Earns another crucial win against Austria
In a tightly fought game the Slovenes defeated Austria 2-1 in the neighbouring clash and will play in the top division for the ninth time as an independent nation after 2002, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2008, 2011, 2013 and 2015. For Slovenia it’s the fourth consecutive gold in Division I play after 2010, 2012 and 2014.
“I think we came strong and showed real team character. The third period was a tough one but our goalie was awesome in the net and I think it was a well-deserved victory today,” Slovenia captain Jan Urbas said.
Italy will finish in second place and will have the chance to get promoted as well if there will be two relegated teams from the top division, which will be the case as long as next year’s co-hosts Germany and France won’t finish in the bottom two places of their preliminary-round group of the upcoming 2016 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship in Moscow and St. Petersburg. In that scenario only one team would be relegated and only Slovenia as the tournament winner promoted as it was approved by the last IIHF Congress (see tournament format).
Austria will have to settle with third or fourth place depending on the outcome of the Poland-Japan game. Finishing 19th or 20th overall is the country’s worst placement in history since joining the international stage at the 1928 Olympics.
“We were at par with them 5-on-5 but unfortunately they had a five-minute power play and gained momentum from it. Our power play was not as efficient as it should be. At this level it’s important to have good special teams and there’s for sure room for improvement for our power play,” Austrian defenceman Markus Schlachter said.
“We have to look to the future and improve some things. It’s not so easy to earn promotion. It’s as difficult as staying up. Everybody battles for survival as we saw with Poland and Korea, nations we didn’t expect it and who showed great hockey.”
At 5:49 Austria opened the scoring after 48 seconds on its first power play. Manuel Ganahl saw his shot after Konstantin Komarek’s pass from the face-off circle to the crease blocked but via Markus Schlacher the puck came back to Komarek, who scored.
Five minutes later the Slovenes tied the game on a counter-attack. Rok Ticar sent a blind pass forward to Ziga Jeglic on the right side, who skated behind the net and found Robert Sabolic on the left side, who made it 1-1 with his shot.
“It was a good and interesting tournament for us. We started the tournament really well, then didn’t have a good game against Poland but we overslept, came out harder against Korea and today we beat our big rival Austria,” Ticar said.
“It’s always interesting against them, they have a good team. It was not the perfect game for us but we battled really hard and helped each other. We wanted a little bit more, we blocked a lot of shots and did the dirty job a little bit more than them.”
Early in the middle frame Alexander Pallestrang hit Slovenia’s Andrej Hebar to the head and neck area and was assessed a major penalty. Both players had to leave the ice, Pallestrang with the penalty, Hebar due to the injury.
It looked like the Austrians would be able to kill the five-minute penalty but 12 seconds before it expired, Ken Ograjensek scored on a rebound to give his team the lead. The next big chance belonged to Slovenia as well when Sabolic appeared along in front of Austria goalie Bernhard Starkbaum but was tripped by the goalie while he tried to clear the puck. The Slovenes were not able to convert the power play.
Austria dominated the beginning of the third period until taking a penalty after eight minutes but Gasper Kroselj kept the Slovenian net clean and two power plays helped Slovenia withstand the pressure and defend the lead until the end with Austria playing 6-on-4 for the last 50 seconds of the game.
“I’m disappointed about our game. We had three wins and then only one goal in two games with that many chances. The players prepared so well and worked so hard on and off the ice. We did so many battle drills for this game. But that’s sport. That’s life. Sometimes hockey is a metaphor for life. Sometimes you do everything and don’t get the result you want. The players battled hard and should keep their heads up. They don’t deserve to be embarrassed,” Austria head coach Daniel Ratushny said.
“We have to make a step forward with our scoring. We need to score more goals as we saw last year in Prague as well. If we want to become a top-division nation we have to improve that and keep investing in the development of young players, in good coaching, get more kids in. It’s a long-term project to do that.”
Ratushny, who will move from Austrian champion Red Bull Salzburg to Swiss club Lausanne HC, hopes to stay as national coach for next season.
“It’s my wish to stay with the national team and with these character players. It’s a privilege to work with them. It’s a question of the federation and of my club team. We’ll have to discuss that. Working for the Olympic Qualification is our next big challenge. We hope to have the top Austrians from the NHL teams. It’s going to be tough to qualify against pretty good teams but we’ll start working on this goal,” said Ratushny. Federation President Dieter Kalt announced that after having to stay in the second tier of world hockey, the Austrians aim at submitting a bid to host the 2017 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship Division I Group A.
The Final Olympic Qualification from 1st to 4th September will be the next big event in the calendar for both teas. Austria will play host Latvia, Germany and Japan in Riga while Slovenia will face host Belarus, Denmark and Poland in another group in Minsk.
And the Slovenes hope to have their NHL player too.
“It’s our plan to have Anze Kopitar back. We talked about it and I think it shouldn’t be a problem as long as he’s healthy. From the Olympic Qualification we will move on to the World Cup so it will be good preparation for him,” coach Zupancic said.
He will have five months to make his team ready and surprise the world again like in the qualification to and the Olympic tournament in Sochi 2014. But first he and his team will celebrate earning promotion to the 2017 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship, which will take place in Cologne, Germany, and Paris, France.
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