Month: April 2019 (page 1 of 4)

Israel moves on up

The Israeli players celebrate after receiving the 2019 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship Division II Group B trophy and gold medals

By Andy Potts – IIHF.com

Israel secured promotion to the Division II Group A of the IIHF World Championship after topping its group in Mexico City. In a tournament full of goals – 138 markers were shared between the six nations – Israel had the most prolific offence, claiming 32 of them on its way to victory.

The Israelis, with a roster that included former KHLer Eliezer Sherbatov, confirmed top spot with a comfortable 7-3 victory over Georgia on the final day. But the team might have secured gold with a game to spare. The team’s fourth game saw it drop its only point, tying Mexico 4-4 before prevailing in overtime, to give New Zealand a fighting chance going into the final day’s play.

However, Israel made no mistake against the Georgians. After allowing a power-play goal midway through the first period, two goals from Sergei Frenkel – both assisted by Sherbatov – turned the game around. Four unanswered goals in the middle frame, two of them to Sherbatov, put the game and the tournament to bed. Georgia staged a mini rally early in the third but Israel had the final say when Artem Vernyy scored into an empty with that man Sherbatov collecting an assist for his sixth point of the game.

New Zealand, for its part, lost out to Iceland as North Atlantic edged South Pacific for the silver medals. Iceland jumped to a 4-0 lead after two periods and the Ice Blacks could not find a way back despite scoring twice in the final frame.

Sherbatov, once of Slovan Bratislava but now playing for Kurbads Riga in the Latvian championship, ended the tournament as leading scorer with 15 (7+8) points. Along the way he picked up a new nickname from the Mexican broadcast commentators, who dubbed him ‘Mr. Danger’. Defenceman Evgeni Kozhevnikov was next on the list with 14 (5+9) and his Bat Yam team mate Sergei Frenkel was third with 11 (6+5). Frenkel’s tally also included that overtime winner against Mexico. Bat Yam, three-time winners of Israel’s hockey championship, supplied six of Robert Holik’s roster, including the experienced Kozhevnikov’s twin brother Michael, a fellow blue liner. The club, Israel’s champion last season, is current top of the pile once again in the six-team national league.

Mexico’s battling overtime loss against Israel did more than slow the champion’s march to gold. That topsy-turvy game saw the host nation lead 3-1 at the first intermission before trailing 3-4 at the start of the third. Carlos Gomez got the tying goal in the 48th minute, handing Mexico a vital lifeline in its battle against relegation. Collecting a point from that game gave the Mexicans a lift – and they continued that upswing in a final-day showdown against the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. A powerful 8-2 victory, sparked by two first-period goals from Hector Majul, ensured that Mexico finished the tournament on a high note and preserved its Division IIB status at the expense of the Koreans, who are relegated to Division III for the first time since 2015. In a high-scoring competition, DPR Korea twice found itself involved in a 13-goal game. It began with a 9-4 win over Georgia and later suffered a 5-8 loss to New Zealand.

Behind Israel, Iceland took the silver medals with New Zealand collecting bronze. Georgia, newly promoted to this level, consolidated its position with a fourth-place finish thanks to victories over Mexico and Iceland.

Among the individual awards, Sherbatov was unsurprisingly chosen as top forward. Iceland’s Dennis Hedstrom was voted best goalie, his save percentage of 88.66 highlighted the impressive scoring on view throughout the tournament. Iceland allowed 15 goals in its five games, the least porous defence at the event. New Zealand’s Stefan Amston was picked as best defenceman. He had 5 (2+3) points in the competition.

Israel’s promotion moves it up to Division IIA where it will replace Belgium. Next season’s opponents will include Croatia, Australia, Spain and China, plus the nation relegated from this week’s Division IB event in Estonia. DPR Korea will be replaced in IIB by Bulgaria, triumphant in the Division III on home ice.

Bulgaria storms to another gold

The Bulgarian players celebrate after earning their fourth win in the fourth game and secure Division III gold

By Ivan Tchechankov – IIHF.com

In a period of one month, Bulgarian ice hockey struck gold twice on the world stage. Four weeks ago the U18 team won a promotion to the Division II Group B. This time around it was the men’s team that secured the first place in 2019 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championships Division III on home ice in Sofia.

In the round-robin tournament Bulgaria went undefeated in the first four games and secured the top position and promotion to the higher division one day before end of play. The host country started with a 12-2 rout against South Africa, continued with a narrow 3-1 win over Turkey and followed with more victories: 6-2 against Turkmenistan and 11-2 against Chinese Taipei. The Bulgarian men’s team has won an IIHF tournament only twice in the history – in 1998 (then Group D) and in 2014 (Division III).

“It was not as easy as the results suggest. I came here for one purpose only – to earn a place in the upper level. Last year we couldn’t do that, so now I am very happy that we did it”, said head coach Robert Kalaber. The 49-year-old Slovak is in this position for a second season. Last year he led the Bulgarian team to second place in the tournament in South Africa with the only loss coming against Georgia.

