Year: 2020

Japan storms to gold

Japanese captain Yuto Gondaira and his teammates celebrate with the golden trophy after winning the 2020 IIHF Ice Hockey U20 World Championship Division II Group A in Lithuania

By Henrik Manninen – IIHF.com

Japan’s dazzling skills and lightning speed brightened up a grey and rainy week in Lithuania’s capital Vilnius, as they raced through the 2020 IIHF Ice Hockey U20 World Championship Division II Group A with an unblemished record.

In front of a full house of 2,387 at the Pramogu Arena, Japan defeated hosts Lithuania 5-2 during the final game of the tournament to secure the gold medals and promotion to the 2021 IIHF Ice Hockey U20 World Championship Division I Group B.

Japan’s first line led the way against Lithuania, with centreman Teruto Nakajima flanked by forwards Yu Sato and Chikara Hanzawa notching three points each. Nakajima was also the tournament’s top scorer with 5+8 in five games while Hanzawa – voted Best Forward of the tournament – followed closely on 7+5.

Earlier in the U20 Division IIA, Japan had opened their promotion campaign by beating Great Britain 6-3 before blanking both Romania and Spain 8-0 and then scoring double digits against Serbia in a 10-2 win. Being in a class of their own in Vilnius, Japan found the back of the net on 37 occasions while conceding only seven in five games.

Netminder Eiki Sato was selected as the Best Goaltender of the tournament, aided by solid defending that saw Japan go through a spell of 134:23 minutes without conceding a goal.

Heading into their Sunday night showdown against hosts Lithuania, Japan needed a single point to finish top. Lithuania, on the other hand, required a regular-time win to leapfrog Great Britain and Japan and get their hands on the gold medals.

The new President of Lithuania, Gitanas Nauseda, had barely taken his seat next to Dainius Zubrus, Lithuania’s hockey president and legend, up on the tribune before Japan had opened the scoring. 17-year-old Yu Sato saw his effort find a way past an unlucky Nikita Kuzminov and into Lithuania’s net after just 13 seconds.

Buoyed by their dream start, Japan soon after staved off a two-minute minor penalty as Lithuania battled energetically with high forechecking in an attempt to put pressure on Japan’s build up play. Heading into the halfway stage of the first frame, Japan doubled their lead as Rioto Takeya snapped a shot from the right boards through traffic fooling Kuzminov after 9:28.

Backed by a sea and yellow and black up the stands supporting their home favourites, Lithuania’s uphill struggle became steeper with 4:11 left to play of the first frame. Yu Sato charged in towards the net from the left side with Hanzawa stabbing home the puck to stretch their lead of 3-0. Lithuania’s head coach Doug Boulanger reacted as Kuzminov in Lithuania’s net was replaced with the more experienced Laurynas Lubys entering the fold.

“This was the hardest game for us in this tournament,” said Japan’s head coach Teruhiko Okita. “Lithuania is an offensive team with good players and there were also a lot of people coming to watch the game which many of our players are not used to,” he continued.

With Lithuania now having to chase the game, they matched Japan evenly for long spells of the second period. Shots were tied 9-9 but once again it was the Japanese who capitalized. Thanks to a brilliant piece of combination of skill and quick transition, Hanzawa picked out Yu Sato, who flew down the left wing and ripped a wrister high past Lubys for his second of the evening to silence the home crowd.

But this crop of Lithuanian youngsters was to show great resilience as they refused to wilt down. Heading into the third frame, they got a lifeline when Timonas Mazulis was picked out by Martynas Grinius in front of Japan’s net to pull one back for Lithuania at 48:08. The roles were reversed with 6:58 left to play of the frame. Japan’s Yuto Taneichi serving a tripping minor and Grinius scored on a rebound by Eiki Sato to send the home crowd back to their feet with “Lietuva! Lietuva!” ringing out from the stands.

Japan’s head coach Okita took a time-out to cool heads and despite Lithuania frantically trying to claw themselves back into the game, any faint hopes of a comeback were crushed with 2:09 left of the game when Nakajima hit the final nail in the coffin with his 5-2 goal.

“We played well during the first and second period. Then in the third they came back, but we took a time-out and once again talked about what we needed to do,” said Japan’s Hanzawa as he singled out the key-component in Japan’s recipe for success in Vilnius. “All our guys play for the team. We are not selfish, but always playing for each other as a hard working team.”

