Month: July 2020

The Estonia Women’s Hockey Team Gathers Again After a 12-Year Break

By EESTI Hoki

On August 1st and 2nd, after a 12-year break, the Estonian Women’s National Team will gather again at  Škoda Ice Arena to start preparations for the IIHF 2021 Women’s Ice Hockey World Championship Division III tournament. Ukraine, Belgium, Romania, Bulgaria, Lithuania, Hong Kong, Bosnia & Herzegovina also will play in the same group.

30 players (3 goalies, 9 defensemen and 18 forwards) have been invited to the camp, all of whom are active players on Estonian ice hockey clubs.

Inguna Lukašēvica, a 45-year-old Latvian, who has a long-term experience as a player on the Latvian national team and a professional coaching career in Latvia and Austria, as well as previous experience with the Austrian U18 team. Lukašēvica Will guide the Estonia Women’s National Team  Division III tournament in March of 2021.

“For the last three seasons, the women have played in the Estonian Hockey Championship and a  total of five teams participated in the Women’s Champions League last season. We have been planning the return of the Estonian women’s hockey team for almost two years. We are pleased to see that although the team has had a long break, there is still a will and desire in our women to represent our country and compete for a good result, and we consider it very important to provide women with a change to be on the team so that both young girls can realize their potential on the ice, I believe that the first year of the team will be challenging, but the first goal is definitely to win Division III  and go to level of Division II in the coming years.

The Estonian women’s hockey team gathered for the first time in 2005, when a meeting was held against the Icelandic team. The game was won with a score of 8: 2.

In 2007 and 2008, the national team has previously participated in the IIHF Ice Hockey World Championships in Division IV. 4th place was achieved in both years.

Although the composition of the women’s team will be announced just before the World Championship tournament, the management of the team is known today.

HC Inguna Lukashevica (LAT) Head coach
AC Ahto Kärnä (FIN) Abitreener
GM Katrin Talvak Manager
EQM Toomas Rebane Technician

Olympic throttling may stunt growth of China’s unexcited hockey ‘culture’

Kids carry team flags at a preseason game between Vancouver and L.A. in Beijing in 2017. Despite some flashy efforts by the NHL to drum up interest, there are only a few thousand players in the world’s most populous country

By Ed Willes – The Province

“The software, building a system, getting kids involved, getting them excited about the game, are the things that are missing. That’s sad for me because I love hockey in China. I really want to see it work.” — Former Montrealer Mark Simon, now living in China.

In September of 2017 the Vancouver Canucks and Los Angeles Kings staged a two-game exhibition series in China that signaled the NHL’s initial attempt to establish itself and hockey in the world’s largest market.

Since that first exposure, the game has experienced incremental growth in China but it’s also failed to attract a larger audience or create widespread participation. In 2022 the Winter Olympics will be staged in Beijing and the NHL’s hope is the best-on-best tournament will engage this country of 1.4 billion while awakening it to the world’s fastest team sport.

That, at least, is the hope. But according to one hockey man who has spent more than a decade trying to grow hockey in China, the NHL, IIHF, the IOC, the NHLPA and all the game’s stakeholders are playing a dangerous game with the Olympics.

“I cringe at a lineup with (Connor) McDavid, (Nathan) MacKinnon and (Sidney) Crosby against these guys (on the Chinese men’s team) I know and I like,” said Mark Simon, the 41-year-old Montrealer who moved to China in 2007. “It won’t be a good outcome. If that happens three or four times, the question will be asked, ‘Why are we doing this?’

“You want to build hockey in the country. But why do we want games that won’t be competitive? Now it’s on the biggest stage in the world and it’s not China against Canada. It’s China against anyone.”

Simon can speak with some authority on this subject. Since moving to China, he’s had a front-row seat to watch the game’s development, and while there has been some growth, it’s largely been sporadic.

For starters there are about 8,800 registered players in China, 7,300 of whom are youth players. The good news is with 213 indoor rinks, ice time isn’t exactly a problem. The challenge is attracting more kids to the game to fill that ice time.

To that end, Simon has helped organize youth tournaments in Beijing and Shanghai, worked with the NHL in introducing a ball-hockey program to elementary schools and coached any number of youth teams while consulting with Kunlun Red Star, the China-based franchise in the KHL.

