By Yoo Jee-ho
SEOUL, April 23 (Yonhap) -- South Korea has earned a promotion to the next level in the women's hockey world championship, after completing an undefeated run through the third-tier championship with a narrow win on home ice Sunday.
South Korea edged past Kazakhstan 2-1 to clinch first place at the International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) Women's World Championship Division I Group B at Suwon Ice Rink in Suwon, some 35 kilometers south of Seoul. By winning the tournament, South Korea has booked a spot in the next-highest women's competition in the IIHF, Division I Group A, for 2024.
It will be South Korea's debut at that level.
Forward Kim Hee-won broke the 1-1 deadlock with 3:37 left in the third period, as she walked in from the right point for a wrist shot to the top left corner past goalie Arina Chshyokolova.
South Korea outshot Kazakhstan 41-18 in its fifth consecutive victory.
South Korea finished with 14 points from four regulation wins and one overtime win. Italy and Poland were scheduled to play the tournament finale Sunday evening, and Italy, in second place at the start of Sunday with 10 points, can't catch South Korea even with a regulation win over Poland.
The Division I Group A tournament for 2023 will take place in China in August. The last place from that six-nation competition will trade places with South Korea and end up in Division I Group B for 2024.
South Korea first joined Division I Group B in 2018, one year after winning the Division II Group A tournament.
In 2018, South Korea finished one point behind Italy for first place in Division I Group B. It once again finished in second place the following year, though six points behind the winner, the Netherlands. The 2020 and 2021 tournaments were canceled due to effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, and South Korea barely avoided relegation in 2022 by finishing fifth among six teams.
Carried by still-improving veterans from 2018 and rising teenagers, South Korea opened this year's tournament with a dramatic, 2-1 overtime victory over Italy, considered the toughest opponent here. South Korea then dispatched Poland 4-0, Slovenia 4-2 and Britain 3-2, setting itself up for Sunday's drama.
Though Kazakhstan had long been eliminated from contention here with four straight losses prior to Sunday, the team kept South Korea at bay for most of the game, after the teams traded goals in the opening frame.
Han Soo-jin's power play goal opened the scoring for South Korea about four minutes into the game. Park Jong-ah delivered a diagonal pass from behind the net in the exact same pattern that they'd used for a goal in the Slovenia game from Tuesday.
Kazakhstan tied things up some five minutes later on a goal by Larissa Sviridova.
It was all South Korea from there. The home team outshot Kazakhstan 15-3 in the second period but couldn't put one past Chshyokolova. A perfectly-placed wrist shot by Kim just after a penalty expired late in the final frame finally put South Korea ahead for good.
Han and Kim, the two goal scorers Sunday, finished tied for the team lead with four goals apiece.
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