Recap: Day 1 – 2023 Men’s Olympic Ice Hockey Qualification Round 2, Group K
by Henrik MANNINEN|15 DEC 2023
photo: © International Ice Hockey Federation
Top-seeds Estonia and hosts Iceland found goals easy to come by as the pair started with resounding wins on the opening day of the IIHF Men’s Olympic Ice Hockey Qualification Round 2, Group K played in Reykjavik, Iceland.

The tournament continues on Friday when Estonia takes on South Africa while Iceland faces off against Bulgaria.


Olympic qualification games versus Bulgaria evoke fond memories for Estonia´s Robert Arrak. He was 16 when he made his debut for Estonia´s men´s national team in this tournament back in November 2015. The prospect then tallied five goals in a 26-0 win against Bulgaria on home ice in Tallinn.

Eight years on, the 24-year-old is an integral member of the Estonian men´s team and in his third season skating in the Polish top division. Arrak is one of five players remaining from that 2015 Olympic qualification roster from Tallinn. Netminder Villem-Henrik Koitmaa, Lauri Lahesalu, Vadim Vasjonkin and Daniil Fursa being the others.

During their opener at the 2023 Olympic Qualification Round 2, Estonia held a 3-0 lead after one period. Then they got into gear during the second frame scoring eight times, before hitting ten in the final frame.

Ten different players scored for Estonia. Arrak was leading the team in scoring with a couple of goals and half a dozen assists. Vasjonkin tallied 4+2. Emphatically winning the shots 71-15, Koitmaa enjoyed a shutout for Estonia.

With six teenagers on the roster, Bulgaria skates in Reykjavik with the youngest roster of the four participants. Hosts Iceland is up next in what promises to be a valuable test for the next generation of Bulgarian hockey.


 Keeping a steady pace throughout the evening, three goals in each period saw hosts Iceland blank South Africa on the opening night in Group K.

Eight different scorers tallied for the home favourites with teenager Niels Hafsteinsson enjoying a memorable evening scoring a double in Laugardalur Arena.

Hakon Magnusson, Viggo Hlynsson, Bjarki Johannesson, Unnar Runarsson all notched 1+1. Gunnar Arason, Andri Mikaelsson and Ormur Jonsson netted a goal each for the Scandinavians.

Netminder Johann Ragnarsson had a quiet evening with only nine saves and a shutout in a tournament holding particular significance in the young goalie´s career. He had barely turned 16 when he made his first start for Iceland´s men´s national team at the 2019 Olympic Qualification Preliminary Round 2 played in Brasov, Romania. Iceland then blanked Israel 5-0 and Ragnarsson enjoyed a shutout.

Far-flung visitors from South Africa arrived in the Northern Hemisphere making a historical debut for an African nation at the Olympic Qualification. Against Iceland, 24-year-old netminder Alistair Bywater had to be at his best for the Rhinos recording 38 saves. The oldest team of the tournament now needs to catch a quick breather ahead of what promises to be a tricky second game versus Estonia.