Month: April 2017 (page 2 of 4)

Lebanon Beats Haiti for Historic First International Victory

Lebanon & Haiti pose for picture at the end of a historic game

By Steve Ellis –

Lebanon can officially join the history books thanks to a historic debut victory over Haiti in Raymond Bourque Arena in Saint-Laurent, Quebec on Sunday evening.

The game was the first official international competition for both of the teams. Lebanon did play their first ever hockey game a week ago against Maghreb United, who were made up of players from Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia. Lebanon took the 8-3 victory in that game, giving them their first win of any type.

On Sunday, both teams took to the ice for the first time, with Haiti sporting Georges Laraque in the one-off event. Lebanon would get the best of their opponents, taking the 7-4 victory in the process.

While long-term plans for Haiti’s ice hockey team are unknown, Lebanon is hoping to play some teams in the future. Coach Ralph Melki told Euro Hockey that Israel, Egypt and Morocco have all inquired about playing Lebanon in future exhibition games, but nothing has been firmed up.

Video footage of the end of the game can be found here.

Countries hoping for 2018 IIHF World Championships qualification head to Kiev

By George Thorpe – Inside The Games

Teams will be looking to qualify for next year’s International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) World Championships when the Division I competition starts in Kiev tomorrow.

The top two teams from Group A in the round robin contest taking place in the Ukrainian capital will progress to the 2018 edition of the top tournament in the sport, which will be hosted in Denmark.

All the matches will be played at the Palace of Sports with the competition set to go on until April 28.

Action will start with the hosts taking on Hungary before South Korea face Poland.

The opening day’s matches will be completed with Austria taking on Kazakhstan.

Slovenia and Italy were the teams who earned spots at the World Championships after topping the group in Poland.

Alongside this contest, the Division’s Group B will also be taking place at the SSE Arena in Belfast, Northern Ireland, with the top side earning promotion to Group A.

The opening game will take place on Sunday (April 23) with The Netherlands meeting Japan.

Hosts Great Britain will be next on the ice as they take on Croatia before Estonia face Lithuania in the day’s final game.

Matches will continue in the group until April 29.

The lowest ranked team from Group A will be relegated to B, while the last placed country from the latter will head to Division Two A.

Next year’s line up in Division One will be completed by the two sides who finish last in the groups in the main World Championships, which are due to take place in Germany and France from May 5 to 21.

Asia Ice Hockey Championships Begins Tomorrow In Kuwait


By Arab Times

The participating national teams in the Division 1 of the 2017 IIHF Ice Hockey Challenge Cup of Asia have completed their technical preparations prior to the launch of the tournament, which is due to be held at the Kuwait Ice Skating Rink on April 22-25.

The four-day event is being held under the patronage of Minister of Commerce and Industry and State Minister for Youth Affairs Khaled Al-Roudhan.

The three teams from Macau, India and Oman which are participating in the competitions have arrived in the country yesterday and are continuing with the preparations prior to the launch of the tournament.

Japan women’s ice hockey team secures promotion to top flight

By Japan Times

Japan beat Austria 4-1 for its fourth victory at the second-tier women’s ice hockey world championships on Thursday, earning promotion to the elite division.

The Japanese team, ranked seventh in the world, faced 11th-ranked Austria with both teams knotted at three wins each atop the Group A competition table.

But with the win Japan got separation, making it 12 points from four wins to secure promotion with one game remaining in the six-team tournament at Merkur Arena in Graz, Austria.

Japan had secured promotion to the top division in 2013 after finishing with a 5-0 record in the second-tier competition, but lost all five games in the elite-division world championships last year and returned to the second tier.

“We stayed calm and maintained our pace throughout the game. I felt at ease watching the third period,” said Japan head coach Takeshi Yamanaka.

Veteran forward Hanae Kubo opened the scoring for Japan with a goal 11 minutes into the first period to convert for the first time in the tournament, and added a second 3 minutes later to put Japan well on the way to the win. Rui Ukita provided assists on both goals to finish match equal with Kubo’s two-point game-high total.

Japan goalkeeper Nana Fujimoto went the distance and fended off 18 of 19 shots on goal but it was a different story at the other end. Austria starter Theresa Hornich had a horror game, letting in all four goals on 12 shots in 27 minutes of ice time. A second-period change to Jessica Ekrt slowed the Japanese, with the replacement stopper unbeaten on 16 shots on goal.

Captain Chiho Osawa, who had three shots on goal, had only good things to say about the way her team played in the April 15-21 tournament, which also serves as a qualifier for the 2018 world championships.

“I’m glad we earned promotion. This is good news. We were able to win points at crucial moments and extend our lead (against Austria). We controlled the puck a lot more smoothly than we did in other games,” said Osawa.

The Pinter sisters

By Henrik Manninen –

Having already survived a relegation battle this season, Lili and Hanna Pinter’s experiences from Sweden’s top league will stand them in good stead as Hungary aims to spring a surprise in the 2017 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship Division I Group A.

