Month: May 2018 (page 1 of 2)

Golden Knights vs. Capitals Stanley Cup Final preview

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By Shawn P. Roarke – NHL.com

Vegas Golden Knights vs. Washington Capitals

Golden Knights: 12-3 (defeated Los Angeles Kings 4-0 in first round, San Jose Sharks 4-2 in second round, Winnipeg Jets 4-1 in third round)

Capitals: 12-7 (defeated Columbus Blue Jackets 4-2 in first round, Pittsburgh Penguins 4-2 in second round, Tampa Bay Lightning 4-3 in third round)

Season series: VGK 2-0-0; WSH 0-2-0

The skinny

There will be a new team name on the Stanley Cup when the 2018 Stanley Cup Final is finished.

Will it be the Washington Capitals, who have waited 43 long seasons and were swept, by the Detroit Red Wings, in their only other Final appearance, in 1998?

They have earned the right, winning each series after trailing, including losing the first two games to the Columbus Blue Jackets in the first round and three straight games to the Tampa Bay Lightning in the Eastern Conference Final.

“We worked so hard for this to be able to be in the Final and all it took was 11 years, but now we’re there,” said center Nicklas Backstrom, who joined the Capitals for the 2007-08 season. “So, it’s a great feeling, especially the way we did it, the way we played the game. It was outstanding from everybody.”

Or will it be the upstart Vegas Golden Knights finishing an expansion season like no other by winning the championship in their first season?

Vegas has been dominant, sweeping the Los Angeles Kings, eliminating the San Jose Sharks in six games and defeating the Winnipeg Jets in five.

“[Washington has] bought in,” Vegas forward James Neal said. “They’re playing as a team. They’re willing to do anything to win. They’re physical. They can score goals. They have skill. We played a very similar team in Winnipeg. That being said, we’re going to have to be hard on their top guys.”

The subplots are as juicy as the main story line.

Vegas goalie Marc-Andre Fleury is having a career postseason and, when with the Pittsburgh Penguins, made life miserable for the Capitals before being selected by the Golden Knights in the NHL Expansion Draft. Fleury helped the Penguins eliminate the Capitals the past two seasons and three times since 2009.

Fleury is trying to win the Stanley Cup for a third straight season and fourth time in his career.

George McPhee, the general manager of the Golden Knights, was Capitals GM from 1997 to 2014. He drafted many of Washington’s top players, including forwards Alex Ovechkin, Evgeny Kuznetsov and Backstrom; defenseman John Carlson; and goaltender Braden Holtby.

Nate Schmidt, the No. 1 defenseman for Vegas, was a No. 7 defenseman for Washington until he was picked in the expansion draft. Golden Knights forward Cody Eakin was drafted by the Capitals.

So, though there is familiarity between these two teams, the 2018 Stanley Cup Final will be like no other.

“The last 10 years have been dominated by a couple of teams [in the Final], but you’ve seen what [the Golden Knights] were able to do in the regular season and these playoffs,” Capitals forward T.J. Oshie said. “They’re going to be a tough test. I think we’re going to be a tough test as well. I personally can’t wait to get there and play head to head.”

When it is finished, one team will have completed its trek to a first championship in the most dramatic of ways.

Game breaker

Capitals: Ovechkin, Washington’s first-line left wing, is having a postseason to remember, impacting games with his skill and physicality. He has been a big part of each signature win. In the first round, he scored two goals in the clinching Game 6 against the Blue Jackets. In the second round, against the Penguins, he had an assist on the series-clinching goal in overtime of Game 6. In Game 7 against the Lightning, the Washington captain scored 1:02 into the game, starting what became a 4-0 win. Ovechkin has NHL career playoff highs of 12 goals and 22 points.

Golden Knights: Jonathan Marchessault, a first-line forward, has 18 points (eight goals, 10 assists) in 15 postseason games, with at least one point in 10 games. After a lackluster first round (two assists), Marchessault has been a difference-maker almost every game. He had three points in the series opener against the Sharks and three more in a Game 3 win. Against the Jets in the Western Conference Final, Marchessault had two assists in a Game 1 loss before scoring twice in Game 2, including the game-winner, and twice more in Game 3.

X-factor

Capitals: Forward Tom Wilson took over the Eastern Conference Final at times. He can score, he can hit, he can turn the tide with his enthusiasm and energy. He showed that repeatedly against the Lightning, and Game 7 was a microcosm. His hit on forward Chris Kunitz on Wilson’s first shift of the game caused a turnover that keyed Washington’s counter attack, which ended with Ovechkin’s goal. Wilson finished the game with three hits and the series with 29.

Golden Knights: Forward David Perron has not scored this postseason but does have the ability to change a game with his skill. Perron, who missed two games against the Kings because of injury and two games against the Jets because of illness, has seven assists in 11 games after getting 66 points (16 goals, 50 assists) in 70 games during the regular season.

Goaltending

Capitals: Nothing got past Holtby with the Eastern Conference on the line. He had back-to-back shutouts in the final two games against the Lightning, who were the highest-scoring team in the regular season at 3.54 goals per game. He has not allowed a goal in 159:27, having made 60 straight saves. Holtby is 12-6 with a 2.04 goals-against average and .924 save percentage.

Golden Knights: Fleury has been the best goalie in the playoffs by a wide margin and is a front-runner for the Conn Smythe Trophy give to the postseason MVP. He has a .947 save percentage with a 1.68 GAA in 15 games. His even-strength save percentage is .956, the best in history among goalies with at least 15 games in a single postseason.

