Date: June 19, 2018

Tomek Valtonen to coach Polish national team

http://www.iihf.com/typo3temp/pics/21355fcd4e.jpg

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

http://icehockeyclassic.com.au/wp-content/uploads/2018/01/2018-IHC-NwZea-Aust-Logo.jpg

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