In that time he’s learned the problem in China isn’t infrastructure or resources. The problem is utilizing those resources to build a hockey culture.

“The way I break it down is hardware and software,” Simon said. “It’s easy to build a rink. That’s a hardware piece and, in general, hardware is easier in China.

“The software, building a system, getting kids involved, getting them excited about the game, are the things that are missing. That’s sad for me because I love hockey in China. I really want to see it work.”

Five years ago, it was hoped that Red Star would be the energizing force in building the Chinese game but, like the sport itself, the team has experienced many ups and downs in its brief history. Again, money hasn’t been the problem. Owner Billy Ngok, an industrialist who ranked 99th in The Hockey News 2019 Top-100 people of power in hockey, invested heavily in Red Star and Vanke Rays, an entry in the Canadian Women’s Hockey League based in Shenzhen.

When the CWHL folded in 2019, the Rays moved to Russia’s WHL where they won the league title in May.

Red Star, meanwhile, has led a nomadic existence since joining the KHL in 2016-17. It’s played games in Shanghai and Beijing. It was set to move into a permanent home in Beijing — the Shougang Arena at the Olympic site — but the COVID-19 pandemic altered that plan.

The team will now play just outside of Moscow for the 2020-21 KHL season that is scheduled to start in September.

It goes without saying that start date isn’t exactly etched in stone.

“You move back and forth and it’s hard to develop a fan base,” Simon said. “It’s not just marketing a team, you’re marketing a sport and 99 per cent of the market doesn’t know much about that sport.”

Simon has worked with Red Star and their GM Scott MacPherson, the former NHL scout. The hope is the KHL team — coached by, ta da, former Canuck Curt Fraser — will help form the nucleus of the Chinese men’s team in 2022 but, with the Olympic tournament less than two years away, the makeup of that team has yet to be determined.

There are currently about 15 players of Chinese ancestry playing in the KHL or VHL, the second-tier league that operates out of Russia, China, Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan. Those players include Maple Ridge’s Brandon Yip, the former Colorado Avalanche forward; Spencer Foo, the former Calgary Flames farmhand; and Victor Bartley, the former Nashville Predators defenceman. All three played with Red Star last season and Yip was the team’s captain.

Beyond that is another level of players with minor pro, junior or college experience. According to IIHF regulations, the Chinese heritage players have to play 16 consecutive months for their new country to qualify for the Olympics.

They also have to qualify for Chinese passports, which can be an arduous process and, if they’re successful, here’s the payoff: They’ll be in a group with the U.S., Canada and Germany in the Olympics.

“I love the idea of the Olympics and I try to be as balanced as I can in my opinions,” Simon said. “I just don’t think it’s the right spot for that country. For the success of the sport in China, how good will it look if the home team is throttled?”

That, we assume, is a rhetorical question.

Women’s hockey in Lithuania

By Vitaly NesterovNational Teams of Ice Hockey

In December of 2019, the Lithuanian women’s team made its debut at the Women’s World Championships Division III in Sofia Bulgaria. For the first time at international competitions. Next season, the team will face even greater challenges. First of all, the girls will make their debut in the Olympic qualification and, finally, Women’s World Championships Division III on home ice. “We can popularize women’s hockey and take the first steps at the international level,” said Eglė Zemlickienė, General Manger of the women’s hockey team of Lithuania.

World Championships in Kaunas, Lithuania

The IIHF entrusted Lithuania to host the Women’s World Championship of Division III.

“ Already last year, when we wanted to host the women’s world championship, However, according to IIHF rules, first timers cannot host the championships in their own country. Therefore, we immediately began to think about the rights to host the championship in 2021, ”said Zemlickienė,,“ Lithuania has extensive experience in organizing world championships. We have a good reputation among other countries, because in our country championships have already been held among the men and different age groups.  Lithuania has received excellent reviews both from the IIHF and from other countries. I think that it would be important that we now have the right to host the women’s world championship . ”

Usually in one division of the championship there are six teams, but this time there will be more. Women’s teams of Estonia, Bosnia, Ukraine, Belgium, Romania, Bulgaria and Hong Kong will take part in the tournament (division III) with Lithuanians

“ From an organizational point of view, the biggest problem is how to make a schedule for the 8th team, and to arrange all the members of the national teams in hotels. However, we are optimistic about the situation and hope that perhaps the new ice arena in Kaunas will already be operational. It is planned to open before the new year. If not, we will hold the championship in two arenas. However, Kaunas remains a priority, it is a strategically convenient place. Of course, if force will play in two arenas, although we still hope that the championship will be held in Kaunas, ”added Egle.

