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A name change may be the catalyst that lifts Chinese ice hockey into the Olympic frame by 2022.
The Chinese government wants to lift the popularity and standard of its snow and ice sports as part of its bid to host the Winter Olympics in Beijing in seven years.
Chengde city is aiding this plan by financially sponsoring an ice hockey club that is based in Beijing. The team was formed seven years ago and was first known as the Hotai club.
“They changed their name two years ago because the Chengde city government is their financial sponsor,” Junfeng Ji, the team leader of the Chinese under-20 national team at the 2015 IIHF Ice Hockey U20 World Championship Division III in New Zealand, said. “The club is still known as the Hotai Club but their top teams are called Chengde because that city supports them.”
Most of the players are not local and came originally from the cities of Harbin and Qiqihar in the country’s north, places that are both more well-known as hockey hotbeds in comparison to Chengde. Chengde city is 400 kilometres away from Beijing and most of the players live and train in the Chinese capital.
Defender Jiasiteng Wu (19), a professional hockey player, is one of the 13 Chengde players who made it to the final 20-man roster for the event in Dunedin. He lives in Harbin and is making his first visit to New Zealand.
“I like the ice at the Dunedin Ice Stadium but the light inside is a bit on the dark inside,” he said when comparing to China.
There were three big ice hockey clubs in China when the Hotai club was formed seven years ago and the situation remains the same.
“But Chengde has lifted the hockey skills and standard of the Chinese national league,” Ji said.
Chengde is coached by Russian Oleg Gorbenko, who is also the coach of the under-20 team in Dunedin. He also coached the under-18 team last year. Gorbenko has tried to impart Russian skills to the Chengde team and this has been reflected in the growing strength of Chinese hockey.
He has brought a European style to the game and the Chinese team has impressed this week with its skating skills and speed on the ice. After three wins against Mexico (6-1), Turkey (6-1) and South Africa (13-0), China has remained the only undefeated team. Only New Zealand, which will face China on Sunday, remains in contention for the tournament win.
Chengde’s target is to have a professional team in the Asia League with clubs from China, Japan and Korea. Since the name change the Chengde team has dominated the Chinese under-20 league and has won the competition for the last two years. This has been reflected in the dominance of Chengde players in the under-20 team.
“They are the champions in the under-20 league. They are in first place. They are strong and that is why we selected them,” Ji said.
Beijing has made a bid to host the 2022 Winter Olympic Games. The other bidding city is Almaty, Kazakhstan. If China is successful when the IOC decides in July, Beijing will be the host city for the Olympics and will stage the ice sports.
“The snow events will be at another area,” Ji said. “It will be good for us and it will promote ice sports in China. It will be a big promotion for winter events.”
Chengde is a winter resort city and the plan is to hold the Olympic snow events in the same province, Hebei. The decision on the Olympic venue will be made by the International Olympic Committee at its meeting in Malaysia in July.
“I’m confident that China will win,” Ji said.
The Chinese senior men’s team first played in the World Championship program in 1972 when it finished third in the C-Pool and was ranked 18th overall. Its best result was 10 years later in 1982 when it finished 15th. It has played in 320 international matches and has won 114, lost 180 and tied 26.
It lost to Romania 6-4 in its first international game in 1972 and has had fluctuating fortunes ever since. Its biggest win was the 35-0 drubbing of Kuwait in 1999 and its biggest loss was to Norway, 25-1 in 2005.
Today China is ranked 38th in the world and would need big improvement to be ready to compete with the top nations.
“The ranking of our men’s team is too low to make the Olympics at the moment,” Ji said. “I’m not sure if our team will be able to get up because our level is too low. We must improve a lot in the next seven years to get there. There is still a long way to go.”
China will make a significant step toward its Olympic goal if the under-20 team wins the Division III in Dunedin and gets promoted to the second division for next year’s championships. China finished last in 2014 and was demoted.
“Last year we didn’t play very well,” Ji said. “We hope to win this tournament and get back into the second division. It is very important for us and it is our goal for this tournament in Dunedin.”
The chances of China moving up the ranking list are promising because it has been the dominant team at this week’s championship. Russian coach Oleg Gorbenko puts emphasis on speed on the ice and a quicker and more innovative passing game.
