Year: 2017 (page 1 of 37)

Norway holds its nerve

By Andy Potts – IIHF

Norway edged Poland in a tournament-deciding shootout to seal top spot in the IIHF World Under-20 Championship Division IB on Friday.

The teams met in the final game of the tournament in Slovenia, both knowing that any kind of victory would be good enough to win the competition and claim a spot in Division IA next year. Norway eased into a 2-0 lead thanks to a quick-fire salvo early in the second period, but the Poles refused to yield. Dominik Jarosz pulled one back in the middle frame, then Alan Lyszczarczyk potted a dramatic equalizer with seven seconds left. Overtime was scoreless, but in the shootout Norway’s strong goaltending made the difference: Jorgen Hanneborg, who plays his hockey in Finland with the Espoo Blues, won all his duels. Martin Ellingsen claimed the decisive score.

The game promised to be a clash of styles. Norway had reached this stage thanks to a miserly defence, allowing just three goals in four games. Poland, meanwhile, offered lively offense: Lyszczarczyk, who plays in Canada with Owen Sound System, topped the scoring charts ahead of strike partner Bartlomiej Jeziorski, but there were questions over the defence, especially after the team allowed six power play goals during the tournament.

At times, the game reflected that. From the start, Poland was happy to get forward and shoot at Hanneborg’s net. Norway, by contrast, looked for more control of the puck and sought to carve out clear-cut opportunities. After a scoreless opening stanza, the Norwegians exploded with two goals in 64 seconds early in the second. Samuel Solem created the first, weaving his way to the Polish net before Esbjorn Live Vold beat Kamil Lewartowski to a rebound and open the scoring. It wasn’t long before Mads Homdrom added a second, getting the vital touch on Joachim Nielsen’s shot from the blue line after Poland failed to clear its zone.

But then the Polish PK raised its game, seeing off a short 3-on-5 situation before Jarosz reduced the deficit. Then came the dramatic finish. Ellingsen almost won it for Norway but fired narrowly wide of the empty net, then got a minor for holding. Poland took advantage, forcing the puck home with seven seconds left on the clock when Lyszczarchuk shot a wrister through heavy traffic to tie the scores. That was his eighth goal and 15th point of the tournament; Jeziorski’s helper took him to 12 (5+7).

The Poles celebrated hard, but the reprieve was temporary. Ellingsen redeemed himself for that late penalty by deking his way past Lewartowski to win the shootout, and the tournament. The result means Norway makes an instant return to Division IA following its relegation in Bremerhaven 12 months ago.

However, Poland’s future at this level looks encouraging. Head coach David Leger highlighted the youth of his roster, which had two players born in 2000 and drew heavily on the squad that suffered relegation at u18 level a year ago.

Host nation Slovenia had hopes of disturbing the top seeds in the group, but finished third after losing to Poland in a shootout after a 4-4 tie and then suffering a 1-5 drubbing against the Norwegians. Ukraine took fourth place, but was competitive in all its games.

At the foot of the table, Lithuania returns to Division II after picking up just two points from two overtime losses. Italy also finished on two points, but crucially defeated the Lithuanians 2-1 in overtime to preserve its status by virtue of the head-to-head record. Simon Berger, of HC Pustertal, got the vital goal for the Azzurri, converting a power play three minutes into the extras.

Among the individual awards, the two Polish hot-shots Lyszczarczyk and Jeziorski led the scoring, with Norway’s Jacob Alexander Noer coming in third with 4+6=10 points. Poland’s late goal denied Hanneborg the top ranking among the goalies – Lithuania’s Laurynas Lubis pipped him with by stopping an impressive 95.29% of his shots across three appearances, although the Norwegian had fractionally the better GAA of 1.26 against 1.29.

Elias Pettersson is taking his place among some all-time Swedish greats

Elias Pettersson waves to the Vaxjo Lakers crowd.

By Daniel Wagner – Vancouver Courier

It’s tough to know how frequently to write an update on Elias Pettersson. If I wrote about him every time he scored a nice goal or had a big game, Pass it to Bulis would pretty much cease to be a Canucks blog and would simply become an Elias Pettersson blog.

This seemed as good a time as any: it’s the halfway point of the Swedish Hockey League regular season, with a brief break in games until December 19th. The SHL season lasts 52 games and most SHL teams have played 26. So has Elias Pettersson.

In those 26 games, Pettersson has 11 goals and 35 points. If he had put up those point totals over a full season, that would have been impressive. A 35-point season would have exceeded expectations and there’s still another half a season to go.

Already, Pettersson’s season is among the all-time greats from a junior (under-20) player in the SHL. His 35 points is 13th all-time and he just needs three more points to step into the top-10. When he does, he’ll join Thomas Gradin, Markus Naslund and the Sedins: seven of the greatest junior seasons in SHL history will belong to Canucks.

But Pettersson isn’t just on-pace for a top-10 all-time season; he’s on-pace to be top-two.

