It’s going to be a fantastic Friday in Division IA. All six teams in Nottingham have something at stake going into their final games, with promotion and relegation still to be decided.
Three teams – Poland, Italy and Great Britain – are battling for the top two spots and a place in the elite group in 2024. The other three – Lithuania, Romania and Korea – are battling to stay in this division, with one destined to drop to IB. Read on for everything that’s riding on Friday’s action.
Poland vs Romania (1230 local time)
For both teams, the equation is simple. Any kind of Polish victory guarantees a top-two finish and promotion. Romania needs at least a point to be safe from relegation regardless of other results.
Poland has been a revelation in Nottingham. Promoted from Division IB last season, Robert Kalaber’s men blasted out of the blocks with a 7-0 thrashing of Lithuania and has not looked back. A hard-fought OT loss to GB served notice that the Poles were serious contenders and a 4-2 victory over top-seeded Italy put back-to-back promotions within reach. Today, the team can finish the job and complete a return to the top flight for the first time since 2002.
“We’re one game away and that’s an amazing feeling,” said defender Marcin Kolusz. “But we can’t think about [the top division] yet, we have to concentrate on beating Romania. We know that this might be the last tournament for some of the guys, so we want to make sure they go out on a high.”
Romania was winless in this group last season. A reorganisation of the groups saved the team from relegation and this year the Romanians are looking to secure survival on the ice. A 3-2 victory over Lithuania – the country’s first at this level since 2004 – opens the door. Just one point against Poland would be enough. Should the Poles win in regulation, Romania would need Korea to get at least a point against Lithuania to ensure safety.
Lithuania vs Korea (1600 local time)
The standings look bleak for Lithuania, which has lost all four games so far in Nottingham. However, the Baltic state still holds its destiny in its own hands. Victory over Korea in regulation time would secure safety.
Lithuania’s performances have improved game-by-game this week. Ron Pasco’s team hung around bravely before falling 0-3 to Great Britain, then pushed Italy hard in an entertaining 4-6 loss. Staying up would also be important for the country’s hockey future as a clutch of young players on the team look to gain experience.
Captain Nerijus Alisauskas said: “For our young players it is important to play at the highest possible level. We can learn more quickly playing against teams like Italy, so we want to make sure we stay here.”
Korea is also undergoing something of a change in generations, with the first wave of youngsters to benefit from the Olympic boost in Korean hockey beginning to emerge into the senior team. A 5-2 victory over Romania earlier in the tournament should ensure Korea’s safety in the event of a three-way tie at the foot of the standings, but a point or better here guarantees Division IA status.
Italy vs Great Britain (1930 local time)
The final showdown is likely to be a do-or-die affair for both teams. Italy needs a win – most likely in regulation – to book its return to the top; GB will be promoted with one point from this clash of the top seeds.
With a big, noisy crowd expected in Nottingham, it promises to be quite the occasion. And for Johnny Curran, a new recruit to the team after becoming eligible to play thanks to his time in the Elite League with Coventry Blaze, this is what international hockey is all about.
“It’s big motivator,” he said. “Seeing GB do so well in the higher division brought a lot us over to the league here. We wanted to be a part of something. Now we have that opportunity to win on home ice and then it would be awesome to go up against the big boys next year.”
Facing a fervent home crowd with no margin for error is not what Italy expected when it came to this tournament. That shock loss to Poland could have lasting implications for the Azzurri. But Mike Keenan’s team thrives on high-pressure situations. Alex Petan called these all-or-nothing games “the best thing in sports”, while rookie Marco Zanetti is full of confidence after scoring his first two World Championship goals against Lithuania. “I’m really excited, the whole team is,” he said. “We know we are a great team.
“We can beat them. I’m sure.”
Original Article: https://www.iihf.com/en/events/2023/wmia/news/44200/all_set_for_a_dramatic_finale
Author: Andy Potts