Category: Europe (page 1 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.”

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.

National ice hockey federations of Russia and Uzbekistan sign cooperation agreement

 

By Russian Tass News Agency

The Russian Ice Hockey Federation (RHF) and the Ice Hockey Federation of Uzbekistan (IHFU) have inked a cooperation of agreement, the RHF press service announced on Monday.

The cooperation agreement between the national ice hockey federations of Russia and Uzbekistan was signed by RHF President Vladislav Tretiak and IHFU chief Bakhtiyor Fazylov,

The agreement stipulates a calendar of friendly matches between the national teams of both countries as well as bilateral encounters between the youth teams of Russia and Uzbekistan.

The deal also envisages cooperation in the implementation of programs regarding training schools for coaches and referees as well as the organization of educational and training conferences.

Dmitry Chernyshenko, the president of Kontinental Hockey League (KHL), announced earlier in the year that the Russia-based league was likely to expand the current number of its participating clubs and confirmed information that an ice hockey club from Uzbekistan voiced intentions joining the league.

The Kontinental Hockey League was founded in Russia in 2008 and currently lists 25 professional ice hockey clubs from Russia, Belarus, China, Finland, Kazakhstan, Latvia and Slovakia.

International experts deem the KHL as the premier ice hockey league in Europe and Asia ranking it as the world’s second most important right on the heels of the US-based NHL (the National Hockey League).

KHL President Chernyshenko stated in September 2018 that the league chalked up 3.5 billion rubles (over $50.3 million) in revenue for the 2017/2018 season.

Ice Arena and Swimming Pool will be built in Batumi

By National Teams of Ice Hockey

A new ice arena and a swimming pool will be built in Batumi. According to Ramaz Bolkvadze, consultations are underway and to be completed by September 1st, 2019.  It is known that the ice arena should be designed to carry out training- processes and different levels of competitions specifically figure skating and ice hockey .

As well as for massive skiing, cultural-spectacular and entertaining events, holidays, concerts and exhibitions. The swimming pool should be designed for swimming, water polo and mass swimming competitions.

Total approximate cost of the project is 46 million GEL. Construction must be completed within 2 years after the contract is concluded.

After inspiring victory, Turkish ice hockey looks to rule the rink

Halit Albayrak (R) spoke about the aspirations of the Turkish Ice Hockey Federation in an interview with Serkan Ünlü at Silivrikapı Ice Hockey Hall where young players train to be future stars.

By Serkan unlu – Daily Sabah

The unprecedented success of an underdog team made up of former drug addicts paved the way for interest in ice hockey in Turkey. Halit Albayrak, head of the Turkish Ice Hockey Federation, says he is confident of the country’s future success on a global scale thanks to new facilities and the rising interest in sports.

Turkey is a latecomer to ice hockey, a sport mostly dominated by the likes of Canada, Sweden and Russia, but an unprecedented victory in the 35 years of ice hockey in the country has put it on the map.

Speaking to Daily Sabah in an exclusive interview, Turkish Ice Hockey Federation Chairman Halit Albayrak, one of the figures responsible for this newfound success, said a bright future is ahead for hockey, with more interest and the construction of new facilities to train players.

Albayrak, who was elected in March 2018, is also head of Zeytinburnu Hockey Club, which is behind the story of the underdogs.

It all started when the municipality of Zeytinburnu district launched an environmental campaign in 2009. The municipality offered 45 minutes of ice skating on a newly established ice rink to anyone who brought a certain amount of waste to be recycled.

A group of teenage drug addicts in the district who had plenty of time to collect waste and were in need of a respite from their troubled lives, were among those enjoying the free skating. They quickly drew attention with their skills on ice.

This was when Albayrak, the then owner of a school whose students were regular guests of the rink for training, received a suggestion from Zeytinburnu Mayor Murat Aydın. Aydın advised him to take the troubled teens under his wing, and the rest is history.

Albayrak formed the Zeytinburnu Hockey Club for teens in cooperation with the municipality and seven years later, the team made history by winning a group title in the International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) Continental Cup in Bulgaria in 2016.

