Bosnia ́s U20 strikes gold
by Henrik MANNINEN|01 FEB 2024
photo: © International Ice Hockey Federation
Bosnia & Herzegovina ́s golden generation continues on the path to victory finishing top of the standings at the 2024 U20 World Championship Division III Group B on home ice in Sarajevo.
Skating with the youngest team in the tournament, the hosts went through the competition undefeated at the Skenderija Sports Arena. The victory lifts Bosnia & Herzegovina to next year ́s U20 Division III Group A.
In what was a three-team tournament, played in a double round-robin format, Bosnia ́s key win came during a nervy opening night. Despite being one step behind for most of the game, they managed to find a way to squeeze past main contender Luxembourg 7-6 in a memorable overtime victory.
With netminder Karim Ahmetovski pulled, Tarik Mrkva won a battle behind Luxembourg ́s net and found Belim Sinanbegovic in front of the net who tied the game with seven seconds left of the third period. Rijad Pleho then fired Bosnia ́s overtime winner at 63:35.
Bosnia & Herzegovina ́s unassailable lead at the top was confirmed when they three days later once again got the better of Luxembourg and prevailed 5-2. En route to the gold the Bosnians also twice beat South Africa 9-2 and 9-7.
Debutant Sinanbegovic led the gold medal winners in scoring with 12 points (4+8) in four games. He was followed by linemate and team captain Mrkva who in three games tallied four goals and six assists for 10 points. Netminder Ahmetovski was named goaltender of the tournament while Vasilije Vucinic was selected as the top defensive player.
Bosnia & Herzegovina who made their U20 World Championship debut as recently as 2022 entered the tournament without a regular time win at this level. They came out of it without a loss in a competition played at an Olympic venue that next week will mark the 40th anniversary of Sarajevo hosting the 1984 Winter Olympics.
The victory on home ice also marks the continued progress of the first generation of Bosnian players developing together from an early age in Sarajevo. 12 players from this roster were part of the U18 roster that two years earlier celebrated Bosnia ́s first historical gold in World Championship play. 15 of the current U20 roster will be eligible to get their credentials tested at a higher level come next season.
Luxembourg returned to U20 World Championship play for the first time since 2003. Led from the bench by a former national team legend, Robert Beran they finished second.
They will feel hard done by for not getting more than a point out of their opening night overtime loss versus Bosnia. Selected as the best forward of the tournament, Kristian Potucek netted a hat-trick as Luxembourg held a slender lead throughout most of the encounter.

Needing a win in their second game versus Bosnia, Luxembourg outshot the hosts 44-30 but this time around Bosnia raced into a 4-1 lead to eventually run out as a 5-2 winner.

Charly Springer was in fine goalscoring form netting seven goals and one helper in four games for Luxembourg who twice defeated South Africa with double digits.
Having made their U20 World Championship debut back in 1996, the far-flung visitors of South Africa are seasoned veterans at this level. With their domestic season just about to get underway and arriving with a few notable omissions on their roster, the odds were stacked against the team coached by Jacques van der Merwe.
Matters did not improve when last season ́s top-scorer Yuval Levi broke his arm in their opener.

Injuries then continued to pile up with only 13 skaters available during their closing game. Still, the South Africans battled valiantly throughout the tournament and found the net with ease during a spirited performance on day five to outshot Bosnia & Herzegovina 43-34 in a 7-9 loss.