Recap: Day 2 – IIHF Men’s Olympic Ice Hockey Qualification Round 2, Group M
by Chris JUREWICZ|15 DEC 2023
photo: © International Ice Hockey Federation
Belgrade, SERBIA – Pionir Ice rink

Croatia and the host Serbian team will face off on Saturday in the final game of the 2023 Men’s Olympic Ice Hockey Qualification Round 2 (Group M) event. It’s all on the line in that game as the winner will book a ticket to Round 3 of the Olympic qualifiers in February 2024. Croatia and Serbia will enter the game with identical 2-0 records in the four-team event.

Friday’s game summaries:

Croatia 6, Türkiye 2

Türkiye gave Croatia quite the scare during Day 2 action in Serbia on Friday.

The underdog Turks scored the lone goal in the first period and then took a 2-0 lead in the second and it appeared the upset was on. But that second Türkiye goal seemed to wake up Croatia, who stormed back to score three in the middle frame and went on to win 6-2 to move to 2-0.

Jan Smolec led the way for the Croats in the win over Türkiye with his second three-point game of the tournament.

Domen Vedlin scored on a breakaway at 7:22 of the second period with a shot to the glove side of Türkiye goaltender Tolga Bozaci to put the Croats within one. Then, 53 seconds later, Smolec scored his first goal of the tournament (he had three assists in Croatia’s first game) on a very similar play as Vedlin’s, with both goals coming while shorthanded, on breakaways, and both players snapping the puck post in on the right side of the net.

Croatia took a 3-2 lead at 16:33 of the second when Smolec scored his second of the game. Centreman Vito Idzan won a draw back to Smolec, who snapped the puck home. Great shot and the Croats took the 3-2 lead into the third period.

Croatia scored three goals in the third period to ice the game.

Ivan Puzic scored on a 3-on-1 at 4:45 of the third to make it 4-2 Croatia. Then, with the Croats on a 5-on-3 powerplay, Idzan finished a pretty three-way passing play when he tucked a feed from Dominik Canic into a wide open net. Smolec started the play with a perfect pass to Canic. The final goal of the game came when Bruno Ficur made a perfect pass to a streaking Alex Dimitrijevic, who tipped the puck past Bozaci.

Ferhat Bakal scored a rebound goal in the first period for Türkiye and Osman Meydanci gave his country a short-lived 2-0 lead in the second.

Vito Nikolic stopped 10 of 12 shots for the win in net and Bozaci turned away 22 of the 28 shots he faced on the losing side.
photo: © International Ice Hockey Federation

Serbia 6, Chinese Taipei 0

Forward Andrej Zwick scored on a penalty shot in the third period and added two assists earlier in the game to lead Serbia to a 6-0 win over Chinese Taipei. Zwick’s slick forehand to backhand move beat a sprawling Yi-Cheng Lee, who faced 42 shots and did his best to keep the game within reach.

Serbia came out firing in this game, outshooting Taipei 17-2 in the first period, and opened the scoring midway through that frame on an excellent individual effort by Andrija Racic. Linemate Srdjan Subotic attempted to dump the puck in from the neutral zone when a fast-skating Racic knocked the puck down a few feet off the ice and swiftly rushed in on a partial breakaway, making a beautiful move to beat Lee.

Five minutes later, Pavle Podunavac streaked down the left side of the ice, blew by two Taipei players, then finished with a cross-crease pass to Matija Dinic, who made no mistake in one-timing the puck into the net. The final goal of the period came with 14 seconds left when Marko Mladenovic was robbed by Lee on a Grade A scoring chance in the slot, but picked up his own rebound and fired the puck home.

Serbia scored once in the second, when Nemanja Vucurevic picked up a loose puck in the slot and beat Lee. The play started with a hard point shot from Kosta Mladenovic.

Two goals in the third capped the scoring, with Serbia’s fifth goal coming on a blast from the point by Vuk Kravljanac that was tipped in by Marko Mladenovic, and Zwick finishing the scoring on the aforementioned penalty shot.

Marko Mladenovic finished with two assists and Arsenije Rankovic and Lazar Ilic split the shutout, each goaltender making 11 saves in the Serbian net. Rankovic played Periods 1 and 2 and Ilic backstopped Serbia in the third.

Next up

The final two games of the tournament are on Sunday, with winless teams Türkiye and Chinese Taipei playing for third place and undefeated squads Croatia and Serbia meeting for top spot.