Month: December 2017 (page 1 of 2)

The Swiss win the tournament in Příbram

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By Daniel Monnin – Swiss Hockey News

The Women’s national team won the four-nation tournament in Příbram thanks to victories over Norway, France, and Czechia. With that, Switzerland has won eleven out of twelve preparation games for the Olympic Games in PyeongChang.

Head coach Daniela Diaz was very content with the performance of her team: “The team performed incredibly well and it all worked – on and off the ice. The goal was to win the tournament and we achieved that. We are on the right track for February.” 

The Swiss, for the most part, dominated their games against Norway, France, and Czechia. The nine goals were scored by six different players, only Alina Müller and Dominique Rüegg managed to score twice.

After the Christmas break, the team will compete in the last tournament before the start of the Olympic Games. They will participate in the Nations Cup, which will take place from January 2 to January 6 in Füssen (GER). They will face Germany and Sweden. The five U18 national team players will not be part of that roster as they will be busy preparing for the U18 World Championship in Dmitrov.

Japan’s juniors rise

By Chris Ellis – IIHF.com

Great Britain – After an absence of two years, the Japanese U20 national team returns to the Division I thanks to an almost flawless week in Dumfries, Scotland, at the 2018 IIHF Ice Hockey U20 World Championship Division II Group A.

Five victories, with four in regulation time including a final-day win over hosts Great Britain, was enough to see Japan promoted from Division II Group A with 14 points out of a possible 15.

The week began in convincing fashion for Teruhiko Okita’s side as Tohi Kobayashi scored twice in a 6-1 victory over the Netherlands, who would go on and be relegated despite a thrilling final-day win over Estonia when they came from 4-1 down to win 6-5.

The Japanese weren’t always in control of the group though after they dropped a point in their second game against Romania. Kobayashi scored the game-winning goal 97 seconds into overtime to give his side a narrow 3-2 victory.

Hosts Great Britain led the way after three games with wins over Romania (3-2), Estonia (6-2) and the Netherlands (8-1); in a game which saw the tournament’s leading goal scorer Liam Kirk – who ended the competition with seven goals – grab a hat trick.

Japan kept up their winning record with a 5-1 victory over Korea before the dynamics of the group took a twist on game day four.

It was pretty routine for Japan in a 4-1 success over Estonia, but GB lost 5-4 to Korea after a penalty-shot shootout, so it was the Japanese who topped the group going into the final day.

Korea, who won promotion from Division II Group B last season and was the tournament’s lowest-seed team, beat Romania 5-2 – a result which would ultimately secure them the silver medal.

Japan was denied promotion in a final-day showdown with Lithuania in Estonia last year, but they never looked like suffering the same fate in the game for gold with Great Britain as goals from Masato Kume and Daiki Miura opened up a two-goal lead.

Kirk, who also led the tournament in points with 14 in five matches, pulled GB to within one, but Hayato Aiki and Daiki Miura stretched Japan’s lead to 4-1.

GB head coach Slava Koulikov took his timeout at 15:22 of the third period and lifted netminder Jordan Lawday for the extra skater and it paid dividends within 15 seconds as Cole Shudra scored.

Despite a further three minutes of constant pressure the British were unable to find a way past Eiki Sato – and Junki Shinoda wrapped the game up into the empty net.

It was agony for the hosts who had to settle for bronze and they missed out on promotion at the first time of asking after having come down from the Division IB, but Japan – who conceded the lowest goals in the tournament (seven) and scored the joint-highest (23) – makes a return to Division I in fine style.

Silver went to Korea, which finished the tournament in second place and the U20 World Championship program in 24th place overall – better than ever in the U20 category. Jong Min Lee and Juhyung Lee were the best scorers behind Kirk with six goals and four assists.

