Year: 2019 (page 1 of 4)

Spectacular Humo Arena Officially Opened in Tashkent, Uzbekistan

President Shavkat Mirziyoyev opening the Humo Arena in Tashkent, Uzbekistan


In a spectacular ceremony, the Humo Arena Sports Complex in Tashkent was officially opened by the President of Uzbekistan – Shavkat Mirziyoyev.

The 12,500 capacity Humo Arena includes:

  • Multi functional ice arena;
  • Training arena with 200 seats;
  • Multiple gyms;
  • A sports museum; and
  • Many other facilities

The ceremony confirmed the Humo Arena as one of the largest ice arenas in Central Asia, but also one of the most technologically advanced with smart and energy efficient technology used throughout the building.

The arena will operate in three ‘modes.’ This will allow a variety of winter sports – hockey, figure skating, short track and curling – and summer sports – basketball, volleyball, futsal, kurash, boxing, fencing and taekwondo – to be played.

The opening of the Arena complex was a signal of intent from the Uzbek government to position itself firmly on the world stage of international sport with an aim to host the Asian Games in 2030.

Following the official ceremony, guests were treated to a display of sporting prowess by Uzbek athletes and a game of ice hockey between teams mixing veterans and young players representing the past and the future of the sport. Well-known members of the Uzbek Paralympic team were also honoured for their courage and resilience in their performances for their country.

Much was made of the inspiration the Humo Arena will provide, not only to professional athletes looking to take their skills to the next level, but also to the future generation of athletic hopefuls.

In addition to being a state of the art sporting facility, the opening ceremony went a long way to show the multi functionality of the stadium in hosting other cultural events. Uzbek and Russian popstars – Philipp Kirkorov, Nikolay Baskov, Dima Bilan, the Yalla Group and many others – performed at the opening ceremony alongside a beautiful light show. 

The launch of the Humo Arena will be followed by the opening of a smaller scale sporting centres and arenas across all regions of Uzbekistan.

President Shavkat Mirziyoyev commented:

“The launch of this modern ice complex is opening up a new stage in the history of Uzbek sport. I am confident that it will serve for training the highest-class athletes and organizing major international competitions in Uzbekistan, most importantly – broadly attracting our youth to winter types of sports.”

Road to the 2019 CCOA: Chinese Taipei

By Liz Montroy – Women’s Hockey Life

If there’s one team that historically has been the team to beat at the IIHF Women’s Challenge Cup of Asia (CCOA), it’s Chinese Taipei.

While still relatively new to the international women’s hockey scene, the country has won gold at all three of its CCOA appearances (2015, 2016 and 2018), also taking gold at the 2017 Women’s World Championships Division II Group B Qualification tournament and silver at the 2018 Women’s World Championships Division II Group B tournament.

Expectations may seem high for the team that has been put together to represent Chinese Taipei at the 2019 CCOA this April in the United Arab Emirates, but for head coach Andrew Yin, the focus will be on using this competition as a development opportunity.

“For this year’s CCOA, I’m trying not to put any pressure on the players, as this tournament is really for development of the younger players in Taiwan and giving the players that didn’t make the world championship team a chance to compete at the international stage,” said Yin.

Two such players are Hsin Jung (Kelly) Li and Hsin Yu (Amanda) Wang. Both made their international debut last season at the 2018 World Championships and both are looking to improve their offensive skills through playing in the 2019 CCOA.

“I’m looking forward to seeing how the other teams play hockey and meet new friends, but most of all I hope we have a good performance at the CCOA,” said Li. “Especially I hope I can score or assist for our team.”

Li has been playing hockey for three years, having taken up the sport after being introduced to ice skating as a college freshman.

Wang, who started out with roller hockey before taking to ice hockey, will also be attending the 2019 World Championships.

“I’ve never scored a goal in an international tournament before and I scored my first ever goal just two months ago,” said Wang. “It was such a wonderful feeling so I want to have that feeling again on the international stage.”

Both Li and Wang are in their twenties, with Li being one of the program’s older players at the age of 25. The teams that Chinese Taipei has iced at IIHF tournaments have been noticeably young (even when not purposefully sending their U18 team, as they did with last season’s CCOA), with the average age usually being around 19 or 20.