Lithuanian national team at the World Championships in Bulgaria

Olympic Qualification

Before the home World Championships next year, the women’s team will still have to go to Iceland. In December of this year, in Reykjavik, for the first time in the history of Lithuania, their women’s team will compete in the pre-qualification for the Olympic Games. The Lithuanian national team will compete in the first qualifying round against four teams – Iceland, Bulgaria and Hong Kong.

“I would not like to speak boldly about our goals and opportunities. After all, this will be our debut in the Olympic qualifiers. We are still not very familiar with our rivals. It is difficult to say how we will do in this competition, but I am very glad that next season we will have two tournaments – the Olympic Games and the World Championships. This is a great opportunity to draw attention to women’s hockey. We must promote women’s hockey and take the first steps at the global level. Both I and all the girls in the team are looking forward to the upcoming season. True, recently, when the coronavirus is still widespread in the world, it is difficult to plan something specifically. Therefore, I do not know if we can even fly to Iceland. We are preparing as if everything will be fine. We plan to fly to Iceland and plan to hold the World Championships in Lithuania. Let’s see how everything goes“, – said Zemyckene.

“ The official preparations for the Olympic selection are likely to begin in November. Usually it starts 2-3 weeks before departure. But, no doubt, before the training camp in the national team, girls are required to train in thee clubs, of course. Also this year, our hockey players will take part in the Baltic League and the Latvian Championship. Various friendly tournaments will also be held , ”concluded Egle.

Coach from Germany

Bernd Haake, head coach of the Lithuanian women’s hockey team, will arrive in Lithuania 2-3 weeks before flying to Iceland

“ We are pleased with the work of the coach with the women’s team last year. I think the debut was a success. Haake gladly agreed to help us in two tournaments in the new season, everything has already been agreed with him. He will fly to Lithuania at the end of October, when the national team will begin intensive preparations for future games. When it came to choosing a coach, it was Haake who was the best option at the present time, because he worked with our team, he knows many players since last year, he knows their strengths and weaknesses , ”says the head of the team.

Recall that in the debut tournament of the third division of the World Championships in Bulgaria last year, Lithuanian hockey players took fifth place. The Lithuanian national team had two victories – it defeated the Hong Kong team 4: 1 and unexpectedly beat the national team of Belgium, which was considered the favorite of the tournament, with a score of 4: 3.

There were also three defeats – 1: 2 from the national team of Bulgaria, 2: 4 from the national team of Romania and 2-4 from the national team of South Africa. South Africa won the tournament.

“ I appreciate the girls debut at the World Championships. They played well. Perhaps the girls dreamed of medals, but the goal for the tournament was different – we hoped to win at least one or two matches, we wanted to show what we are capable of. The result met expectations. Debut is a debut, we warm up and understand what else we can do to become stronger. Now there are more serious challenges ahead ”

When asked if we can expect better results in the upcoming season, the team manager does not hesitate to reflect: “ As for the World Championships – since there will be eight teams in it, the tournament will be divided into two groups of four, and then there will be a play- off So much can determine which group we get into. Maybe this will be a favorable group for us, or maybe not. Everything can lead to medals, but it can be versatile. It’s hard to predict anything. We will also see how our girls have become stronger this year. Players roster has not yet been determined and there may be changes in the composition. And some of the rivals are also unknown , ”said Egle.

Bernd Haake is a 74-year-old specialist who has been working in Lithuania since 2012. Coaches both women’s and men’s and youth national teams of Lithuania. Previously coached HC “Energy” from Elektrenai

Women’s hockey is developing in Lithuania

Last year, before traveling to Bulgaria, Zemlickienė, was glad that the popularity of women’s hockey in the country was growing. According to a specialist who has been working in women’s hockey for more than five years, the popularity has increased even more since his debut at the world championships.

