Date: August 26, 2016

Denmark viewed as favorite of Olympic ice hockey qualifying tournament in Minsk


By Belarus News

Denmark is the favorite to win the upcoming Olympic ice hockey qualifying tournament in Minsk, Chairman of Belarus Ice Hockey Federation Igor Rachkovsky told reporters after a training session of Belarus national team, BelTA has learned. “Denmark has a very strong team. However, the previous qualifying tournament in 2013 also featured strong teams, and the winner was Slovenia. The level of teams who will come to Minsk in early September is not lower than that of the Belarusians, but, in my opinion, Denmark is the favorite to win,” Igor Rachkovsky said. The Olympic qualifying tournament will take place in Minsk on 1-4 September 2016. Dave Lewis’ team will compete for a berth in the Pyeongchang 2018 Winter Olympics against the teams of Denmark (1 September), Poland (2 September), and Slovenia (4 September). The best placed team will advance to the 2018 Olympic Games in Pyeongchang. Organizers promise a colorful opening ceremony of the tournament to be held in Minsk Arena. The hospitality zone will be opened two hours before the first match.

Icy Expectations
An African team competing in Ice Hockey is practically unheard
of. This Kenyan team hopes to eventually change that.

This Kenyan Ice hockey team is trying to make a name for themselves in a winter Olympics sport that’s had rare African participation. 

Nairobi— On a Wednesday night, in an indoor ice rink, hockey players on opposing teams dart at high speeds across the length of the ice, whacking away at the hockey puck with their sticks or lifting it and sending it flying towards the goals positioned on either side. Rapid starts, stops, turns, tumbles, stomping and body checking characterize the exhilarating one-hour practice session. 

This scenario is almost similar to any that one would see at any ice hockey rink across many parts of Europe or North America where the sport is widely popular. But in Kenya, where this particular practice is taking place, ice hockey is quite an oddity and would likely prompt an immediate channel change if a game came on television.

In sharp contrast, almost every TV screen in a sports bar in the East African nation, is currently tuned to the events of the Rio Summer Olympics and especially to track and field where Kenyan runners normally dominate the middle and long distance races. Since the athletics’ part of the games began, the daily newspapers have been splashed by front-page pictures of medaled Kenyan athletes, proudly draped in the national flag. 

Holding onto these vibrant images, the little-known, fairly new Kenya ice hockey team hope to bring the same glory to their country at the Winter Olympics.
The team practicing at the only ice rink found in East Africa.

“We have the talent and so I have no doubt that one day we’ll be there (Winter Olympics) to represent our country,” says Daniel Maundu, one of the team’s defense-position players. 

Like all his team mates, Daniel had never seen that much ice before until he became a staff member at the upmarket Panari hotel, in the country’s capital city, where the only ice rink in East and Central Africa is found. 

“When I started working at the hotel, I would come to the rink to watch kids skating and I became very interested,” says Daniel.

“I thought to myself, I can learn to do this,” he adds. 

It took him six months to learn how to skate and then another two years to learn ice hockey and join the group.
It took player, Daniel Maundu, 6 months to learn to skate.

The team’s growth in skill and knowledge of the game is both self-taught and from the invaluable input of expatriates living in Kenya that played the game in America or Europe. 

Another player, Joseph Nganga, is a left-handed striker who made the transition from roller skating hockey to ice hockey about two years ago. Every week he travels more than two hours from the outskirts of the city for the one-hour practice session. Though a huge inconvenience, he says he would not miss them for the world. 

“If I don’t make it for practice, it would mean waiting a whole week for the next one,” he laments.

“I love this game, I love the feel of the stick,” he adds almost dreamily.
Joseph Nganga actually learned to roller skate then transition to
ice skates two years ago.

Joseph’s passion and dedication is a reflection of the team’s determination to play and win at the international stage. But the team’s coach Benard Azegere – who also doubles up as an ice skating instructor at the hotel – is realistic of the fact that not just winning an Olympic gold but even qualifying for the Winter Olympics, anytime soon, is a far fetched dream.

“We have a long way to go, we need more practice, we need more things,” says Bernard. 

Beginning with the most basic of resources, such as protective gear and equipment. For instance, instead of a goalkeeper in both goals, the team has an inflatable rubber penguin to ‘stand guard’ at one of the goals. This is because the team cannot afford the expensive gear that a goalkeeper needs to protect himself from a hockey puck coming at him at speeds of more than 100 km/h. The goalkeeper, a non-Kenyan, at the other goal, played in amateur ice hockey in Europe and came to Kenya with his own equipment. Everything else that the team members currently use belongs to the hotel and is also hired out to skating enthusiasts who pay the $8 fee for a one-hour use of the rink.

“We go by what we can,” says Bernard

“At least we have the key protective ones, which are helmets and the shin guards,” he reasons.

Though the list of challenges is long, the team is not at all short on enthusiasm.

“We have a bright future ahead and even if the current team doesn’t make it to the Winter Olympics or something, we have a talented junior team that we are training,” says Bernard

“They will eventually take us there,” he concludes with a smile. 

Datsyuk, Kovalchuk in seventh heaven


Pavel Datsyuk’s home debut for SKA was one of the most hotly anticipated events in town – and the Magic Man wasted no time in casting a spell on his new public. It took the former Detroit Red Wing just 30 seconds to get his first KHL goal for his new employer, sparking a rout of Salavat Yulaev.

It was a characteristic finish, on the backhand and from a tight angle, that left visiting goalie Niklas Svedberg floundering on his crease. And Datsyuk wasn’t done: midway through the opening stanza his inviting pass across the face of the net found Slava Voynov and the ex-LA Kings D-man instinctively smashed home a one-timer. 

For SKA, so disappointing in the opening game at Traktor, the performance and scoreline was more in keeping with pre-season expectations; another goal early in the second saw Ilya Kovalchuk open his account for the campaign on the power play. Kovalchuk, scratched from the line-up during last season’s playoffs, took the opportunity to announce that he was back in business this season. He added a second in the 33rd minute and found Sergei Plotnikov on the slot to make it 5-0 just before the second intermission.  

The night’s brightest stars combined to make it 6-0: Datsyuk’s pass set up Kovalchuk for his hat-trick – the first in the KHL this season – and left Salavat Yulaev in total disarray. Igor Zakharkin, back at one of his former clubs, at least had the satisfaction of seeing his team get on the scoresheet through Teemu Hartikainen. SKA still had the last word, though, with Nikita Gusev getting a seventh – unusually with no contribution from Datysuk or Kovalchuk this time.