Month: June 2018

Key meeting for new-look Racers

By Nigel Duncan – The Edinburgh Reporter

Murrayfield Racers legend Tony Hand MBE has invited coaches and players of ice hockey teams based at the Edinburgh rink to a key meeting on Friday.

The much-decorated player, who is in the International Ice Hockey Federation’s Hall of Fame, plans to outline his vision for the future of the world’s fastest team sport at the Capital rink.

Underpinning the move is Hand’s desire to develop young, British talent and open trials will be available for anybody to attend. They will be held on dates to be confirmed.

And the former Racers, Ayr Scottish Eagles, Sheffield Steelers, Edinburgh Racers and Dundee Stars player has pledged to be totally transparent in his move to take ice hockey forward in Edinburgh.

Edinburgh-born Hand, who will be director of hockey for Murrayfield Racers, said: “Murrayfield Racers were once Britain’s most decorated team and I was privileged to play for the club.

“They have now been reborn and this is a new era for ice hockey at the rink.

“And we’ve pledged to showcase the highest level of hockey possible next season. The recruitment process begins now.”

Racers have the ice contract at Murrayfield next season and have been entered into the Scottish National League (SNL) and the highly-competitive National Ice Hockey League (NIHL) Cup which, according to Hand, is a big step-up from the SNL.

Billingham Stars, Blackburn Hawks, Hull Pirates, Sheffield Steeldogs and Telford Tigers join the Sharks and Racers in the NIHL cup competition.

The Edinburgh side will play one home game and one away fixture against each other before two leg semi-finals and a final later in the year.

Hand said: “We’ve invited coaches and players from the SNL and under-20 teams as well as other teams playing out of Murrayfield.

“We want to discuss with them the best way forward for the sport in the Capital.”

He added: “Time is short and we have a lot of work to do, but we have been working hard behind-the-scenes over the past few months.

“We’re happy to take any questions at the meeting as we plan to move forward in a totally transparent way.

“This is a key meeting but we feel it is vital that we give ambitious, young British players a pathway to the top of the sport in this country.”

Tomek Valtonen to coach Polish national team

By Martin Merk –

The Polish Ice Hockey Association (PZHL) has signed a two-year contract with Tomek Valtonen as new head coach of the Polish men’s national team. The signing comes one month after the decision to part ways with the former duo of Ted Nolan and Tom Coolen following the relegation to the third tier of the IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship.

The 37-year-old was born in Piotrkow Trybunalski, Poland, to a Polish mother and a Finnish father but didn’t have touchpoints with Polish ice hockey until now. The family moved to Kitee in eastern Finland when he was four. There he became an ice hockey player and also played nine years pesapallo, a Finnish sport similar to baseball, where he won three junior championships before focusing on ice hockey.

After starting to play in Kitee, he later played his junior hockey at Joensuu and Ilves Tampere where he had his professional debut. He played three IIHF World Junior Championships for Finland winning gold in his first participation in 1998 and was drafted in the second round by the Detroit Red Wings the same year. He left to practise with the Red Wings and spent one year of junior hockey with the OHL’s Plymouth Whalers before continuing his professional career with Jokerit Helsinki in Finland where he won one championship in 2002 and retired as a 28-year-old in 2009 due to a shoulder injury and moved into coaching.

Valtonen worked his way up in Jokerit Helsinki and moved to the senior team first as an assistant coach in 2012 and the later part 2013/2014 season as head coach. At the 2013 IIHF World Junior Championship in Ufa, Russia, he also had a brief return to international ice hockey as assistant coach of the Finnish U20 national team. The last four years he was the head coach of Vaasan Sport in the Finnish Liiga before the decision to part ways in March.

Now Tomek Valtonen, introduced under his more formal Polish name Tomasz Valtonen by the association, returns to his motherland and gave his first interviews in Polish. He was presented to the press in Nowy Targ close to the Tatra mountains and the border with Slovakia both as head coach of club team Podhale Nowy Targ and of the Polish national team. In Nowy Targ he will be assisted by Marko Ronkko, who worked with him at the Jokerit Helsinki U20 team. The coaching staff of the national team has not been named yet although Valtonen mentioned new Automatyka Gdansk coach Marek Zietara as a candidate.

One year ago Ted Nolan was introduced in the Polish capital in splendid fashion and with the goal to get back to the top level. This year things are different with a news release of three sentences and a press conference organized by the local club team in Nowy Targ’s city hall. The Polish Ice Hockey Association had a big financial loss that ended with a change of leadership in spring with Piotr Demianczuk as new President and a possible legal aftermath. Few weeks later the association also suffered losses on the ice. After narrowly missing out on promotion to the top division in 2015 and 2016, the team was last in the 2018 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship Division I Group A in Hungary and was relegated to the third tier of world hockey.

Having a young coach from the top level in Finland move to Poland and working there for two organizations was an ideal solution for the national team also considering the financial situation. He was selected among several applicants by the PZHL board.

“He has a good CV. Tomek is willing to co-operate. He followed us, he knows a lot about us. He’s a coach of the young generation who has willingness, plans and ambitions. The Finnish association also praised him very much,” PZHL Vice President Miroslaw Minkina told Polsat.

