Month: March 2018 (page 1 of 2)

Islington’s Kerbouche keen to build up ice hockey in his native Algeria at Arab Club Cup!/image/image.jpg_gen/derivatives/landscape_630/image.jpg

Head of Algerian hockey Karim Kerbouche.

By Jacob Ranson – East London Advertiser

The 35-year-old, who is head of Hockey Algeria and led the country’s first-ever representative team to a creditable third-place finish in the inaugural African Club Cup in 2016, is looking to keep progressing the nation in his beloved sport.

Kerbouche will be taking his Algerian team (Algiers Corsaires) to compete in the Arab Club Cup which also features Morocco, Tunisia, Egypt, Lebanon and the UAE, and is due to be televised on Abu Dhabi sports channel early next month.

“It’s a nice place to go, I lived there for a little while, and I’m excited to be going back there,” Kerbouche said.

“This will be the first time I’m taking my club out there and it should be fun, there is a good amount of teams and the competition should be good, I’m expecting some decent players to be at the tournament.

“Especially from Lebanon their team should be packed full of Canadian juniors with Lebanese descent so it should be a decent level of hockey and it will be a good chance to publicise it in the international media.”

Kerbouche, who attended Central Foundation School in Bow, managed to obtain funding for his team to represent Algeria and scored their first-ever goal, against Morocco in 2008.

He went on to play as a forward for Lee Valley Lions and Streatham Redskins in the English National Ice Hockey League – as well as working for leisure provider GLL at Streatham ice rink.

At that same time, Kerbouche continued his determined efforts to spread the growth of the sport in his parents’ homeland – quite a challenge with only one permanent ice rink and minimal government backing.

And he is now hoping the tournament will be a success, adding: “I’m hoping for it to be an annual thing or a semi-annual thing so it happens every couple of years. There’s a lot of expenses involved, but it’s definitely something I’d like to continue.”

Kerbouche is also keen to keep building up the sport, saying: “There is an appetite for it, it’s just the logistics of getting equipment and coaches out there as I can only be out there for a certain amount of time a year.”

Georgiev impresses with Rangers, joins wave of Russian goalies to NHL

By Kevin Woodley –

New York Rangers rookie Alexandar Georgiev is the latest in a line of Russian goaltenders to turn heads in the NHL.

He is 3-2-0 with a .929 save percentage in his first six NHL games, including a win against the defending Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins on Wednesday.

It wasn’t always that way for Georgiev as a goalie; just as goalies from the Russian system have not always been in fashion in the NHL.

here have been nine such goalies picked in the NHL Draft the past four years, compared to 22 from Russia or the former Soviet Union in the previous 30 years.

In the NHL, Russian goalies are among the elite at the position. Sergei Bobrovsky of the Columbus Blue Jackets became the first Russian to win the Vezina Trophy as the top goalie in the NHL in 2013, Semyon Varlamov of the Colorado Avalanche was the Vezina runner-up to Tuukka Rask in 2014, and Bobrovsky won it again in 2017. Andrei Vasilevskiy of the Tampa Bay Lightning is considered a Vezina front-runner this season, leading the League in wins (40).

Three of the top goaltending prospects in the world are Russian: Ilya Samsonov of the Washington Capitals, Ilya Sorokin of the New York Islanders and Igor Shesterkin of the Rangers.

Things have changed greatly for these goalies in the past decade, and Georgiev is a great example of their development.

Georgiev doesn’t have the fondest memory of his first experiences stopping pucks as a 7-year-old in Russia.

Maybe it’s because he rarely got to stop any.

Georgiev, 22, was born in Bulgaria but moved with his family to Russia soon after (he is a dual citizen and has played for Russia internationally). When he started playing goalie, he was placed with players three years older.

“The guys would be practicing and I would be off to the side doing shuffles from one end to the other and back the whole hour. I was crying after some practices, it was so tough,” said Georgiev, who eventually worked his way into practice after mastering fundamentals. “I would be happy to make one save in that practice. I would celebrate because those guys were so ahead of me.”

Georgiev’s path from Russia to the Rangers was hardly a straight line. It may not have been possible without an early detour to Finland to find more modernized coaching.

“By the time I was 10, the goalie coaches in Russia were not up to date, so they would teach you stuff [Vladislav] Tretiak would do, like skate saves,” Georgiev said, referring to the legendary Soviet goalie. “It probably improved my skating a lot, but at that point we started looking for something abroad also and my dad found a goalie school run in Finland by (former Columbus Blue Jackets goalie) Fredrik Norrena.”