“Compared to last year the most improved part is the discipline of the team. There are some young boys on the roster who play abroad like Miroslav Vasilev. Now they are one year older and continue to progress. I can see improvement in most of these players, including the goaltender Dimitar Dimitrov. What is important is that we have convinced all players to subordinate everything in the name of the team. It does not matter who is the best, who is the youngest or the oldest, they all played for the team and the results were seen,” continued Kalaber.

The onslaught against South Africa began from the puck drop. The first goal was scored in the 34th second by 34-year-old Stanislav Muhachev. It was quite symbolic as he was on the coaching staff of the gold winning U18 national team. Another veteran, 40-years old Alexei Yotov, made it 2-0 less than a minute later. Miroslav Vasilev had a natural hat trick within just 3:03 minutes, but if that wasn’t enough, Yotov and Vasilev scored again to give the hosts a 7-1 advantage before the first intermission! Vasilev finished the game with 6 points (5+1), Yotov and Ivan Hodulov had four a piece (2+2), Muhachev tallied two goals and Angel Dzhorov had one.

The next day Bulgaria played against Turkey and after a scoreless first period Miroslav Vasilev tried a pass during a counter attack, but the puck was redirected by the skate of a Turkish defenceman and went into the net. Three minutes later during a 4-on-4 situation Veselin Dikov lost the faceoff, but went ahead to take away the puck and scored on a rebound of his initial shot. In the end of the second period Yanaki Gatchev made it 3-0, finishing a combination with Yotov and Martin Boyadjiev. The only goal in the third period was scored by the Canadian-born Turkish forward Cengiz Ciplak.

Alexei Yotov, who is the Bulgarian all-time point leader in World Championships, could not play in the next two games for personal reasons, but that didn’t stop the team rolling. “I saw Alexei for the first time on the eve of the tournament, because he could not come to South Africa last year. He helped us a lot and had a huge contribution for the team to get in the right direction with first two games. The boys realized that if they did everything we said, the achievement of our goal is completely real,” said coach Kalaber.

In a game full of penalties (with a total of 90 penalty minutes) Bulgaria won against Turkmenistan on Thursday. Martin Nikolov shot the puck from the boards near the blue line and surprised the goalie Keremli Charyyev in the 7th minute. 16-year-old defenceman Konstantin Dikov scored during a two-man advantage later in the period. Pavel Barkovskiy tallied two goals for Turkmenistan in the second period to cut the deficit to 1-2 (on a power play) and 2-3, but both times the host reacted with power play goals on their own by Muhachev and Konstantin Dikov. In the third Hodulov and Boyadjiev also scored with a man advantage for a 6-2 victory.

On the next day Bulgaria had to win against Chinese Taipei in any way to secure the first place. Tzu-Chieh Lin opened the scoring with a rebound in the 13th minute, but Bulgaria tied five minutes later after a combination between Vasilev and Muhachev. Just 11 seconds after serving his penalty for hooking Miroslav Vasilev blasted the puck from zero angle towards the opponent’s goaltender and made it 2-1. This was just a start for the 6-goals period and another double digit win score for the “Lions”. Ivan Hodulov, who plays for Gothenborg HC in Sweden, was chosen for the best player in the game after finishing with 5 points (3+2).

Only 5 of the 18 players on the Bulgarian roster had not scored a goal so far in the tournament. Vasilev leads with 16 points (10+6), Hodulov has 10 (6+4), Boyadjiev is next with 8 (2+6) and Muhachev has 7 (4+3). The team was ranked number 1 in all statistical categories – goals for (32), goals against (7), power play (8/24, 33.3%), penalty killing (26/27, 96.3%), penalty minutes (92). Goaltender Dimitar Dimitrov is #1 with 93.75 saves % and 1.75 goals against average. For four players on the roster this is a double gold as they were part of the U18 champions’ team – Konstantin Dikov, Angel Dzhorov, Kaloyan Vachkov and the backup goalie Ivan Stoynov.

“I don’t know how the coaches are working with the juniors in Bulgaria, but for the men’s national team to have more success and to be able to stay in the Division II Group B or even to go to Group A, there has to be more ice practices during the season. There is no way for the local players to progress if they meet for practices just two times a week in their clubs during the season. I know that they are working regular jobs, but for this team to continue its way up in the ranks, there have to be more organized practices and better professional work,” replied Robert Kalaber on a question about the potential of this team to stay in the Division II Group B.

Kalber played with Juraj Dusicka in MHK Prievidza in 1998-2000 and 2002-05. Dusicka is based in Bulgaria since 2010 and is already a nine-time national champion with three different teams. He was the one who asked Kalaber whether he is interested in the head-coaching position of the Bulgarian men’s team. Kalaber’s coaching career started with Dukla Senica (2006-08) and continued with Dukla Trencin (2011-14). Since 2014 he is the head coach of the JHK GKS Jastrzebie and won the silver medal in the Polish championships in 2015. “I have a three-week vacation that I use to work with the Bulgarian national team. I want to thank the management of the Jastrzebie for allowing me to do that for a second year in a row,” explained Kalaber, who has two more years on his contract with the Polish club.