“The association is in a tough financial situation. We would not be able to afford the salary of a coach of this class even with the situation that the amount of the salary was not the main thing for him.”

His first tournament will be the Euro Ice Hockey Challenge tournament on home ice 9-11 November. The PZLH managed to get strong opponents to celebrate the 100-year anniversary of Poland restoring independence with the Independence Day on 11 November as Denmark, Norway and Austria will come to play at a Polish venue to be determined.

“I’m aware what hockey in Poland looks like, it absolutely doesn’t frighten me. I know what to expect and I know that I can help,” Valtonen told and looks forward to his two assignments in Poland.

“Coaching players is a 24/7 job. If someone is not ready for that there’s nothing to look for in this sport. My players have to be ready for this.”

Valtonen saw three games of the national team at the 2018 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship Division I Group A live. “I can say with all confidence that the results were worse than the game. The players have skill but they were not a team,” he said and hopes to bring a positive influence to Poland with his demand to reduce the number of import players from ten to six but also hopes that with his Finnish connection and exchange he can help educate Polish coaches.

The goal for the season will be to return to the Division I Group A. Poland will play the 2019 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship Division I Group B in Tallinn, 28 April to 4 May 2019, against Japan, host Estonia, Ukraine, Romania and the Netherlands.

Ice Hockey Classic will be key to NZ’s development

Back in April I spent a few days with Ice Hockey Classic organizer Kerry Goulet while he was in New Zealand to meet with local hockey communities and explain in-depth what it takes to bring an event like this to our shores.

The big takeaway I got from those information evenings in Auckland and Wellington was Goulet’s desire to create a legacy component with this tour. In other words, he wants to help push the development of New Zealand ice hockey.

“I see a tremendous opportunity not only to highlight the great league already present here but to have new people come out and fall in love with fastest game on the planet,” states Kerry Goulet, co-founder of the Ice Hockey Classic and Global Director of StopConcussions Foundation. And he’s putting his money where his mouth is, so to speak, as a percentage of ticket sales go back to growing the game here with the use of promo codes ‘IHCAdmirals’ or ‘IHCSwarm’ upon purchase.

The country’s growth in the sport is currently at an interesting position that could be best described as a tipping point. The Ice Blacks are knocking on the door of the next tier in the IIHF’s World Championship program, the Ice Fernz impressed many during March’s training camp in Toronto, and there’s plenty of junior players looking to burst through the ranks both in the men’s and women’s game.

What will help get New Zealand to that next level is exposure, the kind that’s hard to come by in a rugby-dominated landscape for a niche sport that’s trying to break through and achieve the ultimate goal – becoming professional.

An event like the Ice Hockey Classic provides a unique opportunity for some of New Zealand’s best players to showcase themselves to an audience that may have never seen a game of hockey before. They have been given this stage at Spark Arena and Westpac Stadium, more commonly the site of the NZ Breakers or the All Blacks respectively, and now collectively NZ ice hockey needs to put its best foot forward.

Right now an army of volunteers are helping to build the temporary rinks, their efforts to make the grandest of stages for Kiwi ice hockey even possible is best described as monumental. And as they say in the ‘Field of Dreams’, build it and they will come – that’s where you come in. Without the full support of the country’s ice hockey community, there is always the danger that an event of this scale will never come back and it could be seen as a golden opportunity wasted.

Speaking more positively, both NZIHL teams are raring to show Kiwi sports fans what they’re made of. “You don’t want to miss out on an amazing opportunity to see the fastest game on the planet in your backyard, seeing some of the best athletes in the world compete, and also see how competitive and exciting the local league is,” said Botany Swarm head coach Ian Wannamaker.

West Auckland Admirals captain Justin Daigle, originally from Calgary, shares the passion of his opposition, “I’m yet to introduce the sport to a Kiwi who hasn’t fallen in love with it so hopefully this will serve as a catalyst towards new fans and players.”

The last time the Ice Hockey Classic came to the country was back in 2011. Then it was marketed as a game full of physicality – big hits with a few hockey fights thrown in. Many fans were under the impression that they might even see some of the biggest names in the game, a given I guess when it’s ‘Team Canada v Team USA’ and in the previous year we were treated to one hell of an Olympic gold medal game between the two nations.

Goulet admits that lessons have been learnt from then, explicitly describing this tour to be one that features speed and skill.

Come Saturday, Westpac Stadium will play host to an important day in New Zealand’s sporting history – it will be the home of the largest outdoor ice hockey game to be played in the Southern Hemisphere. For the curtain raiser, organisers have partnered up with the New Zealand Ice Hockey Federation to have the national men’s team, the Ice Blacks, take on a NZIHL All-Stars team that will include a few familiar faces making their return to the ice, including former Ice Blacks captain Corey Down.

Being one of only a few players of Maori descent to represent New Zealand in the sport, Down is hopeful that the pace at which the game is played will inspire Maori and Pacific Islander youth to take up the sport. “The fact that we’re playing the premier stadium in Wellington is awesome. I’m excited and I think it’s going to be a great spectacle for everyone,” said Down.

