Category: Europe (page 2 of 9)

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.

Rebrand for Czech Ice Hockey reflects national identity

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By Dariya Subkhanberdina – Transform Magazine

 

Ice hockey, the Czech Republic’s national sport, has been embedded in Czech culture for over 100 years. In preparation for the upcoming season, the governing body of ice hockey in the Czech Republic and one of the founding members of the International Ice Hockey Federation, Czech Ice Hockey, has partnered with Prague-based design agency Go4Gold to unveil a new name as well as introduce a dynamic visual identity.

As a hallmark of Czech modern national identity, Czech Ice Hockey, formerly known as the Czech Ice Hockey Association, represents and regulates both the men’s and women’s national ice hockey teams. After 110 years of representing the Czech Republic in international competitions, the redesign has been long overdue.

The former logo employed the flag of the Czech Republic as the focal point of its design, but the new logo, designed by Czech logo designer Tomas Vachuda, uses the country’s official symbol – the lion – for inspiration. Based on the colours of the Czech national flag, the logo sports red, white and blue and features grey shading to resemble the colour of ice. Mirroring the Czech coat of arms, the lion wears a crown, and the six tips in the lion’s mane embody the six hockey players on the ice. The lion’s mouth hides a tiny hockey puck, while the shape of its eye pays tribute to the Štvanice Island in Prague, where Czechoslovakia won its first world title in 1947.

In contrast to the former logo, an image of a hockey stick reflecting a Czech flag on the ice, the redesign is a more distinct and straightforward visual as well as conceptual expression of the Czech Republic’s relationship with ice hockey. As the Americanization of European sports logos grows more popular, European organizations are following suit and testing what works and what doesn’t. By redesigning its brand, Czech Ice Hockey triumphs in maintaining a sense of national heritage while adopting a bright and modern visual identity.

As a self-contained unit, the lion head functions as an adaptable icon that can be featured across a variety of mediums. The new logo has already been unveiled through marketing tools  such as merchandise that hockey fans can wear in support of the team and eye-catching advertisements that feature duotone gradient action photos.

Key meeting for new-look Racers

By Nigel Duncan – The Edinburgh Reporter

Murrayfield Racers legend Tony Hand MBE has invited coaches and players of ice hockey teams based at the Edinburgh rink to a key meeting on Friday.

The much-decorated player, who is in the International Ice Hockey Federation’s Hall of Fame, plans to outline his vision for the future of the world’s fastest team sport at the Capital rink.

Underpinning the move is Hand’s desire to develop young, British talent and open trials will be available for anybody to attend. They will be held on dates to be confirmed.

And the former Racers, Ayr Scottish Eagles, Sheffield Steelers, Edinburgh Racers and Dundee Stars player has pledged to be totally transparent in his move to take ice hockey forward in Edinburgh.

Edinburgh-born Hand, who will be director of hockey for Murrayfield Racers, said: “Murrayfield Racers were once Britain’s most decorated team and I was privileged to play for the club.

“They have now been reborn and this is a new era for ice hockey at the rink.

“And we’ve pledged to showcase the highest level of hockey possible next season. The recruitment process begins now.”

Racers have the ice contract at Murrayfield next season and have been entered into the Scottish National League (SNL) and the highly-competitive National Ice Hockey League (NIHL) Cup which, according to Hand, is a big step-up from the SNL.

Billingham Stars, Blackburn Hawks, Hull Pirates, Sheffield Steeldogs and Telford Tigers join the Sharks and Racers in the NIHL cup competition.

The Edinburgh side will play one home game and one away fixture against each other before two leg semi-finals and a final later in the year.

Hand said: “We’ve invited coaches and players from the SNL and under-20 teams as well as other teams playing out of Murrayfield.

“We want to discuss with them the best way forward for the sport in the Capital.”

He added: “Time is short and we have a lot of work to do, but we have been working hard behind-the-scenes over the past few months.

