Russia’s U18 team back on top
A BIRD, A PLANE, A WORLD CHAMPION: Team Russia takes a flying leap after returning to its gold medal great- ness at the 2004 IIHF World U18 Championship in Minsk.
■ It doesn’t get any closer than this.
In the gold medal game of the 2004 IIHF World U18 Championship, Russia held on to precious 3-2 lead in a hard-fought battle against the United States in Minsk, Belarus to claim its first gold medal at the event since 2001.
Russia had a 3-1 lead in the final 10 minutes before the United States scored to cut the lead in half. Then in the final moments, the United States scored again, but the goal was disallowed, allowing the Russians to take their place back at the top of the junior hockey world.
For Russia, the journey back to the top of the podium wasn’t an easy one. After winning the gold medal in 2001, the Russians suffered a heart-breaking last minute loss in the final game against the Americans in 2002, settling for silver. Last year, the Russians topped the U.S., but it was in the bronze medal game.
■ Coming so close to gold the last two seasons gave
this year’s Russia squad a decidedly hungry attitude and advantage. Gone were the superstar names like Alexander Ovechkin from the roster, but present were a group of 17 year-olds who had learned by watching pre- vious teams to take nothing for granted until the final whistle blows.
Russia started the tournament in a difficult preliminary round group that saw five ties. Russia was a part of two of those ties, but came out on top of the group with a 2-2-0 record, earning the precious bye to the semi-final game.
■ Russia got to take a swing at defending champion,
Canada in the semi-final game and easily skated to a 5- 2 win after jumping out to an early 3-1 lead at the end of the first period.
The finals pitted Russia against its second North American opponent in as many games. The teams had an even back-and-forth battle until Russia took command early in the third period quick back-to-back goals.
But this time, when the United States mounted its come- back, as it did in Piestany, Slovakia, two years ago, the Russians would not be denied. Czech Republic beat Canada 3-2 in the game for the bronze medal.
June 2004 - Vol 8 - No 3
Slovenia and Belarus earn promotions
■■ Whoever said the best things come to those who
However, standing in Belarus’ way was an equally hungry Norway team that had its heart broken the previous year by upstart France in the Division I Championship. The Norwegians, buoyed by its home ice advantage were on the same mission to move up to the top division for the first time since 2001.
wait have never met the national hockey teams of Slovenia and Belarus, which after just one season at the Division I level, each earned promotions back to the top division of the IIHF World Championship.
The squads were mirror images of each other in Oslo, Norway, where Belarus won the Division I, Group A Championship, and in Gdansk, Poland, where Slovenia cruised to victory at the Division I, Group B Championship.
The teams did everything in their power to set up the dream final game between two undefeated squads. Both had hiccups along the way courtesy of Great Britain, which tied Norway, 4-4, and skated to a 5-4 loss against Belarus.
■ From the first puck drop in Gdansk, it was clear that
the Slovenian team was heads and shoulders above the rest of the field and was on a very clear mission to reclaim its place among the world’s top 16 hockey nations.
But both survived the other games with relative ease and met in the final game in front of a sold out arena to determine who would move up to the top division.
Simply put, Slovenia dominated, earning a perfect 5-0-0 record and giving up only five goals in five games, while scoring 33. Only second-place Italy and third-place Poland were able to give the Slovenians a “close” game. Italy lost, 4-0, while host Poland lost 4-1.
For Poland, the third-place finish was a bit of a disappoint- ment as the nation was hoping to at least vie for the promotion in the final game of the cham- pionship. Instead, an early loss against Italy virtually sealed the Pole’s fate in Division I for ano- ther season.
SUPER SLOVENIANS: Slovenia spent only one year at the Division I championship after earning a perfect 5-0-0 record and a promotion to the top.
■ The first two periods lived up to expectations as the
Italy was also hoping to squelch any doubters about their automatic 2006 Olympic berth, by earning a promotion rightfully, but the strong Slovenians put an end to their hopes as well.
■ In Norway, things were not as clear cut. Of course, it
was clear that Belarus brought a talented that included the two tournament leading scorers, Andrei Skabelka and Alexei Kalyuzhny. And Belarus, much like Slovenia, was on a mission to spend no more than five games at the Division I level.
squads were tied at two at the end of the first period. Belarus took a 3-2 lead at the end of the second, but waited until the third period to remove all doubt as Ruslan Skalei and Skabelka put the game out reach with a pair of third-period goals.
The wins in Gdansk and Oslo gave both teams the chan- ce to try their hand with the top 16 for the second time in three years. Meanwhile, Belgium and Korea will hope to do some bouncing of their own as both were relega- ted to Division II after finishing in last place.
BRIGHT BELARUS Belarus battled its way back to the top division of the IIHF Men’s World Championship after a thrilling final-game showdown against Norway. Belarus will join Slovenia in Austria for the 2005 IIHF World Championship.