After returning from Spain with a silver medal placing at the recent IIHF World Championships, current Ice Blacks captain Nick Craig is thrilled by the prospect of his team playing an outdoor game for the first time, “This is a once in a lifetime opportunity for us, especially to do so wearing the black jersey. It will be sensational and there’s going to be some strong competition playing against the NZIHL All-Stars team.”

Sadly, Craig broke his ankle in his last outing with the Admirals but here’s hoping he will still be on the bench soaking it all in with his teammates.

With Queenstown already sold out, proving that it really is New Zealand’s own Hockeytown, the NZIHF hopes that Auckland and Wellington will get behind the Ice Hockey Classic as excitedly as their South Island counterparts have.

“This is a great opportunity to showcase our game to old and new fans throughout New Zealand. I want to grow the game in New Zealand and through these types of events we can do that in a big way. It is truly about the kids and this tour will certainly engage our youth,” said former NZIHF President Gunther Birgel.

I couldn’t have said it better myself.

Ice Hockey Classic 2018

New Kazakhstan ice hockey coach given task of winning IIHF World Championship tournament

Belarus’ Andrei Skabelka has been appointed as the new coach of Kazakhstan’s ice hockey team, it has been announced.

The 47-year-old will combine his role with being head coach of Kontinental Hockey League (KHL) club Barys Astana. 

The head coach of Barys traditionally is also in charge of the national team in Kazakhstan as the team serves as the main club for the national team roster.

Skebelka replaces another Belarussian, Eduard Zankovets, and will be expected to lead a successful challenge when Kazakhstan hosts the International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) World Championship Division I Group A on home ice in Astana next year.

“Of course the national team of Kazakhstan will have to return to the elite since we will host the World Championship of our division at home,” Askar Mamin, the President of the Kazakhstan Ice Hockey Federation, told Russian news agency RIA Novosti. 

“Therefore, Skabelka’s task, of course, will be to win this tournament.”

It will be the first time Kazakhstan has hosted an IIHF World Championship event.

“Holding the World Championship [Division I Group A] in Astana will be a stimulus to increase the popularity of hockey in Kazakhstan,” Mamin said.

As a player, Skabelka represented Belarus in 12 World Championship tournaments and two Winter Olympic Games at Lillehammer 1994 and Turin 2006.

He also coached Belarus in two World Championships.

Belarus will be among the teams taking part in next year’s IIHF World Championships, due to take place between April 29 and May, along with Hungary, Lithuania, Slovenia and South Korea.

The top two teams will be promoted to the 2020 IIHF World Championship in Switzerland.

Kazakhstan have not played in the elite division of world ice hockey since being relegated in 2014.

Skabelka has also worked as a coach in the KHL for Torpedo Nizhni Novgorod, Sibir Novosibirsk and Avangard Omsk.

Woo hoping to make history at 2018 Draft

By Mike G. Morreale

Jett Woo of Moose Jaw in the Western Hockey League could become the second player of Chinese descent to be selected in the first round of the NHL Draft.

Woo, 17, is a right-shot defenseman listed at No. 28 on NHL Central Scouting’s final ranking of North American skaters for the 2018 NHL Draft. He was born and trained in Winnipeg; his father, Larry, is of Chinese descent and his mother, Dolly, is of German ancestry.

Jett has spent a lot of time learning about his Chinese grandparents and said he hopes to have an opportunity someday to play an NHL game in China. The Boston Bruins and Calgary Flames will play in the 2018 O.R.G. NHL China Games Sept. 15-19 in Shenzen and Beijing.

“The way that hockey is shaping up, really anyone, anywhere, can play right now if you stick with it and work hard enough,” said Woo, who said he’s never been to China. “It’s something that’s really cool and I’m really proud to be playing hockey, proud to be of Chinese descent. Having those two things so close to me is something I really cherish and am thankful for.”

Woo would be the second player of Chinese descent selected in the NHL Draft; the New York Islanders picked Lawrenceville School defenseman Andong Song in the sixth round (No. 172) of the 2015 NHL Draft.

Woo said he recalls spending time with his grandparents at their house in Winnipeg, learning about their culture and their cuisine. Woo’s grandparents were born in Canton, China and owned a small restaurant chain in Winnipeg called Marigold. His grandfather has since passed away.

“My dad’s whole side is Chinese so growing up we’d spend days at my grandparents’ house eating Chinese food,” Woo said. “We actually owned a chain of restaurants and were either eating there or getting takeout.”

Even though Woo is looking to break new ground in the NHL, he is considered a throwback-type hockey player.

“If you don’t have your head up, look out,” John Williams of NHL Central Scouting said. “He reminds me of former St. Louis Blues defenseman Barret Jackman. He usually gets one or two big hits every night, but his skill level has improved this season. He has a good shot, makes plays, and his skating has gotten considerably better.”

Woo (6-foot, 205 pounds) had 25 points (nine goals, 16 assists) in 44 games, and had three points (two goals, one assist) in 14 WHL playoff games.

He’s become a fan favorite in his three seasons with Moose Jaw, and fans at Mosaic Place, Moose Jaw’s arena, serenade him with a loud “Woo,” reminiscent of professional wrestler Ric Flair, after big hits.

