Date: April 8, 2018

Mongolia win IIHF Challenge Cup of Asia on goal difference

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By Dan Palmer – Inside the Games

Mongolia won the International Ice Hockey Federation Challenge Cup of Asia on goal difference as three nations ended the round-robin tournament on nine points.

The Mongolians, as well as hosts The Philippines and Thailand, all finished the event with three victories and one defeat following today’s concluding matches.

It meant the winners were decided by taking into account the three teams’ results against each other with their matches against Singapore and Kuwait discarded.

Thailand had beaten The Philippines 7-4 at the SM Mall of Asia Ice Skating Rink in Pasay, with the hosts then beating Mongolia 6-5.

Mongolia’s 5-1 win over the Thais yesterday meant all three teams beat each other and the margin of their success was crucial as they ended on the best goal difference of plus three.

Thailand ended on minus one to finish second with the hosts in third on minus three.

Mongolia had never before won the event.

Both The Phillippines and Thailand recorded massive wins today, with Mongolia not in action, but they proved irrelevant in the final reckoning.

The Thais beat Kuwait 12-1 before the Filipino outfit roared past Singapore 15-0.

Kuwait have finished bottom and will be relegated to Division One for 2019, to be replaced by Malaysia.

Al Dhaheri says Arab Clubs Championship ice hockey tournament an ‘overwhelming success’

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By Amith Passela – The National

Abu Dhabi Storms win inaugural title after beating Team Lebanon 5-3 in final at Zayed Sports City Ice Rink.

Juma Al Dhaheri, the Abu Dhabi Storms captain, believes the Arab Clubs Championship will become an annual feature on the UAE Ice Sports Federation’s calendar after his side won the inaugural title over the weekend.

Al Dhaheri, who is also the general secretary of the federation, hailed the “overwhelming success” of the championship after helping his side stage a thrilling comeback to win the final at Zayed Sports City Ice Rink 5-3.

“Leave aside the result, ice hockey fans witnessed a great match which had everything – the skills, speed and excitement – that a final game could provide,” he said after Saturday’s championship match in Abu Dhabi.

Ice hockey in the UAE remains a largely expatriate sport, Al Dhaheri said, but that competitions like the Arab Clubs Championship “will certainly encourage more indigenous people, particularly the youth, to join the sport.

“Our goal is to develop the sport in the region. We have created a pathway and the Arab Clubs Championship is one of them. There are more Arab countries now ready to join.”

Matti Fagerstrom, the Storms coach, said the championship had raised the profile of ice hockey in the region to a new level.

“It means more funding, more sponsorship’s and more importantly attracting more viewers through live TV coverage,” the Finn said.

The five-team competition played over a league format saw both the Storms and Team Lebanon reach the final game undefeated.

The Storms fielded their professionals for large parts of the match against a Montreal-based Team Lebanon, a combined side comprising of young Canadians and naturalized Lebanese players.

Nabil Kamleh, Team Lebanon’s assistant coach who plays for Dubai Mighty Camels in the Emirates Hockey League, believes the final was one of the best witnessed on these shores.

“I have been in Dubai for more than 13 years and witnessed one of the best games ever in the UAE,” he said.

“Full credit to the Storms for winning it but we witnessed a high skilled fast-paced game.

“As a Lebanese-Canadian, born and raised in Canada, it’s a remarkable tournament as it provides the opportunity to play for your country,” he added.

“I played for this team [Lebanon] in the President’s Cup in November and the standard has gone so high that I wasn’t able to play in this.”

Alexander Pajusovs netted all three goals for Team Lebanon, one in each period, yet his efforts fell short against the home side.

Andrei Bashko put the Storms ahead on 10 minutes but Pajusovs struck four minutes from time to level the scores at the end of the first period.

Pajusovs netted the solitary goal in the second period before Artur Zainutdinov leveled the score in the opening minute of the third period.

Pajusovs regained the lead for Team Lebanon in the next minute but it was short lived as Mikhael Klimin struck seconds later to level it again at 3-3.

