Category: Europe (page 1 of 8)

Tony Hand’s experience suggests Scots have a way to go

Tony Hand enjoyed a fine career in Edinburgh but he could have been an NHL star

By Kevin Ferrie – The National

THE youngsters in the Great Britain squad that is set to take part in the World Under-20 Ice Hockey Championships this weekend will have access to far greater experience than the man in charge of their campaign had at their age, precisely because of the experiences that Tony Hand had at their age.

It was 30 years ago that the most famous product of the Scottish domestic game who is now GB Ice Hockey’s head development coach, played his solitary game for the National Hockey League’s Edmonton Oilers, a year after he had first been drafted as a teenager by what was then the leading club in the sport.

Since he was subsequently to become known as “two point Tony” The outcome of that encounter, an exhibition match against the Canadian national team, fitted perfectly since it was drawn with the sides scoring two points apiece. Naturally he remembers it as the highlight of what was to be an astonishing career.

“I actually got an assist and it’s the highest level I played at,” he said, by way of explaining why he rates that above all the trophy wins and international appearances he was to make thereafter.

Playing in the same squad and same position of centreman as two of the greatest players in the history of the sport, Wayne Gretzky and Mark Messier, it seems hard to believe that having survived the cuts through training camp it was the lad from Muirhouse who then made the decision that he was not going to pursue a career in North America and would instead return home. In explaining that he admits to some regret, but not of the sort that keeps him awake at night.

“It was totally my doing, my fault,” he said of the missed opportunity.

“But when we’re going back to those days there were no mobile phones, no internet. To phone someone from Canada you had to go to a phone box and I was just thrown in there, so because I didn’t know what I was doing I just felt it was too much.

“I enjoyed it, but I loved being in Edinburgh so much and loved the Murrayfield Racers and obviously had family and friends here it was obviously a much easier option.

“In hindsight I wish I’d stayed. I don’t sit back and think about it all the time, but if you never wondered you’d be off your head. I would have liked to find out.”

In the course of those two years in the Oilers training camps he did manage to establish that he had, through no real fault of his own, fallen short on a basic requirement.

“What held me back as well was my fitness. I wasn’t remotely as fit as I should have been,” he said. “People think you’re lucky to have the talent, but you’re not, you’ve got to work hard.”

That sort of message has become a familiar refrain in Scottish sport, but it can be no coincidence that, armed with that information, Hand went on to have a 34-year career at the highest level of the British game.

In doing so Hand has acquired knowledge of what is required to get to the top that would be transferable to any sport and he believes there is work to be done to create the environment necessary to let that happen in British ice hockey.

“You’re only as good as the level you’re playing at,” he said.

“And I do think the level has changed. I don’t think it’s gone stratospheric or crazy, but as has happened in a lot of sports the fitness is key.”

While the work he and others are doing is beginning to make a difference, then, he clearly believes it will be some time before another British youngster gets the opportunity that came his way all those years ago.

“I don’t think our development is currently going to get players to the highest level,” said Hand. “Teams aren’t playing as many games as they should be.

“We’re getting there, but not as quickly as I’d like.”

Is She the Future of European Hockey?

Kristiāna Apsīte Latvia 2017

By Nathaniel Oliver – The Hockey Writers

Commonplace as it might be in backyards and recreational centers for a parent to play with their child in sport, it does not occur in high-level competition. Seemingly once in a million, if that. In fact, this may be the rarest of occasions in any sport. When it comes to hockey, Gordie Howe had the chance to play alongside two of his sons, Mark and Marty. There can’t be too many other instances besides that one in the NHL.

But, what about a daughter who plays with her sister and her mother? Not only that, but they have represented their country in multiple international competitions. This may be the rarest case of all.

But it is the case for Latvian women’s national team goaltender Kristiāna Apsīte. At just 17 years of age, Apsīte has played for Latvia with 43-year-old mother Aija and her 19-year-old sister Agnese. Aija has represented her homeland in international play since the early 2000s.

Asked what having hockey be a family affair means to her, Kristiāna responded:

“It doesn’t mean much to me because on the ice we are just teammates to each other just like everybody else. Of course, it is nice to play with my mom and my sister, but at the game, none of us think who is family or who is friend because the team is also like family.”

Well stated. THW had a chance to talk with Apsīte and find out more about this up-and-coming young goalie.

The Latvian Game and Early Beginnings

Latvia has produced numerous successful male players. Going back to some of the great Soviet teams of the 1970s, there was Helmut Balderis. He would make the jump at age 37 to the NHL with the Minnesota North Stars. That paved the way for stars such as Sandis Ozolinsh (the first Latvian to win the Stanley Cup), Arturs Irbe, the late Sergei Zholtok, and the late Karlis SkrastinsToday Buffalo Sabres forward Zemgus Girgensons represents his country in the NHL, and garnered enough of a following in his homeland to be voted into an NHL All-Star Game.

But much less is known about the Latvian women’s game. Opportunities for a young female goaltender like Apsīte are quite limited in her homeland.

“In Latvia, women’s hockey level is not as high as in North America or some bigger European countries,” Apsīte explained. “We only have three teams in the Latvian championship. So that’s why I am also practicing with boys teams since I started to play hockey.”

Kristiāna Apsīte Latvia 2017

Apsīte’s sister Agnese has made the jump to the United States and plays NCAA Division III hockey for the Wisconsin-Superior Yellowjackets. Apsīte herself considers the thought of playing collegiate hockey or in Europe.

“Yes, it’s her (Agnese) first season playing college hockey in the USA. Of course, I’d like to play college hockey in the USA or play in Europe.”

Getting to Know Apsīte

Apsīte hails from Dreilini, a more recently built neighborhood on the eastern edge of the capital city of Riga, Latvia. Balderis, Ozolinsh, and Girgensons all come from Riga. Close to 640,000 people live in this largest city of the Baltic states. Apsīte began playing hockey at the age of four but did not take up the goaltending position until age 10.

“This is my 8th season as a goalie and I have never thought about changing back to a player position,” she shared. “I started to play in the goalie position when I was 10. My coach Lolita Andrisevska asked me if I wanted to try how it is to be a goalie. So in the next practice, I was wearing goalie equipment. After that practice, I realized how cool it is to make saves so I decided to become a goalie.”

