Category: IIHF (page 1 of 2)

Israeli-born Levin pursuing NHL dream

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By Dhiren Mahiban – IIHF.com

David Levin was playing more inline than ice hockey at home in Israel until he moved to Canada as a 13-year-old. Despite a setback at the NHL Entry Draft the 18-year-old from Tel Aviv has big dreams.

Levin will be the first to tell you his third season with the Ontario Hockey League’s Sudbury Wolves didn’t go as planned.

Levin was limited to 46 games where he scored 14 goals and 15 assists down from the 53 points he produced in 66 games the previous season and his Wolves missed the playoffs for the fourth time in five seasons.

Levin was also passed over at the recent NHL draft.

“That wasn’t my best season, you guys can see the results,” Levin said. “I didn’t want that to happen, I’m only 18-years-old and I have a lot ahead of me so I’m going to keep working hard and see where I’m going to get.”

Born in Tel Aviv, Israel, Levin’s first foray into hockey was inline hockey near his home town.

“It was really hard (to find ice time), especially because it’s really hot outside back home so you’ve got to play outside on the roller rink,” Levin explained. “My dad was my coach for the first 12 years and he took care of me.”

Levin’s father, Pavel, was a professional football player in his home country of Latvia while his mother, Lena, hails from Russia.

“My dad was a soccer player back in Latvia, Riga,” Levin said. “Back in Latvia, in the winter, they play ice hockey so he knew about (the game). When he moved to Israel, he needed a job so he opened a roller rink and that’s where everything started for me.”

Levin discovered NHL highlights of Sidney Crosby on YouTube and began asking his parents to move to Canada as a nine-year-old so he could pursue his own NHL dream. His parents finally relented when Levin was 13 allowing him to move to the Toronto suburb of Richmond Hill, Ontario with is aunt and uncle Alla and Yafim Tovberg.

“When I was nine, I asked my parents if I can move, they said I’m too young (still), I still had to grow up a bit,” Levin recalled. “Three years later, I asked them again and my dad said, ‘Yeah, you can try’ and my mom said that too. I moved here and everything started at the Hill Academy.”

A private high school in Concord, Ontario, the Hill Academy focuses on student-athletes. That’s where Levin first met Lindsay Hofford. Now a scout with the Toronto Maple Leafs. Hofford helped Levin translate his roller hockey skills to the ice.

“He was a lot for me, he helped me a lot, he took care of me, he was like my second dad,” Levin said. “He was my coach for two years too so he improved me a lot.”

Levin’s showed enough improvement in his game over the following three years that the Sudbury Wolves used the first overall pick to select him at the 2015 OHL Priority Selection.

However, since making the jump to the OHL, Levin’s skating has failed to make the necessary strides to see him selected in the NHL draft.

“To me, his skating stalled in his second year in the OHL, there wasn’t as much jump,” said ISS Hockey scout Ben Gallant. “It was pretty poor as a 16-year-old and then got better, but it didn’t get explosive or anything in his 18-year-old season, this past season. It hasn’t gotten better.

“It’s definitely more like a roller hockey stride where he’s very wide-legged, especially when he’s carrying the puck over the line because he comes from the history. He doesn’t have any quick cuts on his turns or anything like that.”

As a native of Israel it is a requirement for Levin to serve in the military upon turning 18. The 5-foot-10, 180-pound winger has already received a deferment on his military duties previously, but is currently seeking another deferment so he can continue his hockey career.

“Going to try to get it right now, but right now I’m trying focus on hockey, not on the army,” Levin said. “I think it’s better to be here than in the army.

“When you’re 18, you’ve got to join until 21 so if I go back, my (hockey) career is over so I’m going to stay here.”

Levin’s agency is currently working on keeping their client on the ice.

“It’s a process,” said agent Ryan Barnes. “There’s still some things to happen, but obviously it’s kind of in a holding pattern right now, and going through the proper process with the people at the Israeli consulate and we’ll go from there.”

Avoiding his military service would be helped by having his Canadian citizenship, a process Barnes is also working on. Although not having the passport with the maple leaf yet, Levin had it on one time on his jersey when he participated in the World Under-17 Hockey Challenge for Canada Black.