“We’re happy to take any questions at the meeting as we plan to move forward in a totally transparent way.

“This is a key meeting but we feel it is vital that we give ambitious, young British players a pathway to the top of the sport in this country.”

Tomek Valtonen to coach Polish national team

By Martin Merk – IIHF.com

The Polish Ice Hockey Association (PZHL) has signed a two-year contract with Tomek Valtonen as new head coach of the Polish men’s national team. The signing comes one month after the decision to part ways with the former duo of Ted Nolan and Tom Coolen following the relegation to the third tier of the IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship.

The 37-year-old was born in Piotrkow Trybunalski, Poland, to a Polish mother and a Finnish father but didn’t have touchpoints with Polish ice hockey until now. The family moved to Kitee in eastern Finland when he was four. There he became an ice hockey player and also played nine years pesapallo, a Finnish sport similar to baseball, where he won three junior championships before focusing on ice hockey.

After starting to play in Kitee, he later played his junior hockey at Joensuu and Ilves Tampere where he had his professional debut. He played three IIHF World Junior Championships for Finland winning gold in his first participation in 1998 and was drafted in the second round by the Detroit Red Wings the same year. He left to practise with the Red Wings and spent one year of junior hockey with the OHL’s Plymouth Whalers before continuing his professional career with Jokerit Helsinki in Finland where he won one championship in 2002 and retired as a 28-year-old in 2009 due to a shoulder injury and moved into coaching.

Valtonen worked his way up in Jokerit Helsinki and moved to the senior team first as an assistant coach in 2012 and the later part 2013/2014 season as head coach. At the 2013 IIHF World Junior Championship in Ufa, Russia, he also had a brief return to international ice hockey as assistant coach of the Finnish U20 national team. The last four years he was the head coach of Vaasan Sport in the Finnish Liiga before the decision to part ways in March.

Now Tomek Valtonen, introduced under his more formal Polish name Tomasz Valtonen by the association, returns to his motherland and gave his first interviews in Polish. He was presented to the press in Nowy Targ close to the Tatra mountains and the border with Slovakia both as head coach of club team Podhale Nowy Targ and of the Polish national team. In Nowy Targ he will be assisted by Marko Ronkko, who worked with him at the Jokerit Helsinki U20 team. The coaching staff of the national team has not been named yet although Valtonen mentioned new Automatyka Gdansk coach Marek Zietara as a candidate.

One year ago Ted Nolan was introduced in the Polish capital in splendid fashion and with the goal to get back to the top level. This year things are different with a news release of three sentences and a press conference organized by the local club team in Nowy Targ’s city hall. The Polish Ice Hockey Association had a big financial loss that ended with a change of leadership in spring with Piotr Demianczuk as new President and a possible legal aftermath. Few weeks later the association also suffered losses on the ice. After narrowly missing out on promotion to the top division in 2015 and 2016, the team was last in the 2018 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship Division I Group A in Hungary and was relegated to the third tier of world hockey.

Having a young coach from the top level in Finland move to Poland and working there for two organizations was an ideal solution for the national team also considering the financial situation. He was selected among several applicants by the PZHL board.

“He has a good CV. Tomek is willing to co-operate. He followed us, he knows a lot about us. He’s a coach of the young generation who has willingness, plans and ambitions. The Finnish association also praised him very much,” PZHL Vice President Miroslaw Minkina told Polsat.

“The association is in a tough financial situation. We would not be able to afford the salary of a coach of this class even with the situation that the amount of the salary was not the main thing for him.”

His first tournament will be the Euro Ice Hockey Challenge tournament on home ice 9-11 November. The PZLH managed to get strong opponents to celebrate the 100-year anniversary of Poland restoring independence with the Independence Day on 11 November as Denmark, Norway and Austria will come to play at a Polish venue to be determined.

“I’m aware what hockey in Poland looks like, it absolutely doesn’t frighten me. I know what to expect and I know that I can help,” Valtonen told hokej.net and looks forward to his two assignments in Poland.