Before the last day of play Bulgaria has the maximum of 12 points. Turkmenistan (7), Luxembourg (6), Turkey (6) and Chinese Taipei (5) are in contention for the bronze and silver medals. South Africa will be relegated to the 2020 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championships Division III Qualification after losing all of its first four games (0 points). The schedule on Sunday in the Winter Palace is: Turkey – Turkmenistan, Chinese Taipei – RSA, Luxembourg – Bulgaria. All games are shown in the live stream in the game centre.

New dawn for Japan

Japan head coach Yuji Iwamoto (left) and defenceman Seiya Hayata aiming for gold in Division IB this spring

By Henrik Manninen – IIHF.com

Buoyed by a strong finish at last year’s World Championship, a hardened Japan aims to come out of the traps flying in their quest for a return to Division IA.

Japan will face Estonia, the Netherlands, Poland, Romania and Ukraine at the 2019 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championships Division I Group B played in Tallinn, Estonia between 28 April to 4 May. Following relegation in 2016, Japan now gets ready to improve on their two consecutive silver medals at Division IB level.

With speed and skating being the hallmark of the Japanese game, standing up to be counted against bigger and bulkier opponents has previously held back their rise to prominence.

When taking over the reins as Japan’s new head coach in the summer of 2017, Yuji Iwamoto introduced a significant shake-up in their style of play. Influenced by working together with Willie Desjardins at Snow Brand Sapporo at the turn of this century, Iwamoto is ambitious in his long-term strategy to change the mindset of Japanese hockey.

Advocating a playing style fueled by aggression at both ends with confident players willing to give their all for the Japanese cause, Iwamoto’s baptism of fire saw a new-look Japan finish second at the 2018 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championships Division I Group B in Kaunas, Lithuania. Derailing their hopes for an instant return to Division IA was a 6-1 loss against a fired-up Lithuanian team with Japan being severely outmuscled during the early stages of that game.

“Looking back at that game now, the guys were a bit nervous. Lithuania came hard on us right from the start with their forecheck and we didn’t fight back. We didn’t hold back and weren’t as strong mentally, that is why we lost,” said Iwamoto on what proved to be a valuable lesson for his players.

We need to start believing that we can play at a higher level and start to have more confidence.
Yuji Iwamoto
Japanese head coach

“We showed it at the last World Championships in Kaunas when the guys picked it up in the last game against Ukraine,” Iwamoto said of a 7-1 demolition by Japan who got fully up to speed during the final day.

“It will take three-four years for our new style of play to work in full. In order to do that we also need to even up the level of the Asia League and get more exhibition matches against opponents like for example Lithuania and Hungary as we need more experience,” he said.

Last November saw Japan return to Lithuania. At the Baltic Challenge Cup in Vilnius, they once again locked horns with the Baltic hosts but also got severely tested by Belarus’s representative Metallurg Zhlobin and a Latvian league select. Another important test for Japan came in February when they took part in the Olympic Legacy Cup against Latvia, Kazakhstan and Korea. Vital match-ups against three higher-ranked national teams played in Korea’s Gangneung, a fitting venue for Iwamoto as his long-term aspiration for Japanese hockey is revealed.

“While playing at the next Olympic Winter Games will not be very realistic, instead we are looking more at competing for a place at the Winter Games in 2026 and 2030,” he said.

One player hoping to play an integral part in Iwamoto’s lofty ambitions for years to come is Seiya Hayata. The 23-year-old defenceman played his first senior World Championship in Lithuania last season and admits it took him a while to settle into international hockey.

“The players were bigger and stronger, but the games were slower than Asia League games. Then we came up against Lithuania and I was panicking a little bit. Now I know what the teams are like at this level,” said the Hiroshima-born blueliner, who is clearly relishing playing for Japan under Iwamoto.

“I like it, playing his style is lots of fun. I like going aggressive, even on defence,” said Hayata, who despite the rugged style advocated by Iwamoto, is far from reciprocated by his coaching style on the bench.

“When I make a mistake he is not yelling, but instead he tries to teach me what I should have done instead. That is a little bit different to the coaches I have in Asia League, so I have fun playing for him,” Hayata said.

Hayata, who previously played junior hockey in North America, has just completed his third consecutive season with the Tohoku Free Blades. One of four Japanese teams competing in the Asia League where strong ties are being honed with Korean hockey at all levels.

“We have good cooperation with Korea,” said head coach Iwamoto. “We had a training camp there and in June we have our under-20 team doing the same,” he continued.

Three years have passed since Japan and Korea last locked horns at the 2016 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championships Division I Group A in Katowice, Poland. An optimistic Hayata hopes it might not take too long before they once again face off against each other in a higher division.

“Even if we didn’t win gold at last year’s World Championship, in my opinion, we were the best-skilled team in the tournament. Lithuania had two-three very good players, but not everyone, so I think we have a chance and now I know what to expect,” said Hayata as the final preparations are honed ahead of the World Championships contested in Tallinn´s Tondiraba Ice Hall.

While Ukraine awaits for Japan in their opener, it will be newly-relegated Poland who enters the contest as favourites for promotion. A challenge Japan will relish as they will be inspired by their neighbor Korea, who during the 2012 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship Division I Group B in Krynica derailed Poland’s promotion campaign which simultaneously kick-started Korea´s ascent upwards.