“It’s something that would probably make things a lot easier for him,” Barnes said. “Obviously there’s a process to go through with the Canadian government as well.

“It’s been on-going here for almost two years now with us trying to get that for him. We’re working hard at it, but these things take time.”

Despite the issues with his skating, Levin showed enough in his three OHL seasons to earn multiple invites to NHL development camps following the draft and agreed to join the Maple Leafs.

“He’s training in the offseason in Toronto, and it’s kind of an adopted hometown team for David,” said Barnes. “When we made him aware of his opportunities, he immediately picked the Leafs to attend development camp.”

Levin’s connection with Hofford also helped his decision.

During his time at Leafs development camp Levin has spent extended time working with skating development consultant Barb Underhill and player development consultant Darryl Belfry.

“(Belfry) just tried to help me on my skating,” said Levin. “They know that’s my weakness and he’s a really good coach on skating so he helped me a lot.”

If things don’t workout with the Leafs, Levin already has other options.

“He could sign a free agent contract,” Barnes said. “There’s a window that opens up in September for free agents, but right now, David is at the Leafs development camp and then it’s expected in September that he will be attending the Traverse City NHL prospects tournament with the Carolina Hurricanes.”

While pursing his own NHL dream, Levin is also trying to get his younger brother Michael to join him in Canada. The 13-year-old has already received offers from the Vaughan Kings and Toronto Junior Canadiens of the Greater Toronto Hockey League.

“Obviously when you’re making the decision, Michael, I believe he’s an ‘05, it’s still pretty young for a 13-year-old boy,” said Barnes. “It’s kind of the same year David did come over, but it’s still awfully young to send a 13-year-old child anywhere in the world so that’s still up in the air whether he’s going to follow in his brother’s footsteps this year or a little bit further down the road.”

New women’s hockey nations in development programs

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From the desert country of Kuwait to the Sport Institute of
Finland in the forests north of Helsinki:
Laila Alkhbaz is one of two participants from the Gulf state to
take part in the development programs of the 2018 IIHF
Women’s High-Performance Camp.

By Martin Merk – IIHF.com

The 2018 IIHF Women’s High-Performance Camp does not only include top junior players working on becoming world-class players but also development programs for countries that are not that far yet.

Among the countries that sent participants to the camp programs are some that are working on launching women’s hockey or already have female players and want to establish a national team in IIHF events in the future such as Estonia, the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Ireland, Kyrgyzstan, Kuwait, Lithuania, Serbia and Ukraine. They work in the Leadership Development Program and the World Girls’ Ice Hockey Weekend program together with colleagues from current or former top-level nations such as the United States, Finland, Russia, the Czech Republic, Germany, Slovakia and Kazakhstan.

Two of these countries work on their IIHF debut on the ice next season. Ukraine has established a women’s program within the last few years and will for the first time play in the 2019 IIHF Ice Hockey Women’s World Championship Division II Group B Qualification in Cape Town, South Africa. Also next spring, the Kuwaiti women’s national team will enter the stage in the IIHF Ice Hockey Challenge Cup of Asia program.

While Ukraine has prepared for this moment with the IIHF’s recruitment campaigns such as the World Girls’ Ice Hockey Weekend and the Global Girls’ Game to help build a five-team league, Kuwait is the lesser known debutant.

Laila Alkhbaz in the Leadership Development Program and Rawan AlBahouh in the World Girls’ Ice Hockey Weekend hope to change that in the upcoming season.

“I’ve been a supervisor for the women’s national team for one year and am looking for leadership role,” Alkhbaz said after watching presentations from mentor Steve Norris and some of the countries.

Currently there are over 50 female players in Kuwait in three teams.

“We have a hockey school for girls between 4 and 14 years, then a team for players older than that and the national team,” she said. The teams usually practise and play internal games while last season the national team also went abroad to gain more experience.