Why so young? Yin says that the female hockey program in Chinese Taipei didn’t really kick off until about three and a half years ago, so most of the girls that started playing or joined the national program then haven’t yet finished school.

“I am one of the few female players who already entered the workforce,” said Li. “I’m trying to keep playing as much as possible, even though now I have to work. Most of the players are students and after they graduate from college they might be going to work, so some players quit playing ice hockey.”

Yin says that 90% of Chinese Taipei’s female hockey players are still in school, and notes that there may be a variety of reasons for why some quit once they reach Li’s age.

“The players that quit, from my understanding is not because they enter the workforce, it’s because of the younger players coming up and pushing them out of the national team, and since there aren’t many girls club team games, they stop being competitive.”

The sole female hockey club in Chinese Taipei is Girl Power, which used to be part of the now defunct three-team Chinese Taipei Women’s Hockey League (CTWHL). The other two teams folded several years ago, one because of coaching issues and the other because it was a junior high school girls team that had most of its players graduate.

Now, Girl Power, which Wang and other young national team players play for, competes against junior and senior high school club teams in national tournaments, playing around 10 to 15 games a year.

National program players like Li who are over the age of 20 mostly just practice with the national team, which gets several ice times a week and occasional exhibition games against high school teams.

This year’s Chinese Taipei CCOA team will have several Girl Power players on it, along with several of last season’s gold medallists. With so many new and young players competing, the event has the potential to identify Chinese Taipei’s up and coming stars, as it did with Hui Chen Yeh at the 2015 and 2016 CCOA.

After making her international debut at the 2015 event and scoring five goals and three assists, Yeh (who is now 19 years old) eventually become the country’s all-time leading scorer. She had 14 goals and 22 points at the 2016 CCOA, and 11 goals at both the 2017 and 2018 World Championships, along with a few assists at each.

“I believe [the CCOA] is important for the development of women’s hockey in Taiwan as it gives most players hope for the future and it keeps players in the game,” said Yin. “What I’m really hoping to accomplish at the tournament really is to let everyone try their best and have fun. The result will take care of itself.”

Road to the 2019 CCOA: Malaysia ices dynamic goaltending duo

By Liz Montroy – Women’s Hockey Life

There may be a 25 year age gap between Tg Farhana Azuma Tg Abdillah and Wen Min Low, but together they make up Malaysia’s promising and talented goaltending duo.

The two goalies will once again be protecting Malaysia’s net at the upcoming 2019 IIHF Women’s Challenge Cup of Asia (CCOA), having also done so last season. Their age difference could perhaps be one of their biggest strengths, with each bringing a different experience and outlook to the team.

Tg Abdillah has been a mainstay of Malaysia’s women’s hockey program for several years, and has represented the country at each of the IIHF Women’s CCOA events that Malaysia has participated in.

“I would say Azuma [Tg Abdillah] has been there for the Malaysian team from the very beginning. I don’t remember a time when we didn’t have her as a goalie,” said national team player Eunice Boon.

Tg Abdillah, a former inline hockey player who took up ice hockey in 1998 after the opening of the country’s Sunway Pyramid rink, gradually moved from forward to defence to goaltending. In 2003, she became one of Malaysia’s first female goaltenders.

“I’m not sure what made me do it,” said Tg Abdillah. While she eventually took some time off from the sport, she returned to ice hockey about five years ago. “When I came back I was asked if I could play in net since they needed another goaltender for an upcoming tournament in Singapore and I said yes. Again, I have no idea why I said yes, however, I have grown to love being a goaltender.”

Malaysia faced some tough competition in the 2016 and 2017 CCOA events, but had a fantastic showing at the 2018 tournament, winning the gold medal in Division I to earn promotion to the Top Division this year. Tg Abdillah had a career-defining tournament, leading all goalies with a 931.0 save percentage and a 1.43 goals against average.