SHL junior points-per-game - Elias Pettersson

              Source: Via

Pettersson’s 1.35 points per game trails only Kent “The Magic Man” Nilsson in all-time points per game from a junior in the SHL. Not only is he right behind one of the greatest Swedish hockey players of all time, he’s ahead of arguably the greatest: Peter Forsberg.

It’s entirely possible that when Pettersson’s season ends, he’ll have the most points in SHL history from a junior player. He needs 20 points in the second half of a season to pass Kent Nilsson’s 54, which seems doable. His own excellence might prove to be an obstacle, however.

Pettersson will obviously be on Team Sweden for the World Junior tournament, but he’s also a candidate to play in the Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang. In fact, it would seem absurd if the SHL’s leading scorer was eligible to go to the Olympics didn’t make the roster.

That means Pettersson will miss at least four games during the World Junior tournament, possibly more if he’s required to be in any pre-tournament camp or games. The tournament runs from December 26th to January 5th.

The SHL will take a break during the Olympic tournament, which runs from February 14th to 25th. Vaxjo does have a game on the 25th, the same day as the gold medal game, so if Sweden goes deep into the medal round, Pettersson would miss at least one game. Just like with the World Junior tournament, he might miss more game if he’s required to go to a selection camp or play in pre-tournament warm-up games.

At his current pace, Pettersson will need to play in 41 games to reach 55 points. With the games he’s likely to miss (and the one game he already missed with a minor injury), it will be tight. There’s also the question of whether he can keep up this pace.

Pettersson currently has a 17.74% shooting percentage, which is unusually high. It’s the sixth highest shooting percentage in the SHL. So, if Pettersson’s shooting percentage regresses, his scoring pace could slow down over the second half of the season.

There’s reason to believe that it won’t regress, however. Pettersson’s shooting percentage in the Allsvenskan last season was a nearly identical 17.76%. Certainly, the Allsvenskan is a lower tier league, with likely a lower caliber of goaltending, but it’s enough to suggest that Pettersson has legitimate shooting talent that can carry a higher-than-average shooting percentage.

He also hasn’t been getting lucky with any of his goals. Scott Wheeler at The Athletic broke down Pettersson’s goalscoring this season (warning: paywall) and noted how his goals have come courtesy of his devastating one-timer, accurate wristshot, and quick hands around the net. He’s not scoring off crazy deflections or fortunate bounces: he’s scoring via skill.

In addition, Pettersson isn’t dependent on his goalscoring ability to rack up points. He leads the SHL in assists per game for a reason: his vision and playmaking are off the charts. He didn’t need to score a goal to put up four points against Färjestad BK: he just assisted on four of the Lakers’ five goals.

Some might question whether the SHL is a physical league and whether Pettersson will continue to produce when he comes over to North America. Two of his four assists in that game came after he was knocked to the ice along the boards. The SHL is a physical league and Pettersson gets hit: he just doesn’t let it stop him from piling up points.

Another reason why Pettersson might be able to keep up his pace is that he’s gradually been given more rope by his coach, the wonderfully foul-mouthed Sam Hellam.

Pettersson is averaging just 16:24 in ice time this season, much less than most of the other leading scorers in the SHL. Throughout the season, however his ice time has been trending upward.

Elias Pettersson - SHL Time on Ice Chart

Since late October, Pettersson’s 5-game average in ice time has stayed steady at or above 17 minutes per game. Over his last five games, Pettersson is up over 18 minutes per game. With that boost in ice time, Pettersson will get more opportunities to keep up his scoring pace.

The Växjö Lakers are currently leading the SHL by nine points, largely thanks to Pettersson’s outstanding season. Pettersson has 12 more points than the next highest scorer on the Lakers, so he hasn’t been carried by his teammates. If anything, the opposite is true.

If he’s good in comparison to his teammates and the rest of the league, he’s incredible in comparison to other junior players. The next best under-20 player is Lias Andersson, who has 7 goals and 14 points, 21 fewer than Pettersson.

Let’s be clear: this is a great season for Andersson, who the New York Rangers picked 7th overall in 2017. It’s the type of season that we could have reasonably expected for Pettersson and one that strongly suggests a good NHL future. And it pales in comparison to how Pettersson is actually performing.

With the SHL season temporarily on hold, Pettersson has continued to score in Champion’s Hockey League action, scoring the game-winner against the Swiss champions SC Bern, who feature several former NHLers, including Mason Raymond, Mark Arcobello, and Andrew Ebbett.

Pettersson’s goal was gorgeous, as he took advantage of some space and ripped a wrist shot into the top corner.

Pettersson combines elite play-making ability, high-end shooting talent, and incredible intelligence, making him one of the best prospects in all of hockey. Yes, it’s okay to be excited.

KHL backtracks after initially condoning Olympic participation

By The Associated Press 

The president of the Kontinental Hockey League said Wednesday he is waiting to find out how many Russians will be banned from the Pyeongchang Olympics before deciding if he will allow his players to compete in South Korea.

Dmitry Chernyshenko, the head of the organizing committee for the 2014 Sochi Olympics but now president of the KHL, said ”we’ll understand who’s going and who’s not going and then the league will respond accordingly.”

