International Hockey

IIHF – Winning start for Uzbekistan

IIHF - Winning start for Uzbekistan

Uzbekistan wasted no time in making an impact on IIHF play. The Central Asian country played its first ever official international tournament this week, and won gold with a game to spare. Facing off at the 2023 IIHF Ice Hockey U18 Asia & Oceania Championship in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia, the Uzbek youngsters won all five games with a combined goal differential of 44-8.

Team Uzbekistan got off to a flying start with a 5-0 victory in its opening game against Turkmenistan. There were two goals apiece for Jasturbek Rustamkhonov and Albert Dadakhodjaev, while goalies Rustam Irgashev and Sergey Popov shared 15 saves to blank the opposition. That turned out to be crucial, with the Turkmens winning their four subsequent outings to take silver. The Uzbeks, meanwhile, rolled on with a crushing 14-1 success against Iran, a 7-4 win over host nation Mongolia and a 10-2 verdict against Thailand to seal first place with one game to spare.

For team captain and star forward Jasturbek Rustamkhonov, leading his team to gold in its first tournament was a special moment.

“It’s hard to put into words,” he said after the win over Thailand. “Our first time at a championship and right away, we’re already champions. 

“I can’t wait for the final game and to get our hands on the cup.”

That final game brought an 8-1 victory over UAE, with Rustamkhonov getting a goal and three assists to take his personal tally to 26 (14+12) points for the tournament. That put him top of the tournament scoring chart by a big margin, ahead of Mongolia’s Chinzolboo Mishigsuren, who had 20 (9+11) points.

Rustamkhonov, unusually, has some experience of hockey in Europe. Earlier this season he played some games in Czechia with Kralove Pisek in U17 second division. The 15-year-old also played in Kazakhstan with Strizhi Almaty when he began his journey in the game. Now he’s back home in Tashkent, playing for Binokor in the national championship.

While Rustamkhonov picked up the plaudits for his scoring feats, he was quick to pay tribute to the work of his team-mates. “Everybody put a lot of effort into this,” he said. “We worked for this for a long time, we did everything to make sure we got here in good shape.

“We all worked hard, and that’s why we deserved to win.”
Alternate captain Temur Bagautdinov was the most productive defender at the tournament, compiling 9 (4+5) points in five games. He described the event as “the best tournament of my life”, rich reward for the hard work…

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