Kazakh junior hockey team wins hearts at World Juniors, retains spot in top division

ASTANA – The Kazakh junior hockey team retained its place in the top division at World Juniors after defeating Denmark 4-0 Jan. 4 in Vancouver, Canada.

Kazakhstan’s Davyd Makutski (#12) celebrates with teammates after scoring against Denmark during relegation round game. Photo credit: Minas Panagiotakis/HHOF-IIHF Images.

Team captain Sayan Daniyar and David Makutskiy scored first-period goals and Artur Gatiyatov scored a pair of empty-net goals during the last minutes of the game.

The loss relegated Denmark to Division I Group A at the 2020 International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) U20 World Championship in the Czech Republic, while Germany was promoted to the top group to replace the Scandinavian nation’s team.

The Kazakhs also beat the Danes 4-3 in the first relegation round game after Oleg Boiko, Daniyar and Yernar Musabayev scored.

Retaining a spot in the top division is an important achievement for the team. Kazakhstan last played in the top division at the World Championship in Ottawa in 2009, then was knocked down a rank to the first division.

Kazakhstan managed to return to the top group last year for the first time in a decade when its team claimed a 5-2 win in its final match against France at the latter’s Courchevel Ski Resort.

Despite losing round-robin preliminary round games in Victoria to Sweden (4-1), Finland (5-0), the United States (8-2) and Slovakia (11-2), Kazakhstan enjoyed tremendous support from the Canadian fans. Jerseys and scarves of the favourite underdog flew off the shelves.

The following started after team goalie Demid Yeremeyev’s 51-save effort in a Dec. 27 game against Finland that ended with the latter’s 5-0 win. The crowd chanted “Kazakhstan” and gave him a standing ovation throughout the game at the Save-On-Foods Memorial Centre.

Neil Diamond’s classic “Sweet Caroline” played as the team’s official goal song.

“For a lot of the guys on this team, it was their first time ever at the World Juniors, but when they come back next year, it will be their second time so they will approach the task a lot differently,” said Daniyar, as quoted by IHF.

“They will have confidence in the team; they will not just think about not being eliminated. They will think about going forward and getting higher spots and moving past the group stage,” he added.

Barys team defender Darren Dietz, who will play for Kazakhstan at the 2019 World Championships, said the World Juniors showed the international community that Kazakh hockey is gaining momentum.

“This was fantastic. We were truly proud of them. I think they showed the entire world that Kazakh hockey is rising. We face many of them on the ice every day. I think Kazakh hockey and Barys, in particular, have a future,” he said.