(Reuters) - Germany’s men’s ice hockey team failed to qualify for the Winter Olympics for the first time on Sunday when they were pipped to a 2014 Games spot by neighbours Austria, who were joined by Latvia and Slovenia.
The Germans, who have qualified for every Olympic ice hockey tournament apart from bans in 1920, 1924 and 1948 due to the two world wars, won 3-2 in overtime against Austria but they needed a regular time victory to go through.
After Slovenia secured their first Olympics slot on Friday, Latvia became the last team to qualify for Sochi after winning Group E on home ice in Riga.
For Austria it will be their first participation since the 2002 Salt Lake City Games.
“What we accomplished is absolutely unbelievable. I am so happy for the team that showed such character,” said Austria coach Manny Viveiros.
Austria’s Markus Peintner, who scored their crucial 2-2 equaliser in the third period, heaped praise on his nation’s goaltender Bernhard Starkbaum.
“Germany were better, we have to be admit that. Starkbaum kept us in the game. But as underdogs we did not give up and now we are over the moon,” said Peintner.
Germany, whose “hearts are in pain” according to their ice hockey federation general secretary Franz Reindl, were stunned after their streak of 16 consecutive Games’ appearances was ended.
“Having to listen to the national anthem after having failed to qualify is the worst thing I have experienced,” said defender Felix Petermann.
After Latvia comfortably beat Britain 6-2 and squeezed past Kazakhstan 3-2 in the earlier rounds, they lost 3-2 to France in overtime on Sunday but still topped the group, a point ahead of the Kazakhs.
“I‘m really proud of the leadership and the maturity of some of our players that played in this game,” said Latvia head coach Ted Nolan.
“In a tournament like this it’s not like a seven game series, it’s a one shot deal and you either win or go home.”
Latvia captain Sandis Ozolins, who won the Stanley Cup in 1996, said the tiny Baltic nation’s power and togetherness had been the key.
“I don’t really know how (we did it). We’re a small country but we’ve got a lot of strength. We can really respond and play hard when we have to, and it’s an honour to play with this group,” said Ozolins.
Slovenia, who upset more fancied Belarus and Denmark 4-2 and 2-1 respectively to seal their qualification on Friday, crushed Ukraine 6-1 on Sunday to win Group F.
Ranked 18th by the world ice hockey federation, Slovenia will take on world champions Russia, Slovakia and the United States in Sochi next February after being drawn in Group A.
Austria have been drawn in Group B, along with 2010 Olympic champions Canada, Finland and Norway, while Latvia will face Sweden, Switzerland and Czech Republic in Group C.
Germany’s women provided some cheer for their nation by bagging one of two spots up for grabs. They will be joined by Japan, who beat Denmark 5-0 to make it to the Olympics for only the second time.
“We didn’t know much about the other teams coming into the tournament, but all we ever asked from the team was to play their best,” said Japan head coach Yuji Iizuka.
Japan’s women last appeared on home soil in Nagano 1998. They will face Germany, Sweden and Russia in Group B, while holders Canada, the United States, Finland and Switzerland have been drawn in Group A. (Writing by Gennady Fyodorov and Karolos Grohmann, Editing by Tom Pilcher)