Author: NationalTeamsOfIceHockey (page 3 of 101)

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.

New dawn for Japan

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

By Henrik Manninen – IIHF.com

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Winter Sports Schools Inaugurated At Chitral, Swat

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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