While Tg Abdillah has now become accustomed to competing on the international stage, the 2018 CCOA was Low’s first introduction to a IIHF competition. Fifteen year old Low only played just under 12 minutes in a 5-0 win over India in the tournament, and while she has yet to achieve more of a starting role, she represents the future of hockey in Malaysia.

“Min brings hope to the women’s team that this isn’t a dying position, and that there are young Malaysian girls like her who still want to play goalie,” said Boon. There are currently less than 10 female goalies in Malaysia, with only three being qualified to play for the national team based on their age and skill level.

Like Tg Abdillah, Low also came to ice hockey through inline hockey, and also started as a player before taking up goaltending. When her team was in need a goalie for a tournament four years ago, her coach brought out a set of equipment for the players to try out.

“When I tried on the gear and took shots for the first time, I found it natural to butterfly,” said Low. “We weren’t told what we had to do … I just did it anyways. I liked the position a lot better than I liked being a player, so I decided to be the team’s goalie.”

The relationship that has developed between Tg Abdillah, a mature and experienced goaltender, and Low, a younger goalie who is relatively new to the scene, is unique. Tg Abdillah doesn’t see their relationship as being that of a mentor and mentee.

“It’s more like we understand what we’re going through as a goalie and we become each other’s motivator,” said Tg Abdillah. Other players on the national team, such as Boon, agree.

“[They] are more like sisters,” said Boon. “I think Azuma [Tg Abdillah] watches out for Min [Low] a lot as she understands the performance pressure for goalies is very tough and difficult mentally.”

However, Tg Abdillah still serves as a role model for Low, who definitely looks up to her goaltending counterpart and often reaches out to her when she needs advice and comfort.

“The relationship between Azuma and I is something I would consider very special,” said Low. “We encourage and motivate each other mostly by cheering for one another, and it’s awesome having another goalie to be able to talk to, something I’ve never had the privilege of doing anywhere else.”

The 2019 CCOA could prove to be a challenge, with Malaysia competing in the Top Division against Chinese Taipei, Thailand, Singapore, and New Zealand’s U18 team, teams they have previously struggled against in the CCOA.

However, with Tg Abdillah’s experience, leadership, and fantastic 2018 season, Low’s youthfulness and motivation to improve, and the duo’s strong friendship, Malaysia looks good to go with their goaltending.

Road to the 2019 CCOA: Enthusiastic spirit carries Singapore through highs and lows

By Liz Montroy – Women’s Hockey Life

Singapore’s female ice hockey players know that they are fighting an uphill battle. However, that knowledge seems to be fuelling their passion for the sport they love.

“I’ve never felt more hope in my entire life than this previous year,” said forward Kiarra Chin.

At first glance, there doesn’t seem to be much reason for her hope. The country has just 51 registered female hockey players, and female goaltenders are few and far between; there are only two in the country with Singaporean citizenship.

Singapore has two rinks, but only one is used for ice hockey, and the female program competes with a number of other user groups for ice time, usually resulting in them practicing late into the night.

Last season, the country allowed 36 goals against and scored just five goals through three games in the top division of the 2018 IIHF Women’s Challenge Cup of Asia (CCOA).

Singapore’s players long to perform well on the international stage, but know that they are facing tough competition as well as a number of obstacles that hinder them from improving.

“We do know the people, the countries around us, and how ice hockey is actually developing very well in those countries,” said player and program director Valerie Cheng.

However, Singapore’s women’s team has an enthusiastic spirit which allows them to simply enjoy hockey for what it is despite the many challenges they face.

“I think overall the team is a very positive team,” said Cheng. “We encourage one another and off the ice we joke a lot and have a lot of fun together.”

The current era of female hockey in Singapore was kickstarted in 2012, when the JCube rink was opened after four years of there being no ice hockey rink in Singapore (Fuji Ice, the country’s former main hockey rink, was closed in 2008).

Many of the program’s current players, such as captain Emily Kwek and goaltender Caroline Ang, have inline hockey experience and picked up ice hockey in the years following the opening of the JCube rink.

Kwek, Ang and Cheng were all part of the team that took part in the country’s first ever IIHF women’s event, the 2014 CCOA. They finished third out of four teams.

