With the 2014 Winter Olympic games only a year away, the final three Olympic Qualification tournaments began today in what will be an important four days of hockey for twelve countries. During the six qualification games that took place today, all three host countries took home wins, as Germany rolled over the Netherlands, Denmark shutout the Ukrainians, and Latvia took out the highly-supported squad from Great Britain.
Group D (Germany):
Austria 3, Italy 2
In a battle between two underdogs, Austria opened Group D of the Men’s Final Olympic Qualification with a narrow 3-2 victory over Italy. Two early penalties opened the way to the Italian net for the Austrians, as Daniel Oberkofler recorded the first goal of the game thanks to a screen in front. With just a few minutes remaining in the first, Gregor Baumgartner doubled the lead for Austria to give them a 2-0 lead heading into the middle frame. Anton Bernard used a power play to get Italy on the scoreboard for the first time during the second but once again, Oberkofler got the puck past Italian goalie Daniel Bellissimo to give the Austrians their second two goal lead of the game. Giulio Scandella had the biggest opportunity to score for the Italians in the third period when he missed on a breakaway, but Vincent Rocco picked up the puck and put in behind goaltender Bernhard Starkbaum 17 seconds later to make the game close once again. Italy wasn’t able to fight back, as Austria skated to a 3-2 score to grab three points (that’s how the IIHF operates) and the win with it.
Germany 5, Netherlands 1
Germany came into the qualifiers expecting to blow out their competition in every, however their 5 goals on 57 shots may not come convincing enough for some. After a drop pass from Jerome Flaake, Alexander Barta scored his first of two goals at the 8:30 mark of the first. David Wolf would later give the Germans a two goal lead in the first, only to have Netherlands forward Marcel Kars cut the lead with a power play goal during the second period. Barta would score his second goal of the game with only 72 seconds in the second before Michael Wolf and Moritz Müller put the game away for the Germans, defeating the weaker Netherlands squad 5-1.
Group E (Latvia):
Kazakhstan 3, France 2
Thanks to goals from Roman Starchenko and Konstantin Romanov, Kazakhstan escaped to a two goal lead early in the first twenty minutes in this match-up between the two teams in blue, Kazakhstan and France. Sacha Treille cut the lead for France in the second, but only two minutes later, Talgat Zhailauov scored the game winner to secure a vital opening game victory for the Kazakhs, while the rest of the team limited France to only a couple of scoring opportunities. with 2:18 left in the game France closed the deficit to 3-2 with a goal coming in front of the net from defenseman Baptiste Amar. Kazakhstan controlled the pace through most of the first period, taking advantage of two miscues from French goaltender Cristobal Huet to go up 2-0, but for the rest of the game, the two time NHL All-Star Huet looked quite impressive between the pipes. The Kazakhs will take on tournament hosts Latvia on Friday, while France will challenge Great Britain.
Latvia 6, Great Britain 2
Great Britain may have had the support from UK hockey fans, however the hosts from Latvia proved to their opponents in Group E who the favorites to make the 2014 Olympics were. The Latvians got the early 1-0 advantage under five minutes thanks to a goal from Gints Meija, but it was short lived as just a minute later, Robert Dowd shot the puck five-hole through goaltender Edgars Masalkis for the equalizer. Miks Indrasis received a cross-crease pass from Lauris Darzins and roofed it home to put the Latvians up by a goal once again. The game was over after that, as Oskars Bartulis used a power play to get the two-goal lead back for the Latvians before Ronalds Kenins and Georgijs Pujacs both got their own, giving Latvia a 5-1 lead. Craig Peacock would give GB their second goal during the third period, however it was too late for any comeback by the unfavoured Brits. Lauris Darzins scored a 5-on-3 powerplay goal for the Latvians to finish the game with a 6-2 win over the physical lads in blue, red and white. Great Britain’s bid to make the Olympics for the first time in 66 years isn’t over, but it is definetly dampened as Latvia may be too hard to defeat.
Group F (Denmark)
Slovenia 4, Belarus 2
Belarus came into the qualifiers as the top favored Group F club, however a 4-2 loss to Slovenia definetly gave them a scare. Just over 16 minutes in, Jan Urbas from the 18th ranked Slovenia team opened the score on the power-play, only to have Robert Sabolic score another PP goal at the beginning of the second to give Slovenia the early 2-0 lead. Alexander Kulakov and Andrei Stepanov tied the match for the 13th ranked Belarus team that clearly missed the help of Andrei Kostitsyn (kicked off due to not reporting to camp), Sergei Kostitsyn and Mikhail Grabovski (both NHL). David Rodman, a veteran player for the Slovenia national team, restored the two-goal lead with 9.36 to go when a Jan Urbas shot bounced of Rodman’s body and past Vitali Koval, who had no chance to stop the puck. Rok Ticar made a beautiful cross-ice pass leading to a one timer by Robert Sabolic from the top of the faceoff circle to put the game away for the underdog Slovenian’s.
Denmark 2, Ukraine 0
The Anaheim Ducks knew they had a quality NHL prospect when they drafted and later signed goalie Frederik Andersen, who lead his Danish teammates to a 2-0 shutout against Ukraine. It took the Danes almost 15 minutes to generate any substantial pressure, but with 4:45 left in the frame, Frederik Storm jumped on a rebound after Morten Madsen’s wrap around attempt to barely squeak the puck in the net. It was unclear to the referees whether or not the puck went into the net, but after checking some video footage during the first intermission, they were able to officially call it a goal. The Ukranians failed to take a penalty in the first period, however a call against them five minutes into the second proved to be costly, as Morten Green was able to give Denmark the 2-0 lead, and would later prove to be the final score. Ukraine will take on Belarus, both losers on Day 1, on Friday, while Denmark challenges Slovenia later in the day.
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