“They have improved a lot from last year with their faster skating, passing and more aggressive play,” Ji said.
One of the weak points this week has been the ability to turn enough scoring opportunities into goals. “We need to improve the shooting,” Ji said.
The top players in this team may form the nucleus of the Chinese senior men’s team if it qualifies for the 2022 Olympics.
Four players – Hang Li, Qing Liu, Xudong Xiang and Ziyang Zhu – are already members of the Chinese senior team.
Zhu (18) like some other Chengde players is a student at the Harbin Institute of Physical Education that partners with the Chinese Ice Hockey Association and the International Ice Hockey Federation’s Asian Office.The hockey students in Harbin also get Bauer-sponsored winter jackets, track-suits, T-shirts and polo shirts.
“I specialize in ice hockey and spend most of my hours with the sport,” he said.
He already was a member of the Chinese under-20 team that finished runner-up to Iceland when the Division III was held in Dunedin three years ago. The Chinese Ice Hockey Association has combined with the IIHF Asian Office to introduce education for coaches and officials according to the IIHF development programs.
“The Harbin project was a Chinese initiative to get one million people skating on the ice or skiing on the snow,” Ji said. “We want more people to try the winter sports.”
The development programs are part of the special Asia 2022 long-term development project that started in November 2011 as part of the IIHF National Association Assistance Program.
The goal is to provide members of the Asian Strategic Planning Group with the necessary education for leadership.
A benefit of the program means that for the first time in the history of the Winter University Games it is now possible for China to attend with men’s and women’s teams next month in Granada, Spain.
Sweden, Russia, Canada and Slovakia are the final four teams left at the 2015 IIHF World Junior Championship, and they'll play in the semifinals Sunday at Air Canada Centre.
Sweden, who won the silver medal at the 2014 WJC, plays Russia, the 2014 bronze medalists, in one semifinal; Canada faces Slovakia in the second game.
The survivors will meet in the gold-medal game in Toronto on Monday at 8 p.m. ET. The bronze-medal game is Monday at 4 p.m. ET.
Canada is making its 17th consecutive appearance in the tournament semifinals, Sweden is making its ninth straight appearance and Russia is in the final four for the fifth straight time. Slovakia, which has finished no higher than sixth (2012) the past five years at the WJC, last earned a semifinal berth in 2009.
A new champion is guaranteed this year since Finland, the 2014 gold medalist, lost 6-3 to Sweden on Friday in the quarterfinals. The other quarterfinal games saw Canada beat Denmark 8-0; Russia defeat the United States 3-2; and Slovakia defeat the Czech Republic 3-0.
Here is a closer look at the semifinal games:
SWEDEN vs. RUSSIA (4 p.m. ET)
Two of the highest-scoring teams in the tournament should provide plenty of offensive fireworks. Sweden, unbeaten in five games, ranks second with 24 goals while Russia is third with 16 goals. Sweden has beat Russia in 10 of their past 11 games at the WJC; the past five have been one-goal games.
Sweden beat Russia 2-1 in the semifinals of the 2014 WJC. The last time Russia beat Sweden was a 4-3 win in the semifinals in 2011 in Buffalo; that also was the last time Russia won gold at the tournament.
Forwards William Nylander (Toronto Maple Leafs) and Oskar Lindblom (Philadelphia Flyers) are tied for the tournament scoring lead with nine points. Lindblom and Adrian Kempe (Los Angeles Kings) lead Sweden with four goals each. Nine players have at least three points, including defenseman Gustav Forsling (Vancouver Canucks), who leads all players at his position at the tournament with eight points.
Sweden beat Russia 3-2 Dec. 29 in a Group B preliminary-round game, with an even-strength goal by Axel Holmstrom (Detroit Red Wings) with 9:07 remaining in the third period breaking a 2-2 tie.
"We beat them already but we have to forget about that win and worry about this next game," Nylander said. "They have great players so we have to be ready to go at it right off the bat. Advancing in this tournament is always the goal. We know how good we are and we know that we're able to compete for a medal so you want to set your standards pretty high because you expect a lot from yourself."
Sweden has excelled on special teams, with the tournament's best power play (12-for-24, 50 percent) and penalty kill (16-for-16, 100 percent).
