Month: May 2019 (page 1 of 2)

Road to Olympics set

By Martin Merk – IIHF.com

The 2019 IIHF Annual Congress approved the qualification criteria for the 2022 Olympic Winter Games men’s ice hockey tournament in Beijing.

Like for 2018, the top-8 countries of the 2019 IIHF Men’s World Ranking will be automatically qualified together with host China. These are: Canada, Russia, Sweden, Finland, Czech Republic, USA, Germany and Switzerland. In 2022 the same format will be used for the 12-team tournament with three groups consisting of four teams each. The seeding will be made next year according to the 2020 IIHF Men’s World Ranking.

The qualified teams and the Olympic Qualification for the 10-team 2022 Olympic women’s ice hockey tournament will be determined in a year and based on the 2020 IIHF Women’s World Ranking that will be established following the 2020 IIHF Ice Hockey Women’s World Championship in Canada.

In total a record number of 46 countries who applied to enter a men’s team for the Olympics are eligible to participate in the qualification process, meaning 37 countries will battle it out for the three remaining spots in the 2022 Olympic men’s ice hockey tournament.

The Olympic Qualification will be held in four stages starting in November 2019 with tournaments in Luxembourg and Hong Kong. The tournament winner of each group will advance to the next rounds until the Final Olympic Qualification as the fourth and last stage, which will be held 27 to 30 August 2020 keeping the possibility open for NHL players to join their countries.

The hosts of the 11 qualification tournaments were determined according to the seeding based on the 2019 IIHF Men’s World Ranking, meaning the top-seeded team of each group had the right to host before it would be offered to the next teams in the seeding.

The Final Olympic Qualification will take place in the countries ranked 9th to 11th in the world who opted to make use of their home-ice advantage.

Slovakia will host Group D at a venue to be determined with Belarus, Austria and the third-seeded qualifier.

Latvia will host Group E with France, Italy and the second-best seeded qualifier at Arena Riga, the venue built for the 2006 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship that will become a World Championship venue again in 2021.

Group F with Norway, Denmark, Korea and the top-seeded qualifier will take place in a Norwegian city to be named.

The third round will be hosted next February in Jesenice (Slovenia), Nur-Sultan (Kazakhstan) and Nottingham (Great Britain).

Groups & Qualification Men

For the 2022 Olympic men’s ice hockey tournament the top-8 nations of the 2019 IIHF Men’s World Ranking will be automatically qualified and together with host China and the three qualifiers be seeded according to the 2020 IIHF Men’s World Ranking. The three qualifiers will be determined in four stages of the Olympic Qualification starting in the 2019/2020 season according to the schematic below.

The 2022 Olympic men’s ice hockey tournament will be played according to the same format used in PyeongChang 2018, Sochi 2014 and Vancouver 2010 with three groups of four teams each. The best four teams from an overall 12-team ranking – the group winners and the second-ranked team with the best record – will advance to the quarter-finals while the other teams will play a qualification playoff game.

Olympic Winter Games, Men’s Ice Hockey Tournament
Groups to be determined in 2020. The tournament will include the top-8 nations according to the 2019 IIHF Men’s World Ranking (Canada, Russia, Sweden, Finland, Czech Republic, USA, Germany, Switzerland), host China and three qualifiers.

Final Olympic Qualification (27-30 August 2020)
Group D: Slovakia, Belarus, Austria, Qualifier 6. In Slovakia (city TBA).
Group E: Latvia, France, Italy, Qualifier 5. In Riga, Latvia.
Group F: Norway, Denmark, Korea, Qualifier 4. In Norway (city TBA).

Olympic Pre-Qualification Round 3 (6-9 February 2020)
Group G: Slovenia, Japan, Lithuania, Qualifier 9. In Jesenice, Slovenia.
Group H: Kazakhstan, Poland, Ukraine, Qualifier 8. In Nur-Sultan, Kazakhstan.
Group J: Great Britain, Hungary, Estonia, Qualifier 7. In Nottingham, Great Britain.

