Year: 2018 (page 1 of 26)

New wave leads Germany to World Juniors

Germany’s U20 national team celebrates promotion to the 2020 IIHF World Junior Championship in the Czech Republic

By Chapin Landvogt –

Nothing is sweeter than convincingly winning a World Championship tournament on home ice. Just ask the kids playing on this winter’s edition of the German U20 national team.

Better yet, you probably wouldn’t need to if you had seen how the German team stormed the ice when the final buzzer sounded to end Germany’s last game of the tournament, a 6-1 outcome against geographical neighbour France. The team celebrated with an elation that had been building for days and the excitement will only continue to grow, as many of this year’s squad’s key players will still be eligible to play at next winter’s World Juniors. Of the 22 players, 10 were born in 2000 or later.

Finishing first was no easy task, but to do so knowing you’ll be able to take your key players with you to next year’s tournament a level higher is about the best possible outcome for any national program looking to cement itself among the world’s elite once and for all.

“This achievement is of incredible importance for German ice hockey,” explained Franz Reindl, President of the German Ice Hockey Association. “I am so happy and proud of this team and our program. First our men’s team was able to win the silver medal in PyeongChang, now our U20 team has won this tournament and gained promotion. This has been a very special year for ice hockey in Germany.”

The Germans entered Saturday’s game against France in the driver’s seat, as all they needed for advancement was to at least get the game to overtime. Things got off to a good start, but despite a 2-0 lead after one period of play, Germany swallowed a power-play goal against by Antonin Plagnat in the second period, cutting the lead to 2-1 and making things look a lot closer than they’d end up being. 

A goal by Taro Jentzsch in the 34th minute once again gave Germany the momentum, getting a team that had shown some dents in the armour back on track. It would be the first of a natural hat trick by Jentzsch, as Germany added three more goals in the third period to overwhelmingly seal their promotion to the top division. 

“This team truly, truly earned its place in next year’s WJC,” explained an ecstatic Christian Kunast, head coach of the German entry. “Five games, five victories; all done on the back of incredible team spirit. The team is completely deserving of this promotion to the next level. I am so happy for the players for this achievement.”

Germany finished the tournament with five victories in five games and 14 of 15 possible points. With that, the young team is heading to neighbouring Czech Republic for the 2020 IIHF World Junior Championship.

The decisive game

This promotion was largely made possible by Thursday’s tilt against Belarus, both teams having entered the game knowing that a regulation loss to the other team would all but end its chances of moving up to the world’s elite group. Eventual silver medallist Belarus had won its first three games in regulation while Germany had done the same, albeit the first one was a 3-2 shootout victory over arch rival Austria to kick off the tournament. 

In light of the dominance Belarus had shown to date, it was all that much more surprising that Germany was able to take a commanding 3-0 lead within the first 12 minutes of the game thanks to goals by Justin Schutz, Marco Bassler, and Tim Wohlgemuth. They almost ended the period with another goal on top of that, but Tim Brunnhuber failed to capitalize on a shorthanded breakaway in which he beat goaltender Nikita Tolopilo, who had just replaced starting goaltender Andrei Grishenko, but then missed the wide-open net with his shot.

As expected, Belarus came out hard and controlled the first 10 minutes of the 2nd period, eventually getting on the scoreboard with a power play goal by Ivan Drozdov, but Germany managed to catch itself and then pop in a goal just four minutes later by Yannik Valenti to regain the three-goal lead. The teams both headed into the locker room well aware that the game was anything but over, as Belarus had already come back from a 3-0 deficit to beat Norway and a 2-1 deficit to beat France 6-2 – all on the strength of dominant and goal-filled third periods.

But this was a trend Germany was determined to end, and the team did so convincingly. Belarus was never really permitted to get into a productive flow and Germany often spent considerable periods of time with puck possession, managing the game with aplomb. Finally, as Belarus did all it could to get back into the game, having even pulled their goalie for a power play with a good nine minutes to go in the game, Dominik Bokk scored one of the tournament’s most beautiful goals on a solo effort in the 57th minute, letting there be no doubt who was taking these three points.

“Today we took the next step in our team’s development and the realization of our goals. The boys delivered an absolutely incredible performance against one of the tournament’s top favourites and with that, clearly earned this victory”, explained coach Kunast.

The team was celebrated after the game by roughly 1,700 spectators in Fussen and awards were handed out by Konrad Abelthauser, a Red Bull Munich defenceman who has won the DEL championship three years in row and who himself had also been an integral member of the 2013 U20 team, which like this year’s edition managed to gain promotion at a U20 World Championship Division I held in Bavaria (Garmisch-Partenkirchen). And with that, Germany has swept away three straight years of disappointment at this tournament, namely in Vienna, Bremerhaven, and Meribel and Courchevel, to finally gain promotion back into the age group’s top circuit.

“We wanted to show the hockey world that it was a mistake that we were relegated last year, that we belong in the top group”, explained disappointed Belarusian captain Maxim Sushko. “We wanted to use this tournament to give the next generation the opportunity to play at the highest level.”

“We were ready and rested. We watched videos and even had plan B, which we had used the third period of the previous game to practice. We knew what was coming and we went into the game confident that we could win, knowing it’d be a hard and fun game that, was, well, an end game.”