“It’s neat to hear those chants,” he said. “I have to give credit to my parents for having the name. It’s cool to have the attention around that and to see different reactions when you go to different places. But to have people chanting your name … it’s a lot of fun.”

Larry Woo played forward for Victoria and Swift Current in the WHL and then for four seasons for the University of Manitoba. Larry and Dolly named Jett, the oldest of their three children, after Chinese film star Jet Li.

“I’m not exactly sure if my dad is a big fan of Jet Li … he might be,” Woo said. “I know that’s where my name came from. I know my grandparents liked the name. With dad having the opportunity to come to Winnipeg and then ending up going to Hollywood, it all ended up working well for him.”

Larry Woo played Park Kim in the movie “Goon” in 2011, and its sequel, “Goon: Last of the Enforcers,” in 2017.

“Dad was probably one of the biggest influences I had in hockey,” Jett said. “He was the one driving me to the rink and was my coach growing up, so he had a lot of say on the bench or on the long rides home. He and my mom were there for me. I’m always looking for them for advice and having that extra person to lean on.”

Woo wears No. 4 to honor Hockey Hall of Famer Bobby Orr, and said he’s also a big fan of Montreal Canadiens defenseman Shea Weber because of his intimidating presence.

“I feel having that extra grit kind of helps me in the game,” he said. “I always bring it back to Shea Weber. One time I watched a game of his and a player was coming down on his side but cut across to the other defenseman and I think it was because he didn’t want to take Shea Weber 1-on-1. That’s something I want to bring to the game; be that guy that opponents are scared to play against.

“I take pride in making defense a priority whether that be competing for every puck or being the first guy at the net boxing out, or making a good first-pass up ice. That, along with playing physical, smart and deciding whether to have stick on puck or to go right at the guy and have body-on-body contact, are the things I feel I do well.”

At long last, Ovechkin and Capitals are Stanley Cup champs

Greg Beacham The Associated Press

Alex Ovechkin put both hands to his head and screamed while he left the bench and skated into the thick of the Washington Capitals’ joyous celebration.

And right before Ovechkin hoisted the Stanley Cup, the Washington captain put both hands on his head again in a gesture of disbelieving ecstasy.

You can believe it, Ovi. So can the Washington fans whose championship drought is finally over.

After striving through 13 of his franchise’s 43 seasons, the Russian superstar and the long-suffering Capitals are sitting on top of hockey for the very first time.

“It doesn’t matter what happened before,” Ovechkin said through his gap-toothed grin. “We just won it.”

Lars Eller scored the tiebreaking goal with 7:37 to play, and the Capitals claimed their first NHL title with a 4-3 victory over the Vegas Golden Knights on Thursday night in Game 5 of the Stanley Cup Final.

Ovechkin capped his playoff MVP campaign with an early power-play goal, and Devante Smith-Pelly tied it with a full-stretch goal midway through the final period of the Capitals’ fourth consecutive victory over the Golden Knights.

“We did it,” said Ovechkin, whose 15 playoff goals set a franchise record. “That’s all that matters. Look at the smiles on my teammates. This is something you’ll never forget. This moment, I’ll remember for the rest of my life. I’m so happy. It’s unbelievable.”

Vegas’ incredible expansion season finally ended, and so did the Capitals’ wait for a title since their debut in 1974. But after so many years of crushing disappointment for a team with a lengthy history of postseason failure, these Caps confidently won their fourth consecutive closeout game with a tenacious third-period comeback in Vegas.

Ovechkin and his teammates are Washington’s first championship hockey team — and their city’s first champion in a major pro sport since the Redskins won the Super Bowl in early 1992.

“It doesn’t come easy,” said goalie Braden Holtby, who made 28 saves while outplaying three-time Stanley Cup champion Marc-Andre Fleury in the opposite net one final time. “It took years. Years of heartbreak. Years of breaking things down and trying again, breaking things down and trying again, and this group never gave up. And we finally did it.”!/fileImage/httpImage/image.jpg_gen/derivatives/original_780/775169122sr00236-2018-nhl-s.jpg

Alex Ovechkin (8) and his Washington Capitals teammates celebrate
after defeating the Vegas Golden Knights 4-3 to win their first Stanley Cup.

After Ovechkin accepted the Conn Smythe Trophy, he received the Cup from NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman. Ovechkin shouted “Yeah! Yeah! Yeah!” before skating away and hoisting the prize over his head for a victory lap in front of thousands of red-clad fans.

When a succession of teammates finally got the Cup back to Ovi, he handed it to Ted Leonsis, the Caps’ owner since 1999.

“I’m so happy for the group that has gone through the misery,” said Washington coach Barry Trotz, a first-time champ in his 19th season behind an NHL bench and a potential free agent without a contract for next season.

The Caps couldn’t win a Cup without a little late weirdness, however: The game clock stopped working on the T-Mobile Arena scoreboards during the final minutes, and the Capitals angrily protested while they played on. Vegas never got close to a tying goal despite both teams getting an extra chance to rest while the officials checked on the timing. The clock finally hit zeros, allowing the Caps to storm the ice behind their net for a frenzied celebration.