Taipei’s U18 girls win gold

By Martin Merk –

One year ago the New Zealand U18 women’s team joined the IIHF Ice Hockey Women’s Challenge Cup of Asia and won it. This year they had a new competitor with the Chinese Taipei U18 women’s national team that finished the event with gold.

The tournament also included the senior teams from Singapore and Thailand while four more teams played in the Division I competition. Both tournaments were held at the new Malaysia National Ice Skating Stadium in Kuala Lumpur.

The team from Chinese Taipei started with a 5-3 win over last year’s silver medallist Thailand before playing the New Zealanders in a game that eventually determined the gold medallist. A hat trick from Thai captain Nuchanat Ponglerkdee wasn’t enough against the strong Taiwanese offence.

Also against New Zealand the Chinese Taipei U18 team tried to dictate the game from the beginning. Two late goals in the first period paved the win against the junior Kiwis. With a penalty against New Zealand just expired, Yun-Chu Huang gave Chinese Taipei the lead with 92 seconds left and with three seconds left before the first intermission Ting-Yu Hsu made it 2-0. Two third-period goals from Hsuan Wang – the 14-year-old was the youngest player of the tournament her after one month younger linemate Ya-Ching Jan – sealed the 4-1 victory and gold.

On the last day Chinese Taipei beat Singapore 12-1 to finish the tournament with a clean record. The New Zealand U18 women’s team beat Thailand 1-0 with Beth Scott scoring the only goal and Lilly Forbes earning a shutout with 25 saves to earn silver. The Thai had their only win against Singapore, 10-1.

Wang was named Best Forward of the tournament while the other awards went to Thailand. Wasunun Angkulpattanasuk, who had the best save percentage of all starting goalies with 94.12%, was named best goaltender while Sirikarn Jittresin was the best defender. Nuchanat Ponglerkdee, who led the tournament in points (8) and goals (6), was named Most Valuable Player. She scored six of her team’s goals and was on the ice for all 13 goals.

For six of the Chinese Taipei juniors the international season will continue soon as Chinese Taipei is the promoted team in the 2018 IIHF Ice Hockey Women’s World Championship Division II Group B that will be played in Valdemoro close to the Spanish capital of Madrid.

Driven New Zealand women’s team comes to train in ‘hockey heaven’

The Globe and Mail

By J.P. Moczulski – The Globe and Mail

New Zealand’s national women’s hockey team wanted an experience that would challenge, prepare and inspire them before they compete in the world championship.

So the team members chose to spend 10 days in Toronto, training in a Canadian university arena, playing in a big Toronto tournament, shopping in Canadian equipment stores and attending every pro hockey game they could get into.

There are only six arenas in all of New Zealand, and 250 registered female hockey players. It’s a country where rugby, cricket and soccer rule, and the word ‘hockey’ more commonly means field hockey. But yes, New Zealand has a national women’s ice-hockey team, better known there as the Ice Fernz.

This team of women, ranging in age from 16 to 27, doesn’t play in the same events as teams such as Canada, the United States and Finland, who just competed in the Pyeongchang Olympics. New Zealand plays a few levels down, and is heading to Valdemoro, Spain, to play in the Division II, Group B International Ice Hockey Federation’s women’s world championships.

Yet the passion these Ice Fernz exhibit for hockey is up there with any Olympic medalist. Every player on this 22-woman team spent 5,000 New Zealand dollars (about $4,700 Canadian) of her own money to get this intensive Canadian hockey experience and then go off to compete in Spain. It’s necessary for a squad that has such limited opportunities to train back home.

During this visit, they’ve held daily training sessions at York University, played exhibition games against local Toronto women’s teams and competed in one of the city’s largest female hockey showcases, the Leaside Wildcats March Break Madness Tournament. They watched the Toronto Maple Leafs and Marlies as well as the Calgary Inferno and Markham Thunder of the Canadian Women’s Hockey League. They visited the CN Tower and the Hockey Hall of Fame, and marvelled at the massive assortment of equipment at Pro Hockey Life.

“It’s like hockey heaven,” said Helen Murray, a 27-year-old neuroscientist who captains the Ice Fernz. “We don’t have enough competition back home.