“Coaching players is a 24/7 job. If someone is not ready for that there’s nothing to look for in this sport. My players have to be ready for this.”

Valtonen saw three games of the national team at the 2018 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship Division I Group A live. “I can say with all confidence that the results were worse than the game. The players have skill but they were not a team,” he said and hopes to bring a positive influence to Poland with his demand to reduce the number of import players from ten to six but also hopes that with his Finnish connection and exchange he can help educate Polish coaches.

The goal for the season will be to return to the Division I Group A. Poland will play the 2019 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship Division I Group B in Tallinn, 28 April to 4 May 2019, against Japan, host Estonia, Ukraine, Romania and the Netherlands.

Danish hockey on the rise despite elimination at home worlds

By

Danish hockey is on the rise, even though the Danish hockey team has been knocked out of the world championships.

The national team’s early elimination at its first world championships on home ice can hardly overshadow the boost the tournament has given the sport in the country.

“I hope it spreads awareness of hockey in Denmark for a lot of families and hopefully they’ll try to get their kids to play hockey,” Columbus Blue Jackets forward Oliver Bjorkstrand said. “Hopefully it gets more hockey kids involved and more media attention on hockey, of course. It’s something we’re hoping for at this tournament.”

The progress has been obvious.

In 2003, Denmark advanced to the top international division for the first time in 54 years and has not been relegated since. The country reached the quarterfinals twice and managed to beat big teams, including the United States.

Center Frans Nielsen then opened a new era in 2007 by joining the New York Islanders. Currently with the Detroit Red Wings, Nielsen has 423 points in the NHL with 152 goals and 271 assists in 764 games.

Others soon followed.

Denmark currently has seven players in the NHL, and five of them played for their country at this year’s worlds, including Nielsen and Bjorkstrand. The others were Toronto Maple Leafs No. 1 goaltender Frederik Andersen and two San Jose Sharks forwards, Jannik Hansen and Mikkel Boedker.

In 2011, Hansen became the first Dane to play the Stanley Cup finals with the Vancouver Canucks.

At the world championships, Denmark beat Germany, Finland, Norway and South Korea but lost to Latvia 1-0 on Tuesday and missed out on the quarterfinals.

Perhaps the absence of two Danish forwards currently busy in the NHL playoffs played a role in that.

Lars Eller has five goals and seven assists in 15 playoff games for the Washington Capitals, who lead their Eastern Conference final against the Tampa Bay Lightning 2-1. Nikolaj Ehlers had a 60-point regular season with 29 goals and 31 assists for the Winnipeg Jets and has seven assists in the Western Conference final against the Vegas Golden Knights. That series is tied 1-1.

“That’s been a long way (for Danish hockey),” Nielsen said. “It’s been incredible and we’re proud of where we are today.”

At this year’s worlds, Denmark enjoyed huge support from the roaring home fans mostly wearing red and white jerseys at their games in Herning. After the victories, the crowd and players sang the Danish national anthem together.

“The whole city backs us up here,” said Nielsen, who is from Herning. “It’s been incredible.”

End of an era for France

By Andy Potts – IIHF.com

It’s been a long journey. In 1975, when Dave Henderson first arrived in Amiens and started playing for the local Gothiques, the club history recalls ‘a little Canadian who barely spoke a word of French’. In 2018, after taking charge of the national team for the 346th time, Henderson retired from his position of head coach.

In the 14 years that Henderson and his assistant Pierre Pousse have led Les Bleus, the country has made enormous progress. They masterminded a return to the top division for the 2008 World Championship and the country has stayed there ever since. Eleven consecutive seasons of top-flight action have brought memorable victories against some of the biggest teams in the game. In tandem, the French Ice Hockey Federation has boosted the country’s sporting infrastructure. At all levels of the game, French national teams are making progress, and last year saw Paris co-host the World Championship as the main event returned to France for the first time in the modern era.

