Sunday, April 30, 2017

2017 IIHF Lower Divisions Tournament Update

The IIHF  World Championship season is upon us. To date, titles have been decided at the Division I, II and III levels in action that took place between April 3rd and concluded yesterday in advance of the Top Division 2017 IIHF World Championships that begin on May 5th in Cologne, Germany and Paris, France.

The Division III tournament took place from April 10-16 in Sofia, Bulgaria and saw an eclectic mix of eight countries scheduled to participate that consisted of Bosnia & Herzegovina, hosts Bulgaria, Chinese Taipei (Taiwan), Georgia, Hong Kong, Luxembourg, South Africa and the United Arab Emirates.

 photo D3 Bulgaria.png

However, before the competition could begin, Bosnia & Herzegovina withdrew and all their scheduled games became 5-0 forfeits. Why 5-0 and not 3 or 6 for 1 or 2 goals per period, we don't understand...

The teams were divided into two groups, with Group A consisting of Bulgaria, Taiwan, Hong Kong and Bosnia & Herzegovina, with Bulgaria winning the group with a 3-0 record and a 18-3 goals for and against margin. Hong Kong took the other spot in the playoff round after beating Taiwan 5-2.

In Group B, Luxembourg took the top honors with a 3-0 mark and an even greater goal differential of +21. Georgia was next after defeating both South Africa 6-5 and the overmatched United Arab Emirates 19-0 for the other playoff position.

While the United Arab Emirates were thrashed 17-0 by Luxembourg, 8-0 by South Africa and 19-0 by Georgia to finish the competition without even a single goal while giving up 44 for an average of nearly 15 per game, it will be Bosnia & Herzegovina who are demoted for their failure to participate.

In the playoff games, Luxembourg defeated Hong Kong 8-1 while Bulgaria had a similarly easy time over Georgia 9-3. The final saw Luxembourg dominate with a 10-4 victory for their first ever IIHF gold medals. Goaltender Philippe Lepage was the star with no less than 57 saves in the victory, while three players, Benny Welter, Miroslav Mosr and Thierry Beran each had two goals and an assist in the victory that propels them into Division II Group B for 2018.

 photo Luxembourgh 2017.jpg
Luxembourg was thrilled to win their first ever tournament

The next step up the IIHF ladder system is Division II Group B, which was held in Auckland, New Zealand from April 4-10 with another eclectic grouping of six teams consisting of China, North Korea, Israel, Mexico, New Zealand and Turkey.

 photo D2B NZ.jpg

With just six teams in this tournament, all teams were placed in a single group with a round robin schedule and the final results determined by the standings rather than a knockout playoff format as Division III used this year.

The round robin schedule is always set to have the two top seeded teams meeting in the final game of the competition in anticipation that all the favorites will win and the final game will provide the drama over who will win promotion, but things do not always go to plan, and the key game of the tournament actually took place on the second day when China defeated New Zealand 5-2.

China would go on to complete their schedule undefeated with all wins coming in regulation and finishing with a +17 goal differential. Hosts New Zealand finished second at 4-1 thanks to their unfortunate third period against China, as the teams were tied at 2-2 after two periods before giving up 3 goals in the final 20 minutes.

After Israel in third place at 3-2, things become a lot more complicated, as North Korea, Mexico and Turkey all finished even at 1-4! The North Koreans win came from a 11-3 thrashing of Turkey, while Mexico's win came at the expense of North Korea 5-1. Turkey, on the other hand, beat Mexico 1-0 throwing the deciding factor of relegation down to Division III for next year to the goal differential for games among the three tied teams, which sank the Turkish hopes after their 8 goal loss to the North Koreans.

China will now compete at the Division II Group A level next year where they last played in 2016.

 photo China 2017.jpg
China celebrates their championship

Division II Group A was held in Galati, Romania among Australia, Belgium, Iceland, Romania, Serbia and Spain.

 photo D2A RM.jpg

This was a close-fought affair with the host Romanians winning the promotion to Division I Group B for 2018 after winning 4 regulation games against 1 loss, that coming against Iceland after winning their first two games. Romania finished with 12 points in the standings to the 11 for Australia, thanks to the opening game of the tournament seeing the Aussies defeat Serbia 4-3 in overtime after the Serbs tied the game with 4:34 to play in regulation. The overtime win was worth 2 standings points to the Australians, rather than 3 had they won in regulation, which was the difference between them and the Romanians 12 points and their 11. Of course, the other factor was the 5-1 Romanian victory over the Australians in their head to head meeting.

Serbia earned points in 4 of their 5 games with 2 wins, 2 overtime losses and a defeat for 8 points. Belgium and Israel also won 2 games each, but did not take anyone to overtime for any additional points in the standings. All of this left Spain in last place, as they managed one overtime win over Serbia, but their 2 points left them far back of the other teams who all won at least 2 games in regulation. Spain's relegation will see them play in Division II Group B next year.

 photo Romania 2017.jpg
Romania will move up to Division I for 2018

Moving up to Division I Group B, the six participants were Croatia, Estonia, Great Britain, Japan, Lithuania and the Netherlands with the competition taking place in Belfast, Northern Ireland, which is a part of Great Britain.

 photo DIB GB.png

The final game of the tournament yesterday was a winner take all affair between the undefeated British and the Japanese. Playing in front of a raucous home crowd, Great Britain scored one in the first and three in the second to take a 4-0 win to earn the promotion up to Division I Group A for the first time since 2013.