Half of the current crop of players skating to gold in Lithuania will be eligible for Japan at the 2021 IIHF Ice Hockey U20 World Championship Division I Group B. Meanwhile nine out of 22 will be available play for them during the 2020 IIHF Ice Hockey U18 World Championship Division I Group A playing in Spisska Nova Ves, Slovakia between 13-19 April this year as Japanese hockey aims for a place at the Olympic Winter Games in 2026 and 2030.

Behind the runaway winners, Great Britain improved on last year’s third spot by finishing with the silver medals, despite the omission of Arizona Coyotes draft pick Liam Kirk.

Following their two defeats against Great Britain and Japan, hosts Lithuania had to settle for bronze, while newly promoted Serbia, who could have gotten something out of four out of their five games in Vilnius, finished winless to return straight back to Division IIB.

Ukraine to Debut in Women’s World Championship

For the first time ever, the Ukrainian Women’s National Team will compete in an IIHF Women’s World Championship in February 2020

By Nathaniel Oliver – Hockey Writers

The Ukrainian Women’s National Hockey Team will be playing in an actual IIHF World Championship for the first time ever. Nearly a year ago, the Ukrainians competed in the 2019 Division II B qualification tournament. Going up against South Africa, Belgium, Hong Kong and Bulgaria, the Ukrainians allowed a mere five goals through four games and went undefeated.

This was a victory that we had to make,” said Ukrainian defender Maryna Kobchuk. “We cried, we rejoiced, and we congratulated each other.”

Completing that successful qualification run, the team will now head to Akureyri, Iceland at the end of February. From Feb. 23 through 29, they will partake in the
2020 IIHF Women’s World Championship Division II B.
This is something that Kobchuk – who will turn 21 years old on Jan. 15 – has been working to achieve since the age of 15 when she first began organized hockey.

“It will be difficult – but our team is ready,” Kobchuk said. “Listening to our coaches’ assignments is critical. This group of teams that we will be going up against includes Turkey, Iceland, Croatia, Australia and New Zealand.”

Building Skill and Chemistry With HK Ukrainochka

Kobchuk, along with many of her national teammates, plays for HK Ukrainochka in her homeland. The Ukrainian Women’s Hockey League is quite small and consists of just three teams – Ukrainochka, Pantery Kharkov, and Avtomobilist Kiev. The league itself came to fruition in 2016, and has been the primary training bed for women’s hockey in this country.

“This past season our team HK Ukrainochka became champions of Ukraine,” Kobchuk smiled. “All of us were very happy to see how far we have come along as a team and as a league.”

Going 6-12-18 in scoring through 12 games this past 2018-19 season, Kobchuk was the second highest scoring defender in the league. She would also be named the league’s Best Defender. Across 36 career games for Ukrainochka, Kobchuk has scored 13 goals, 26 assists and 39 points.

Possessing a left-handed shot, she also has ideal size for a rearguard and skates well in and out of the zone. Kobchuk stands 5-foot-8 and is over 150 pounds. Her solid build is an advantage she is quite comfortable using, and she prefers playing an aggressive, physical game.

Marina Kobchuk earned Best Defender honors for the 2018-19 Ukraine Women’s Hockey League season

Looking Ahead to Iceland

The Ukrainians will bring more firepower to Akureyri than what people may realize. They possess a good amount of depth as well.

The oldest players on the country’s national team are 47-year-old twin sisters Inna Kozub and Elena Vansovich. The 5-foot-4 winger Kozub totaled two points (1G, 1A) in Ukraine’s 5-2 victory over Hong Kong on Jan. 17, 2019. Both women’s experience and motherly presence for this otherwise young squad adds a great deal of reassurance.

32-year-old Olena Tkachuk is one of the team’s top scorers. She went 3-3-6 through the four qualification games. Tkachuk is also a former member of the HK Pantera Minsk of Europe’s prestigious Elite Women’s Hockey League (EWHL). One of her teammates in Minsk was current Metropolitan Riveters forward Kelly Nash.