Newcomers at this level, Hungary is competing in neighbouring Austria this week with a close-knit unit of players battling against higher-ranked opponents.

With four pair of siblings on the Hungarian roster, playing for their country has turned into a family affair. First choice netminder Aniko Nemeth and blueliner Bernadett Nemeth are twins, sisters Zsofia and Kinga Jokai-Szilagyi both chase goals, goalie Vanessa deputizes in the net and her older sibling Tifani Horvath is a forward, while Lili and Hanna Pinter form an offensive threat on Hungary’s second line.

Like the Vas duo Marton and Janos on the men’s team, who both with varied success benefited from spells in Sweden, the Pinter pair is hoping that their experiences gained in one the strongest women’s hockey leagues in the world can contribute to the continued progress for their national team program.

Born in November 1996, older sibling Lili was a part of the Hungarian generation who during the 2011/12 season lifted their U18 national team from nowhere and straight into the top division. She played a key role when Hungary’s U18 team competed in the top division for two seasons and was joined by her younger sister, Hanna, into the junior national team ahead of the 2014 IIHF Ice Hockey U18 Women’s World Championship on home ice in Budapest, which ended up with relegation.

Having tasted life at the highest level, many from that successful generation have since continued their development abroad. Today, half of the players on the current Hungarian roster are playing their hockey in countries such as Russia, Germany, USA and Sweden.

With the Pinters opting for Scandinavia, it was Lili who first took the plunge into uncharted waters. Ahead of the 2015/16 season she signed up for SDE HF, based in the Northern Stockholm region and a club priding itself for honing talent at youth and women’s level. Having now spent her last two seasons in Sweden’s top women’s league, SDHL, Lili has after an initial settling in period reaped the rewards of her hard work.

“Off ice is really hard and the game was also much harder both physically and mentally. With the pace of the game being so much faster, my vision has improved and so has my ability to solve difficult situations out on the ice,” she said on life in Swedish hockey.

Spreading the word of her experience in Sweden, Lili was reunited with her younger sister ahead of this season. Hanna, born in March 1998, signed up for SDE HF where the siblings were part of a multinational team with players from five different countries. Helene Astrom, the club’s team manager, describes the Pinter siblings in glowing terms as players who both are blessed with good shooting ability, pace and positive attitude in abundance.

While Hanna decided to return to Hungary during the second half of the season, Lili was an integral part of the SDE HF team that battled hard in the SDHL as the top division’s underdog.

“It is a challenge to be at our best, to show them that we can play at that level against teams like for instance Lulea. You are playing against very tough opponents, but at the same you try to keep up to speed with them. I felt that especially the speed and our overall game has been improving and we are getting closer to our opponents,” said Lili Pinter, who can look back on a successful end to her club season where a place in next season’s SDHL was ensured on 19th March.

With the focus now having shifted to national team duties, Hungary entered Division IA as the lowest-seeded team. A narrow opening-day 1-0 loss against favourite Japan showed that the Central Europeans are not to be brushed aside lightly. Having then recorded their first win, 2-0 against Denmark during Day 3, Hungary has destiny in their own hands as France and Norway await in the final two rounds.

“It is a tournament we are capable to finish at any place. It will be important not to lose our self-confidence and I think it will be very tough, but we are capable of winning each of those games,” said Lili Pinter.

In the meantime Austria and Japan went on with a 3-0 and it will be one of those two teams that will earn promotion. The teams will go head to head on Thursday evening.

First gold for Luxembourg

By Ivan Tchechankov –

Luxembourg, one of the smallest countries in the world, was triumphant after the final game of the 2017 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship Division III. The Winter Palace in the Bulgarian capital of Sofia was voiced with chants and emotional outbursts from the winner’s locker room for long after the last buzzer and the closing ceremony. And it was a well-deserved celebration.

For the first time in history Luxembourg won an IIHF event. Beating Bulgaria for the Division III gold also means Luxembourg will play at Division II for the first time since 2004 when the tea was relegated.

In the final for the gold medals Luxembourg defeated the host Bulgaria 10-4 as three players had two goals and one assist (Benny Welter, Miroslav Mosr and Thierry Beran) and the goalie Philippe Lepage made 57 saves!

“We came here to win it all. We believed that we can do it and were fighting for the whole 60 minutes. For Luxembourg this is unbelievable success. Our goal for next year is to keep our place in Division II Group B,” said Petr Fical, the jubilant head coach of Luxembourg, after the closing ceremony.

Eight teams were supposed to participate in the tournament using a new format with two round-robin groups followed by the cross-over semi-finals and placement games. Unfortunately Bosnia & Herzegovina withdrew from the championship just a few days before the start of the tournament leaving Group A with just three teams. The schedule was played as planned, however all Bosnia & Herzegovina games were count as forfeited (5-0 win for the opposing team).