Goaltender Linus Soderstrom (New York Islanders) has five wins, a 1.80 goals-against average and .932 save percentage. He's played every minute of the tournament for Sweden.
Russia, which has averaged 3.2 goals per game, ranks fourth on the power play (6-for-20, 30 percent) but seventh on the penalty kill (14-for-19, 73.7 percent).
Ten players have at least one goal for Russia and eight players have three or more points, led by Pavel Buchnevich (New York Rangers), Ivan Barbashev (St. Louis Blues) and Vyacheslav Leshenko (2015 draft eligible) with five points each.
Defensively Ivan Provorov (2015 draft eligible) has done his best to impress in front of goaltenders Ilya Sorokin (New York Islanders) and Igor Shesterkin (New York Rangers). Shesterkin, who made 39 saves in the win against the United States, has a 1.67 GAA and .949 save percentage in three games. Sorokin has a 2.41 GAA and .903 save percentage in two games.
"It's going to be tough game because Russia has a lot of skilled players and tough players," Kempe said. "We need to come out the same way we did last game; we played well against them."
CANADA vs. SLOVAKIA (8 p.m. ET, NHLN-US)
Canada beat Slovakia 8-0 when they played a Group A game Dec. 26, the opening game of the tournament.
Slovakia will have an uphill battle against a Canada team that is clicking on all offensive and defensive cylinders right now. The only setback occurred Friday when forward Robby Fabbri (St. Louis Blues) sustained a high right ankle sprain in the win against Denmark; he'll miss the remainder of the tournament. Fabbri had two goals, six points and a plus-7 rating in five games, including two goals and four points in the preliminary-round win against Slovakia.
Canada coach Benoit Groulx has received production throughout his lineup. Canada is averaging a tournament-best 5.8 goals per game, and has gotten at least one goal from 14 players; eight have at least four points.
The top line of Sam Reinhart (Buffalo Sabres) centering Max Domi (Arizona Coyotes) and Anthony Duclair (New York Rangers) has been Canada's best. Reinhart is tied with Sweden's Nylander and Lindblom for the tournament scoring lead with nine points (four goals, five assists). Domi has four goals and seven points, while Duclair has two goals and five points.
"Don't let the last game [against Slovakia] fool anyone because it's not fooling us," Reinhart said. "They've gotten better, and if they had a few breaks at the start that would have been a different game. We're not taking them lightly in the slightest."
Connor McDavid, the projected No. 1 pick in the 2015 NHL Draft, appears to be getting stronger and more confident each game. McDavid entered the tournament having missed five weeks after sustaining an injury to his right hand Nov. 11 but he flashed some offensive wizardry in the quarterfinal win against Denmark with one goal and two assists. McDavid has two goals, seven points and a plus-5 rating in five games.
Canada captain Curtis Lazar (Ottawa Senators), McDavid's roommate and linemate, is tied for the tournament lead with five goals. Nicolas Petan (Winnipeg Jets) has provided secondary scoring with one goal and eight points, and Lawson Crouse (2015 draft eligible), the youngest player on the roster, has one goal and three points.
"The coaches are always stressing good habits," Crouse said. "In a tournament like this you always have to play with good habits. Even though you're winning you still have to do the right things at the right time."
Crouse played a key role on a steadily improving fourth line, alongside Frederik Gauthier (Toronto Maple Leafs) and Nick Ritchie (Anaheim Ducks), against Denmark on Friday.
"We're three big bodies and we have to use them down low to bring pucks to the net," Gauthier said. "We can create scoring chances or just get some momentum and so far it's been great."
The shut-down defense pair of Shea Theodore (Anaheim Ducks) and Darnell Nurse (Edmonton Oilers) has been exceptional, and defenseman Joshua Morrissey (Winnipeg Jets) has one goal and three points but also has set the tone at the start of almost every game with a thunderous hit.
Canada has allowed a tournament-low four goals, and each goaltender has played well, but it will be Zachary Fucale (Montreal Canadiens) in goal against Slovakia, rather than Eric Comrie (Winnipeg Jets).
Fucale had 14 saves in the shutout of Denmark in the quarterfinals, and in three games Fucale has three wins, two shutouts a 0.33 GAA and .981 save percentage. It also will be the first time Groulx has started the same goaltender in back-to-back games; he had alternated Fucale and Comrie in the first five games.