For Belarus, which came into to the tournament as the top-seeded team to gain promotion, things had started out with three straight regulation victories, beating Norway 5-3, France 6-2, and Austria 5-0. This left little doubt that there’d be no promotion for any other team without the Belarusians having a say in the matter. The loss to Germany then sucked the life out of them. Getting down 3-0 early was only enhanced by a plethora of poor passes and a bevy of missed opportunities. That trend continued throughout the game, and into the next one. Belarus ended the tournament with a 3-1 loss to Latvia. Nonetheless, Belarus did finish second overall in the final standings.

The rest

The tournament kicked off with Belarus, Latvia, and Germany being the odds favourites. In fact, it was hard to tell which of these teams would have the upper hand and it was looking like quite the battle royale coming in. But that all changed in the very first game, when Latvia was stunned by France, losing 3-1 to “les bleus”. They appeared to have recovered from that upset when they took down Austria 4-1, but then host Germany came along and ended hopes of promotion with a 4-1 win of its own against the Latvians, who wound up finishing 4th overall.

Ultimately, third place was locked up by Norway, which was the “newcomer” in the group after gaining promotion at last year’s Division I Group B on the strength of an overtime victory over Poland. The traditional Scandinavian mainstay in Group A had ups and downs throughout the tournament, kicking things off with a 5-3 loss to Belarus and a 4-0 shellacking against Germany. The team looked a lot better on the ice than those scores indicated, and proved what it could do by beating France 5-0 and then knocking off Latvia 4-2, before settling things with a 3-2 overtime victory over Austria. 

This turnaround surely had much to do with the arrival of the team’s star Mathias Emelio Pettersen, who missed the first game while flying halfway across the world from Denver, Colorado, where he had played several college games with the Denver Pioneers just last weekend before hopping on the plane. He did play against Germany, pretty much heading into the game straight from the airport after roughly a day of travel, but proceeded to put up three goals and six points in the final three games of the tournament. That begs to question what might have been, if the team’s already drafted star had been fresh and ready to go right from the beginning?

In addition to France, Austria can be anything but happy about this tournament. Unlike France, it did manage to avoid relegation with a hard-fought and concentrated 3-2 OT loss to Norway on the final day of play. Things began well for the Austrians as the came back to force Germany to overtime on the first day of the tournament. It then lost its next two games convincingly in regulation, before beating France 4-2 in a game that had the look of a do-or-die relegation event. With a win and two overtime losses, the Austrians live to fight again at next year’s event, one in which several strong 2002-born players should be on the team and leading the way.

After doing the top teams a favour by beating Latvia on the first day of the tournament, France wasn’t able to gain even one more point the rest of the week, struggling mightily to create any offence whatsoever. When all was said and done, the team only managing to score eight goals in five games and has been relegated in what is an unfortunate step back for a program that had looked to be very much at home in this class in recent years. 

Special talents of note

For the scouting community – and indeed various NHL, European, and junior club scouts were in attendance – this tournament featured a number of players in just the type of pressure situation they wanted to see them in. Particularly Germany’s captain Moritz Seider was under the microscope right from the get-go and he didn’t disappoint. He not only ate up gobs of ice time in all possible situations and scenarios, he also chipped in a goal and six assists while going +8 throughout the tournament. Almost more impressive was his astounding ability to calm down and control hectic situations with the poise of a player much older and experienced than he is while setting the physical tone with every opportunity. Moritz won’t even turn 18 until next April and already gets somewhat regular ice time playing for the DEL’s first-place team, Adler Mannheim.

He’s expected to be a top-50 pick in this summer’s NHL draft.

Also of great interest were the performances at this level of a number of players who have already been drafted, including Germany’s Dominik Bokk, Leon Gawanke, and Justin Schutz, Belarus’ Maxim Sushko and Vladislav Yeryomenko, and Norway’s Mathias Pettersen and Kristian Marthinsen. As a first rounder for the St. Louis Blues in last summer’s draft and a forward who has already been getting somewhat regular power play time this season for SHL powerhouse Vaxjo Lakers, much was expected of Dominik Bokk at this tournament and it was clear to him that no player had higher expectations to live up to. 

Although there were plenty of instances where he held onto the puck too long or tried to do too much on his own, he nonetheless led the tournament in scoring and flashed the kind of innate skill that nary a player at this tournament, much less whatsoever in his age group, possesses. Cool, calm, collective, and confident, he often put on a show and one could argue that if he were playing with a few more guys with a similar skill level, he might have had upwards of 15 assists at this tournament.

Of players who were looking to use this tournament to make a bigger name for themselves internationally, Belarus’s Ivan Drozdov did just that in leading the team’s attack to the tune of four goals and six points and earned the Best Forward award. Already a regular for Dynamo Minsk in the KHL at age 19, many in the scouting community have looked to see more out of him on a bigger stage and this tournament apparently was just the right tonic for a kid who has wanted to show what he’s capable of.

Likewise, Norwegian right winger Samuel Solem led his team in scoring and was one of the tournament’s top goal scorers with four tallies and six points. He has played for SHL team Brynas’ junior club in recent years and has even suited up for six SHL games this season. His performance was crucial for his team and exactly what experts had expected to see out of him. 