Central Asians earn promotion to World Juniors

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By Chapin Landvogt IIHF.com

Every year, the Christmas season is one that plays host to a plethora of national teams in a number of tournaments across the globe. Rarely do these tournaments see as dominant a point-consuming winner as the 2018 IIHF Ice Hockey U20 World Championship Division I Group A, which has once again sweetened the holiday season for some, while giving a number of nation’s ice hockey programs plenty to think about in preparing for next year’s edition.

Spent in the lovely, snow-filled Meribel and Courchevel in France, a new champion has been crowned and it’s none other than the tournament’s most exotic geographical participant, Kazakhstan. This was concluded in astounding fashion as the Kazaks polished off host France 6-1 in the final game, allowing the team to go undefeated in collecting 13 of 15 possible points. Saturday’s victory, as well as gaining first place, was due in part to defenseman Valeri Orekhov, who led the way in putting an exclamation point on the top spot with three assists, allowing him to tie for the lead in tournament scoring with seven points.

This amount was also tallied by teammate Artur Gatiyatov, who proved to be Johnny on the spot at several junctures of the tournament. He also tied for the tournament’s lead in the plus-minus department with a +5. Clearly though, scoring over the five-game event was spread out across a number of shoulders. Another top point-getter was Nikita Nazarenko, who contributed four goals and two assists, despite often playing on a different line that Gatiyatov. All in all, 10 players accumulated two or more points.

The journey to first place experienced its first test when Kazakhstan required overtime to defeat eventual 3rd place Germany 3-2 in the first game of the tournament. The exact same path needed to be taken in their second game, having beaten eventual 2nd-place Latvia by the same score in overtime to set the pace. After that, the Kazaks completed one mission after another, defeating the promoted Hungary by a tight score of 5-3, Austria in a 3-2 thriller, and then host France 6-1 in the only game of the tournament that saw the promoted Kazakhstan really dominate their opponent over 60 minutes.

That elation was clearly evident throughout the arena, most especially noticed by the predominantly French spectators, once the siren had rung and Kazakhstan’s celebration began taking place.

After a very strong showing in 2016 followed by another respectable showing (and a bit of bad luck) in 2017, the Kazak program has achieved its goal and will be a part of the big show in 2019 when the world’s best juniors gather in Vancouver and Victoria in Canada’s western province of British Columbia. Home to a population of roughly 18 million inhabitants, the intentions and progress of the Kazak ice hockey program have become very clear in recent years thanks to the achievements of the U18 and U20 teams, both of which have performed strongly in the respective Division I tournaments in the U18 and U20 categories. Something that is reminding viewers of the type of progress that Belarus has enjoyed in recent years.

Taking notes

In a couple of weeks Belarus will be part of the 2018 IIHF World Junior Championship taking place in Buffalo, New York. That was made possible thanks to a convincing Division I tournament victory last December in Bremerhaven, Germany. Their journey took them from one B-town to another. And the Division I group serves as the stepping stone for every ambitious hockey nation that feels it should be duking things out with the world’s best. That’s now a step Kazakhstan will be experiencing for itself this time next year and will surely have all eyes on this year’s edition of the tournament, which will begin on 26th December.

It’s a tournament Kazakhstan’s hardest opponent, Latvia, is all too familiar with and one it desperately wants to be part of year for year.

A clear favourite heading into this December’s Division I Group A, the Latvian U20 national team was making a journey from North America to France, where their mission could only be to achieve direct re-qualification to the world’s top U20 division. To get back up, they’d have to beat recent Division I power Germany, ever-improving French and Kazakh teams, the grab bag Austrians, and a Hungarian team that has swiftly made its way up to Division I through some good grassroots development.

Only two years ago, this Latvian team had defeated some stiff competition in Vienna, Austria, to make its way up to the world’s elite. A 1-0 victory over Germany on the final day of the tournament allowed the Latvians, who had lost to Kazakhstan just 3-2 in overtime, to keep their hopes high, but alas, that one point lost to Kazakhstan on the second day of the tournament proved the difference on the final day.

Keeping things tight

German coach Christian Kunast perhaps said it best by stating, “We’ve once again come to see that this division won’t let you get away with even one bad day. At the end of the tournament, the team gaining promotion is the one that plays most consistently right from day one.”