Olympic Pre-Qualification Round 2 (12-15 December 2019)
Group K: Romania, Iceland, Israel, Qualifier 11. In Brasov, Romania.
Group L: Netherlands, Spain, Mexico, Qualifier 10. In Spain (city TBA).
Group M: Croatia, Serbia, Bulgaria, Turkey. In Croatia (city: TBA)

Olympic Pre-Qualification Round 1 (7-10 November 2019)
Group N: Luxembourg, United Arab Emirates, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Kyrgyzstan. In Luxembourg (city TBA).
Group O: Chinese Taipei, Hong Kong, Kuwait, Thailand. In Hong Kong, Hong Kong.

Groups & Qualification Women

2022 Olympic women’s ice hockey tournament will for the first time be played with 10 teams. The qualification process will be determined at the Annual Congress in May 2020 and be based on the 2020 IIHF Women’s World Ranking.

IIHF’s new president to be elected in Sept. 2020 at Congress in St. Petersburg

By Rustam Sharafutdinov – Tass Russian New Agency

The new president of the International Ice Hockey Feederation (IIHF) will be elected in September 2020 at the organization’s Congress in Russia’s second largest city of Saint Petersburg, IIHF President Rene Fasel told TASS on Tuesday.

“The IIHF Congress to elect the organization’s new president will be held in [Russia’s] Saint Petersburg in September 2020,” Fasel, who is currently attending the 2019 IIHF World Championship in Slovakia, said in an interview with a TASS correspondent.

Fasel first voiced his intention against running for another presidential term in November 2017 and last October he confirmed to TASS that he would vacate the post in 2020.

The current presidential term of Fasel, who is 69, expires in May 2020. The Swiss-born former dentist with a gift for languages and a deep passion for the game of ice hockey was first elected to run the world’s governing body of ice hockey in June 1994. He was re-elected for a sixth presidential term at the 2016 IIHF General Congress in Moscow.

According to the official website of the IIHF: “When Rene Fasel became Dr. (Gunther) Sabetzki’s successor as IIHF President (in 1994), the world federation steeped in tradition entered a new era.”

IIHF President Fasel was also the first ice hockey representative to be appointed in 1995 to the International Olympic Committee (IOC), where he massively raised the stature of the sport of ice hockey.

2019 IIHF World Championship

Asked by a TASS correspondent what Fasel thinks of the organization of the 2019 World Championship in Slovakia after more than a week of group stage matches, the IIHF chief said he was completely satisfied.

“I am very happy,” the IIHF president said. “We are in a hockey country, people love hockey here with a lot of great fans.”

“The organization is really going well, the teams and players are very happy and I hope it will continue till the end,” he added.

The 2019 IIHF World Championship is hosted by Slovakia between May 10 and 26. The participating teams were divided into Groups A and B. Group A is playing matches in Slovakia’s Kosice and includes hosts Slovakia, Canada, the United States, Finland, Germany, Denmark, France and Great Britain.

Group B is playing matches in Bratislava and enlists teams from Sweden, Russia, the Czech Republic, Switzerland, Norway, Latvia, Austria and Italy.

Slovakia offers two venues for hosting matches of the championship and they are the country’s capital of Bratislava and the country’s second largest city of Kosice. Each city hosts 28 matches of the group stage as well as two quarterfinals.

The semifinals, the final and the match for the bronze will be played in Bratislava at the over 10,000-seat capacity Ondrej Nepela Arena. Kosice, which has a population of 240,000, offers the over 8,300-seat capacity Steel Arena.

Italy upset Austria 4-3 to stay among ice hockey elites

By Xinhua.net

In a battle between the two bottom teams from Group B at the ice hockey worlds, Italy upset Austria 4-3 in a shootout on Monday and relegated their opponents from the elite category.

Italy’s first and only win in the group means they will stay in the top pool for next season. Austria is leaving for Division 1 after three years.