“The first one was terrifying,” Ang said of the team’s international debut. “I think I was only a year into playing at that point, and I’d only ever played casual league games … If you look at the score, the shots on goal, we were terribly outshot.”

However, that first tournament gave Singapore a taste of what their program could achieve. The CCOA quickly became the marquee event for women’s hockey in Singapore.

“The whole experience kind of feels like this is the lifestyle, you can kind of experience it like a hockey player,” said Ang.

“You wake up in the morning, you go for your training, after you nap, you play at night, so it kind of takes you out from your daily life.”

While Singapore did not take part in the 2015 CCOA, by the time they returned the following year, the field of teams had grown. They finished third out of five teams in 2016 and third out of seven teams in 2017.

For the 2018 CCOA, Singapore was placed in the top of two divisions along with New Zealand, Thailand and Taipei, and finished last. However, the attitude of Singapore’s players after losing 14-3, 10-1 and 12-1 is an example of their tenacious and forward-looking character.

“When it ended, I just kept thinking that I can’t wait for more,” said Tiffany Yeoh, who made her debut with the women’s team at the 2018 event.

Singapore will be competing in the top division again at the 2019 CCOA, and the players are looking forward to seeing how they have improved. The team is specifically hoping to increase their number of shots on goal and have closer games against the other teams.

Over the last year, ice times have been progressively improving, and Cheng has collaborated closely with the JCube rink to run learn to play hockey sessions. There is even talk about trying to see if Singapore could have a second rink that could be used for hockey.

“I’m just trying to look at it like baby steps,” said Chin of the progression of ice hockey in Singapore. “I feel like baby steps are big steps for a team like Singapore.”

Regardless of whether or not Singapore can compete with the top teams, the country has a group of players who are passionate about playing the sport and sharing it with others, which is arguably more important than winning a gold medal.

Road to the 2019 CCOA: New Zealand

By Liz Montroy – Women’s Hockey Life

Abbey Heale, at just 17 years old, has already played for New Zealand’s senior women’s ice hockey team (the Ice Fernz) at two IIHF World Championships. Also on her resume is the IIHF Women’s Challenge Cup of Asia (CCOA), which she competed in in 2017, and will be competing in for a second time in 2019.

Heale represents the first group of young female hockey players from New Zealand to fully experience the country’s U18 Women’s Development Program, which is aimed at building a feeder system for the senior team and preparing young athletes to compete at a higher level, such as with the Ice Fernz.

While the IIHF has a U18 Women’s World Championship program, New Zealand has yet to have enough players in order to join it, hence the creation of the current ideation of the U18 Women’s Development Program. While this program doesn’t lead to a World Championship, it has become largely built around the CCOA.

When the U18 Women’s Development Program was first loosely created in 2013, it was centered around an exhibition series against Australia’s U18 team. In 2015, that shifted to an exhibition series against a team from the Toronto Leaside Girls Hockey Association.

While the girls in the program got an opportunity to play against teams from other countries, the program’s leaders recognized that they needed an opportunity for their players to compete internationally on a larger scale.

“The New Zealand U18 women’s team was looking for a competition arena, and the CCOA seemed to be a good fit,” said team manager Philippa Kaisser, who also mentioned that the program’s leaders initially had to overcome resistance to the idea of needing an opportunity for the U18 team to compete internationally.

Today, the CCOA is the highlight of the U18 Women’s Development Program, and this season will mark New Zealand’s third appearance in the event. Their first appearance was in the 2017 CCOA, which they won. They came second in the Top Division of the 2018 CCOA.

“The CCOA is a great tournament for our team as it is run along similar lines to a World Championship and thus gives the girls experience of an international competition that they wouldn’t otherwise get until competing on the senior women’s team,” said Kaisser.

Players who have gone on to compete with the Ice Fernz have seen the benefits of playing in the CCOA. “They have already been overseas to an IIHF-run ice hockey tournament and so have more of an idea of what will happen there,” said Kaisser. “Some of the players have only played at a small, club level, so have no idea of the huge arena that is international ice hockey.”