The Moscow-based KHL, widely considered the strongest league outside the NHL, previously expressed outrage at bans for Russian athletes in other sports tainted by doping at the Sochi Olympics.

No allegations have been made of wrongdoing in Sochi by the Russian men’s hockey team.

With the NHL already out of the Pyeongchang Olympics, any KHL withdrawal would affect more than just the Russian team, whose current roster is entirely KHL-based. Teams like Canada, the United States and Finland are also counting on KHL players for Pyeongchang.

Russians in Pyeongchang must compete as ”Olympic Athletes from Russia” under a neutral flag as IOC punishment for doping offenses at the 2014 Olympics.

The KHL also published a statement on its website Wednesday supporting Russian players competing under the IOC conditions, but then removed it. The league’s media department said it was taken down because it was posted by mistake and that Chernyshenko’s comments took precedence.

Last week’s IOC ruling didn’t accuse Chernyshenko of any wrongdoing in Sochi, but did order him removed from an IOC body overseeing preparations for the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing.

Also Wednesday, the Russian Hockey Federation – which accepts Russians competing as neutral athletes in Pyeongchang – looked set for a dispute with the IOC over uniforms.

Russians in Pyeongchang are required to compete in IOC-approved uniforms without Russian national colors or symbols. However, the RHF believes it can still use its existing Nike-manufactured jerseys, which are red with a large Russian double-headed eagle emblem across the chest.

”There’s a discussion around the uniform,” said Roman Rotenberg, the federation’s senior vice president. ”It’s been produced already and there are certain technical questions.”

Rotenberg predicted there was a ”90 percent chance” the Russian hockey team could wear the red Nike uniforms when competing in Pyeongchang.

Despite Our Utter Indifference, These Boys Will Battle for India in Malaysia

Under-20 Ice Hockey squad (Source: Ice Hockey Association of India)

With conversations on sports dominated by cricket, football, hockey or even kabaddi, ice hockey receives scant attention. Unsurprisingly, very few Indians are aware of the thriving ice hockey culture, a Winter Olympic sport, in this country.

You would be interested to know that India will participate in the men’s Under-20 International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) Challenge Cup of Asia (CCOA) in Malaysia from December 12 to 17.

In a passionate Facebook post, the Ice Hockey Association of India wrote about how the team made it to Malaysia, despite no dedicated ice rink in India, lack of equipment, institutional support and funds for airfare and accommodation, among other shortcomings.

Speaking to The Better India, Harjinder Singh Jindi, the general secretary of the Ice Hockey Association of India (IHAI), explained the situation. He said that financial support (practice and participation) for national teams across tournaments is dependent on crowdfunding campaigns, the odd donation from corporates, not-for-profit organisations, state governments, parents of participating athletes and well-wishers, besides funds available to the IHAI.

This constant hustle for funds by key stakeholders in the IHAI is symbolic of the inadequate institutional support it receives.

Although the IHAI is recognized by the Ministry of Youth Affairs and Sports (MYAS), the only sort of financial support it received from them was the ₹2 lakh it got for a national championship in the cold climes of Leh. The organization has stopped seeking financial help from the ministry as the amount allocated isn’t nearly enough to even conduct such tournaments.

As for institutional support, Sarbananda Sonwal, former Union Minister for Sports & Youth Affairs, assured Parliament in May 2015 that the ministry will help restart the only international-sized ice rink in Dehradun. The establishment remains shut even today. With a functional international-sized rink, teams representing India need not travel abroad for training, which comes at a significant cost for the IHAI.

“When we trained on an international-sized facility (in Kyrgyzstan earlier this year), both the men and women’s team achieved better results,” says Harjinder. The men’s team finished second in the IIHF CCOA Division 1 tournament in Kuwait, while the women won two international matches for the first time ever, finishing fourth among seven nations.

For representational purposes (Source: Ice Hockey Association of India)

There is no shortage of talent, but a lack of practice facilities. In India, practice facilities are limited to the Ladakh region, and that too on natural ice that only holds for two-three months in the winter. “The quality of natural ice is bad for those who want to play,” says Harjinder.

These natural rinks do not have any dasher boards made of steel or aluminum, which form the fence around an ice rink. Dasher boards are a critical piece of infrastructure which teams use to clear the puck out of their zone or to help execute a pass.

Allied with the fact that regional championships take up most of those two months, the national team gets barely any time to practice. The only solution is training camps abroad. Four years ago, the Jammu and Kashmir government promised to set up international ice-rinks in Leh and Kargil. These projects remain incomplete to date.

“Kyrgyzstan and Malaysia are the two countries, where we can train at an economical cost. The Indian Embassy in Bishkek helped us greatly in 2016 and 2017; negotiating cheaper rink cost, accommodation and food for the men and women teams in Kyrgyzstan. Exemplary dedication and courtesy was extended to us by Indian Embassy in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan and now the Indian High Commission in Malaysia,” he added.