“We had a camp in the Czech Republic in August 2017, played a tournament in Bangkok in November, and later in Abu Dhabi with Gulf teams where we took third place,” Alkhbaz said. After losing the games in Bangkok, the first win in history came against the Dubai Gazelles in Abu Dhabi. “In October we will play again in Bangkok and next year we will have a camp in Slovenia before the Challenge Cup of Asia.”

The debut in an IIHF-sanctioned event will be in the 2019 IIHF Ice Hockey Women’s Challenge Cup of Asia Division I. Both divisions are planned be staged not far from home in Abu Dhabi next spring. The venues, dates and participants of the Challenge Cup of Asia program will be decided next month.

How did Alkhbaz land into ice hockey?

“Last year my friend joined the team and liked it and I went to the ice rink in Kuwait and watched the hockey. Before I didn’t know what hockey is because hockey is not popular in Arab countries, it’s not like football or basketball. I asked the Winter Sports Club in Kuwait. I played but hurt my elbow, I was afraid to continue but stayed with the girls to help them,” she said.

She did a government course to become a supervisor and is happy to be at the Leadership Development Program that is taking place as part of the current women’s camp in Finland.

“I’m looking forward to be a good leader for the team. I’m so excited to be here and I’m looking forward to develop my skills so I can help them to be better,” she said. “I hope I’ll get better in everything to make my team better.”

For that she had to take time off from her job as a computer teacher for kids and her IT study. Beside her job and study, there’s not much time left. Ice hockey has become her biggest hobby since last year. “I’m with the hockey girls. I like to make our relationship stronger. It’s better to be one family,” said Alkhbaz.

Currently there’s just one ice rink in Kuwait. One that’s international size and has hosted IIHF events in men’s hockey before. In the winter months the Winter Sports Club also has a small ice sheet to practise shooting.

After the first camps, the Kuwaiti is thinking about the next steps after the upcoming debut of Kuwaiti women’s ice hockey on the international stage.

“Now we focus on the Challenge Cup of Asia and after that we will work on entering the World Championship but maybe it will take time,” she said.

To reach that level and fulfil the minimum participation standards, they will need more female players in the country and a national championship with enough teams and games. “I hope it will happen, inshallah [if God wills]. We are trying to develop the team and the skill of the team. We had girls who didn’t skate before but some are good players and we hope we will develop them and make them better.”

She hopes a league for women can be established, maybe already in September. And she thinks about games against boys. And her colleague AlBahouh learns more about recruitment and teaching small kids to play with the goal of running such events in Kuwait.

When the women’s team started first time in 2007 there was no support and the project died. This has obviously changed with the relaunch 11 months ago. “Now it’s good and now we are looking to have our own ice rink for ice hockey and figure skating,” she said. Having two Kuwaiti at the camp is also a strong signal for the development of women’s hockey and to raise the level back home.

Coming to the Sport Institute of Finland in Vierumaki also means a big change of scenery. Away from the desert country with guaranteed sunshine and temperatures of currently up to 49°C to the changeable and mild Finnish summer at the institute surrounded by green forests and lakes.

“It’s my first time in the north. I didn’t have time to see much yet. I really like the place and the facilities here. In my country it’s very hot right now,” she said. “It’s a pleasure for me to participate in the program and I hope I will learn much this week.”

Status report from the other countries

The program started with lectures from the mentors and from the represented countries at very different levels. On the upper end there are countries like Russia, the Czech Republic and Slovakia that have top-level experience and a full league program but are fighting for awareness and against stereotypes about women’s hockey. Germany is another top-level country represented where numbers for young girls have gone up since joining programs like the World Girls’ Ice Hockey Weekend. During the last year there have been 10 per cent more female players.

Great Britain with two nationwide leagues and an English league in two geographical groups is also among the bigger programs represented but wants to improve in terms of retention.

In Kazakhstan and Ukraine the championship games are played in a couple of tournaments and they are among the countries where not all communities and junior coaches are interested in girls playing hockey with boys, same in other central and eastern European countries such as the Czech Republic or Latvia.