Bulgaria finished first in Group A with wins over Chinese Taipei (3-0) and Hong Kong (10-3) and Luxembourg was the winner of Group B after defeating the United Arab Emirates (17-0), Georgia (6-4) and South Africa (3-1). In the semifinals the hosts beat against Georgia, 9-3, and Luxembourg routed Hong Kong, 8-1.

This was just the second competition in Division III for Bulgaria since the introduction of the new IIHF categorization in 2001. The previous one was in 2014, when the tournament was in Luxembourg and Bulgaria was undefeated and gain back its place in Division II. In the first day of that event Bulgaria beat the hosts in a roller-coaster. Luxembourg was leading 4-3 and 5-4 after getting back from 0-3. In the end Bulgaria won 8-5. There was just one more match-up between the two countries on the men’s level in the past World Championships – a 17-2 win for Bulgaria in 2002 in the Division II Group B. So the expectations of the crowd of 950 spectators at the Winter Palace were very high for a home success, but there were some concerns regarding Bulgarian defence.

The start was quite a positive one for Bulgaria’s “Lions” as Miroslav Vasilev scored at 2:15 after a great pass from Stanislav Muhachev. Thierry Beran tied the score two minutes later, but Alexei Yotov and Georgi Iskrenov tallied for 3-1 lead at 15:15. Once again a defensive mishap led to a Luxembourg’s goal just 32 seconds later. The first period finished 3-3 and the turnaround continued in the second as Kai Linster scored on a power play to give Luxembourg its first lead in the game, 4-3.

“I don’t know why, but our team was tired already in the second period. They didn’t have energy anymore. What are the reasons for that? Maybe they are not used to play so many games in a week or train so hard. In the same time Luxembourg played smart, they were just getting the puck out of their zone, without any risks and were waiting for opportunities. It’s a disappointing night for sure. We had many chances, but couldn’t score,” said Daniel Cuomo, the head coach for the host nation.

Bulgaria had its chance to tie on a penalty shot after Ronny Scheier, the captain of the Luxembourger team for the 13th straight World Championship, was penalized for falling on the puck in the goal crease. In this crucial moment there was a long delay as the official didn’t let the shot to be taken by Muhachev. In the end Ivan Hodulov took the responsibility, but couldn’t beat Lepage, who made 24 saves just in the second period and had the game of his life.

Three minutes later Yotov scored after a crisp breakaway pass from Muhachev, when their team was shorthanded and the crowd was enthusiastic again. But not for long as Luxembourg finished the period with a 7-4 lead after three more goals by Benny Welter, Miroslav Mosr and Francois Schons. The last one in this sequence was on a two-man advantage following consecutive penalties to Iskrenov and Muhachev.

“Mentally we were very strong. We didn’t panic at all after being two goals behind. It was very important to comeback quick and we were able to do it. The key moment was when we scored the sixth and the seventh goal. These goals broke the opponent down,” said Czech-born Petr Fical, who played for Germany at the 2006 Olympic Games and at World Championships in the period 2005-08. Bulgaria’s coach Cuomo had the same opinion: “The 6-4 goal was the crucial one. I could see the effect that it had on the bench, the body language of the players.”

There were small signs of hopes in the first part of the third period, but Bulgaria couldn’t score on two power plays and then everything went downfall with new ostentatious examples of lack of discipline.

“Nowadays hockey is built on good defencemen, who can carry the puck. It’s not a secret that we have problems in this regard. We have veteran defencemen who are not in great shape. On top of that when something goes wrong, we are losing the whole structure, we indulge in disappointment and the penalties are coming,” explained Cuomo.

At 51:06 Mosr capitalized on another two-man advantage and just 104 seconds later Thierry Beran made it 9-4. The last goal was scored on an empty net by his father Robert Beran, who finished the historic journey with most points (19, 6+13) for Luxembourg and was voted as the best forward of the tournament. The 47-year-old Robert Beran hails from Slovakia but has been based in Luxembourg since the early 1990s and was even the national team’s head coach at the 2000 World Championship D-Pool.

“It was a wonderful week for me and Luxembourg hockey. To share this moment with my son and so many players that I had coached from the scratch is just a dream come true,” said Robert Beran, who works in a construction company besides being a coach and a player. He has also a younger son, who is 15 years old. It’s one more motivation for Robert to keep playing: “Soon we will be able to complete a full Beran forward line for the national team.“

“To be honest, I expected a closer game, but today we played great hockey, great defence too. The key for us was the team effort. The whole week we had awesome team work, we worked hard for each other – on the ice, outside of the ice. It was unbelievable experience. Our general manager Alain Schneider did a great job. He organized two exhibition games and got the team together earlier. And we won even though there are some players who couldn’t come to Sofia, because they are working and couldn’t take a leave-of-absence from their jobs,” explained Fical, who is in his second year as a Luxembourg’s head coach.