Winter Sports Schools Inaugurated At Chitral, Swat

Winter Sports Federation Pakistan (WSFP) inaugurated two winter sports training schools at Madaklasht, Chitral and Malam Jabba, Swat with an aim to hone talent of local athletes

By

Winter Sports Federation Pakistan (WSFP) on Tuesday April 23rd inaugurated two winter sports training schools at Madaklasht, Chitral and Malam Jabba, Swat with an aim to hone talent of local athletes. Air Marshal Aasim Zaheer Vice Chief of the Air Staff, who is also president WSFP, was the chief guest at the ceremonies, said a press release issued here by Directorate of Public Relations of Pakistan Air Force.

Speaking on the occasion, he said training schools would provide an opportunity to the local promising athletes to train in different disciplines like alpine skiing, snowboarding, ice skating and ice hockey.

He said WSFP would initially build makeshift infrastructures for these schools, which would be funded by the federation.

He said Madklasht and Arungkel, Azad Jammu and Kashmir would be developed as proper ski resorts, on the pattern of Naltar.

He said WSFP would hire foreign coaches to polish the skills of athletes in different disciplines of winter sports. He expressed hope that these schools would one day produce athletes of national and international repute.

A similar school was also inaugurated at Arungkel by WSFP on April 14, thus making a total of five winter sports schools in northern parts of Pakistan. These schools have been established to promote ice and snow sports in the country.

Thailand swat aside Malaysia to win IIHF Women’s Challenge Cup of Asia

Thailand improved on last year’s third-place finish at the IIHF Women’s Challenge Cup of Asia

Inside the Games

Thailand stormed to success at the International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) Women’s Challenge Cup of Asia after crushing Malaysia 9-2 in Abu Dhabi.

Nuchanat Ponglerkdee scored three goals in the emphatic win at Zayed Sports City Ice Rink in the United Arab Emirates venue.

Also on the score sheet were Minsasha Teekhathanasaku, Pijittra Saejear, Varachanant Boonyubol, Panvipa Suksirivecharuk, Wirasinee Rattananai and Kwanchanok Chueyklang. 

Adilah Junid and Aisha Nuval Othman grabbed consolation goals for Malaysia. 

Victory saw Thailand take the overall title with 10 points in the round-robin table, an upgrade from their bronze medal at the 2018 edition.

Chinese Taipei confirmed their second-place finish following a 3-0 victory against New Zealand’s under-18s.

They finished on nine points, ahead of Singapore on six.

New Zealand were fourth on five points, while Malaysia ended fifth having lost every match.

PH women’s ice hockey tops 2019 Challenge Cup of Asia

The Philippine women’s ice hockey team concedes only one goal during its title run

By Beatrice Go – Rappler

The Philippine women’s ice hockey team sweeps the tournament’s Division 1 to gain promotion to the 2020 Challenge Cup of Asia

The Philippine women’s ice hockey team bagged a gold medal in the 2019 IIHF Challenge Cup of Asia division 1 on Friday, April 19 (Saturday, April 20, Manila time) in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates.

The Nationals, which won a bronze in the previous edition, capped their campaign with a narrow 2-1 win over host country UAE to sweep the tournament and gain promotion to the Challenge Cup of Asia tournament in 2020.

Bianca Cuevas, the tournament’s top scorer, scored the opening goal for the Philippines 57 seconds into the match thanks to a two-minute penalty on UAE’s Fatima Al Ali for tripping.

Even as the Philippines struggled during a penalty-laden 2nd period, Danielle Imperial managed to slot in the country’s second goal for a 2-0 cushion at the 39:53 mark of the game.

UAE attempted to rally back, but Dana Alhosani wound up scoring the team’s lone goal at 56:53.

The Philippines’ goaltender Rosalyn Lim only conceded one goal in the tournament as the Nationals trounced Kuwait, 10-0, and blanked India, 5-0.

Serbia’s gold spree

The Serbian players celebrate with the trophy on home ice in Belgrade after winning the 2019 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship Division II Group B and earning their first Division I appearance in ten years.

By Henrik Manninen – IIHF.com

In a roller-coaster ride of the tournament, with a seemingly never-ending supply of twists and turns, Serbia won gold at the 2019 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championships Division II Group A in Belgrade.

Down but never out, Marko Brkusanin became Serbia’s hero when he coolly slotted home the game-winning penalty shot against Spain and lifted the hosts into the 2020 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championships Division I Group B.

A desperate Serbian team had only been in fourth place, when they were offered a lifeline in their final game against Spain. Blueliner Stefan Boskovic drew them level with 28 seconds left of the third period before Serbia´s netminder Arsenije Rankovic then saved three out of four Spanish penalty shots as 1,276 cheering home fans lifted the roof inside Belgrade´s Ice Rink Pionir.

Serbia’s 3-2 win over Spain marks the end of a historical season and possibly the start of a new exciting chapter for Serbian hockey.