Numbers to know

Capitals: A 10.5 percent shooting percentage is the best among the four teams that made it to the conference finals, 1.4 percent better than the Golden Knights. Washington is averaging 31.7 hits per game and its 603 hits are the most by any team in the playoffs, eight more than Vegas having played four more games.

Golden Knights: Vegas has killed 82.5 percent of the power plays it has faced, the best success rate among the final four teams. Its top line — Marchessault, Karlsson and Smith — has 47 points in 15 games.

They said it

“I think our group here really understands what it means to be a team and how to win. Maybe in the past we’ve had more skill or been better on paper or whatever. But this team, everyone knows their role and everyone wants to pitch in and everyone is comfortable with each other. I haven’t been on a team like this where, in any situation, we’re confident and confident in each other, don’t get down on each other. It’s a strong group, and that’s extremely hard to come by and something that we’re going need to have going forward to be our best and be a strong team.” — Capitals goalie Braden Holtby on the difference between this team and those in the past

 

“It’s a big credit to the people who created this entire organization a year before we even got picked up. They did all the work to make us feel like, as soon as we put a step in Vegas, we felt like home. We felt welcome. They were clear about how we have to play if we want to be successful. I feel like every guy has understood that and played a role in that. When you have 20 guys or more that understand their role and play only for the team, it’s a successful team even if we don’t have the biggest superstar in the League, besides our goalie.” — Golden Knights forward Pierre-Edouard Bellemare

Will win if …

Capitals: Win the special-teams battle and physically dominate the Golden Knights the way they did the Lightning late in the Eastern Conference Final. The Golden Knights are the best penalty-killing team they have faced and are not shy about using the body to dictate the way the game is played.

Golden Knights: Find some depth scoring and show some discipline. The top two scoring lines for Vegas have 25 goals, the rest of the forwards have 10. A second-tier forward is going to have to get hot. As for discipline, the Golden Knights know how dangerous Ovechkin and Carlson are on the power play.

How they look

Capitals projected lineup

Alex Ovechkin — Evgeny Kuznetsov — Tom Wilson

Jakub Vrana — Nicklas Backstrom — T.J. Oshie

Andre Burakovsky — Lars Eller — Brett Connolly

Chandler Stephenson — Jay Beagle — Devante Smith-Pelly

Dmitry Orlov — Matt Niskanen

Michal Kempny — John Carlson

Brooks Orpik — Christian Djoos

Braden Holtby

Philipp Grubauer

Scratched: Madison Bowey, Travis Boyd, Alex Chiasson, Pheonix Copley, Shane Gersich, Jakub Jerabek, Nathan Walker

Injured: None

Golden Knights projected lineup

Jonathan Marchessault — William Karlsson — Reilly Smith

James Neal — Erik Haula — David Perron

Ryan Carpenter — Cody Eakin — Alex Tuch

Tomas Nosek — Pierre-Edouard Bellemare — Ryan Reaves

Brayden McNabb — Nate Schmidt

Shea Theodore — Deryk Engelland

Luca Sbisa — Colin Miller

Marc-Andre Fleury

Maxime Lagace

Scratched: Brad Hunt, Oscar Lindberg, Jon Merrill, Tomas Tatar

Injured: William Carrier (undisclosed), Malcolm Subban (undisclosed)

UN Environment to host ‘Last Game’ for the Arctic at the North Pole

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By UN Environment.org

The Arctic is one of the earth’s most fragile ecosystems, dis proportionally affected by climate change and warming at twice the average rate of the rest of the planet. To garner global attention and support for the rapidly disappearing ice in the Polar regions, UN Environment is organizing the ‘last ice hockey game in the Arctic’ in spring 2019.

The game is spearheaded by legendary Russian ice hockey player Viacheslav Fetisov, who was designated UN Environment Patron for Polar Regions this week.

“The world today is very fragile and it’s our duty to do everything to unite people and nations to remind them that we don’t have a planet B,” Fetisov said. “Sport and environment are two spheres that will unite people and help us to protect the Earth – our common heritage.”

The frightening speed of climate change is particularly visible in the Arctic. This winter the temperature at the North Pole was well above normal. Ships navigated the Arctic Passage without icebreakers for the first time as the age, thickness and extent of sea ice cover in the Arctic decreased.

The hockey game, to be played in spring 2019, will take place on an ice rink on the North Pole. The teams will include ice hockey players and sports personalities from around the world, as well as Arctic indigenous peoples and youth.

The symbolic event is a wake-up call to the world, highlighting climate models projecting that the Arctic Ocean will be ice-free by 2040. During the event, the teams will phone the United Nations Secretary-General from the North Pole.

“We simply cannot ignore the threat of climate change to the Arctic regions of our earth. Once this fragile ecosystem is disturbed, it may never recover,” said Erik Solheim, Head of UN Environment. “I am grateful to see great athletes like Viacheslav Fetisov lending their names to this ‘last call for the Arctic’ and make the world aware that we have to take action. It is now or never.”

Viacheslav Fetisov has frequently drawn attention to the polar region over the years; for example working towards the establishment of the marine protected area in the Ross Sea in Antarctica and orchestrating a massive beach cleanup in the Russian Arctic in 2017.