“They were a lost generation, youth with nothing to lose. The ice rink sparked their hope for a better life,” Albayrak says. “We didn’t have big dreams when we first started, but we always advised players to remain united with team spirit. Theirs is a story of a dream come true for young people isolated from society for their addiction.”

Zeytinburnu’s tremendous success in the international tournament helped break prejudice among parents who were afraid to send their children for ice hockey training, Albayrak said.

“People used to see it as a dangerous sport but nowadays, more people come to the rink to see if they can play it too,” he added, as he watched young players training at Silivrikapı Ice Hockey Hall in Istanbul. “We have ideas about how to give more opportunities to people interested in ice hockey, and one of them is converting sections of sports halls in some schools to ice rinks. Perhaps not all of them, but some schools can also serve as training grounds for future players.”

Meanwhile, construction of an ice hockey arena continues in Zeytinburnu with the support of the government. “It is going to be one of the biggest ice hockey halls in Europe,” Albayrak said, adding that it is being built on a space of 40,000 square meters.

The hall, with two ice rinks, exclusive rinks for training and a hotel for visiting hockey teams, is expected to be completed within one year.

“It will be a ‘factory’ for ice hockey players and provide training for about 2,000 people ever year,” Albayrak said.

The federation chair is confident that the new hall will boost Turkey’s world standing in ice hockey. “We can train world-class players too. I am assured that it will take only a decade, proper training and better facilities to have [international success],” he said.

Along with players, Turkish ice hockey needs new trainers, Albayrak said, adding that they also strive to improve talent scouting to find skilled children and properly train them.

“We aren’t following the examples of other countries; we want to create our style, but we have also analyzed how other countries accomplished in ice hockey managed to succeed. Still, we need a local approach for training for success,” he said.

UNDERDOGS’ STORY INSPIRES NEW TV SERIES

The true story of the young players of Zeytinburnu Hockey Club is now the subject of a new TV series by public broadcaster TRT. “Tek Yürek” (“One Heart”), which will launch soon, draws inspiration from the experience of the team.

Halit Albayrak said though it is mixed with fiction, the series will be centered on ice hockey, and he counts on more interest in the sport after the series.

“I’m worried we might not be able to accommodate everyone in the rink after the show launches,” he joked, pointing out the huge demand for ice rinks after Zeytinburnu’s victory.

Hockey player Satan ends his career

The “silent assassin”, the nickname for Miroslav Šatan, has symbolically bid farewell to his career. It ended with a unique exhibition match between two teams composed of the so-called “golden generation” players on December 18, starting at 18:00.

One third lasted a symbolic 18 minutes.

Czech goalkeeper Dominik Hašek opened the game, in which dozens of Šatan’s former teammates, with whom he represented Slovakia, appeared on the ice, like Ján Lašák, Ľubomír Višňovský, Peter Bondra, and Michal Handzuš.

“For me, the representation was always the greatest motivation, and I preferred to play with a double cross on my chest,” said Šatan, as quoted by the TASR newswire.

Not about winning

The Ondrej Nepela Ice Hockey Stadium was sold out during the game. The ticket price was a symbolic €18.

“It was one of the few games I did not want to win, but where I wanted to have a a great time,” said Šatan after the match, as quoted by TASR.

Šatan is the only player who earned all the three medals Slovakia managed to win during the Ice Hockey World Championship – Saint Petersburg (Silver, 2000), Goteburg (Gold, 2002) and Helsinki (Bronze, 2003). He scored altogether 81 goals on the Slovak representation team, Sme wrote.

He won the Stanley Cup in 2009 when playing for Pittsburgh Penguins.

Hall of Fame Member

During the match, Šatan received great honours, due to being entered in the Hall of Fame by the Slovak Ice Hockey Federation (SZĽH).

“My entrance to the Hall of Fame is an honour,” said Šatan, as quoted by TASR. “My first coach in Topoľčany always told us that we will become hockey players only after we have played at least 50 games.”

How one Georgian family built a national ice hockey league

Georgia v South Africa

By Bradley Jardine, Neil Hauer – Eurasianet

Despite material disadvantages, Georgia’s hockey team is moving up the charts.