This means a lot to us. Never before has our national teams won three gold medals in one season. It’s a great thing for the promotion of hockey in Serbia.
Marko Milovanovic
President Serbian Ice Hockey Association

Serbia´s U20 and U18 national teams had already won gold at their respective World Championships at Division IIB level. Now they were joined by the senior team who won Serbia´s third consecutive gold medal this season and their first one at senior level since 2009. 17-year-old prospect Marko Dragovic played an integral part in Serbia´s success this season winning gold in all three categories.

En route to their gold, Serbia first saw off Croatia (3-1) before losing to Australia (2-3). They bounced back with straight wins against China (6-5) and Belgium (6-3) before finally toppling Spain following a nerve-racking final round of games.

Serbia´s final day celebrations was made possible thanks to neighbours Croatia, who earlier that day edged Australia, the leader of the standings after four days, 2-1. Both teams then watched on as Serbia collected their gold medals while dwelling on what could have been.

Croatia, who came within an earshot of gold, had to settle for silver, while Australia who entered the final day in pole position, finished up with the bronze medals. At the other end of the table, Belgium got relegated to Division IIB after losing the deciding game for fifth place to China.

Aleksa Lukovic´s goal after 4:10 had put Serbia ahead against Spain. Gaston Gonzalez hit back with an equaliser at 26:03. An Oriol Rubio power-play goal at 46:34 got Spain ahead and temporarily silenced the home crowd before Serbia´s last gasp leveller got their promotion campaign back on track and take the game into overtime, which finished goalless.

The influential Rubio scored Spain´s sole penalty marker in the shootout, while Serbia’s 20-year-old Mirko Djumic, voted the best forward of the tournament, also coolly slotted home his penalty in the shootout.

“After the shootouts and all the excitement I was shaking, but our players were used to this as they were three goals behind against China earlier in the tournament,” said Milovanovic.

During game day three against China, Serbia appeared to have dug themselves into a hole. With just over 11 minutes left of the game, China was cruising with a 5-2 lead. A frantic fightback saw Serbia score three unanswered goals to draw level with 1:36 to go. Then newly appointed head coach Alexandre Dandenault went for bust in what in hindsight turned out to be a masterstroke.

With 14 seconds left of the third frame and with netminder Rankovic pulled from the net, 19-year-old debutant Viktor Kastel sealed all three points for Serbia as team morale got a monumental boost.

In my opinion, it was the China game that changed everything for us in this tournament. We showed great character to never give up until the end.
Marko Sretovic
Serbia Captain

With his 5 points (3+2) Sretovic was Serbia´s joint top-scorer and together with Stefan Ilic, the two sole survivors on the roster who last won gold for Serbia at senior level. At the 2009 IIHF World Championship Division II Group B Sretovic tasted success and promotion in Novi Sad in what was different times for Serbian hockey.

“At that time hockey was at the highest level in Serbia. That team was more experienced. This year we have many young players with a lot of speed who helped us to win many of our games,” said Sretovic, who after winning his second gold at senior level has come full circle in a long and distinguished national team career.

“This was my absolute last season for the national team. I wanted to finish where everything once started,” said Belgrade-born Sretovic as he expects next season to be a stern test for his compatriots playing at a much higher level.

“It will be very tough, much harder than this. We need more preparation and a training camp as the guys should be ready to work hard with a lot of defending to be expected. I hope the head coach (Dandenault) and the staff will continue for next year,” said Sretovic.

It’s a five-peat for U.S.!

Team USA celebrates after winning Women’s World Championship gold for the fifth consecutive time

By Lucas Aykroyd – IIHF.com

Annie Pankowski scored twice, including the shootout winner, as the U.S. claimed a wild 2-1 victory over Finland in the 2019 Women’s Worlds gold medal game. It’s the fifth straight American world title.

The host Finns, who won their first silver medal ever, were heartbroken after they thought they’d won it all in overtime. Goalie Noora Raty put on a goaltending clinic on her hometown ice in Espoo, as the U.S. outshot Finland 52-27.

“Obviously that was such an exciting game for them to take us to a shootout,” said U.S. goalie Alex Rigsby, who conceded just one goal to Minttu Tuominen on four Finnish shootout attempts. “Props to Noora. She played an unbelievable game. I think it’s really great for the sport as well, for us to be able to play against Finland and for them to come out and get a silver medal here in their home country.

In regulation time, Susanna Tapani scored for Finland.

“Sport is tough and hard sometimes, but after the game you need to accept what is in the scoreboard,” said Finnish captain and tournament MVP Jenni Hiirikoski. “Life goes on, and we will be super proud of what we have done here.”

It’s the eighth time in nine years that the Americans have prevailed, their string only broken by Canada in 2012.

“We have a really special group,” said Hilary Knight, who led the tournament with seven goals and 11 points and was named to the all-star team. “I can’t say it enough. It’s really magical to be in our room and something we try to cultivate every single time we get together.”

This is the second straight year an IIHF women’s final has been decided in a shootout. But this thriller was even more over-the-top and unimaginable than PyeongChang, where the U.S.’s Jocelyne Lamoureux-Davidson’s goal and Maddie Rooney’s final save on Canada’s Meghan Agosta were the difference.

The 4-on-4 sudden-death overtime was full of wild incidents.

