Tuesday, April 26, 2011

IIHF World Championships Report

To follow up on our entry from Saturday, four IIHF World Championships concluded on Sunday and Monday.

Division I Group A saw a winner take all game between Italy and the host Hungarians, who were looking to return to the Top Division after being relegated in 2009, their first appearance in the Top Division in 70 years.

The Italians came out strong, scoring at 3:36 of the first and again at the halfway point for a 2-0 lead which resulted in a change in the Hungarian net with one time Calgary Flames draft pick Levente Szuper replacing Zoltan Hetenyi. Hungary responded less than two minutes later on the power play to pull back a goal. Guilio Scandella scored his second goal of the period on a power play for Italy with just nine seconds remaining to give the Italians a 3-1 lead after one period.

Action from the Italy vs. Hungary final

There was still plenty of time left though, and cheered on by 8,723 partisan fans, Hungary scored the only goal of the second period just seconds shy of the game's midway point. As the third period began with Italy leading 3-2, Italy found themselves a man down 1:19 into the period. The successfully killed off the penalty, but one minute later Hungary evened the score with an equal strength goal at the 4:21 mark. The remainder of the period saw both goaltenders stand strong and regulation would end with the score deadlocked at 3-3.

Hungary began the overtime shorthanded however, as they were assessed a hooking penalty with 45 seconds remaining in the third period. Italy managed two shots on goal, with the second one finding the back of the net behind Szuper off the stick of defenseman Armin Helfer, which had to be confirmed after a review, only increasing the drama, that earned Italy the victory, the gold medal and promotion to the Top Division for 2012.

The Italians disappoint the home fans with their win in overtime

Despite losing earlier in the day in overtime to Spain, the point they gained for the overtime loss gave South Korea the bronze medal. Spain ended up being the relegated squad due to the absence of Japan, who withdrew from the competition due to the earthquake and tsunami which affected the hockey community in northern Japan earlier in the year and were allowed to maintain their place in Division 1 for next year.

Division 1 Group B in Kiev came down to a battle between Kazakhstan and the host Ukrainians, with Kazakhstan only needing to reach overtime to claim the top spot, as they entered the game with a 12-9 advantage in points in the standings.

The first period saw Kazakhstan dominate, finishing the first period with a commanding 12-3 lead in shots on goal, yet the period concluded scoreless. The second period saw a succession of penalties, with Kazakhstan finally opening the scoring on the power play at 11:11. After Ukraine took three successive penalties prior to the opening goal, it was Kazakhstan's turn to parade to the penalty box in the second half of the period, getting called for three penalties within 1:03, which allowed Ukraine to break through with just 20 seconds remaining in the second period to tie the game at 1-1.

Ukraine made the raucous home fans happy with a go-ahead goal at 5:08 of the third period. Still, they faced an uphill battle, as a win in regulation would not be enough, as it would create a three way tie with themselves, the Kazakhs and Great Britain at 12 points apiece. In order to win the tiebreaker and claim the gold medal and subsequent promotion, Ukraine would need to win by four goals or more.

The action was fierce between the two clubs with some of the longest names in the hockey universe

It was not to be for Ukraine, as hard as they tried, they were unable to break through the Kazakh defense despite outshooting Kazakhstan 11-9 for the period. At the 12:22 mark, Kazakhstan got the goal they needed, tying the game at 2-2. They clamped down for the remainder of regulation, happy to see regulation tick away in order to gain the valuable point they needed to claim the championship.

When time did run out with the score tied, the Kazakh's all gathered at the bench to congratulate each other, knowing whatever overtime had in store for them, it was irrelevant to their gold medal status. Riding on the high of knowing they had won promotion, Kazakhstan scored the game winning goal 2:01 into overtime, triggering another celebration.

Kazakhstan celebrates their return to the Top Division in 2012

Earlier in the day, Great Britain won the bronze medal with a 3-2 win over Poland. Lithuania defeated Estonia 5-2 in Saturday's first game between the two winless squads, sending Estonia down to Division 2 for 2012.

After that thrilling day of hockey, the 2011 World Under 18 Championship concluded on Sunday. In the opening game of the day, Russia defeated Canada 6-4 to claim the bronze medal prior to the United States, who defeated Canada 5-4 in overtime to reach the final, squaring off against Sweden.

The first period ended all square at 1-1 thanks to a power play goal for the Americans with just eight seconds remaining to offset Sweden's first goal of the game back at 3:24.

The second period was a good one for the Swedes, as they scored an early goal at 2:21 and then added a second goal three and a half minutes later to take a 3-1 lead after two periods.

The two-time defending champion United States was not going to go away without a fight, and pulled to within one with an even strength goal just 1:20 into the third period, leaving them plenty of time to get an equalizer. During the middle part of the period both teams were whistled for two penalties, but neither team was able to capitalize. As the clock began to wind down in favor of Sweden, Reid Boucher skated into the Sweden zone, beat his defender and rang a shot off the far post and into the net with just 1:29 remaining to send the game into overtime.

Action from the United States game against Sweden

The overtime belonged to the United States, as they outshot Sweden by a large margin, 8-1. Four minutes into the extra period Sweden was called for a holding penalty. Just as the penalty expired, Connor Murphy got off a shot on goal from the left faceoff circle, which was blocked by a diving Swedish defender, only to have the puck bounce off of him right back to Murphy, who got off a second shot, which rang in off the crossbar, giving the United States their third consecutive Under-18 World Championship.

The United States raises their third consecutive Under-18 trophy

Monday saw the championship final of the 2011 World Women's Championship which featured the United States and Canada facing off for the title for the 13th consecutive time. Canada had won the first eight, but the Americans came into the tournament having won the last two and three of the last four.

The two familiar combatants completed the first period tied at 1-1 after trading goals at 16:56 for the USA and 19:52 for Canada, just when it looked like the Americans would take a lead into the second.

Veteran and team captain Jenny Potter put the United States into the lead after two periods with her second goal of the tournament at the 12:05 mark, as the remainder of the period finished scoreless despite the two teams combining for 29 shots on goal.

American goaltender Jessie Vetter on her way to 53 saves

The Canadians were determined to end the Americans current gold medal run by firing 23 shots at US netminder Jessie Vetter. The finally broke through at 16:04 on a power play to tie the game once again, this time at 2-2. Fittingly, the two evenly matched teams failed to decide the gold medal in regulation, making this the fourth championship final of the weekend out of four to require extra time to be decided.

After failing to capitalize on an earlier power play opportunity, the United States won the gold medal at 7:48 of overtime when Hilary Knight won the game when she deposited the puck into a gaping net after getting the puck off a deflection from a shot which came from the opposite side of the goal and finding herself all alone with the puck and plenty of time and space to seal the win for the United States.

IIHF president Rene Fasel presents the championship trophy to Jenny Potter

Vetter finished with 53 saves in goal for the United States, while Shannon Szabados had 50 for the Canadians.

The championship for the American women equalled the three in a row for the American under-18 junior team and concluded a fantastic weekend of dramatic overtime wins in all four tournaments, all of which served as a delicious appetizer for the 2011 World Championships, which begin Friday in Slovakia.

Today's video section begins with the highlights from the women's championship final.

Next are extended highlights of the Italian overtime win over Hungary in Division 1 Group A. For a shorter 4 minute version, click here.

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