“That’s where we broke the window,” says Mikheil Davitashvili, a defenseman and general manager of Georgia’s national ice hockey team, pointing to a puck-shaped hole 7 meters above. “As you can probably tell, this isn’t a convenient place to train professionally.”The team currently practices at an old Soviet figure-skating school. The rink is smaller than a standard hockey rink, with no boards along the side – so limited checking – and the team has to bring its own net, a self-assembly version normally reserved for pond hockey matches. Hockey rinks should have safety barriers on the side, but this facility doesn’t, so during one slap-shot practice an errant puck flew out of the rink.

Despite these material disadvantages, Georgia’s hockey team is on the rise.

This past April, at the 2018 International Ice-hockey Federation (IIHF) Division III World Championship in South Africa, Georgia delivered convincing victories over Turkey, Bulgaria, Hong Kong and Chinese Taipei, falling only to the hosts. The performance won Georgia gold and earned the team a promotion to Division II for the next season – an impressive result for a team that played its first IIHF match only five years ago.

“We’ve achieved so much with so little,” Davitashvili says. “And now the government is finally starting to take notice.” The authorities have promised a new professional-standard ice hockey stadium in Tbilisi this year, he says – a change he thinks will revolutionize the sport. “At the moment we’re stuck with this place.” 

Much of Georgia’s hockey success is due to Davitashvili and his uncle, Denis Davidov, an amateur ice hockey player in Soviet Georgia who introduced his nephew to the sport at an early age. Now, at just 26, Davitashvili is unusually young to be the team’s general manager – a role usually reserved for people twice his age.

The substandard rink is only one of the obstacles the team is overcoming. Attracting sponsors has also proved difficult, with the players often working unpaid.

“We have returned from the World Cup as champions, but still, unfortunately, I have not paid any money to the boys yet,” says Ilia Davidov (no relation to Denis), president of the Georgian Ice Hockey Federation. “I am very ashamed.”

Ice hockey stadiums were relatively widespread in the USSR, and though it was never a major sport in Georgia, Tbilisi at least had a stadium and a local league. Following the dissolution of the Soviet Union, however, Tbilisi’s stadium fell into disrepair and was eventually torn down.

Despite this, Denis Davidov and Lasha Tsagareishvili, two amateur enthusiasts, started playing hockey again in the late ‘90s. In 2004, they founded the Georgian Ice Hockey Federation – the governing body of ice hockey in the country – laying the groundwork for Georgia’s accession to the IIHF five years later.

“My interest in the sport began because of my uncle,” Davitashvili says. “He was so passionate about it and got me started back in 2004. I’ll always be grateful to him for that.”

But disaster struck. Weeks after getting Georgia accepted into the IIHF, Tsagareishvili and Denis Davidov were killed in a road accident. The sport would have to wait.

It wasn’t until 2014 that Davitashvili would take his uncle’s mantle and Georgia’s national team would mark its international debut in the third division. Their first opponent: North Korea.

They didn’t expect victory, but the scale of the beat-down was disheartening. Pyongyang scored six times in the first period en route to a 22-1 victory. It was an inauspicious start.

That same year, Georgia was defeated by three of the four lowest-rated teams in the world rankings, but Davitashvili puts this down to growing pains.

“We had barely practiced as we were all working full-time jobs,” he recalls. “Obviously, we lost all the matches.”

But Georgian hockey is growing. Today, there are over 500 players registered in the country, although all are amateurs and they include chefs, accountants and CEOs. The national league now includes four teams across the country: Fiery Crusaders, Grey Wolves, Ice Knights and Mimino.

The country also will send its first player abroad to train this fall: 18-year-old Temuri Vedyapin recently signed with the Maniwaki Mustangs of the Canadian Premier Junior Hockey League (CPJHL). While the CPJHL is a new and untested junior league, it aims to train players for collegiate programs in the United States, from where professional players are regularly drafted, and so represents a significant milestone for Georgian hockey.

Funding is still an issue. In 2015, the Georgian league began receiving its first government financial support – it had been supporting itself for nearly 11 years. But players complain that their team gets only 80,000 Georgian lari ($32,720) a year, compared to the national volleyball federation’s 500,000 lari ($204,500). (Georgia’s Ministry of Sport and Youth Affairs declined to comment.)