So far the best showing from the small nation (570,252 population; 399 registered players) in Division III play had been a second-place finish in 2003, last year they finished fourth. But in 2003 there were just three teams in the group and Luxembourg won against Turkey and lost to New Zealand. From the 77 IIHF members only Andorra, Iceland and Liechtenstein have a smaller population than Luxembourg.

It’s interesting to know that Luxembourg became an IIHF member on 23 March 1912, along Sweden, as the 10th and 11th members since its founding. The World Championship debut was almost on the day 80 years later though and the second participation came in 2000. On 21 March 1992 Luxembourg lost its first official game in Johannesburg against host South Africa, 23-0.

Since 2002 Luxembourg is a regular part of the IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship program in the men’s category and in the last 10 years had eight bronze medals in the Division III and two fourth-place finishes. In Sofia, Luxembourg not only had its first gold medal in any tournament but set national records for wins (5) and goals allowed in one tournament (10).

SKA Wins The Gagarin Cup


SKA wins the series 4-1)

SKA St. Petersburg wrapped up its second Gagarin Cup triumph in three seasons with a battling victory in game five in Magnitogorsk.

Oleg Znarok’s team displayed the hallmarks of a true champion, battling back from 0-2 to wrest control of the game and complete the series in five. In contrast with SKA’s previous Gagarin Cup triumph in 2015, when the team went to Kazan and overwhelmed Ak Bars with a devastating first-period performance, this game was all about patience, belief and finding a way to retrieve a difficult situation.

Metallurg, knowing that only victory would prolong its defense of the title it won last season, produced a start that got the home fans believing that their hopes could be resurrected this Easter Sunday. In the third minute, Alexei Bereglazov’s shot was tipped beyond Mikko Koskinen by Sergei Mozyakin; only the post saved SKA. In the ninth minute, though, Oskar Osala would not be denied. He raced onto Tommi Santala’s pass, got away from Alexander Barabanov and shot from the face-off spot to beat Koskinen over the glove for a goal reminiscent of his marker in Metallurg’s 2-3 loss in Petersburg on Friday.

That was the only goal of the first period, but Viktor Antipin doubled the home lead early in the second when his shot from the left took a deflection off Yegor Rykov’s skate and beat Koskinen. In a series where two-goal leads have been scarce, Metallurg was looking good to win the game and take the action back to Petersburg.

The momentum changed fast. A penalty on Danis Zaripov saw SKA quickly convert its power play chance: Evgeny Dadonov rushed down the right, played the puck back into the center from the goalline and found Nikita Gusev perfectly placed to fire home a one-timer from between the hashmarks.

The fans who came to the game in referees’ uniforms with a SKA logo replacing the KHL’s crest would, no doubt, have continued to protest the perceived injustice of Zaripov’s latest penalty call. SKA, meanwhile, was inspired and went on to tie the game two minutes later. Alexander Barabanov got the goal, but it was all about Ilya Kovalchuk’s pass from behind the net. SKA’s captain picked up on a broken play in Metallurg’s zone and set off around the boards, but opted to pass early from the near post when he spotted Barabanov peeling into space right in front of Vasily Koshechkin’s net.

Suddenly, the pattern of the game was transformed. Metallurg, having built itself a winning position, had to start afresh. SKA, facing a trip back to Petersburg, now saw its way clear to winning the cup on the night.

That pathway become even wider for the visitor in the 35th minute when Dadonov converted a two-on-two rush. Gusev fed Vadim Shipachyov, who brought the puck smoothly through center ice. Metallurg’s covering defensemen were caught out, unsure whether to block the shot or the pass, and ultimately failed to do either as Shipachyov’s perfectly-weighted pass picked out Dadonov for a one-timer that Koshechkin could do nothing with. Three goals in seven-and-a-half minutes had transformed the destiny of the game and the series.

Kovalchuk made it 4-2 just nine seconds into the final stanza. Patrik Hersley intercepted a pass out of Metallurg’s zone, advanced into an attacking position and fed Kovy for an emphatic finish. But Magnitka, rocked, was not done. Yaroslav Kosov made it 3-4 within a minute, collecting a loose puck after Artyom Zub collided with a linesman and advancing to find the bottom corner under pressure from Andrei Zubarev.

The final period was anxious; Metallurg fought hard, piling up the pressure and finishing with a 20-3 advantage on the shot count. But Koskinen was in unbeatable form, and kept his best save until last. With less than two minutes left, and Magnitka using six skaters, a rebound dropped for Osala on the slot. The Finn’s shot drew an instinctive reaction stop from his compatriot, and the puck rolled agonizingly alone the goal line before bouncing to safety off the post.

That proved to be the last chance. Two time-outs later, SKA resumed, won a face-off at its own net and got the puck clear for Sergei Plotnikov to score an empty-netter. Koskinen still needed to complete his 42nd save of the night and deny Zaripov, but the 2017 Gagarin Cup had found its home.