Petra Nieminen thought she had scored the deciding goal at 11:33 of overtime. Hiirikoski made an end-to-end rush and her initial shot was stopped by Rigsby. As Rigsby slid out of the net and Hiirikoski made contact, with the U.S.’s Kacey Bellamy right on top of her, Nieminen banged the rebound into the gaping cage.

A lengthy video review ensued, reminiscent of when Canada’s Anson Carter scored in overtime on Sweden’s Mikael Tellqvist in the 2003 IIHF World Championship gold medal game. When the officials waved the goal off for apparent goalie interference, the fans howled in derision.

“It almost would have been easier if we’d lost 5-0,” said Raty. “I’d probably be happier right now. But we were so close. We could taste it — “Holy cow, we’re world champs” — and they take it away.”

Asked how confident she was that it was not a goal, Rigsby offered: “I was very confident. I was trying to rally the team up so they weren’t getting too down. Obviously it was a long break for them to try to figure it out. But for me to get interfered with like that, it shouldn’t be a goal.”

The Finns did get a power play, as Rigsby was also called for tripping on the play, but they couldn’t capitalize, and also couldn’t score when Megan Keller was called for slashing at the end of overtime. Earlier in overtime, the U.S. narrowly failed to capitalize with Finland’s Venla Hovi in the box.

Finland’s first silver medal ever is an incredible achievement, especially considering that most observers figured the host nation was bound for bronze for the 13th time at this tournament. No European nation has ever played in the final before. As great as the 18 previous all-North American derbies have been, this tilt proved definitively that Finnish female players can dazzle at the highest level too.

“I hope a lot of little girls were watching today and they can start dreaming of playing in the finals,” Raty said. “I’ve been in a bronze medal game too many times. Sometimes you just want more. We’ve always believed we can do this, but still a lot of people didn’t give us a chance. So proud of my teammates.”

Even though the Finnish women couldn’t complete their own answer to the U.S. men’s 1980 Olympic “Miracle on Ice” victory over the Soviets in Lake Placid, what happened in Espoo over the last 11 days should retain a certain fairy-tale quality for Finnish fans.

This final was always destined to hinge on Raty’s ability to deny America’s overwhelming firepower. The U.S. entered the final with 39 goals-for to Finland’s 20.

The energy was through the ceiling at Espoo’s Metro Areena, starting with the pre-game introductions. The first period raced by at an extraordinary tempo, and the entire game was pure flow and thrills.

“I think this is Finland’s best team we’ve ever seen,” Knight said.”You’ve got to tip the cap to them. They played a great game. They locked us down when they needed to and got bounces when they needed to. It’s great for women’s hockey to have different teams in the final.”

While the Americans outshot Finland 17-4 in the first, Raty showed some Patrick Roy-like swagger with the way she caught and deflected pucks.

The hosts did a good job of keeping shots mostly to the outside and competed hard in one-on-one battles. And while it was defence-first for coach Pasi Mustonen’s troops, gone are the days when Finland simply hangs back and clogs up the neutral zone. The Finnish flag-waving crowd of 6,053 mounted exuberant chants of “Suomi!” to counter the minority cries of “USA!”

The U.S finally opened the scoring at 15:46 of the second period. Pankowski got the puck from U.S. captain Kendall Coyne Schofield, crossed the blue line on the right side and used Hiirikoski as a decoy to beat Raty low to the glove side. It was her fourth goal of the tournament.

With 1:31 left in the second period, the building exploded when Tapani notched the equalizer for Finland. Inside the U.S. blueline at the right point, Nieminen grabbed the puck and sent a diagonal cross-ice pass into the left faceoff circle for Tapani, who zapped it high past Rigsby on the stick side. Tapani got hot in these playoffs, notching the quarter-final winner against the Czech Republic and the semi-final winner against Canada.

Raty, who stepped up again in overtime with 14 saves, said: “I thought I made a lot of great saves, but if you want to win something, your goalie needs to be good.”

In 1849, the definitive version of the Kalevala, the Finnish national epic poem, was published. Now, 170 years later, the Finnish women’s national hockey team has begun to forge its own legend — even if it is written in silver letters rather than gold.

“It was a huge step for us, but we were here to win gold today,” said Michelle Karvinen. “It’ll take a little time to get over this, but I’m still proud of the team.”

In 18 previous Women’s Worlds meetings, Finland had just one win (1-0 in overtime in 2008) and one tie (1-1 in 1997) versus the Americans. The Finns have lost eight straight Olympic games to the U.S.

Of her own future, Raty said: “I have to take a summer off and see what I want to do with my career. A lot is going to depend on what is going to happen with the North American leagues. Obviously I’m under a China contract, and now that we don’t have a league in the CWHL, I have to see what China is going to decide, if I’m going to go back or not. I think there’s a lot of moving parts.”

Earlier, the Canadians settled for bronze after beating Russia 7-0. Canada holds the record for the most consecutive Women’s Worlds golds with eight straight between 1990 and 2004, and 10 in total. This was the ninth American gold.

Looking at the months to come, Knight said: “I think our sport’s in great hands. We have a lot of talented, young, powerful women that feel empowered to shape the future of this sport as they see fit. So you’re going to see some probably exciting times in women’s hockey to come.”