Slovakia will look to captain Martin Reway (Montreal Canadiens), who leads Slovakia with four goals and six points. Linemate Peter Cehlarik (Boston Bruins) has two goals and three points. Each player scored a third-period goal in the quarterfinal victory against the Czech Republic.
Goaltender Denis Godla, who made 34 saves in the shutout against the Czech Republic, has three wins, a 2.43 GAA and a .935 save percentage. Slovakia has allowed 14 goals in five games.
In the preliminary round of the 2014 WJC, Slovakia did hold its own in a 5-3 loss to Canada, which included an empty-net goal for Canada with 1:20 remaining in regulation.
The quarterfinal round of the IIHF World Junior Championship will be played Friday in Montreal and Toronto after Canada, Finland, Sweden and the Czech Republic won on the final day of preliminary-round games.
The United States (2-1-0-1, eight points), the runner-up in Group A, will open quarterfinal play against Russia (1-1-0-2, five points) at Bell Centre in Montreal at 1 p.m. ET (NHLN-US). Russia, third in Group B, defeated the United States in the quarterfinals at the 2014 WJC in Malmo, Sweden.
Sweden (4-0-0-0, 12 points), which rolled through Group B, will face Finland (1-0-1-2, four points) at 3 p.m. ET at Air Canada Centre in Toronto. Finland, which beat Germany to finish fourth in Group A, defeated Sweden in the championship game last year.
Slovakia (2-0-0-2, six points) and the Czech Republic (1-1-0-2, five points) will play at 5 p.m. ET at Bell Centre (NHLN-US). The Czech Republic finished second in Group B by beating Russia 4-1 on Wednesday. Slovakia finished third in Group A.
Unbeaten Canada (4-0-0-0, 12 points), the Group A winner, will conclude the quarterfinal round at 8 p.m. ET with a game against Denmark (0-1-2-1, four points) at Air Canada Centre (NHLN-US). Denmark, fourth in Group B, is in the final eight after its first-ever WJC victory, a 4-3 shootout win against Switzerland on Tuesday.
HC Geneve-Servette defended its Spengler Cup title on Wednesday with a 3-0 victory over Salavat Yulaev Ufa at the Vaillant Arena. It was the 88th edition of the tournament.
Arnaud Jacquemet, Daniel Rubin and Taylor Pyatt scored and Janick Schwendener made 21 saves for the shutout.
HC Geneve-Servette defeated Canada 6-5 in the semifinals a day earlier. Canada nearly came back after entering the third period trailing by five goals, but fell one goal short.
Spengler Cup All-Star Team: Genoni (HCD); Du Bois (HCD), Heikkinen (Ufa); Pestoni (GSHC) Slepyshev (Ufa), Omark (Jokerit).
The Danes won the shootout 2-1 thanks to goals from Nikolaj Ehlers and Oliver Bjorkstrand. It was the first win in history at the World Juniors' top division for Denmark.
The Swiss won the only two previous meetings between the teams.
The Swiss jumped into a 2-0 lead with quick goals midway through the opening period. Luca Hischier tried to stuff the puck in the short side of the Danish goal, but the rebound came right to Kris Schmidli, who was left uncovered by defenceman Mikkel Aagaard at 10:48.
Just 66 seconds later Kevin Fiala converted a one-timer off a cross-slot pass from Denis Malgin, and the Danes were down but not out.
The top line of Nikolaj Ehlers, Mads Eller, and Oliver Bjorkstrand all contributed to a late goal to get their team back in the game. Ehlers danced through the slot before dishing the puck off to Bjorkstrand, who made a nice deke on goalie Gauthier Descloux. The goalie made the save, but he then knocked the puck into his own goal at 17:58 to give the Danes life after one period.
The second period also produced three goals, the edge going to Denmark and producing a 3-3 tie after 40 minutes. Anders Krogsgaard’s point shot on a power play went all the way at 12:19 to tie the game.
But just 24 seconds later, the Swiss went ahead again on a bad goal. Timo Meier’s close-in shot was stopped by Sorensen and the rebound went behind the goal. Meier chased it down and shot the puck in front from near the end boards, and it bounced off the goalie’s leg and in.
