We move on to tiers four and five in men’s international hockey with our recap of the 2019 IIHF Division IIA and IIB tournaments. The IIA tournament was held in Belgrade, Serbia while the IIB tournament took place relatively close to home in Mexico City, Mexico.
The Divisions are now starting to even out from a competitive standpoint. As you can see, this group was very closely contested. 1,200 people packed the Pionir Ice Hall in Belgrade to watch host team Serbia take on their rivals and neighbors, Croatia. Even more came out to watch Serbia claim its third gold medal of the season. Serbia won promotion to Division IB on the final day with a taut shootout victory over Spain. Had they lost under any circumstance, Croatia would have earned promotion instead.
The only drafted player in this Division is Belgium’s Wouter Peeters (2016 3rd round - Chicago Blackhawks). He didn’t even finish in the top five goalies which might say something about his future. The tournament did not feature Nathan Walker for Australia or Borna Rendulic for Croatia (the only two players from these respective countries to play in the NHL). Some other interesting notes include the following: This will be Serbia’s second time in Division I, Croatia’s top club team has played in the Austrian League and KHL, and Aleksander Barkov Sr. has coached/advised all levels of China’s men’s national team program (U18, U20, and Men’s).
Belgium’s Bryan Kolodziejczyk’s was the tournament’s scoring leader with 9 points. Australia’s Josef Rezek, Croatia’s Marko Sakic and Belgium’s Sam Verelst were the only players to hit four goals.
The tournament’s directorate named Croatia’s Vilim Rosandic as the best goaltender, his teammate Shaone Morrison best defenseman and Serbia’s Mirko Dumic as best forward.
The Netherlands, relegated from Division IB, will join this group next year, replacing the promoted Serbs.
Overall, this was a pretty even tournament. Israel and Iceland were the clear favorites heading in and finished that way in the standings. Iceland had a bit of a blip against Georgia despite out-shooting them by a 2-1 ratio. Georgia, which previously gained promotion to IIB for the first time the previous year, showed that it belonged at this level.
You might be surprised that Georgia’s history with ice hockey dates back to the 1960s. A lot of former Soviet States took up ice hockey as the Soviet Union attempted to introduce winter sports to the entire country The sport has had to be revived several times. More information can be found here: https://eurasianet.org/how-one-georgian-family-built-a-national-ice-hockey-league. The Georgians also benefit from several naturalized Russians and Ukrainians (many of whom learned the sport outside of Georgia).
Not too much else to say here as the stats essentially speak for themselves. Iceland took second place ahead of New Zealand (each finished with 9 points) due to their 4-2 head-to-head victory and host Mexico earned its only victory over last place North Korea. The Mexicans also put up an inspired fight against the Israelis, falling 5-4 in overtime.
Israel’s Eliezer Sherbatov was the tournament’s top goalscorer and point producer with seven goals and a whopping 15 points.
The tournament’s directorate named Sherbatov as the best forward, Australia’s Stefan Amston best defenseman and Iceland’s Dennis Hedstrom as best goaltender.