Things were unfortunate for several youngsters who were expected to play a huge role in helping their team gain promotion. German 16-year old winger Tim Stutzle came into the event looking to make sure that his name was finally engraved in the notebook of any and every scout out there. Already committed to the University of New Hampshire as of the 2020/21 season, the multifaceted forward is felt to be the most dynamic German prospect since Leon Draisaitl, Bokk included. Unfortunately, he was injured in the warm-ups to the game against Norway and missed the rest of the tournament. He could only support his team from the sidelines, but rest assured that he’ll play a huge role for Team Germany in next year’s World Juniors.

More unfortunate however were the hopes of Austria’s top youngster, Marco Rossi, who was looked at to lead the way for Austria if there’d be any hopes of gaining promotion. Playing for the OHL’s Oshawa Generals, for whom he’s already collected 27 points in 23 games this season, the 17-year-old who is first eligible for the 2020 NHL draft sustained an injury shortly before the tournament began and, as was then seen over the course of the week, could not be compensated for as Austria spent more time battling against relegation than finding a way to move up the totem pole. Sadly, this also means that local hockey fans missed out on seeing one of the finest young phenomena Austria has ever produced. 

Of course, no team felt the absence of its best possible player more than France, who showed up without Alexandre Texier, its best prospect in decades. Despite looking outstanding for the first 127 minutes of the tournament, the roof crashed in on the French once the Belarusians popped in four third-period goals against them in game 2. The team failed to gain a point after that. 

Texier surely could have been an immense help in swaying the French’s fate in another direction, as this would have been his third U20 World Championship event. In addition, the all-round forward has been a mainstay for Liiga team KaiPa Kuopio in Finland, for whom he currently has 15 points after putting up 13 goals and 22 points last season. There’s absolutely no telling what he could have meant to this French side, as he’s clearly this generation’s leader and would have been the most experienced professional player at this tournament. Alas, KaiPa wasn’t willing to release him to attend.

As a side note, although all six participating nations hail from Europe, roughly 20 of the players who participated in the tournament had to cross the Atlantic from North America to get here. Alone 10 of them hailed from Belarus’ roster.

Happy hosts

The German Ice Hockey Association (DEB) showed itself to be quite happy with not only the outcome of the tournament, but also the numbers in attendance. With the exception of the weekday games against Norway and Latvia, to which roughly 1,100 people pilgrimed into the arena, all of Germany’s games were attended by over 1,600 spectators, with the final game against France seeing a good 2,000 in attendance. 

Robert Schutt of the DEB summed up the organization’s overall feeling about hosting this event: “We are very satisfied with the tournament, with how many people came to see the games, with the atmosphere they created in cheering on no less than the home team, and of course with the fact that Germany gained promotion by finishing first overall. The National Center for Performance and Competition, which hosted the games in Fussen, proved to be a great host site for the event and all of the teams have expressed how happy they were with the overall organization and accommodations.”

Tops in the tournament

  • The top goaltender of the tournament was Germany’s Hendrik Hane, who had four victories, a 94.9 save percentage, and an outstanding 0.98 goals against average.
  • The top defenceman of the tournament was Germany’s captain Moritz Seider, who finished third overall in scoring with one goal and seven points while going +8.
  • The top forward of the tournament was Belarus’ Ivan Drozdov, who led his team in scoring with four goals and six points.
  • The tournament’s top scorer was Dominik Bokk with one goal and eight points, accompanied by a +5 rating.

Slovenia steps up

The Slovenian players celebrate after getting their fifth win in the fifth game at the 2019 IIHF Ice Hockey U20 World Championship Division I Group B against Ukraine to earn promotion.

By Andy Potts –

Slovenia’s juniors are celebrating gold in 2019 IIHF Ice Hockey U20 World Championship Division I Group B, two years after the same group of players won the U18 Division IB.

A 4-1 victory over Ukraine on Friday afternoon secured top spot for Ales Burnik’s team. Despite going behind midway through the second period, Slovenia rallied to claim a comfortable win thanks to goals from Aljaz Predan, Jaka Sturm, captain Jaka Sodja and Martin Bohinc. Defenceman Nejc Stojan collected three assists to finish with 2+5 for the tournament; Jan Drozg’s helper on Predan’s marker took him to 12 (4+8) points, finishing as the competition’s top scorer, five points clear of a clutch of players.

Slovenia wrapped up top spot after the first game of the final day in Tychy, Poland, but the tournament was far from one-sided. Going into Friday’s play, there was a three-way battle for top spot and five of the six nations were in with at least a theoretical chance of a medal. In the event, the host’s 4-2 win over Hungary secured silver for Poland and left Hungary with bronze. Italy defeated winless Japan in overtime to take fourth place ahead of Ukraine. The Japanese drop to Division IIA for next season.

Slovenian head coach Burnik said: “It was a very interesting tournament. The competition was high quality because all the teams were fairly evenly-matched. Even going into the last day we had three teams going for promotion and five hoping for a medal.

“In the end we proved to be the best team but we faced tough games against good opponents. We managed to reach our goal thanks to our preparations, our excellent staff and some great energy among the players.”

The toughest battle for Slovenia came against Hungary. Down 1-4 after 40 minutes, a big fightback in the third period set up a shootout win that gave the Slovenes a crucial advantage going into the final day’s play. Captain Sodja had an assist as Rok Kapel made it 2-3 then scored the tying goal himself. Slovenia won all five games at the tournament but only three of them came in regulation time.

