Month: June 2018 (page 1 of 2)

Nepal Ice Hockey – Legacy in the Making

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By Nepal Ansar

Taking quick glides across an ice rink, buckled in skates, carefully shuttling the puck across the rink, players are focused on just one thing… The goal!

Nepal’s dedication towards sport is not unknown to the world but when it comes to ice hockey, the rush is different!

NIHA for Nepal Ice Hockey
Nepal Ice Hockey AssociationNepal saw new hope for Ice hockey when the Nepal Ice Hockey Association (NIHA) was established in 2014. The federation was formed with the following goals in mind:

  • Preparing Ice Hockey players for international level
  • Conduct ice hockey tournaments and other games across the country
  • Preparing and creating ice hockey teams to represent Nepal for different categories and participation in international tournaments
  • Making contributions to the society and the world with Ice Hockey

The first national team was formed in the capital of Nepal, Kathmandu in the same year. Currently, the country has no indoor ice rinks but makes use of Lake Tilicho, which is frozen for about half a year, for skating and playing hockey. Kathmandu, Pokhara, Ilam and Kavree have four outdoor inline hockey rinks that serve the purpose, additionally.

Things took a higher turn for Nepal Ice Hockey when NIHA became an associate member of the International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) in 2016. It was a historic moment for Nepal!

Nepal Ice Hockey President Lok Bahadur Shahi handed over a Khukuri knife to IIHF President Rene Fasel as a symbolic present.

During his visit to the IIHF headquarters at Zurich, the NIHA President told IIHF.com, “With the support of the government and the IIHF, we are looking to build a new chapter in Nepalese sports with ice hockey”. Adding further he said that he hoped the first ice rink could be soon built in the capital Kathmandu for which the land had already been acquired. At the time, ice hockey could be played on natural ice only in winter months.

NIHA continues to strive for higher standards of the sport and in its bid to do so, it takes up conducts a number of activities in terms of competitions and matches but more importantly takes up some serious initiatives.

NIHA Initiatives in 2016-17

  • In the beginning of the term, NIHA President Shahi put forth what the federation planned to do
  • March 10, 2016: NIHA member Keshav Kumar Bist travelled to the headquarters of the IIHF and held serious talks with a team of experts regarding the making of an ice hockey rink in Nepal
  • October 22, 2016: Post Bist’s visit, IIHF Treasurer and Ice Hockey France member visited Nepal to study the two suggested sites for the ice hockey rink in Dhulike and Pokhara
  • 2017: NIHA focused on preparing the design for the hockey rink, preparing the technical manpower for a training to Finland in July 2017, organizing programs to receive wide financial support from Nepali hockey fans abroad, asking for financial cooperation from various organizations to prepare the hockey rink and making the management effective

Inline Vs Ice Hockey

  • Inline hockey is similar to ice hockey in most aspects except that it uses a plastic tile floor, wooden floor or smooth cement instead of ice and is played at room temperature
  • Equipment for inline hockey players and goalies include inline skates and ‘no’ shoulder blades whereas ice hockey requires padding for both shoulders and legs
  • Inline hockey is played by four players and one goalie whereas ice hockey uses five players
  • The puck in inline skating is made of a much lighter plastic and rests on small nylon nubs to curb friction with the inline rink. The puck for ice hockey is made of vulcanized rubber.
  • The FIRS inline hockey cage is six inches smaller than ice cages
  • The inline rink for FIRS Continental and World Championships measures 60×30 m while the ice rink is rectangular and measures about 180 to 1200 ft in length and 85 to 100 ft in width

While the rest of the game remains almost the same in both types!

Playing Ice Hockey
Ice HockeyThe game is divided into three 20 min periods, where a face-off between two players initiates the game. Followed by this, the match gets diverted to the teams who have to strive to get the puck to each of their goals.

Each team consists of 6 players including the goalie, two defensemen, center and two forwards.

In this fast sport, the puck can travel up to 100 mph and since this game is body-bruising players use protective gear. Moreover, there are no substitutions!

Countries that Love to Play Ice Hockey
The national winter sport in Canada, ice hockey is the most popular sport in the country and in other countries like Europe, Nordic countries- Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden, Russia and the United States. Like Canada, for countries such as Belarus, Croatia, the Czech Republic, Finland, Latvia, Russia, Slovakia and Switzerland, ice hockey is the most popular winter sport.