Reilly Smith scored a go-ahead goal late in the second period for the Golden Knights, who won seven of their first eight home playoff games before dropping the last two.

“When you get this close to the Cup, it’s hard,” Fleury said. “Doesn’t happen too often. It’s very disappointing.”

The defeat ended the storybook inaugural season of the Golden Knights, who became the NHL’s 31st franchise last fall and immediately launched into arguably the greatest debut in modern pro sports history. Few expected the division title they delivered, and fewer still thought Vegas could challenge for a championship.!/fileImage/httpImage/image.jpg_gen/derivatives/original_780/775169122sr00268-2018-nhl-s.jpg

Alex Ovechkin is congratulated by Vegas goaltender
Marc-Andre Fleury.

Nate Schmidt and David Perron also scored deflection goals for Vegas in the second period, but Fleury’s 29 saves included a stopped puck that dropped underneath him where Eller could sweep it home for the Cup-winning goal.

“It means everything,” Eller said. “You couldn’t write the story better. If you’re going to win on the road, I couldn’t imagine a better place to do it.”

Forward T.J. Oshie spent a moment in the celebration looking up for his father, Tim, who he said was recently diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease.

“He doesn’t remember a lot of stuff, but he’s going to remember this,” Oshie said. “I’ve never seen a team come together like we did here. I’ve never seen the commitment from start to finish like we had here.”

Washington’s win was its 10th on the road in this postseason, tying the NHL playoff record and illustrating the superior toughness of this team. While past editions of the Caps created their team’s reputation for postseason flops in part by losing five playoff series in which they had won three of the first four games, Ovechkin’s latest group promptly closed out all four of its series this year on the very first try.

The Caps also came back from series deficits in all four rounds and clinched all four series on the road.

The remarkable Golden Knights hadn’t lost four consecutive games in their entire inaugural season before the Caps rolled them.

“It’s going to be a tough couple days,” Vegas defenceman Deryk Engelland said. “You never want it to end like this.”

The Capitals had thousands of fans in the Vegas crowd and a building full of supporters watching back home along with countless thousands outside in the crowded D.C. streets. They got a barn-burner of a finale befitting this thrilling series, with wild shifts of momentum before that bizarre clock incident that didn’t appear to affect the outcome much.

The Capitals’ triumph also adds another chapter to a stretch of sweet relief for long-suffering, loyal sports fans across North America. The NFL’s Philadelphia Eagles won their first Super Bowl in February, and baseball’s Houston Astros won their first World Series last November.

First-time titles are all the rage, and Ovechkin and the Caps have paid their dues for this one.

Ovechkin, who turns 33 later this year, has been among the most exciting and productive players in his sport since joining the Caps in 2005. Yet for all of his goal-scoring prowess and athletic swagger, the Great Eight had never won an Olympic gold medal or a Stanley Cup title.

But after becoming the fifth player in the last quarter-century to score at least 15 goals in a postseason, Ovechkin is a champion at last. He also became the first Russian captain to raise the Cup in NHL history.

The title is also validation for Holtby, who has spent his entire NHL career in Washington. After several seasons of being measured unfavorably against Fleury and other goaltending greats despite his 2016 Vezina Trophy, the Saskatchewan native also has his long-sought ring — and his unbelievable stick save on Alex Tuch in Game 2 will ring forever in Caps history.!/fileImage/httpImage/image.jpg_gen/derivatives/original_780/775169122sr00205-2018-nhl-s.jpg

Washington’s Devante Smith-Pelly acrobatically scores in the
third period of Game 5 on Thursday.

Ovechkin put the Caps up 2-1 in the crazy second period of Game 5 when he set up in his customary spot in the left faceoff circle and put Nicklas Backstrom’s cross-ice pass into a sliver of open net. But after Perron tied it with a deflection goal while falling into Holtby’s net, Smith scored into an open net after Ovechkin went to the penalty box for tripping.

Washington pressed early in the third, but didn’t connect until Brooks Orpik flung the puck at the net against the run of play. Smith-Pelly barely controlled the puck and stretched out to fling it toward the net while falling face-forward, and it slipped inside Fleury’s post for the veteran forward’s seventh goal of the postseason — matching his total from the entire regular season.

“I’ve been dreaming about it since I was a little kid,” Smith-Pelly said. “The team, with so much change, you didn’t know what to expect. We knew we could do something special, and we did.”

Moments later, the Knights struggled to keep up with the Caps’ puck movement and left Brett Connolly open for a shot. Fleury stopped it, but the puck fell to the ice underneath him — and Eller fought off Luca Sbisa and slapped the puck into the net for the game winner.

Czech-born hockey coach discovers Jewish roots

By Paul Lungen – Canadian Jewish News

When Czechoslovakian-born Dusan Kralik took his first drive down Bathurst Street after arriving in Toronto in the early 1990s, he saw something pretty familiar to Torontonians but totally foreign to him.

There, wearing clothing that clearly set them apart, were groups of Orthodox Jews walking freely. It got him thinking.