The Ukrainians’ main sniper is 18-year-old Darya Tsymirenko. She was the Ukrainian Women’s League’s top scorer in 2018-19 with a whopping 39 goals, 17 assists and 56 points in a mere 12 games.

“The women’s team – and this is a fact – has seen each player grow in her own way,” said Kobchuk. “At this time, we have added new, young players – just 16 or 17 years old – who did not play with us last year. Each of these girls has trained with men’s teams.”

The team’s top goaltender is 5-foot-9, 150-pound Viktoria Tkachenko. Through the four qualification games, Tkachenko came out of Cape Town, South Africa possessing the best goals against (1.29) and save percentage (.917). Not surprisingly, she was also named Best Goaltender for the tournament as well.

How Will the Ukrainians Fare?

How the Ukrainians will perform in Iceland remains to be seen. While they are a talented bunch, they are going up against well-established countries, namely the Icelanders and the Australians.

Kobchuk and her teammates know that they are in for a challenge.

Hayton, Thomas star as Canada storms back to beat Russia, win World Juniors

By Frank Seravalli –TSN

Go ahead and etch the name ‘Barrett Hayton’ into Team Canada lore.

Because Hayton authored one of the most incredible chapters in Canada’s rich history at the World Junior Championship on Sunday.

Less than 24 hours earlier, Hayton writhed in pain on the ice with an audible ‘yelp’ so loud that you could hear it across Ostravar Arena. His injury was as unfortunate as it was unnecessary late in a semifinal rout over Finland.

The initial diagnosis from team doctors on Saturday was not positive. He appeared to have a separated shoulder, or some kind of significant shoulder ailment – an injury that almost surely would’ve kept him out of a regular season game on Sunday if he was back playing for the Arizona Coyotes.

Team Canada went to bed thinking Hayton would be a “longshot” to play.

But this was Canada-Russia for all the marbles. This was Hayton’s chance to bring home the medal he couldn’t help deliver last year in Vancouver.

After untold hours of manipulation, therapy, and who-knows-what kind of cocktail to provide relief, Hayton didn’t just suit up for Team Canada.

He scored to bring them back from the brink.

After barely being able to muster a shot in warmup, Hayton blasted a snapshot off the post and in to erase a 3-1 deficit and make Canada whole again.

Believe it.

Fourth-liner Akil Thomas finished the job minutes later, scoring his only goal of the tournament – the golden goal – to crown Canada the 2020 World Junior Champion with a 4-3 win that won’t soon be forgotten.

For the 18th time, Canada reigned supreme at the World Juniors.

Sunday marked the fifth time Canada (5-4) topped Mother Russia in the final since the gold medal game was first introduced in 1996.

And man did this one feel sweet, especially after the Big Red Machine dealt Canada the country’s most lopsided loss in its sterling, 43-year run at the World Juniors. Russia has not won gold since 2011.

Maybe in some ways, Sunday played out exactly as it had to for this Team Canada. Because there were no easy roads in Ostrava.

Any one of the five or six incidents that Canada went through – physically or mentally – at this 12-day grind of a tournament might have broken a lesser team. 

They were embarrassed in a 6-0 blowout to Russia, 18-year-old star Alexis Lafreniere left with what appeared to be a serious injury, their captain Hayton nearly caused an international incident at centre ice when he failed to remove his helmet, and Joe Veleno earned a one-game suspension for headbutting … and that was just Day 3.

Coach Dale Hunter switched netminders from Nico Daws to Joel Hofer. He shuffled the lines when sniper Nolan Foote was ejected 53 seconds into the quarterfinal against Slovakia. Then Canada leaned on 17-year-old defenceman Jamie Drysdale in the quarterfinal when top pair blueliner Bowen Byram fell ill.

Through it all, Canada kept climbing. All the way to the top.

Their heart was on full display, embodied by the captain when Hayton stepped onto the ice for warmups in the gold medal game.

“It means a lot,” Dylan Cozens said. “We saw how he went down in that last game, but he’s putting that behind him and just working for the boys. He’s putting it all out on the line and that’s leadership right there. He’s playing through pain. We’re really proud of him.”

Hayton made an entire country proud, showing what it means to be Canadian.

He admitted his mistake and apologize for keeping his helmet on. He played through an immense amount of pain, leading Canada to gold on adrenaline.

