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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.