“Coming over here to play teams who really challenge us is what we need before worlds. These teams are probably better than the ones we will play in Spain.”

The Ice Fernz competed in a women’s Senior A division at the Leaside tournament, but did not pick up a win against teams from Brampton and Durham.

Still, the New Zealand program has seen huge improvement since it formed in 2005.

It has benefited from a relationship forged over the past several years with the Leaside Girls Hockey Association, which has played host to 21 girls from New Zealand on hockey exchanges since 2012.

Those 21 girls have each come to Toronto for between six to eight weeks during a summer break from school (November to February) and are billeted by a Leaside family while they register and play a stint for a Leaside Wildcats team, an association of 1,600 players that touts itself as the world’s largest female hockey association. Nine members of this New Zealand team participated in that Leaside exchange at some point.

The idea to help other countries bolster their female hockey talent came to the Leaside association after the 2010 Vancouver Olympics when Canada and the United States outscored their opponents by a combined 88-4.

Jacques Rogge, the president of the International Olympic Committee, said at the time, “we cannot continue without improvement.”

“We wanted to do our part to help,” said Andrew Smyth, a board member for the Leaside Wildcats, who is himself a New Zealand ex-pat. “It’s a logical way to help other countries, by sharing the kind of hockey experience that our Canadian girls get here. If other Canadian girls hockey associations want to help another country, we’d love to share our playbook with them and show them how we’ve arranged it.”

In the most recent IIHF women’s rankings, New Zealand is No. 31. At the worlds, it will face nations including Spain, Iceland, Turkey, Romania and Taiwan. Yet, the players say like any other women’s hockey team in the world, they, too, were glued to the recent Olympic gold medal final where the United States beat Canada in a heart-stopping shootout.

“The goal some day is Olympic participation,” said the Ice Fernz general manager Jonathan Albright, a Montreal native who moved to New Zealand in 2002. “The skill level of this team has grown immensely.

“It’s hard to gauge our progress because other countries are getting better too. I know there’s not a lot of attention on teams outside of Canada and the U.S., but other nations are putting in a lot of effort and they’re definitely growing a lot.”

Last year, New Zealand earned a bronze medal at its DII, Group B world championships, and this year it is aiming for Gold.

“Every little girl that plays hockey dreams of the Olympics no matter where you live in the world,” Murray said. “If we win gold in our world championships, we would move up one more step. We’d still be a long way from competing in the top division with Canada and the U.S., but it would be a big step for us.”

Beijing 2022 possible for NHL, but long way off

Image result for beijing olympics logo

By The Canadian Press

NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly says participation in the 2022 Olympics in China is possible but not essential to the league’s efforts to grow the sport in the world’s largest country.

The NHL was criticized by the International Olympic Committee and fans for not allowing NHL players to compete in the recent Olympics in South Korea.

After letting them play in the previous five Olympics, the NHL said it didn’t want to disrupt the midseason schedule or risk players to serious injury this year.

The China games, however, could be different as the NHL eyes an untapped market of 1.4 billion people.

“I’m not making any news today, I will say certainly it’s a possibility,” Daly said while speaking at the annual SXSW Interactive conference on a panel about the NHL’s efforts to grow hockey in China. “We have (a couple) of years to kind of make that decision … I don’t think it’s a critical element to our being able to grow the sport in China … I don’t think it’s an essential.”

Daily said the NHL owners thought long and hard before deciding not to allow NHL players to compete in the Olympics in South Korea.

“In South Korea, we felt ultimately there were a lot more negatives than positives than going,” Daley said. “I expect we’ll go through the exact same process (before 2022) … There may be more positives to participating in Beijing.”

The NHL clearly has a business eye on China.

The league and teams have held regular youth and coaching clinics in Shanghai, Beijing and other Chinese cities. Last September, the Los Angeles Kings and Vancouver Canucks played the league’s first exhibition game in China. The NHL also has an agreement with Bloomage International Group, a Chinese-based company with a focus on developing sports in the country.

“There’s a lot of potential NHL fans there, a lot of potential NHL players there,” Daly said.

There’s also competition. The Russia-based Kontinental Hockey League, has already established a professional team in China, the Kunlun Red Star, before the 2016-2017 season.

“Right now China is one of, if not the, hottest markets in the world. Everyone wants to get in there,” said David Proper, executive vice-president of media and international strategy for the NHL.