Italy was the first to strike after Anthony Bardaro’s highlight move around a defender and the shot that went past David Kickert’s glove. Austria tied the scores with Manuel Ganahl scoring on a rebound 90 seconds later and Michael Raffl added another goal in the first period to lift Austria to 2-1 lead.

Italy responded with the same tactic in the second period. Simon Kostner tied things up from the slot and Marco Rosa put Italy in the 3-2 lead.

Raffl’s second of the night tied the game up again, and after the goalless overtime, a shootout drama had to determine the winner and the team to get relegated.

Italy’s Sean McMonagle became the hero in the seventh round of the shootout with a nice backhand deke to put the game away at 4-3.

It was the last game at the 2019 worlds for both teams.

Ben Davies hits sudden-death winner as Great Britain pull off remarkable comeback against France in overtime

Great Britain made domestic ice hockey history in Slovakia on Monday as they beat France

By Paul Newman – MailOnline

Great Britain made domestic ice hockey history in Slovakia on Monday when they dramatically fought back from three down against France to win 4-3 in overtime and stay at the top level of the World Championships.

Ben Davies, the Welshman who plays for Guildford Flames, hit the sudden death winner in the extra period as GB defied all the odds and expectations to defeat a vastly more experienced French side in what amounted to a relegation play-off.

GB, playing at the elite level of the game for the first time in 25 years, had earned successive promotions to be in Kosice but it looked as though they were heading straight back down after losing their first six games against some of the best teams in the world.

And their last chance to pull off one of the greatest achievements in the history of the British game looked over when they crashed to a three-goal deficit against a France team who have specialised in survival during their long stay at the highest level.

But Britain showed immense character to claw it back to parity, with Sheffield defenceman Ben O’Connor brilliant in assisting on all three goals, and netminder Ben Bowns again in superlative form, before Davies broke clear to hit the winner.

‘It’s pretty surreal right now,’ said Davies. ‘We were three down and everything seemed against us but it’s not our character to give up and we stuck with it.

‘Things started going our way and the goals started to go in while Bowns was incredible. I’ve never scored a bigger goal than that and I’ll remember it forever.’

Britain made a strong start and had their chances to take the lead in a goalless first period, with Davies, Mike Hammond and the impressive Liam Kirk, making his biggest impression yet in the tournament, all missing good chances.

And they were made to pay for their profligacy when the strong French side powered to a three-goal advantage midway through the second period.

Kirk, the first English born and bred player to be drafted by an NHL club, and Davies had both had further efforts saved by France netminder Florian Hardy before Anthony Rech finally found a way through the defences of Bowns.

Britain then had their worst spell of the match and it was while O’Connor was serving a minor penalty that Florian Chakiachvili added a second on the power-play. Six seconds later the game looked over when Rech added a third straight from the face-off.

But GB coach Pete Russell, who will leave his club position at Glasgow for a head coach role in Germany after this tournament, immediately called a time-out which served to re-energise his side and they came storming back.

O’Connor is Britain’s outstanding offensive defenceman and it was his intervention and pass that set up Sheffield’s Robert Dowd for a neatly taken first goal and GB were right back in it when O’Connor again assisted Manchester’s Mike Hammond for his fourth goal of the tournament.

GB were in dreamland when Robert Farmer, the Nottingham forward who scored the dramatic late goal that earned Britain their surprise promotion in Budapest last year, tied the game with another assist by O’Connor.

That took this thriller into the extra period of three on three ice hockey and Bowns, who has made more saves in this tournament than any other goalie in World Championships history, made two more breathtaking stops before Davies settled it.

Now GB, who were immediately relegated when they were last at this level in 1994, can look forward to a second campaign at the highest level in Switzerland next year and a number of their players, not least Bowns, are likely to receive club offers from bigger leagues than Britain after announcing themselves on the world stage.

