Slovakia & Norway U18s advance
by Derek O'Brien|16 APR 2022
Host Slovakia (as tournament winner) and Norway will both be promoted to the top-level 2023 IIHF Ice Hockey U18 World Championship.
photo: Andrej Galica
It was a good Friday for Slovakia and Norway on the fourth day of play at the 2022 IIHF Ice Hockey U18 World Championship Division I Group A, as both have already earned promotion to the top group for 2023 despite the fact that the tournament doesn’t finish until Sunday.

Following Slovakia’s 3-1 victory over Denmark before a sell-out crowd of 2,738 at the Piestany Ice Rink, both teams secured advancement. Slovakia will finish as the tournament winner, Norway in second place. Due to the head-to-head games that serve as tie-breaker, no other team can move to the top-two positions anymore.

“We didn’t play so well in the first or second period but we’re really happy that we did good in the third period and that we won,” said 16-year-old Dalibor Dvorsky, a highly-rated 16-year-old prospect who plays for AIK Stockholm in the Swedish second-tier Allsvenskan. “We said that we need to keep things simple, we need to play more in front of the net and get more shots and we did in the third and we scored.”

Anton Linde and Samuel Honzek traded goals in the first eight minutes, and then the teams settled into a rather defensive game, with Slovakia out-shooting Denmark 21-15 after 40 minutes. The Slovaks knew one point would be enough to secure advancement but then wanted the win, and started putting on the pressure in the third, and particularly on a couple of power plays, had Latvian-born Danish netminder Kristers Steinbergs under seige.

They finally broke through with 5:20 to go with the man advantage when Jakub Kopecky put a perfect deflection on Alex Ciernik’s one-timer from the high slot. Less than two minutes later, Ciernik added some insurance when he took a cross-ice pass and picked the top corner.

“They were pretty good defensively, but they only played defence, no offence,” said Slovak captain Peter Repcik, who plays for the QMJHL’s Cape Breton Screaming Eagles. “But we won and that’s what’s important. I think we had more power than they had and that was the key.” 

“For two-and-a-half periods we played really good, we were on the same page and then got a little bit tired at the end,” said Danish coach Peter Gommesen. “We took some penalties and they scored a goal and they deserved to win, to be honest. But we did give them a game today.”

Although they sit fifth with just three points, the Danes have allowed only 12 goals all tournament, which is third-best behind Slovakia (8) and Norway (10). 

With the maximum 12 points from their first four games, the Slovaks will finish first even if they lose their last game, returning to the top division after being relegated in 2019. The Norwegians sit second with nine points, with the only blemish on their record a 5-2 loss to Slovakia on Tuesday. Because of that, they can equal Slovakia in points but would lose the head-to-head tiebreaker. Likewise, France and Kazakhstan can both potentially equal Norway’s point total but both lost their head-to-head match-ups.

Norway put itself into position to advance with a 6-1 win over France right before the Denmark-Slovakia game. While much attention has been given to some of Slovakia’s star players, Norway has been the tournament’s most prolific-scoring team so far with 22 goals in four games. Leading the offensive charge is centre Martin Johnsen with 12 points and winger Mats Bakke Olsen with 10. The pair got off to a flying start in the first game against Kazakhstan when Johnsen recorded three goals and two assists and Bakke Olsen a goal and three helpers in a 9-2 win.

“We have some good chemistry and a good power play so we’ve scored a lot of goals,” said Johnson, who plays in Sweden with Farjestad Karlstad. Even though he will be too old to play U18 next season, Johnson said of the promotion: “It’s big for Norway to play in the top group. We have a good group of ‘05s and ‘06s and it’s good that they can play there.”

Following the two Norwegians is a trio of Slovaks: Dvorsky and Ciernik with nine each and another 2005-born player Ondrej Molnar with eight. 

The Slovaks have largely done it without their two most highly-touted under-18 stars – defenceman Simon Nemec and forward Juraj Slafkovsky – who are both committed to their professional club teams in their respective league playoffs. Nemec has managed to play one game for the Slovaks while HK Nitra had a few days off, while Olympic MVP Slafkovsky is still playing for TPS Turku in the Finnish Liiga playoffs. 

“We’re missing a couple of pretty important players but we still have a really good team because we have a really good group of ‘04 and ‘05 players,” said Repcik. “It’s great now that our ‘05 players will get a chance in the top division and I think they can do a good job.”

The top-scoring defenders so far are Kazakhstan’s Dmitri Breus and Norway’s Gabriel Koch with four points each – all assists. 

In Friday’s early game, Kazakhstan overcame a 2-0 deficit to defeat Japan 4-3. That means that Japan, which was promoted to Division I Group A in 2019, will return to Group B in 2023.

The final day of the tournament on Easter Sunday features France vs Japan, Denmark vs Norway and Slovakia vs Kazakhstan. France is in pole position to secure third place with a regulation victory, or any combination of results that sees them at least tied with Kazakhstan in the end.
2022 IIHF Ice Hockey U18 World Championship Division I Group A