Changes in the Arctic affect weather patterns across the world with severe consequences for humans, societies, and nature. In light of this, Viacheslav will use his new position as Patron for Polar Regions to strengthen awareness of some of the most urgent environmental issues, including climate change, pollution, ocean protection, clean water, national parks and sustainable tourism.

About Viacheslav Fetisov

Fetisov is a legendary Soviet ice hockey player, one of the best defensemen in the history of world ice hockey. During his career, he won two gold medals at the Winter Olympics and was a two-time winner of the Stanley Cup with the Detroit Red Wings.

In 2015, Fetisov was the first person in Russia to support the campaign to create the marine protected area in the Ross Sea, Antarctica. Throughout the years he has lent his support to several environmental initiatives in the region, including Lewis Pugh’s (UN Environment Patron of the Oceans) cleanup on Lake Baikal, Russia and the Antarctica 2020 campaign for the creation of more arctic marine protected areas. In September 2017, he orchestrated the biggest beach cleanup in the Russian Arctic.

Capitals defeat Lightning in Game 7 to reach first Stanley Cup Final since 1998

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By Kevin Allen – USA Today

Last fall, defenseman Matt Niskanen could foresee unprecedented success for this Washington Capitals team for the oddest of reasons.

“I said to my wife, ‘On paper, we’re not as good this year, but watch, this will be the year we do something,’ ” he recalled. “Just the way it works. Hockey is a funny sport.”

The Capitals had both tears and laughter Wednesday night when they downed the Tampa Bay Lightning 4-0 in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference final to earn the franchise’s first trip to the Stanley Cup Final since 1998.

Washington will face the Vegas Golden Knights in an unlikely best-of-seven Stanley Cup Final starting Monday in Las Vegas.

The Capitals are trying to win their first Stanley Cup in their 44-year history and the Golden Knights have qualified for the Final in their first NHL season.

“I’m happy for the fans because they’ve been through some tough times with us and teams of the past,” Washington winger T.J. Oshie said.

 Nobody on the Capitals was happier than captain Alex Ovechkin, 32, who had never been beyond the second round of the playoffs before this season. He has often been blamed for the Capitals’ poor playoff performances in recent years.

But Washington’s playoff misery started long before Ovechkin’s arrival in 2005. Before downing the Lightning, the Capitals were 4-11 in Game 7s. In their one Stanley Cup Final appearance 20 years ago, they were swept by the Detroit Red Wings.

When he was interviewed on television, immediately after beating the Lightning, Ovechkin said he was having trouble sorting through his emotions.

But then he put everything into perspective by saying: “Finally.”

“I think everybody is happy, but we still have unfinished (business),” Ovechkin said. “I’m emotional. I think we’ve been waiting for this moment for a long time.”

Ovechkin, the NHL’s most dangerous scorer in this era, is considered to be among the greatest players never to have won a Stanley Cup.

Andre Burakovsky, born in Austria and raised in Sweden, was Washington’s offensive hero with a pair of goals, but it was Ovechkin who launched the win by scoring the first goal of the game just 1:02 in. He also led his team with five hits in Game 7.

With 12 goals, 10 assists and 66 hits, Ovechkin has been beastly in the postseason. He is one of the top Conn Smythe Trophy candidates going into the Final.

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NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly presents the Prince of
Wales Trophy to Washington Capitals left wing Alex Ovechkin

Just by the way Ovechkin has talked about this team, it was clear that he believed the Capitals had the right mix to be successful even though general manager Brian MacLellan made several changes last summer to ease salary cap concerns. The Capitals were supposed to take a half-step back, but ended up taking a step forward in terms of being ready for the playoffs.

Coach Barry Trotz, whose contract expires at the completion of the season, has been vocal about how much he believed in this team. He apparently told his players that again before Game 7.

“When a coach comes in without a cheat sheet in his hand and speaks from the heart and you see in his eyes that he believes what he’s saying it gives you a lift,” Oshie said. “It shows you he’s all in, and the only thing left is for us to do our job. We did that.” 

The hallmark of this Capitals team is their ability to dig deep when they need to the most. They trailed 3-2 in this series, and then won Games 6 and 7 on shutouts by Braden Holtby. He has gone more than 157 minutes without giving up a goal.

“Holts was fantastic back there,” Oshie said. “Back to back shutouts against a team like that on this stage is special.”

This team has been special, according to the Capitals. “We have a good mix of everything. We have some old players with experience,” Washington center Nicklas Backstrom said. “We’ve got some new, young players, which is great. I feel like everyone has been stepping up during the playoffs. We were doing all right during the regular season, but I feel like we’ve been playing even better as a team in the playoffs.”

He shared a moment with Ovechkin as the team celebrated on the ice.

“After it was done, I felt like you don’t even have to say so much,” Backstrom said. “You just have to look at each other. We’ve been waiting a long time for this. Now we’re in the finals and we’re going to do everything we can to do something special here for us, for the team and for the city.”

Golden Knights, in first NHL season, do the unthinkable in reaching Stanley Cup Final

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By Kevin Allen – USA TODAY

In a city where Frank Sinatra crooned, the Rat Pack roamed, Sugar Ray Leonard fought and Liberace headlined, the Golden Knights are proving to be one of the most celebrated acts in Las Vegas history.

The expansion Golden Knights defeated the Winnipeg Jets 2-1 on Sunday to win the Western Conference final in five games and earn an improbable berth to the Stanley Cup Final.