Apsīte’s learning from the finest. Andrisevska has been the premier women’s goaltender in Latvia since at least the 1990s. Though she has served in a coaching role since 2012, she represented the nation in multiple women’s world championships and Olympic qualifiers for over a decade. In the 2009 Women’s Division II World Championship, Andrisevska backstopped Latvia to a gold medal. The team went undefeated, and she allowed only two goals in five games for a 0.50 goals-against average and a .984 save percentage. Apsīte has a superb teacher, to say the least.

“I didn’t have a hockey hero while I was growing up,” she stated. “But I enjoyed watching how Lolita Andrisevska played and made amazing saves because she was my coach and she was the one who taught me all the basic things when I became a goalie.”

A Student of the Position

And much like Andrisevska, Apsīte is a student of the goaltending position. This is particularly impressive considering her young age, but highly integral to her development. It is why she is well on her way to becoming one of the top young goaltenders in the world. She has not even approached her prime—that is still some years away.

“Being a goalie is not as easy as many players might think”, said Apsīte. “As a goalie, you need to be strong physically and also mentally. Every situation and shot is different so you never know where the shot is coming from, or if maybe there will be a pass to another player. Goalies don’t have a specific system like players do—we have our own style, and every goalie has a little bit different technique. Of course, there are some basics that are the same for every goalie, but as you develop over the years you find your own style. That’s why I didn’t quit the goalie position. There won’t be two exact same games or situations. I need to think really fast what I am going to do in each situation to make a save and win the game.”

Thus far, Apsīte has done quite well at that and she will only get better. 17 is a tender young age for any athlete. There is plenty more development to take place.

Major Accomplishments at a Young Age

For the past two years, Apsīte has won a silver and a bronze medal at Women’s Division I-B World Championships. The 2016 silver coming in Asiago, Italy, while the 2017 bronze was won in Katowice, Poland.

For the silver medal, Apsīte got into one game against the Netherlands while teammate Evija Tētiņa got the action for the other games. Still, it was Apsīte’s first World Championship and she was all of 15 years old. She stopped 28 of 32 shots in the loss to the Netherlands.

In 2017, Apsīte would get the nod as the starting goaltender for Latvia and she played in all five tournament games. Her finest performance in that tournament was likely against Italy in Latvia’s first game – Apsīte stopped 52 out of 53 shots she faced. In five games, she made a whopping 156 saves and finished with a .902 save percentage as Latvia took home the bronze.

These were just the first two of what is bound to be many more international tournaments for Apsīte.

“Those medals mean a lot to me and they are very important because I know that hard work has paid off,” she shared. “I am happy that I had a chance to already play in my first year with the national team while I am still young because that was my goal ever since I started to play hockey. I hope we will earn gold in the World Championship (this year), and next year play in Division 1-A with the Latvian national team.”

The 2018 tournament for Division 1-B will one again be in Asiago, Italy in April. If Apsīte and Latvia can win the gold medal there, they will be promoted into group A.

Apsīte’s Finest Assets as a Goalie

Apsīte has a long career ahead of her, especially if she intends to play hockey as long as her mother has (and continues to). Obviously, at just 17 years of age (Apsīte will not turn 18 until May 2018) she has more time ahead to hone her skills. Regardless, this young lady already possesses a keen understanding of her own best attributes and how she can grow as a netminder.

“When I started to play hockey, at first I was a player and that helped me a lot especially with my skating,” Apsīte explained. “Good skating helps me to improve my goalie technique even faster. Characteristics and mental toughness is something that I am still trying to improve. One of them is to be patient, because I am a short goalie and it’s important to stay on my feet as long as possible. But the most important is to be self-confident. I can’t show my team or opponents that I’m not sure or I’m scared about what I am doing. After a goal I need to stay positive and mentally strong and continuously play like the score is still 0-0. Also I think that it is really important for a goalie to be calm because only when you are calm you can make the best decisions in every situation. These are the things that I still need to improve every game and practice.”

Much like the diminutive Arturs Irbe, who was all of 5-foot-8 when he played, Apsīte is only five feet tall. But, like Irbe, she is quick as lightning and has highly impressive reflexes.

What She Has Learned From Mom

Apsīte’s mother Aija has represented Latvia in close to 80 international games. That includes Olympic qualifiers and World Championships at various levels. Aija is a staple of Latvian women’s hockey. It would stand to reason that she has passed some of her knowledge down to her goaltending daughter.

“I think that the most important thing that my mom has taught me is to never give up,” said Apsīte. “As long as you never give up and try your best every time ’til the final second of the game, it’s not important what the result is. You need to play and show your best every time when your are on the ice. For me as a goalie it means that I need to play until the last second of the game. Situations in front of my net end only when the puck is in my glove or in the net; hopefully not too many times. A goalie’s job is to try to save every puck even if it seems impossible. If you don’t try you never know if you could have made that save or not.”

The way that she studies the position and looks at the philosophical portions of it, Apsīte sounds like a young, female Jacques Plante. Certainly some excellent advice from her mom as well.

What Dreams May Come

Like many women’s national teams throughout the globe, Latvia is striving for the next level. Unlike the men’s tournament which includes 12 teams, the women’s hockey portion of the 2018 PyeongChang Winter Games has only eight teams competing. That includes the host nation of South Korea, as well Switzerland and Japan that both qualified. The powerhouse teams of the United States, Canada, Russia, Finland, and Sweden established themselves through the IIHF’s world rankings through five prior tournaments (including the 2014 Sochi Olympics, and the World Championships from 2013 up to and including 2016).

It is one of those qualification spots that Switzerland and Japan captured that Apsīte and Latvia are aiming towards. Similar caliber teams such as Kazakhstan’s and Slovakia’s women’s teams have qualified for the Olympics before. This is what hockey for Apsīte and her family is really all about. Aija Apsīte has played in four different Olympic qualifying tournaments for Latvia and sets the example for her daughters. But that family aspect is extended to not just mother and daughters, but for the family comprised by all of their Latvian teammates.