In 2020, will the Americans make it six in a row? Can Canada return to the top of the podium? Or will the Finns go all the way? Join us again next year at the IIHF Ice Hockey Women’s World Championship in Halifax and Truro, Nova Scotia, Canada.

Canada thrashes Russia for bronze

The Canadian players pose for a team photo after beating Russia for the bronze medal at the 2019 IIHF Ice Hockey Women’s World Championship

By Lucas Aykroyd – IIHF.com

It might be the consolation prize, but it’s still a prize. Canada earned its first IIHF Ice Hockey Women’s World Championship bronze medal ever with a 7-0 win over Russia in Espoo on Sunday.

The Canadians will need time to fully assess what went wrong for them at this tournament. They played solid hockey and came second in Group A, but then suffered a dramatic 4-2 semi-final loss to the fired-up host Finns on Saturday. Never before has a Women’s Worlds concluded without a Canada-U.S. showdown for gold.

Instead, it’s the U.S. versus Finland in the final.

“It’s definitely not the medal that we came here to get, but I mean, even just participating at the World Championship and coming home with a medal is a huge honour,” said rookie Canadian defender Jaime Bourbonnais. “It was a great game today, and I thought we stuck together, even though we had a tough loss last night.”

Canada hasn’t won the Women’s Worlds since now-assistant coach Caroline Ouellette scored the 5-4 overtime winner against the U.S. in the 2012 gold medal game. That’s a long drought for the country that invented hockey. Only seven players from 2012 returned with this year’s team.

In IIHF history, the Canadian women own four Olympic gold medals, plus 10 Women’s Worlds gold medals and eight silver medals. On the bright side, Canada’s medal streak extends to 19 straight Women’s Worlds.

Against the Russians, first-year phenom Loren Gabel scored twice for Canada. Natalie Spooner, Rebecca Johnston, Jamie Lee Rattray, and Erin Ambrose tallied a goal and an assist apiece for Canada. Bourbonnais got her first career Women’s Worlds goal. Sarah Nurse and Renata Fast added two assists apiece.

“Today, we had to try to have that energy and find ways to bring it, even when it’s those tough games that you really didn’t want to be playing in,” said Spooner. “I think we found a way and we brought it.”

The outmatched Russians failed in their bid to capture their fourth Women’s Worlds medal. The previous three medals were all bronze (2001, 2013, 2016). An inability to clamp down defensively like the Finns – historically their main competition for bronze – or even the Japanese – who limited the powerful Americans to a 4-0 quarter-final win – stung coach Alexei Chistyakov’s skillful players.

“You see the score,” said Russia’s Alexandra Vafina. “The gap is big and we just need to work harder to get it equal at least. It’s sad that we got the same mistakes which we did before in the regular games. That’s probably the saddest thing, because we need to learn from each game. We’re still learning from this one. It’s a tough lesson, but what else can we do? Just keep going and don’t give up. Still work hard and practice hard.”

An old Canadian adage came to mind in regard to Russia’s performance: “You miss 100 percent of the shots you don’t take” (Wayne Gretzky). The Russians were outshot 41-6 at Metro Areena. The single-game tournament record for the fewest shots on goal by a team in one game is 2, shared by Kazakhstan (in a 13-0 loss to Canada on 3 April, 2005) and Switzerland (in a 7-1 loss to the U.S. on 6 April, 2008).

Canadian hockey fans can recall occasions when their men’s team wasn’t able to bring its best in the battle for third place due to a “gold or bust mentality,” from the 3-2 loss to Finland at the 1998 Olympics in Japan to the 4-1 defeat against the U.S. at the 2018 Worlds in Denmark. However, that wasn’t going to be a problem for coach Perry Pearn’s troops.”At times in this tournament, I think we played extremely well to the point where we could challenge the U.S. in a gold-medal game, if we do the things we have to do,” said Pearn. “The flipside of that was last night we saw a game [versus Finland] where we got under pressure a little bit and we reverted right back to the old way of playing.”

Both Russia and Canada started the same netminders as in Canada’s 5-1 round-robin win: Genevieve Lacasse and Nadezhda Morozova. It was just Lacasse’s second start here, and she got her first career Women’s Worlds shutout. The 29-year-old Montreal native, who first played for Canada at the 2015 tournament in Sweden, backstopped Canada to a 2-1 group stage win over the U.S. at last year’s Olympics.

The Canadians kept the Russians virtually pinned in their zone from the get-go. At 6:08, Spooner, who scored a hat trick in the 5-1 round-robin win over Russia, grabbed the puck in the corner to Morozova’s left and circled the net to open the scoring on a wraparound. It was the veteran power forward’s sixth goal of these Women’s Worlds

Spooner, who became the first player to win both an Olympic gold medal and a CWHL Clarkson Cup with the Toronto Furies in the same year (2014), also converted two wraparounds on Morozova in the round-robin game.