While Heale played in her first IIHF World Championship with the Ice Fernz just days before competing with the U18 team in the 2017 CCOA, the goal is that players will instead first get accustomed to the international stage at the CCOA. Players such as Hannah Cross, Rina Watt and Harriet Fuller will be making their first international appearance with the Ice Fernz this season after a few years in the U18 Women’s Development Program.

This season, there are many players who made the U18 Women’s Development Program for the first time, with just seven players returning from last season’s team. The roster includes goaltender Lilly Forbes, who had an impressive 93.59 SV% and 1.97 GAA through three games at the 2018 CCOA.

While prominent goal scorer Beth Scott is not on the roster this season due to spending time in Canada, Heale is returning after a year away from the team, and is expected to be a significant source of offence for them. She was a successful goal scorer at the 2017 CCOA and has proven her goal scoring capabilities in the New Zealand Women’s Ice Hockey League (NZWIHL).

While the CCOA continues to serve as a great avenue for New Zealand to develop its young players, the goal is still to enter the IIHF’s U18 Women’s World Championship program. This year, head coach Angelique Mawson and assistant coach Michelle Cox had approximately 35 eligible players to select their team from, and they anticipate that next year that number will increase to 45.

“While we are very close to fulfilling the criteria for inclusion in the IIHF [U18 Women’s] World Championship program, we are not quite there yet as far as female player numbers in the age group category is concerned,” said Kaisser. “Although numbers are steadily rising.”

Kyrgyzstan national hockey team lost to Canadian club H1N1

By AKI Press

The national hockey team of Kyrgyzstan continues to prepare for the start of the 2019 IIHF World Hockey Championships Division IIIQ

The Kyrgyz team on March 8 held a friendly game against the Canadian H1N1 club from Montreal.

The meeting was held In the skating rink in Bishkek and ended with the victory of the team from Canada with a score of 3-1. Igor Maksimov scored the only goal for Kyrgyzstan.

“The game was good. The opponent goalkeeper played spectacular,  in the game against Kyrgyzstan, he stop 52 shots out of 53, ”Said  vice-president of the Kyrgyz Hockey Federation Elzar Bolotbekov”.

The Kyrgyz team will play in the qualifying tournament of the World Championship for the right to get into Division III. The tournament will be held from March 31 to April 6 in the city of Abu Dhabi (UAE). In this tournament, six teams will play each other in one round.

Previously the Canadian Clubs from and Montreal and The Hockey Lads from British Colombia
played at Almaty Challenge Cup in Kazakhstan.

The winner of the tournament was the team of Almaty KZ.

Here are the final standings.

The winner of the tournament was Almaty of Kazakhstan

Kenyans on Ice – Hockey star plays for Climate Action

By UN Environment

It was the first international ice hockey game ever played in Kenya. It was also historical because it was organized to call attention to the impact of Climate Change – in Kenya and around the world.

The widely publicized game is part of a UN Environment initiative to use sports to rally governments and common citizens in defense of our planet. Hockey games are being held in dozens of regions around the globe – and after the games the players tell the stories of climate change impacting their communities This project will culminate in the Last Game – the first and last hockey game every played at the North Pole. But yesterday it was Kenya’s turn in the spotlight in support of the UN Environment Assembly.

The Kenyan Ice Lions played a dramatic match against the LAST GAME All Stars – led by the Hall of Fame, World, Olympic, and Stanley Cup Champion – Slava Fetisov – UN patron for the Polar Regions.

The Last Game All-Stars won 10-9 in a shoot out. Fetisov scored the deciding goal. “Everyone is a winner “ said Ben Azegere, captain of the Ice Lions “because this helps us tell the story of how climate change is affecting the country and the world we love”

He led the visiting players, who came from a dozen nations – on a tour of the National Wildlife Park. He was on the verge of tears as described how unprecedented and destructive weather patters and human intrusion were decimating the lions – the mascot of his team – and the symbol of the soul of the Kenyan nation.

The Last Game has already visited Finland, in the Save Pond Hockey popular tournament, with the participation of Sauli Niinisto, President of Finland . Future Last Games are being scheduled from Abu Dhabi to Argentina – from New Orleans to New Zealand… and in New York – in September to coincide with the UN Secretary-General Climate Summit.