“My biggest hockey dream is to qualify and play in the Winter Olympics with the Latvian national team,” Apsīte stated confidently.

Stick to that motto that your mom instilled in you, Kristiāna. The talent and desire are within you to make your dream come true.

Seawolves Inline Hockey Club Jersey Channel Islands UK

Image result for Seawolves Inline Hockey Club

The Island of Jersey does not have  a permanent ice rink so Ice hockey cannot be played on the island year round, their is a push for an ice rink to built at some point.
the Island of Jersey does have a rich hockey tradition and Damian Martin is here to give us a history lesson on hockey on the Island.

By Damian Martin – Sea Wolves Inline Hockey

Jersey is the largest of the Channel Islands, a group of Islands sitting in-between France and the U.K.
Jersey’s population is around 100,000 and it measures 45 square miles. Hockey was first introduced to Jersey by Damian Martin in 2013. To our knowledge no form of either Ice, Inline or Roller Hockey had ever been played here before then.

Damian started out by visiting a local club that only provided Roller Discos for young children.
He 
played a simple game of Street hockey with a ball and small goals, but it never really caught
on, and 
after 4 months, interest from the Club fizzled out and he stopped attending.
It wasn’t until the Christmas of 2013 that Damian was able to get involved with Jersey’s
Christmas Ice 
Rink that hockey started to gain momentum.

Being that Jersey only has an Ice rink for 5 weeks a year the Ice Rink is incredibly popular so
it was an 
ideal way to get hockey to a wider audience. The Rink agreed to stay open late
one night a week in 
order to let their staff have a go at Ice Hockey and they allowed the Public
to spectate.

It was scrappy with the rink only providing sticks and nothing else. Damian tended goal for the
first 
time in over 10 years in his old Inline kit, it was a lot of fun. But looking back now the
thought of a 
game with no pads whatsoever is scary!

However those sessions worked to kickstart an Inline Hockey Club and Damian was able
to book the 
same hall where the Ice was, for two hours a week starting from February of 2014.
In those early days 
the inline sessions pretty much followed the same formula as the
Ice sessions,  with little kit, and no real 
structure or training. Damian quickly realised that
he needed help to make things official and safe. It 
was then that he met John Bouteloup
who formed a committee, got the group a Bank account and 
financial backing from two
local companies, GR Langlois Ltd and Le Masurier.

As things got more serious and the demand for kit was put to the guys, we lost a lot of
casual players, 
but we were left with people that wanted to play a proper from of the
game and were prepared to buy 
kit and learn. Not only that, but Jersey attracts a variety
of people over to work from several hockey 
playing nations, such as Canada, Latvia, Poland,
UK and France. So we very quickly started to pick up 
players that had previous experience.
Before long we started to look like a proper Hockey Club. 
During the Christmas of 2014 we
once again made an appearance at the Christmas Rink and picked up even more players.

With the Club moving in the right direction there came a need for a name and that was when the name, “The Seawolves” was first coined by Damian Martin and Simon Soar. The name was
formed by the fact 
that we are surround by sea, coupled with John’s name, “Bouteloup”
meaning Wolf  in French. So the Seawolves were born!

The Club then went on to get a Logo and Jersey designs in 2016, wearing their new jerseys for the first time in April of that year.

The Club has now gone on to form two age groups and hold two weekly sessions, The Seawolves for experienced players aged 14 – 50+, and the Wolf Cubs for players aged 5 – 14
who are beginners, 
the Wolf Cub session is further broken down into smaller groups and
recently has been coached by the trio of Damian Martin, Buzz Glad and Jonathan Nicholson.

We consider ourselves a Rec’ team and haven’t as such played any outside competition but we would love to do so. Our Wolf Cubs recently travelled to France for a Hockey Camp with the Vikings of Cherbourg, and we have links with the Medway Assassins in Kent U.K and try to train with them at least once a year.

We train every week for most of the year at,
Springfield Stadium and Sports Centre, St Helier Jersey
Wolf Cubs Sundays 1pm – 3pm
Seawolves Wednesdays 8pm – 9pm
We have appeared on Ice – DEC / 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016
But mainly play Inline Hockey with a Puck.
We currently have – 15 Regular Wolf Cubs
14 Regular Seawolves

In late 2017 we started a Youth Club program to get more children playing hockey which will continue in 2018. We welcome new players of any experience young or old and we can be found on Facebook and Instagram.

Britain’s Ice Hockey Icon Wonders, What If?

By 

The International Ice Hockey Federation Hall of Fame inducted a procession of hockey greats in May. The honorees included the former N.H.L. stars Joe Sakic, Teemu Selanne, Saku Koivu and Uwe Krupp as well as Angela Ruggiero, one of the most decorated players in women’s hockey.

But no one made as memorable an entrance as Tony Hand, who stepped toward the podium that night in Cologne, Germany, dressed in traditional Scottish Highland regalia — an argyle jacket, knee-high socks and a kilt.

Hand, who may be Britain’s lone hockey icon, received the Richard “Bibi” Torriani Award, which is given to players from lesser-known hockey nations.

But he might have become well known in North America if a 1980s tryout with the powerhouse Edmonton Oilers had panned out.

“I went and met the queen and had a chat, which was quite nice,” Hand, 50, said in a phone interview from Edinburgh, Scotland. “Even if you look at the career, over here I’ve been fortunate enough to have helped the sport any way I can. I have had a decent career and I’ve got a good family here and a lot of friends. So I’m not sitting back sulking. But it would have been nice to see what could have happened.”

Hand is an accomplished coach in the English Premier Ice Hockey League and with the national program, but his most impressive achievements came during an unrivaled 34-season playing career.

Growing up in Edinburgh, Hand headed to the local skating rink when he was 7 for peace and closure after the death of his father from a heart attack. Playing alongside his brothers, he was eventually discovered by a local team, the Murrayfield Racers, with whom he made his professional debut at 14.

By 17, Hand led the British Hockey League with 116 assists in 50 games to go with 99 goals. He surpassed the 100-goal mark in each of the next four seasons.