Before heading out to Malaysia, the Under-20 team practiced at Iskate, a small ice rink in Ambience Mall, Gurgaon, which is barely 1/4th the size of an international rink. The players were only able to hone their basic skills here.

For accommodation, Harjinder found help in his neighbour and friend, Prabhjot Singh, a sports aficionado who runs Jaguar Football Club, a small club side in New Delhi. “He voluntarily stepped in to offer his place in Manesar free of charge for our U-20 boys during their initial training camp in Gurgaon,” Harjinder said.

The gear and equipment for the Under-20 side were bought and delivered by Subrat Mahapatra, who happens to be a parent of one of the boys on the team. He bought all the gear in the United States, where he currently resides, and sent it to the team in India.

To the uninitiated, the squad is composed of 20 players from different corners of the country. It’s a unique blend of individuals from Ladakh, Maharashtra, Odisha and Himachal Pradesh. Boys from the cold climes of Ladakh dominate the composition of the squad with 14 players (13 from Leh and 1 from Kargil), and the rest split among the three states noted above.

Led by captain Tsewang Dorjey, who turns 20 after the tournament on December 29, and under the tutelage of coach Mushtaque Ahmad Giri, a former India player with coaching stints in the United States, the team feels up for the challenge. Competing with the likes of United Arab Emirates, Malaysia, Philippines and Kyrgyzstan, this tournament is modeled on the round robin format. Some of the squad members will miss exams with their respective schools and colleges, but will have the opportunity to write them after the tournament, says Harjinder.

In an earlier article on corporate social responsibility, we had noted that companies could invest more in sports. With state support non-existent, ice hockey in India could really do with an injection of corporate money. It has worked for football, badminton and even kabbadi.

The Indian Under-20 side will play their first match on December 12 against the United Arab Emirates at 1pm (IST). We wish them all the very best.

If you wish to support Ice Hockey in this country, you can donate here.

Croatia bounces back Women’s team makes winning return to IIHF play

By Andy Potts –

Croatia made a successful return to IIHF Ice Hockey Women’s World Championship action with victory in the Division II Group B Qualification tournament in Sofia. 

The Croats didn’t enter a team to compete last year, and had to drop down to the lowest level of the women’s game as a result. But, under the guidance of fledgling head coach Miro Smerdelj, a Croatian men’s international until 2013 and still playing for Mladost Zagreb in the new cross-border International Hockey League, the team swept through a five-team group that also included host Bulgaria, top seed Belgium, South Africa and Hong Kong. 

That represented a fine return to international action for Croatia’s women, who last played in an IIHF tournament in 2016 when it suffered relegation from Division IIA. Now the team will play in next season’s Division IIB tournament. 

Croatia’s rampant offence fired in 27 goals in four games – but the crucial one came 17 minutes into its meeting with top seed Belgium. The Croats were killing a penalty at the time, but Ela Filipec intercepted a pass on her own blue line and set off for goal. The 26-year-old, who plays her club hockey for Gric Zagreb in the Austrian league, danced her way around three opponents to get up close with Belgian goalie Nina van Orshaegen. Her first shot found the pads, but she recovered to lift the rebound onto the top shelf and give her team a vital lead. 

The goal proved decisive. Filipec’s Gric teammate Petra Belobrk made 25 saves at the other end as Croatia posted its third shut-out of the tournament and denied a Belgian team that finished with 26 goals from its three other games. Nobody could find a way past van Orshaegen again at the other end, but that short-handed effort was enough to win the game and, ultimately, the group. Belgium won its other three games to take second place. 

Croatia’s defensive power meant that it took 212 minutes of tournament action before it finally allowed a goal. Bulgaria’s Aleksandra Popova was the woman who solved Belobrk at last, converting a power play opportunity to claim the host nation’s first goal of the competition. Anna Evstatieva scored another power play goal shortly afterwards, but Croatia romped to a 12-2 victory. In 240 minutes of hockey, the group winner did not allow a single goal while playing at even strength. 

Much of that solidity derives from a roster that drew heavily on the Gric club, currently playing in Austria’s cross-border DEBL. Filipec and fellow blue-liner Martina Smolec are among the leading scorers in that league in the early stages of this season, and eight of the national team currently play there. With another player, Katja Bednjanec, also playing in Austria for the Klagenfurt Dragons, and 16-year-old twins Tena and Eva Cavka involved with Slovenia’s HK Celje, there’s a measure of international experience about this Croat roster. 

Behind the Croats, Belgium recovered from Thursday’s narrow loss to beat South Africa 3-0 in Saturday’s final game and claim second place behind Croatia. The team also impressed defensively, allowing just two goals in the competition. First-choice goalie van Orshaegen finished as the best netminder of the tournament, with a GAA of 0.33 and a save percentage of 97.5. Filipec’s effort was the only one to beat her all week; the other goal scored on Belgium went past Liesl Kuypers in a 14-1 win over Hong Kong. South Africa took third place, while Saturday’s match-up between Bulgaria and Hong Kong saw the host let a 1-0 lead slip in the third period to lose 1-2 and finish in last place without a single victory. 

