International Ice Hockey Federation

Slovenia on the rise

Slovenia on the rise

U18: Win over Ukraine clinches gold in Div. IB

Published 22.04.2017 01:23 GMT+4 | Author Andy Potts
Slovenia on the rise
The Slovenian players celebrate after winning the 2017 IIHF Ice Hockey U18 World Championship Division I Group B on home ice in Bled. Photo: Gregor Podrekar
Slovenia won the 2017 IIHF Ice Hockey U18 World Championship Division I Group B on home ice, clinching gold with a 4-3 victory over Ukraine.

Austria, relegated from Division IA last year, and Japan, runner-up in this section 12 months ago, were expected to be the strongest challengers in Bled, with the host nation looking to improve on a fourth-place finish last time around. But Slovenia impressed in its warm-up games, winning twice in Budapest against a Hungarian team that took gold at this level in 2016. Then, on the opening day, an emphatic 10-0 victory over the Japanese made everyone aware of the potential of Mitja Kern’s team. Despite losing against the Austrians as the week progressed, Slovenia went into Friday’s game with Ukraine knowing that victory would guarantee gold.

But the Ukrainians, whose hopes of success were hampered by an inconsistent campaign, did everything they could to keep the competition alive until the final game, recovering a 0-3 deficit before losing out to Jakub Jugovic’s 52nd-minute goal. The defenceman, whose menacing presence on the blue line had already set up Slovenia’s opener, stepped up from the point to collect a pass from Erik Svetina. As Jugovic drifted wide, there seemed to be little open for him... but an angled shot flew through traffic and found the top corner with Mykyta Petlenko beaten. It was a mixture of joy and relief for the Slovenes, with the crowd in Bled excited by the team’s start to the game but increasingly anxious as Ukraine battled back into contention.

At first, though, it seemed that Slovenia would make serene progress through the game. Ukraine gave up two goals in the second minute – a wrist shot from Jugovic deflected home by Patrik Tislar, then Jaka Sturm converting Ziga Urukalo’s pass as the host punished a turnover – and starting goalie Artur Ohandzhanyan was gone from the game after just 104 seconds. When Rok Kapel made it three, converting Slovenia’s second power play of the game early in the middle frame, it felt like game over.

Ukraine had other ideas. It got its PK working at last to kill a long 5-on-3 advantage, then began to create chances at the other end. Dmytro Chorny got one back on the power play, then two goals in a minute tied the game. Chorny’s shot created the first of them as Danylo Moroz forced home the rebound, then, on 36:55, Olexander Peresunko tied the game after Hlib Krivoshapkin’s shot was padded away. Slovenia thought it had regained the lead almost immediately after a scramble in the slot, but the officials ruled that a forward had encroached on Petlenko’s crease and the game remained level going into the final stanza.

The early chances went to Ukraine: Krivoshapkin got a good look before Peresunko was denied in a one-on-one breakout. But gradually the home team re-established itself and Jugovic managed to wrap up the win.

Slovenia’s progress was aided by several returning players. Jugovic, Svetina, Tislar, Sturm, Urukalo, Kapel and goalie Ziga Kogovsek were among those who featured in Italy this time last year, and they demonstrated what they had learned from the experience. Kogovsek played every minute of his team’s campaign, stopping 93.1% of shots for a GAA of 1.61. Jan Drozg, another returnee, led the tournament scoring with 5+8=13 after picking up an astonishing eight-point haul in that huge win over Japan. Drozg’s five-goal tally was matched by team-mate Rok Kapel, as well as Ukraine’s Peresunko and Italy’s Stephan Deluca, while Jugovic was the second top-scorer among defencemen behind Japan’s Daiki Miura.

Austria failed to win instant promotion back to Division IA, but did end on a winning note with a 3-2 overtime success over Japan in the final game of the tournament. Marco Rossi was the hero, tying the game with 94 seconds left in regulation time and grabbing the decider at 2:28 of overtime. That meant silver went to the Alps, and bronze to the Far East.

At the foot of the table, newly-promoted Poland battled hard and twice went to overtime. But it failed to record a victory and returns to Division IB next year. Italy took fourth place, one point ahead of Ukraine.


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