Texier making history

French forward Alexandre Texier celebrates after scoring his first IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship goal in the game against Slovakia

By Andrew Podnieks – IIHF.com

Twelve came before him. Twelve players who have appeared in an NHL game were born in France. Three were really Canadian – Maxime Sauve, Paul MacLean, Pat Daley – so the true number is nine.

The most famous are surely Philippe Bozon and Cristobal Huet. Andre Peloffy is retired, and six are active – Stephane DaCosta, Antoine Roussel, Xavier Ouellet, Pierre-Edouard Bellemare, Yohann Auvitu, Kalle Kossila.

And then there is Alexandre Texier. As of 5 April 2019, he is lucky number 13. Born in Grenoble, the 19-year-old is already important in French hockey because he is the first from his country to be drafted out of the domestic league, the Ligue Magnus.

Two years ago, the Columbus Blue Jackets selected him 45th overall, and since then his career has taken off.

“It’s great for the French league, but for me I just want to play in the NHL,” Texier began. “It’s great for the young guys in France. You have to follow your dream. But you have to work hard, no matter how much talent you have.”

Texier played for the Grenoble Bruleurs de Loups, the same team his father played for 30 years ago. But after being drafted he moved to Finland to accelerate his development. He put on weight and gained strength and worked on skills and every aspect of his game.

I didn’t expect anything about the draft. I was just playing in the French league, trying my best, and good things happened. I enjoyed that moment, but it’s only one step.
Alexandre Texier
French forward

For two years Texier played for KalPa Kuopio, scoring 63 points in 108 games between 2017 and 2019. He led the team in scoring in that second year, and after the season that’s when things started to take off.

Because the European regular season finishes much earlier than the NHL, Columbus signed him just a couple of months ago and assigned him to their AHL team, the Cleveland Monsters. It was a welcome, but completely unexpected, promotion.

“I started the year in Finland and just wanted to get better with every game,” Texier said. “I didn’t have any special expectations, just play a physical game. I didn’t want to think too much.”

Whatever adjustments he may have had to deal with – smaller ice, more physical game, new culture – he made them immediately. In seven games with the Monsters, he scored five goals.

“I cannot compare between Finland and the AHL,” he continued. “It’s different hockey. There are a lot of young guys in the AHL, so I tried to keep things simple.”

Impressed, GM Jarmo Kekalainen called him up to the big club, and on 5 April he was in the line-up for a road game against the Rangers at Madison Square Garden in New York. The team won, 3-2, in a shootout, and Texier had 11:49 of ice time.

A day later, in Ottawa, he scored his first goal. It came on a two-on-one, and it was an international goal. That is, Dane Oliver Bjorkstrand made the pass to the Frenchman Texier, who ripped a nice shot past Swedish goalie Anders Nilsson.

“I was so happy to play in that first game,” he smiled. “My family was there, and the next game I scored. The puck is on my wall now. It was a great experience for me.”

Texier relishes his past and is proud of what he’s done, but it’s clear his ambitions are far greater. What’s done is done, and it’s the future to which he sets his sights. That means keeping France in the top level of the World Championship, and becoming an even better player in the NHL next season.

“It was a great year for me this year,” he said, “so I’m happy, but now I’m here at this World Championship and this is my focus. The work comes first, if you want to play in the NHL. This is the first step for me, but it’s going to be hard. I have to prepare and be ready for next year. I have to be way better, on the ice and off the ice. I have to work on my shot, on my skills, my physical game, everything. This is just the beginning.”

Latvia lifted by NHL rookies

Latvia’s Rudolfs Balcers and Teodors Blugers after the 3-0 win over Italy

By Andy Pottts – IIHF.com

For the Latvian national team, adding NHL talent to the roster is always a big deal. The Baltic nation punches above its weight in international hockey and when representatives of its relatively small player pool get to make it in the big league, it can bring a huge lift for the whole team.

