Year: 2019 (page 2 of 9)

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.

Kazakhstan and Belarus seal promotion to 2020 IIHF World Championship

Kazakhstan and Belarus will play in next year’s International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) World Championship in Switzerland

The hosts and Belarus are guaranteed to finish in the top two prior to the conclusion of the event at Barys Arena today.

Their places in the top tier of the World Championship were confirmed when South Korea suffered a shock defeat to Lithuania.

South Korea had been chasing promotion but their hopes were ended after they lost 2-1.

Kazakhstan will secure top spot in Division IA if they better Belarus’s result tomorrow.

The home nation play Hungary, while Belarus take on South Korea, who made their IIHF World Championship debut last year before they were immediately relegated.

Kazakhstan beat Belarus 3-2 in overtime in their last group game yesterday.

Today is the last-day at the Division IA. Thank you Kazakhstan🇰🇿 for the great event and thanks to all supporters who came to the arena and travelled to Nur-Sultan to support their teams! 😍🏒🏆 pic.twitter.com/o8lMth2Ojf

— IIHF (@IIHFHockey) May 5, 2019

“We are very happy, congratulations to all Kazakhstan that the team is finally back to the top division,” said Kazakhstan head coach Andrei Skabelka.

“The game against Belarus was the best game we had in this tournament.

“We had many opportunities and a very good start but still the problem that we didn’t capitalise on our chances.

“We want to be better in this aspect.”

Kazakhstan last featured at the IIHF World Championship in 2016, where they finished bottom of Group A and were relegated to Division IA.

Belarus have made an immediate return after they dropped out of the top division at the 2018 tournament in Denmark.

Switzerland is due to host the 2020 IIHF World Championship, with matches set to be held in Zurich and Lausanne.

Gold-medal celebration on ice for Israel hockey

THE ISRAEL MEN’S national team poses on the ice following its gold-medal winning performance this week in Mexico City at the IIHF World Championship Division II Group B tournament

By Johua Halickman – The Jerusalem Post

Union with North American foundation leads to blue-and-white international success.

Israel isn’t normally thought of as a ice hockey hotbed, but this past week the Israel national team won the gold medal in the IIHF World Championship Division II Group B tournament held in Mexico City.

The accomplishment made headlines around the world as the blue-and-white flag was raised with pride to the rafters and Hatikvah was sung at full strength.

The Israel Ice Hockey Federation has been around for years, but just this January it joined with the Israel Hockey Foundation of North America, led by Executive Director Stacey Pressman.

“The official launch was at the World Championship with the goal of providing leadership, strategic direction, fund development and organizational resources for hockey in Israel and provide the momentum to create positive change through the sport of hockey,” explained an upbeat Pressman.

“As a Jewish Canadian I have always had a love for both hockey and Israel,” said the Montreal native now residing in Pittsburgh. “When my middle daughter was looking for a mitzvah project to celebrate her bat mitzvah, we decided to sponsor a group of young hockey players from Metula and the Canada-Israel hockey school to visit and train in Pittsburgh for 10 days in 2014.

“This was the beginning of my exposure to Israeli hockey and I have been involved as a spectator and friend ever since. Through a series of events it became clear that a foundation could be created to help and support the federation to grow its programs and help the Israel national team with North American donations and fundraising events.”

The foundation strives to provide opportunities for Israeli youth to travel to North America for hockey training, international competition and player development, while also providing critical resources to the Israel national teams to foster and promote positive hockey role models and national pride for youth in both Israel and North America, in partnership with the Israel Hockey Federation.

“With roughly 1,800 players registered in Israel, winning gold was very important,” noted Pressman. “This medal gives the children training in Israel and abroad hope that they, too, can one day be World Champions! It also brings recognition and exposure for those who may not even know that Israel has a hockey program. We have had a spike in interest in our clubs since the recent success of the men’s team and the U18 team which this year won a silver medal in the Division 3A competition in Sofia, Bulgaria.”

There are 12 native-born Israeli players on the team that participated in New Mexico, while another 10 are from various countries in North America and Europe.

The star of the team was Eliezer Sherbatov, who was born in Rehovot and plays in the Slovakian professional league.

But as Pressman explained, “For the team to be successful we must be great AS A TEAM, and that’s where our focus is, on the team as a whole. We are extremely proud of all of our players who gave everything they had while representing Israel, a tremendous honor.”

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.

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