Back in Bratislava, where he was born, he knew there was some family connection to the Jewish people, but he wasn’t entirely sure what it was, or what being Jewish actually meant.

“No one talked about it,” Kralik says.

Raised a Roman Catholic, during Christmas he would receive as a gift what he now realizes was Hanukkah gelt. He recalls his mother keeping two sets of dishes and cutlery and that she cooked matzah balls.

He didn’t think too much about it. He was too busy working on his hockey career, which saw him suit up for the Czech national junior team at the world under-20 championships, facing the likes of Joe Nieuwendyk on Team Canada.

That was followed by a stint in the Czech pro league, and by the time he immigrated to Canada, on his own, he didn’t have much knowledge of a Jewish past.

But the Bathurst Street experience got him thinking. “To me, it was so fascinating,” he said. “I’m not in it, but I had a feeling of belonging.”

In 2007, Kralik, who was already developing a career as a hockey instructor in Toronto, was at the Pavilion ice rink in Vaughan, Ont., when he saw a Team Israel tryout. The players were wearing jerseys with Magen Davids right on the chest. Curious, he asked what was going on and was told he was watching Team Israel.

Kralik knew one of the kids on the team and approached Jean Perron, the ex-Montreal Canadiens head coach who was in charge of Team Israel, asking if he needed help.
“He took me in to help with the tryouts,” Kralik recalled.

Later, Kralik joined the team on a tour of North American cities, and when he heard the Israeli national anthem played in Chicago, with 2,000 spectators present, “I’m totally tearing,” he said.

A few months later the team was in Vienna for the IIHF World Championships, and despite undergoing a hip replacement operation only six weeks before, and despite the dangers of developing a blood clot, Kralik decided to join the team.

“I had to go. I had to be there. It was so close to my heart,” he said.

Once the tournament concluded, Kralik travelled to Bratislava to visit his grandmother. It was a telling visit.

She wanted to know what he was doing there, and when he showed her the Israeli team jersey, with the Star of David on its front, “she started to cry. She told me how the Nazis came in 1939, hunting them down and killing my great-grandfather.

“She said, ‘I’ll never stop hearing the dogs barking and the people yelling and screaming,’” Kralik recounted.

“Why didn’t you tell us?” he asked.

“It’s so dangerous,” he was told. “You have no idea. I tried to protect you.”

After his return, Kralik did more research into his family past, getting information from his grandmother’s best friend, who lived in New York. He learned that other members of his family were victims of the Nazis.

“I needed to find out what was missing in my life, the culture, the spirituality, what my family was not able to do freely,” he said.

Today, he has embraced his Jewish heritage. At the Maccabiah Games in 2013, Kralik took time off from his coaching duties to visit Jerusalem.

“I went to the Kotel and I never had such a feeling. When I went to the Western Wall, I trembled,” he said.

Ukraine to created a women’s ice hockey team

By George Da Silva – NT of Ice Hockey

The Executive Committee of the Ukraine Ice Hockey Federation have adopted a decision to establish the national women’s team of Ukraine this season and will debut in the World Championships.

In the early 90-ies, there had been an attempt to create a women’s team at the Kharkov and Kiev institutes of physical education. But the project was short-lived and due to financial reasons and in connection with the reorganization of the women’s competitions under the auspices of the International ice hockey Federation was suspended. The team has already taken part in two European Championships
1993 and 1995.

The women’s team will begin its international play at 2019 IIHF Ice Hockey Women’s World Championship
Division II Group B Qualification, which will take place in January of 2019 in South Africa. The participating teams will Bulgaria, Hong Kong, South Africa and Belgium. The competition will be held from 16 to 23 of January in Cape town.

The Ukraine have set ambitious plans for the future. To developed a comprehensive program for the development of the national women’s team for five years. In the near future this program will be presented to the public. Also coming soon will be announced of the coaching staff for national team and training plans.

At the end of the season 2017/18 in Ukraine there are 128 hockey players aged 15 years. And 65 girls who are playing ice hockey in DYUSSH groups together with the guys.

In the women’s championship of Ukraine five teams compete, Panther” (Kharkiv), “Queen of Dnipro” (Dnipro), “Ukrainian” (Kiev), “Proteins Dnipro” (Dnipro river) and “Lavina” (Kremenchug).

Final 2018 Draft rankings: these go to 120

By Ryan Kennedy – The Hockey News

Our prospect expert goes deep on the class of 2018. Naturally, defenseman Rasmus Dahlin is on the top of the pile, but what happens after that?

Releasing my final rankings for a draft is always difficult. The list grows organically throughout the season, building as more players catch my eye and put themselves on the radars of NHL teams. There is always the temptation to tinker up until the last second and even then, I wonder: should I wait a little longer, in case new information or buzz comes out about a particular player?

This season, it’s defenseman Noah Dobson, who is coming off a Memorial Cup championship with Acadie-Bathurst, where he played incredibly well. Should he get a bump, while the rest of his competition watched on TV? And what happens when I get a peek at the lists of other draft pundits? Peer pressure is real, my friends.