SKA’s victory means that the Petersburg club is the fourth to lift the Gagarin Cup twice, joining Metallurg Magnitogorsk, Ak Bars and Dynamo Moscow. Head coach Znarok becomes the first coach to win it three times, having twice claimed the top prize in the capital. The 4-1 margin in the final series matches the best ever, twice achieved by Vyacheslav Bykov as head coach of Salavat Yulaev (2011) and SKA (2015). Like Bykov, Znarok has also now won the cup while combining his club duties with taking charge of Team Russia.

Slovakia bounces back

By Andy Potts –

Slovakia’s women recovered from last year’s relegation to take gold in the 2017 IIHF Ice Hockey Women’s World Championship Division I Group B. A comprehensive 8-0 victory over Latvia in Friday’s decisive game saw Andrej Schober’s team secure top spot and an immediate return to Division IA.

For Latvia, it was another season of frustration. Last time, in Italy, the Baltic nation came second behind Hungary; this time, despite remaining in contention until the final day, it was again unable to secure top spot and promotion.

Friday’s showdown between Slovakia and Latvia also promised to be a shootout between Nicol Cupkova and Liga Miljone, the two players in contention for the leading goalscorer prize. The pair came into the game tied on five goals apiece, although Latvia’s Miljone was four points up thanks to her handful of assists throughout the tournament. With two goals and three assists, Cupkova ended the competition as the top goal- and point-scorer.

The 24-year-old, who plays for Agidel Ufa in Russia’s Women’s Hockey League, wasted little time in moving ahead on the goal tally, opening the scoring in the fifth minute. Iveta Fruhauf forced a turnover out on the boards, Cupkova took over the loose puck and rushed to the net to beat Kristiana Apsite from close range.

That set the tone for the game. Slovakia was clinical when opportunities came its way; Latvia struggled to carve out clear chances of its own. Cupkova was an influential presence on offence throughout the game. The second goal, scored by Viktoria Ihnatova in the 27th minute, began with Cupkova’s rush round the back to stretch the Latvian penalty kill. Two unassisted goals followed, with Cupkova’s linemate Jana Kapustova adding a third before Fruhauf thumped in a fourth from the blue line to put the outcome beyond doubt with almost half the game still to play.

Cupkova got her second of the night – and her seventh of the competition – to make it 5-0 before the second intermission. She showed some lovely skills to get past her opponent, only for Apsite’s pads to block the initial effort. But the puck bounced for Kapustova whose pass found Cupkova wide open at the back door.

Two further assists in the final stanza lifted Cupkova to 7+4=11 points, topping the scoring for the tournament. Ihnatova and Lucia Drabekova were the beneficiaries of her helpers as Slovakia’s lead grew. Viktoria Maskalova added an eighth to wrap up the scoring in the 56th minute, while goalie Romana Kiapesova had 14 saves for her first shut-out of the tournament.

Kazakhstan finished second, separating Slovakia and Latvia. This was an improvement on its bronze from 12 months earlier. The silver medallist had a frustrating tournament, defeating both of the teams that contested the decisive Friday showdown, but missing out on a shot at gold due to a slow start that saw losses against China (0-2) and Poland (3-4 in a shoot-out) in the opening two games before Alexander Maltsev’s team hit its stride.

The battle to avoid last place and potential relegation went down to the final game, with host nation Poland needing to beat China in regulation to move up from last place. The Chinese, looking to capitalize on a sudden flurry of interest in ice hockey in the run-up to the Beijing Olympics, had other ideas. Di Deng dominated as her team fired in four unanswered second period goals to secure fourth place ahead of Italy and Poland.

Olympics give new life to Chinese ice hockey

By Alistair McMurran –

The Olympic Games has been the spark that has lifted Chinese ice hockey to new heights and helped them gain promotion to the 2017 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship Division II Group A.

China remained unbeaten and was the dominant team at the week-long tournament at the Paradice Ice Rink in the Auckland region in New Zealand.

“China is staging the Olympic Winter Games in 2022,” head coach Jiang Hu said. “To play well at the Olympics we need to put in a lot of effort and improve our team to a very high level. That is very important to us at this time.”

Winning the tournament, China is ranked 35th overall in the 2017 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship program and has a lot to improve to be able to compete at an Olympic tournament.

At the Division II Group B level it worked well. In the round-robin competition China beat Israel 5-2, New Zealand 5-2, DPR Korea 8-3, Turkey 7-2 and Mexico 3-2.

The final points were: China 15, New Zealand 12, Israel 9, Mexico 3, DPR Korea 3, Mexico 3, Turkey 3.

The gold medal and promotion to the higher grade was important to China.

“We have put in a lot of effort in training and in all the games,” Hu explained. “The team management and the players are very happy about this and are very satisfied.

“We have received a lot of respect from our opponents, and that is very pleasant for us.”