Among the skaters, defenceman Filipec led the scoring by a huge margin. She finished with six goals and 10 assists for 16 points. Her closest scoring rivals, team-mate Vesna Gurka and Belgium’s Sonja Frere, managed eight each. Filipec’s six goals also made her joint leading goalscorer for the competition, tying with Dalene Rhode (South Africa) and Femke Bosmans (Belgium). 

Tony Hand’s experience suggests Scots have a way to go

Tony Hand enjoyed a fine career in Edinburgh but he could have been an NHL star

By Kevin Ferrie – The National

THE youngsters in the Great Britain squad that is set to take part in the World Under-20 Ice Hockey Championships this weekend will have access to far greater experience than the man in charge of their campaign had at their age, precisely because of the experiences that Tony Hand had at their age.

It was 30 years ago that the most famous product of the Scottish domestic game who is now GB Ice Hockey’s head development coach, played his solitary game for the National Hockey League’s Edmonton Oilers, a year after he had first been drafted as a teenager by what was then the leading club in the sport.

Since he was subsequently to become known as “two point Tony” The outcome of that encounter, an exhibition match against the Canadian national team, fitted perfectly since it was drawn with the sides scoring two points apiece. Naturally he remembers it as the highlight of what was to be an astonishing career.

“I actually got an assist and it’s the highest level I played at,” he said, by way of explaining why he rates that above all the trophy wins and international appearances he was to make thereafter.

Playing in the same squad and same position of centreman as two of the greatest players in the history of the sport, Wayne Gretzky and Mark Messier, it seems hard to believe that having survived the cuts through training camp it was the lad from Muirhouse who then made the decision that he was not going to pursue a career in North America and would instead return home. In explaining that he admits to some regret, but not of the sort that keeps him awake at night.

“It was totally my doing, my fault,” he said of the missed opportunity.

“But when we’re going back to those days there were no mobile phones, no internet. To phone someone from Canada you had to go to a phone box and I was just thrown in there, so because I didn’t know what I was doing I just felt it was too much.

“I enjoyed it, but I loved being in Edinburgh so much and loved the Murrayfield Racers and obviously had family and friends here it was obviously a much easier option.

“In hindsight I wish I’d stayed. I don’t sit back and think about it all the time, but if you never wondered you’d be off your head. I would have liked to find out.”

In the course of those two years in the Oilers training camps he did manage to establish that he had, through no real fault of his own, fallen short on a basic requirement.

“What held me back as well was my fitness. I wasn’t remotely as fit as I should have been,” he said. “People think you’re lucky to have the talent, but you’re not, you’ve got to work hard.”

That sort of message has become a familiar refrain in Scottish sport, but it can be no coincidence that, armed with that information, Hand went on to have a 34-year career at the highest level of the British game.

In doing so Hand has acquired knowledge of what is required to get to the top that would be transferable to any sport and he believes there is work to be done to create the environment necessary to let that happen in British ice hockey.

“You’re only as good as the level you’re playing at,” he said.

“And I do think the level has changed. I don’t think it’s gone stratospheric or crazy, but as has happened in a lot of sports the fitness is key.”

While the work he and others are doing is beginning to make a difference, then, he clearly believes it will be some time before another British youngster gets the opportunity that came his way all those years ago.

“I don’t think our development is currently going to get players to the highest level,” said Hand. “Teams aren’t playing as many games as they should be.

“We’re getting there, but not as quickly as I’d like.”

Naturalized hockey forward thrives under weight of expectations

By Yonhap

In an effort to boost its competitiveness in its Winter Olympic hockey debut in 2018, South Korea has fast-tracked a few Canadian-born players to Korean citizenship. Michael Swift, a skilled forward hailing from Peterborough, Ontario, is one of them.

The 30-year-old understands the naturalization comes with the weight of expectations — after all, the government wouldn’t have issued these players new passports unless it felt they could help the national team at the 2018 PyeongChang Winter Olympics.

And it’s just the way Swift likes it.

“It puts pressure on me to play well, and it’s good,” Swift told Yonhap News Agency in a recent interview at the Jincheon National Training Center in Jincheon, 90 kilometers south of Seoul.

“Hopefully, I can perform. And if I do, it helps the team win,” Swift said.

South Korea, coached by former National Hockey League defenseman Jim Paek, faces a daunting task in the group stage at the PyeongChang Olympics. The 21st-ranked team has been paired with Canada, the undisputed world No. 1 and two-time reigning Olympic champion, plus No. 6 Czech Republic and No. 7 Switzerland.

The NHL won’t send its stars to South Korea for the Olympic tournament, but the absence of those players won’t make the work any easier for South Korea.

The team will need every bit of offense that Swift and his teammates can provide, if they were to have even a fighting chance.

And Swift said he embraces the challenge.

“Every time I put on the Korean jersey, I want to do well,” he said. “Every time I am on ice, every shift, I want to score. But I have to play defense first and then offense comes easier for me.”