Those early years were the statistical high point of a pro career spanning more than three decades during which Hand collected 2,992 assists and 4,634 points, both British hockey records. Wayne Gretzky, the player to whom Hand is most frequently compared in Britain, established N.H.L. records considered unmatchable with 1,963 assists and 2,857 points.

“The goalies were bad; that’s what it was,” Hand said modestly when asked about his British hockey exploits.

Whatever the reason for his remarkable point totals, it was enough to gain the attention of the Oilers, who had built one of the great dynasties in league history when they selected Hand with the final pick in the 1986 draft, making him the first British player drafted by an N.H.L. team. By then, Hand had earned a tryout with Calgary, Edmonton’s biggest rival.

“Our league had a deal with Calgary — they would invite the young player of the year in Britain to the camp in Calgary,” Hand said. “It was a token gesture. I don’t think they realized there was a possible opportunity that one of the players could make the team.”

But his rights were officially owned by the Oilers, who had won consecutive Stanley Cups in 1984 and 1985, so Hand reported to Edmonton training camp in 1986. On a club that would win three more Cups in the next four seasons, Hand made an impression despite facing long odds to make the team.

“There was absolutely no question when he came over for that first training camp that he had enough hockey skill,” said Bill Tuele, the Oilers’ former director of public relations. “He had never been pushed to any great limit. He was a neat kid. He was a bit overwhelmed by the whole process. To be thrown into that caldron was almost an impossible task.”

With few roster spots available, Hand was sent to the Victoria Cougars of the Western Hockey League. After collecting 8 points in three games, a homesick Hand returned to Edinburgh to finish the season with the Racers.

He was invited back to Oilers camp the next season and was one of Edmonton’s final cuts. But Hand again decided to head home rather than report to Edmonton’s top developmental team in the American Hockey League.

He would not receive another invitation to an N.H.L. camp, instead flourishing in Britain and becoming the only hockey player to receive the prestigious Member of the British Empire award from Queen Elizabeth II.

His 82 points with the national team made him the country’s career leading scorer. After 14 seasons serving in a dual role as a player and coach with a number of British teams, Hand retired as a player in 2015 at age 47. He served as head coach of the Manchester Phoenix of the English Premier Ice Hockey League until the club ceased operations in January.

Now consisting of 12 teams, the league is entering what local officials believe could be a new golden age for the sport in Britain, with former N.H.L. players joining the league.

“In Tony’s day, he was the best player in the U.K. by far,” said Andy French, the general secretary of Ice Hockey U.K., the national governing body for the sport. “He was better than a lot of the imports. He had a vision that nobody else had. He’s now passing that quality that he had down through to the younger generation of players. I’m hoping that we can produce another Tony Hand.”

For all the success he enjoyed at home, Hand still, three decades later, sometimes thinks about his decision to leave Edmonton.

“It wasn’t like I was unambitious,” he said. “I just didn’t know. I had never been away. Obviously when you’re young you make these decisions, and I had never had a father figure to sort of guide me. I don’t sit and regret it. But did I make the right decision? Probably not.”

Since ending his playing career, Hand has contributed as a scout and coach to the British national team, which in April won the 1B division of the world championships to earn promotion to Division 1A, one level below the top tier.

Hand’s hope is that Britain’s accomplishments in international hockey can help him find the kind of opportunity in the N.H.L. he never quite pursued in an otherwise illustrious hockey career.

“I think I’ve got a lot to offer teams,” Hand said. “I’ve got a lot of experience. I’ve got a lot of knowledge. I haven’t really put my name out anywhere. I thought I would just wait and see what comes.”

Ice Hockey, Curling and Luge will be part of the Portuguese Winter Sports Federation.

Curling geral

By National Teams of Ice Hockey

Ice Hockey, Curling and Luge will be part of the Federation of Winter Sports of Portugal (FDIP), said Lusa Pedro Farromba, president of FDIP.

Curling and Luge federations have already join, while Ice Hockey will happen at the congress meetings scheduled for May of next year, with Pedro Farromba added that he has only met a few days with the Ice Hockey representatives.

The goal, according to Pedro Farromba, is “to give a new Identity to the FDIP,  by adding new winter sports”,  Skiing and Snowboarding federations have been already welcomed.

Portugal already have an ice hockey team, a formation that on September 29th won it’s first international game by defeating Andorra. In the case of curling, there are players in the country who go to Spain to play.

Curling is practiced on an ice rink and the teams aim to get the stones thrown as close as possible to the target by rubbing the ice to try to defend it’s Territory. 

As for the luge, “there are no place for it to be practiced in Portugal because it is a sled that descends down a mountain in an icy circuit, but there is the possibility, as on the roller skies, of doing it without snow, and adapting.

When it comes to infrastructure, Pedro Farromba believes that if there are athletes and will there will be a number of users, the possibility of a ice rink is real. If there are enough athletes, there will be those who want to invest to do it. We have to make it happen and show people that Portugal have enough interest in winter sports.

The role of the FDIP, to be a leader in winter sports and encourage, motivate, through promotional programs that can create greater adherence to young people in Portugal.

The Russian Senior Women’s Team Snap Japan 26 Game Winning Streak

dyupinagoal-2

By Patrick Conway – Conway’s Russian Hockey Blog

The Russian senior women’s team was also at work this past week, preparing for their second annual trip to the United States to face clubs from the National Women’s Hockey League.  The final stage of that preparation was the visit of Team Japan to the Russian hockey base at Novogorsk for a pair of exhibition games yesterday and today.  The Japanese national team came into the series riding a 26-game winning streak in all competitions, so definitely a squad not to be taken too lightly, even as Team Russia looked ahead to the North American tour.