NIHA’s Map for the Future
NIHA is working hard to make Nepal a prominent entity in terms of ice hockey and in this regard,  it has outlined a few plans for the future:

  • Organize inline hockey campaigns as the first step to promote the sport in Nepal
  • Mark ideal locations for the sport and build the required infrastructure
  • Hold different sports programs and events in schools to develop ice hockey and create a youth team
  • Bridge junior youth teams with international championships
  • Identify and prepare coaches, technicians and referees
  • Build associations with international ice hockey associations for the enhancement of the sport in Nepal

Hope for the Future
With many initiatives in the pipeline, ice hockey in Nepal will soon bear fruition and if things continue in the same pace, the day will not be very far when the country will have its own Ice Hockey Rink!

Eyeing 2022 Winter Olympic glory, China hockey flirts with overseas talent

By Joanna Chiu, Ye Qian – Hong Kong Free Press

The women from China’s far northeast, who spent childhood winters whipping around on frozen lakes and rivers, towered menacingly over the other team as they faced off for puck drop.

At China’s national ice hockey championships last month, the Harbin squad vanquished contenders from China’s sultry southern city of Guangzhou with a lopsided score of 51-0, with goal-scoring MVP Kong Minghui slapping shot after shot into the net.

China women's hockey

Harbin women’s ice hockey team taking part in China’s national ice hockey championships in Beijing.
Photo: Fred Dufour/AFP.

Despite their dominance, Kong and her skillful team-mates may not be enough to power China’s national team to medal glory when the country hosts the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing.

Eager to move up in the medals table, the national hockey team may bend the nation’s rigid single-citizenship rules to recruit overseas talent and beef up their squad.

“What we have to do going forward is play in more international tournaments and get more practice playing with top teams,” Kong told AFP.

The highly unusual move to seek foreign talent is a sign of how far China is willing to go for success at its home Winter Olympics, a tournament at which it has enjoyed only fleeting success.

With a population of nearly 1.4 billion, China is pushing hard to promote ice hockey and other winter sports ahead of the Games after winning just nine medals, including a lone gold, at this year’s edition in Pyeongchang, South Korea.

Both China’s men and women hockey teams will compete in the Games, since host countries traditionally earn a spot in the competition regardless of world ranking.

Pucks and passports

The national and local governments have been pouring money into new facilities, equipment and training for players and coaches in the past few years, with the majority of the new ice rinks being built in shopping malls.

But it remains to be seen whether Beijing will grant citizenship to foreigners to strengthen their rosters, following in the footsteps of Seoul for the Pyeongchang Olympics.

Out of 25 players on the South Korean men’s ice hockey team during the Games, seven were foreign nationals with six coming from Canada, including goalie Matt Dalton.

Mark Dreyer, editor of China Sports Insider, said China will likely recruit only foreign players with Chinese roots.

“There’s been no official policy saying this, but recruiting policy has been clear throughout tryouts in North America. New recruits must have at least some Chinese ancestry,” Dreyer told AFP.

Such a move would allow China to expand its player pool, while encouraging engagement with the Chinese diaspora — something Beijing has been keen to do at all levels.

However, China does not currently recognize dual citizenship. To become a naturalized Chinese citizen, a foreigner would have to give up his or her previous citizenship, making the option undesirable to many foreign hockey players.

“Would the players be able to keep their other passports? If this does somehow happen in ice hockey– which now seems possible — we would likely see other sports following suit,” Dreyer said.

Kunlun Super Team

In March, at the Canadian Women’s Hockey League final, China burst onto the international hockey scene with a new squad that was a special mix of Chinese nationals and overseas Chinese.

Kunlun Red Star, one of two private teams formed this year to prepare Chinese talent for the 2022 Olympics, has a special mix of Chinese nationals and overseas Chinese for its male and female teams.

The Kunlun women shocked hockey observers by making it all the way to the Clarkson Cup finals in Toronto, narrowly losing to Ontario’s Markham Thunder after an overtime goal — but proving that Chinese teams can compete with world-class clubs

In May, the Kunlun teams went through a grueling official Olympics training camp alongside foreign players and coaches in the Chinese city of Shenzhen.

Participation in Kunlun is optional for China’s national team players, and provides them with more opportunities to play in top world tournaments.

“(We) are now choosing the best Chinese and overseas players to cultivate talents for the Chinese women’s hockey team for 2022,” Kunlun manager Zhou Song told AFP.

“We assembled 22 outstanding overseas Chinese-origin players. They will have a chance to fight for their country in the future,” Zhou said, notably calling China”their country” despite them being foreigners.

Kunlun provides a competitive salary plus bonuses for players, with the help of private sponsors such as Chinese real estate developer Vanke.

However well or poorly the Chinese hockey teams perform at the 2022 Games, they are already setting new precedents for sports policy in the country.

Supportive family members say the promising performance of female players in particular will also help to improve women’s overall status as professional athletes.

“I didn’t want my daughter to play hockey at first. I wanted her to focus on school. But within 30 minutes of being on the ice for the first time, she seemed like she was at home,” said Yang Dong, father of Harbin player Yang Kai Qi.

