International Ice Hockey Federation

Cross-Karawanks clash for gold

Cross-Karawanks clash for gold

Five teams in race for promotion on last day

Published 29.04.2016 02:22 GMT+2 | Author Martin Merk
Cross-Karawanks clash for gold
Slovenia beat Austria for Division I Group A gold two years ago in Korea. Photo: Soohan Kim
One of the most balanced IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship Division I Group A tournaments enters the last day with five teams in race for promotion.

The eyes will be especially on the “final” for gold between Austria and Slovenia. The two top-seeded teams were expected to perform well and although both of them suffered a loss to host Poland, it will be Austria and Slovenia who battle for Division I Group A gold and direct promotion to the 2017 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship.

“It will be a tough battle for sure. We know they are very good skaters and very good technically. They have tall players who can play physical,” said Austria goalie Bernhard Starkbaum, who played every minute in Austria’s net and had a 94.17 save percentage after four games.

“But we know we have potential too. We have good skating abilities and can compete against every opponent. We know that we can use our chance and that’s what we have to do.”

It’s not the first time these two teams play a crucial game. In 2014 Slovenia won Division I Group A gold thanks to a 3-1 win against Austria on the last day, for Austria the loss didn’t matter that much though as they were promoted as second-ranked team.

Two months earlier both teams had a good start at the 2014 Olympic Winter Games in Sochi and were seeded together in the qualification playoff. Slovenia was again the winner, 4-0, to reach a historic quarter-final berth while the Austrian team hit the headlines for the wrong reasons with players having had a long night out in the mountain cluster two days before the game and the aftermath that followed.

In 2012 when Slovenia hosted the Division I Group A in Ljubljana, the Slovenes again ended up as the winner, 3-2, while Austria earned promotion as well. Austria’s last win in the cross-Karawanks clash was in the relegation round of the 2011 Worlds where they won 3-2 against Slovenia but both teams suffered relegation.

“It will be a really difficult game, a derby. We will do everything to earn promotion again but we have to show it on the ice. It will be a difficult game for both teams. Small things will decide. It’s the right game for gold between the best two teams here,” said Slovenian defenceman Klemen Pretnar.

“They play tactically well. They have players on the roster who can decide the game on their own. But I shouldn’t say more. It’s a derby. I have many friends in Austria but for these 60 minutes I have to forget that and I’ll give everything for my country. We have to play disciplined from the first minute and play well on defence.”

For many players this clash will be special because of close ties across the Karawanks mountain range. Several Slovenian players play their club hockey in Austria like Klemen Pretnar and the country’s best club team Olimpija Ljubljana players in the Austrian-based, multi-national league EBEL.

A car or train ride between the Austrian hockey town of Villach and Anze Kopitar’s alma mater Jesenice in Slovenia takes 40 minutes through the Karawanks tunnel. When the train tunnel was built, Slovenia was also politically connected to the northern neighbour as part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire.

“It’s been kind of a standard in the last few years that way play against them for tournament win. There are no secrets, we know how they play, they know how we play, we just have to be focused on our game from the first till the last minute and be disciplined. That’s the key,” said Slovenian forward Ales Music. “They’re pretty good. They have some young guys right now but I know they want to win against us and we want to win too. Whoever is going to play better defensively will have the chance to win.”

Austrian forward Andreas Kristler hopes that his teams progress after a rough start against Korea will continue against Slovenia.

“Austria against Slovenia is always a tight game, we have to be ready in any case and we want to reach first place at this tournament,” Kristler said. “Slovenia is a team that gels together well. Like us they have four well-balanced lines. It will be a great and physical game. They are strong on the power play so we have to make sure not to take penalties.”

The game will start at 16:30 and will be broadcast live in both countries.

Five teams go for silver

Not only first place is interesting, but also the second. This in the case that two teams will be promoted to the 2017 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship. Normally there will be two promoted teams to the top division and two relegated teams. However, the last IIHF Congress approved one exception in case that the co-hosts of next year, Germany and France, would both finish on bottom in their preliminary-round group in St. Petersburg – in that case there would only be one relegated and one promoted team to protect the co-hosts.

However, this scenario would be a historic upset with recently-promoted Hungary in the same group. The last time the Hungarians were ranked better than France was in 1983 and they have never been ranked better than Germany (and West Germany) in any World Championship. Being ranked better than both will naturally be the Hungarians’ goal but it would be a major upset.

Before the start of the last day in Katowice five teams can still finish second. Of the six teams only Japan is out of the race and will finish in last place.

Italy and Korea will open the last day with their 13:00 game. Italy needs a regulation-time win as well as Slovenia beating Austria in regulation time to reach second place. Korea also needs a regulation-time win and then needs to hope that either Slovenia wins, or that Austria wins in regulation time – but not in overtime or shootout. If Korea wins in overtime or shootout, they still have a chance to win silver if Slovenia beats Austria in regulation time.

For Austria and Slovenia it’s all about winning the game and gold to get their tickets to the top division now and without speculation. If they lose, there’s a small chance they could even miss second place – depending on the outcome of the other games.

Poland, which will play the last game of the tournament against Japan at 20:00, is as of now still in race for second place. First of all the Poles need a regulation time win against Japan and then also favourable results in the other games as only three of 64 scenarios see Poland in second place. Two are an Italian win against Korea (in regulation time, overtime or shootout) combined with a regulation-time win of Austria against Slovenia, another case is an overtime or shootout win of Italy against Korea combined with a regulation-time win of Slovenia against Austria.

It will be an exciting day in Katowice with a happy winner to book the tickets for the top division in Cologne and Paris, and a second-ranked team that can hope for the same reward.


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