Team Japan served notice early in the first game, too, that they were to be reckoned with, as Akane Hosoyamada of the CWHL’s Calgary Inferno gave the visitors a 1-0 lead after 20 minutes.  Russian Head Coach Alexei Chistyakov’s players found the range thereafter, however; Yevgeniya Dyupina of Dynamo St. Petersburg tied the game seven minutes into the second period.  Then the big Tornado Moscow Oblast trio struck, as Yelena Dergachyova scored with assists to her club linemates Alevtina Shtaryova and Anna Shokhina, and Russia led 2-1 after two periods.  In the third, the Russians pulled away.  First it was another Tornado player, Lyudmila Belyakova, getting her name on the scoresheet, before Agidel Ufa defender Tatyana Shibanova rounded out the scoring in the final minute of what ended as a 4-1 Russian victory.  Shibanova’s Agidel team-mate, the formidable Olga Sosina, picked up assists on both the third-period goals, while Biryusa Krasnoyarsk’s Nadezhda Morozova earned the victory in goal.

Chistyakov opted to go with Valeriya Tarakanova of SKIF Nizhny Novgorod in net for today’s second meeting between the two teams, but the game’s opening act followed the same script.  Once again, Japan held a 1-0 first-intermission lead, this time thanks to Miho Shishiuchi.  And once again, Tornado’s big line came to the fore in the second period, as Shtaryova leveled matters with assists from Dergachyova and Shokhina.  This game, however, would go down to the wire.  With less than three minutes on the clock, Dyupina pounced on a mistake at the Japanese blueline, skated in alone on Nana Fujimoto, and scored what would turn out to be the game winner (see photo at the top of this post).  Tornado’s Nina Pirogova added a third into the empty net with just a few ticks left, and Russia came away with their second victory in two days, by a score of 3-1.

Team Russia sets off for the U.S. on Wednesday, and will open their series on Friday against the New York Riveters.  The full schedule is as follows:

  • Friday, October 13th: New York Riveters
  • Sunday, October 15th: Connecticut Whale
  • Tuesday, October 17th: Connecticut Whale
  • Wednesday, October 18th: Boston Pride
  • Saturday, October 21st: Boston Pride
  • Sunday, October 22nd: New York Riveters

Andorra slowly growing

By Martin Merk – IIHF.com

The 2017 Development Cup offered Andorra to form a national team for the first time and serve as host of an international ice hockey tournament. Although the host team lost the games against Morocco, Ireland and Portugal, it was a good experience for them. 

“It’s our first appearance in an international event. It was difficult against the opponents. We thought we could win against Portugal but we were not so good at converting the shots,” said Aleix Manosas, the local club’s President and Vicef President of the Andorran Ice Sports Federation who was in the net for his team. 

“It’s important for us to have some international exposure, to say we’re little hockey countries but we’re developing and we’re here.” 

Ice sports in Andorra are centred in the 2,000-soul village of Canillo in the northern part of the country in the Pyrenees. It is one of the major winter sport destinations in the country last but not least thanks to having the principality’s only ice rink, the Palau de Gel (“Ice Palace” in Catalan) that includes a full-size ice rink with 1,500 seats and an indoor swimming pool. 

The opening of the ice rink in 1987 was the start of ice hockey, ice skating and curling in the country. The only hockey club, Andorra Hoquei Gel, was founded in 1990. The Andorran Ice Sports Federation came into existence in 1992 and joined the IIHF in 1995. 

Since then Andorra hasn’t hit the international spotlight that much. Senior and junior teams sometimes play games in their neighbourhood with cities with hockey clubs such as Puigcerda (48 km) and Barcelona (200 km) in Spain, or Font-Romeu (65 km) or Toulouse (170 km) in France in driving distance. And in 1997 Spain hosted the 1997 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship D-Pool in Canillo. 

“I remember Korea was here and now they earned promotion to the top division. I know we cannot play against Finland or Sweden like them but why not play in the lower divisions? We’ll fight for that. We are sure that the event is a sign that more people can try to play hockey like us and that more children will play the sport. Like that we can have a better team in the future,” said Manosas. 

According to him there are 90 ice hockey players in the country, about half are senior players and half are children including 12 girls. 

“Hockey in Andorra is played by only few people. Football and basketball are the sport played most often here. But in Canillo it’s a bit colder than in the rest in the country and we have an ice rink. We’ve been developing hockey since the early ‘90s and have been progressing step by step culminating with hosting the Development Cup,” he said. 

2017 was a milestone with having the first official national team. It was mostly composed of players from the local club but also included former players of the club who moved to France including defenceman Louison Courcol (Poitiers), forward Alex Palmitjavilla (Montpellier) and captain Ludovic Blasi (Font-Romeu), who all play in the French fourth-tier competition. 

“Most players are from Canillo, about 70 per cent, or from other towns in Andorra. We just had three players who played in France because they are students. In Andorra we don’t have a lot of universities so they have to go abroad. It’s good for us because they can see another style of hockey and coaching,” Manosas said about the situation in the high-altitude country of around 80,000 inhabitants. 

“Normally the players here play in two small tournaments with ten games and some players play with Font-Romeu in the south of France to have maybe two or four games more. We are trying to do some exhibition games but it’s not so easy to go outside because our budget is not high. And we try to find more players to play in a French competition.” 

For captain Blasi the event has been a great experience despite the losses. 

“We are a small country with a few hockey players in Andorra and those who went to play abroad play at amateur level. We try to play against better teams like at the Development Cup, which is a good way to progress and grow hockey in Andorra,” the captain said. “10 to 12 players from the team have never played according to IIHF rules and with body-checking before. They were adapting the game with more intensity and more shots. 

“It’s an honour to play for the country for the first time. Many play in the club in Andorra but it’s not the same as representing your country. We’ve been hoping for this since childhood.” 

Andorra has a senior and now a youth team to make progress with the youngest players. 

“We formed the under-10 team last year. They competed in two tournaments here and in Barcelona so they had 12 games. In the new season we want to take part in four tournaments so in the future we will hopefully have future champs,” Manosas said. 

A Female Hasek: Klára Peslarová, Team Czech Republic Goalie

Klára Peslarová

By Nathaniel Oliver – The Hockey Writers

The three highest save percentages of Dominik Hasek’s international career were .961, .924 and .923. Those numbers came in international tournaments like the Winter Olympics or World Championships when “The Dominator” played in at least four games of each tournament. In the process, Hasek won an Olympic gold and bronze, and a World Championship silver with three bronze. The Hockey Hall of Famer’s Olympic career save percentage is a staggering .946. As every hockey fan knows, very little ever got by Hasek.