And scoring hasn’t been a problem for Swift. Though he never did play in the NHL, he was a solid producer in both the Ontario Hockey League, a major junior circuit in Canada, and the American Hockey League, the primary development league for the NHL. Then he brought his scoring talent to South Korea, joining

High1 in the Asia League Ice Hockey for the 2011-2012 season.

Swift was the league’s points leader that season with 44 goals and 46 assists in just 36 games. He went on to lead the ALIH in points in three more seasons, most recently in 2015-2016 when he had 70 points in 48 games.

In the current season, Swift is the scoring leader through 26 games, thanks to 14 goals and 28 assists.

Having played in South Korea for so many years, Swift, who last year said he felt like he was half-Korean, now says he is “three-quarters” Korean.

Listed at 175 centimeters and 79 kilograms, Swift has been known to play bigger than his size, a player who can give hits as well as he takes them.

And he doesn’t suffer from any lack of confidence, even though South Korea struggled in recent tune-up games in its build-up to the Olympics.

Swift said there have always been doomsayers who showed little faith in Korean hockey. He pointed to 2015, when South Korea was playing in the International Ice Hockey Federation World Championship Division I Group B, the third-highest level of competition. The country had been relegated from Division I Group A from the previous season, but with Swift leading the tournament with nine points in five games, South Korea won the Division I Group B tournament.

It set the stage for an even larger leap earlier this year, as South Korea finished second at the Division I Group A tournament in Ukraine to book a spot in the top-flight World Championship for the first time.

“Every year, people always talk about how Korean hockey is not good. But every year, we’ve done well,” he said. “I am sure they were worried when we were in Division I Group B and we won that division. Every year, we’ve done well. We’re getting better and better each year.”

Rising ice hockey talent from Europe and Asia to descend on Dumfries for the Under-20 World Championships this weekend

By News & Star

The cream of rising ice hockey talent from Europe and Asia will descend on Dumfries this weekend as the Under-20 World Championships get under way.

Held in the Dumfries Ice Bowl, the Division II Group A tournament will feature 15 games in a round-robin format, with Team GB up against Korea, Estonia, Japan, Netherlands and Romania as they look to win promotion back to Division I Group B.

Two local players are set to star for the GB side, with Dumfries-based Solway Sharks players, Stuart Kerr and Jordan Buesa, both in the squad, with Sharks coach Martin Grubb also involved in the GB set-up.

Jordan has starred for professional outfit Braehead Clan this season, as well.

A total of five Scottish players have been selected in the 22-man squad for the tournament that runs from December 10 to 16, including Dundee Stars’ Ben Edmonds, Chad Smith of Fife Flyers and Dundee-born Craig Garrigan, now with Skylands Kings in the USA.

Looking ahead to the tournament, Buesa said: “It’s always an honour to represent GB but to do so in a world championships at home makes it even more special.

 “We are up against some strong opposition but will be trying our best to win the group. We hope as many fans as possible come along to cheer us on.”

The tournament, jointly organised by Ice Hockey UK and Dumfries & Galloway Council on behalf of the International Ice Hockey Federation, represents yet another coup for the region as it welcomes back international ice hockey for a sixth consecutive year.

Councillor Adam Wilson, who leads on the council’s events strategy which has delivered a number of major occasions to the region, said: “World Championship Ice Hockey is a wonderful tournament to bring to Dumfries, and an exciting prospect for all sports fans.

“We have an enviable recent tradition of hosting IIHF World Championships and are proud to be able to bring the Great Britain national team at Under-20s level back to South West Scotland.

“Ice Hockey is alive and well in Dumfries and past tournaments have really boosted the profile and participation numbers in the sport – I’m sure this Under-20s World Championship will be no different.”

Is She the Future of European Hockey?

Kristiāna Apsīte Latvia 2017

By Nathaniel Oliver – The Hockey Writers

Commonplace as it might be in backyards and recreational centers for a parent to play with their child in sport, it does not occur in high-level competition. Seemingly once in a million, if that. In fact, this may be the rarest of occasions in any sport. When it comes to hockey, Gordie Howe had the chance to play alongside two of his sons, Mark and Marty. There can’t be too many other instances besides that one in the NHL.

But, what about a daughter who plays with her sister and her mother? Not only that, but they have represented their country in multiple international competitions. This may be the rarest case of all.

But it is the case for Latvian women’s national team goaltender Kristiāna Apsīte. At just 17 years of age, Apsīte has played for Latvia with 43-year-old mother Aija and her 19-year-old sister Agnese. Aija has represented her homeland in international play since the early 2000s.

Asked what having hockey be a family affair means to her, Kristiāna responded:

“It doesn’t mean much to me because on the ice we are just teammates to each other just like everybody else. Of course, it is nice to play with my mom and my sister, but at the game, none of us think who is family or who is friend because the team is also like family.”

Well stated. THW had a chance to talk with Apsīte and find out more about this up-and-coming young goalie.