After the Japanese in second, Baltic states Lithuania and Estonia were third and fourth, while Croatia's 6-2 win over the Netherlands assured their safety as winless Netherlands was relegated to Division II Group A for 2018.

 photo Great Britain 2017.jpg
Joyful Great Britain was able to win at home in dominant fashion

In Division I Group A, two promotion spots were on the line for the six participants, as two teams are relegated from the Top Division each year. Vying for those spots were Austria, Hungary, Kazakhstan, South Korea, Poland and hosts Ukraine.

 photo DIA UKR.png

South Korea began with a 4-2 win over Poland and Austria dropped a 2-3 decision to Kazakhstan. The next day South Korea then defeated the Kazakhs. Day 3 saw Austria keep pace with a 3-1 victory over Hungary. Everyone was back in action on Day 4 and it was the South Koreans turn to defeat Hungary by the same 3-1 score while Austria made a second period goal hold up in a 1-0 win over Ukraine. Meanwhile, Kazakhstan stayed in the hunt with a 1-0 of their own over Poland.

Wednesday's only game saw the Kazakhs defeat Ukraine 4-2 to keep the host team winless.

This set up a meeting between the undefeated South Koreans and Austria, who were in need of a win to equalize the standings due to their opening game loss. The Austrians answered the call with a dominant 5-0 win.

The battle then came down to the final day. Kazakhstan had 8 points (2 wins, 1 OT Win and a loss), while South Korea were both at 9 points, each with 3 wins and a loss.

Kazakhstan was up first and did what they needed to do with a 3-1 regulation win over Hungary to take over the top spot at 11 points. Austria then secured a promotion to the Top Division with an 11-0 pasting of the Poles to leap into first place with now 12 points. Finally, South Korea took to the ice against Ukraine, who already knew they were relegated.

 photo Austria 2017.jpg
Austria roared to the gold with 16 goals in their final two games

After a scoreless first period, South Korea scored first five minutes into the second period but at 13:24 of the second, the Ukrainians tied the game at 1-1. Neither team could find the net in the third period, but the point earned by South Korea for getting to overtime bumped them up to 10 points, needing the win to claim a second point on the day to claim the other promotion place, as they held the head-to-head tiebreaker over Kazakhstan thanks to their earlier 5-2 win on Day 2.

Neither team was able to win in overtime and the game progressed to a shootout. South Korea led 1-0 after one round and again after two rounds. Then Sanghoon Shin scored to win the shootout 2-0 and the game 2-1 for the Koreans to take the additional point for the win to climb to 11 points and earn their first promotion to the Top Division in their history.

With the five lower division tournaments now complete, all eyes will turn toward the Top Division of the World Championship ladder, as the 2017 IIHF World Championships will begin this coming Friday, May 5th, which will be co-hosted by Cologne, Germany and Paris, France.

 photo 2017 IIHF WC logo.jpg

The competition will be divided into two groups, with Group A consisting of Russia, the United States, Sweden, Slovakia, Germany, Latvia, Denmark and Italy and will take place in Cologne. 

Group B, being held in Paris, will see Canada, Finland, the Czech Republic, Switzerland, Belarus, Norway, France and Slovenia all taking part.

After each team plays the other teams once each in a round robin format concluding on May 16th, the last place team in each group will be relegated to Division I Group A and be replaced by Austria and South Korea for 2018. The top four teams in each group will advance to the playoff round, which starts on May 18th with the bronze and gold medals decided on the final day of May 21st in Cologne.

Our featured jersey today is a 2005 Austria National Team Gerhard Unterluggauer jersey as worn during the 2005 World Championships, which were hosted by Austria. This was an unfortunately short lived style, as all national teams received attractive new jerseys for 2005 only to see them replaced with the new Nike Swift styles for the 2006 Olympics.

Unterluggauer, a defenseman, began his pro career back in the 1992-93 season, playing his entire career in Austria save for a three year stint in the German DEL in the early 2000's. He has won the Austrian championship twice, in 1993 and 1999.

He has been playing for the Austria National Team since 1993 and his resume includes three Olympic Games (1998, 2002 and 2014) and 18 World Championships.

Austria 2005 jersey photo Austria2005F.jpg
Austria 2005 jersey photo Austria2005B.jpg

Bonus jersey: Today's bonus jersey is a 2008 Great Britain National Team Jason Hewitt jersey as worn during Olympic Pre-Qualifying Group D held in Poland in November of 2008. This is a truly striking jersey with it's large, dynamic lion crest logo with Union Jack mane. The curved, vertical striping only add to the excitement of this vibrantly colored jerseys.

Great Britain 2008 jersey, Great Britain 2008 jersey
Great Britain 2008 jersey, Great Britain 2008 jersey

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