The final day of Olympic qualifying was full of drama – and there was disappointment for Belarus and Latvia after both lost out on home ice.
But Rok Ticar starred as Slovenia progressed to only its second ever Winter Olympics, while Germany edged past Latvia and Norway got ahead of France to secure their places in PyeongChang 2018.
Rok Ticar broke Belarusian hearts as he gave Slovenia victory in the Olympic Qualification decider in Minsk.
Ticar, currently playing with Avtomobilist, scored twice in 63 seconds at the start of the second period as Slovenia exacted maximum punishment from a 5-on-3 power play.
But Belarus, roared on by a capacity crowd at Arena Minsk, tied the game thanks to goals from the much-traveled Andrei Stepanov in the 39th and 52nd minutes.
That left the nations’ Olympic destiny to be decided in a shoot-out and Ticar ecstasy came at the price of agony for Andrei Kostitsyn who saw his effort hit the post and bounce to safety, sending Slovenia to the Games at Belarus’s expense for the second time running.
Latvia will miss out on the Games for the first time since 1998 after suffering a 3-2 loss against Germany in the decider in Riga.
The Germans made the better start, taking a first-period lead through Leon Draisaitl and extending that advantage thanks to Felix Schutz. The German forward is best known in the KHL for his time at Admiral, but he also made 11 appearances for Dinamo Riga last season. His return of one goal in those games was some way short of his four strikes in this competition.
Dinamo Riga’s Miks Indrasis got a power play goal deep in the middle session to give Latvia hope – not only did it halve the deficit, it also finally ended 214 minutes in which Germany had shut out its opponents. Indrasis also had an assist as Martins Karsums tied the game on another power play in the 47th minute. But when captain Kaspars Daugavins took a tripping call, Germany needed just 14 seconds to capitalize; Tom Kuhnhackl grabbed the game-winner in the 55th minute to send die Mannschaft to its first games since 2010.
In Group F Roman Starchenko’s late goal gave Kazakhstan a 3-2 win over Italy but couldn’t send Andrei Nazarov’s team to Korea.
Instead host nation Norway edged a 2-1 victory over France to book its place in the Olympics. Mattias Norstebo struck deep in the third period to clinch the win after two former KHLers, Patrick Thoresen and Mats Zuccarello combined for their country’s second-period equalizer.
The home win gave Oslo’s venerable Jordal Amfi arena a fitting send off. The hall was built for the 1952 Winter Games and will be replaced after this competition.