The Danes weren’t done, though. Defenceman Michael Fora muffed his clearing attempt from the slot, and Mikkel Aagaard was there to snap the puck in, tying the game 3-3.
Meanwhile, as Denmark clawed its way back into the game, Sorensen was making a series of sensational left-pad saves to keep the score close. Those saves were small, though, compared to the one he made midway through the third period, robbing Luca Fazzini of a sure goal with that same left pad. Fazzini looked to the rafters after being denied, but it was all Sorensen and nothing divine about the stop.
Feeling like skating or hockey while in Jakarta? No, we’re not talking about the 80’s four-wheeled stroller on shoes nor the Lacrosse-like, round-balled sports. We’re talking about the ‘cooler’, please excuse the pun, versions of skating and hockey, ice skating and ice hockey. Just head to Sky Rink Jakarta, located inside of Taman Anggrek Mall, one of the most popular shopping malls in West Jakarta. Sky Rink claims itself to be ‘one of the largest ice skating rinks in South East Asia’, as well as ‘one of the most beautiful’.
With a rink size of around 1,248 m2 or roughly 2/3 of a standard-sized ice hockey rink, the claims are pretty justifiable, well, at least in South East Asia. Sky Rink’s concept is quite unique. It is an egg-shaped rink surrounded by rows of restaurants and fast food chains. Located on the upper floor of the rink is a balcony where shoppers can view the rink from atop. This definitely creates a spectacle of its own for shoppers.
Lovers holding hands, kids learning how to skate, some of the more skillful ones showing off their skills which include jumping and spinning, and the more famous Axel Jumps, skills that would make one questions, upon observing, whether these kids have grown up in a country where there are icy lakes or rivers in abundance, or simply that they have just spent many hours of practice at Sky Rink. Indeed, Sky Rink also has an Ice Skating School for those who want to take proper skating lessons. The school is located adjacent to Sky Rink where beginners are taught proper techniques as well as warm-up and stretching. The school provides lessons to students ranging from preschoolers to adults.
On Sunday evenings, Sky Rink is closed down to the public. After a brief scheduled maintenance where a Zamboni ice resurfacer smoothens the rink from bumps, the rink is then turned into a makeshift ice hockey rink. It is not an ideal rink because of the size and shape, but this is where four hockey teams, Dragons, Warriors, Knights, and Heroes, of the Indonesian Ice Hockey Association (IIHA) practice. The IIHA is made up of mixed players of locals and expats; locals who used to play the sports abroad, and expats who are mostly from European and North American countries. The practice usually attracts crowd of shoppers and local fans who come to the mall to watch their teams play. The sound of puck banging on dasher boards, skates screeching on the ice floor, and players shouting and barking commands at each other surely add a different flair of shopping experience to visitors.
After being relegated to Division II due to an ineligible player, Great Britain and their exciting squad finished the U20 World Championship Group A tournament in spectacular fashion. Taking them off of their homeland to the mysterious country of Estonia, Team GB went undefeated with their games in Tallinn. With gold medals wrapped around their necks, Great Britain is now back where they rightfully belong: Division I.
Scott Robson is an offensive defenseman which made him a no-brainer to add to Team GB. After splitting most of his hockey playing time between the EIHL’s Hull Stingrays and the EPIHL’s Peterborough Phantoms, Robson has picked up enough experience to consider this old hat. I had the chance to speak with him about his league experiences back in September. Here, we turn our eyes towards the international stage.
March Hockey: What’s the biggest difference from playing in the EIHL/EPIHL to international competition?
Scott Robson: Firstly we played on a bigger surface so the game was a lot more, east to west instead of the usual north/south style of hockey played over here in the UK. It was hard to adjust to the huge zones but was a lot of fun adapting. However every team we came up against was hungry to win and pushed us from the first minute to the last which rarely happens in the EIHL/EPIHL. Personally I think it was a challenge for us because of this; it made us play better and raise our game throughout the Tournament.
MH: You played against Korea and coming from a hockey geek like me, that country surprises me that they were in Division II. How were they to play against talent wise?
