Baltic nation promoted – will it stay this time?
Kristjan Jonsson, iihf.com 21-04-12
REYKJAVIK – Estonia will try once again to establish its team in the Division I Group B next year after getting promoted from the 2012 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship Division II Group A in Iceland.
Estonia won all its five games against Serbia, Croatia, Iceland, New Zealand and Spain. Estonia got relegated from Division I last year and now gets another chance to stay there.
Estonia defeated Serbia, Iceland and New Zealand with pretty comfortable scores: 5-2 against Serbia, 7-2 against Iceland and even 19-2 versus New Zealand, which lost all games and got relegated to the Division II Group B. The Kiwis were missing nine players from the team that surprisingly won Division II silver one year ago.
In the end Estonia had to battle through two tight and difficult games. Against Croatia in the second round Estonia won 3-2 with the game-winning goal from Roman Andrejev with just two minutes left on the clock.
In the last round Estonia faced Spain in a game that decided about the tournament win as both teams went into the last round with a 4-0 record.
Estonia controlled the game in the beginning and earned a 4-1 lead, but Spain fought back and the score was cut to 4-3 after 40 minutes.
A shot hit the post on the Estonian goal early in the last period, but the only goal was scored on the other side when Maksim Ivanov’s marker after seven minutes sealed the victory for his team.
“We are happy. This was a very, very tough tournament for us. Every team was pretty good here and I think this tournament was pretty even. Many teams had a chance to get promoted,” said Dimitri Rodin, the captain of the Estonian national team, who was also voted Estonia’s player of the game in the “final” against Spain.
Rodin said that the game against Croatia was the most difficult one. “They were the favourites in this tournament and we beat them. We were all very happy with that win and I would say it gave us hope.”
Spain, Croatia fail to get back
For Spain it’s the time this season Spain battled for gold in the last round in the respective category, but in Reykjavik the southern Europeans had to settle for silver. Already in the U18 category the dreams of promotion were destroyed by a defeat against Estonia in the last round.
Spain had played in the Division I for the first time ever last year, but was relegated to the Division II Group A, as was Estonia.
Meanwhile Croatia has to wait another year for a chance to get back to Division I.
The Croats had a chance to get promoted on home ice last year, but lost the last game against Romania. This year they lost the first game against Spain 3-2 despite having a 2-1 lead with four minutes left in regulation time. Then Spain equalised and Juan Muñoz scored the winning goal with only three seconds left.
The Croats didn´t have any time to shake it off because they faced Estonia the next day and lost 3-2. A cruel beginning of the tournament for one of the favourites, which had to settle for bronze after winning the three remaining games.
Estonia’s next try in Division I
Will Estonia be strong enough to stay Divison I next year?
“We will see how it’s gonna go. If we work hard then hopefully we can stay there,” said Rodin. “We have to play much better defensively in that division. The teams there are professional so I think the defence and the goalkeeper will be most important.”
His coach, Dmitri Medvedev, agrees with Rodin that the tournament could have ended with a different winner as well.
“The level of the teams in top-four places was very good and very equal,” Medvedev said. “Maybe it was unlucky for Croatia to lose the first two games and in that way fell out of the picture. The level of hockey they have is very much on the top level here. It was kind of symbolic that the two top-ranked teams met in the gold medal game so that also shows that the ranking system is working well. I think that the best team of the tournament won and if you just look at the statistics it will only confirm that,” Medvedev said after the game against Spain.
Icelanders are improving
Both Medvedev and Rodin praised the Icelandic team, which won its first two games against New Zealand 4-0 and Serbia 5-3. The Icelandic national team has only been part of the World Championship program since 1999.
“Team Iceland is getting better every year,“ said Rodin and Medvedev added: “It was very nice to see that the level of Icelandic hockey has risen so much that they can beat Serbia and create positive emotions against the top teams.”
The results have improved much in the last few years. Iceland lost to Croatia 9-0 last year in Zagreb, but now Croatia won 5-1. Against Estonia Iceland lost 16-1 three years ago, this time they were downed 7-2. And Iceland had never beaten Serbia before.
Ice Hockey Iceland with only employee received good feedback from the teams for hosting this group and bringing the tournament to the island of 330,000 inhabitants.
“I would also like to say that the level of organizing was perfect. The hotel, the arena and everything. It was a nice tournament for the teams to have and a lot of fun. The atmosphere was very friendly,” said Medvedev.
Vidar Gardarsson, the chairman of Ice Hockey Iceland, was also happy after a very busy week.
„Everything has worked out according to plan. There’s always some level of stress in the beginning, but then everything worked as it should. The responses we got from the other nations were very positive,” Gardarsson said.
“It’s a lot of work to host a tournament like this and the job gets done by a relatively small group of people. On the other hand we feel it’s a unique opportunity for our players to play at this level on home ice. Six years have gone by since Team Iceland played at home last time. It’s far too long for ice hockey fans in Iceland to wait six years to see their national team. We got a pretty good coverage in the local media.”
1. Estonia 15 (promoted)
2. Spain 12
3. Croatia 9
4. Iceland 6
5. Serbia 3
6. New Zealand 0 (relegated)
Individual Awards selected by the Tournament Directorate:
Best Goalkeeper: Ander Alcaine, Spain
Best Defenceman: Kenneth Macaulay, Croatia
Best Forward: Aleksandr Petrov, Estonia
Estonia back to Division I