“Every game was tough but I think Hungary was the hardest,” Sodja said. “We came from a 1-4 deficit, got through overtime and won in a shoot-out. I think we deserved our first place here.

“We’re especially happy because we’ve repeated our success at the U18s in Bled two seasons ago.”

Promotion brings new challenges, not least because many key players will be unavailable to tackle Division IA next year. Absentees will include Sodja and the two North American-based forwards, Drozg (Shawinigan Cataractes) and Mark Strazisar (Hampton Roads Whalers).

“It will be difficult since about half the current team was born in 1999 and won’t be able to play next year,” Sodja admitted. “That won’t be easy, especially against even stronger teams at that level. But the team spirit we showed here means we can stay in a higher group even after next year’s tournament.”

Slovenia’s success has a strong Jesenice accent, reflecting the status of Anze Kopitar’s hometown as the hockey hot spot of the country. Ten of the roster play their hockey there, including Stojan, Sodja and goalie Ziga Kogovsek, and many of them have been getting extensive experience of the adult game in the cross-border Alps Hockey League. Head coach Burnik is also part of the staff at Jesenice and recently had a spell as interim head coach following the departure of Gaber Glavic last month.

Burnik is hopeful that this season’s international success can serve as an inspiration for the next generation. “Next year will see even better hockey played in Division IA. The 1999 year group is an above average group of players for us, but some key players will stay with the team. We cannot aim for the top spots but we will put in the maximum preparation. And let’s hope that this can motivate our younger players to starting practising hard tomorrow.”

While most of the plaudits went to Slovenia, there were honorable mentions for two Hungarian forwards. Kristoff Papp’s six goals made him the leading goalscorer of the tournament, one ahead of Hunor Csaszar. Slovenia’s Drozg earned the prize for top forward, Poland’s Olaf Bizacki was named top D-man and Italy’s Davide Fadani was the leading goalie.

Kakko aims to win for Finns

Kaapo Kakko celebrates a goal with his Finnish teammates during the 2018 IIHF Ice Hockey U18 World Championship.

By Derek O’Brien –

For the past several years now, the Finnish rosters at the IIHF World Junior Championships have featured players projected to be among the top few picks at the upcoming NHL Entry Draft. In 2015 it was Mikko Rantanen, in 2016 it was Patrik Laine, in 2017 it was Miro Heiskanen and in 2018 it was Jesperi Kotkaniemi. Now, in 2019 it’s right winger Kaapo Kakko.

Kakko plays for TPS Turku in the Finnish Liiga, where he’s having a fine rookie season. He got his first taste of the pros last season with a six-game stint as a 16-year-old. This season, he has been more productive with 18 points (7+11) in 26 games, which puts him fourth in team scoring and third in the league among junior-aged players behind Aleksi Heponiemi and Rasmus Kupari.

“It’s a high-level league,” Kakko said of the Liiga. “I think this year I have more strength and power, so I can play my game a little bit better.”

Going into greater detail about his game, Kakko said: “I think my strengths are my offensive game and my hockey sense, finding players and making plays. I need to improve more on the defensive side of the puck.”

At 17 years of age, it’s hardly a surprise Kakko is the youngest player on his team by a couple of years. He considers himself fortunate to have received good guidance from some of the leaders on the team, particularly team scoring leader Ilari Filppula and captain Lauri Korpikoski. Unfortunately, Korpikoski has yet to play this season as, in September, he was diagnosed with myocarditis – an inflammation of the heart muscle caused by a virus, which can be fatal in serious cases. As scary as that sounds, Kakko is optimistic about the outlook.

“It will be a few more games,” he said about the timing of Korpikoski’s return. “Fortunately, the team has managed to play pretty well and we should be even better when he returns.”

Like the other Finnish prospects who came before him, he’s also had a fair bit of success on the international stage. Last season, he had 10 points in seven games at the U18 World Championship in Russia, helping Finland to the gold medal.

Kakko doesn’t find it much of an adjustment moving back and forth between the pro game and top-tier international junior hockey.

“Both are high-tempo,” he compared. “When you get these top teams from the world, top-level junior hockey is almost like professional-level hockey – it’s not that different. Both have a lot of good players.”

In his first taste of U20 international hockey this season, he doesn’t look out of place on a Finnish team that looks poised for more success. Bringing a young roster to a tournament in the Czech Republic in November, the Finns dominated Russia, Sweden and the Czech Republic, outscoring them 16-5, en route to a first-place finish. Kakko himself had three points in three games.

“Of course we’re happy, but we’re not very surprised,” Kakko said confidently. “We have a lot of good 2001-born players in our country, so I think we can play against anybody,” he said of a group that includes himself, Anton Lundell and defenceman Mikko Kokkonen, who could all play in the upcoming World Juniors and a second U18 World Championship in April.

Projected as one of the top picks for next summer’s NHL Entry Draft, Kakko is already been compared to Jack Hughes, the American whose name is at the top of many lists.

“I know who he is, obviously,” Kakko said of Hughes. “I know he’s a good player and he’s always been ranked No. 1 in the draft rankings, but that’s all I really know about him.”

Kakko and Hughes faced each other in the gold medal game of last year’s U18 World Championship and will likely meet again on New Year’s Eve in Victoria, when Finland and the USA play Group B’s final game. However, Kakko denied any personal rivalry.

