Three games have passed, and the Irish didn’t find their luck yet. Arriving on Friday, settling in at the hotel just across the square where the rink is located, the Irish became part of the 7 day hockey festival in Zagreb, alongside national teams from Bulgaria, China, Iceland, Romania and hosts, Croatia.
On a sunny Saturday, with temperatures reaching over 25 degrees, Team Ireland had a practice game with a selection team from Zagreb’s three teams, Zagreb, Mladost and Medveščak. The majority of these players will play with the Croatia U20’s. Team Zagreb (as they were called) who were mostly under 19, proved to be a worthy opponent and the result was 5 to 3 for Ireland.
Sunday saw the start of the tournament, and a derby for 5th place, between Bulgaria and Ireland took place. Both teams opened pretty well and the battle for survival started. However, five minutes in, Kelly already succumbed and had to pick up the first of six goals from behind him while his teammates were up collecting penalties and relaxing in the sin bin. Needless to say, the star of the match was young Adam Pepper, who came in between the posts for the third and managed to keep his goal record clean.
On Monday, Team Ireland’s opponent was China and contender for places 4 to 6. It was an early game, starting at 1pm here in Croatia. This time, young Pepper was given a hard job of guarding the crease, and he managed to put on a stellar performance till the 26th minute when he let in a game winning goal by Zhang. Again, Pepper was a star, with over 91% of saves and the Irish were already ‘notorious’ for their penalties, which made his job even harder.
Ireland’s hardest game so far was definitely on Wednesday against gold medal favourites, Romania. Both goalies saw game time, Pepper was in during the first and third period, allowing 14 goals, and Kevin Kelly in second, allowing 8 goals, for total of 22:0 for Romania. Only positive note on this game was a better discipline on the team, which was shown by far less penalties taken.
We saw Ireland as a team on a similar level of amateurism as Bulgaria, but far down below China, Iceland and Croatia/Romania on top. It must be tough for the Irish to be defeated over and over again, but that is a question for the IIHF and tournaments seeding. The power and strength level across Division II is rarely even and satisfactory for both top and low seeded teams and next year we might see all teams in more or less equal and balanced groups.
With two games remaining against Iceland on Friday and Croatia on Saturday, the guys in green need to maintain their good will, good attitude and make the most out of the remaining few days in Croatia.
This article has been written by Krešimir Biškup who has attended all of Ireland’s matches in Zagreb. Krešimir kindly sent this article onto the IIHA after meeting representatives of the Association in Croatia. We would like to thank him for taking the time out to write this article.