Fourth-liner Ryan Reaves, a Winnipeg native who was acquired at the trade deadline from the Pittsburgh Penguins in a complicated three-team deal, scored the game-winning goal in the second period.

If the Golden Knights triumph against either the Tampa Bay Lightning or Washington Capitals, they would be considered one of the most unlikely champions in sports history.

We are talking Buster Douglas taking down Mike Tyson, the 1969 New York “Miracle Mets” or No. 8-seed Villanova beating Georgetown to win the 1985 NCAA championship.

Historically, expansion teams are set up to initially fail. In the modern era, the Golden Knights, who went 51-24-7 in the regular season, are the first expansion team in the four major sports to post a winning record. The last two NHL expansion teams, the Columbus Blue Jackets and Minnesota Wild, won 28 and 25 games, respectively, in 2000-01.

Most experts predicted the Golden Knights would finish among the league’s worst teams. Nobody believed they could finish with the fifth-best record.

The Golden Knights might be the best team story in the NHL since the Wayne Gretzky-led Edmonton Oilers rewrote the record book in the 1980s with four Stanley Cups in five seasons.

It is a feel-good tale. The Las Vegas community and the team bonded before the first puck was dropped because of the Oct. 1 tragedy that saw 58 people die in a mass shooting during a concert in the city. 

As team members supported the victims’ families and first responders, the connection with fans grew stronger. On opening night, Vegas defenseman Deryk Engelland made an emotional, inspirational speech at center ice that will never be forgotten.

The community was strong, and it turned out the team was strong on the ice. With speed, passion and aggressiveness, the Golden Knights have played a perfect style for this era of hockey.

The Golden Knights have become just as unique in their presentation of the game, using theatrics and creativity at T-Mobile Arena. Laser shows. Elvis impersonators. Showgirls. Skits. Swordplay. Wayne Newton. Humorous comedy bits on the video screen. A castle in the stands.

All of the players are popular, but none more so than goalie Marc-Andre Fleury, the former Pittsburgh Penguins star who has launched the second act of his career in Las Vegas.

Although the Golden Knights’ success has been an exciting story line, not everyone is celebrating it.

Some fans believe winning should take time. They point out important franchises have never won a Stanley Cup. The storied Toronto Maple Leafs haven’t won since 1967.

The NHL changed the player-protection rules in the expansion draft to give the Golden Knights a greater opportunity at forming a better roster than previous expansion teams.

The 30 other teams were allowed to protect seven forwards and three defensemen and one goalie or eight forwards/defensemen and one goalie.

That means the Golden Knights, in theory, landed the 10th- or 12th-best player on every team’s roster.

They were supposed to get third-line forwards and No. 4 defensemen, but they did better than that because general manager George McPhee shrewdly managed the assets to land first-liners James Neal, Jonathan Marchessault and William Karlsson and a top goalie in Fleury.

The Golden Knights have earned this impossible dream trip to the Stanley Cup Final.

Tre Kronor golden again!

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By Lucas Aykroyd IIHF.com

Filip Forsberg’s shootout goal lifted Sweden to a 3-2 win over Switzerland and a second straight IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship gold medal in Copenhagen on Sunday.

Forsberg coolly shot low to the glove side to beat Swiss goalie Leonardo Genoni. Oliver Ekman-Larsson also scored earlier in the shootout, as did Switzerland’s Sven Andrighetto. When Swedish netminder Anders Nilsson foiled Nino Niederreiter with his blocker, the celebration was on at Copenhagen’s Royal Arena.

Winning gold via the shootout under head coach Rikard Gronborg has become a habit for the boys in blue and yellow. Tre Kronor last won back-to-back titles in 1991 (Turku) and 1992 (Prague).

In regulation time, Gustav Nyqvist and Mika Zibanejad scored for Sweden. Nino Niederreiter and Timo Meier scored for Switzerland, while Roman Josi added two assists.

The underdog Swiss tragically missed their chance to win their first World Championship ever. While this was a huge achievement after only making the quarter-finals twice in the preceding four years, the loss will still sting for a long time. You just couldn’t come any closer to success.

The defending champions outshot Switzerland 38-27, giving Genoni another busy night after the 3-2 semi-final upset over Canada.

Nilsson, who made the tournament all-star team, entered with a tournament-leading 1.00 GAA and 95.9 save percentage. The towering 28-year-old Lulea native was well-protected in Denmark with an NHL-loaded defence corps, including fellow all-stars Ekman-Larsson and Adam Larsson, but he also rebounded after a lackluster season with the Vancouver Canucks.

The Swedes went wire-to-wire without losing a game. And although the Canadians finished fourth with a disappointing 4-1 bronze medal loss to the United States earlier, the motherland of hockey provided a subtext to this game.

Last year, Nicklas Backstrom got the shootout winner as Sweden edged Canada 2-1 for gold in Cologne. Canada was also the last nation to win back-to-back titles (2015, 2016).

It was a big bounceback for both Sweden and Switzerland after February’s PyeongChang Olympics. There, Germany shocked Switzerland 2-1 in the qualification playoffs and Sweden 4-3 in the quarterfinals, both in overtime.

This was a rematch of the 2013 World Championship final in Stockholm. There, Josi was named tournament MVP with another Cinderella squad, but Tre Kronor triumphed 5-1 with the help of late arrivals Henrik and Daniel Sedin. The victory broke the 27-year-old Worlds “home ice curse,” which dated back to the 1986 Soviet gold medal in Moscow.