“Maybe that’s how the media will build up the game, but we’re just going to look at it for what the game means to the team,” he dismissed. “They’ve got a lot of good players, we’ve got a lot of good players and we’ve played against a lot of those guys before. It won’t be about Hughes and it won’t be about me, it will be Finland and the USA, and it should be a good game.”

On the draft, Kakko said: “Of course, I want to get picked as high as possible, but I don’t want to think too much about it because it’s a long way from now. It doesn’t really make any difference in how I play this season. Every year, I just want to be the best hockey player I can be, draft or no draft.”

Bringing focus back to his teams, Kakko said: “On the international stage, winning the World Junior Championship is my main goal. At the club level, I want to play as well as I can and help TPS win.”

While some young Finns, such as former TPS teammate Olli Juolevi and a few of the hopefuls for this year’s junior national team, opted to go overseas at a young age, Kakko has opted to stay the course at home.

Lafreniere looks to join Crosby, McDavid in exclusive World Junior group

Forward can become sixth 17-year-old to play for Canada in tournament

By Kevin Woodley –

Alexis Lafreniere is looking to join Pittsburgh Penguins center Sidney Crosby and Edmonton Oilers center Connor McDavid in some exclusive company.

Lafreniere seeks to become only the sixth 17-year-old to play for Canada in the IIHF World Junior Championship. Crosby and McDavid are on that list, along with Jason Spezza, Eric Lindros and Jay Bouwmeester.

Being mentioned in the same breath as these players does not phase Lafreniere.

“It’s nice, they are big names,” Lafreniere said. “But I try to make my own road.”

Lafreniere, who turned 17 on Oct. 11 and isn’t eligible for the NHL Draft until 2020, is taking part in Canada’s selection camp for the 2019 World Junior Championship this week. Canada coach Tim Hunter doesn’t view age as an impediment to making the team, and already had Lafreniere lead the team stretch after the first practice Monday.

“He is capable of playing on this team because he is good enough,” Hunter said. “We like what he brings as a player. He doesn’t play like a young player. He’s real smart, plays heavy, plays hard and doesn’t have those young player moments where ‘oh this is hard’ or he forgets his assignments and what have you. We like him. He’s capable of making this team.”

The 6-foot-1, 192-pound forward had 80 points (42 goals, 38 assists) in 60 games in his first year with Rimouski of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League last season, becoming the first 16-year-old since Crosby to score more than 40 goals. Lafreniere was named rookie of the year for both the QMJHL and the Canadian Hockey League.

He followed that up by captaining Canada to gold at the Hlinka Gretzky Cup in August, scoring 11 points (five goals, six assists) in five games for a share of the tournament lead, and has 54 points (17 goals, 37 assists) in 31 QMJHL games this season.

“He’s an amazing player. He’s not here for no reason,” said forward Max Comtois, the Anaheim Ducks prospect who’s played against Lafreniere in the QMJHL this season and was a member of Canada’s gold-medal winning team at the 2018 World Junior Championship. “He’s the youngest here and I think he can help this team a lot.”

Playing against older players in the QMJHL like Comtois, who had seven points (two goals, five assists) in 10 games with the Ducks before being sent back to Drummondville, should help Lafreniere in a tournament traditionally dominated by 19-year-olds. And he is already comfortable playing for Canada, having represented his country at the Hlinka Gretzky Cup and IIHF under-18 World Championship last summer, and the World Under-17 Hockey Challenge in 2017.

“The challenge is bigger, so you have to raise your game and I was able to do it, but I’ll have to do it again in this camp,” Lafreniere said. “There is always a little pressure, but I don’t try to think about it. I just try to focus on playing my game and work as hard as I can and try to help my teammates.

“I am confident. I know I can do great things on the ice, but I just have to work hard and do it in practice and in games.”

As for being the youngest player, the only obvious sign is metal cage Lafreniere has to wear on his helmet.

“I don’t feel younger,” Lafreniere said.

Comtois, who with Ottawa Senators forward Alex Formenton are the two returning players from last year’s team, said he doesn’t think age will be a problem when the tournament starts Dec. 26.

“No, he’s a big boy, he can skate, he can hit,” Comtois said. “He’s got his place here and I think he is going to show everyone he has his place here.”

Malaysia’s U20 triumphs again

Malaysia defends its IIHF Ice Hockey U20 Challenge Cup of Asia title

By Martin Merk –

One year ago Malaysia hosted the IIHF Ice Hockey U20 Challenge Cup of Asia as the first IIHF-sanctioned event in the brand-new Malaysia National Ice Skating Stadium at the outskirts of the capital of Kuala Lumpur and finished the event in first place ahead of Kyrgyzstan. During the weekend history repeated.

Having the first full-size ice rink has benefitted Malaysia. Since men, women, adults and juniors can practice and play at the first full-size ice rink of the country, the national teams have improved in international play and won all three Challenge Cup of Asia tournaments they played in – a program aimed at the IIHF’s smaller Asian members not competing in World Championship events.

The Malaysian U20 national team continued the winning streak by winning this season’s IIHF Ice Hockey U20 Challenge Cup of Asia on home ice.

The first to game days proved to be easy with a 14-3 victory against the United Arab Emirates and a 12-2 win in the neighbouring clash against the Philippines. Last year’s runner-up Kyrgyzstan was equally successful beating the Philippines (13-2) and the United Arab Emirates (12-3) with clear margins.