That money doesn’t go far. “We paid 63,000 lari on flights alone for the championships in South Africa,” Ilia Davidov, the president, says.

The lack of training venues also presents difficulties, with professional training only possible in Batumi, Kutaisi and the ski resort town of Bakuriani.

“The stadium in Bakuriani is standard size, but as an outdoor stadium it’s only active for a few months a year,” Davitashvili explains. “Batumi has the best rink, but it’s 400 kilometers away.” Some members of the team practice abroad, in Finland, Germany and other countries, but this isn’t financially viable for everyone.

Although ice hockey is beginning to reach Georgian youth, the price to enter the sport is still prohibitively high for a country with an average monthly income of about $400.

“The cost to equip one player is about $1,500, and a goalkeeper costs $3,700,” Davitashvili says. “Bad equipment can be dangerous. When we played in Abu Dhabi our equipment was such bad quality that when a puck hit our goalkeeper’s hand, it broke his fingers.”

Challenges aside, Davitashvili is confident the sport’s popularity in Georgia will only grow from here: “It’s like my uncle used to say: Either you like ice hockey, or you are wrong.”

Lithuania’s Bosas upbeat of future

By Henrik Manninen – IIHF.com

“Everything is possible. Just look at what Great Britain did this year winning a place at the top level of the World Championships. Every player in our national team will come back stronger in the new season and you never know what can happen. Hockey is a magical sport,” said Lithuania’s Bosas as a big season looms around the corner.

Having penned a deal with the Bayreuth Tigers of Germany’s DEL2, Bosas hopes to keep up his flying form and scoring touch in a season culminating with Lithuania competing at the 2019 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship Division I Group A played in Astana, Kazakhstan, starting at the end of April next year.

With his trademark beard and an uncanny eye for a goal, Bosas played an integral role in Lithuania’s recent rise-up in the hockey world. The tall and powerful forward returned to his native Kaunas in April and netted half-a-dozen goals in five matches as Lithuania in emphatic fashion rolled on to win the 2018 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship Division I Group B.

While the big attention was on the former NHL stars Dainius Zubrus and Darius Kasparaitis, who gave a short comeback for the country’s biggest-ever ice hockey tournament, Bosas had six goals in five games, more than anyone else, and was named Best Forward of the tournament.

Thriving to play in front of boisterous home fans inside the Zalgiris Arena, he formed a prolific first line together with veteran Zubrus and 19-year-old prospect Mark Kaleinikovas as Lithuania thundered upwards to go undefeated and lived up to lofty set expectations.

“Yes, it was a historical win for Lithuania and also for me. We were all very excited but also worried not to win. Everybody called us ‘dream team’ and only expected us to win gold. It was really hard but we did it in the end and I hope it can make our sport more popular,” he said of a tournament where their final-day win against Baltic rival Estonia was played in front of a vociferous crowd of 10,170 carrying their home favourites to a comfortable 4-1 win.

Following the euphoria in Kaunas, the current crop of national team players now hopes competing at a higher level might generate more exposure to foreign suitors. Having played a meandering career which has so far taken him to Czech Republic, Kazakhstan, Poland, Great Britain and Germany, Bosas has become well accustomed to being the odd one out thanks to his nationality.

“Most of the time people don’t know anything about Lithuanian hockey and sometimes don’t even know where Lithuania is on the map. So every year it is the same story because of my passport and nationality,” said Bosas, who last season proved his worth in Germany’s third tier at Regensburg. An initial short-term deal was soon extended with the Bavarian team as he finished as top scorer to get his reward and a move to Germany’s second-highest level, DEL2.

Born and brought up in the basketball town of Kaunas, Bosas got hooked on hockey as a first grader after a coach introduced the sport at school. While in his teens, a player agent got him a move to Sparta Prague’s junior set-up, which offered him invaluable years of progress within Czech hockey.

“It is big hockey country and I got a lot of good experience first from junior hockey, but later also from playing for my first men’s team. I remember this being the first step in starting a career abroad and leaving my parents home. It was not a bad start,” he said.

But if a stint in Central Europe helped him bridge the gap from junior to senior level, his most lasting memory from his ongoing hockey odyssey comes from Central Asia. Four seasons in Kazakhstan at the start of his decade playing for Arystan Temirtau, Gornyak Rudny and HK Almaty toughened him up considerably.