“ After the appearance at the World Championships Division III last year, popularity and attention to us has increased, interest is really felt. It is very nice. In fact, more and more girls are choosing to play hockey in schools. Girls from 4-5 years old already lead to classes in this sport. Of course, it is difficult to say how many of them will remain in hockey, but it is funny that there are more and more of them. The attitude of coaches is also changing. We also already have the first team of girls under 10 in Vilnius. I am glad that gradually the popularity is growing , ”said the head of the women’s program.

In the end, Zemlickienė, added, it will be necessary to wait a few years before popularity increases significantly. However, according to her, the results, although small, can be seen right away: “ Everything is really going in a positive direction and it’s nice, ” she finished.

NHL, PA commit to Olympics

By Matin Merk – IIHF.com

The National Hockey League (NHL) and the National Hockey League Players’ Association (NHLPA) have ratified the Return to Play Plan and a four-year extension to the Collective Bargaining Agreement until the 2025/2026 season including a commitment to join for the Olympic Winter Games in Beijing 2022 and Milan 2026 following internal voting.

The CBA Article 24 was amended to include new subsection 24.10 including:

The NHL and the NHLPA commit to participate in the 2022 and 2026 Winter Olympics, subject to negotiation of terms acceptable to each of the NHL, NHLPA, and IIHF (and/or IOC).

Beijing 2022 would mark the sixth time the NHL pauses to join the biggest spotlight of winter sports after Nagano 1998, Salt Lake City 2002, Turin 2006, Vancouver 2010 and Sochi 2014.

The Beijing 2022 Olympics will include the top-8 teams in the world, host China and three qualifiers to be determined according to the following groups in the men’s ice hockey tournament:

Beijing 2022 Olympics will include the top-8 teams in the world, host China and three qualifiers

The three qualifiers will be determined in the Final Olympic Qualification in August 2021. The dates would make it possible to have NHL players be added to the teams for these qualification tournaments.

Final Olympic Qualification in August 2021

The news of the ratification of the CBA extension and the Return to Play agreement was welcomed by IIHF President René Fasel.

“This is great news for hockey,” said Fasel. “I want to congratulate Gary Bettman, Don Fehr, the players, owners, and everyone involved for their work in forging a new CBA and ensuring that the world’s top league will return to the ice soon and will continue to grow strong well into the future.”

“I am also very pleased to see that the players and owners have agreed to work towards bringing best-on-best ice hockey back to the Olympic Games, starting in Beijing 2022. After the conclusion of the NHL playoffs, we look forward to renewing our discussions with the NHL, the NHLPA, the IOC, BOCOG, and our Member National Associations, and together ensure that we can provide the very best platform for our game in Beijing and beyond.”

Fasel added that there were still a few hurdles to overcome before NHL participation could be fully confirmed.

“There are still some challenges left to address, including technical and practical discussions with all key stakeholders, before we can 100% confirm that we will have NHL players back on the ice at the Olympics. But this is a very positive and necessary step forward.”

Q & A with Nadina Nichiu

Romania women’s team at Div III World Cup in Bulgaria

By Vitaly Nesterov – National Teams of Ice Hockey

One of the most talent woman ice hockey player and goalie of national team of Romania Nadina Niciu told us about herself,about playing on the senior team and about her transfer to Finland.

Tell us about yourself?

