Friday, November 9, 2012

2007 Poland National Team Jaroslaw Rzeszutko Jersey

To update our previous post about the 2014 Winter Olympic Preliminary Qualification Phase, in which Croatia advanced to the Olympic Pre-Qualification Phase, Groups G, H and J will take place this weekend, with competition in Groups H and J having already begun and the winners determined in all groups on Sunday.

33 teams 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 in Sochi.

Croatia (currently ranked 30th in the IIHF World Rankings) advanced to Group G with three easy wins, 9-2 over Mexico (34th), a 15-2 blowout over Israel (40th) and secured their place in the next phase with a 6-2 win over Serbia (31) in Group K back in September at home in Zagreb, narrowing the field to 30 clubs at present.

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

Group G now consists 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, making Croatia's chances of advancing a long shot. Play in Group G gets underway today, Friday, in Budapest.

“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 back in September, “but I hope we will have a bigger roster and that we won’t lose by high scores.” in a quote which illustrates the reality of the enormous task and long odds of Croatia advancing.

Play in Group H began yesterday among hosts Ukraine (20), Poland (23), Estonia (26) and Spain (29) with Poland thrashing Estonia 8-0 putting them on course to square off against Ukraine on Sunday following Ukraine's 7-0 romp over Spain.

Poland Estonia, Poland Estonia
Action from Poland's win over Estonia

Poland and Spain meet in todays early game, followed by Estonia vs. Ukraine in the second game in Kiev. 

Ukraine Spain, Ukraine Spain
Hosts Ukraine began their Olympic quest in fine style over Spain

Group J began earlier today in Japan, with Great Britain (21) losing in a shootout to South Korea (28) 5-4 after Great Britain led 3-1 after one period.

Korea Great Britain, Korea Great Britain
Korea scores in the shootout to defeat Great Britain

Hosts Japan (22) defeated Romania (27) 2-0 in the second game. Japan now takes on rivals South Korea Saturday evening in Nikko, preceded by Romania against Great Britain.

Romania Japan, Romania Japan
Japan pressures Romania on their way to a victory

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 in September 2012 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 2007 Poland National Team Jaroslaw Rzeszutko jersey. This jersey was first worn during the 2007 IIHF Division I Group A World Championships, which were held in Innsbruck, Austria. The jerseys were then re-used in the IIHF's Group D Olympic Qualification Tournament, which was held in Sanok, Poland from November 6th to 9th, 2008.

Poland 2007 jersey, Poland 2007 jersey
Poland 2007 jersey, Poland 2007 jersey

This particular jersey is from our friends at, 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, Belgium, Great Britain, Hungary, Iceland, Poland, the Netherlands and Spain. To view their home page on ebay and check for any upcoming 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.

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