Silver for China in Serbia

31 March 2019

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Red Star forward Jing Wang led the scoring as China’s U18 roster won silver medals in IIHF World Championship action over the weekend. The team travelled to Belgrade to contest its Division IIB competition and overturned the formbook to come close to winning it all.

China was seeded fifth out of six competing nations in the tournament, having won promotion to this level in 2017. However, with a roster featuring three Red Star players, it produced a string of impressive results in Serbia, pushing the host nation to the final day before having to settle for second place.

Wang, meanwhile, picked 11 (5+6) points to lead China’s scoring. His return also saw him tie for overall top scorer in the tournament alongside Strahinja Vdovic (9+2) and Marko Dragovic (6+5). Red Star colleagues Hanming Zong and Ruichen Sun played a big role on defense, with Sun’s 1+4=5 point haul placing him second among the scorers from the blue line, tied with team-mate Ruinan Yan and the Netherlands’ Ernesto Klem.

China made an assured start in Belgrade, winning its opening game 4-1 against a Croatian team that came second in this competition a year ago. Further successes against Belgium (6-4) and Australia (4-2) had the young Dragons dreaming of gold medals and promotion to Division IIA. However, there was a rude awakening against host nation Serbia, with China suffering a 1-6 reverse that sent it to the final day’s play as the outsider in a three-way tussle for gold with the Netherlands and Serbia.

Step one was to bounce back from Saturday’s disappointment and get back to winning ways against a Dutch team that knew it could seal top spot with victory on Sunday afternoon. The early stages weren’t promising: Dean Versteeg put the Netherlands up in the third minute and even though Zong assisted on a power play goal for Haiyang Zhao to tie the game, Aki Mykkanen’s young charges went into the intermission trailing 1-2. But this team is not short of character. Kailin Chen tied it once again midway through the game and the third period brought a dramatic winner from Wang to snatch a 3-2 verdict.

That moved China head of the Netherlands and put the team on top of the group ahead of the last game of the competition. Now our youngsters were hoping for a favor from Belgium when it faced a Serbia team looking to claim gold for itself. However, the host nation was in no mood to disappoint the home crowd, racing into a 5-0 lead in the first period before taking gold with an emphatic 12-2 success.

Despite missing out on promotion, this tournament was still a big step forward for China’s emerging talents. Under Mykkanen, appointed to his role last summer, the team was always competitive and returned its best result at this level of IIHF competition for more than a decade.

The international action continues for China next month. The national women’s team takes to the ice in World Championship Division IB here in Beijing from April 6-12. The girls will face off against last year’s Olympic host, Korea, as well as Latvia, Kazakhstan, Poland and the Netherlands. Then it’s back to Belgrade with the senior men’s team as it bids for promotion from Division IIA. That tournament runs April 9-15, with Serbia, Croatia, Spain, Australia and Belgium providing the opposition.

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