Post-game, Spooner reflected on the sudden demise of the CWHL, which officially shuts down on 1 May: “I felt like our league was going so well. Is there a bigger picture to this? Obviously we want something better. We want one league. We want what we deserve as female hockey players. I think that there’s obviously a lot of questions and I’m not even sure they’ll get answered. But hopefully if we’re united and we stand strong, we can get what we deserve and make something that has never been around for women’s hockey. “

Bourbonnais made it 2-0 at 15:31 with a nice, rising slapshot from just outside the right faceoff circle.

“It was a great feeling,” said Bourbonnais. “It was a great pass from Sarah Nurse. Just playing on this team is amazing. It’s been a dream of mine since I was little. So to be able to score was a surreal feeling.”

Top Canadian blueliner Laura Fortino saw time at forward in the absence of Blayre Turnbull, who was injured in the loss to Finland. At the intermission, Turnbull, scratched top goalie Shannon Szabados, and injured captain Marie-Philip Poulin were all seen walking down from the stands to support their teammates in the Canadian dressing room.

In the second period, the Canadian target practice continued. At 9:38, Johnston caught Morozova flat-footed with her quick five-hole shot from the left faceoff circle to put Canada up 3-0.

The game then witnessed a litany of sloppy penalties, mostly to Russia. However, Canada neglected to extend its lead with the power play in the second period.

At 3:09 of the third, Gabel capitalized on a giveaway by the Russia netminder to make it 4-0. The 21-year-old has been a bright spot for Team Canada in Finland.

“We now have what I would call a legitimate natural goalscorer,” said Pearn.

Rattray got Canada’s first power play goal of the evening at 8:13 on a video-reviewed deflection. Fortino, unfortunately, hobbled off after getting tangled up in a collision with an opponent, and stayed off. At least her teammates had the game well in hand.

“Coming into the game, we definitely wanted to hold ourselves accountable to do the little things and have our habits,” said Spooner. “Because that’s what’s going to win us games.”

Ambrose swooped in from the point to collect a loose puck and roof it home for another power play marker and a 6-0 edge at 14:21. And Gabel scored again on a breakaway less than a minute later, tying her with Spooner for the team lead in goals (six). Russia yanked Morozova in favor of Anna Prugova to close out the game.

“We’re a tight group and this is probably one of the tightest Team Canadas I’ve ever been a part of,” said Ambrose. “So I’m really happy we were able to stand on that line and hear our anthem. Not the colour we wanted, but it’s stll a proud moment to hear your anthem at the end of the day.”

Overall, there are some positive indications for the Russians. While they clearly have a long way to go before they can compete effectively with the North Americans, their program has not regressed. Russia has now come fifth or better at eight of the last nine Women’s Worlds.

More investment, ice time, coaching, and general prioritization of women’s hockey could spur improved results in the future for a country that produces some of the world’s most talented male players. We’ll wait and see what happens when Russia comes to Canada for the 2020 IIHF Ice Hockey Women’s World Championship in Halifax and Truro, Nova Scotia.

“We need more young girls to recruit so we can feel the competition between us,” Vafina said. “Then we can grow. We need to practice and keep in the back of our mind that there’s somebody else who’s better, and you have to do every day better than yesterday, you know? Work needs to be done in every field.”

Hungarian women earn historic promotion

The Hungarian players celebrate historic gold at the 2019 IIHF Ice Hockey Women’s World Championship Division I Group A and will for the first time play in the top division of this category

By Szabolcs Zavodszky – IIHF.com

Host Hungary won the gold medals at the 2019 IIHF Ice Hockey Women’s World Championship Division I Group A in Budapest by only having one blemish on its record which was a shootout lose to Slovakia. They will be promoted together with second-ranked Denmark.

“This is a sweet taste since there was tremendous pressure on the team. We played against some hard opponents as we battled for promotion, this is a great feeling right now. We needed to play as a team and not rely on two or three key players,” said Hungary’s head coach Pat Cortina after the last game, a win against neighbour Austria.

Heading into the tournament there were no clear-cut favourites to win the group but it did make things easier that the top-two teams in the group were to move up to the top division with the new format and ten teams. Hungary and Denmark will replace Sweden and France for the 2020 IIHF Ice Hockey Women’s World Championship in Halifax, Canada.

Everyone knew that a loss would not eliminate the chances of promotion but make things harder. When asked just about what their expectation were for the tournament, almost every head coach said the same. That they will be taking the tournament one game at a time but they feel that they have a team that can earn promotion to play in Halifax next year.

Back to Budapest, the 2019 IIHF Ice Hockey Women’s World Championship Division I Group A started off with Denmark getting past Slovakia by the score of 3-1 thanks to a brace by Josephine Jakobsen. In the second game of the opening day Hungary just got past Norway 2-1 as Averi Nooren scored a goal and helped set up one as well. The opening day closed out with Austria cruising past Italy 4-1, Theresa Schafzahl closed out the match with two goals.

All six teams were back on the ice the following day, Denmark got past Italy 6-1 as all six goals were scored by someone different. Hungary hit a road bump as they lost to Slovakia 2-1 in sudden death shootout. Norway squeaked out a one goal win in a game that produced nine goals in total. After the second day the two Scandinavian countries were sitting at the top of the standings.

Silver makes happy if you earn promotion. Denmark will play at the top-level Women’s Worlds for only the second time after 1992

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