Mongolia repeats

The Mongolian men’s national team celebrates after defending the title at the 2019 IIHF Ice Hockey Challenge Cup of Asia in Malaysia

By Andy Potts –

Mongolia defended its IIHF Ice Hockey Challenge Cup of Asia title after a 6-3 victory over the Philippines in the tournament final in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. The Philippines had caused an upset in the group stage, defeating Mongolia by the same 6-3 scoreline and threatened a repeat in the final when it battled back from 0-3 down to tie the game before losing out in the third period. A hat trick from Bayarsaikhan Jargalsaikhan led Mongolia’s scoring, Gerelt Ider picked up 1+1 to finish as the tournament’s top scorer on 17 (11+6) points from five games.

Ider was part of the Mongolian roster that won in 2018 but injury forced him out of the decisive 5-1 victory over Thailand that saw his country claim gold in a round robin format. “I was really determined to come back, play to the end and get the medal,” he said after the game. “It’s a very good feeling because I’m here to represent my country. It was a really good game and I’m so happy to defend our title.”

That title defence got off to an assured start with Mongolia jumping into an early lead. Jargalsaikhan opened the scoring in the eighth minute after a solo rush from #22 opened up the Filipino defence. Just 30 seconds later, Mongolia had a second: Erdenesekh Bold took the puck out of the corner, fed it to Enkhsukh Erdenetogtokh at the point and moved to the slot to convert the rebound from the defenceman’s shot. Ider made it 3-0 late in the opening frame with a one-timer from in front of Paolo Spafford’s net off a Jargalsaikhan feed.

But the Philippines hit back. Julius Santiago’s 22nd-minute effort was the only marker in the second period; two goals in a minute at the start of the third tied the game up at 3-3. First, Carl Montano’s pass from behind the net was gobbled up by Jose Cadiz, then Jan Regencia stuffed home the rebound from a Benjamin Imperial shot. Montano and Regencia both had previous against this opponent, having scored two apiece in the group game; now they had thrown the final wide open once again.

However, as Ider explained, this Mongolian team never lacks for character. “The Philippines are a really good team, they played well throughout the competition,” he said. “But we play as one. Everyone works together, everyone wants to accomplish more. We love each other and when we come to a tournament we play as one man.”

Within a minute, Jargalsaikhan had restored Mongolia’s lead; 63 seconds later Ider set up Erdenesukh Bold to make it 5-3 and with 10 minutes to play Jargalsaikhan completed his treble to put the game beyond the Philippines’ reach.

Earlier on Saturday, the host nation took on Singapore in the bronze medal game. However, the home team was unable to finish with a medal thanks to a fine goaltending performance from Kenny Liang. He made 23 saves to claim a shut-out as Singapore skated to a 4-0 win. James Kodrowski scored twice, Bryan Lee had a goal and two assists, Jiaju Ryan Tan was the other goalscorer.

The tournament format saw four teams – Mongolia, Malaysia, the Philippines and Singapore – contest the Elite group with three others playing in Division 1. After a round robin with each team meeting twice, Indonesia came out on top ahead of Macau and these teams progressed to the quarter-finals against the two lowest-ranked Group A nations. Oman finished third in a tight group; the Middle Eastern nation’s competitiveness was emphasized by a goal differential of -1 despite three losses in four games. Singapore and Malaysia overcame Indonesia and Macau respectively in the quarter-finals, but neither could progress through the semis. The Philippines beat Singapore 6-1 before Mongolia downed the hosts 12-6 to set up Saturday’s medal games.

Grassroots program key to Philippine hockey’s bright future

Philippine Hockey will have to depend on a good grassroots program to replenish aging players in the lineup

Luisa Morales –

More than two decades after ice hockey’s arrival in the Philippines, many of the generation of hockey pioneers in the country are slowly approaching retirement.

Much like any other sport, Philippine ice hockey will have to rely on a solid good grassroots program to sustain and replenish players as time passes.

Hockey Philippines Executive Vice President Francois Gautier is aware of this and has made moves with the federation to ensure the future of the winter sport in the country.