The Latvian Game and Early Beginnings

Latvia has produced numerous successful male players. Going back to some of the great Soviet teams of the 1970s, there was Helmut Balderis. He would make the jump at age 37 to the NHL with the Minnesota North Stars. That paved the way for stars such as Sandis Ozolinsh (the first Latvian to win the Stanley Cup), Arturs Irbe, the late Sergei Zholtok, and the late Karlis SkrastinsToday Buffalo Sabres forward Zemgus Girgensons represents his country in the NHL, and garnered enough of a following in his homeland to be voted into an NHL All-Star Game.

But much less is known about the Latvian women’s game. Opportunities for a young female goaltender like Apsīte are quite limited in her homeland.

“In Latvia, women’s hockey level is not as high as in North America or some bigger European countries,” Apsīte explained. “We only have three teams in the Latvian championship. So that’s why I am also practicing with boys teams since I started to play hockey.”

Kristiāna Apsīte Latvia 2017

Apsīte’s sister Agnese has made the jump to the United States and plays NCAA Division III hockey for the Wisconsin-Superior Yellowjackets. Apsīte herself considers the thought of playing collegiate hockey or in Europe.

“Yes, it’s her (Agnese) first season playing college hockey in the USA. Of course, I’d like to play college hockey in the USA or play in Europe.”

Getting to Know Apsīte

Apsīte hails from Dreilini, a more recently built neighborhood on the eastern edge of the capital city of Riga, Latvia. Balderis, Ozolinsh, and Girgensons all come from Riga. Close to 640,000 people live in this largest city of the Baltic states. Apsīte began playing hockey at the age of four but did not take up the goaltending position until age 10.

“This is my 8th season as a goalie and I have never thought about changing back to a player position,” she shared. “I started to play in the goalie position when I was 10. My coach Lolita Andrisevska asked me if I wanted to try how it is to be a goalie. So in the next practice, I was wearing goalie equipment. After that practice, I realized how cool it is to make saves so I decided to become a goalie.”

Apsīte’s learning from the finest. Andrisevska has been the premier women’s goaltender in Latvia since at least the 1990s. Though she has served in a coaching role since 2012, she represented the nation in multiple women’s world championships and Olympic qualifiers for over a decade. In the 2009 Women’s Division II World Championship, Andrisevska backstopped Latvia to a gold medal. The team went undefeated, and she allowed only two goals in five games for a 0.50 goals-against average and a .984 save percentage. Apsīte has a superb teacher, to say the least.

“I didn’t have a hockey hero while I was growing up,” she stated. “But I enjoyed watching how Lolita Andrisevska played and made amazing saves because she was my coach and she was the one who taught me all the basic things when I became a goalie.”

A Student of the Position

And much like Andrisevska, Apsīte is a student of the goaltending position. This is particularly impressive considering her young age, but highly integral to her development. It is why she is well on her way to becoming one of the top young goaltenders in the world. She has not even approached her prime—that is still some years away.

“Being a goalie is not as easy as many players might think”, said Apsīte. “As a goalie, you need to be strong physically and also mentally. Every situation and shot is different so you never know where the shot is coming from, or if maybe there will be a pass to another player. Goalies don’t have a specific system like players do—we have our own style, and every goalie has a little bit different technique. Of course, there are some basics that are the same for every goalie, but as you develop over the years you find your own style. That’s why I didn’t quit the goalie position. There won’t be two exact same games or situations. I need to think really fast what I am going to do in each situation to make a save and win the game.”

Thus far, Apsīte has done quite well at that and she will only get better. 17 is a tender young age for any athlete. There is plenty more development to take place.

Major Accomplishments at a Young Age

For the past two years, Apsīte has won a silver and a bronze medal at Women’s Division I-B World Championships. The 2016 silver coming in Asiago, Italy, while the 2017 bronze was won in Katowice, Poland.

For the silver medal, Apsīte got into one game against the Netherlands while teammate Evija Tētiņa got the action for the other games. Still, it was Apsīte’s first World Championship and she was all of 15 years old. She stopped 28 of 32 shots in the loss to the Netherlands.

In 2017, Apsīte would get the nod as the starting goaltender for Latvia and she played in all five tournament games. Her finest performance in that tournament was likely against Italy in Latvia’s first game – Apsīte stopped 52 out of 53 shots she faced. In five games, she made a whopping 156 saves and finished with a .902 save percentage as Latvia took home the bronze.

These were just the first two of what is bound to be many more international tournaments for Apsīte.

“Those medals mean a lot to me and they are very important because I know that hard work has paid off,” she shared. “I am happy that I had a chance to already play in my first year with the national team while I am still young because that was my goal ever since I started to play hockey. I hope we will earn gold in the World Championship (this year), and next year play in Division 1-A with the Latvian national team.”

The 2018 tournament for Division 1-B will one again be in Asiago, Italy in April. If Apsīte and Latvia can win the gold medal there, they will be promoted into group A.

Apsīte’s Finest Assets as a Goalie

Apsīte has a long career ahead of her, especially if she intends to play hockey as long as her mother has (and continues to). Obviously, at just 17 years of age (Apsīte will not turn 18 until May 2018) she has more time ahead to hone her skills. Regardless, this young lady already possesses a keen understanding of her own best attributes and how she can grow as a netminder.