In the end, I have stood pat. The ensuing rankings follow THN’s Draft Preview (on sale now!) and if you want more information on the top 100 picks, I highly recommend the purchase. I reference it constantly once it comes out and I love seeing it in the hands of scouts and other writers at the combine and the draft itself. The rankings are basically Best Player Available; consider this a conservative forecast of what will happen, should no crazy trades upend things.

As a web bonus, I’ve added another 20 picks again this year. These are kids that just missed the cut, or simply slot in as mid-rounders. As for the sleepers and dark horses, stay tuned: I will have another blog on my faves in the coming week. Other than that, things are pretty straightforward. The section to really keep an eye on would be late first round/early second round, as that tends to be the most chaotic. Some teams go safe, some take risks, so you’ll see a mix of said players in the 25-40 range. They’re all pretty close anyway.

Goalies are another theme to watch. Because netminders are so hard to forecast, their actual slots don’t always reflect their talent. So you’re going to see goalies higher on this list than they might be taken because otherwise there wouldn’t be many of them here. Judge the goalies against themselves; obviously my surer things are highest on the list.

With all that in mind, let’s get to the fun part. With the first pick in the 2018 NHL draft, the Buffalo Sabres are proud to select…


1. Rasmus Dahlin, D, Frolunda (SHL): The no-brainer pick. Dahlin has franchise defenseman potential and his combination of size, speed, smarts and skill check off all the boxes. Enjoy him, Sabres fans.  

2. Andrei Svechnikov, RW, Barrie (OHL): No slouch himself, Svechnikov’s abbreviated season (due to injury and international play) in Barrie showed off a ton of upside. He’s a big-bodied sniper who goes to the net.

3. Brady Tkachuk, LW, Boston U. (Hockey East): The third and fourth picks are a coin flip, but Tkachuk is just too pro to ignore. He’s got size, nastiness, talent and you can trust him when the game’s on the line.  

4. Filip Zadina, LW, Halifax (QMJHL): Another fantastic winger, Zadina has game-breaking qualities and proved it at the world juniors. His scoring power and energy are impossible not to enjoy.

5. Adam Boqvist, D, Brynas (Swe.): He doesn’t have the size of Dahlin, but he does have the mobility, smarts and puck skills. Boqvist can also take care of his own end, making him a great investment.  

6. Quinn Hughes, D, Michigan (BigTen): There is so much talent in Hughes’ game. He can hang on to the puck like few others and his skating is elite. He won’t be in college much longer, that’s for sure.

7. Evan Bouchard, D, London (OHL): In a pack of slick skaters, Bouchard brings other tools. He’s big, he’s got a great shot and may be the best passer in the entire draft class.

8. Oliver Wahlstrom, RW, U.S. NTDP (USHL): When it comes to scoring, Wahlstrom is elite. He’s already got an NHL shot and he’s a student of the game. Watch for him at Boston College next year.

9. Noah Dobson, D, Acadie-Bathurst (QMJHL): The potential in the big puckmover became even more apparent at the Memorial Cup, where Dobson soared. The sky is the limit with this kid.

10. Ty Smith, D, Spokane (WHL): Another mobile defenseman, Smith doesn’t have a ton of size, but it rarely seems to matter. Plays against top lines and defends better than many of his peers in this draft class.