Saturday night’s deciding game was a nail-biter. The Kyrgyz outshot the hosts in each period but ill-discipline made their life difficult. Rafel Zichry Onn Mohammed Rhiza opened the scoring for Malaysia after already 22 seconds when Nikolai Magiev was assessed a match penalty for kicking an opponent. The Malaysians capitalized on the five-minute man advantage with the 2-0 goal from Ilhan Mahmood Haniff.

Kyrgyzstan didn’t give up and cut the deficit in the first period with a Andrei Triskhin goal. And had the chance to tie it up early in the third period. Zhanbolot Tagayev missed out on a penalty shot at 1:13 when Vinodraj Sundram blocked the puck with his hands but 46 seconds later Ernazar Isamatov tied it up.

Malaysia got chances for the lead when Tagayev was assessed penalties first for interference and later for checking to the head and neck area. 74 seconds later Nurul Nizam Deen Versluis scored what would become the game-winning goal at 11:08. With five seconds left Chee Ming Bryan Lim scored the 4-2 goal into the empty net.

In a game for third place the Philippines avenged last year’s loss against the United Arab Emirates and won the game 7-6. The Filipinos fought back from a 6-4 deficit in the second half of the third period. The game-winning goal from Benjamin Jorge Imperial came with 83 seconds left in regulation time.

Malaysia’s Mohammad Hariz Mohammad Oryza Ananda (8+6=14) and Chee Ming Bryan Lim (7+5=12) led the tournament in scoring before Emirati forward Mohamed Alkaabi (7+2=9) and a trio from Kyrgyzstan: Ersultan Mirbek Uulu (5+3=8), Zhanbolot Tagayev (5+3=8) and Sultan Ismanov (4+4=8). Lim won the Most Valuable Player award while Alkaabi was named Best Forward. Ernazar Isamatov was selected as Best Defenceman while the Philippines’ Jaiden Mackale Roxas won the vote for Best Goaltender.

Saturday’s game ended the U20 Challenge Cup of Asia that was played the whole week in two separate divisions.

Overall Ranking:
1. Malaysia
2. Kyrgyzstan
3. Philippines
4. United Arab Emirates
5. Thailand
6. Mongolia
7. Indonesia
8. Kuwait

The IIHF Ice Hockey Challenge Cup of Asia continues with the men’s and women’s senior categories in spring.

The 2019 IIHF Ice Hockey Challenge Cup of Asia for men’s teams will take place at the same venue in Malaysia from 2-9 March 2019. The tournament will be played in two groups where the top-two Group B teams will have the chance to play a playoff game against the bottom-ranked Group A teams similar to the format known in the IIHF Ice Hockey Women’s World Championship. Defending champion Mongolia, the Philippines, Singapore and Malaysia are seeded in Group A while Macau, Indonesia and Oman play in Group B.

The 2019 IIHF Ice Hockey Women’s Challenge Cup of Asia will be played 14-19 April 2019 in Abu Dhabi, the capital of the United Arab Emirates. The top-division tournament includes Chinese Taipei, New Zealand U18, Thailand, Malaysia and Singapore while the United Arab Emirates, the Philippines, India, Mongolia and Kuwait will play the Division I tournament. For Mongolia and Kuwait it will be the first participation’s with a women’s national team in IIHF play.

Thai score high

Thailand celebrates after winning the 2019 IIHF Ice Hockey U20 Challenge Cup of Asia Division I and several individual awards

By Martin Merk –

The IIHF Challenge Cup of Asia program started with two U20 tournaments for the smaller Asian programs held this week at the Malaysia National Ice Skating Stadium outside of the country’s capital of Kuala Lumpur.

The eight teams play in two separate divisions. While the top division is going on with Malaysia, Kyrgyzstan, the United Arab Emirates and the Philippines, the Division I tournament has already ended with Thailand as the winner.

The Thai won all three games in their group with an impressive goal record of 54-1 to show they want to play at a higher level next year. Their most narrow game was the first one, a 14-1 victory against Mongolia. After a 15-0 blanking of Indonesia the day after first place was already locked for the Thai even before ending the tournament with a 25-0 win against Kuwait.

The top 12 scorers of the tournament were all Thai led by 17-year-old Nathaphat Luckanatinakorn with nine goals and five assists in three games, who was named Best Forward of the event. Mongolia’s Sumiyabazar Byambajav followed in 13th-place as best non-Thai scorer with four goals and one assist.

Thailand’s Chayutapon Kulrat was voted Best Defenceman while Kuwait’s Ahmad Alsaegh won the award for the Best Goaltender. He had three busy games facing 182 shots, almost the same number that all other goaltenders faced combined!

Mongolia recovered from the opening-day loss and moved up to second place. The Mongolians beat Kuwait 9-2 before winning 3-1 against Indonesia in a game for second place. The team dominated the game with 39-16 shots on goal and decided it early with a 3-0 first-period lead. Indonesia finished in third place thanks to a 10-3 opening-day victory against winless Kuwait.

Seattle NHL expansion approved by Board of Governors

seattle becomes 32nd team; will begin play in 2021-22 season

By Dan Rosen –

Seattle is home to the NHL’s 32nd franchise.

The NHL Board of Governors voted Tuesday to approve the expansion application from the NHL Seattle group to bring the yet-to-be-named team into the League for the start of the 2021-22 season.

