ASTANA – Kazakhstan won the women’s Olympic Qualification Preliminary Round Group G on home ice in the capital of Astana. The Kazakhs won all three games with a combined score of 10-3 and will move on to the next round in Stavanger, Norway.
The tournament started with a surprise. Qualifier Mexico, ranked 11 places behind its opponent, was leading 2-0 against Great Britain after the first as well as after the second period. It took some time but the British fought back with three goals in the last ten minutes including the last two in the last 81 seconds of regulation time to win the game 3-2.
In the game that followed it was again the underdog that started scoring but host Kazakhstan eventually beat the team that eventually ended up in second place, Poland, 4-1.
Sylwia Laskawska gave Poland the lead at 12:45 but two minutes later Meruyert Ryspek tied it up for Kazakhstan, which outshot Poland 34-27 after a slow start. Three unanswered second-period markers – two from Daria Moldobai and one from Zarina Tukhtieva – gave the host nation the win.
Kazakhstan continued with a 3-1 victory against Mexico and when it needed one more point to seal the tournament win it beat Great Britain 3-1 as well.
If became tense in the end. Karina Felzink was assessed a match penalty for checking from behind and British captain Katie Henry brought her team back with the 2-1 goal. However, with 54 seconds left Tatyana Likhaus netted the puck into the empty net to seal the win.
“It’s my first goal for the national team at this level, the emotions went wild. We were relieved. It came in a very good moment,” Likhaus told the Ice Hockey Federation of Kazakhstan’s press service.
Led by strong goaltending – Daria Dmitrieva (nee Obydennova) had a 95.59 save percentage in her first national-team appearance since 2013 – and ten goals coming from eight different players including three from defenceman Moldobai, the top-seeded Kazakhs ended up where they wanted in front of their home crowd.
“We only have the most positive emotions. We worked, competed and we won,” said Galia Nurgalieva.
Poland finished the tournament in second place. After the opening-day loss they beat Great Britain 4-3 and blanked Mexico 5-0. Great Britain was third and Mexico last although the team that advanced from the first round to Astana surprised with tight results as it played opponents of that level for the first time in the team’s young history.
In the next round Kazakhstan will compete against opponents who played one tier higher in the 2016 IIHF Ice Hockey Women’s World Championship program. At the tournament in Stavanger, 16-18 December, they will play against host Norway, Slovakia and Hungary. The tournament winner will advance to the Final Olympic Qualification. Click here for scores and stats.