“When I started to play hockey, at first I was a player and that helped me a lot especially with my skating,” Apsīte explained. “Good skating helps me to improve my goalie technique even faster. Characteristics and mental toughness is something that I am still trying to improve. One of them is to be patient, because I am a short goalie and it’s important to stay on my feet as long as possible. But the most important is to be self-confident. I can’t show my team or opponents that I’m not sure or I’m scared about what I am doing. After a goal I need to stay positive and mentally strong and continuously play like the score is still 0-0. Also I think that it is really important for a goalie to be calm because only when you are calm you can make the best decisions in every situation. These are the things that I still need to improve every game and practice.”

Much like the diminutive Arturs Irbe, who was all of 5-foot-8 when he played, Apsīte is only five feet tall. But, like Irbe, she is quick as lightning and has highly impressive reflexes.

What She Has Learned From Mom

Apsīte’s mother Aija has represented Latvia in close to 80 international games. That includes Olympic qualifiers and World Championships at various levels. Aija is a staple of Latvian women’s hockey. It would stand to reason that she has passed some of her knowledge down to her goaltending daughter.

“I think that the most important thing that my mom has taught me is to never give up,” said Apsīte. “As long as you never give up and try your best every time ’til the final second of the game, it’s not important what the result is. You need to play and show your best every time when your are on the ice. For me as a goalie it means that I need to play until the last second of the game. Situations in front of my net end only when the puck is in my glove or in the net; hopefully not too many times. A goalie’s job is to try to save every puck even if it seems impossible. If you don’t try you never know if you could have made that save or not.”

The way that she studies the position and looks at the philosophical portions of it, Apsīte sounds like a young, female Jacques Plante. Certainly some excellent advice from her mom as well.

What Dreams May Come

Like many women’s national teams throughout the globe, Latvia is striving for the next level. Unlike the men’s tournament which includes 12 teams, the women’s hockey portion of the 2018 PyeongChang Winter Games has only eight teams competing. That includes the host nation of South Korea, as well Switzerland and Japan that both qualified. The powerhouse teams of the United States, Canada, Russia, Finland, and Sweden established themselves through the IIHF’s world rankings through five prior tournaments (including the 2014 Sochi Olympics, and the World Championships from 2013 up to and including 2016).

It is one of those qualification spots that Switzerland and Japan captured that Apsīte and Latvia are aiming towards. Similar caliber teams such as Kazakhstan’s and Slovakia’s women’s teams have qualified for the Olympics before. This is what hockey for Apsīte and her family is really all about. Aija Apsīte has played in four different Olympic qualifying tournaments for Latvia and sets the example for her daughters. But that family aspect is extended to not just mother and daughters, but for the family comprised by all of their Latvian teammates.

“My biggest hockey dream is to qualify and play in the Winter Olympics with the Latvian national team,” Apsīte stated confidently.

Stick to that motto that your mom instilled in you, Kristiāna. The talent and desire are within you to make your dream come true.

Mike Keenan out as coach/GM of KHL’s Kunlun Red Star

By Sean Leahy – NBC Sports

Days after losing his role as general manager, Mike Keenan has now been relieved of his coaching responsibilities by Kunlun Red Star of the KHL. Following nine straight defeats, which places them near the bottom of the Eastern Conference standings, the 68-year-old will remain as an executive member on the team’s International Advisory Board.

Former NHLer Bobby Carpenter will take reins behind the bench on an interim basis with fellow ex-players Cliff Ronning and Igor Kravchuk staying on as assistants.

“Mike Keenan has done a great job for several months,” said Kunlun president Raitis Pilsetnieks via SovSport (translated). “He formed a completely new KHL team, and also took an active part in building the entire club structure, which is part of a large-scale project for the development of Chinese hockey in the run-up to the Winter Olympics in 2022.

“Since March, he worked almost without days off, and we were often amazed at his amazing endurance and efficiency. But, unfortunately, everything has a limit, and the work, coupled with a huge number of flights, is beyond his strength. Therefore, it was decided to return to the original form of cooperation. I have no doubt that as a member of the International Coordination Council Mike Keenan will bring a lot of benefits to the club and the Chinese hockey in general.”

Kunlun responded well to the news by snapping their nine-game losing streak with a 4-3 overtime win against Amur on Sunday.

Keenan, who was the first coach to win championships in the KHL and NHL, joined Kunlun in March 17 months after he was canned by Metallurg Magnitogorsk, with whom he led to a Gagarin Cup title in 2014.

So will we hear Keenan’s pop up whenever the first NHL head coach gets fired this season? He’s been out of the NHL game since 2009, but that never stopped general managers from bringing in a retread. Hey, how about a Philadelphia reunion? OK, that’s probably a pipe dream. But given Keenan’s recent coaching history, it wouldn’t be a shock to see him resurface behind a bench elsewhere in Europe.

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