. It started well enough for the Mighty Roos, with goals from Vadim Virjassov and James Woodman opening a 2-0 lead inside seven minutes. Early in the third, a Jordan Kyros marker made it 3-1, but Australia blew a two-goal lead against Israel and did the same again here.

The Emirates, icing a roster the mixes Eastern European dual nationals and home-grown prospects, battled back. Artem Klavdiev and Dmitry Likhachev tied it up in the middle frame and the teams traded further tallies midway through the third. With time running out, Australian goalie Aleksi Toivonen went to the bench and the six skaters in green and gold went in search of a medal-winning goal. Instead, UAE forced a turnover and Klavdiev set up Ilia Chuikov for an empty-netter. Thats back-to-back podium finishes at this level for the Emirates, while Klavdiev topped the scoring charts with 13 points, one ahead of his team-mate Likhachev.

Croatia’s Rosandic was the top goalie, winning each of his four games, stopping 94.94% of shots faced for a GAA of 1.25.