Staged at the newly opened Kwandong Hockey Centre and Gangneung Hockey Centre, the 2017 IIHF Ice Hockey Women’s and Men’s U-18 World Championship Division II Group A competitions provided a valuable opportunity to test both venues ahead of PyeongChang 2018.
The final two test events for the Olympic Winter Games PyeongChang 2018 have just come to a successful conclusion. Held on April 2-8 at the Kwandong Hockey Centre and the Gangneung Hockey Centre, the 2017 International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) Ice Hockey Women’s World Championship Division II Group A and the 2017 IIHF Ice Hockey Men’s U-18 World Championship Division II Group A saw respective wins for Republic of Korea and Romania. Both teams earned promotion to Division I Group B in their competitions.
Situated on the east coast of the Republic of Korea, the gleaming new Kwandong Hockey Centre (capacity 6,000) and Gangneung Hockey Centre (capacity 10,000) will provide the venues for the ice hockey competitions at PyeongChang 2018.
Asked what it meant to her to be playing at arenas where the best men’s and women’s players in the world will soon be in action on the Olympic stage, Great Britain team captain Leanne Ganney said: “It’s an honour to play before them and we will all be watching them where we played a year before, so it’s really good.”
The British lined up against Republic of Korea, Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, the Netherlands, Slovenia and Australia in the six-team round robin women’s tournament, which was dominated by the hosts from start to finish.
Kicking off with a 5-1 defeat of Slovenia, the South Koreans, who will take on the world’s best at PyeongChang 2018, went on to clinch the title thanks to a 2-0 defeat of the Dutch in their final game, a victory that ensured they ended the competition with a 100-percent record.
Speaking afterwards, Republic of Korea’s Do Heehan, who made 11 saves in shutting out the Dutch and was named the goaltender of the tournament after conceding only three goals in total, said: “I can’t believe this experience. Last year we weren’t able to win the tournament, and because of that we discussed how to prepare and how to be better in every game. We began by focusing game-by-game and kept this focus. That’s why we are here now.”
The Dutch finished second, with Great Britain taking third after defeating Australia 5-3 in their final game, a result that consigned the bottom-placed Australians to relegation to Division II Group B.
One of the highlights of the competition was an eagerly awaited match-up between hosts Republic of Korea and neighbours Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, which drew a crowd of 5,800 to the Gangneung Hockey Centre and ended in a 3-0 win for the hosts.
The game began with Mr Lee Heebeom, the President of the PyeongChang Organising Committee for the 2018 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games (POCOG), and IIHF President René Fasel taking part in a ceremonial puck drop with the captains of both teams.
Lee, who has spoken many times of sport’s ability to transcend politics and conflict, and his hope that PyeongChang 2018 will be a Games of peace and unity, said: “In celebration of the International Day of Sport for Development and Peace, today’s game is a strong symbol of peace and the Olympic spirit. We are happy that a full venue of fans enjoyed this historic match in the host city of the 2018 Olympic Winter Games.”
Another highlight came in the wake of the Netherlands 5-4 defeat of Great Britain. After stepping off the ice, Dutch defencewoman got down on one knee to propose to her partner, GB forward Katie Henry, who, despite the defeat, was only too happy to accept the offer.
Summing up a successful competition, IIHF Council Member Zsuzsanna Kolbenheyer said: “This is a special tournament this year for many reasons. The teams have had the opportunity to come to Korea and play at the 2018 Olympic venues, what I think is a very unique situation for them. The home team is the only one which will return next year. Most of the others have never played in such arenas and before so many spectators. I’m sure that they will never forget that experience.”
In the U-18 tournament, meanwhile, Romania recovered from a 4-3 overtime defeat to Lithuania in their second match to top the six-team section and earn promotion.
The Lithuanians had started the competition strongly, beating the top-seeded Republic of Korea 4-2 in the very first match in front of 1,243 fans at Kwandong Hockey Centre, only to then suffer 3-1 defeats to Great Britain and recently promoted Estonia.
The Romanians took full advantage, ending the competition with three straight victories. Leading the scoring stats with eight goals and two assists, Romania’s Andrei Vasile was named the best forward of the competition, while team-mate Ors Adorjan got the nod as the most outstanding goaltender.
Croatia finished bottom of the group, going down to a 6-3 final-day defeat to the British that condemned them to relegation to Division II Group B.The very last competition on the PyeongChang 2018 test event schedule is the 2017 World Para Ice Hockey Championships, to be held on 11-20 April in Gangneung.