The three highest save percentages (thus far) for fellow Czech goaltender Klára Peslarová in which she has played at least four tournament games have been .975, .954, and .951. Yeah, not much gets by her either.

And she is only a 20-year-old.

“My brother Jakub always said, ‘You are like “You are like  Dominik Hasek in a skirt’,” Peslarová shared.

Peslarová’s Youth Hockey and Where It Began

Like most elite hockey players, Peslarová began playing hockey at a very young age. Born November 23, 1996 in the Czech city of Ostrava she ended up finding inspiration as a goaltender from two remarkable Swedes instead of her fellow countryman, Hasek.

“I started playing when I was three,” Peslarová recalled. “My father was a coach and my brother played hockey too. Because my father was a coach to little children — four to six year olds — I was in the same group. The goalie was sick, so I wanted to try it. I stayed with my group as a goalie, and then the younger group as a forward. You know, you have to be a good skater.”

Around the world, numerous hockey leagues are beginning their 2017-18 seasons. Peslarová is now returning to play in the Czech Republic with a men’s team, HC RT TORAX Poruba after playing two seasons for SDE HF of the Svenska damhockeyligan (SDHL); the top women’s league in Sweden. The SDE HF hockey club is located in Stockholm. While she may be returning to her homeland, it would seem that Peslarová had developed a kinship toward the Scandinavian country long ago.

Henrik Lundqvist was always my hero,” she explained.

Separately, one of the other top female goaltenders in the world — who is also a Swede — helped provide tutelage and fostering to a young Peslarová: “I didn’t know too much about a women’s hockey league, but it was Kim Martin Hasson who helped the team in 2006 around the Olympic Games. This was the first time that I saw women’s hockey.”

Martin Hasson is a silver and bronze Olympic medalist for Sweden, and an NCAA champion from her time with the University of Minnesota Duluth. She is also the Athlete Ambassador to the Czech Republic, and worked with Peslarová at one of the IIHF’s high performance camps when the Czech was a youngster.

Beginning of Her Success at the International Level

Peslarová first got into international play for the Czech Republic during the 2013 IIHF Women’s U18 tournament held in Finland. She appeared in five of the Czech Republic’s six tournament games and posted an important win over Russia. Peslarová’s statistics from that showcase are a bit tough to swallow from sight alone, as her .880 save percentage is rather average while her 5.18 goals against average is cringe-worthy to look at.

However, those numbers do not tell the entire story though. Keep in mind that Peslarová was only 16 at the time of this tournament. In a 10-0 drubbing by the United States in the semifinals she took on 42 shots of a total 76 that the U.S. peppered onto the Czech net that game, and still stopped 37 of them. Her other save totals in the tournament games were 11, 28, 26 and 30 respectively. Certainly a solid performance by a first year player on the national team.

The numbers that Peslarová was about to produce from here on out would seem otherworldly.

2014 Becomes Peslarová’s Coming-Out Party

The 2014 IIHF Women’s U18 tournament was held in Budapest, Hungary and would be the final U18 of Peslarová’s career. Seemingly, this tournament belonged to her. Through Peslarová’s remarkable play in net, the Czech Republic would win only their second medal in the tournament’s history, and their first since 2008 when the Women’s U18 was first brought about by the IIHF.

Peslarová was brilliant in net. She posted four wins to go with two losses, with one of the wins coming in a shootout over Finland in the Czech Republic’s first game of the tournament. She shut out Sweden in the quarterfinals of the tournament 3-0, and then did the same to Russia in the bronze medal game by a score of 1-0. In total, she played 345:00 of ice time, allowed a mere nine goals in six games, had a 1.57 goals against and a whopping .951 save percentage.

Klára Peslarová

Three times Klára Peslarová has been named Best Goaltender by the IIHF in
international competition

Peslarová’s greatest heroics came in the 3-1 semifinal loss to the United States. In the 2013 tournament, the Czech Republic had twice allowed 10 goals to the U.S. the two times the teams squared off. This time Peslarová was a wall that could also move and stand on its head. The U.S. put 61 shots on Peslarová and she steered aside 58 of them. In a most deserving performance, Peslarová would be named the Best Goaltender award recipient for the entire tournament.

When asked what that tournament and bronze medal mean to her today, Peslarová shared: “Certainly a lot. I like to always remember it. This was the last opportunity at the U18 level. Also, every award and medal means a lot for me.”

Continued Heroics Throughout 2014 and 2015

The IIHF decided to host a Women’s World Championships during an Olympic year for the first time in 2014. In order to continue the development of teams not participating in the Sochi Games, the IIHF continued to fund participation in the women’s tournament. The Czech Republic simply ran the table over the likes of Norway, France, Denmark, Austria and Slovakia at that year’s Division I Women’s Worlds. Peslarová had now graduated to the Czech women’s national team and once again shined brighter than the sun as their star goaltender.

Peslarová went a perfect 4-0 throughout the tournament as she helped vault the Czech Republic into the top division for women’s international play. The Czech Republic won all five of their games, and Peslarová was once again named the tournament’s Best Goaltender. In her four games she allowed only two goals and posted an almost unfathomable 0.50 goals against and a .975 save percentage.

There would be a near exact repeat performance by Peslarová in 2015 in France. The Czech Republic went a perfect 5-0 once more throughout the Division I tournament to again be promoted back into the top division. Peslarová allowed just two goals — one each to Latvia and Austria — and posted shutouts over France and Denmark. Once again she finished with a 0.50 for goals against as well as a .954 save percentage. For the third time in international play, Peslarová would be named Best Goaltender.

Looking back on the two successive tournaments, Peslarová recalled: “It is definitely an honor for me. I got a chance as a young goalie, I am glad I got this opportunity; and I did not disappoint the coachesEvery year I am doing my best. We have a lot of young goalies in Czech, and I know that everyone can get this chance.”

