Spain’s women took top spot in 2018 IIHF Ice Hockey Women’s World Championship Division II Group B, claiming a promotion to Division IIA for the first time ever. And the gold medal triumph on home ice in Valdemoro, half-an-hour’s train ride from Madrid, snapped a streak of two near misses under Swedish head coach Christian Yngve.
However, Chinese Taipei’s performance as it made its Division IIB bow was also hugely impressive, even if the team ran out of steam against the Spanish. The Asian country has only recently entered the IIHF’s women’s program and it came into this competition after winning the qualification tournament on home ice last season. Victories over Turkey and Romania proved that An-Chung Yin’s team was in no danger of dropping back down; an impressive 5-2 victory over an established New Zealand roster suggested that a new force may be emerging.
It wasn’t enough to deny Spain, though, when the two teams clashed in a key game between the two only undefeated teams on Wednesday night.
The host nation delivered gold in style, winning its first four games to open up an unassailable advantage over the rest ahead of Friday’s concluding game against New Zealand. Chinese Taipei went into Wednesday’s showdown hoping for a victory that would secure back-to-back promotions; instead Spain produced a comprehensive 6-1 victory to eliminate its last remaining rival and clinch top spot for itself.
It wasn’t just the win, it was the manner of it that impressed. Going into the game, there was little to choose between the teams. Chinese Taipei had the more productive offence, Spain was proving almost impossible to score on. Chinese Taipei had its chances early on, with back-to-back power plays putting Spain under pressure. But once the home team got in front in the 13th minute, there was only one winner.
Sara Danielsson, a dual-national Swedish-Spaniard born in Madrid and playing for Majadahonda, another team on the outskirts of the capital, got the opener when she finished off a well-worked move involving Elena Alvarez and Vega Munoz. Soon it was 2-0: the shots rained in on Tzu-Ting Hsu’s net, and after Ainhoa Merino’s effort was pushed onto the post, Paula Moreno stuffed home the rebound.
In the second period, Spain took complete control. Marta Martin’s low shot crept inside Hsu’s near post then Merino scored herself after Vanesa Abrisqueta battled away on the slot. Vanesa’s sister Leticia added a fifth late in the frame as the party started in earnest among a home crowd that realised the outcome was beyond doubt. “¡Qué festival!” cried the jubilant commentator. Spain’s women were making history.
The final frame was something of an anti-climax. The teams traded a goal apiece with Chih-Chen Hsieh, one of eight players from the wonderfully-named Girl Power team, getting one back for Chinese Taipei. Her Girl Power team-mate Hui-Chen Yeh led the Taipei scoring with 8+2=10 points from those first four games. Spain had the final say: Danielsson got her second of the night when she fired Munoz’s pass to the top shelf with nine minutes to play. After two near misses, the Spanish had their gold.
There’s a strong Swedish connection to the Spanish success. Goalie Alba Gonzalo, born in Barcelona, took the brave step of heading north in 2016 as a 19-year-old. After a season in Finland, she moved on to HV71 Jonkoping in Sweden, joining the same roster as Olympians Fanny Rask (Sweden), Riikka Valila, Sanni Hakala and Rosa Lindstedt (all Finland), and Switzerland’s Sabrina Zollinger. Back in her homeland on international duty, Gonzalo, now 20, had an impressive tournament. In the first four games, Spain allowed just three goals; Gonzalo, despite sitting out two periods of the 12-0 blow-out against Turkey, had a 95.16% save percentage and delivered another solid display in that crucial victory over Chinese Taipei.
Gonzalo’s decision to head north, meanwhile, was inspired by Spain’s head coach Yngve. The Swede has brought a wealth of experience to this job since he arrived in 2016. His career includes more than a decade on the coaching staff of Sweden’s women’s team, picking up an Olympic bronze medal along the way. He’s also worked with Austria and Hong Kong, plus college teams in the USA. After taking on the Spanish job, he twice missed out on promotion by a single point – edged by the Australians on home ice in Jaca in 2016 and beaten by Mexico a year later in Iceland. This time, though, there was no mistake. Spain, ever present in Division IIB since 2012, took the honours and moves up a level for next season.
The competition concludes Friday, and there’s still plenty to play for. Turkey and Romania, both seeking their first wins of the tournament, will face off to avoid dropping into next year’s qualification tournament. And the other medals are still to be determined: Chinese Taipei can secure an impressive silver medal on its first outing at this level if it beats an Iceland team also in with a shout for second place. New Zealand could still snag a bronze if it can beat Spain after Wednesday night’s festival for the hosts. Click here for scores and stats. Click here to watch the games live or on demand for free.