Yet hockey still barely registers in China. According to the International Ice Hockey Federation, China has less than 12,000 registered junior players and less than 500 rinks around the country.

“China is a hip market, but there is zero infrastructure,” said Jessica Guo, deputy general manager for Bloomage.

As host for the next Winter Games, the Chinese government is making a push to increase participation in all winter sports. The NHL has approached the government about introducing hockey-based games into middle school physical education programs, Proper said.

The NHL’s goal in China is to “build a permanent presence, building a hockey infrastructure, a hockey culture,” Daly said. “That’s not just rinks. It’s equipment and coaching. Unlike other countries we’ve played games in, this is a new market for hockey. We realize our obligation is to build the base.”

Malaysia Women’s team wins CCOA event

By Martiin Merk –

Malaysia won the 2018 IIHF Ice Hockey Women’s Challenge Cup of Asia Division I on home ice in Kuala Lumpur.

After growing pain in its first two years the Malaysian women’s national team has improved to win its first tournament in its third year of existence. Having its first full-size ice arena since this season to practise and play the sport paid off for the women’s team from the Southeast Asian country.

Two years ago in Taipei City the team started with a 1-3 record and getting its only win against India, 6-3. Last year in Bangkok, the Malaysians were even last with a 1-5 record and getting the only win from a 5-4 opening-day win in overtime against the United Arab Emirates.

This year on home ice the Malaysians went all the way to first place on home ice at the Malaysia National Ice Skating Stadium. At this brand-new facility, the Malaysia Ice Hockey Federation currently hosts both divisions of the Women’s Challenge Cup of Asia and the Division I tournament ended on Friday to the liking of the home crowd.

The Malaysians started with a 3-1 victory in a neighbouring clash with the Philippines. The Philippines managed to tie a Malaysian lead from a late Nurul Aliya Versluis first-period goal when Bianca Yasmine Cuevas scored the equalizer at 5:33 of the middle frame. But seven minutes later Fatin Muhd Fadzli Amin scored on the power play and made it 3-1 with her second goal in the third period.

Five different scorers led Malaysia to a 5-0 blanking of India in the second game to set up a final against the United Arab Emirates. The Emirati started in similar fashion. Dana Al Hosani’s hat trick and a pair of goals from Fatima Al Mazrouei led the UAE to a 6-1 win over India and despite strong pressure from the Philippines, the Emirati won their second game 5-4 with Khulood Shugaa scoring the game-winner with her second marker 2:14 before the end of regulation time.

460 fans came to the Malaysia National Ice Skating Stadium located at the Empire City mall in the Kuala Lumpur region to witness the final where Shugaa continued her scoring streak with the 1-0 marker after 78 seconds of play but five minutes later Versluis tied it up for the hosts.

At 4:15 of the middle frame Al Mazrouei increased her scoring account by regaining the lead for the United Arab Emirates that stayed until the Malaysia scored two quick goals midway the period. Captain Nur Iman Sofiah Nur Aziz tied the game at two at 12:44. After the next face-off Al Mazrouei was sent to the penalty box for an illegal bodycheck and 15 seconds later Nur Illina Mohd Rothi scored on the power play to give Malaysia its first lead in the game.

The teams exchanged more goals in the third period but Malaysia kept its lead until the end and won 5-3 for its historic tournament win as the bottom-seeded team.

The Philippines ended the tournament in third place. The Indian women, who came from the Ladakh region at the foot of the Himalayas, had a promising start with goals from Kunzes Angmo and Rinchen Dolma but then came the second period with four unanswered goals from Bianca Yasmine Cuevas. After two more third-period goals the 6-2 win and third place were final for the Philippines and Cuevas was voted MVP with her eight goals in three games.

With the Division I competition in Kuala Lumpur over, the top division of the Women’s Challenge Cup of Asia continues in the Malaysian capital and includes the women’s senior teams from Singapore and Thailand as well as the U18 women’s teams from Chinese Taipei and New Zealand.

Ramping up China’s puck luck

By China Daily

Before the International Ice Hockey Federation considers offering China direct qualification to the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics tournament, the country first has to show it deserves it, a top IIHF official said in Beijing on Wednesday.

After watching host South Korea vie with world powers amid sensational support at last month’s Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, China’s hockey heavyweights are eager to see similar enthusiasm for the home team at the 2022 Beijing Games.

