A day before the group round came to a close at the 2023 World Championship, both relegation spots to Division IA in 2023 were confirmed, with Hungary and Slovenia gaining the dubious distinction of being sent down after both gained promotion in 2022, with Slovenia finishing winless while Hungary was eliminated in a sudden-death shootout to Austria.
In Group A, last place in the Tampere group came down to a battle between Austria and Hungary, with a simple scenario – winner stays in the Top Division, loser gets relegated, with Hungary and Austria entering the day at the bottom of the table with just two and one points, respectively. Despite never leading during the game (although outshooting Hungary 33-18), Austria overcame a pair of goals from István Sofron (and nearly a hat-trick in overtime) to force a shootout, with goals from Marco Rossi, Steven Strong and Lukas Haudum tying things at 3-3. Austrian keeper Bernhard Starkbaum stopped all four Hungarian shooters he faced, while Manuel Ganahl and Dominique Heinrich each scored to seal the victory, and their spot in the Top Division in 2024, marking their first time in the Top Division for three consecutive years since 1998-2005, while Hungary returns to Division IA after just one season, their first trip up since 2016.
In Group B, there were less theatrics, as Slovenia was mathematically eliminated after a 1-0 loss to Slovakia in their sixth game, failing to notch a single point after six straight regulation losses. They would drop their final contest to Kazakhstan, 4-3, to finish 0-7 with a goal differential of -18, returning right back to Division IA after just a single season in the Top Division, their first trip up to the top since 2017. Kazakhstan, who defeated the Risi to win their first regulation game in the Rīga group, will now stay in the Top Division for three consecutive tournaments for the first time since 2004-06, and for just the second time ever as an independent nation.
In Hungary and Slovenia’s place next year will be Poland and Great Britain, returning to the Top Division for the first time since 2002 and 2022, respectively. Next year’s Division IA will be made up of Hungary and Slovenia, newly-promoted Japan, Italy, South Korea and Romania, in a host nation to be named at the upcoming IIHF Congress. With Great Britain and Poland now locked in for 2023, and a new unique group in Division IA fighting for those two coveted spots, next year’s tournaments should provide some exciting surprises!
Photo Credit: IIHF Worlds 2023 – IIHF Worlds 2023 – IIHF – HHOF – IOC