So this year, with two youngsters making their NHL debuts, there’s a sense of excitement in the Latvian camp. Rudolfs Balcers (Ottawa Senators) and Teodors Blugers (Pittsburgh Penguins) have picked up favourable notices across the Atlantic – and made an impressive start to life in Bratislava.

Balcers was the immediate impact guy. Just like last season, he got Latvia’s first goal in the championship, responding quickly after Austria snatched the lead against the run of play in Saturday’s opening game. And his evening got even better with three assists as Latvia moved to a 5-2 victory. Further helpers in the 1-3 loss to Switzerland and Monday’s 3-0 win over Italy took him to 6 (1+5) points for the championship and kept him in touch with the tournament scoring leaders.

Then there was Blugers, better known as Teddy in Pittsburgh, who had two assists in that opening game despite recovering from a leg injury that restricted his training in the build-up to the championship. The pair started off on a line with team captain Lauris Darzins and looked impressive, although the decision to separate them for the Swiss game did not pay off so handsomely. However, head coach Bob Hartley was in no doubt about their importance to his team.

“Balcers is a magician with the puck,” he said of the 22-year-old. “He finds the puck and the puck seems to find him. He was a real strength for us against Austria, along with Ronalds Kenins and Rodrigo Abols.”

As for Blugers, 24, Hartley added: “He’s a great two-way centre and he’s growing into a great professional with Pittsburgh. He understands the importance of the defensive game but offensively he is much more skilled than most.”

Balcers impressed last season as Latvia reached the quarter-finals in Denmark and he immediately looked comfortable back on the World Stage. His six-point haul from 2018 made him the team’s leading scorer, but that mark is already under threat with five from two games in Bratislava. However, he remains modest in assessing his progress after a big year in his fledgling career.

“There some things I got better at, at least I think so, but there’s still stuff I’ve got to work on,” he said. “That’s true in this tournament too. It’s just the start, I’m trying to get the feel for the game and try to get better every time.”

Certainly, a return to Europe’s larger ice is doing no harm for the forward. “You get the puck and you have that little bit more time, you can make that extra play or hold on for a second. That’s maybe the biggest difference. But I don’t know if it’s simpler, a lot depends who you play too.”

Others are happier to blow Balcers’ trumpet for him. Kenins, who picked up a goal off a feed from the Senators rookie, was delighted to work with a player who reads the game so well. “He’s a great player,” he said. “I just needed to make a sound and he saw me in the slot and picked me out there.”

Back in Ottawa, coach Guy Boucher has spoken of his man’s ability to adapt, citing the way Balcers learned from a juddering experience in his first road game and bounced back the following night to counter the physicality of the NHL.

And Blugers is also a fan of his fellow rookie. “He’s a very good player. His game always consists of finding opportunities. He can get away one-on-one and he can see the game very well. I think he was our best player against Austria.”

As for his own progress, Blugers insisted that there were no ill-effects from that injury – and more than 22 minutes on the ice suggests that the youngster is fully fit and raring to go. Hartley is keen to get as much use as possible from him. “He has a good face-off and he can also play power play and penalty kill. It’s important for us that he’s recovered from his injury.”

Hockey night in Oman

By Lookout

It was April 27, a Saturday night, when HMCS Regina was alongside in Muscat, Oman, for a port visit during Operation Artemis.

While many Canadians were watching playoff hockey on Hockey Night in Canada back at home, HMCS Regina had their own version going on: Hockey Night in Oman.

Oman is known for its beautiful beaches and hot weather. But ice hockey? Not so much. Yet to our surprise, ice hockey not only exists in Oman, but is alive and well.

In over 30 degree heat, HMCS Regina’s hockey team made their way to an ice hockey rink called “Fun Zone” in Muscat to play against an expat team called the Wadi Dogs, and the Oman national ice hockey team, the Khanjars.

The game was organized by PO2 Tom Orlowski, a Marine Technician onboard Regina, and Aaron Grimley, a member of the expat team in Muscat. It was thanks to Mr. Grimley that Regina had the privilege to play against the Oman national team.