“There is a quote I’ve learnt from Kazakhstan, that if you’ve been there you have seen everything in hockey, and I think that is true. For me Kazakhstan was the biggest development for me, but also the hardest hockey life so far,” he recalled.

Bosas will be able to reacquaint himself with his former stomping ground as Lithuania will travel east to face a string of stern challenges at the World Championship Division I Group A. Contested inside the magnificent 12,000-seater Astana Arena in Kazakhstan’s capital between 29 April to 5 May 2019, they will take on Belarus, Korea, Hungary, Slovenia and hosts Kazakhstan.

Seemingly a gargantuan task, Lithuania can be greatly inspired by the recent upward ascent of Great Britain. While the Brits enjoyed two consecutive promotions, they were beaten twice at the tail end of last season by Lithuania during exhibition matches on British soil. One player able to share his experiences of taking Lithuania to the brink of top division is Mindaugas Kieras, who played 20 senior World Championships for his country between 1999 to 2018.

At the end of April 2006 and with Kieras on the blueline for his country, Lithuania narrowly lost out a chance to compete against the top nations courtesy of a 5-3 reversal against Austria at the 2006 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship Division I event in Tallinn, Estonia. Despite having been in front three times against the Austrians, Lithuania succumbed to three straight power-play goals and in the end finished second of the group, which meant missing out a place at the 2007 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship played in Moscow and St. Petersburg.

“It would be very hard to reach that level again and it would also depend on what kind of players we would have. But if we would have played in Division IA this year, we would have been close, very close to stepping up the top,” said Kieras, who announced his retirement from the national team duty in the direct aftermath of winning gold in Kaunas.

With Kieras having hung up his skates, Lithuania lost not only one of its natural leaders out on the ice but gone is now also one of the best moustaches in the hockey world. Thankfully Bosas is well-suited to step in and continue the legacy, both in terms of leading the way out on the ice, but also by holding on to his trademark facial hair despite disapproval from close quarters.

“My mum hates it and my wife-to-be loves it, so I will keep it,” said Bosas.

Jeglic suspended 8 months

By IIHF.com

Slovenian national team player Ziga Jeglic receives an eight-month suspension due to his anti-doping violation at the 2018 Olympic Winter Games following the final decision of the Court of Arbitration for Sport Anti-doping Division (CAS ADD).

Jeglic was initially suspended on 20th February 2018 during the 2018 Olympic Winter Games by the CAS ADD. He was tested positive after a game with fenoterol, a beta-2 agonist and specified substance prohibited under section S3 of the 2018 WADA Prohibited List.

The athlete accepted an anti-doping rule violation and left the Olympic Winter Games. At a hearing he stated that he ingested the prohibited substance during the warm-up leading to the game against the Olympic Athletes from Russia on 16 February, after which he was tested positive and that it was an ingredient in an asthma inhaler prescribed to him by the team doctor. However, no Therapeutic Use Exemption had been requested, which would have avoided the doping case, and the use of the inhalator was not indicated on the doping control form.

The athlete voluntarily accepted a provisional suspension as of 20th February 2018 up to the date of the final decision on his sanction and has not played and practiced since.

The IIHF filed its request to the CAS ADD seeking a period of ineligibility of eight months. It cannot be established that the athlete intentionally committed the anti-doping rule violation and the IIHF follows the opinion expressed by the IOC during the procedure that there was no significant fault or negligence. The athlete requested a period of ineligibility of no more than four months.

According to the so-called Cilic guidelines established by the CAS in earlier cases, the degree of fault on the athlete’s part falls into the light degree of fault.

In the final award the Sole Arbitrator of the CAS ADD agrees that it was a case of light degree of fault or negligence but that it is to note that athletes may not “hide” behind mistakes of their doctors or other members of their entourage and that the medical staff must have known that the asthma inhaler contained a prohibited substance and should have sought a Therapeutic Use Exemption.

The Sole Arbitrator accepts that the period of eight month is reasonable and therefore a period ineligibility of eight months is imposed upon the athlete served since 20th February 2018.

Older posts