Peslarová’s League and Professional Play

Since those stellar performances, Peslarová has played in two other Women’s World Championships and one Olympic qualifier. She also ventured forth into professional play and into some of the premier women’s leagues in the world.  As mentioned earlier, Peslarová played the previous two years with SDE HF. She also briefly spent time with Biryusa Krasnoyarsk of the Russian Women’s Hockey League. Now she will be playing alongside men.  Peslarová explained the progression of the past few years and how it has taken place:

“In Russia I played for Biryusa Krasnoyarsk and in Sweden it was for SDE HF in Stockholm. In both it was the highest league. In Russia I was paid like a professional player. In Sweden I had to earn money by work, and in the evenings I had hockey. In Russia there is a limited number of foreigners that can play, but in Sweden it is an undetermined amount. That’s a reason why I liked Sweden more.  Right now I am working hard and preparing myself for the next Olympics.” She smiled, “Let’s see what happens.”

Intangibles of Peslarová’s Game

Dominik Hasek played professional hockey until he was 46 years old. Klára Peslarová will turn 21 at the end of next month.  Hasek didn’t play his best hockey until after he turned 30 and won Stanley Cups at the ages of 37 and 43. That being said, Peslarová has many, many more years of elite level hockey left to play.

The Czech Republic are not one of the eight teams participating at the upcoming 2018 PyeonChang Games in South Korea. Make no mistake, Peslarová will do everything in her power to get her country there in 2022. She possesses numerous intangibles that will help ensure that it happens.

“I think the best is that I’m positive in my mind. My brother thinks I am better in skating than catching the pucks,” Peslarová laughed. “So definitely my movement helps me. But the most important thing I have learned is cooperation with my teammates. Be part of the team, because when you are successful in collective sport you can be successful in private life too.”

Already Peslarová is the most decorated and is decisively the best female goaltender in the hockey history of the Czech Republic. Asked if she wanted to continue playing until she is 46 like Hasek, Peslarová laughed and responded:

Jaromir Jagr can surpass Dominik Hasek – not me!”

At the very least, we know that there will be a solid number of more years to enjoy the play of Peslarová. When all is said and done, she may very well be forever known as “the female Hasek”. Perhaps someday there may even be a goaltender known as “the male Peslarová”.

Portugal goes on ice

By Martin Merk – IIHF.com

Bullfight arena, travel give new ice hockey exposure

Four teams played at the 2017 Development Cup. While players from three teams are regularly on ice, the Portuguese players that reached third place are mostly roller hockey players who dream of establishing ice hockey in the Southwest European country of over 10 million people. 

The Portuguese Ice Sports Federation (FPDG) joined the IIHF in 1999 when an ice rink was in operation in Viseu in the centre of the country. During the best days a three-team national championship was concluded. However, in 2006 the rink shut down for works in the shopping mall and when it reopened. The federation had plans to make it full size but the owners had different ideas. The ice rink shrank and was not suitable for hockey due to its position within a food court without protection. 

The next attempt to start ice hockey was a temporary ice rink that is installed during winter months in a bullfight arena in Elvas, a city of 24,000 people in the Alentejo region at the border to Spain. Games against a Czech team took place in 2015. 

“We have an ice rink for about a month and a half they install temporarily in the winter. And we go to Spain like to the Madrid region and to Granada. We want to establish good relationships with Spanish clubs and maybe one day be invited to play in sort of an Iberian league,” said Mauricio Xavier, one of the more mature players on the ice and the President of the Portuguese Ice Sports Federation. The rink in Elvas is 40 on 20 metres, not full size but they can play the games five-on-five and it’s the size of the roller hockey fields the players are used to. And it’s a two-hour journey from Lisbon – less than the four-and-a-half hours to the next rink in Spain or to Andorra for the recent event. 

“We had big help from the Czech ambassador in Lisbon, Stanislav Kazecky, who has helped us out for several years and had players from the Czech Republic coming to play against us and we also went to the Czech Republic to play against them outdoor.” 

Xavier was born in the Lisbon area where he spent most of his life but got infected with the ice hockey virus in Canada. When he was one-and-a-half years old the family escaped from the dictatorship in Portugal in those days and went to Canada. 

“I started to play when I was five years old. We moved back when I was 13 or 14 years old and I was without hockey until inline hockey showed up in the ‘90s,” he said. When the rink opened in Viseu, he was back on the ice for a few years until it shut down. 

Not only the temporary rink in Elvas brought changes into a positive direction for Portuguese ice hockey. 

“We’re in a good place because we will have changes in Portugal that were kind of imposed to us from the government, which is a good sign for us because we’ve never had government support before,” Xavier said. “The current Ice Sports Federation will be extinguished and ice sports moved into the Portuguese Winter Sports Federation.” 

What might cause political fights elsewhere seems to work smooth and peacefully in Portugal. 

“They have this status as a sporting utility entity and get support through government programs. This federation has the goal to bring sports to the Olympics.” 

While the Olympics are far for Portugal right now, the national team finished the 2017 Development Cup in third place, which was the first tournament the team played against other countries. Morocco with players from other countries and Ireland with regular ice experience across the border in Northern Ireland were too strong but the team had two wins against host Andorra. 

“The tournament has been a good experience. We won games here as a country not having a permanent ice rink, that’s something to be proud of. We want to get kids, male, females to get involved in the game but first we need the rink, government support and money,” said head coach Jim Aldred, a U.S. citizen. 

The Portuguese hoped to have an even stronger team than the roster limited to just 11 players. 

“We hoped to be as good as Morocco, we also have Portuguese players all around the world but John Tavares and Mike Ribeiro got missing somewhere,” Xavier said with a smile and added on a more serious note: “We wanted to develop players in Portugal. Everybody is Portuguese except for the coach, who is married to a Portuguese woman.” 

Another reason was that some players from Portugal or abroad didn’t come was money. 

“We want to develop ice hockey in Portugal but we have no ice rink and no money. Most of the people have to pay for their own so some people wanted to come but didn’t have the money,” said Aldred, who has started working for the Portuguese early this year including a tournament in Granada, Spain. 

“The players are coming along. It’s a process. They’re some older guys and some younger guys too. The biggest problem is not having an ice rink, they all have to play inline hockey. The closest rink for us is a four-and-a-half hour journey away in Madrid.” 