A glance at the paths taken by Latvia and Germany at this tournament, much less that of Kazakhstan, which had it lost in overtime to either Germany or Latvia, would not have gained promotion when all was said and done, once again showed how tight the competition is at this level. Latvia missed out by one shootout loss and Germany’s loss of five possible points proved extremely bitter, considering each loss was by just one goal. A different hero here or there could have seen any of these three countries finish first.

“Our congrats go to Kazakhstan for gaining promotion,” stated German team manager Klaus Merk. “They played the best tournament, managing to do what was necessary when it was necessary, and rightfully earned first place in the standings.”

Differing a bit from previous years were the fates of Austria, France, and Hungary. Other than beating up each other, none of the three could make a dent against the tourney’s top three. Hungary’s one point came in OT against France, which at that juncture of the tournament seemed like quite the success. Nonetheless, the level of play in France and at this tournament was too much for Hungary, which still must be seen as an up and coming ice hockey nation.

Clearer playing field and continued trend

Almost surprisingly, the host nation France didn’t have the tournament it expected. After a very strong appearance last December in Germany, where the team managed to feature the tournament’s top scorers (Gabin Ville and Bastien Maia with 12 and 10 points respectively) and really give the impression that it will be reckoned with for promotion this year, the team simply couldn’t come close to achieving the same level of success. This came as a bit of a surprise for several reasons.

The home-ice advantage was felt to give the team a big boost, especially after the men’s World Championships were successfully co-held in France just this past May. In addition, the team featured what many felt would be the tournament’s strongest player, Alexandre Texier, a 2017 2nd-round draft pick of the Columbus Blue Jackets who is currently taking a regular shift for KalPa in Finland’s top senior circuit, for whom he has scored eight goals in 30 games. After kicking off the tournament with three assists in France’s convincing 6-1 victory over Austria, he managed just one point over the next four games in which France garnered just two points and was shut out twice. His power outage was indicative of France’s 4th place finish in the tournament.

Another trend that has developed at the Division I level was once again confirmed, namely that nations of the former USSR not only were among the most competitive, but also posed the tournament’s champion for the third year running. This shouldn’t come as a surprise as each of Belarus, Kazakhstan and Latvia have a rich history with the sport, which is clearly the most popular team sport in Belarus and Latvia while being as much in several parts of Kazakhstan.

On the way down

As if the organizers knew this match-up might hold such relevance, the final day of the tournament included an Austro-Hungarian match-up that featured a do-or-die scenario with respect to relegation. The two nations of Austria and Hungary are not just deeply entwined from an historical standpoint, but each have teams playing in the EBEL, a multinational league that stretches across four Central European nations and organizes its own junior leagues. A great many of the players dotting the roster have come up through the junior programs fostered by EBEL participants and/or are currently playing in North America, Scandinavia or Switzerland.

Each having entered the game with no more than a single point, Austria managed to pull out a convincing 5-2 victory, which was one that the team celebrated with aplomb. Forward Marco Rossi looked like a man on a mission with two goals and four points, proving to be the difference like few individuals had been in a game thus far. Although this was certainly a bit of a damper in the program’s progress, ice hockey pundits continue to believe that Austria will start to have a higher impact on the international ice hockey scene at this level in the years to come.

For now, the nations of Germany, France, and Austria will watch the progress of Kazakhstan at the 2019 IIHF World Junior Championship while anxiously awaiting to see who will join them next winter after this year’s World Juniors in Buffalo. One thing they already know is that Norway will be rejoining them at next year’s Division I Group A tournament. To get there, Norway required a shootout victory to defeat Ukraine and then another in the final game to defeat Poland.

As such, things are getting tighter at the U20 level – something that every true ice hockey fan has to love to see.

Norway holds its nerve

By Andy Potts – IIHF.com

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 EliteProspects.com

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 – IIHF.com

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.”

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