The game turned hostile towards the end and Team Lebanon’s Majed Madi and Mathew Darwish were both sent off for misconduct.

Zainutdinov scored with just over two minutes remaining to put Storms ahead and then Masleniau Yaraslau fired a long-range shot when the visitors played without goalkeeper Alec Sader, who had an outstanding game with several excellent saves.

 

Dutch delight in Maribor

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By Andy Potts – IIHF.com

The Netherlands powered to gold in the 2018 IIHF Ice Hockey Women’s World Championship Division II Group A with a flawless week’s work in Maribor, Slovenia. Unbeaten in five games, with just three goals allowed, the Dutch were a class above the opposition throughout the competition and wrapped up the title in fine style with an impressive 4-0 victory over Great Britain in Friday’s decisive game between the best two teams of the tournament.

As a result, the Netherlands returns to Division IB. Relegation in 2016 in Asiago was followed by a silver medal in Korea last year at one of the preparation events for the Olympics in PyeongChang, but this time the Dutch went one better.

The game against Great Britain was a clash between two nations with 100% records, but even in the early rounds of the tournament the Dutch had looked stronger. More goals scored and fewer allowed at the other end meant the Netherlands would be the favourite ahead of the gold-medal showdown.

Joep Franke’s team lived up to its billing from the start. The first period was one-way traffic, with the Brits limited to just a couple of shots at Nadia Zijlstra while the Netherlands fired in 13 efforts at Nicole Jackson. Britain was fighting to stay in the game, but lost that battle in the middle frame when the Dutch scored three without reply. Captain Savine Wielenga got things started with a power-play goal shortly after the intermission before feeding Kayleigh Hamers for a rocket of a shot to make it 2-0.

Britain’s best hopes of a recovery came and went with a 5-on-3 power play towards the end of the second period. The Dutch, though, not only killed the penalty but went on to kill off the game with a third goal seconds after Hamers escaped the box. Julie Zwarthoed scored, with Wielenga among the assists again, to make it 3-0 and take her to 11 points for the tournament. Another power play saw Bieke van Nes add a fourth early in the final frame, and the outcome was beyond doubt.

Zwarthoed and Wielenga led the Dutch scoring with 11 and 10 points respectively, while Zijlstra’s goaltending brought her two shutouts from three starts, and just one goal allowed in the 2-1 win over Slovenia. That game was the tightest battle for the eventual champion: the other results were a 5-2 win over DPR Korea and big shutout wins against Australia and Mexico.

For Britain, a silver medal was an improvement on bronze in 2017 and that gave cause for encouragement for head coach Cheryl Smith. “We have plenty to be proud of, and the program is clearly going in the right direction,” she said after the game. The tournament also marked the end of Angela Taylor’s international career after two spells on the national team totalling more than a decade brought 54 appearances and 70 points for her country.

The tournament also brought a bronze medal for DPR Korea. The roster featured several players who gained Olympic experience as part of the Unified Korean team in PyeongChang in February. Un Hyang Kim, who made five Olympic appearances, was the top goalscorer with six; Hyang Mi Kim, who featured in three games in PyeongChang, led the scoring with nine points. Su Hyon Jong, who famously joined her South Korean colleague Jongah Park to carry the Olympic Torch to the cauldron during the Opening Ceremony, contributed with six assists in five games.

Australia edged the Slovenian hosts for fourth place, winning 4-2 when the nations went head-to-head on Friday; Slovenia’s Pia Pren had some consolation as her two assists lifted her to 11 points and a share of the tournament scoring lead with Zwarthoed. Mexico struggled throughout the competition and was relegated after failing to win a game and scoring just three goals.

Window to the west

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By Henrik ManninenIIHF.com

Once flying high at the top level of the women’s game, Kazakhstan has since seen its fortunes plummet drastically. With their top club team Aisulu Almaty competing in Europe and with more domestic teams on the rise, there is once again cause for careful optimism.

With Italy’s Asiago hosting the 2018 IIHF Ice Hockey Women’s World Championship Division I Group B starting on Sunday, Kazakhstan makes a return to European soil with a point to prove. Having dropped down three places on the most recent IIHF Women’s World Ranking and currently occupying 20th spot, the Central Asians will be keen to reverse the trend as China, Italy, Korea, Latvia and Poland await.