“It’s been a fun ride, most of it,” Henderson acknowledged after running down the final curtain on his time in charge of the team.

Among the many highlights, Pousse unhesitatingly picks out the 2008 World Championship in Quebec City. “We had three years in the B pool, including that difficult World Championship [Division I] in Amiens; we went to China, to the end of the world, where there was only one journalist, and won promotion,” he said. “Then we went to Quebec and it was such an eye-opener. Very few of the players had experienced anything like it, and we certainly hadn’t.”

Hockey in France was very different back then. Most of the national team was drawn from the domestic league, whereas the majority of players in Copenhagen are playing abroad, gaining greater experience. The local competition is also much improved.

“French hockey has come from being like kitchen hockey, I guess you’d call it, to something much more professional. We have more preparation, more games, more intensity and more organisation. It’s going in the right direction and it will keep going that way under the direction of our Federation.”

Dave Henderson

French national team head coach

Pousse, who played under Henderson in Amiens before working with him as a coach with the French Juniors and then the national team, is expected to keep working on the French hockey program. For Henderson, there’s a slight pause – but no plans to stop working altogether.

“I’ll find something to do,” he said. “I’d drive my wife nuts if I didn’t do something.

“I’m in touch with the Federation and I’ll just play it by ear for now. In the next couple of months everything will be decided.”

For all the emotion of the final game – and a guard of honour as the French and Swiss teams applauded Henderson and Pousse off the ice – the 66-year-old is confident that this is the right step for the team.

“I think it was a global decision,” he said. “After 14 years I’d gone past retirement age and I think the team needs a change. The decision was made and I think it’s going to be a good decision.”

For Henderson and Pousse, who have worked in tandem since the 1990s, it’s going to be a big change. And for their players, the arrival of the legendary Philippe Bozon, the first French-trained player to reach the NHL, is something new.

“Personally, I was [Henderson’s] player for nine years, and now it’s the end,” said Damien Fleury, who wore the ‘C’ as Henderson took charge of his final game. “It’s tough, but it’s hockey. I just wish them the best, and thanks for everything they did for us.

“As for Bozon, I don’t know. I know him, but I’ve never had him as a coach. I know it’s going to be tough. I know we’re going to work hard. Maybe this is what we’ll need to go to the quarter-final.”

Bozon to lead Les Bleus

By Martin Merk – IIHF.com

France had a great start at the 2018 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship with long-time head coach Dave Henderson behind the bench. Today it was announced that the 66-year-old will retire as a coach after the tournament and after 14 years as head coach of “Les Bleus”.

Henderson moved to France in the ‘70s to play and coach Amiens before joining the French national team program as the U20 national team coach in 1999. He took over the men’s team in the 2004/05 season and brought it back to the top division in 2007. Since 2008 France has been playing in the top division without being relegated. The best placing was in 2014 when France reached the quarter-finals and finished in 8th place – the best World Championship placing since 1953. Last year on home ice in Paris the French tightly missed out on a playoff qualification and were 9th.

A successor has already been found: French hockey legend Philippe Bozon will take over and be the French national team head coach as of the upcoming season. The 51-year-old IIHF Hall of Fame member brings with him vast international experience as a player. He was the first French-trained NHL player and represented his country in four Olympic Winter Games and in 12 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship events (including eight in the top division).

After ending his career as a player with Geneva-Servette in 2006 he started to coach the junior teams of the club and coached the French U20 national team at two occasions before moving to senior pro hockey. He coached HC Lugano and HC Sierre in Switzerland before returning to France where he has been the head coach of the Bordeaux Boxers since 2016.

“After more than 15 years with the national teams, French hockey can thank [Dave Henderson and Pierre Pousse] for their faithfulness and dedication,” French Ice Hockey Federation President Luc Tardif said.