As the red Maple Leaf raised to the rafters, it produced a feeling of ecstasy and a memory that will last longer than any pain felt.

 

Sweden edges Finland for bronze

By Lucas Aykroyd – IIHF.com

Sweden trailed after the first period but bounced back to beat Finland 3-2 in the 2020 IIHF World Junior Championship bronze medal game on Sunday.

Samuel Fagemo stepped up with a goal and an assist, and Rasmus Sandin and Linus Oberg, with the second-period winner, also scored for Sweden.

Patrik Puistola and Matias Maccelli replied for Finland.

In net, Sweden’s Hugo Alnefelt and Finland’s Justus Annunen went head to head again. The two Nordic countries kicked off the tournament in Trinec on 26 December and Alexander Holtz’s overtime goal spoiled Annunen’s 45-save performance in a 3-2 Swedish win. Deja vu.

Sunday’s selection of starting goalies indicated that both Swedish coach Tomas Monten and Finnish coach Raimo Helminen took this third-place showdown seriously. Sweden was coming off a heartbreaking 5-4 overtime loss to Russia in the semi-finals, while Finland’s reign as champion ended after falling 5-0 to Canada.

This was Sweden’s first bronze medal since Saskatoon 2010 under coach Par Marts. The Swedes now have six bronzes all-time. Monten, with four tries, now has another medal to go with 2018’s silver in Buffalo.

Despite outshooting Sweden 34-26, the Finns failed to medal in consecutive years for the first time since they followed up 2001’s silver with three bronzes in a row.

ABBA once released a greatest hits collection called ABBA Gold, but never one called ABBA Bronze. But you can bet that if they had, it would still have been pretty good, similar to this game. It provided an entertaining, back-and-forth gold medal game warm-up for the heavily Canadian crowd of 7,954, despite brimming with penalties.

Puistola drew first blood at 8:22 when Kim Nousiainen pivoted to center the puck from the left faceoff circle, and it went in off Puistola’s right skate for his team-leading fifth goal of these World Juniors. The Swedes called for a video review, but it was quickly ruled good.

Nousiainen was off for holding when the Juniorkronorna drew even at 12:08. Sandin, who had four points in the 5-4 overtime loss to Russia in the semi-finals, added his third goal and 10th point overall on a rising wrister from the high slot that hit Annunen’s water bottle.

After the teams exchanged fruitless power plays, Maccelli picked off Nils Hoglander’s cross-ice pass at the Swedish blue line and beelined in to beat Alnefelt high to the blocker side with one minute left in the first.

In the second period, the Swedes seemed unfazed by Maccelli’s goal, but couldn’t buy a goal in the first half. Albin Eriksson rang one off the cross bar. Finally, Fagemo (who else?) busted to the net on an odd-man rush and converted the rebound at 10:34 after Annunen had denied Hoglander with his glove. It was the Los Angeles prospect’s tournament-leading eighth goal.

At 13:19, Oberg put Sweden up 3-2 with a goal Annunen would like to have had back. His bad-angle shot from the corner hit the surprised Finnish goalie’s left skate and went in.

Helminen’s team put itself behind the eight-ball with three consecutive minors in the third. The Finns tried to push back with under 10 minutes left in regulation and Philip Broberg off for holding the stick, but there was nothing doing.

With Annunen pulled for the extra attacker, Alnefelt made a game-saving glove stop on Finnish captain Lassi Thomson with seven seconds left.

While three of Finland’s five all-time World Junior gold medals came in the 2010’s, the Swedes still have only two titles (1981, 2012), and they’d enjoy adding another one instead of continuing to hear about their record-setting streak of 52 preliminary-round wins.

Both of these elite nations will be looking to take it to the top at the 2021 IIHF World Junior Championship in Edmonton and Red Deer, Alberta.

Stutzle leading next generation of German hockey talent

By Canadian Press

Like most kids in Germany, Tim Stutzle started out playing soccer.

He liked tennis, too, and fell in love with both. There was also another itch that needed scratching — hockey.

And like his Canadian, American, Russian, Swedish and Finnish counterparts, Stutzle eventually had to decide which one to pursue more seriously.

It looks like he made the right choice.

Stutzle heads the sport’s next wave of high-end German talent on display at the world junior hockey championship, one that hopes to follow in the footsteps of Edmonton Oilers star Leon Draisaitl.