“We have to make sure that our youth program is good so that it replenishes our players,” Gautier said.

The federation revamped the sport’s youth program last year and has been continually developing their approach to young players – including plans to proactively approach potential prospects in schools across the country.

“We’re still trying out new things, working on improvement,”

“We’re gonna be entering schools [to] do some extra curricular activities, just to get the word out,” Gautier said.

Head coach Daniel Brodan, who first mentored the team in the 2017 during the Asian Winter Games in Sapporo, sees a bright future for the program.

“I’m looking forward to what ice hockey will look like here in the next two, three years,” the Czech national said.

Both Gautier and Brodan acknowledge that sport’s journey in the Philippines won’t be a walk in the park but remain hopeful moving forward.

“It’s not perfect… we still have hiccups but it’s a lot better than what it was before,” Gautier said.

“We still don’t have many rinks here where we can play. But in the end, if we continue like this… we can compete with any country,” Brodan said.

Two young Israelis bolster junior hockey’s Greeley-based Northern Colorado Eagles

Israelis Mark Revniaga, left, and Denis Kozev pose Thursday on the ice after practicing with junior hockey’s Northern Colorado Eagles

By Terri Frei – The tribune

Mark Revniaga and Denis Kozev have unlikely hockey pedigrees, but compelling backgrounds.

In fact, theirs are not the sorts of stories you expect to hear as you pass through the city of Greeley’s downtown rink, the Ice Haus, and sit down to chat with a pair of 20-year-old hockey players in the lobby, before lunch.

Both of their families immigrated to Israel from parts of the former Soviet Union.

Revniaga’s father, Edward, had been a well-known hockey player and coach in Latvia, his Baltic homeland. Revniaga’s mother came from Belarus.

Kozev’s parents came together to Israel from Siberia in 1995.

Revniaga and Kozev were born only 20 days apart in September 1998 — and both in Nahariya, a city of about 57,000 on the Mediterranean Sea near Israel’s northern border with Lebanon.

In Nahariya, they lived a 15-minute walk apart and met in first grade.

Given the lack of rinks in Israel, especially in their home region, they had to scramble, scrounge and make the best of limited ice time and opportunity for development, and for several years were teammates on Israel’s national age-group teams competing in the lower classifications of World U-20 and U-18 tournaments.

In the 2018-19 season, they have wound up in Greeley. Greeley, as in Greeley, Colo. Together. Playing hockey.

Revniaga, a center-right wing, and Kozev, a defenseman, are finishing up their junior eligibility this season with the Greeley-based Northern Colorado Eagles, a Tier II Junior A team in the Western States Hockey League, and are hoping to move on to college hockey — whether in the U.S. or Canada — in 2019-20.

These Eagles, not to be confused with the Loveland-based Colorado Eagles, now in the American Hockey League, are winding down their first season in the Ice Haus after making the short move from Windsor last summer.

After winning two of three in a weekend set against the Dallas Snipers at the Ice Haus, the Eagles will move on to the league’s Thorne Cup playoffs.

These Eagles, with long-time former Colorado Eagles winger Steve Haddon in his sixth season as the junior franchise’s coach and general manager, finished 29-19-2 in the regular season and in third place in the Mid-Western Division.

Their top scorer, Russian Nikita Sheberov, departed the team recently. That left Revniaga, who had four goals in the three weekend games against Dallas, as their top offensive threat. He finished the regular season with 23 goals and 55 points in 41 games.

Kozev is a stay-at-home defenseman still shaking off some of the cobwebs after missing all of last season. He wasn’t hurt. He was serving his mandatory year in the Israel Defense Forces, aka, the Israeli Army.

“I got drafted,” Kozev said — and he didn’t mean by a hockey team.

“The first seven months I was a combat soldier for the home command search and rescue division,” Kozev explained. “When there was no life-threatening situations, we were doing border control. If war had happened, we would have been helping civilians, rescuing them from buildings that fell apart from rockets, and helping our soldiers that got trapped, that sort of thing. But I didn’t have to do that. I was only in training.”