“After 11 consecutive years at the elite Worlds, that’s a long-time record for Dave Henderson, who leaves for retirement after his last competition and a new cycle opens for Les Bleus. After meetings in spring, the board has approved the decision to nominate Philippe Bozon at the helm of the French national team as of the upcoming season.”

Bozon still has a contract in Bordeaux and the three parties involved found an agreement that will allow him to coach both teams during the upcoming season.

Italy’s Andreas Bernard hones skills in Finland

By Martin Merk IIHF.com

It was a decision that would change his life. Around his 19th birthday and with his first games in the top Italian league, Andreas Bernard decided to move to junior hockey in Finland. To leave his beloved home of South Tyrol (visibly represented as the ad on the Italian jerseys here in Budapest) where he grew up and played in the town the locals call Neumarkt (also known by its Italian name of Egna elsewhere in the country).

He played U20 hockey in Lappenranta close to the Russian border, had his first top-level senior league games in his second season and two years later tried his breakthrough in the second-tier league where he led Jukurit Mikkeli to the championship and was named best goaltender of the league. Two years followed as the backup for SaiPa Lappenranta before he moved to Assat Pori in 2015 where he has been the starting goalie ever since.

Last season he had his statistically best season, fourth in save percentage in the Finnish Liiga. Recently he was sixth in the playoff stats.

Back with the Italian national team he every year goes back to his roots and to his buddies. In the interview zone in Budapest he answers questions to reporters in his native languages of German and Italian, in English and even in Finnish. It’s not the easiest language to learn as it has no relation to his other languages and to most European languages due to its different roots.

“It’s not so easy but I’ve been there for nine years, have my girlfriend and future wife there and she helped me a lot. In the meantime I can speak fluently,” Bernard said.

Bernard has another year with Assat on his contract and doesn’t think about leaving Finland soon.

“I like it very much in Finland. It’s very professional, it’s a bit different than in Italy. The culture is different, it’s less stressful. The mentality is different, we practise more and hard. After the season I have two or three weeks off and then it continues. In Italy you have two or three months off. That’s a big difference,” the 27-year-old said.

“I adjusted to the north but I still have my South Tyrolean mentality,” he said with a smile. That means not just a hard shell but also a hard interior.

Since travelling to the 2012 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship as emergency goalie he has joined the Italian national team every year and has become the number one in the Azzurri’s net. With a save percentage of 94.12 he’s second in the tournament behind Henrik Karlsson – the Swede-turned-Kazakh even has a 95.70 save percentage.

Italy is in a group of four teams with six points right now that are still in run for promotion and also include Kazakhstan, Great Britain and Hungary. Slovenia has small mathematical chances too while Poland can’t finish in the top-two anymore.

After beating Poland and losing to host Hungary, Italy got a big 3-0 win against Kazakhstan, one of its toughest competitors for promotion, also thanks to Bernard’s shutout.

“It was an important win. If you look at the standings, it’s very tight, one game will make the difference in this tournament and now we’re back with six points and in first place and hope that the other teams will play for us,” Bernard said.

“The win gives a lot of confidence and the three points are very important. I think the tournament is so short that we need every point. The win is important for our moral and we showed that we can also play and win against good teams.”

Italy needs at least five out of six possible points in the games against Great Britain and Slovenia to reach promotion without having to look at other results. But with favourable scores in the other games that dream can also become true with less than two wins.

After a day off Bernard hopes Italy will get back strong for the match-up against Great Britain.

To say which two teams go up is difficult here considering the tight standings and with no team being undefeated nor winless.

“Hungary has always been a difficult opponent for us. But when watching this tournament, you can see that it’s very tight. You can never underestimate Great Britain and I think Slovenia will come out stronger too,” he said.

The fifth round of games will conclude with today’s Kazakhstan vs. Poland and Italy vs. Great Britain games before the final round of games tomorrow. Latest by then we will know which two teams will earn promotion to the 2019 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship in Bratislava and Kosice, Slovakia.

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