SR: We played Korea the second to last game and if we got a regulation or an overtime win we knew we would have got gold. Korea played a well drilled fast style of hockey who could hit us on the break as much as anyone. They had a few standout guys who showed more skill than others but none the less they all worked hard and pushed us all the way. They were bottom seeded going into the championships and they for sure proved the other teams wrong thinking they would just be a pushover team. They got silver in the end.
MH: What was going through your head when the game against Korea went to the shootout?
SR: The whole game was nerve-racking even though we had a game spare to clinch gold. The staff and the team wanted to get it the job done against Korea. There was a bit of pressure on myself and the boys but it was good pressure made us more switched on which made usmanage to force OT with Korea. Playing four on four in a world championships was a first experience for me. It was crazy; up and down hockey, odd man rushes and the lot. It was intense. Our goalie Adam Goss made some crucial saves for us and kept us in the game which is always a relief as a D-man knowing you got a goalie of that caliber like Gossy in the net. The shootout forced mixed emotions on everyone on the bench but with Cownie and Gossy pulling us through in the shootout, it was such an unbelievable feeling. I will never forget, it was incredible.
MH: And of course, what was it like not only representing your country but winning gold for them as well?
SR: It’s always a honour to be in contention to represent your country at any level and then to be selected to represent Great Britain in Estonia was unreal. To go unbeaten in all our games was out of this world. The unity we had together as one big group was superb and when it got tough we all stuck together and battled through it as one. The belief we had preparing in Helsinki, Finland was that everyone wanted to win gold and obviously that urged and pushed everyone on. I think our coaches Pete Russell, Paul Heavey and Greg Owen also did a great job in making me and the rest of the boys actually believe that we can win we can win gold. Singing the national anthem after every win at the world championships was awesome but to do it knowing we just won gold was an unbelievable feeling. We had such a great group of lads and I know they will never forget it. Our captain Matt Selby was put out of the tournament through injury after the first two games yet he put it aside and pumped up the boys all the same and still played a part in us winning the gold medal.
MH: Now that Team GB will move up, do you feel the competition will be a lot harder?
SR: They move up and are in a lot tougher group but even though half of this year’s team was top age, I still think we have enough young talent for the boys to battle through and compete in next year’s group. I’m sure Pete will select the right team to even force GB into winning a medal. Some of this year’s team will be on the roster next year so hopefully they carry that winning experience from our Gold Medal run in Tallinn.
MH: Who in your opinion was the biggest part of the team?
SR: I think personally everybody on the team knew their role and executed the roles 100%. Obviously we had players who exceeded expectations and everyone worked hard, committed themselves in the right way and was dedicated to get the job done. The coaches and the staff did a great job in making sure everything run smoothly. Also our equipment manager Craig Cooke did a fantastic job in keeping everyone happy and tidying our locker room and giving off a professional attitude to the players.
MH: Any words for the fans and supporters?
SR: The support we got was phenomenal before we even we set off for Helsinki to start our pre-tournament camp and then as we progressed further on the support just kept on growing. It was a great feeling knowing we all had friends and family watching and keeping track of our performance. I’d like to personally say thank you to all our supporters, families and friends for their support for us during the trip and even now when we’ve all separated and returned back to our club teams.
Der Stephanstag wird auch am Spengler-Cup zum Festtag. Die 88. Ausgabe des Turniers beginnt am Freitag mit den Partien Genf/Servette - Ufa und Davos - Team Canada. Die sechs Teams im Überblick.
Der Stephanstag wird auch am Spengler-Cup zum Festtag. Die 88. Ausgabe des Davoser Turniers beginnt am Freitag mit zwei attraktiven Affichen. Im Eröffnungsspiel trifft der Titelverteidiger Genf/Servette ab 15 Uhr auf Salawat Julajew Ufa, ab 20.15 Uhr duelliert sich der Gastgeber HC Davos im Klassiker mit dem Team Canada. Die sechs Mannschaften im Überblick:
Der HC Davos steckt mitten im Umbruch – und spielt in der NLA-Meisterschaft dennoch ganz vorne mit. Rechtzeitig für den Spengler-Cup kann der Trainer Del Curto personell aus dem Vollen schöpfen. Am Montag kehrte in der Verteidigung nicht nur Du Bois zurück, sondern auch Forster – genau neun Monate nach einem Kreuzbandriss. Am Donnerstag stossen die Schweden Danielsson, Persson und Fransson von Rapperswil-Jona dazu. Der HCD peilt den 16. Turniersieg an.