This final attracted an enthusiastic sellout crowd of 12,490, dominated by yellow Tre Kronor jerseys, but also featuring lots of Swiss red and cowbells. It was a fitting climax to a tournament that exceeded expectations by selling more than 500,000 tickets.

The Swedes quickly settled into their puck possession groove, but the first good chance went to Niederreiter, who nearly finished off a three-way passing play on the rush by Nilsson’s right post. Seconds later, Viktor Arvidsson, who scored twice in the 6-0 semi-final win over the Americans, got in behind the Swiss defence. He had Genoni beaten with his deke, but backhanded the puck wide through the crease.

At 11:25, Niederreiter took the first penalty when he high-sticked Arvidsson deep in the Swiss zone. The Swedes peppered Genoni with shots, but couldn’t break through.

Atoning for his error, Niederreiter opened the scoring at 16:38. Off a faceoff at the Swedish blue line, Josi carried the puck into the Swiss zone and lost it in a thicket of Swedish defenders, but the Minnesota Wild veteran followed up and pushed it past a surprised Nilsson

Tre Kronor struck back just 1:16 later. With Hornqvist providing the screen in front, Nyqvist knocked down a Mattias Ekhom pass in the high slot and flung the puck over Genoni’s glove. The teams went to the dressing rooms tied 1-1 despite Sweden’s 13-7 edge in shots.

Early in the second period, Nyqvist played the goat when he high-sticked Ramon Untersander, Switzerland’s top-scoring defenceman. The power play looked like it would pass uneventfully – until Enzo found a wide-open Meier streaking down right wing. The San Jose Sharks youngster unleashed a wrister from the faceoff circle that beat Nilsson under his stick arm to make it 2-1 at 3:13. It was the first Swiss shot of the period with 10 seconds left in the man advantage.

Even though the recently retired Sedins aren’t here, the Swedes hemmed Switzerland in with great Sedin-style cycling for long stretches after the midway point. It paid off with Zibanejad’s 2-2 power play goal at 14:53 after Corvi went off for holding. Ekman-Larsson sent the puck cross-ice to the New York Rangers star, and he fired a wrister from the top of the right faceoff circle that sailed home.

Nilsson redeemed himself for the iffy Meier goal when he made huge, back-to-back blocker saves on Sven Andrighetto and Simon Moser in the last two minutes of the middle frame. At the other end, Genoni came out to stop Arvidsson’s slap shot on a 2-on-1 rush just before the buzzer.

The third period was cautiously played until Swedish captain Mikael Backlund stole the puck from Meier at centre and burst in for a backhand attempt. Josi hauled him down as Genoni made a left pad save, and the Swedish power play went to work again at the seven-minute mark. Solid positional play denied the Swedes. 

However, in a weird sequence, Josi went straight back into the penalty box because he had failed to exit it completely. He got an interference play for touching the puck while still standing inside the penalty box gate. Outraged by the call, the Swiss fans whistled deafeningly.

On the ensuing man advantage, Ekman-Larsson exploded down the middle on a solo rush and got shaken up when he crashed into the goal post and the end boards. However, the Arizona Coyotes workhorse would carry on. The Swedes got one more mind-blowing chance in the final minute of the third when Ekholm streaked in unopposed, but couldn’t beat Genoni.

Ekman-Larsson also had a superb chance near the eight-minute mark of overtime when Rakell found him with a back pass on the rush, but Genoni was there again as Ekman-Larsson went flying over a Swiss defender. A few minutes later, the Swiss goalie made a great glove grab on John Klingberg’s quick release from the high slot.

The Swiss came within a hair’s-breadth of victory when Kukan centered it from behind the goal line to Fiala in the slot, forcing Nilsson into a stunning glove save. At the other end, Larsson hammered one off the goal post with under three seconds left in sudden-death.

Prior to 2013’s silver, all the Swiss World Championship medals came prior to the modern era of international hockey that kicked off with the Soviet Union’s golden 1954 Worlds debut: silver in 1935, and bronze in 1930, 1937, 1939, 1950, 1951, and 1953.

With Sweden and Switzerland facing off for gold twice in six years, this could mark a new rivalry in international hockey. Where will it go next? Can the Swedes three-peat? Will the Swiss be back for more? Join us again for the 2019 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship in Slovakia (Bratislava and Kosice).

Bronze for Team USA

By Andy Potts – IIHF.com

Team USA claimed World Championship bronze – and local bragging rights – after it downed Canada 4-1 in Sunday’s afternoon’s match-up in Copenhagen. Chris Kreider led the way with two goals, Nick Bonino claimed the game-winner and Anders Lee scored the first of two empty-netters to give the Americans a winning scoreline that was more comfortable than the game suggested. Marc-Edouard Vlasic delivered Canada’s reply late in the second period.
The decisive goal came with six minutes left to play. Patrick Kane’s slapshot took a deflection on its way to McIlhenney’s pads and bounced away kindly for Nick Bonino to spring into action and push the puck into an empty net. That put the Americans 2-1 up and on the way to securing hardware for the first time since 2015’s bronze-medal campaign in the Czech Republic.
 