Kazakhstan’s current predicament is a far cry from the heady days which saw them compete at the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City. It was followed up by four appearances at the top division of the World Championships between 2005 and 2011 with memorable victories against Russia and Switzerland.

An ageing team and a new crop of players thrown into the deep end saw Kazakhstan fall down as far as Division IIA in 2015. Arresting their slide and playing an integral part in their recovery has been Aisulu’s regular involvement in European competitive action.

Competing in both the Elite Women’s Hockey League (EWHL) and its adjoining cup-competition, the EWHL Supercup, sees Kazakhstan’s top players at Aisulu take on clubs from Austria, Denmark, Germany, Hungary, Italy and Slovakia.

“While Russia has invited us to play with them, we find it more useful to play here in Europe as we are regularly facing our main opponents in the World Championships, such as for instance Italy,” said Alexander Maltsev, head coach of both Aisulu and the Kazakh women’s national team on their involvement in the EWHL which began in 2015/16.

Apart from keeping close tabs to their rivals, the EWHL offers Aisulu competitive matches played in a very concentrated area of Europe. The drawback is that your team is based in Central Asia, separated 4,600 kilometres by air from this season’s EWHL-champions Austria’s Sabres Vienna. With all of Aisulu’s EWHL matches played on the road on venues across Europe, an intense schedule awaits the team whose name translates to ‘beautiful moon’ as it ventures to the west.

“Playing in the EWHL is for us a very good competition, but it is also difficult, especially by playing against many strong teams in such a short distance of time,” said Aisulu’s Alyona Fux, who keeps alive a family tradition of competing in Europe from her father and uncle, who both played in Germany’s top division.

The 30-year-old hailing from the hockey hotbed of Ust-Kamenogorsk was part of the bronze-winning Aisulu team in the 2008 edition of the now defunct European Women’s Champions Cup. She later also tasted immediate success when the team from Kazakhstan’s largest city finished third in their debut season of the EWHL in 2015/16.

Fux and her teammates play around 50 competitive matches a season, with the bulk of them being part of Aisulu’s intensive schedule in European competition.

11 games across Europe in 18 days in September was followed by a second somewhat more arduous schedule starting in late November last year. With 12 games in 20 days, it began with a jetlagged contingent of Aisulu players hurrying to a game from their delayed flight arriving in Copenhagen.

“In Denmark, we didn’t have much time to prepare to the game,” said Maltsev of a 3-1 loss against Hvidovre, which a day later saw Aisulu back up to speed again as they downed their Danish opponents 6-2. “After that, we continued to Central Europe for games in Slovakia, Hungary and Austria. With such a hectic schedule and moving around so much means that we are not able to practise much during those trips,” said Maltsev, whose team just missed out on the EWHL playoffs this season and with that a potential third trip back to Europe with Aisulu.

When they now make their return to Europe, it is in the guise of the Kazakh national team. Arriving in Italy to play at the Women’s World Championship Division I Group B, they do so as the second-lowest ranked team in the competition. Head coach Maltsev believes, however, that brighter days are looming around the corner.

“Our government is paying good attention to women’s hockey, but our player development is not so fast. Now we have more younger players in the senior national team and even in the national championship, we have an Aisulu U18 team taking part. What we know hope is that another team soon could play in Europe which would further help our development,” said Maltsev.

Despite opening the tournament with two defeats, Kazakhstan finished second at last year’s Division I Group B in Katowice, Poland. In this year’s edition in Asiago, they now need to get into their stride right from the outset. Despite a tricky opening game awaiting against Korea, there appears to be no shortage of belief within the Kazakh camp that following many barren years the only way will be up.

“To advance to the next division,” said Fux on her hopes for the outcome in Asiago. A level of optimism surpassed by head coach Maltsev when asked on when Kazakhstan once again will be locking horns with the likes of Russia or Switzerland at the top of the women’s game: “In three years, I hope,” he said.