GARMISCH-PARTENKIRCHEN, Germany – The German U20 national team accomplished what they labelled as “Mission: promotion” before the event. Germany earned a spot among the elite nations at the 2013 IIHF Ice Hockey U20 World Championship in Ufa, Russia.
Germany qualified for next year’s top division after winning the 2012 IIHF Ice Hockey U20 World Championship Division I Group A it hosted in Garmisch-Partenkirchen.
Coach Ernst Höfner’s team won the second tier among U20 nations with a clean record, but in dramatic fashion in its key games against Belarus and Norway.
While defeating Austria (11-2), Slovenia (5-2) and Great Britain (11-1) didn’t evolve into a challenge, playing the co-favourites led to nail-biting games at the Olympic Ice Sports Centre.
Eventually the persistence and patience the country is known for in sports, paid off in both key games.
In the opening game against Belarus, Bernhard Keil gave Germany the lead in a tight contest midway through the game, but Maxim Parfeyevets scored the equalizer early into the third period.
Belarus even had the chance to get the lead 21 seconds later when Marcel Noebels was sent off to sit out a hooking penalty, but instead Nicolas Krammer scored Germany’s game-winning goal on a short-handed breakaway for a 2-1 win.
After four wins, the Germans had promotion in their own hands in the last round when they just needed one point from the tournament-ending game against Norway. In the beginning the home team was on the right path as Leondard Pföderl scored on a breakaway in the first period and Andreas Pauli made it 2-0 with a shorthander early in the middle stanza.
However, the game proved to be a bigger challenge than the 1,628 fans at the arena imagined. Ole Daniel Setsaas cut the lead before the second intermission and with goals from Jonas Knutsen and Matias Trettenes within a 61-second span in the third period the polar-bear-dressed team turned the score around.
Norway was on its way to win the tournament, but the Germans came back with a late effort. Captain Konrad Abeltshauser tied the game at three with five minutes left in regulation time and when two penalty calls against Norway followed, David Elsner scored two power-play goals for Germany’s 5-3 win.
Germany will play in the top division in Ufa for the sixth time since Höfner took over the team in 2000. The Germans last played with the elite nations only one year ago in Buffalo when they were relegated.
One level below the top tier, the Germans proved to be the best team. They had solid goaltending from Mathias Niederberger, who saved 92.13 per cent of the shots – second only behind Belarus’ Yan Shelepnyov (92.73%) – and was selected as Best Goalkeeper by the tournament directorate.
Abeltshauser was named Best Defenceman and led the blueliner stats with seven points (1+6) and a +10 rating.
Despite the absence of suspended OHL forward and Pittsburgh Penguins prospect Tom Kühnhackl, Germany’s top offensive players occupied the first three spots among scoring leaders with Tobias Rieder (5+8=13) in first place followed by David Elsner (4+5=9), Noebels (4+5=9) and Norway’s Sondre Olden (2+6=8), who won the Best Forward award.
The second prize went to Belarus, which won the deciding game for the silver medals against Norway 3-2 while the Scandinavians had to settle for bronze and Slovenia finished in fourth place.
Austria won the clash for fifth place against Great Britain on the last day, which means that the Brits go down to Division I Group B next year. The town where Great Britain won Olympic gold in ice hockey in 1936 wasn’t a lucky charm for this year’s U20 class from the UK. Andrew Melachrino scored the lead on a two-man advantage, but the Austrians successfully controlled the rest of the game and won it 3-1.
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