The Oman national hockey team was founded in 2014, but it originally started because of the Canadian expat community in Oman.

“Back in 2008, we saw a group of Canadians playing here once a week,” said Ibrahim Galadiri, a player on the Oman national team. “We bought some hockey equipment and decided to join them, and day by day we got more players. We decided to make our own team, and then the government decided to support us in 2014.”

The team is an associate member of the International Ice Hockey Federation, plays against other Gulf countries, and participates annually in the Challenge Cup of Asia.

“It’s fantastic to see how hockey has grown around the world,” said LS Eric Johnston during intermission. “To play in Oman in the Middle East, it’s amazing.”

“I never imagined in my life that I would be playing hockey anywhere else but Canada,” added LS Evan Lawrence. “Playing hockey while on operation in Oman, I think that’s pretty cool.”

Regina lost 5-3 against the Oman national team, and 7-2 against the Wadi Dogs expat team.

Regina’s hockey team looks forward to returning to Oman one day to continue building upon the newly formed relationships between the Wadi Dogs and the Khanjars. At a time when the world seems to want to create a further divide between people, cultures, and religions – that was not the case during Hockey Night in Oman.

“We can use sports to bridge relations between two different nations,” said PO2 Orlowski. “Sports bring people together.”

Regina is currently on Operation Artemis, the Canadian Armed Forces’ ongoing contribution to counter-terrorism and maritime security operations in the Middle Eastern and East African waters. 

Liam Kirk is the 19-year-old who could put British hockey on the map

Nineteen-year-old Liam Kirk and his Great Britain teammates will open play in Group A against Germany on May 11 at the Ice Hockey World Championships in Slovakia

By Emily Kaplan – ESPN

GROWING UP IN Maltby, England, Liam Kirk dreamed of playing for the Sheffield Steelers, the local professional hockey team.

Though there were a few rinks nearby, ice time for hockey teams was scarce. Kirk’s junior team played only 19 games a season and trained just once a week. He often practiced outside his house with rollerblades. At 17, Kirk made the Steelers and began playing among grown men. The forward was tall and thin but had soft hands and a quick release, and international scouts took notice. That’s when Kirk realized there was an even bigger hockey world out of his purview. “Everything after that is kind of a whirlwind,” Kirk says. “My new dream was to make the NHL.”

Last June, Kirk was selected by the Arizona Coyotes, in the seventh round, to become the first English-born-and-trained player to be drafted into the NHL. At 5 a.m. the day after being drafted, Kirk was on a plane to Phoenix to participate in the Coyotes’ development camp. He spent this past fall living with a billet family in Peterborough, Ontario, as he played for the Petes of the Ontario Hockey League, one of the top junior leagues in North America where he could compete with some of the best players in his age group.

Living in Canada, Kirk was in awe of hockey’s popularity. “You don’t get questions like I did growing up, like, ‘Oh, you play ice hockey?'” he says. “The passion was so present. There are rinks everywhere. You walk around, you see hockey; you turn on the TV, you see hockey.”

When the season was over in March, Kirk returned home and trained with the national team to prepare for the Ice Hockey World Championships (May 10-26). Now the 19-year-old has an even bigger dream: “I want to help put British hockey on the map.” Kirk’s North American exposure means he could be the talent who raises the profile of hockey in Great Britain. He could also give young British players hope — and a new dream to strive for. And the Worlds will be his first test toward achieving all of that.

In regular-season play with the Peterborough Petes, Kirk scored 26 goals, the third-highest tally on the team. The top scorer had 29

GREAT BRITAIN IS competing in the top division of the World Championships for the first time since 1994. In the tournament, Team GB will be in a group with world superpowers such as Canada and the United States, meaning it will face NHL superstars like Patrick Kane, Jack Eichel and John Tavares.

The Brits won promotion last spring by winning the World Championship Division A in Hungary. That team’s slogan? “Livin’ the Dream,” a mantra it will take to Slovakia.

