The schedule won’t be released for at least a few weeks, but the 12-team field is now set for the men’s hockey competition at the 2014 Olympic Winter Games after final qualification tournaments finished on Sunday.
The big news for Canadian fans came from Bietigheim-Bissingen, Germany, where Austria booked its place despite a 3-2 overtime loss to the host country. The Austrians, 15th in the IIHF World Ranking, were the second-highest ranked nation to book its spot in Sochi, meaning they will be a part of Group B with Canada, Finland and Norway.
Latvia, No. 11 in the rankings, won its qualification tournament on home ice in Riga, while 18th-ranked Slovenia surprised by earning an Olympic berth in Vojens, Denmark.
MEN’S HOCKEY GROUPS – 2014 OLYMPIC WINTER GAMES
A: Russia (1), Slovakia (6), United States (7), Slovenia (18)
B: Finland (2), Canada (5), Norway (8), Austria (15)
C: Czech Republic (3), Sweden (4), Switzerland (9), Latvia (11)
(NOTE: IIHF World Ranking in parentheses)
In Bietigheim-Bissingen, Germany’s surprising overtime loss to Italy on Friday meant the Austrians needed just a single point to clinch their first trip to the Olympics since 2002.
After the teams traded goals in the first two periods, the Germans took their second lead when captain Michael Wolf scored 6:24 into the third. Knowing an overtime result would be enough, Austria got the goal it needed six minutes later off the stick Markus Peintner, and the countdown was on.
“Right now I’m just speechless,” Peintner told IIHF.com following the game. “We worked so hard for that. We were the underdog. We knew Germany has a really good team but we stuck to our plan. At the end we were a little bit lucky but now we are just happy.”
Patrick Reimer scored the meaningless overtime winner for Germany, which missed out on the Olympic hockey tournament for the first time since 1952.
The Latvians took a similar route, falling in overtime in their finale, 3-2 to France, but getting the point they needed to punch their ticket to Sochi. It’s the fourth consecutive Olympics that Latvia will be part of the men’s hockey festivities.
The qualification scenario was a little less straightforward in Riga – thanks to its 6-0 win over Great Britain earlier Sunday, Kazakhstan led the standings with one game to go. While the hosts just needed a single point to advance, the French needed at least a two-goal win, or a one-goal regulation win in which they scored more than four goals, otherwise it was the Kazakhs going to Russia.
France led 2-1 entering the third period, but it took Martin Karsums just 12 seconds to even the score and the final 19 minutes were goalless, giving the Latvians the point they needed to advance.
The final day in Vojens was little more than a celebration for Slovenia, which clinched its first-ever Olympic berth on Friday after wins over Belarus (4-2) and host Denmark (2-1), both of which entered the tournament ranked higher than the Slovenians.
With nothing to play for except an unblemished record, Slovenia came out flying against winless Ukraine, opening up a four-goal lead after one period en route to a 6-1 victory and the only 3-0 record in any of the three final qualification tournaments.