In addition, the Board of Governors approved a realignment package that calls for the Arizona Coyotes to move into the Central Division, making way for the new Seattle team to play in the Pacific Division.

There are eight teams in the Pacific Division, including the Coyotes. There are seven teams in the Central Division.

The Coyotes will remain in the Pacific Division until Seattle enters the League.

Seattle’s ownership group, led by David Bonderman, private equity CEO, will pay a $650 million expansion fee, $150 million more than Bill Foley and his group paid to bring the Vegas Golden Knights into the NHL for the 2017-18 season.

The Seattle team will play at Seattle Center Arena, the former KeyArena which is scheduled to undergo a privately financed $700 million renovation. The project was waiting for NHL approval of the expansion team before it could begin. The capacity for an NHL game at KeyArena will be about 17,400.

KeyArena opened in 1962 and was the home of the NBA’s Seattle SuperSonics from 1967-78 and 1985-2008 prior to them relocating to Oklahoma City for the 2008-09 season.

The ownership group is also scheduled to pay approximately $75 million to build a 180,000-square foot practice facility with three ice sheets in Northgate, a shopping area in the northern part of the city.

The arena and training facility are scheduled to be completed in advance of the start of the 2021-22 season.

The Seattle ownership group was hopeful to have the 2020-21 season be its inaugural season, but beginning in the 2021-22 season allows for completion of arena renovations.

Seattle will follow follow the same rules for the 2021 Expansion Draft as Vegas did in 2017, but Vegas will be exempt.

The NHL authorized the Seattle ownership group to file an application for an expansion team at the Board of Governors meeting in Manalapan, Florida a year ago.

A season-ticket deposit drive was held March 1, securing 10,000 deposits in the first 12 minutes and 32,000 in the first 31 hours. There is a waiting list of about 10,000 names.

The NHL Seattle group presented its plan for the franchise the Board’s Executive Committee at its meeting in New York City on Oct. 2. The committee gave a report in the Board meeting Tuesday prior to the vote.

Although Seattle has never had an NHL team, the Seattle Metropolitans, who played in the Pacific Coast Hockey Association from 1915-24, won the Stanley Cup in 1917, defeating the Montreal Canadiens of the National Hockey Association 3-1 in a best-of-5 series.

World Juniors: Hungary Junior Hockey News

By Kerry Jackson –

When the Division I Group B International Ice Hockey Federation World Junior Championships begin later this week, no team is likely hungrier to win than the Hungarian squad, which was relegated from Group A after going winless in five games last year, scoring only 11 goals and allowing a group-high 25.

The teams of Group B in Division I begin play Saturday in Tychy, Poland. Hungary will open against Japan, which was promoted from Division II Group A after ripping through Group B with four regulation wins and one overtime victory.

This year’s team would probably like to lean on 1999 forward Zsolt Szalma, who scored three of the team’s 11 goals in 2018, and finished with four goals and two assists combined in nine international junior games last year. But he’s been less effective in international play this year, with only a pair of assists in seven games.

Hungary’s top offensive threat in international junior play leading up the WJC has been right wing Natan Vertes, a 2000 who has eight points (four goals, four assists) in seven games. Forward Akos Mihaly, a 1999, has three goals and two assists in seven international games while 1999 forward Hunor Csaszar has recorded five points, all of them assists.

Four players have totaled four points in international junior play. 1999 center Balint Horvath was able to reach four points (three goals, one assist) in just three games. 1999 forward Bruno Kreisz needed five games to reach four points, scoring a pair and helping on two more. Marcell Revesz, a tall (6’4”) forward, has three goals and an assist in eight games. Nandor Fejes, a 1999, leads all Hungarian defenseman with a goal and three assists in six games. Mate Seregely has only two points, both assists, but the 2000 blueliner recorded those points in just three games.

Hungary should probably be expected to play well in the WJC, if its performance in the Friendly International tournament is any gauge. The U20 team beat France, a Division I Group A squad, 4-3 on Nov. 10. Horvath had a pair of goals in that game, including the game winner in overtime. Three days earlier, the Hungarians beat Italy, which will be in Group B, 6-2, with two goals from Revesz and one from Horvath. The team’s only loss was a one-goal defeat to Slovenia, also in Group B. Vertes netted a pair in that one.

Q & A With Sam Uisprapassorn

Sam Uisprapassorn celebrates Latam Cup

By George Da Silva – National Teams of Ice Hockey

We caught up with Sam Uisprapassorn coach of Colombia national ice hockey team and Chapman University hockey. Sam has guided Colombia to Pan American gold and most recently the Latam cup Championship

Can you tell our audience little bit about yourself and your hockey background?

I grew up in Southern California, the son of a Thai father and Colombian mother. I was 8 years old when Wayne Gretzky became an LA King and once I saw the games on TV I knew I wanted to give the sport a shot. I started playing at Paramount Iceland which is actually down the street from where Zamboni is headquartered (fun fact). It seems as I lived on the ice from there on out playing pee wee through my College years.

How does the Coach of Chapman University hockey team end up coaching the Colombia national ice hockey team?

I believe I have the best coaching jobs in all of hockey. I get to coach my alma mater and the national team that is culturally so close to me.

I saw that there was a Colombian national team that had participated in the first Pan-American hockey tournament in Mexico City in 2014. I sent the team an email offering to help in any way possible. A few months back went by without a response and then one day I got a call that the Head Coach position was open and it all goes from there.