“I think there’s a lot of pessimistic people in the UK, who believe now that Great Britain is in the top flight, they’re going to come down,” says Andy French, Ice Hockey UK’s general secretary. “Great Britain isn’t a hockey country. It’s a football country, it’s a rugby country, it’s a cricket country. But I think we might surprise a few people. What they don’t realize is, we’ve been building up for a while, and everything is going in the right direction.”

The most noticeable change: Of the 23 players on the 1994 roster, 15 of them were dual nationals, mostly Canadian. Now? There are only five dual nationals on the roster — and the rest are purely homegrown. What’s more: Kirk is the only player who doesn’t play in the UK’s Elite Ice Hockey League (where the Sheffield Shields play), a testament to that league’s growth.

The men’s national team won bronze at the 1924 Olympics and gold in 1936, but the sport never really took off the way it did in other European countries — mostly due to the lack of available ice and popularity of other sports. When Great Britain qualified for the 1994 World Championships, it was its first appearance since 1951, but it failed to even earn a point.

At the World Championships, Great Britain will compete in the top division for the first time since 1994.

There have been encouraging signs recently. French says youth hockey numbers are growing year to year at approximately 80 to 100 registrations among males and females. The country is at around 12,000 registered players across all age levels, including university and recreational men and women. (For context, Finland, a country with less than a 10th of the UK’s population, has more than 70,000 registered players.)

Once the Great Britain men’s senior national team qualified for the World Championships last spring, interest spiked. Companies began calling. “We managed, for the first time in the history of the team, to secure major sponsorships throughout the GB program,” French says. “Not only for the men, but for the U18 and women’s team, too.” The company Lucas is the main sponsor, and will have patches on the team’s sweater. Ice Tech UK is the team’s helmet sponsor.

Even Kirk landed a personal deal with the travel pillow company Trtl — something rare for a seventh-round pick playing in juniors, who is probably still a long shot for the NHL.

Team GB is one of the few ice hockey federations that has a fan support club; French has been assisting fans with travel and ticket allocation for Slovakia. He says there will be close to 1,000 fans on site to cheer on the Brits.

PETER RUSSELL WAS appointed as the men’s national team coach in 2015 and created a five-year plan to bring the team back to relevancy. He achieved it in four.

It helps that Russell came up through the ranks, coaching the country’s U18 team, then U20.

“There’s no pressure on [the team],” French says. “We’re coming in obviously as the underdog. We are ranked 22 in the world, even though we are in the top 16 obviously at the World Championship. So we’re just going to take them as it comes and see what happens. We’re really just living the dream.”

Still, the team has its work cut out. “Our main goal is to stay in the group,” assistant coach Adam Keefe said. Keefe is a Canadian who came to Northern Ireland in 2011 to play for the Belfast Giants, and then stayed to coach them when he retired in 2017. His brother is Toronto Marlies coach Sheldon Keefe.

“Pete has the mentality that we’re not going to change our style now that we’re playing up,” Keefe says. “We’re aggressive; we’re a work-ethic team. It’s going to be tough to skate with these teams, but we’ll have to be an extreme work-ethic team [to] make sure these teams have to beat us. Our guys have a lot of pride in their nation and in their group. Any time you have that buy-in, you have a chance. Sure, we’re going to need a little luck, but we have something special here.”

The tournament is an international showcase for Team GB, but also a passing of the guard. “Liam Kirk is obviously the future of this team, but Colin Shields is the highest-scoring British national team player. He’s 39,” Keefe says. “He just retired from my team [the Belfast Giants], and he’s played 19 years for this nation and now he gets the chance to play at the highest level. So you have the youth coming in and the veteran leadership going out.”

Shields, born in Scotland, played for the University of Maine and was drafted by the Philadelphia Flyers in the sixth round of the 2000 draft, but he never made it past the ECHL in North America before returning to the UK.

