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WM IA, Day 5: Hungary and Slovenia advance, Korea relegated

Going into the final day of the 2024 IIHF World Championship Division I Group A in Bolzano, Slovenia had already made progress, but three teams were still battling for second place and two had a chance of relegation. But with each match more became clear and ultimately Hungary will join Slovenia at next year’s World Cup in Sweden, while Korea will be relegated to Group B for the first time since 2015.

Romania 4 – Japan 2

After losing their first two games 6-1, Romania seemed an obvious candidate for relegation, but three wins later they skated off the ice after their final game against Japan with still a faint hope of advancing to the elite group. That didn’t end up happening, but it was still a remarkable turnaround.

“I don’t think many people believed in us,” said Romanian captain Roberto Gliga. “It’s definitely a big surprise, I think everyone agrees on that. I think it’s clear that we exceeded our expectations.”

Gliga scored the first goal of the match, making a nice deflection in the air after Yevgeni Skachkov’s shot at 4:26. Then the two teams traded goals late in the first period. Sota Isogai equalized for Japan when he circled the net and his centering pass attempt hit a Romanian skate and went in, but Skachkov got that goal back just 18 seconds later, providing a nice finishing touch on a feed from Huba Bors.

Japan tried to push back in the second period, but Romania scored the only goal to take a 3-1 lead after a nice rush into the zone, with Szilard Rokaly putting a nice backhand deke on Yuta Narisawa to finish it off. Trailing by two goals, the Japanese emptied the tank in the third period, beating Romania 15-2, but Zoltan Toke was brilliant. Yu Sato scored a rebound with 3:38 to play to make it a one-goal game, but Matias Haaranen sealed the win for Romania with a late empty-netter.

“I liked how hard we fought,” Japanese coach Jarrod Skalde said. “We wanted to skate, but every time we picked up the momentum, they seemed to score. We had to keep fighting to get the momentum back, but overall I liked our game and the way we skated today.”

The loss left Japan with a razor-thin one-point lead over Korea in the race to avoid relegation. Looking ahead to the next match, Skalde said: “I have never been such a fan of Italy in my life.”

Italy 8 – Korea 1

As it turned out, Skalde and the Japanese team didn’t have to sweat for long as Italy struck early, often leading 4-0 after one period, eventually cruising to an 8-1 win.

“I think we played very well today,” said Italian goalkeeper Damian Clara. “The boys did a great job scoring some early goals and they helped me a lot. We may have played a little slower in the second period, but we didn’t take it for granted and came back in the third.”

Luca Frigo opened the scoring after just 21 seconds, grabbing the top corner above Jung Ho Ha’s glove from the top of the circle. The Koreans thought they were right 37 seconds later when they drove to the net and Shanghoo Shin forced the puck over the goal line, but Italy challenged the play, claiming the puck was one-handed into the net, which was upheld. The Italians got back to work and Daniel Mantenuto, Diego Kostner on the power play and Daniel Frank scored before the opening frame was over.

“We are very disappointed because many of us have been in Group A for a long time,” Korean captain Sangwook Kim said. “We played in the top division and wanted to return. We have a lot of young kids who will get a good experience in IB and hopefully we will get promoted next year.”

After an earlier goal was disallowed, Shin Korea really got on the board early in the second period with a one-time pass from Heedoo Nam. That seemed to fire up the Koreans, who controlled the game for much of the second period. However, that momentum was halted in the final minute of the period when Sangyeob Kim was severely penalized for a headbutt during a scrum and sent off from the match.

During the ensuing five-minute power play at the start of the third period, Italy scored four times to turn the match into a rout. And with that the stakes became clear for the last match of the tournament. Slovenia had already advanced and Hungary would join them with a win. If Slovenia won, Italy would be the second team.

“I think we’ll all love Slovenia for the rest of the day,” Clara smiled.

Hungary 2 – Slovenia 1

Even without the host team playing, there was a buzz in the building for the final match as it had huge implications for Italy. The Italian fans joined forces with the traveling Slovenian fans in the city, although both were at times drowned out by the Hungarian contingent.

Hungary scored the only goal of an evenly played first period. Just past the seven-minute mark, Istvan Terbocs centered for Janos Hari, who made no mistake from the slot. Early in the second period, Hari had a breakaway with a chance to make it 2-0, but he pushed the puck just wide of the post. Two minutes later, Slovenia leveled with a great play by Rok Ticar, who kept possession of the puck while stumbling, and swept the puck from his knees with his stick flat on the ice towards the net and through the legs of Bence Balizs .

Five minutes into the third period, Slovenia had a great chance at a 2-on-1, but Ziga Mehle hit the shoulder of the sliding Balizs and then hit the ice with his stick in frustration.

But after maintaining a lead in the game for most of the night, the Slovenians ran into penalty trouble in the third period and with 2:51 to go the Hungarians finally broke through with the winning goal. Balasz Varga scored the first shot and Kristof Papp provided the rebound. With not much time left, Slovenia tried to respond and brought on Gasper Kroselj for an extra attacker, but to no avail.

With the regular victory, Hungary claims gold, Slovenia takes silver and bronze goes to host country Italy.