“We are very proud of her.”

Why Jack Hughes is the No. 1-ranked 2019 NHL draft prospect

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By Chris Peters – ESPN

The 2019 NHL draft is shaping up to be as exciting as this year’s, at least at the top of the draft. The hockey world is already salivating over 17-year-old American phenom Jack Hughes after his jaw-dropping performance in leading Team USA to the title at the World Under-17 Hockey Challenge in November. Since then, he has been lighting up scoreboards and generating headlines across the world for his superior skill and skating.

Part of a family with deep roots in the game, with both parents playing at a reasonably high level and a pair of brothers who make for great training partners and competitors, Hughes has been preparing for this moment his whole life. After Jim and Ellen Hughes’ eldest son, Quinn Hughes, went No. 7 overall to the Vancouver Canucks on Friday, the spotlight will begin shining more brightly on their middle son.

“He has the most pure skill of any player I’ve seen for 2019,” one Western Conference scout said of Jack Hughes.

The skill and skating abilities Hughes possesses have been a big reason that his size comes up so much later in the conversation with scouts. Should Hughes go No. 1, he would be the smallest top pick since Patrick Kane was selected in 2007. Hughes was most recently listed at 5-foot-10, 161 pounds. Kane was listed at 5-10, 171 pounds in his draft profile. There’s no doubt Hughes needs to bulk up a bit, but there are a lot of reasons the size factor will be a minimal one come draft day next summer.

Hughes’ 16-year-old season is essentially unprecedented for an American player. At USA Hockey’s National Team Development Program, he put up 116 points — just one point shy of Auston Matthewsprogram record. The big difference is Matthews did it when he was a year older. The previous high-water mark for a U17 player at the NTDP was 82 points set by Phil Kessel and Clayton Keller. That’s a 34-point difference from what Hughes did. Last I checked, both of those guys are pretty good NHL players.

Looking back through the years, there just haven’t been that many American teenagers who have had a season this astonishing from a production standpoint this young at a level this high. For reference, Mike Modano, the second American to go No. 1 overall, had 62 points in 70 games in his first WHL season at 16, and that was in 1987. Kane, at the same age at the NTDP, had 70 points in 63 games, but 40 of those contests were in the North American Hockey League, a Tier II Junior A league in the United States. Hughes appeared in 27 games in the Tier I USHL this season and spent half the season playing up with the U.S. national U18 team in the USHL, against colleges and U18 international teams.

To find recent, closer comparables to what Hughes did this season, the U17 OHL seasons of Connor McDavid (99 points in 56 games) and Steven Stamkos (92 points in 63 games) might be good starting points.

One of the more incredible stats from his 2017-18 season is that Hughes had 54 points against USHL competition, averaging two points per game. He led all USHL rookies and ranked 12th in league scoring despite playing only 27 games of a 60-game season.

Even more jaw-dropping, among U17 players who appeared in at least 20 games in the USHL’s long history, none averaged better than 1.45 points per game. This year’s No. 2 pick, Andrei Svechnikov, averaged 1.21 points per game in 48 games vs. the USHL in 2016-17. Matthews averaged one point per game in 20 USHL appearances as a U17. This league is traditionally difficult to score in, and Hughes obliterated it as a 16-year-old.

The Orlando-born forward also led two major international tournaments in scoring this year. He had 15 points in six games as the U.S. won the World U-17 Hockey Challenge, a tournament that boasts many of the NHL’s top players as alumni. Only Colin White, an Ottawa Senators first-rounder, had more points than Hughes in that tournament’s history. Some guy named Ilya Kovalchuk ranks third behind Hughes. Then he closed out his season with 12 points in seven games at the IIHF World Men’s U18 Championship, becoming the first under-ager to lead that tournament in scoring since 15-year-old McDavid did it in 2013.

Hughes is expected to return to the national team development program next season despite overtures from the Ontario Hockey League and flirtation with accelerating his schooling to attend college a year early, a la Noah Hanifin and Zach Werenski. No player has gone directly from the NTDP to the NHL, but Hughes will probably have a chance at becoming the first. Each of the past four Americans selected first overall in the NHL draft — Rick DiPietro, Erik Johnson, Kane and Matthews — each played at the NTDP for two seasons before going on to college, junior or pro. Hughes will be part of a team many scouts consider one of the best the NTDP has ever produced, which is really saying something given that program’s star-studded alumni roll. There could be as many as six or seven first-round picks off of that team in 2019.

John Wroblewski, head coach of the team featuring most of the top Americans from the 2001 birth year, noted that having so many high-caliber players has created excellent competition in practices on top of the advanced competition the team plays throughout its season. So what has Wroblewski noticed as a separating factor for one of his prized pupils?

