Recap: Day 3 – IIHF Men’s Olympic Ice Hockey Qualification Round 2, Group M
by Chris JUREWICZ|17 DEC 2023
photo: © International Ice Hockey Federation
Belgrade, SERBIA – Pionir Ice rink

Serbia has earned its spot in the next round of the IIHF Men’s Olympic Ice Hockey Qualification, following a 4-0 win over Croatia in Belgrade. As the winner of the final game of the Group M qualifying event, Serbia moves on to Round 3 of the qualifiers and will be in Group H alongside China, Great Britain and Romania. That tournament takes place 8-11 February in Cardiff, Great Britain.

Before we get there, let’s recap what happened on the final day of Group M qualifying in Belgrade, Serbia.

Serbia 4, Croatia 0

This was about as even as a final game could be played – at least through 40 minutes. One shot and one goal separated the two teams after the first two periods but the Serbs took over in the final frame to ice the victory.

The Serbians, up 1-0 after two, were searching for an insurance goal in the third and got it off the stick of Andrija Racic, when he took a pass from Marko Mladenovic at the point and backhanded the puck past Croatian netminder Vito Nikolic. Serbia’s Andrija Spanjevic scored a powerplay goal with four minutes left to play to seal the deal and then Matija Dinic added another for good measure to make it 4-0.

Croatia had several chances to cut into the leads but the Serbs’ tenacious defence and puck hounding snuffed out that man advantage. It also helped that Serbian goaltender Arsenije Rankovic – who stopped all 24 shots he faced – was on his game throughout the night. Rankovic seemed to see the puck well in the game and didn’t give up too many rebounds or second chances.

Serbia took a 1-0 lead with 4:15 left in the first period when they capitalized on a 5-on-3 powerplay. Marko Dragovic held the puck at the bottom of the left faceoff circle and made a perfect cross-seam pass to defender Ugljesa Novakovic, who finished the play with a quick shot past Nikolic.

Croatian defender Jan Smolec entered the game leading all skaters in points with six in the tournament (two goals, four assists) but was held at bay in this game, as a strong Serbian defence smothered the Croatians whenever they had the puck.

Chinese Taipei 3, Türkiye 1

Chinese Taipei, sitting 41st in the IIHF Men’s World Ranking, concluded its tournament with an upset of 38th-ranked Türkiye on Sunday. The win gave Taipei a 1-2 record in the four-team event, with Türkiye falling to 0-3.
Hung-Ju Lin led the way for the winners with a goal and an assist and Po-Yu Hsiao was a wall in the Taipei net, stopping 30 of the 31 shots he faced. Türkiye held the sh9ot advantage 31-28.

Taipei took a 1-0 lead 4:50 into the first period. Defenceman Yen-Chin Shen fired a shot from the point, it went wide, but YiKuan Lin corralled the loose puck, fed it to Jui-Yu Lin, who made no mistake with a slapshot from the point, beating Türkiye goaltendwer Ogulcan Kizilkaya.

Türkiye tied the game early in the second period on a bang-bang play. Gokalp Solak rushed the puck up the right side of the ice, got a shot off on a partial breakaway, which was quickly kicked out by Hsiao, but the rebound went right to Osman Meydanci, who snapped it in the back of the net.

The game turned on special teams, as Taipei’s Yo-Chen Lin scored on a powerplay from the top of the circle to make it 2-1 at 6:06 mark of the second. Just under six minutes later, Hung-Ju Lin scored the nicest goal of the game. With his team shorthanded, Lin jumped on a loose puck and split two Turkish defenders and scored on a breakaway.