It was also a significant landmark for Kane. His assist brought up 20 points for the tournament, the first time a player has reached that tally since Danny Heatley (12+8) for Canada in 2008. Kane is also poised to become the first American player to top the scoring race since 1949, when centre Bruce Mather led the way with 19 goals as the USA took bronze in Stockholm.
There were still some nervous moments for the U.S. Ryan O’Reilly, Canada’s quarter-final hero, almost delivered another crucial blow with two minutes left. The puck dropped kindly for the Buffalo forward, but he squirted his shot wide of the mark. That miss was punished by Lee, who fired into the empty net from his own zone to wrap up the win for the Americans. Kreider then made absolutely sure with a fourth goal for the USA.

Bronze-medal games can sometimes feel like a chore for two teams still coming to terms with the abrupt crash of their championship dreams. That emotion is often intensified when the play-off puts together rosters with genuine hopes of winning it all and the opening period here was an illustration of precisely that.

It wasn’t that it was a poor game, exactly, but the early exchanges stubbornly refused to ignite in the manner we’ve come to expect from USA-Canada clashes of yore. The Americans made the brighter start and bossed the game for the first 10 minutes. Then a penalty on Connor Murphy brought Canada to the table – albeit only after a Dylan Larkin intercept in centre ice created a short-handed rush that drew a good save from Curtis McElhinney. Ironically, Keith Kincaid’s most eye-catching moment of the first frame also came with his team on the power play. Bo Horvat was bearing down on the net but Kincaid rushed from his crease to hack the puck to safety.

The opening goal took time to arrive but the USA finally turned its supremacy into a goal in the 27th minute. But while Chris Kreider’s finish – calmly dragging the puck around McElhinney’s outstretched leg – was composed, there was a kindly bounce on the play as Dylan Larkin’s feed into the Canadian zone got tangled up in Connor McDavid’s skates present Kreider with the chance for his third of the tournament.

Nick Bonino then got a great pass from Johnny Gaudreau and wriggled in front of Josh Bailey as he bore down on McElhinney’s net. This time, though, there was no space to squeeze the puck past the Canadian goalie. Canada was still struggling to create clear openings, but Matt Barzal almost fashioned one when he moved along the goal line to shoot from the doorstep. Kinkaid made a fumbling save but recovered to deny Ryan O’Reilly a sniff of the rebound.

The game’s pivotal moment came late in the second period. The Americans carved out a glorious chance to go 2-0 up when Bonino slid the puck across the face of the net for Nick Jensen at the back door, but the defenceman’s shot found the side netting and bounced to safety. Canada came straight back up the ice and swiftly punished that miss.

Marc-Edouard Vlasic got the tying goal, collecting a Bo Horvat feed between the hash marks and shooting home through traffic. In the space of 15 seconds, Canada went from staring down the barrel of a two-goal deficit to being right back in the game. But the third period saw the USA take control in the closing stages and leave Denmark with the bronze medals.

China set for Olympic ice hockey

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By Martin Merk – IIHF.com

The 2018 IIHF Annual Congress has started with a first session in Copenhagen prior to the quarter-final games of the 2018 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship and will continue tomorrow.

The biggest news was the congress decision to allow host China to enter a men’s and a women’s ice hockey team in the 2022 Olympic Winter Games in Beijing. Like in the case of Korea for the recent 2018 Olympics, China as the host will not have to go through the qualification process and get an automatic entry.

More details on the qualification process will be announced at a later stage. The men’s ice hockey tournament is planned with 12 teams as until now while for the women’s ice hockey tournament discussions are going on between the IIHF, the IOC and the Chinese organizer to extend from eight to ten teams. In 2019 the IIHF Ice Hockey Women’s World Championship will be played with ten teams for the first time.

Since being awarded the 2022 Olympics, promising changes have been made in China. The hockey program has gone through restructuring with an ice hockey federation that is separate from the ice sports centre and is now headed by Weidong Cao.

China has also reached out abroad for support both to players of Chinese origin abroad but also to other organizations. In men’s ice hockey China has a club team Kunlun Red Star, which participates in Russia’s top league KHL and China also has two teams in the second-tier VHL and a junior team in the top Russian junior league MHL. On the women’s side Kunlun Red Star and a second Chinese team played in the Canadian Women’s Hockey League last season and China also sent girls’ teams to compete in the United States.

The changes will be very welcome to make the Chinese teams more competitive. The men’s team is ranked 33rd in the world and the women’s team 20th. While the men’s team has never played in a top-level event, the women’s team has a history in elite ice hockey. China was fourth in the first Olympic women’s ice hockey tournament in Nagano 1998 and also participated at the Olympics in 2002 and 2010. China also played in the top-level IIHF Ice Hockey Women’s World Championship each time between 1992 and 2009 reaching fourth place in 1994 and 1997 and hosted the 2008 IIHF Ice Hockey Women’s World Championship in Harbin.

Other Congress news from Day 1

Three changes in the IIHF membership have been approved by Congress. Kuwait and Turkmenistan have now full membership status after having played in the IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship program this season.

In Portugal the ice sports federation has been integrated into the Portuguese Winter Sports Federation (FDI), which is now the Portuguese member in the IIHF with associate member status.

Danish hockey on the rise despite elimination at home worlds

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By

Danish hockey is on the rise, even though the Danish hockey team has been knocked out of the world championships.

The national team’s early elimination at its first world championships on home ice can hardly overshadow the boost the tournament has given the sport in the country.