11. Joe Veleno, C, Drummondville (QMJHL)  

12. Barrett Hayton, C, Sault Ste. Marie (OHL)

13. Joel Farabee, LW, U.S. NTDP (USHL)

14. Isac Lundestrom, C, Lulea (SHL)   

15. Bode Wilde, D, U.S. NTDP (USHL)  

16. Ty Dellandrea, C, Flint (OHL)   

17. Rasmus Sandin, D, Sault Ste. Marie (OHL)   

18. Jesperi Kotkaniemi, C, Assat (Fin.)    

19. Akil Thomas, RW, Niagara (OHL)

20. Ryan McLeod, C, Mississauga (OHL)

21. Jett Woo, D, Moose Jaw (WHL)  

22. Grigori Denisenko, LW, Loko (Rus.)

23. Jacob Olofsson, C, Timra (Swe.)

24. Vitali Kravtsov, LW, Traktor (KHL)

25. Rasmus Kupari, C, Karpat (Fin.)   

26. K’Andre Miller, D, U.S. NTDP (USHL)   

27. Martin Kaut, RW, Dynamo Pardubice (Cze.)

28. Dominik Bokk, RW, Vaxjo (SHL)   

29. Serron Noel, RW, Oshawa (OHL)   

30. Sampo Ranta, LW, Sioux City (USHL)   

31. Mattias Samuelsson, D, U.S. NTDP (USHL)

32. Ryan Merkley, D, Guelph (OHL)  

33. Benoit-Olivier Groulx, LW, Halifax (QMJHL)   

34. Jared McIsaac, D, Halifax (QMJHL)  

35. Scott Perunovich, D, Minnesota-Duluth (NCHC)  

36. Jonatan Berggren, C, Skelleftea (SHL)

37. Jakub Lauko, C, Pirati Chomutov (Cze.)

38. Filip Johansson, D, Leksand (Swe.)   

39. Jacob Bernard-Docker, D, Okotoks (AJHL)   

40. Adam Ginning, D, Linkoping (Swe.)

41. Jonny Tychonick, D, Penticton (BCHL)  

42. Nicolas Beaudin, D, Drummondville (QMJHL)   

43. Filip Hallander, C, Timra (Swe.)

44. Liam Foudy, C, London (OHL)   

45. Calen Addison, D, Lethbridge (WHL)

46. Allan McShane, C, Oshawa (OHL)   

47. Jesse Ylonen, RW, Espoo (Fin.)   

48. Jack Drury, C, Waterloo (USHL)   

49. Jakub Skarek, G, Dukla Jihlava (Cze.)  

50. Justus Annunen, G, Karpat Oulu (Fin.)  

51. Nils Lundkvist, D, Lulea (Swe.)

52. Blake McLaughlin, C, Chicago (USHL)   

53. Alexander Khovanov, C, Moncton (QMJHL)

54. Alexander Alexeyev, D, Red Deer (WHL)

55. Slava Demin, D, Wenatchee (BCHL)

56. Albin Eriksson, LW, Skelleftea (SHL)

57. Dmitri Zavgorodny, C, Rimouski (QMJHL)  

58. Kevin Bahl, D, Ottawa (OHL)  

59. Olof Lindbom, G, Djurgarden (Swe.)

60. Jack McBain, C, Toronto (OJHL)   

61. Jay O’Brien, C, Thayer (Mass. HS)  

62. Alexis Gravel, G, Halifax (QMJHL)

63. Curtis Douglas, C, Windsor (OHL)

64. Matej Pekar, C, Muskegon (USHL)

65. Kirill Marchenko, LW, Yugra (KHL)

66. Cam Hillis, C, Guelph (OHL)

67. Sean Durzi, D, Owen Sound (OHL)

68. Axel Andersson, D, Djurgarden (Swe.)

69. Riley Sutter, RW, Everett (WHL)

70. Anderson MacDonald, LW, Moncton (QMJHL)  

71. Egor Sokolov, RW, Cape Breton (QMJHL)

72. Jordan Harris, D, Kimball-Union (NH. HS)

73. Olivier Rodrigue, G, Drummondville (QMJHL)

74. Eric Florchuk, C, Saskatoon (WHL)

75. Oscar Back, C, Farjestad (Swe.)

76. Luke Burzan, C, Moose Jaw (WHL)

77. David Gustafsson, C, HV71 (SHL)

78. Jan Jenik, C, Liberec (Cze.)

79. Philipp Kurashev, C, Quebec (QMJHL)

80. Jachym Kondelik, C, Muskegon (USHL)

81. Logan Hutsko, RW, Boston College (Hockey East)

82. Jared Moe, G, Waterloo (USHL)

83. Gabriel Fortier, C, Baie-Comeau (QMJHL)

84. Keegan Karki, G, Muskegon (USHL)

85. Tyler Madden, C, Tri-City (USHL)

86. Blade Jenkins, C, Saginaw (OHL)

87. Alec Regula, D, London (OHL)

88. Joey Keane, D, Barrie (OHL)

89. Jake Wise, C, U.S. NTDP (USHL)

90. Xavier Bouchard, D, Baie-Comeau (QMJHL)

91. Cole Fonstad, C, Prince Albert (WHL)

92. Vladislav Kotkov, RW, Chicoutimi (QMJHL)

93. Niklas Nordgren, RW, HIFK (Fin.)

94. Jacob Schmidt-Svejstrup, LW, Fargo (USHL)

95. Milos Roman, C, Vancouver (WHL)

96. Lukas Dostal, G, Kometa Brno (Cze.)

97. Curtis Hall, C, Youngstown (USHL)

98. Kevin Mandolese, G, Cape Breton (QMJHL)

99. Jake Pivonka, C, U.S. NTDP (USHL)

100. Ryan O’Reilly, RW, Madison (USHL)

101. Luke Henman, C, Blainville-Boisbriand (QMJHL)

102. Akira Schmid, G, Langnau (Swi.)

103. Martin Fehervary, D, HV71 (Swe.)

104. Jack Perbix, C, Elk River (Minn. HS)

105. Declan Chisholm, D, Peterborough (OHL)

106. Alexander Romanov, D, CSKA (Rus.)

107. Arttu Nevasaari, RW, Karpat (Fin.)

108. Ruslan Iskhakov, RW, CSKA (Rus.)

109. Adam McCormick, D, Cape Breton (QMJHL)

110. Nico Gross, D, Oshawa (OHL)

111. Ivan Morozov, C, Yugra (Rus.)

112. Giovanni Vallati, D, Kitchener (OHL)

113. Angus Crookshank, LW, Langley (BCHL)

114. Samuel Fagemo, LW, Frolunda (Swe.)

115. Jack Jensen, C, Eden Prairie (Minn. HS)

116. Lenni Killinen, RW, Espoo United (Fin.)

117. Mitchell Hoelscher, C, Ottawa (OHL)

118. Yegor Zamula, D, Calgary (WHL)

119. Jacob Ingham, G, Mississauga (OHL)

120. Mathias Emilio Pettersen, C, Muskegon (USHL)