Danes to Grand Forks
Danes to Grand Forks
Red-and-whites return to U18 top division
One year after being relegated from the top division, Martin Struzinski led the Danish U18 national team back as it will play in the 2016 IIHF U18 Ice Hockey World Championship in Grand Forks, USA.
Denmark came into the 2015 IIHF Ice Hockey U18 World Championship Division I Group A, which was held in Debrecen, Hungary, as one of the favorites along with Norway and Kazakhstan, who finished second and third respectively in 2014.
Belarus, France and promoted host nation Hungary were the teams that were the ones that were trying to avoid relegation. Like any tournament there is a team that performs better than expected and there are ones that are disappointed in their results.
Denmark started the tournament with an easy win on the opening day of the tournament against hosts Hungary, 9-1. Alexander True led all goal scorers with two goals.
The following day the Danes ran into a bit of a speed bump against Belarus in a 4-3 overtime win that was not only an early turning point in the tournament but looking back was also the critical game of the event. The two teams had met twice during the season already with Belarus winning both tournaments.
Belarus led 3-1 at one point and had a 3-2 lead going into the third period but Denmark was able to fight back to force overtime. Tobias Ladehoff scored in the closing minutes of regulation to send the game into overtime, but Denmark didn’t waste time in the extra period as 25 seconds in Nikolaj Krag scored the game winner. Krag and Ladehoff both finished with two goals apiece in the game.
Belarus started the championship by knocking off one of the favorites with a 3-2 overtime win against Norway. Norway had a 2-0 lead in the second period when the Belarusian power play kicked in. Belarus scored three unanswered power-play goals, even though they had more scoring chances throughout the game. In the closing minutes of the second period team captain Dimitri Buinitski pulled his team within one, Viktor Gavrilenko tied it up in the early part of the third period. Belarus took advantage of an overlapping penaltiy from the third period when Pavel Vorobei scored in the second minute of overtime. Despite the loss to Denmark, Belarus was still in the fight for gold.
After the second overtime loss in two days, this time to France, Norway, who was one of the favourites, had an uphill climb and would need some help from other teams if they wanted a real chance of winning the tournament. The Norwegians had a 1-0 lead after the first period as well as a 2-1 lead in early in the third period but like against Belarus the day before they were not able to close out the game to secure a win. Antoine Torres scored the tying goal and Bastien Maia registered the game winner.
The field started to take shape as the third round of games were played, Denmark rolled past France and Kazakhstan. Against France, Denmark needed a strong third period to pull away with the win whereas against Kazakhstan they jumped out to a 3-0 lead and this looked to be too big of a deficit for the Kazakhs to come back from.
Mathias From stepped up for Denmark as he had three goals in the two games, with Daniel Nielson chipping in with a goal and three assists. “I am very happy that we will be playing for the gold medal on the last game, we still have some improvements to make but everyone will be focused for 60 minutes,” said coach Struzinski after the win against Kazakhstan.
Despite the slip up against Denmark, Belarus stayed close to the leaders in the race for the gold. Against Hungary, Belarus started a bit slow as Hungary had a 2-0 lead in the opening minutes of the second period but the lines that coach Yevgeni Butskevich shuffled started to kick only minutes after the second Hungary goal as they scored seven unanswered. Alexei Patsenkin and Ilya Sushko had two goals each in the 7-2 win. Against France, Belarus only needed a strong first period where they had 3-0 lead since goalie Alexander Osipkov stood tall in net for the only shutout in the tournament. “We have to play like this every game, like the way we played today,” said Butskevich after the win against France.
The fight against relegation looked to be settled in a thrilling match between Kazakhstan and Hungary. The host nation had a 3-2 lead after the first 20 minutes and a 4-3 lead after the second period, however Kazakhstan scored three time in under a three-minute span in the third period to take a 6-4 lead. With 61 seconds left in the game Bence Stipsicz pulled Hungary within one but that was all that his team had left. Since neither team would win the rest of the way Kazakhstan had avoided relegation with the win on the second day. Dmitri Demyanov had a hat trick with scoring two crucial goals in the third period that kept the Kazakhs safe.
Despite the host fans being disappointed by the performance of their team not everything was a bad note. IIHF Council member and tournament chairman Igor Nemecek had some nice words: “This was very well organized by the Hungarian Ice Hockey Federation. All the participating teams played at a good level here,” said Nemecek. “The teams and the game officials had no complaints with the organization in Debrecen, the arena was perfect since it was not too big or too small for this level.”
Heading into the last day of the tournament Belarus knew that they needed to win and if Denmark slips up against their Scandinavian rivals, Norway they would have a chance to earn promotion. After a slow start in the first period Belarus pulled away from Kazakhstan in the second and third periods for a 6-3 win. Yegor Sharangovich stepped up for his team as he had the best scoring outburst of the tournament with three goals and two assists in the final game.
Next all eyes were on the closing game of the tournament to see if Denmark could come through or Norway could finish on a high note despite having somewhat of a disappointing tournament.
The final game was a hard battle from start till the finish. After a scoreless first period Jonas Roendberg scored the first goal of the game but less than a minute later Norway tied it up thanks to Jacob Noer. The game stayed deadlocked at 1-1 through a very disciplined third period. With just under four minutes left Nikolaj Krag scored not only the game-winning but also the gold-clinching goal of the game.
“I am very happy and very satisfied. I think we deserved it because we were the best team throughout the tournament. Today we were a very disciplined team and we really wanted the goal. We are a very big family that does not want to disappoint each other,” said Denmark coach Martin Struzinski after the game.
Naturally, Belarusian coach Yegevni Butskevich was in a different mood. “We are disappointed but when you make mistakes it is very hard to win the gold. We played well but we made a couple of mistakes.”
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