IIHF president Rene Fasel said in Pyeongchang the federation is exploring proposals to qualify both the Chinese men’s and women’s teams for the 2022 tournament as a way to popularize the sport in the world’s most populous country.

Thomas Wu, an IIHF vice-president, confirmed to China Daily that the proposal to qualify the Chinese teams will be officially decided either at the federation’s annual congress in May or at the semiannual congress in September.

A long-term commitment to transform the niche sport into a mainstream staple in the buildup to the 2022 Games and beyond is crucial to earn the nod from the world governing body, said Wu.

“The IIHF’s goal is to promote the sport globally and China has huge potential in the game,” Wu said on Wednesday.

“We’d love to see the Chinese teams at the 2022 tournament, but we also have to make sure the world-class quality of the Olympic competition won’t be compromised, which is always the priority.

“The gap between Team China and the world hockey powers is still quite big, so the most urgent need for China is to improve the competitiveness of its program as fast as possible,” said Wu, an entrepreneur and avid ice hockey promoter in Hong Kong.

“The South Korean team (although qualified as the host) proved itself by advancing to the world’s top grouping and we hope the Chinese team can rise dramatically as well by 2022,” he added.

Bolstered by one American and six Canadian players naturalized without Korean ancestry, South Korea placed second at last year’s IIHF Division 1 Group A world championships, the second-tier world title tournament.

South Korea’s dual citizenship policy opened the door to recruit foreign talent for the Pyeongchang Games, with the only stipulations being acquisition of a Korean passport and playing in the country two years before the Olympics.

The Chinese Ice Hockey Association has a more localized method of drafting players with Chinese ancestry through overseas tryouts.

Foreign-born players first have to be from families with Chinese roots and then must have at least two consecutive seasons representing a Chinese team after changing citizenship in order to be eligible to represent the country.

“From the IIHF’s point of view, this is better because the players have a bond with the country they represent,” said Wu.

“For China, we know we have a lot of work to do in a short time. But we also want to insist that our team is a Chinese team.

“It’s respectable. It’s something that will be supported by the international hockey family. We want to build hockey in China-not just do well in 2022, but as a longer-term project.”

Currently, Shanghai-based Kunlun Red Star plays in the professional Russia-based Kontinental Hockey League while its female affiliate plays in the seven-team Canadian Women’s Hockey League.

Other Chinese teams are playing in minor and junior leagues in Russia, and individual players are competing for college and university teams in Canada and the United States.

Organized by Beijing Municipal Sports Bureau and Beijing Hockey Association, the capital’s current youth league has attracted a record 2,554 children on 162 teams.

“We’ve seen many positive signs that the game is growing in popularity and public recognition in recent years,” said CIHA president Cao Weidong.

“Hopefully to qualify for and perform decently at the Beijing Olympics in 2022 will galvanize the momentum for sustainable development.”

New Zealand’s Under-18s look to defend their Challenge Cup title

By Logan Swinkels – Puck Yeah

This morning New Zealand’s Under-18 women’s hockey team will be boarding a plane to Kuala Lumpur to compete at the 2018 IIHF Challenge Cup of Asia. For some, like rookie Jessie Parker, this will be their first overseas tournament.

The Auckland-based defender was initially named as a reserve when the squad was announced in September last year, and at the time, Parker said she was “screaming for a solid five minutes.” That elation went further after finding out a week later that she would now be making the journey to Malaysia alongside her teammates when another had to unfortunately drop out. “It was out of this world, I’ve never felt happier in my life, it was amazing,” Parker exclaimed upon hearing the good news.

Over the past week, the Under-18s have been together completing a rigorous training camp in Auckland under the guidance of head coach Angelique Mawson. There the team focussed on improving breakouts from their own zone and regrouping to attack.

From following the recent women’s tournament at the PyeongChang Winter Olympics, Parker found herself more inspired to compete in Kuala Lumpur as she watched the likes of Team Canada and Team USA putting into practice those very same drills. “To be able to see the drills that we’re doing applied at such a high level is really cool…they were playing really well, the speed and accuracy, it was really easy to see when they applied their drills to the game,” said Parker.

During training camp, the New Zealanders were also put through their paces with fitness testing on a hot, humid Auckland day – that’s only a sample of the intense heat that will likely greet the team in Malaysia. With temperatures in Kuala Lumpur set to reach over 30 degrees celsius this week it’s just as well ice hockey is played inside a freezing barn, rather than being exposed to the elements like their field hockey counterparts would be.

