Gold for Hungary, Latvia
by Chris JUREWICZ|25 JAN 2024
Players of Hungary celebrate after defeating Republic of Korea to win the gold medal in the Ice Hockey Women’s 3-on-3 Tournament at the Gangneung Hockey Centre. The Winter Youth Olympic Games, Gangwon, South Korea, Thursday 25 January 2024.
photo: © OIS (Olympic Information Service) / Joe Toth
Final day of 3-on-3 tournament offers plenty of excitement, with this format giving fans all they could expect and more at the Youth Olympic Games

Gangneung Hockey Centre, GANGWON, South Korea – There was heartbreak on the ice at one end, complete jubilation at the other. This is typically the scene during gold medal hockey games but this one had an extra special element as the host Korean women’s ice hockey team looked to win gold on home ice at the 3-on-3 tournament of the Youth Olympic Games.

It wasn’t meant to be, however, as the favoured and strong Hungarian team came out flying, scoring two goals in the first period and five in the second as they won gold with a 10-2 victory over Korea.

Hungary captain Krisztina Weiler, a force for the gold medal-winning Hungarians throughout the tournament, could not contain her excitement after the final.

“It is unbelievable, I cannot believe it still. This is the moment we’ve been waiting for,” she said. “It was amazing; the whole team was hard working and fighting for everything. It was unbelievable.”

Hungary ran the table in the women’s tournament, going 7-0 in the preliminary round and then winning their semifinal and final games to make it nine in a row.

It took a bit of time for the Hungarians to get going in the gold medal game, as the first goal came on a  nice solo effort by Reka Hiezl 10 minutes into the first period, which gave the Hungarians a 1-0 lead. Bonita Szabo would score on a one-timer to make it 2-0.

Park Juyeon gave the home crowd a reason to cheer as her goal was Korea’s first and made it 3-1, but that small deficit was short-lived as Hungary would score four more before the end of the second and take a 7-1 lead into the final period. Hungary scored three goals in the third and Korea had one.

Despite the loss, the Koreans found the silver lining – they were darlings of this 3-on-3 tournament throughout and taking second place of eight teams is a great accomplishment.

“It wasn’t easy for the team but all of us did a hard job with the game,” said Park Juyeon of Korea. “It’s a great experience because it is not easy for everyone to compete in the Olympics. I feel very successful and happy.”
The women’s bronze medal game was as exciting as it could get, coming down to a penalty shot in the final few moments. Tied 7-7, Italy was called on an infraction, giving China’s Anna Zhang a penalty shot.

Zhang carried the puck down the ice and made no mistake, scoring the game-winning, bronze medal-winning goal as her teammates flooded the ice in jubilation.

Italy had taken a 7-5 lead over China with 14 minutes left in the third period, but the Chinese stormed back, scoring two goals in a minute to tie the game and then getting Zhang’s game-winner. Earlier in the game Zhang scored on a nice solo effort, skating around one Italian defender, toe-dragging another and finishing the play with a hard snap shot.

Latvian men take gold over Denmark

Latvia players celebrate winning the Gold Medal during the Ice Hockey Men’s 3-on-3 Tournament Gold Medal Game at the Gangneung Hockey Centre. The Winter Youth Olympic Games, Gangwon, South Korea, Thursday 25 January 2024.
photo: © OIS (Olympic Information Service) / Thomas Lovelock
Ricards Rutkis got the ball rolling early, scoring in the first minute for Latvia in what would be a six-goal opening frame for the gold medal winners in a 10-3 victory over Denmark. Rutkis’ goal came on a 2-on-1 in which Martins Klaucans fed him a perfect pass for a one-timer into the back of the Danish net.

Latvia captain Olivers Murnieks showed his on-ice brilliance once again in the final, picking up a puck in his own end and skating the length of the ice, around the Danish team, and finishing with a forehand to backhand goal, the nicest one of the game.

Murnieks decided once was fun but twice is better, scoring a very similar end-to-end, unassisted goal in the third period, Latvia’s ninth of the game. The winners would add one more and the celebration was on in Korea (and, most likely, in Riga!).

“It feels amazing, something I have never experienced before,” said Murnieks. “For sure, this is my highest achievement so far and I am very happy about this and the team. The team wanted it so bad and I also wanted it. Getting a gold medal at the Olympics is amazing. The guys were just perfect.”

Latvia, just as Hungary on the women’s side, won all nine of its games and was the team to watch at these Youth Olympic Games. Murnieks said this is just the start for he and his under-16 teammates.

“Everybody wants to be a team. Nobody thinks about themselves,” said Murnieks. “Every one of us has a future in pro hockey. We started it here.”

In the men’s bronze medal game, Austria scored a powerplay goal in the third to make it 6-5 but that was as close as it would get in a loss to Kazakhstan. The Kazakhs had a 4-1 lead after the first, 5-3 lead after two and narrowly held on to win the bronze medal.

Kazakhstan took control of the game with three goals in three minutes of the first as it jumped ahead 4-1, setting the stage for a minor upset, as Austria had won an earlier game between the teams in the preliminary round.

The third goal of that flurry came off a nice snap shot from Anuar Akhmetzhanov from the point.

“This game was surreal. The teamwork we performed on the ice was outstanding,” said Bexultan Makysh. “Even the guys who were not scoring were falling and blocking and putting every effort to contribute to the game, especially our goalkeeper.

“We all did what we could and we realized this was the last front here that we had to defeat. Everyone of us gave everything we had.”

There was no better example of that commitment than in the last few moments of the game when Austria was buzzing to tie the game but Kazakhstan players got in lanes, blocked shots, won battles and did everything they could to protect the lead and win the bronze medal.