You have had success with Colombia winning the Pan American tournament twice and now the Latam Cup. What do you tribute your success to?

I give our players all the credit for the success I have had with this team. I have been fortunate to work with a group of players who have won as a group playing roller hockey or individually at the College or Junior level on the ice. When I took on the role of Head Coach I came in with a clear direction and systems that I wanted to implement offensively, defensively and the player bought in and executed shift in, shift out. I’m proud of our players for taking this approach and it’s the main reason for our success.

Team Colombia

Colombia is a very new to the game of ice hockey how would you judge the talent on the team?

Our group is made up of Colombian players based in the US, Sweden and Colombia. Our players from Colombia have to be some of the most talented I have seen throughout my coaching career. This is a big statement since there is no regulation size hockey rinks in the entire country. The skill development through roller hockey is very evident.

About a third of our team is based in the US and this has really helped bring our team along. It’s an advantage to have players out of the ACHA and ECHL.

What are the challenges for the advancement of ice hockey in Colombia?

I would say the biggest challenge is developing the ice hockey infrastructure. As I mentioned before, there are no ice rinks in the country. The same could be said for the other countries we compete against.

Chapman University Hockey team is not having a great season, do you think you can turn the season around?

The Chapman program is currently in a rebuilding phase. I would expect better results by the end of the season and beyond.

Chapman University

You are also a Golf nut and the founder and CEO of Cut Golf can you tell us little bit about this adventure?

I love golf as much as I love hockey. About two years ago decided that having to pay $35-50 for a tour quality golf ball was insane. Started doing some research and was able to find a way to launch Cut Golf where we offer a tour quality golf ball for under $20 ($19.95 to be exact). It’s absolute blast and I lead our organization more like the captain of a hockey team versus your typical CEO.

who are some of your favorite Ice hockey or inline players?

I’m very old school. I grew up idolizing Wayne Gretzky. Brendan Shanahan, Luc Robitaille, Eric Lindros and Steve Yzerman were some of my favorite players growing up. They just don’t make them like that anymore.

India’s national women’s hockey team comes to Airdrie

India’s national women’s hockey concluded its first ever trip to Canada

By Scott StrasserAirdrie City View

India’s national women’s hockey concluded its first ever trip to Canada with two exhibition games in Airdrie. The team defeated the AMHA bantam Rockies team 5-1 and lost to the Rockies midget team 3-1.

In a historic first trip to Canada, India’s national women’s hockey team spent a few days in Airdrie Nov. 19 and 20, when the team played a pair of exhibition games at the Ron Ebbesen Arena.

The team – comprised of players from the remote region of Ladakh, at the base of the Himalayas – was in Canada for the Hayley Wickenheiser Female World Hockey Festival. Known as Wickfest, the annual tournament and coaching seminar brings together women’s hockey teams from around the world for games, player development sessions and coaching clinics.

After the players enjoyed stops in Vancouver and Calgary, their trip to Canada concluded with further coaching at training sessions and the two exhibition games in Airdrie.

According to Airdrie Minor Hockey Association (AMHA) Director of Hockey Operations Darrin Harrold, the relationship with the Indian team started in January 2016, while he was working for the International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF). He said he met the Indian players – some of whom were still very new to the sport, at the time – at an IIHF coaching clinic in Ladakh.

Fast forward two years, Harrold said, and he made a second trip to Ladakh, this time with Wickenheiser – the retired Team Canada captain and four-time Olympic gold-medal winner.

“The whole idea was to go there first and then bring the national team to Wickfest,” Harrold said. “Because I’d gone on the trip, they wanted to come to Airdrie and see what Airdrie is like.

“It’s cool to see it come full-circle. I went to their neck of the woods, and now they’re here in ours.”

While India has had a men’s national hockey team since 1989, the women’s team formed just two years ago, according to Harrold. Many of the players learned to skate and play with hand-me-down gear.

Though much of India’s climate is generally warm, winter temperatures in Ladakh drop enough to freeze the ponds, which is where the players got their start.

Diskit Angmo, who plays left defence for Team India, said the trip to Canada was a whirlwind. Along with Wickfest, the tour included attending Calgary Flames and Edmonton Oilers practices, and meeting Wayne Gretzky.

“Being an ice-hockey player, it’s always a dream to come to Canada,” she said.

Along with meeting a hockey legend and watching NHL players practise, Angmo added the hospitality the Indian team experienced in Canada was another highlight of the trip.

“Back in India, it’s very difficult for us to grow this sport,” the 22-year-old said. “But here in Canada, we are getting so much love from the people here. They’re supporting us so much, and it’s been really great.

“We have never been loved so much in our own country, where this sport is not so supported. But here, people are loving us so much, encouraging us and they are getting inspired by us – that’s the main thing we should take back home.”

Mayor Peter Brown was a keen spectator at the two exhibition games India played in Airdrie, and performed the ceremonial puck drop at both. Team India overcame the AMHA Rockies female bantam team 5-1 in its first win on Canadian soil, before losing 3-1 to the Rockies midget team the following night.

“I think it’s wonderful, and they’re so respectful and so thrilled to be here,” Brown said.

“When you look at where they practised and learned to play hockey, and all of a sudden, they become the national team for India for the ladies – it’s really amazing.”

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