Mark Revniaga, left, works for a shot during the Northern Colorado Eagles’ practice Thursday at the Ice Haus.

The Eagles’ website now lists their roster as 11 Americans, five Canadians … and the two Israelis who at times can appear raw, which is understandable considering the amount of full-rink practice time they had growing up was minuscule compared to North American prodigies.

Neither Nahariya nor Israel is a hockey hotbed.

Edward Revniaga was in his twilight as a player when he came from Latvia to Israel in 1996, but starred for some national teams against lower-tier international competition.

“He kept coaching when I was growing up,” Mark Revniaga said. “I loved the game ever since I was a kid.”

That’s not a throwaway line. It apparently requires considerable passion for hockey to stick with it in Israel.

“There is no hockey in Israel, basically,” Revniaga said. “There’s one big rink in Israel where you can actually play. That was in Mettula, right on the border. It was an hour and a half away, and it was hard to drive there. You could see Lebanon from there. I skated there for two years. I also practiced in a smaller rink, maybe the size of one zone, maybe even smaller, in Ma’alot. That was 20 minutes from my house. That was easier. We skated there twice a week.

“And we had inline hockey, because we didn’t get enough ice and had to skate on roller blades to be better.”

So how could he develop as a player under those conditions?

“It’s only because of my dad,” Revniaga said. “He invested a lot of time and effort to make guys like me better. When you turn 13 in Israel (bar mitzvah age), that’s when you’re growing up and in hockey that’s when you have to work on your skating skills. For a year, we barely touched the puck. That was hard and frustrating, but I’m glad my dad made it about the effort. He made us better and gave me the ability to come to America and play hockey and achieve my goals.”

Denis Kozev, in black at center, works on defense during the Northern Colorado Eagles’ practice Thursday morning at the Ice Haus in Greeley.

Kozev got started later than Revniaga.

“Around the age of 7, I started playing inline hockey, and (Revniaga’s) dad coached us,” Kozev said. “If he hadn’t been there coaching in northern Israel, I would not be in the place I’m at now. Mark and I have pushed each other, too, ever since, going to the gym and doing the right things every day.”

After Revniaga and Kozev were mainstays on Israel’s age group teams in the lower-division international competition from 15 on, their national program coach, Derek Eisler, told them they should head to the U.S. to play. At that point, they were separated.

Revniaga played for the Point Mallard Ducks in Decatur, Ala., in the North American Tier III Hockey League, in 2016-17; and the New York Apple Core of the Tier III Eastern Hockey League in Brewster, N.Y., last season. He came to Greeley this season after a national team teammate, Tom Ignatovich, who has duel citizenship and is from Seattle, played for the Eagles last season and recommended Haddon and playing in northern Colorado.

Kozev played for the Billings Bulls in the NA3HL in 2016-17, sat out last season while in the Army, and started out this season with the WSHL’s Seattle Totems. He asked for a trade to the Eagles so he could reunite with Revniaga, and the Totems obliged him in December. Kozev had three goals and eight assists in 31 regular season games for Northern Colorado.

Under junior hockey’s “billet” system — even National Hockey League superstars often consider their junior hockey surrogate hosting families to be their friends for life — Revniaga is living with a family in Windsor, Kozev with a family in Eaton.

“We got them back together,” Haddon said. “I didn’t realize they were childhood friends. It takes a lot to get something out of these guys. You have to ask them a lot of questions. They’re very serious. They’re driven young men. You can see where they come from, with the Army stuff. They’re all business. They’re great kids. I wish they’d have more fun. They had to grow up probably too quick.

“Your players are your best recruiters. I was lucky to to be able to bring them in here and have them be part of the family.”

Both Revniaga and Kozev rave about the Greeley area, Colorado and the Eagles organization. From their conversations, in which they can rattle off cities along the Front Range, it seems apparent they have done some exploring, and Greeley’s population also is about twice that of their hometown…if that means anything.

Next fall, they most likely will be playing college hockey. Separately. Revniaga is drawing interest from smaller NCAA programs, Kozev from Canadian college (CIS) programs.

But they’ve come a long way together.

Older posts