Hungary team celebrates Group A promotion. IIHF

For the first time since 2015, Korea was relegated to Group B after a poor showing at the IIHF World Championship in Bolzano, while Slovenia sealed its class A ticket for next year’s tournament in Sweden by beating Italy and losing to Hungary, who finished first thanks to victories over both.

Six national teams competed in last week’s 2024 IIHF World Championship in Italy, but it was Hungary who claimed both the gold medal and an elite Group A spot to the 2025 event. The squad led by Janos Hari dominated the competition with early wins against Asian rivals Japan, 3-1 on opening day, and Korea, 6-2, before losing a tight affair, 2-1 against Romania and finishing strong, with back-to-back victories versus the host team, 3-2, and Slovenia, 2-1, in Saturday’s final.. 

The runners-up had already secured advancement to the 2025 World Championships by topping Japan and Italy with a 5-1 overall score, and joined Hungary as qualifiers for Division I Group A, while Korea will drop to Group B for the first time in almost a decade.

The matchup between Hungary and Slovenia was mostly even, despite Janos Hari’s opening goal in the first period and another good chance for the eventual champs. Rok Ticar evened the score for Slovenia in the second and, with 2:51 to go in the third,  Kristof Papp raked in a Balasz Varga rebound for the tournament winner.

“This was the toughest game, I’d say,” Hungarian forward Istvan Terbocs told IIHF’s official channels. “This one and the Italian game, with the emotion and the speed. These teams had a lot of scoring chances and we’re lucky we have an outstanding goalie. We had really good goaltending again tonight; that’s what gave us the chance to win this game.”

As for Slovenia, the final day of competition left a bittersweet feeling. “We’re happy to be going up but at the same time, we’re kind of disappointed because we were better the whole game today,” said Slovenian defender Bine Masic. “We wanted to win this tournament, but still, we’re going to the top so that’s good.”

Romania started out terribly in Bolzano with lopsided losses to Italy and Slovenia, both 6-1 drubbings, and seemed destined to be relegated, but was able to pull out three wins in a row, including an upset over Hungary, and come back, falling just short of advancing to the elite group. “I don’t think many people believed in us,” Romanian captain Roberto Gliga said after scoring the opening goal against Japan. “It’s certainly a big, big surprise, I think everyone can agree on that. I think it’s clear we surpassed our expectations.”

The Romanians finished fourth, trailing the host nation and ahead of Japan and Korea. Despite the loss, Japanese coach Jarrod Skalde valued his team’s competitive spirit. “We wanted to come out skating but every time we grabbed momentum, they seemed to score. We had to keep fighting to get the momentum back but, overall, I liked our competitive level and how we skated today.”

Skalde’s squad was also fighting for its life after its second loss, an overtime 4-3 heartbreaker against Italy, but the ‘Azurri’ helped out their Japanese rivals with a convincing effort against Korea, who had previously lost to Japan and went down 8-1, plummeting to the bottom of the standings. “We are very disappointed because a lot of us have been in Group A for a long time now,” said Korean captain Sangwook Kim. “We played in the top division and we wanted to go back. We’ve got a lot of young kids who will get some good experience in I-B and hopefully, next year we get a promotion.

Gasper Kroselj of Slovenia, was named the tournament’s top goalkeeper, while the best defender award went to Thomas Larkin, of Italy, and Slovenian Ticar claimed the honours at the forward position. The scoring title went to Hari, with six goals for Hungary.