“I hope it spreads awareness of hockey in Denmark for a lot of families and hopefully they’ll try to get their kids to play hockey,” Columbus Blue Jackets forward Oliver Bjorkstrand said. “Hopefully it gets more hockey kids involved and more media attention on hockey, of course. It’s something we’re hoping for at this tournament.”

The progress has been obvious.

In 2003, Denmark advanced to the top international division for the first time in 54 years and has not been relegated since. The country reached the quarterfinals twice and managed to beat big teams, including the United States.

Center Frans Nielsen then opened a new era in 2007 by joining the New York Islanders. Currently with the Detroit Red Wings, Nielsen has 423 points in the NHL with 152 goals and 271 assists in 764 games.

Others soon followed.

Denmark currently has seven players in the NHL, and five of them played for their country at this year’s worlds, including Nielsen and Bjorkstrand. The others were Toronto Maple Leafs No. 1 goaltender Frederik Andersen and two San Jose Sharks forwards, Jannik Hansen and Mikkel Boedker.

In 2011, Hansen became the first Dane to play the Stanley Cup finals with the Vancouver Canucks.

At the world championships, Denmark beat Germany, Finland, Norway and South Korea but lost to Latvia 1-0 on Tuesday and missed out on the quarterfinals.

Perhaps the absence of two Danish forwards currently busy in the NHL playoffs played a role in that.

Lars Eller has five goals and seven assists in 15 playoff games for the Washington Capitals, who lead their Eastern Conference final against the Tampa Bay Lightning 2-1. Nikolaj Ehlers had a 60-point regular season with 29 goals and 31 assists for the Winnipeg Jets and has seven assists in the Western Conference final against the Vegas Golden Knights. That series is tied 1-1.

“That’s been a long way (for Danish hockey),” Nielsen said. “It’s been incredible and we’re proud of where we are today.”

At this year’s worlds, Denmark enjoyed huge support from the roaring home fans mostly wearing red and white jerseys at their games in Herning. After the victories, the crowd and players sang the Danish national anthem together.

“The whole city backs us up here,” said Nielsen, who is from Herning. “It’s been incredible.”

End of an era for France

By Andy Potts – IIHF.com

It’s been a long journey. In 1975, when Dave Henderson first arrived in Amiens and started playing for the local Gothiques, the club history recalls ‘a little Canadian who barely spoke a word of French’. In 2018, after taking charge of the national team for the 346th time, Henderson retired from his position of head coach.

In the 14 years that Henderson and his assistant Pierre Pousse have led Les Bleus, the country has made enormous progress. They masterminded a return to the top division for the 2008 World Championship and the country has stayed there ever since. Eleven consecutive seasons of top-flight action have brought memorable victories against some of the biggest teams in the game. In tandem, the French Ice Hockey Federation has boosted the country’s sporting infrastructure. At all levels of the game, French national teams are making progress, and last year saw Paris co-host the World Championship as the main event returned to France for the first time in the modern era.

“It’s been a fun ride, most of it,” Henderson acknowledged after running down the final curtain on his time in charge of the team.

Among the many highlights, Pousse unhesitatingly picks out the 2008 World Championship in Quebec City. “We had three years in the B pool, including that difficult World Championship [Division I] in Amiens; we went to China, to the end of the world, where there was only one journalist, and won promotion,” he said. “Then we went to Quebec and it was such an eye-opener. Very few of the players had experienced anything like it, and we certainly hadn’t.”

Hockey in France was very different back then. Most of the national team was drawn from the domestic league, whereas the majority of players in Copenhagen are playing abroad, gaining greater experience. The local competition is also much improved.

“French hockey has come from being like kitchen hockey, I guess you’d call it, to something much more professional. We have more preparation, more games, more intensity and more organisation. It’s going in the right direction and it will keep going that way under the direction of our Federation.”

Dave Henderson

French national team head coach

Pousse, who played under Henderson in Amiens before working with him as a coach with the French Juniors and then the national team, is expected to keep working on the French hockey program. For Henderson, there’s a slight pause – but no plans to stop working altogether.

“I’ll find something to do,” he said. “I’d drive my wife nuts if I didn’t do something.

“I’m in touch with the Federation and I’ll just play it by ear for now. In the next couple of months everything will be decided.”

For all the emotion of the final game – and a guard of honour as the French and Swiss teams applauded Henderson and Pousse off the ice – the 66-year-old is confident that this is the right step for the team.

“I think it was a global decision,” he said. “After 14 years I’d gone past retirement age and I think the team needs a change. The decision was made and I think it’s going to be a good decision.”

For Henderson and Pousse, who have worked in tandem since the 1990s, it’s going to be a big change. And for their players, the arrival of the legendary Philippe Bozon, the first French-trained player to reach the NHL, is something new.

“Personally, I was [Henderson’s] player for nine years, and now it’s the end,” said Damien Fleury, who wore the ‘C’ as Henderson took charge of his final game. “It’s tough, but it’s hockey. I just wish them the best, and thanks for everything they did for us.

“As for Bozon, I don’t know. I know him, but I’ve never had him as a coach. I know it’s going to be tough. I know we’re going to work hard. Maybe this is what we’ll need to go to the quarter-final.”

Forget golf, ice hockey is the new sport of China’s richest

Alongside sports such as horseback riding, polo and golf, ice hockey is one of the most expensive sports to play.