As far as team strengths go, Parker believes it’s their ability to defend well and keep the puck in the offensive zone. Other teams will find it hard to score if New Zealand manage to control the play so effectively, as was the case at the 2017 Challenge Cup where the team scored 57 goals while only allowing nine in return.

Last night the team named Laney Keenan as captain, with Jana Kivell and Rina Watt serving as alternates.


Last year for the first time in the ten-year history of the Challenge Cup of Asia tournament, New Zealand sent a team over where they would go undefeated with a 6-0 record, including a 4-3 upset win over host nation Thailand, to claim the gold medal.

The Challenge Cup was created by the IIHF to give Asian countries that either play in the lowest division or are not part of the World Championship program the opportunity to complete and develop hockey in those regions.

In 2017 there were seven teams in a single division, but now with Chinese Taipei sending their own under-18 team this year, the tournament has been split into two divisions. New Zealand make up the top division with Singapore, Thailand, and Chinese Taipei. While the lower division comprises of India, the Philippines, Malaysia, and United Arab Emirates.

Once again, Thailand will likely be New Zealand’s biggest challenge at the tournament. But it may be a tougher ask this time around with the Kiwis playing back-to-back games – less than 24 hours before that penultimate matchup they will face Chinese Taipei.

Heather McAslan, Parker’s roommate during training camp, added “We played Thailand last year and the game was only won by one goal, so they’re pretty good…and we’re not really sure how the other (countries) play, so you’ve got to get there and figure out how they play before you can figure out how you play them.”

The fact that these girls are taking on the senior national sides of other countries is also not lost on them. “It’s quite nerve-racking,” McAslan concluded before Parker interjects with a low-key “We’ve got this.”

With the tournament taking place in March, for these young athletes it occurs during the first term of the school year. To make up for the time lost in the classroom, schools supply the team with “massive” folders of homework so they don’t fall behind their classmates. On top of that, some of the girls have to complete internal exams much earlier than their peers, in McAslan’s case it’s four weeks, while others play catch up on assignments and sit exams when they get back.

Being her first international hockey tournament, Parker is looking forward to the learning experience that comes with that and is earnest about her own performance expectations. “As a rookie I’m probably not going to be doing that great, but I’m just going to be giving it absolutely everything I’ve got and I’m sure the rest of the girls are in that same mindset too,” Parker stated.

But her biggest highlight could be putting on that black jersey representing New Zealand. “It means everything in the world to me. I’ve been imagining just putting on this amazing jersey with my name on the back for months and months. I’m so excited, I’m so pumped to be representing my country in such an awesome sport.”

Combining that confidence in her team with a tireless dedication to the cause, it’s hard to argue with the rookie on New Zealand’s chances of returning home with another gold medal around their necks.

Two generations – Arabs united in passion for hockey

By Henrik Manninen –

Almost 28 years separate teammates Omar Al Shamsi and Obaid Almehairbi. Together they aim for future prosperity for hockey in the United Arab Emirates.

With five previous World Championship appearances, the United Arab Emirates performance at the 2018 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship Division III Qualification in Sarajevo left them wanting for more.

Blanked in their opener against debutants and eventual runaway winners Turkmenistan 4-0, the Arab nation was tied with Bosnia & Herzegovina halfway through the game before succumbing to a 6-1 loss. They left it late to get back to winning ways to claim third place against Kuwait in a 4-2 win before quickly packing their trunks and heading back home.

While 44-year-old Omar Al Shamsi had a goal and an assist against its Arab rivals Kuwait was a scant consolation, this game also marked a milestone in the ascending career of 16-year-old Obaid Almehairbi, who racked up his first win at World Championship level while being on school holidays.

“I didn’t really get too much playing time, but I am lucky to be here with the team. The game at this level is far more aggressive than what we have back home, so it is a huge difference to play here,” said Almehairbi, who picked up the game at the age of five and made his debut for the Emirates at the 2017 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship Division III in Sofia, Bulgaria, aged just 15.

During the Division III qualifiers played in Sarajevo between 25-28 February, Almehairbi was the youngest player on the team. Accompanied by fellow millennials, defenceman Abdullah Yahya and backup netminder Abdulrahman Alhosani, they were all ears to learn from their teammates who put United Arab Emirates on the international hockey map.