Genf/Servette ist ein gerngesehener Gast. Trainer und Sportchef Chris McSorley wird das Turnier auch bei der dritten Teilnahme nicht auf die leichte Schulter nehmen. Exhibition-Charakter? Nicht für Genf/Servette! Dank den in Nordamerika gescheiterten Rückkehrern Lombardi und Almond hat sich die offensive Schlagkraft zuletzt erhöht. Für den Spengler-Cup verstärken sich die Genfer mit Bouillon und Pestoni (beide Ambri) sowie Untersander (Biel).
Marc Lüthi, der CEO des SC Bern, gilt nicht als Freund des Spengler-Cups. Nun aber coacht der SCB-Trainer Guy Boucher das Team Canada – und sein Klub stellt auch gleich das grösste Kontingent an Spielern (Schaefer, Gragnani, Ritchie und Holloway). Dafür fehlen mit Bouchard und Holden die beiden Kanadier des EV Zug. Dass in der NLA vermehrt Nordländer statt Nordamerikaner beschäftigt werden, hat die Personalrekrutierung weiter erschwert.
Der grösste Star ist der General Manager: die NHL-Legende Jari Kurri, langjähriger Sturmpartner Wayne Gretzkys. Jokerit Helsinki ist das erste Team der Kontinental Hockey League, das nicht aus dem ehemaligen Ostblock stammt. Der Ausstieg aus der heimischen Meisterschaft löste im finnischen Eishockey ein kleines Erdbeben aus. Im Team figuriert mit Niklas Hagman ein Spieler, der 2005 mit dem HC Davos Meisterschaft und Spengler-Cup gewann.
Doug Shedden coachte schon die Turnier-Konkurrenten Jokerit und Team Canada sowie bis zur Entlassung vor knapp einem Jahr fast sechs Saisons den EV Zug. Nun ist er in Kroatien gelandet, wo der Klub Medvescak Zagreb eine Eishockey-Euphorie entfacht hat. Das Team spielt seit 2013 in der KHL und liegt derzeit am Tabellenende der Division West. Zum Kader gehört mit Dario Kostovic ein Schweiz-Kroate mit langer NLA-Vergangenheit.
Salawat Julajew Ufa
Salawat Julajew Ufa steht für schwankende Leistungen – und ist neben dem Eis ab und zu für eine skurrile Episode gut. So wurde Mitte Dezember die Entlassung des Trainers Wladimir Jursinow junior kommuniziert – Stunden später liess der Klub dann verlauten, dass er seinen Job behalten könne. Die Russen debütierten 2007 am Spengler-Cup und erreichten den Final, bei der Rückkehr 2012 scheiterten sie früh am HCD. Ufa ist ein KHL-Gründungsmitglied, Zagreb und Jokerit stehen für die Expansion Richtung Westen.
Last fall, a Canadian hockey delegation travelled to Scandinavia in the hopes of changing the way the goaltending position is taught and developed back home.
Former NHL netminders Corey Hirsch, Fred Brathwaite and Rick Wamsley joined representatives from Hockey Canada and the Ontario Hockey League on a trip to Sweden and Finland to learn how those countries have better standardized goaltending lessons for young players. The result will be the implementation of some of those practices as Canada seeks to develop the same kind of goaltending talent as it has in skaters.
"Goaltending in Canada in general we've been spoiled, and we always just thought there would be a guy," said Hirsch, a goaltending consultant for Hockey Canada. "But now that these countries are getting better, these other countries are finding guys, we've got to step up our game."
Canada's world junior goaltenders Zach Fucale and Eric Comrie are not the problem — they're the cream of the current crop. Neither is Carey Price, the elite Montreal Canadiens goalie who helped Team Canada win gold at the Sochi Olympics.
Instead, the problem is that for the size of Canada's hockey-playing population, there isn't the same depth of talent in goal to produce generational stars as often as it can with centres like Sidney Crosby and Connor McDavid.
"There should be a Carey Price every two years," Hirsch said. "There should one every couple years that, 'You know what, this guy is this good,' and it's not happening. That's not to say there's a panic going through, but we recognize we need to help out our parents of goaltenders and we need to help out our goaltenders."
