South Korea, the host nation of the next Paralympic Winter Games, struck gold on Saturday (21 March) at the IPC Ice Sledge Hockey World Championships B-Pool by beating Sweden, 4-2, to finish the round-robin tournament with a perfect record of 5-0.
Despite the outcome on their home ice in Ostersund, Sweden still finished the Championships with a 4-1 record, which was good enough for a silver medal and a promotion to the A-Pool for 2017 alongside South Korea.
In the final game of the tournament, both teams found the net early, with South Korean Byeong-Seok Cho, a member of the squad since 2008, and Swedish captain Peter Ojala scoring in the first period to make it 1-1.
But South Korea’s three goals in the second – two by Young-Jae Cho and another by Byeong-Seok Cho – were enough to set them ahead for the rest of the game, even with Sweden’s Per Kasperi scoring late in the third.
The gold medallists outshot Sweden, 22-19, and finished the Championships outscoring their opponents 47-3.
South Korea’s Seung-Hwan Jung was named Best Forward of the tournament, leading all players with 13 goals, 9 assists and 22 points.
Five-time Paralympian Niklas Ingvarsson was named the Best Defenceman of the tournament, leading all players at his position with seven goals and 10 points.
Slovakia won bronze – their first-ever medal on the IPC Ice Sledge Hockey stage – after shutting out Austria in their final game, 3-0, to finish the Championships with a 3-2 record and a goal differential of zero.
Neither team scored in the game until eight seconds left in the second period, when Slovakian newcomer Erik Fojtik put the puck into the net, assisted by Stanislav Biath and Marian Ligda.
Fojtik found the net again in the third, as did teammate Martin Joppa, while goaltender Miroslav Pastucha recorded eight saves in Slovakia’s win.
But it was Austria’s 48-year-old Michael Ossimitz who was named the Best Goaltender of the tournament. Despite finishing winless at the event, Ossimitz, whose legs were both crushed by a concrete pipe in 1985, made an astounding 158 saves in five games and finished the week with an 86.34 save percentage.
As the last-place finisher at the Championships, Austria will now be relegated to the new C-Pool tournament for next season.
Earlier in the day, Poland beat Great Britain, 3-2, in an overtime thriller that was capped off by Sylwester Flis’ game-winning goal 4:32 into the extra frame.
In what turned out to be a back-and-forth battle for fourth place, Great Britain’s Matt Clarkson started off the scoring at the 4:18 mark in the first period, netting the puck off a pass from Tyler Christopher.
Flis tied the game up in the second, scoring for Poland with the help of Marcin Hebda.
The third period started quietly, but with less than three minutes to go, 21-year-old Radoslaw Drapala found the net – assisted by Flis – to give Poland the edge as the game was winding down.
Just over a minute later, Christopher took revenge for Great Britain, scoring his team-high fourth goal of the tournament and knotting the game up at two apiece to push for the extra frame.
Flis’ game-winning goal in overtime wrapped up a fourth-place finish for Poland and was his team-leading sixth goal of the Championships, an even more impressive feat when taking into account it was his first major international tournament since undergoing surgery on both of his legs in 2013 to reduce muscle contracture.
Great Britain finished fifth in the standings.
Fans of the sport still have more action to look forward to, as the IPC Ice Sledge Hockey World Championships A-Pool are up next, scheduled to take place from 26 April – 3 May in Buffalo, New York in the USA.
The world’s top eight teams will compete, including back-to-back Paralympic champions USA and defending world champions Canada, along with Sochi 2014 silver medallists Russia. Also in Buffalo will be European regulars in the Czech Republic, Italy and Norway, as well as A-Pool newcomers Japan and Germany. The top six finishers at the event will remain in the A-Pool, while the bottom two will be relegated to the B-Pool.
In 2017, the top five finishers from the World Championships A-Pool will directly qualify for the PyeongChang 2018 Paralympics. The bottom three teams from the A-Pool event and the top three teams from the B-Pool event will compete in a Qualification Tournament for PyeongChang 2018 that same year.