24 August 2023
Austria Women 0 China Women 2
They’ve done it! A shut-out from Tiye Chen (her second of the tournament) and goals from Lin Qiqi (Leah Lum) and Wang Yuting (Jess Wong) gave China’s women a fourth victory in Shenzhen. That guarantees a top-two finish in Women’s World Championship Division IA, and clinches back-to-back promotions for the Lady Dragons.
Next season, China will be back among the elite nations for the first time since 2009, cementing the huge progress the female game has made in our country since the award of the 2022 Olympic Winter Games and the establishment of the Kunlun Red Star organization.
There’s little doubt that the rise of Chinese women’s hockey owes much to Beijing 2022 and the efforts of assorted KRS teams on both sides of the Atlantic. Those twin impulses enabled the development of a hub in Shenzhen, inspiring a surge of interest in the sport. That ever-growing popularity has been a feature of this week’s tournament: today’s game attracted 7,920 spectators, the biggest crowd of the competition so far. To put things into context, any two of China’s four games so far attracted a combined attendance greater than the 14,993 that watched every game in last year’s edition in France. It’s also up on the average of 4,073 spectators that saw host nation Canada’s games in this season’s elite division.
Of course, off-ice interest is vital for the development of any sport. But it would mean little if the Chinese team could not back it up with performances on the ice. And, once again, the Lady Dragons put on a show to make that army of fans proud against Austria.
It wasn’t easy. The Austrians, defeated by the Netherlands yesterday, knew that a win was the only result that could give a realistic chance of promotion. As a result, they started fast and outshot China 15-5 in the first period. Happily, Chen was more than equal to everything that came her way. We’ve seen this before, of course, as the University of Connecticut student contributed to KRS’s 2022 championship season before reeling off five wins in five games to secure promotion in last year’s World Championship Division IB.
After weathering that initial storm, China began to ask more questions in an evenly-matched second period. However, despite plenty of attacking intent from both teams, the scoreboard remained resolutely blank until late in the frame. Then Austria took the first – and only – penalty of a highly disciplined performance from both teams. That power play chance was enough: as Laura Luftenegger watched from the box, Lum combined with Lin Ni (Rachel Llanes) for the opening goal of the game. Long-term KRS followers will remember that combination asking questions of defenses in the Russian Women’s Hockey League in previous seasons; now we’re seeing it all over again in the international arena.
Lum’s goal turned out to be the winner – not just for this game, but for promotion. Austria struggled to match its earlier intensity, while the Dragons were able to spend much of the third period on the front foot. Attack proved to be the best form of defense; the Austrians had few chances to score as our girls kept play away from Chen’s net. Of course, a one-goal game is always anxious, and there was an uncomfortably long wait for the comfort of a second goal. In the last minute, though, with Austria gambling on a sixth skater, Jessie Wong spotted a chance to shoot into an empty net and get the promotion party started.
The tournament concludes Saturday, and the Dragons can secure top spot with victory over the Netherlands. The Dutch, meanwhile, have everything to play for themselves: a win would secure an unexpected promotion for a team that was only reprieved from relegation last year due to the suspension of Russia and Belarus from international play. Denmark could still sneak into second place if it beats Norway in regulation and China does the same to the Netherlands. Austria is a long shot for promotion from here, but a complex combination of results could see it into second via a three-way tie on nine points. At the other end, Slovakia cannot escape relegation even if it gets a W against Austria in its final game.