“The older players tell me about the mistakes I make but also how to learn from them. They are far better than me and I know that I have lots of things to improve in my game such as skating, dribbling and stickhandling,” said Almehairbi, who represents the Abu Dhabi ISC.

Hockey has made fine strides in United Arab Emirates since its trailblazing days in the early 1990s. For Al Shamsi it all started in Al Ain, the second-largest city in the Emirate of Abu Dhabi. Like most other teenagers in the city at that time he was playing football, but soon made an unorthodox switch together with a group of friends in the oasis city 160 kilometres east of the capital Abu Dhabi.

“We used to go to the ice rink for normal public skating. The Canadians and other foreigners soon invited us to play hockey with them and we got addicted to it. I changed from football to ice hockey and I love this game,” he said.

Al Shamsi eventually got rewarded at the international stage for his hard work. Winning gold at the 2009 IIHF Ice Hockey Challenge Cup of Asia on home ice in Abu Dhabi paved the way for him as a 36-year-old to debut at the 2010 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championships Division III in Luxembourg.

“From the old generation, it is now only myself and captain Juma Al Dhaheri left. Then we have the second generation of around two or three players and then the rest of them are the young ones. For five or six of them playing in Sarajevo has been their first international tournament in ice hockey,” said Al Shamsi, who turned 44 at the turn of the year.

With a playing career approaching its twilight years, Al Shamsi is also playing an integral role in nurturing the next generation. Back in Al Ain, home of home of 767,000 people, he is working as both team- and activity manager for his hometown club.

“Most of our domestic players come from Al Ain. In Abu Dhabi there are more foreign players playing hockey, so our focus in Al Ain is to build up the new generation. At the moment we have for instance around 30-35 players in the under-9 and in the next category U12 between 40 and 45 players,” said Al Shamsi, who also acknowledges the challenge to close the gap between certain age groups.

“From the ages 16 to 20 we are suffering. Also, some of our players go studying abroad while others go to the military service. In Sarajevo we missed many players, but I hope they will be with us next year,” he continued.

With the World Championship Division III Qualification being their sole IIHF tournament this season, the United Arab Emirates have of late also been on the lookout for other international competitions to bolster its hockey program. One such example has seen them take part at the President’s Cup Tournament which in early January saw Al Shamsi play in Minsk, Belarus.

“It is the fourth time I took part in it and for us it is a very good tournament. It is a really high level of hockey and a good opportunity for us to learn from them. There are a lot of ex-professional players and it can help us to improve the level of hockey,” said Al Shamsi.

Another addition to that there will also be a regional tournament held in Abu Dhabi next month. With the hosts welcoming club teams from Algeria, Egypt, Kuwait, Oman and possibly Qatar, it is hoped to help develop the game in the region while offering valuable competitive action for up-and-coming players. One of those being 16-year-old Almehairbi, whom Al Shamsi have high hopes for ahead of the future.

“He is good and he has the passion, so he will be one of the best in the team,” said Al Shamsi.

KHL postpones playoffs to let Olympic gold medalists party more

By Kyle Cantlon –

Team ‘Olympic Athletes From Russia’ has transformed into team ‘Olympic Boozehounds From Russia’ awfully quickly, and the bender isn’t over yet.

Less than a week out of the PyeongChang Games where a group of Russians captured men’s hockey gold, playoffs in the country’s top league are set to begin. Two of the clubs comprising the majority of Team OAR in South Korea — CKSA Moscow and SKA Saint Petersburg — are slotted to face off against Sparktak and Severstal, respectively, in the opening round, but the KHL is reportedly postponing the start of both series.

For a very legitimate reason – if you ask me.

Powerhouse No. 1 overall seed SKA Saint Petersburg, which went 47-5-4 during the KHL’s regular season, featured 15 players on Russia’s Olympic team, including former NHL All-Stars Ilya Kovalchuk and Pavel Datsyuk, and gold-medal game hero Nikita Gusev.

Second ranked CSKA Moscow boasted eight players on OAR’s gold-winning squad, including Nikita Nesterov, Alexey Marchenko, Mikhail Grigorenko, and Kirill Kaprizov — who potted the OT winner against Germany in the final game.

Both behemoths are on a collision course to the KHL finals, so why not delay the inevitable in the name of a good hangover.

KHL Playoff matches ups

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