After just missing out on promotion to the top division in 2016, in Miskolc, Hungary, the Germans achieved their goal this time in the Hungarian capital city of Budapest.
The tournament was filled with upsets right from the start and this was the theme from start to finish. Just as it looked like the picture was starting to get clearer everything was flipped on its head again.
On paper France, the team that was relegated from the top division, was the top-seeded team with Austria, who was promoted to this group being the lowest-seeded team. The two teams faced off in the opening game of the tournament. The two teams exchanged early goals as Theresa Schafzah made it 1-0 for Austria with Elona Allenbach answering back for France. As the game went on Austria took control of the game but were not able to capitalize on this until there were ten minutes left in the game as Laura Luftenegger scored the game winner for Austria.
The second game of the tournament brought the second upset as well with last year’s fourth-place team defeating the silver medallists the year before. The two teams exchanged goals in the opening twenty minutes as Ingrid Berge made it 1-0. Germany answered back with a power-play goal from Celina Haider. The game was a balanced match with Germany taking a 2-1 lead when Lili Welcke found the back of the net. However, in the third period Norway got things together when they scored two unanswered goals as both Emma Bergensen and Emilie Johansen scoring power-play goals, as Norway took the three points. They did not have too much time to prepare before the tournament but coach Janne Salmela was happy with what he saw. “We’re getting where we want to be. We are relieved that we are on the right way. It is crucial that the team is together as a team, off ice and on ice, it’s really important because we haven’t had too many practices together, so that’s the key to get better every day.”
In the final game Slovakia breezed through the host team Hungary, as they beat their southern neighbours 4-0 and picked up the three points.
Norway continued where they left off as they pulled off their second upset in two days with an overtime defeat of France. Johansen scored for Norway with Margot Rouquette scoring in the final minute of the period when France tied the game up. The score stayed deadlocked at 1-1 through the second and into the third period. Millie Sirum gave Norway the lead back but with only minutes left in the game and France pushing, Chloe Aurard found the back of the net to send the game into overtime. The overtime period did not take long as ten seconds into it Lene Tendenes scored from inside the blue line for the win.
As expected, the second game of the day was taken by Slovakia who looked to be cruising to their second easy victory in two days as they had a 3-0 lead with less than seven minutes left in the game. Slovakia had dominated the first two periods as Austria only managed a total of seven shots in 40 minutes. “We were really motivated. We have a really good team so now it is our time. It’s really good to have a rest day tomorrow because on Wednesday we’ll have a tough game against Germany,” said Slovak captain Tatiana Istocyova after the game. In the closing minutes of the game Austria woke up and started to push. They scored twice in a span of just under two minutes. In the end Norway was just not able to finish the comeback.
After stumbling in the opening game to Norway, Germany came back with a 3-0 shutout win over the host team Hungary. Celina Haider led all scorers with one goal and one assist.
Just as it looked like the tournament would get a clear picture, the third game day mixed everything up. Germany blanked Slovakia 2-0 on goals by Franziska Feldmeier and Haider. After the game German head coach Tommy Ketner was short and to the point. “We defended well and protected the slot. Nobody will get the puck in there. I hope that is the key for the rest of the tournament.”
This was followed up by Austria surprising Norway by the score of 3-2. Laura Kraus scored twice in the first period to put Austria up 2-0. The rest of the game was all about the special teams as Norway tied it up with power-play goals in the second and third periods with the game winner also being score on the man advantage when Antonia Matzka scored in the 58th minute for Austria.
In the final game of the day, which in retrospect would play a big factor in who gets relegated, was a close game between France and Hungary where the host team Hungary scored three unanswered goals in the third period for the come from behind 3-1 win.
With three games down and two to go the tournament was still anyone's as Germany, Slovakia and Austria were all tied on six points with Norway right behind them with five.
The second-to-last match day would be the one that clears the picture in the standings. Germany did their part as they put seven into the Austrian net with Brendel scoring two goals on her own, with a total of five German players registering two points each. Slovakia did the same as well. They brought what they had to and stayed in the race for promotion with a 6-1 win over France, who now had a real risk of being relegated.
The final game of the day brought excitement and depending on how it finished could still throw one more wrench into the outcome of the tournament. Hungary had a 2-0 lead after the first period on goals by Petra Szamosfalvi and Dominika Horvath, however, Johansen came through for Norway as she did earlier in the tournament with two even-strength goals in the middle frame. Jorgensen gave Norway the lead in the third period but Hungarian tied it up soon after when Lotti Odnoga stuffed home the puck to make it 3-3. A second Jorgensen power-play goal and a score by Pedersen looked up the win for Norway.
Heading into the final match day it was still a three-team race for the gold medal and promotion to the top division. The winner of the Slovakia-Norway game would also need Germany to lose and that team would pick up the gold. Germany knew all they needed to do was win, against a French team that would need a win and a Hungarian loss avoid relegation.
Lucia Haluskova gave Slovakia the early lead with Julia Matejkova doubling the lead for Slovakia in the opening minutes of the second period. Norway managed to take advantage of a 5-on-3 power play with Tendenes finding the back of the net. Slovakia buckled down and pulled out the win with Nikola Rumanova scoring a late goal on the 5-on-3 advantage. With the win Slovakia placed their fate in the hands of a desperate French squad.
Lilli Welcke gave the Germans the early lead in the game but France was also fighting hard to stay in the game. Germany did not double the lead until Naemi Bar found the back of the net. Germany made it 3-0. Just as it looked like Germany would go up 4-0, Anais Aurard made a save on a breakaway, on the other end Chloe Aurard scored for France to make it 3-1. In the third period Aurard scored again to make it a one goal game but France could not get any closer as Germany scored an empty netter at the end for the 4-2 win and the gold medal.
“I think this was a very important game and we were a bit nervous. We are just happy to win and we will go up to the top division. We worked together and that was the key for us, there wasn’t one player on this team that did not work hard, I can say I’m just happy,” said a smiling German captain Franziska Feldmeier after the game.
With Germany winning promotion, it meant that Slovakia would finish in second and Norway picked up the bronze. In the last game of the tournament Hungary defeated Austria for fourth place and France being relegated. Click here for scores and stats.