Monday, September 24, 2012

2009-10 Croatia National Team Igor Lazic Jersey

While the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia are still 17 months away, the competition has already begun!

Surprisingly enough, the Olympic Preliminary Qualification Phase for the Games, to be held in February of 2014, began a week ago with Group K qualification play in Zagreb, Croatia.

33 teams have applied for the 12 spots in the Olympics, with 9 of those places being already guaranteed to the nations ranked 1-9 following the World Championships earlier this year, meaning the remaining 24 must participate in a qualification process to determine which fortunate three others will have the thrill of participating in the actual Olympic Games.

Hosts Croatia (currently ranked 30th in the IIHF World Rankings), Serbia (31), Mexico (34) and Israel (40) participated in a round robin schedule to determine which of the four nations would advance to play in Group G of the Olympic Pre-Qualification tournaments in two months time from November 8th to 11th.

Serbia Israel 2012, Serbia Israel 2012
Serbia and Israel began the road to Sochi in the opening game of the Preliminary Qualification Phase

Croatia prevailed with three easy wins, 9-2 over Mexico, a 15-2 blowout over Israel and secured their place in the next phase with a 6-2 win over Serbia (their closest rival but a country with only three indoor rinks) to make their final goal totals 30 for and just 6 against.

Croatia Mexico 2012, Croatia Mexico 2012
Croatia opened their qualification efforts with a 9-2 win over Mexico

Group G will now consist of host Hungary (ranked 19th), the Netherlands (24), Lithuania (25) plus Croatia, who currently compete in Division IIA, one level below the Netherlands and Lithuania and two below Division IA Hungary in the IIHF World Championships ladder system.

“It will be a lot different from this tournament because here we were the best team and in Budapest we will have stronger opponents,” Croatian forward Petar Trstenjak said, “but I hope we will have a bigger roster and that we won’t lose by high scores.” in a quote which illustrates the enormous task and long odds of Croatia even advancing past the next phase, much less making the actual Olympics.

At the same time as play in Group G, Groups H and J will be competing, with Group H being hosts Ukraine (20), Poland (23), Estonia (26) and Spain (29), while Group J, appropriately held in Japan, consists of Great Britain (21), Japan (22), Romania (27) and South Korea (28).

The winners of Groups G, H and J will not be advancing to the Olympics just yet, however, as they must participate in another phase of the competition, the Final Olympic Qualification, which will take place from February 7th to 10th in 2013.

Things get much tougher for those teams advancing from the Pre-Qualification Round Groups G, H and J, as they are slotted into Groups D, E and F, where teams ranked 10-18 await.

Group D is being hosted by Germany (10) and will consist of Austria (15) and Italy (16) plus the addition of a winner from the previous round, to be determined by their ranking.

Group E sees Latvia (11) hosting France (14) and Kazakhstan (17) plus a qualifier while Group F will take place in Denmark (12) with Belarus (13) and Slovenia (18) waiting the final qualifier.

Only then will the winners of those three groups gain an entry into the actual 2014 Winter Olympic hockey tournament in Sochi a year later where Russia (1), Slovakia (6) and the United States (7) in Group A, Finland (2), Canada (5) and Norway (8) in Group B and the Czech Republic (3), Sweden (4) and Switzerland (9) in Group C await the final three survivors of the three step qualification process which began last week in Croatia.

While little publicized and virtually unknown in North America, the Olympic qualification tournament can provide some some of the most dramatic moments, particularly in Groups D, E and F with an actual berth in the Olympics on the line, as making it to the games in as good as a gold medal for the participants of the lower ranked nations and is a source of tremendous pride for all involved to compete at the highest level on sport's biggest stage against the world's best.

The most memorable game in Olympic qualification history took place in January of 2005 to decide who would advance to Torino, Italy in 2006. Group B held in Riga, Latvia saw Belarus gain two points in the standings by defeating Poland, while Latvia knocked off Slovenia 2-1. Belarus took care of Slovenia the next day 7-2 while Latvia kept pace by beating Poland 3-1, setting up the final winner-take-all game against Belarus.

Belarus opened the scoring of the deciding game at 5:16 of the first and stretched their lead to two at 12:06 before Latvia answered at 18:33. The second period was played even, with each team scoring one with Belarus going back up by two at 1:49 before former Boston Bruin Grigori Panteleev scored 18 seconds later to return the margin to one in favor of Belarus.

Belarus put themselves in a good position to win the group and advance with a goal at 9:11 of the third to make the score 4-2 for Belarus.

Now in desperation mode, Latvia pulled goalie Edgars Masalskis during a Latvian powerplay with just six minutes remaining in the game and down by 2 goals. The gamble paid off as Latvia scored at the 15:11 mark to reduce the margin again to 1.

1:47 later the Latvians thrilled the home crowd by getting the equalizer at even strength, leaving just three minutes to decide who would claim the final remaining spot in the Olympics. Alexsandrs Semjonovs then sent the home fans into rapture by finishing the comeback and punching Latvia's ticket to Italy just 33 seconds later to complete the three goal outburst in two minutes and twenty seconds in what would become known as "The Miracle in Riga", considered by some the greatest achievement in Latvian sports since they regained their independence in 1991.

Today's featured jersey is a 2009-10 Croatia National Team Igor Lazic jersey as worn during the IIHF Under 18 World Championships Division II. The red and white checkered pattern of the Croatian coat of arms makes for a unique element regularly incorporated into the design of their national team jerseys, which are often quite striking.

The Croatian National Team first participated in the World Championships in 1993 in Pool C play. They made steady progress as they established their program, rising from an initial ranking of 31st in 1994 to 24th in 2001, which included winning Pool D in 1997.

With the new organization of the World Championship structure, Croatia began in Division I in 2001 and has spent seven years in Division I (with a best finish of 4th) and five years in Division II, which they have won twice (in 2005 and 2007) and where they have resided for the last two years.

Croatia 09-10 jersey, Croatia 09-10 jersey
Croatia 09-10 jersey, Croatia 09-10 jersey

This particular jersey is from our friends at WorldHockeyJerseys.com, the number one source of game-worn jerseys from national teams of the International Ice Hockey Federation. Nick and Mike have supplied us at Third String Goalie with a number of our jerseys, including those from Estoina, Great Britain, Hungary, Iceland, Poland, the Netherlands and Spain. To view all their current auctions, please click here.

Today's video is the magnificent Latvian comeback that would become known as "The Miracle in Riga" which would propel them into the 2006 Winter Olympic hockey tournament.


At the 2006 Olympics in Torino, Latvia was placed in Group B with Slovakia, Russia, Sweden, the United States and fellow qualifier Kaszakhstan. Goaltender Arturs Irbe played brilliantly and held the United States to a 3-3 tie in their opening game, but they were then defeated four straight times to finish last in their group. They ended the tournament classified 12th out of 12 teams, but nothing could erase the excitement of "The Miracle in Riga" and no one, and we mean no one, has a better time at the games than the fans from Latvia, who were only there thanks to a miracle.


1 comment:

  1. I'm not fond any many of the national team jerseys since Tackla stopped making them but this one is awesome.

    -Rob

    ReplyDelete

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