Set to turn 18 in the middle of January, Stutzle is already excelling in his country’s domestic league against men, causing him to rocket up mock NHL draft boards.

And with scouts and general managers having made their yearly pilgrimage to the under-20 tournament, Stutzle hasn’t disappointed. The forward has five assists in five games, runs his team’s power play and is an assassin-like threat every time he touches the puck.

There’s constant chatter that comes with draft hype — a top-10 selection seems likely at this point — but at least for now, those around Stutzle have been impressed with how his feet have stayed firmly on the ground.

“It’s unbelievable the way he’s dealing with that,” German head coach Tobias Abstreiter said. “He’s a very good character guy. He knows what’s important. It doesn’t affect him.

“At this age, it’s very impressive.”

Polite and soft-spoken, Stutzle doesn’t like discussing himself. He’s allowed his play on the ice at an event where many teammates and opponents are two years his senior tell the story.

“It’s a big honour there are so many people talking about me, but we need to settle down maybe a little bit,” said Stutzle, who has five goals and 23 points in 25 games with the Mannheim Eagles in 2019-20. “There’s a long season to go. Then the (draft) decision is made by the teams, not by me.”

“He’s a humble kid,” said German captain Moritz Seider, who went No. 6 to Detroit in 2019. “He’s performing every single night. He has to learn a couple things, but he will adjust quick and has a bright future.”

While the likes Canada’s star and projected No. 1 pick Alexis Lafreniere have grabbed a lot of attention at the world juniors — and rightly so — whichever team winds up taking Stutzle, who has some on-ice traits similar to shifty New York Islanders centre Mathew Barzal, won’t be disappointed.

“Really good young player,” said Canadian assistant Andre Tourigny, also coach of the Ontario Hockey League’s Ottawa 67’s. “He’s fast, he’s tough, he has some creativity. I really like his game.”

But the six-foot, 187-pound Stutzle, who plays on a line in Mannheim with former NHLer Ben Smith, is just one of Germany’s young talents turning heads. He’s been skating with fellow draft-eligible 17 year olds John-Jason Peterka and Lukas Reichel — the nephew of former NHL player Robert Reichel — combining for six goals and 14 points in Ostrava.

Abstreiter said that while sometimes the stars align for a generation of players, credit also needs to go to the country’s hockey federation, which won a surprise silver at the 2018 non-NHL Olympics, and pro clubs for nurturing the talent.

“When extraordinary players get trust and confidence from their teams at home, they can evolve and they can improve and perform at a higher level, and learn a lot,” said Abstreiter, who suited up for Germany at the 2002 Olympics and the 2004 World Cup. “When young players in the German hockey league get a lot of important ice time, you see the results.

“They pay it back.”

Tourigny, who has a player of his own projected to go high at June’s draft in the form of 67’s centre Marco Rossi, said Stutzle’s path reminds him of another meteoric rise from a smaller hockey nation.

“I remember a few years ago when (Switzerland’s) Nico Hischier had a really good world juniors,” the coach said of the No. 1 selection in 2017. “From there it built up and people talked more and more about him. He’s a good player. It’s a good draft year. If you look at the draft this year, there are some pretty good players.”

The Germans were unlucky to be dropped into a powerhouse Group B here — dubbed “The Group of Death” — with Canada, Russia, the United States and host Czech Republic.

They led the Americans midway through the second period and upset the Czechs for the country’s first victory at the world juniors since the 2014 event, but wound up fifth and have to play a relegation series against Kazakhstan.

Germany, which previously hadn’t qualified for the tournament since 2015, won the opener of the three-game set 4-0 and will look to close things out Saturday to secure a spot next year in Edmonton and Red Deer, Alta.

That’s of course Draisaitl’s backyard, but while Stutzle has tons of respect for the NHL’s second-leading scorer and has been buoyed watching the No. 3 overall pick in 2014 excel, he wants to chart his own path.

“Leon is his own guy,” he said. “I want to be myself.”

The way things are going, there could be a lot more Draisaitls, and eventually Stutzles, on the way.

“German hockey is getting better and better,” he said. “It’s not only soccer, soccer, soccer.

“It’s also hockey.”