I was born in Târgu Mureș, Romania, on the 28th of January 1999 in a city where we don’t have an ice rink. We have an outdoor rink for 3 months of the year, but only for the public. I was raised by my grandparents and I remember my grandfather always taking me to the ice rink ever since I was really really young. Maybe about 4-5? He used to take me there everyday, sometimes even twice. I fell in love with skating and I loved hockey, I’ve seen it in movies, but I had never heard anything about it in real life. I was a speed skater for 10 years, and one winter when we got off ice, the hockey team was up after us, which I was surprised to see, so I stood and watched. After their practice one of the guys let me fool around with his stick, and the coach spotted me and asked if I wanted to try it out. So I did. I was a player for 1 year. I never really had any specific goals, I played whatever I was needed. I enjoyed more to play defense cause I was a really good skater, but didn’t have any stick skills. I always wanted to play goalie, but there was no equipment in my home town. So after a year, I went and bought my own. I was almost 17 at the time, and everybody said it’s too late. So I wanted to show them how wrong they were. I was lucky to have awesome, dedicated coaches that helped me all the way through and awesome teammates that supported me. I slowly made it hard for any player to score on me, and once I got in the boys team I realized I can do even better. So I moved there with them where we had an ice rink and all the facilities, and I practiced every day for a whole season, with 4 teams in total. There were days where I would be on ice for 6-7 hours. But I loved every minute of it, those are the things that got me here. As for the women championship, my first team was «Triumf Bucharest», but they would hardly accept me as a goalie cause they needed players. So one year there was a new women team forming, «Fox Hockey» Gheorgheni, and I went to play for them, and they became my second family. I can’t thank them enough for everything. I also played for the national team. Two years in the u18 as a player, and 2 years on the seniors team as a goalie.

Nadina (right) with teammates

Where do you work?

I am a postwoman, but I want to study goalie coaching as soon as possible.

 Is it true that you played in the championship of Romania for the men’s team?

I played in the men’s team until the age of 20 and then only trained. I – was the only girl in the championship of Romania. I was in the application “Sapientia U23” in the season 18 \ 19.

Did you play for Sapientia that season when Sportul beat your team twice?

Yes, but I didn’t play any of these games. I am not so bad to got scored by «Sportul» players (laughing). I was supposed to play against Sportul but it was before world championships and the federation didn’t let me, so I wouldn’t get injured. They won only cause we didn’t take it seriously and after the game we were so mad. But the next day we won 17-2. Then they beat us one more time in the end of march. (9th of march 2019 romanian team «Sportul» won his first game since 2013. The lose more than two hundred games and 2233 days without win)

Training with Sapientia U23 ice hockey club

Most recently, you signed a contract with the Finnish club Koovee. How did this happen?

Two weeks ago someone said they were interested in me, so they got in touch. I automatically got excited and found out more about the club. Only heard good things about them, so I said yes! I’m really excited to get there and meet the team and play. I’m the type of goalie that gives 200% for her team so I like to believe I won’t let them down.

Tell me about your hockey career over the years? There is absolutely no information on the internet.

From 2015-2018 I played for Triumf Bucharest. This was a women’s team I spent the 2018/19 season Sapientia u23 and Fox Hockey from Gheorgheni.

Nadina’s debut match for Fox Hockey

What is the situation with women’s Romanian hockey?

The Federation does not help women’s hockey. Men’s hockey is far ahead, all the money goes there, hence the result – going to Div IA. They consider us a non-competitive team, although without finances we cannot be better. At least let them give us the opportunity to train with the men’s team so that we gain experience, but this is not there idea for us.

Do any of the Romanian hockey players play abroad?

Ana Voicu plays in Canada. She is 21 years old. I know Adela Sarbu she plays there too, but she is just 16 years old. We have more players I think that have opportunities now but I wouldn’t name them before it’s a sure thing.

How did Romania celebrated promotion to Division IA?

We were all thrilled! Something like this hasn’t happened in decades. It was a huge step forward for the Romanian hockey, and I’m sure these boys will be in hockey history books

Thanks to Ukrainian born players?

They consider themselves Romanians (laughing)

What is your best game?

“I can’t choose one.” I had an amazing season, so there are many games that I consider to be the best. With the exception of the World Championships, where I was injured, I went with a shootout streak up until the end of February. I got scored on only in the last 2 games, which is a thing I’m really proud of. That still didn’t affect the team considering we finished first in the championship (but there was no awards due to the coronavirus). If I were to choose a few games, I’d probably say the Sekler Cup (women’s local friendship tournament) final against Csikszereda where we won 3-0, and the game against Belgium. I only played the last 30 minutes, But I loved the way me and the team played.

Targu-Mures has an Arena Marosvásárhelyi Műjégpálya, when will it be finnished?

No, in 2008 they began to build an arena in Tirgu Mures. A lot of money was spent, but it was not enough. 12 years have passed, and the arena has not yet been completed. Although now in Tirgu Mures a skating rink with an inflatable dome has been made.

Marosvásárhelyi Műjégpálya Arena