There is a lot of excitement in China about the 2022 Winter Olympics and the national and local governments are backing the national ice hockey programme.

“Because we are holding the Olympics all the local programmes and the local and national hockey teams are being supported,” Hu said.

“The Olympic Games is bringing more attention to ice hockey.”

But the Chinese head coach and his team are very aware of the responsibility that rests on their shoulders.

“We need to perform to bring rewards back to our local government,” Hu said.

There is little doubt that Chinese hockey is on a steep rising curve. Between 2009 and now the team was ranked 34th to 38th and hopes to get back to higher levels.

Beijing made its mark on world sport when the 2008 Summer Olympics were held in China. Two of these arenas will be used for ice hockey in 2022 one of them already hosting new KHL team Kunlun Red Star.

“There are a lot of other good players outside this team training inside China,” Hu said. “Players are putting more effort into their work to get selected in national teams and they are very enthusiastic about this.”

It is the support from national and local government that has played an important role in China’s improvement.

“To help us the local government has organised a lot of competitions. We have never had this type of support before,” Hu said.

China’s biggest tests at the championships came in the first two games against Israel and New Zealand. They won both games 5-2.

There was a similar pattern in both games with the scores level at two-all after two periods. China then took control to score three more goals in the final period.

The Ice Blacks were fired up for the game and scored the first goal in each of the first two periods. China only equalized by scoring on power plays at the end of both periods.

“New Zealand was the toughest game for us and gave us a good fight,” Hu said. “But our players did not give up even when we got behind.”

China plays an efficient game at speed and is skilled at making the power plays count. Four goals were scored from power plays against DPR Korea and three against Turkey.

There was a lot of width in the Chinese play and their forwards move at speed to pressure the defence. They had the ability to strike quickly.

During this tournament the Chinese were more physical than they used to be. They played with more intensity and have the ability to move quickly from defence into the attacking zone.

The player statistics illustrate the depth in the Chinese squad. Jiachang Boa, the face-off leader with 76.92 percent, was the only Chinese player to top the list in any key area. But there were enough others in the top-10 to give China the edge.

The highest placed were goalkeeper Zehao Sun in second place with 136 saves from 148 shots at goal and defenceman Mingxi Yang with five scoring points.

Another key Chinese player was captain Ling Chen who was third on the table with four assists.

The Chinese goal scoring leaders were Cheng Zhang and Hao Zhang with four goals and two assists.

The other key face-off player in the team was Rudi Ying, who was the scoring leader at the U20 World Championship Division III that was also held in New Zealand, at Dunedin, with 19 points and was named the best forward by the directorate then. He plays for Kunlun Red Star in the Kontinental Hockey League.

New Zealand

The Ice Blacks probably had its best prepared team since it won the Division III title in 2009. But it was up against a Chinese team that has Olympic aspirations.

“It was one of the best teams we’ve had in my time,” captain Bert Haines, who first played for New Zealand in 2010, said. “We were well prepared and this was shown by the way we matched China for 60 minutes. It was the top ranked team.

“We could have won. There were just a couple of plays that opened up that game. It was much tighter than the final score would indicate.

“We came back well to beat Israel and that was a must win game for us. We were able to dictate play for most of that game.”

The Ice Blacks beat Turkey 4-1, lost to China 5-2 and beat Israel 5-2, Mexico 4-2 and DPR Korea 8-1.

The games against Israel and Mexico were hard fought and brought out the best in the maturing Ice Blacks team under new head coach Maru (Stacey) Rout.

The gold medal had been conceded to China after they beat the Ice Blacks in the second game. The next two games against Israel and Mexico defined New Zealand’s place at the championships.

The team wanted the silver medal and came out with all guns blazing in the first period against Israel and led 3-0 after just 15 minutes.

It was the game in which 19-year-old Jacob Ratcliffe came of age and scored a hat trick of goals. He scored six goals and shared top spot on the championship table.

Ratcliffe has jet propulsion on skates and this enables him to jump on any chance to score goals. He has the potential to become a super star.

He grew up in Canterbury and was in the Red Devils team that won the New Zealand League in 2013 and 2014. He made his senior international debut last year.

Mexico caused the Ice Blacks some grief when they came back from a two goal deficit in the first period to be just one goal behind at the end of the second period.

It was Ratcliffe who came to the rescue by scoring his fifth tournament goal with just five minutes left to give the Ice Blacks a two goal cushion.

The Ice Blacks went to Melbourne for pre-tournament training and honed their skills with games against the Melbourne Ice and Northern Mustangs Australian league teams.

“The biggest benefit of going to Melbourne was pre-tournament games against teams that compared in skill with the teams we faced at the world champs,” Haines said.

“We were a new team coming together and learning new systems and were able to try out our systems and use them.”

Haines instilled his high principles into the Ice Blacks.

“Everyone embraced the fact that it is an honour to represent your country at home. We were a great group of guys who came together in a supportive culture.”