Three players joined the team from abroad. Christopher Leite once played games in the top French league for Anglet and Amiens, for whose fourth-tier team he was still active. Sylvain Rodrigues came also from France, from Evry, and one player is originally from the Portuguese Azores archipelago but used to play in the U.S. before returning to Portugal. 

One of the most notable players, however, was a local one: 20-year-old goaltender Ivan Silva. 

“I love inline hockey too but ice hockey is the best thing. It’s the second time I played hockey on a full-size ice rink,” said the goalie who was born in Spain but has lived in Lisbon since the age of one. 

“For a goalie the feeling in ice hockey, the sliding, is better. And it’s less hot,” he said. “It’s sad we don’t have an ice rink except for the winter season when there are tiny rinks in shopping malls and then I go there.” 

Being able to play in Andorra was a wonderful experience for him as he said. And with many Portuguese living in the country nestled in the Pyrenees between France and Spain, they had some local support. 

“We saw we have a lot to learn and to practise. There were players here who play at a much higher level. It was great to be here. 

“We met many Portuguese here especially in a restaurant. They made us feel like at home. They supported us well. 

“My dream for the future is to have an ice rink in Portugal, in Lisbon, to play and practise, and to have teams and get kids to play the sport from the childhood age. It would be nice to be able in a World Championship tournament one day.” 

President Xavier hopes that the ice rink situation will change and is optimistic after the recent political change for ice sports that it will happen and give new opportunities to develop ice hockey. 

“In Portugal we have a football mentality first. It’s easier to build and maintain a football pitch than an ice rink but I still believe that Lisbon with a population of two million people deserves an ice rink. They deny many sports to the people. It’s the only big capital in Europe that has never had an ice rink. We never showed the Portuguese people what ice hockey, figure skating or speed skating is. We have speed skaters on wheels who are world champions and would like to go on ice, every speed skater elsewhere has an inline and an ice season. And it’s similar for us in hockey,” Xavier said. 

“Lisbon wants to be capital of sports in 2021 but doesn’t have an ice rink and at least five sports are neglected. But we’re in a transitory phase and I believe we’ll have an ice rink in one or two years.” 

Hungary celebrates 90 years of ice hockey in the country

By Szabolcs Zavodszky – IIHF.com

The Hungarian Ice Hockey Federation celebrated the sport of ice hockey with a star-studded gala event that consisted something for everyone. 

The Hungarian Ice Hockey Federation celebrated 90 years of ice hockey with an event that had a kids’ ice hockey tournament, a women’s game that pitted the national teams of Hungary against Poland. There was an “old boys” game that had the 2008 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship’s Hungarian team that won promotion to the top division against the Finnish “Golden Lions”, that was largely made up of players from the 1995 World Champions. The final game was the Hungarian men’s team playing Poland. 

The guest of honour was Vladislav Tretiak. “The Hungarian Ice Hockey Federation has done great work,” Tretiak said. “The fans are great and we are all familiar with the work that Dr. Zsuzsanna Kolbenheyer has done.” Tretiak and Kolbenheyer know each other very well since both are IIHF Council members. 

The women’s team set the tone for the celebration as they defeated Poland 8-1 thanks to Alexandra Huszak’s hat trick. The game was tied early but Hungary pulled away in the second half of the game. 

For many fans the biggest treat of the gala event was seeing players such as Balazs Kangyal, Levente Szuper and Krisztian Palkovics go up against Jere Lehtinen, Niko Kapanen and Reijo Ruotsalainen. This might not have had the same pace if it was played 10 or 20 years ago but it was still exciting for both the players and the fans. Hungary had a 2-0 lead after the first period and were up 5-1 at one point before Finland came back, but Hungary hung on for the 6-5 win. 

Former Hungarian head coach Pat Cortina had a blast coaching his former players again. “It is always special to be back and it feels better the older I get. There are great people here and the team is a group of unbelievable guys. It was a great atmosphere and everyone had fun,” the Canadian said. 

Jere Lehtinen has become familiar with Hungarian hockey the last few seasons as the GM of the Finnish national team. “For me it was great because I had a chance to see the Hungarian fans again who were the talk of the World Championships in Russia two seasons ago. Actually Finland played in Hungary last year, so this is the third year that I have had a chance to see these great fans,” he said. 

Lehtinen was the leading scorer for Finland with two goals and an assist. “It was fun but we had a long trip here and our legs were still heavy at the start. It was a good team, both teams had a lot of fun, Hungary still had a lot of players who I think could still play. We are pleased that the Hungarian Ice Hockey Federation invited us to play in this game and we are happy that the fans enjoyed themselves.” 

Gergely Majoross and Csaba Kovacs finished with two goals and an assist each as well. “This was an extremely great experience to be back on the ice with these guys playing against the opponents that we played and in this arena, it could not be much better than this. I am not in match form but maybe I did have a bit of an advantage because of my young age,” said Kovacs and thanked the Golden Lions for coming to Budapest. “There were legends playing on both sides who I have tremendous respect for. We saw these guys play on TV and we would like to thank them for coming here and playing against them.” 

The gala came to an end with the Hungarian men’s national team taking on Poland. Both teams named new head coaches who were making their coaching debuts with their teams that will battle for promotion to the top division next April at the 2018 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship Division I Group A in Budapest. The visiting team Poland had Ted Nolan with Jarmo Tolvanen behind the bench for Hungary. 

After a scoreless first period the floodgates opened up in the second period in great delight for the fans. Hungary jumped out to a 4-0 lead thanks to a pair of goals from Brance Orban with Poland ending the shutout that David Duschek had going in the final minute of the second period. The final score was 5-1. 

“We want to thank everyone that came out to the Laszlo Papp Sportarena. I am sure the highlight was the chance to see the ‘Sapporo Heroes’ back on the ice. It was great to see the stands full with fans who created a great atmosphere in the arena,” said Gergo Nagy after the game. 

Tolvanen was also happy with the result of the game: “This is the time where we can get to know each other. It was a good performance and a good team effort. We had four solid units. It was great effort for the home fans.” 

Hungary has had an extraordinary 90 years of ice hockey with ups and downs and will hopefully see new highlights during the next 90 years. 

Older posts