Monday, April 29, 2013

IIHF International Hockey Roundup

With the conclusion of the 2013 IIHF Division II Group B tournament over the weekend, a busy schedule of men's IIHF World Championships over the last two weeks has concluded.

Play began in multiple competitions on April 14th in a variety of locations across three continents. The lowest rung on the IIHF ladder, Division III, was held in Cape Town, South Africa and was contested by Greece (ranked 44th in the IIHF World Rankings), Ireland (42), Luxembourg (43), North Korea (45), South Africa (41) and the United Arab Emirates (47). In the end,  the tournament came down to a deciding, winner-take-all contest between the host South Africans and the North Koreans, which was won by South Africa 4-1. Thanks to their flawless 5-0 record, South Africa, who outscored their competition 39-8, have earned promotion to Division II Group B for 2014.

North Korea vs South Africa photo SouthAfricavsNorthKorea.jpg
North Korea defending against South Africa
in a meeting only possible in the world of sport

This year's Division II Group B was held in Izmit, Turkey and consisted of Bulgaria (33), China (38), Israel (40), Mexico (34), New Zealand (37) and, of course, Turkey (39). New Zealand started out strong winning two games before losing to Israel 3-2 and finished the tournament at 4-1. Top ranked Bulgaria frankly fell flat on their faces, finishing last with a 0-4-1 record and finding themselves relegated to Division III for 2014.

On the other end of the scale was Israel, the lowest ranked of the six teams going into the tournament. They opened with a 6-3 win over China, beat Turkey 5-3, New Zealand 3-2 before hammering Bulgaria 13-2. They were defeated by Mexico in their final game which left them tied with New Zealand at 12 points in the standings, but Israel were named winners of the tournament thanks to their earlier win over New Zealand to earn the promotion to Division II Group A for 2014 in a result few must have seen coming.

Israel vs New Zealand photo IsraelvsNewZealand.jpg
Israel surprized those in attendance by winning promotion
over five higher ranked squads

Division II Group A was held in Zagreb, Croatia with yet another eclectic group, consisting of Australia (32), Belgium (36), Croatia (30), Spain (29), Iceland (35) and Serbia (31). Belgium started out strong with 3 wins before losing their last two, while Croatia took full advantage and romped away to an easy championship, winning all five of their games with a 27-8 margin on scoring to defeat Belgium 15-9 in the standings to earn the promotion to Division I Group B for 2014. Serbia's two wins over Australia and Spain doomed winless Spain to relegation to Division II Group B for next year.

Croatia vs Belguim photo BelgiumvsCroatia.jpg
There are some highly attractive jerseys in the lower ranks of international hockey and Belgium vs. Croatia is a perfect example of that

Donetsk, Ukraine was the site of the Division I Group B tournament among Estonia (26), Lithuania (25), the Netherlands (24), Poland (23), Romania (27) and favorites and hosts Ukraine (20). It came down to a tough battle between Ukraine, Poland and The Netherlands, who fell behind with an overtime loss to Ukraine and a defeat by Poland to finish with 10 points. Poland and Ukraine then met on the final day of competition with Poland leading with 12 points to Ukraine's 11, thanks to dropping a point in their overtime win against the Netherlands.

In a dramatic contest with promotion on the line, Poland broke out on top 2-0 after one period only to see Ukraine roar back with four goals in the span of 13 minutes, three in the second period and one during the first 35 seconds of the third period to take a 4-2 lead. While Poland closed to within 4-3 with a goal with 7:44 remaining, they could not find the equalizer as the Ukrainians held on to win the tournament and the promotion to Division I Group A in their quest to return to the Top Division for the first time since 2007. Estonia were decisively relegated to Division II Group A for 2014 thanks to their 12-3 loss to Lithuania in their game among the two previously winless teams.

Ukraine vs Poland photo UkrainevsPoland.jpg
Ukraine held off Poland to earn promotion to Division I Group A

 Division I Group A was was contested in Budapest, Hungary among a widely ranging group consisting of Great Britain (21), Hungary (19), Italy (16), Japan (22), Kazakhstan (17) and South Korea (28), an unusually large spread of 12 spots in the rankings among just six teams. The Koreans accounted well for themselves despite their low world ranking, picking up their first valuable point with a shootout win over Hungary and then came from 1-0 down after one period to defeat Great Britain 4-1, sending the Brits down to Division II Group B for 2014 thanks to their 0-5 record.