It was a big step up by a New Zealand side that had finished fourth at Mexico City last year.

Head coach Maru Rout likes winning and coached the Canterbury Red Devils to three titles from 2012 to 2014.

He has co-opted Anatoli Khorosov, who followed him at the Red Devils, to be assistant coach of the Ice Blacks. Khorosov brings a strong style of Russian and European hockey to the table. It is fast passing and utilizes the whole ice

Rout used to like the more physical North American style of hockey but he now uses a mixed combination of physical and European skills with fast passing and shooting.

The best New Zealand player was Rick Parry who topped the goal keeper list by making 125 saves and conceding just nine goals.

His best performances came in the key games against Israel when he conceded just two goals from 39 attempts and against Mexico when he saved 30 shots and conceded just two goals.

Parry, 29, has been a regular in the Ice Blacks since 2008 and now plays for the Adelaide Adrenaline in the Australian Ice Hockey League.

Two experienced 26-year-olds played a key role in the New Zealand forwards. Chris Eaden was third equal on the table with four assists and Paris Heyd hit three goals.

Heyd played a power forward role on defence and had the ability to take control of a game. He is fast on skates and skilled on the breakaway.

Haines and Andrew Hay were solid defenders who made life easier for Parry in goal.


Israel had to be satisfied with the bronze medal when it was beaten by China and New Zealand with scores of 5-2 in the first and third games. It retained the third spot it filled at Mexico City last year.

Israel beat Mexico 6-2, DPR Korea 9-2 and Turkey 5-0.

The player statistics show that Israel had some elite players but the big problem for American coach Derek Eisler was the lack of depth.

Israel has compulsory military training for two years and eight months and it robs the sport of promising players before they reach their prime.

The best player for Israel at the championship was Elie Klein, 27, who was the scoring leader with 11 points. He scored four goals and had seven assists. He was top of the assist ladder and was runner-up in the face-off table with 76.47 percent.

Ilya Spektor, 20, one of the youngest players, was the joint leading goal scorer with six and was third on the scoring table with nine points.

Daniel Mazour scored a hat trick in the final-round win against Turkey to finish third on the goal-scoring table with five.

Other key players for Israel were defender Michael Kozevnikov and Roey Aharonovich, who is the first Israeli to play in the NCAA College system in the United States. He will play for Neumann University in Pennsylvania. The men’s ice hockey team competes at the Division III.

Outside the medals

The three other teams only gained one win and their play was noted for its inconsistency. They just did not have the depth to have back-to-back top performances.

Mexico’s only win came in its first game against DPR Korea, 5-1. But they had strong performances in its last two games to lose narrowly to New Zealand and China.

Mexico lost 3-2 in its final game and held China scoreless in the final period.

The best player was Luis Alberta de la Vega, who was fourth equal on the goal scoring table and filled the same spot on the defencemen scoring table with four goals.

Goalie Alfonso de Alba made 120 saves and only conceded 13 goals to be third on the table.

DPR Korea looked to be a major threat when it thumped Turkey 11-3 with blitzkrieg tactics. Chun Rim Hong scored a hat trick of goals and Pong Il Ri was runner-up on the assists table with five and topped the defencemen’s scoring table with six points.

The young Turkish team that included 13 players from this year’s championship-winning under-20 team could not match it with the big boys and finished last and will be demoted to Division III next year.

The one bright spot was the 1-0 win over Mexico in the third round. Its best player was goalie Tolga Bozaci.

The Directorates best players of the championships were:

Goaltender: Rick Parry (New Zealand).
Defenceman: Michael Kozevnikov (Israel).
Forward: Hao Zhang (China).

Romania rising

By Henrik Manninen –

A disciplined Romanian team barged ahead to win the top spot at the 2017 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship Division II Group A on home ice in Galati.

In front of an atmospheric home crowd of 3,200 the hosts emphatically brushed aside Spain 6-0 during the final day to win promotion to the 2018 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship Division I Group B. While Romania rejoiced in front of their fans, Spain bowed out with their head down as their final-day defeat sent them down to Division IIB. Newly promoted Australia celebrated a surprise silver, while Serbia built up steam after a shaky start to get their hands on the bronze medals.

Having the best scorers and the tightest defence was the combination for success as Romania racked up four wins and a sole defeat. Romania’s Ede Mihaly topped the scoring charts with nine points (8+1), teammate Botond Flinta was joint leader in plus-minus with +9 and right at the back while netminder Zoltan Toke conceded the least amount of goals. Martin Lacroix, who made his debut as head coach for Romania, was in full of praise of his players who stuck to the outlined game plan to the letter.

“We conceded five goals in five games, but we were not playing defensive hockey,” said Lacroix. “We kept it very simple and not taking too many risks in the defensive and neutral zone. We scored a lot of goals in the tournament, and the players were very responsible throughout the tournament,” he continued.

