There are some interesting results happening at the Division 1 level, but they're mainly happening in the middle to bottom of the groups. Up at the top, we're getting the results we generally expected.
I should point out that the IIHF has websites for each of the groups listed here, including photos. They're interesting to look at, if nothing else for the rinks these tournaments are being held in. The rink in Bled, Slovenia, has boards that are incredibly beat up with puck marks, while the rink in Tallinn, Estonia, looks like the ones I played in when I was in minor hockey (but on a larger ice surface), complete with simple scoreboards at the ends of the rink and virtually no spectator space. Then you've got Belarus, where Bobrusik Arena looks great, and the games are fairly well attended. Thursday afternoon's game between Great Britain and Ukraine drew 2000 fans, while the host Belarussians are drawing 5300 fans per game. If Belarus was ever a fixture in the top division, Bobrusik would make for a great host. Clearly, the teams that drew this group were the lucky ones.
Division 1, Group A in Belarus
This Ben Bowns kid in goal for Great Britain is making quite a name for himself. Inexplicably, Great Britain is now 2-1 at the tournament and has a chance to medal and join the second level of competition next year when the formats change. Ukraine outshot the Brits 13-4 in the first period, but the game was still tied. Then the game started to turn, as Thomas Squires and Jack Prince opened the second period with goals. Prince would add another in the third period, as the Brits outplayed Ukraine over the final 40, largely overcoming that big shot differential from the first as Ukraine led at the end only 27-24. Belarus is next for Great Britain, but then it's Japan on the final day, a game they could win in order to finish 3rd. Although...
Latvia finally ran into a hot goalie, but Ren Yamaguchi just didn't get enough help. An early goal 57 seconds into the game by Takuto Gorai was all Japan really did offensively, outshot on the night to the tune of 44-17, including 16-2 in the third period. Maris Bicevskis was the only one to solve Yamaguchi, and fortunately for the Latvians, he did it twice. The win keeps Latvia undefeated and in position to meet Belarus on Sunday for the right to return to the top group in 2012. Japan have had an odd tournament, starting off with a stinker against Italy and then playing Belarus and Latvia much tougher. They have Ukraine on Friday and Great Britain on Sunday, needing to get some wins in order to avoid relegation.
It took a while, but eventually persistence paid off for the home side in this one. Nikolai Suslo scored his second goal of the night midway through the third period, and Rustam Azimov added an insurance marker a couple of minutes later as Belarus stayed undefeated. They outshot the Italians quite handily, 36-20, but needed the late push in order to ensure a regulation win. Italy ends its tournament with Latvia and Ukraine, needing to win one of those in order to ensure they won't be relegated. Most likely, however, they are still battling for bronze, though Great Britain has the inside track on that.
Friday's Games: Ukraine (0-3) vs. Japan (0-3); Italy (1-2) vs. Latvia (3-0); Belarus (3-0) vs. Great Britain (2-1).
Division 1, Group B in Slovenia
Croatia found themselves down 2-0 after one period, but rallied to tie the game early in the second period on two goals by Dominik Kanaet. Unfortunately for them, the rally didn't last, and Kazakhstan got back to business, scoring four unanswered goals, two per period. It was a balanced effort for Kazakhstan, as defenseman Nikita Mokin was named their best player, and forward Timur Morev led the team offensively with a goal and an assist, plus five shots on goal. Kazakhstan is battling for 3rd right now, likely with Slovenia or Austria. Croatia is winless in four games, but can avoid relegation to Division 2 with a win against Lithuania on Saturday.
Friday's Games: Denmark (9 pts) vs. Lithuania (0 pts); Slovenia (6 pts) vs. Austria (8 pts).
Division 2, Group A in Estonia
Although it was 2-1 after two periods, this was another game thoroughly dominated by the Dutch, who outshot Iceland 52-16 on the night. Sixteen year old Bjorn Sigurdarson continued to make a name for himself for Iceland with an assist, but the likes of Levi Houkes and Jurryt Smid were too much on this night. The Netherlands are setting themselves up for one big game against the dominant French, while Iceland are still in good shape to avoid relegation thanks to their opening win against Belgium.
This may have been Belgium's last real chance, though it's not over yet. Spain fell behind early, but two goals in the final minute of the first period by Gonzalo Ansa helped turn the tide in this one. Shots were 40-36 for Spain, who pick up their first win. Third place is not out of question here for Spain, as they face Estonia and Iceland to close out the tournament, and remain the only team to score a goal against the French so far.
Not an encouraging result for the home team, but an expected one. France doesn't belong at this level, and continue to prove that fact with each game. Nicolas Ritz took his turn in a starring role for France, picking up 2 goals and 2 assists, while the team outshot Estonia 65-17 on the night. Luckily for Estonian hockey, only 500 fans could actually cram into their arena to witness this one.
Friday's Games: Belgium (0-3) vs. The Netherlands (3-0); Iceland (1-2) vs. France (3-0); Estonia (1-2) vs. Spain (1-2).
Division 2, Group B in Romania
Yep, that's right, ANOTHER 20-0 loss for China this week. First, it was to Hungary, now to the other Div. 2 power here: Poland. Poland outshot China 40-3 in the first period, and I guess let up a little after that onslaught. Not that it mattered on the scoreboard: a 10-0 game after two periods became 20-0 after three. Two players had hat tricks (Patryk Kogut and Bartlomiej Neupauer) while five others had two each. Shots were 85-17 in the end. Can China recover from this in time to knock off fellow winless team Romania tomorrow?
Give the Aussies some credit in this one: Hungary hadn't had a goal against headed into this game, and they put four goals past David Gyenes. Sixteen year old netminder Adam Vay came in relief for Hungary, and kept his shutout streak alive, however. Tamas Virag had five goals and an assist, Tamas Odry had one goal and four assists, and sixteen year old Finnish Junior player Balazs Sebok had a goal and three assists for his first international points. Hungary are on track to play Poland for promotion to Division 1B, while Australia should be safe to avoid relegation to Division 3, but have their work cut out for them to advance past 2B.
A true heartbreaker for the home team, who outplayed South Korea badly but goaltending made a huge difference in this one. Jae Youl Choi made 42 saves, while Romanian keeper Szabolcs Szakacs let in four goals on only 17 shots in the loss. Romania even held a 3-2 lead after two periods, before goals by Wonjun Kim and Siyoung Choi added to the two previous goals by Jungyun Yum to pull off the minor upset. South Korea looks to be in good shape to finish third, while Romania has to beat China in order to stave off relegation.
Friday's Games: Australia (1-2) vs. Poland (3-0); South Korea (2-1) vs. Hungary (3-0); China (0-3) vs. Romania (0-3).