Saturday, April 19, 2014

2014 IIHF World Championships Reports

While the NHL playoffs are now underway to determine who will hoist Lord Stanley's Cup, on the other side of the world, tournament time is in full swing.

The IIHF World Under 18 (U18) Championships began in Lappeenranta and Imatra Finland on April 17th. This tournament was held in Sochi, Russia last year as a test run of the Olympic facilities and was won by Canada 3-2 over the United States, breaking a streak of four consecutive titles for the Americans, who have won six of the last nine at the U18 level. The preliminary round will conclude on Tuesday and will determine who will advance to the playoffs. The Swiss opened the tournament with a 4-2 upset win over the United States so it will be interesting to see how the US responds when they play the Czech Republic at 8 AM eastern time today, which can be watched for free on

In the U18 Division 1 Group A tournament in France, Latvia (4-0) has already earned promotion to the Top Division for next year, while Italy at 0-4 will be relegated despite there being games left to play today.

Meanwhile over in the U18 Division I Group B in Hungary, the host Hungarians (4-0) have earned a promotion to Division 1 Group A while Poland is demoted to Division II Group A for 2015.

Finally in U18, Division II Group B taking place in Tallinn, Estonia sees Spain leading the standings at 3-0, with Serbia and Estonia each at 3-1 with 6 points with all teams having games left on both today and Sunday to determine who will earn the promotion to Division II Group A, whose tournament took place in Great Britain back in late March that saw Lithuania (3-1-1-0) promoted to Division I Group B while Romania (1-0-1-3) was relegated to Division III Group A for 2015.

Both Division III Group A and Division III Group B in  conducted their tournaments already, with South Africa taking the three team competition from Hong Kong and host Turkey in Group B while Australia captured Group A to move up to Division II Group B for 2015 with a 4-1 record over Israel at 3-2.

In the senior ranks for players 20 years or older, the bottom of the IIHF ladder is Division III. This level of play always features countries you may not even know had hockey teams and some wildly diverse geographic matchups. Their tournament in Luxembourg concluded a week ago with Bulgaria (5-0) outlasting North Korea (4-1), Luxembourg, Hong Kong, the United Arab Emirates and Georgia.

Up in Division II Group B, China, Spain, Mexico, New Zealand, South Africa and Turkey all met in Jaca, Spain last week where the hosts earned promotion to Group A for next year with a dominant 5-0 record.

Division II Group A wrapped up on Tuesday with Estonia cruising to a 5-0 record and 15 points, well clear of Iceland's nine to earn the right to compete at the Division I level next season. Other teams in Group A were Australia, Belgium and Serbia with Israel being relegated to Division II Group B.

Division I Group B kicks off tomorrow in Vilnius, Lithuania as Croatia, Great Britain, the Netherlands, Poland, Romania and hosts Lithuania meet in round robin play with the winner also promoted to Division I Group A while the last place team will be relegated down to Division II Group A for 2015. The Lithuanians were excited to learn that Danius Zubrus of the New Jersey Devils will play for his country for the first time since 2005.

In the second rung on the World Championship ladder, Division I Group A, Austria, Slovenia, Hungary, Japan, Ukraine  and hosts South Korea begin play tomorrow in Goyang for the right to play in the Top Division next year in the Czech Republic. Games are scheduled to run through Saturday, April 26.

This year's 2014 IIHF World Championship, for teams in the Top Division, begins in Minsk, Belarus on May 9, 2014 when host Switzerland takes on Russia while France meets Canada in the other early opening game.

The field for this years World Championships include Sweden, the Czech Republic, Canada,  Slovakia, Norway, Denmark, France and Italy in Group A and Finland, Russia, the United States, Switzerland, Germany, Latvia, Belarus and Kazakhstan in Group B.

With Division I Group B wrapping up today at the Gabor Ocskay, Jr. Ice Hall in Székesfehérvár, Hungary with the hosts having already secured promotion to Division I Group A for 2015, today's featured jersey is a 2009 Hungary National Team Gabor Ocskay jersey. Ocskay became a member of the Hungary National Team at the age of 18 and was named the Hungarian Best Forward three times, Most Skillful Player five times and was named Hungarian Player of the Year in 1995, 1996 and 2006, He was also the leading scorer in the Hungarian league in 1998 and 1999.

Ocskay Hungary, Ocskay Hungary

In 2008, Ocskay and Hungary won Division I Group B after a decisive 4-2 win over Ukraine. The victory for Hungary was the greatest moment in Hungarian hockey history, as it returned the nation to the Top Division of the World Championships for the first time in 70 years, triggering celebrations back home in Budapest that went into the night.

To put Hungary's accomplishment into perspective, hockey was not a supported sport under 40 years of communist rule, such as it was in Czechoslovakia, and the country had only three teams, who all played outdoors. It wasn't until 1991 that Hungary even had an indoor ice rink and they had now it had made it to the highest level of world hockey with a team of players who started their journey playing outdoors on ice that only lasted three months a year which they had to resurface themselves at times - and now they had reached the highest level of world hockey.

Back in Hungary for the domestic league playoffs in March, Ocskay again showed his undiminished offensive talent with 8 goals and 18 points in 9 games, as Alba Volán won the Hungarian championship for the sixth consecutive season and Ocskay was named the Most Skilled Player for the fifth time.

One month later the 2009 World Championships were held in Switzerland, only without Gábor Ocskay, as he unexpectedly died on March 24th, 2008 of a heart attack at the age of only 33, just two days after winning the 2008 Hungarian championship. His passing hit the hockey fans in Hungary hard, and they remembered him by lighting candles at every ice rink in the country.

Ocskay Memorial candles, Ocskay Memorial candles

Hungary National Team captain Baláza Kangyal reacted, "Terrible, incomprehensible, what happened." while teammate Viktor Tokaji said, "I'm shocked. Saturday we celebrated together a championship title, and now we lose the best player, a real friend, who always helped me."

While Hungary lost all of their six games at the 2009 World Championships and were relegated is not important, as much as through the efforts of Ocskay and his teammates that they were even there in the first place was their ultimate victory.

Ocskay was remembered by his teammates at the 2009 World Championships with a #19 decal on their helmets during the tournament.

Ocskay Hungary memorial, Ocskay Hungary memorial

During his career, Ocskay played in 531 games, scoring 354 goals and 489 assists for 843 points which included a whopping 187 games for his country, which began back in 1992, including two European Junior Championships, three World Junior Championships and 16 consecutive World Championships, helping guide Hungary from the depths of the "C" Pool to the Top Division.

Both his club team, Alba Volán Székesfehérvár, for whom he played his entire 15 year career, and the Hungarian National Team retired his famous #19 in tribute to Ocskay and Alba Volán now plays at the Ocskay Gábor, Jr. Ice Hall, named in his honor.

Today's jersey is the one Ocskay would have worn during the 2009 World Championships. Click here for a more detailed look at the life and career of Gabor Ocskay.

Hungary 2009 jersey photo Hungary2009F.jpg
Hungary 2009 jersey photo Hungary2009B.jpg

Today's video section begins with highlights of Ocskay displaying his speed and offensive skills as he terrorized goaltenders from all over the world.

This next clip is a musical tribute to Ocskay and shows not only his hockey playing skills, but more about his life off the ice and the family man that he was.

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