Pre-tournament favourites Romania got themselves in the driving seat from the outset at the 2017 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship Division II Group A. Mihaly had led the way and netted five goals as the hosts raced past Belgium in their opener, 9-1. They overcame their next hurdle, a physical encounter with neighbours Serbia, 4-1 before their course set straight for promotion temporarily derailed by a valiant Icelandic team. Despite being bombarded by 41 Romanian shots, the hosts were blanked as the Nordic nation recorded a historical 2-0 win with goals from Kristjan Kristinsson and Aron Knutsson. By the time round four came around, Romania required a must-win against newcomers and undefeated Australia in order to have fate in their own hands ahead of the final round of games.

Australia’s captain Lliam Webster picked out Jozef Rezek, who came flying down the left side to break the deadlock as his shot flied past Toke’s glove and into the net to silence the home crowd with 2:36 to go of the first frame. But Lacroix’s recent line changes immediately paid dividends for Romania. Csanad Fodor’s line with Norbert and Szilard Rokaly sparked Romania back to life and only 30 seconds after Australia’s opener, the hosts were back on level terms. Hugo Gecse flipped in a shot from the blueline with Szilard Rokaly netting the rebound left by Anthony Kimlin.

Romania got back into control and brushed off their first period scare by adding a pair of goals in each of the two remaining frames. All four lines were on target as Romania ran out as comfortable 5-1 winners. It was to be Australia only defeat during the tournament and one their head coach Brad Vigon sportingly credited a better opponent.

“I was awake at night after that game and wondered I had chosen the wrong strategy or the wrong game plan. In the end I must say they were better than us in every single facet of the game. I can live with myself when you get beaten by a team that had a better night than you,” said Vigon, who had plenty of positives to say on his battling team who finished just a point behind Romania.

“Character is our number-one criteria. We have a group of guys who are playing for each other and that is our biggest strength,” said Vigon, a former national team player for Australia who now is working wonders with a team built on strong foundations starting from the back.

“When we have a goalie like Anthony Kimlin we have a chance in every game, but I also knew coming into this tournament that any team would be capable to beat you in this division which has proven to be the case. But we have a lot more depth going forward back in Australia that we hope to add to our team next year which also could strengthen up our lower end lines,” he continued.

While Australia will be looking ahead for next year as a possible contender for promotion, another team wanting to step up a division will be Serbia. Arriving in Galati with as roster where 14 players this year competed in the Hungarian-Romanian MOL Liga, they had hopes that 2017 might have been their year. But an overtime loss against Australia and succumbing to Romania during the first two round of games dented any hopes of promotion.

“We had very high expectations coming into this tournament and we wanted to play for the first spot,” said head coach Nemanja Jankovic on his team that throughout the week combined highs such as a 9-2 win against Belgium and beating Iceland 6-0 with lows such as losing on overtime against relegated Spain.

“We are still young and most of the guys play in the MOL Liga so they will improve with time and experience. Overall you have to be happy, but we underachieved a bit, especially in crucial moments of certain matches, such as our overtime losses against Australia and Spain,” said Jankovic.

For fourth-placed Belgium, Gil Paelnick was back in his second spell as their head coach. Having previously guided Belgium to three silver medals in a row, his return was hampered by the team’s lack of preparation which saw his Belgium finish fourth with plenty of room for improvement ahead of next year.

“The first practice I had with the entire team was here in Romania. The level of the players is good, but you cannot gel as lines by just throwing them together,” he said.

The biggest surprise of the tournament was undoubtedly Iceland’s victory over Romania. A historical first for the Nordic team, whose goaltender Dennis Hedstrom was in inspirational form, saved 41 Romanian shots as Iceland blanked the hosts 2-0. Two debutants at this level were the scorers, 18-year-old Kristjan Kristinsson backhanded Iceland’s opener during the second frame, before Aron Knutsson doubled the lead with 5:53 left of the game.

“Romania did not think we would compete at all with them. We had a bit of luck, but also fought for every centimetre out there. That sums up the guys we have here on the team. When they know it is impossible, they go out of their way to prove you wrong. But then when things are fully possible, they seem to make it harder than it actually is,” said Iceland head coach Magnus Blarand as in their next game after toppling Romania, they came down to earth again with a bang, losing against Belgium 9-3. In the end Iceland had to settle for fifth place with six points but with the added youngsters to the roster passing the baptism of fire at this level bodes well for the future.

Spain, who last year finished second in this division on home ice, got off to a bad start in Galati. Beginning with three straight defeats they were unable to reverse the trend. They got their sole points on board following an overtime win against Serbia and will drop down to the 2018 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship Division II Group B.

“Our goal was to stay in the division, but we knew it was going to be a tough task and we needed to play at our best. During our game against Iceland, we outplayed them but just couldn’t score and that cost us. Now we got to regroup, and try to win the Division IIB next year,” said Spain’s head coach Mauricio Mansi.

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