“When you’re at ice level and you watch his glide — compared to everyone else, he’s just moving so much faster,” Wroblewski said. “The game slows down in his mind.”

As the game continues to speed up, Hughes looks built for that brand of hockey. He will be scrutinized like all top picks are. He’ll have some competition along the way, perhaps even from some of his own NTDP teammates. But based on what we saw this season, considering the lack of precedent for what Hughes accomplished, it appears the next great American star has arrived.

Winners and losers from Day 1 of the NHL Draft

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By Hannah Stuart – thescore.com

The NHL draft kicked off Friday night with a touching tribute to the Humboldt Broncos. Team president Kevin Garinger accepted the 2018 E.J. McGuire Award of Excellence, given annually to the prospect “who best exemplifies the commitment to excellence through strength of character, competitiveness and athleticism as selected by NHL Central Scouting,” on behalf of the Broncos team.

After tears were wiped away, things got weird.

Arizona Coyotes general manager John Chayka went off the board and took Barrett Hayton of the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds fifth overall. The league’s other 30 GMs seemingly took that as permission to do whatever they pleased, and the resulting chaos left quite a bit of confusion in its wake.

Joe Veleno, the first player to obtain exceptional status and play in the QMJHL at age 15, fell to the Detroit Red Wings at 30th overall (he’d been ranked consistently in the top 10 by many for most of the season). Bode Wilde and Serron Noel fell out of the first round entirely. Suffice to say no one could’ve predicted exactly how the 2018 first round played out.

Here are our winners and losers after Day 1.

Winners

Washington Capitals: Before the draft began, the Capitals traded Brooks Orpik and Philipp Grubauer to the Avalanche for Colorado’s second-rounder at 47th overall. The trade dumps Orpik’s cap hit and leaves Washington room to sign pending unrestricted free-agent defenseman John Carlson, which is expected to happen over the weekend. That’s great news for a team that wants to try to win a second straight Stanley Cup.

Colorado Avalanche (conditionally): According to Joe Sakic, the Avalanche intend to either trade or buy out Orpik. If that happens, they got Grubauer for a second-round pick and that trade, one for one, looks good for them, too.

Buffalo Sabres: Rasmus Dahlin is a literal game-changer for the franchise. Yow.

Detroit Red Wings: Boy, things are looking up for Red Wings general manager Ken Holland after last year’s forgettable draft. Taking Michael Rasmussen when several better players were still on the board was widely criticized. He didn’t make that mistake this year. Filip Zadina fell to sixth overall, and Holland practically swan-dove onto the stage to select him. Later, Veleno fell to 30th, and you can bet Holland didn’t miss there, either. A great first day for him and Detroit.

New York Islanders: With back-to-back picks at 11 and 12, the Islanders selected Oliver Wahlstrom (who should not have fallen to 11th) and Noah Dobson (who probably shouldn’t have dropped to 12th). Take a minute and imagine Wahlstrom playing with Mat Barzal.

Ryan Merkley: Lots of pre-draft chatter had Merkley’s boom-or-bust style and reports of attitude problems knocking him out of the first round. The San Jose Sharks took a chance on him at 21st overall, and if he turns into the player his ceiling suggests he could be, the Sharks will reap major benefits.

Losers

Arizona Coyotes: John Chayka knows what he’s doing in a lot of situations, but taking center Barrett Hayton at fifth overall was a head-scratcher. While Hayton is a solid player, he’s not a game-breaking, top-10 talent. Who knows, though, a few years down the road, we could be proven wrong.

Ottawa Senators: Let’s make one thing clear: the Senators aren’t on this list because they drafted Brady Tkachuk. Tkachuk, while not the best player available at fourth overall, is a very good player. But it feels like by choosing to keep this year’s pick, with the uncertainty surrounding Erik Karlsson and with chances being good the Senators are worse next year, Ottawa’s sealed its fate. Next year’s first-round pick goes to the Avalanche, and the Senators are really going to regret it if that pick somehow turns into Jack Hughes. Colorado sure hopes it does.

Philadelphia Flyers: This one is a maybe, because their first pick at 14th overall, Joel Farabee, is a fantastic player. But their second pick is suspect. Jay O’Brien would be a good mid-second-round pick, but the Flyers grabbed him at 19. While no one outside the draft floor knows the chatter that took place, surely O’Brien wasn’t such a hot commodity that the Flyers couldn’t trade down and still get him.

Key meeting for new-look Racers

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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

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By Martin Merk – IIHF.com

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 hokej.net 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

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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

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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

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By Mike G. Morreale NHL.com

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.”

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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.

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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.

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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.

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