By Lee Wing Sze – South China Morning Post

At the closing ceremony of the PyeongChang 2018 Winter Olympics in February this year, the whole world was watching as the Olympic flag was passed to delegates from China: Beijing is to host the next Winter Olympics, in 2022.

Preparations for the 2022 Winter Olympics have already begun. New competition venues and infrastructure are springing up in the capital city, Yangqing district and Zhangjiakou, and winter sports are expected to become a point of focus for the entire country.

Out of all the winter sports there are, ice hockey – a fast-paced and action-packed team game – has always been one of the most popular spectator sports. The thrilling team game has also become one of the coolest sports for millennial’s to participate in, especially for those from privileged backgrounds.

Alongside sports such as horseback riding, polo and golf, ice hockey is one of the most expensive sports to play. As a full contact sport, players are required to wear protective gear, such as helmets, mouthguards, shoulder pads, elbow pads, girdle, hockey gloves and shin guards. In addition, uniforms and equipment such as hockey jerseys, ice skates and hockey sticks have to be maintained. All this requires HK$4,000 to HK$9,000 a year.

Chinese ice hockey player Andong Song of the Madison Capitols skates
in the game against the Central Illinois Flying Aces in the USHL Fall Classic
in September, 2017 in Cranberry, Pennsylvania.

In China, ice hockey used to be popular only in northern cities such as Harbin and Qiqihar in snowy Heilongjiang province. Back in the early 2000s, there were fewer than 200 registered junior ice hockey players in Beijing. But ever since China was chosen, back in 2015, to host the 2022 Winter Olympics , the sport has been gaining popularity among children and adults in Beijing.

“There are now a few thousand youngsters playing ice hockey in Beijing. People think playing ice hockey is hip and cool, and there are an increasing number of people taking up the sport,” says Thomas Wu, vice-president of the International Ice Hockey Federation and honorary president of the Hong Kong Ice Hockey Association.

Kunlun Red Star’s Rudi Ying after the Chinese team’s 2016/2017
KHL match
against CSKA Moscow at the CSKA Ice Palace.

Ice hockey originated in Canada in the mid-1800s and spread to Europe in the early 1900s. While Canada, the United States, Finland, Russia, the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Sweden are still considered the Big Seven in today’s ice hockey world, Kazakhstan, Japan, Korea and China have become the top teams in Asia, followed by Hong Kong, United Arab Emirates, Mongolia, Chinese Taipei, Thailand and Singapore.

To improve their children’s skills, many Chinese parents hire instructors to give their children private lessons. Some even send their children to North America to receive better training so that they can go on to develop a career in ice hockey.

Having their children play ice hockey is a huge investment for parents. Typical examples are top-notch young Chinese players such as Song Andong – the first Chinese-born player drafted into the National Hockey League (NHL) in 2015 – and Rudi Ying, whose stories have inspired a lot of younger players in China.

Driven by his passion for the game, Song moved to Oakville, Toronto when he was 10, and trained under coaches in North America. Now the face of ice hockey in China, the 20-year-old is preparing to play at NCAA for Cornell University later this year. Ying, who moved to Chicago at the age of nine, returned to China in 2016, and is playing professionally in the Kontinental Hockey League in China. Both are former members of the China U18 national team and are expected to represent China in the 2022 Winter Olympics.

In Hong Kong, the sport is trying to expand its player base to children from local schools as well. Wu, who established Hong Kong Academy of Ice Hockey (HKAIH) in 2007 with the aim of promoting the sport in the city, says: “Before I got involved [in promoting ice hockey], players were mostly students from international schools, and about half of them were from families who came from major ice hockey nations, like the US, Canada, Sweden and Germany. When their parents moved to Hong Kong, they wanted their children to have the chance to play.”

The scene has been changing with the participation of more local
youngsters like Alex Wong Chin-ching.

The scene has been changing with the participation of more local youngsters like Alex Wong Chin-ching. The 17-year-old, one of 20 young players under the Five-year Enhancement Programme to prepare for the 2021 Asian Winter Games, learned to play ice hockey at age seven through HKAIH. “Ice hockey used to be a minor sport [here], but now it has become more popular, with more kids playing,” says the Po Leung Kuk No.1 W.H. Cheung College student.

“I watched my cousin play ice hockey when I was about four or five. I really wanted to try, but there were no channels for me to learn [through] back then, until HKAIH was set up,” says the forward of the Hong Kong U18 National Team.

Some, like Victor Yang Hou-yuan, a student from Harrow International School, switched to ice hockey from playing other winter sports.

“I started figure skating with my sister in Beijing,” says Yang, 17, who moved to Beijing with his family when he was seven. “I did that for a few months and I didn’t really like it. My skating coach’s brother was an ice hockey coach. One day after my skating lesson, there was an ice hockey practice session. I watched it and told my mother that I wanted to try. That’s how I got into ice hockey.”

Yang returned to Hong Kong when he was about 10 and kept playing. Yang represented the city at the 2017 IIHF Ice Hockey U18 World Championship held in Mexico City last year.

Former NHL player of New York Rangers, Barry Beck,who is now the general managing coach of HKAIH, thinks while giving the opportunity to everybody to skate is the way to continue developing the sport in Asia, he also hopes some of these young players will play professionally at the international level one day.

“You have to go overseas at some point to have the same level of skills,” he says. “It would be nice to see somebody becoming professional because that would open a lot of doors and really [push] the sport to the forefront, not just in Hong Kong but in China.”

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