Recap: Day 1 – 2023 Men’s Olympic Ice Hockey Qualification Round 2, Group M
by Chris JUREWICZ|14 DEC 2023
Belgrade, SERBIA – Pionir Ice rink

Croatia 6, Chinese Taipei 1

Chinese Taipei were able to weather the storm for 20 minutes but Croatia’s strength was too much to overcome for the full three periods during the opening day of the IIHF Men’s Olympic Ice Hockey Qualification Round 2, Group M event.

Croatia scored three goals in the second period and three in the third en route to a 6-1 win over Chinese Taipei as the two teams kicked off the four-country event in Belgrade, Serbia.

The story of this game was Chinese Taipei goaltender Po-Yu Hsiao, who faced a staggering 62 shots over three periods and made 56 saves, many of the highlight-reel variety. Hsiao was peppered with shots throughout the game and made 22 saves in the first period alone to keep it scoreless after 20 minutes. Croatia outshot Chinese Taipei 22-3 in the first, 24-2 in the second and 16-7 in the third.

The Croats took advantage of multiple Taipei penalties and opened the scoring 5 minutes 50 seconds into the second period when Domen Vedlin was sent in on a breakaway on a feed by Jan Smolec during a Croatia powerplay. Vedlin whipped a shot to Hsiao’s blocker side and the puck went post in.

Later, on another power play, Smolec made another outstanding play with a cross-ice pass to Vito Idzan, who one-timed the puck past an exasperated Hsiao. Ante Bebek would make it 3-0 for Croatia during the final minute of the second.

In the third period, Vedlin scored his second goal of the game when he put away his own rebound to make it 4-0 and, then at the 16:32 mark, Tadija Miric scored another rebound goal to make it 5-0. Less than a minute later, Patrik Dobric scored Croatia’s sixth goal.

Chinese Taipei would not go quietly into the night, however, as Chang-Hsing Yang finished an incredible three-way passing play with 1:22 left to play in the game for Taipei’s first and only goal. Hung-Ju Lin and Yo-Chen Lin got assists on the great play and the goal gave Chinese Taipei’s bench and fans a great reason to cheer loudly and potentially give the team so momentum heading into its next game at the qualifier.

Smolec and Bruno Ficur each finished with three assists to lead Croatia in points, with Vedlin paving the way in goals with a pair.
photo: © International Ice Hockey Federation

Serbia 5, Türkiye 0

They say patience pays off. Serbia can attest to that as the team could have become frustrated in its game against Türkiye with a number of glorious opening-period scoring chances that it couldn’t convert, often times missing the net.

But the Serbs hung around and its patience paid off, scoring one goal in each of the first two periods and then adding three in the third for a 5-0 win over the Turks. It was both teams’ first games of the 2023 Men’s Olympic Ice Hockey Qualification (Round 2, Group M).

What also helped was stingy defence that didn’t allow the Turks to get too many opportunities of their own. The final shot count was 39-17 in favour of Serbia, with Arsenije Rankovic stopping everything that came his way for the shutout.

Marko Mladenovic got things going for Serbia at 8:28 of the first period when he finished a nifty cross-ice pass by teammates Andrija Racic and ripped home the one-timer. Türkiye goaltender Tolga Bozaci slid across quick but had no chance on the play.

The goal of the game came with about six minutes to play in the second. First, Dragovic outskated a Turk defenceman to get to a loose puck in the Türkiye zone. Dragovic curled away from the boards, made a pass Ivan Anic who was flying in from the blueline and then Anic drove the net and made a perfect backhand pass to Racic who simply had to tap the puck into a wide open net. A perfect team play that gave Serbia a 2-0 lead.

Serbia found its most success in the third period, with Nemanja Vucurevic pounding home his own rebound at 10:38, which was followed by a pair of goals from defenceman Pavle Podunavac to close out the scoring. Podunavac ended up with two goals and an assist, with Racic not far behind with a goal and a helper of his own.

Next up

Friday will see all four teams in action again, with Croatia (1-0) facing off against Türkiye (0-1), followed by Chinese Taipei (0-1) taking on Serbia (1-0).