There are other players with UK roots sprinkled in North America. One of them is Chicago Blackhawks forward Brendan Perlini, who was born in England and lived there until he was 11 before moving to Canada. Perlini has played for Canada internationally, but his brother Brett is on Team GB for the World Championships.

If Team GB gets a smidge of success in the World Championships, Perlini figures it could be huge for the growth of ice hockey. “I know how patriotic they are with football — the whole country is behind them,” Perlini says. “Then you have someone like Mo Farah, the long-distance runner, everyone loves him. Anyone who does decently there is important. If [Team GB does] well in this tournament, it’s a huge step for them.”

Adds French: “This is a huge moment for British hockey and really important for hockey in the UK. All the little kiddies, they obviously look up to the NHL players. But they’re actually going to see Great Britain players — that they can see domestically, week in and week out — play against NHL superstars, and that will make them seem like superstars.”

And maybe inspire some new hockey dreams. After all, it’s hard to dream what you can’t see.

Russia wins Euro Hockey Tour

By Henrik Lundqvist – Eurohockey.com

Russia won the Euro Hockey Tour 2018-19. The top spot of the combined standings of the four EHT tournaments was secured already before today’s 4-1 win over Czech Republic.

After two poor games with losses to Sweden and Finland Russia finally got ends to meet and beat the Czech home team 4-1 in Brno.

Tonight it was the line with Yevgeny Kuznetsov (2+2), Alexander Ovechkin (0+3) and Kirill Kaprizov (1+1) that made the difference. and Andrei Vasilevsky in te Russian net made 23 saves.

The World Championship starts on Friday in Slovakia. Russia will play Norway on the opening day while Czech Republic will play Sweden.

Total EHT 2018/19

# Club G W W-OT L-OT L Score P
1 Russia 12 6 2 0 4 41:37 22
2 Finland 12 5 1 2 4 27:28 19
3 Sweden 12 5 0 2 5 29:37 17
4 Czech Republic 12 4 1 0 7 30:34 14

Romania to Div. IA!

Romania celebrates winning a place in next year´s Division IA with Attila Goga (front right) trying to come to terms with their sensational performances in Tallinn.

By Henrik Manninen – IIHF.com

Dubbed as one of the main contenders for relegation at the start of the tournament, Romania had other plans as they roared to a sensational gold at the 2019 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship Division I Group B in Tallinn, Estonia.

Romania beat the Netherlands 3-1 in their final game at Tondiraba Ice Hall to surge through the tournament undefeated and take a significant leap upstairs in the international world of hockey.

Power-play goals by Gergo Biro and Attila Goga put Romania two goals in front against the Netherlands. It was to be a lead they never relinquished. Outshooting the Netherlands 32-15, Balasz Peter lobbed Romania’s third in the empty net with 44 seconds to go.

The win sees Romania climb up to the 2020 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship Division I Group A. Winning gold also means Romania will jump up on the IIHF Men’s World Ranking and reach heights they have not been at since 1995 when they were 20th overall in the World Championship program.

“This is incredible for us. We came here to try and stay in the group and here we are, winning all five games,” said Romania’s Daniel Tranca, voted Best Player of the Game against the Netherlands and played an integral part in the turnaround in fortunes in a team that last year survived in Division IB during the last day.

It’s euphoric, I cannot really describe it. I still don´t really believe that next year we will be in the Division IA.

Roberto Gliga
Romanian captain

“We had higher expectations going into this tournament than last year, but we honestly did not expect to promote,” said Gliga.

Having opened their sensational gold winning campaign in Tallinn by beating Estonia on penalty shots (4-3), they then downed Japan (3-2) which was followed up by an overtime win against Poland (3-2). Romania rolled on to topple Ukraine (5-1) before brushing aside the Dutch (3-1)

“We took it game by game. We have a really good group and knew if we kept on playing really good defensively and be efficient we had a chance. The key game was against Poland. They were the big favourites and after beating them, we knew we had to do whatever it takes to win our final games,” said Gliga.

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