Japan's quest to earn one of the two promotion spots on offer took a beating with losses to Kazakhstan and Italy in their first two games. Host Hungary defeated Great Britain in their opener, but regretted the two points they relinquished to South Korea in their shootout loss. They rebounded nicely with a win over the Kazakhs, but a regulation loss to Italy cost them points yet again.

Going into the final day, Italy stood on top with a 4-0 record and 12 points, Kazakhstan second at 3-1 and 9 points and Hungary third at 2-1-1 with 7 points and hope of promotion still alive if they could win in regulation and a loss by Kazakhstan, even in overtime, as Hungary held the tiebreaker thanks to their earlier win over the Kazakhs.

It was not to be however, as Kazakhstan scored a goal in each period on their way to not only a shutout of Italy, but the gold medal as well, thanks to their 3-0 victory, which rendered the results of the final game between Japan and Hungary meaningless. Kazakhstan is therefore promoted to the Top Division and the 2014 IIHF World Championship, to be held in Minsk, Belarus. They will be joined by Italy, whose 4-1 record for 12 points matched Kazakhstan to secure the second promotion spot available in Division I Group A thanks to the format of the Top Division relegating two nations each year, rather than one as the lower divisions do.

Kazakhstan vs Italy photo KazakhstanvsItaly.jpg
Kazakhstan takes the gold over Italy, but both are promoted
to next year's World Championships at the expense of Hungary

The two teams who will replace Kazakhstan and Italy in Division I Group A will be determined beginning this coming Friday in Stockholm, Sweden and Helsinki, Finland when 16 teams face off in two groups from May 3rd to the 19th at the 2013 IIHF World Championships.

Today's featured jersey is a Nike 2004 Kazakhstan National Team Roman Kozlov jersey as worn in the 2004 World Championships featuring a pair of our custom made Zepter sponsorship patches on the sleeves. Kazakhstan did end up in the relegation round after three preliminary round losses, but successfully defended their place by winning the group with victories over France and Japan along with tying Ukraine.

Kozlov competed for Kazakhstan on seven different occasions, including the European Junior Championships in 1999, the World Juniors in 2001 and the World Championships every year from 2001 to 2005 with a record of 27 games, 3 goals and 6 assists for 9 points and has spent his professional career in the Vysshaya Liga, the second level of Russian hockey.

In hockey, the Kazakhstan National Team made their World Championships debut in 1993 in "Pool C", the third level at the time, finishing 3rd. They have made a steady climb from their early days, and in 1996 they won "Pool C", earning promotion to the "Pool B". Seven years later, Kazakhstan won the Division 1, Group A (the equivalent to the old "Pool B") in 2003, earning a place in the Top Level for 2004.

After two years of avoiding relegation, they were relegated in 2006 back to Division 1, and finished first in Division 1, Group A early in 2009, earning a promotion back to the Top Division, which began a series of promotions and relegations which has seen them alternate from the Top Division and Division I ever since and they will be hoping to avoid the drop again in 2014.

Kazakhstan has competed at the 1998 and 2006 Winter Olympics, finishing in 8th place in 1998. They did not qualify for the upcoming 2014 games in Russia, finishing second out of four in their qualifying group behind Latvia. They also did not qualify in 1994, 2002 and 2010.

Nikolai Antropov became the first ever Kazakh player drafted by the NHL when he was picked in the first round by the Toronto Maple Leafs in 1998.

The other notable Kazakh in the NHL is San Jose Sharks goaltender Evgeni Nabokov, although he is a Russian citizen and currently chooses to play for Russia in international competitions, he did play for Kazakhstan in the 1994 World Championships.

The best known club hockey team of the seven in Kazakhstan is Barys, based in the capital city of Astana, which competes in the primarily Russian Kontinential Hockey League (KHL). They played in the Kazakhstani Championship until 2007, spent the 2007-08 season in the Supreme League prior to gaining acceptance into the KHL.

 photo Kazakhstan2004F.jpg
Kazakhstan 2004 jersey photo Kazakhstan2004B.jpg

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