It's not necessarily that Finnish and Swedish goaltenders are learning better technical things. The issue is in how Canada has approached teaching goaltending at a young age.
Whereas youth head coaches have to be certified to run midget or bantam teams, Hirsch said that anyone who claims to know goalies can get on the ice with them.
"We don't know if they have the knowledge or not, or if they just watched Jonathan Quick on TV so that's what they think they're going to teach," Hirsch said.
After winning the world hockey championship in 1995, Finland got an infusion of money into its hockey program. Those in charge decided to invest it in goaltending to keep up with the likes of Canada, and not long after Sweden followed.
In Finland and Sweden, there is a structure from the top down. The result is one set of principles for goaltenders to learn from the time they put on skates through their entire development.
"This is something we're trying to do, this is something Finland's been doing for 20 years, Sweden probably the last 12 years, where they're trying to get everyone on the same page," said Brathwaite, Canada's goaltending coach at the world junior championship. "All their goalie coaches are talking the same language."
Brathwaite pointed out that Sweden and Finland are the size of Alberta, so it'll be a bigger challenge for Canada to adopt the same system. More than likely, it'll be up to each province to manage its goaltending, once a system is implemented.
The first step, after what Hirsch called "the most informative and inspiring trip" he has been on in his career in goaltending, is creating a Level 1 manual for beginner goalies. Hirsch, Brathwaite, Wamsley and Los Angeles Kings goaltending coach Bill Ranford are tasked with coming up with those basics, like skating and catching.
Hirsch said he hopes to have that out soon, and what will follow down the road is a certification course for goaltending coaches to learn how to teach the fundamentals and build on them. Wamsley wants an 80/20 split, where 80 per cent of what's taught is standard across the board and the other 20 can be tweaked for individual coaches and goalies.
The junior level has become a source of contention about Canadian goaltending, especially since the Canadian Hockey League passed rules to limit Europeans from being drafted at that position. In the not-too-distant future, the CHL won't have any European goaltenders left, assuming the current rules remain in place.
Brathwaite said the immediate goal is for the Ontario Hockey League, which was represented by Joe Birch on the trip, to test a pilot program similar to what Finland and Sweden use.
"We'll have a head guy in the OHL and it'll kind of branch out to maybe the OHL goalie coaches and then actually try to recognize the younger goalies at a younger age, maybe 13, 14, and help them develop," Brathwaite said. "We're going to have a main person (who can) kind of go out to the different branches and try to get everyone on the same page here."
Brathwaite takes exception to the notion that other countries have better goaltenders than Canada's. The five-foot-seven Ottawa native who played for the Edmonton Oilers, St. Louis Blues and Calgary Flames called that "a crock."
"I really, strongly believe we are producing the goaltenders," he said. "It's just the way they've been doing it as a country and an organization getting things on the page earlier than we did."
The results have shown through over the past two decades. Over the past 20 seasons, only two Canadian-born goaltenders have won the NHL's Vezina Trophy: Martin Brodeur (four times) and Jose Theodore.
In the previous 20, only three times did someone born outside Canada win the Vezina: Americans John Vanbiesbrouck and Tom Barrasso and Swede Pelle Lindbergh. The past three winners are from Finland (Tuukka Rask), Russia (Sergei Bobrovsky) and Sweden (Henrik Lundqvist).
Hirsch thinks Canadians have taken great goaltending for granted. A generation headlined by Brodeur and Patrick Roy made it easy to do that.
"It's the lack of the coaching," said Hirsch, who spent time as goaltending coach with the Toronto Maple Leafs and Blues. "There's a lot of coaches out there that just bury their head and (follow the) old analogy of, 'Just shut up and get in there and stop the puck.' That's barbaric and that's the way it was. We taught ourselves. That's how you learned. And if you were the best athlete and you were able to learn and teach yourself, pretty much, or got lucky and met somebody that knew about goaltending, that's how you became good."
"Now we can't rely on that anymore. We need coaches, and we need these guys to be respected."
It'll take some time before Canada is able to fully implement a brand new system of growing goaltenders. The results likely won't be seen until the 2019 world juniors at the earliest.
For now, it's a start.
"We're behind in it," Hirsch said, "but better late than never."
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