Turkey has now 300 female players of which half play in the women’s and U18 leagues with teams from three cities but money is a problem for women in club hockey as they have to pay for equipment and travel that can be far as the distance between Istanbul and Erzurum is over 1,200 kilometres. There like in Romania the public perception of hockey as a men’s sport and trust from parents is a problem. It’s not always easy to convince parents that ice hockey is a safe sport for girls and women until they see it themselves.

South Africa is another country in the lower divisions present here and has 130 players from four regions, most of them (88) from Gauteng where two women’s teams play in the boys’ U18 and U16 leagues in addition to a small-ice development league with four women’s teams. But with only 60-90 minutes of ice time available for a women’s hockey team per week they want to work on an off-ice program.

In Croatia players need to give sacrifice to keep women’s hockey alive as there’s no financial support and no sponsors and practices are usually late night at 16:00. Also Bulgaria with currently 44 female players hopes to learn more and find a strategy to grow hockey.

Ukraine has profited from the recent recruitment offence in international ice hockey and has gone up from virtually no female players to 193 players and a league with five teams that may get a sixth team next season. Similar in Estonia where the league restarted with four teams from four cities after many years without women’s hockey after using the World Girls’ Ice Hockey Weekend as starting point.

Latvia and Lithuania with a new women’s hockey program work together with a Lithuanian team that joined the Latvian league last season. The Lithuanians hope to one day have a women’s league too and a national team that can join the Women’s World Championship program in 2021.

Serbia could be another team to try that step with currently 63 female players but right now most play in boys’ teams until U16 and there’s just one women’s team. The Serbs hope to get more education on female hockey and coaching.

Other countries have even bigger challenges. Women’s hockey in Ireland suffers since the closure of the country’s only ice rink in 2010. The few remaining female players have to play in men’s teams and cross the Irish-UK border to play games in Belfast. In FYR Macedonia there is just one female player, who is in the World Girls’ Ice Hockey Program to learn about organizing recruitment events and learn-to-play events. Kyrgyzstan reported to have no female players at all and is thinking how to launch a program.

Despite the very different levels and places the women and men in the Leadership Development Program come from, they all have the same goal: to improve women’s hockey in their countries, networking and learning from each other.

China set for Olympic ice hockey

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By Martin Merk – IIHF.com

The 2018 IIHF Annual Congress has started with a first session in Copenhagen prior to the quarter-final games of the 2018 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship and will continue tomorrow.

The biggest news was the congress decision to allow host China to enter a men’s and a women’s ice hockey team in the 2022 Olympic Winter Games in Beijing. Like in the case of Korea for the recent 2018 Olympics, China as the host will not have to go through the qualification process and get an automatic entry.

More details on the qualification process will be announced at a later stage. The men’s ice hockey tournament is planned with 12 teams as until now while for the women’s ice hockey tournament discussions are going on between the IIHF, the IOC and the Chinese organizer to extend from eight to ten teams. In 2019 the IIHF Ice Hockey Women’s World Championship will be played with ten teams for the first time.

Since being awarded the 2022 Olympics, promising changes have been made in China. The hockey program has gone through restructuring with an ice hockey federation that is separate from the ice sports centre and is now headed by Weidong Cao.

China has also reached out abroad for support both to players of Chinese origin abroad but also to other organizations. In men’s ice hockey China has a club team Kunlun Red Star, which participates in Russia’s top league KHL and China also has two teams in the second-tier VHL and a junior team in the top Russian junior league MHL. On the women’s side Kunlun Red Star and a second Chinese team played in the Canadian Women’s Hockey League last season and China also sent girls’ teams to compete in the United States.

The changes will be very welcome to make the Chinese teams more competitive. The men’s team is ranked 33rd in the world and the women’s team 20th. While the men’s team has never played in a top-level event, the women’s team has a history in elite ice hockey. China was fourth in the first Olympic women’s ice hockey tournament in Nagano 1998 and also participated at the Olympics in 2002 and 2010. China also played in the top-level IIHF Ice Hockey Women’s World Championship each time between 1992 and 2009 reaching fourth place in 1994 and 1997 and hosted the 2008 IIHF Ice Hockey Women’s World Championship in Harbin.

Other Congress news from Day 1

Three changes in the IIHF membership have been approved by Congress. Kuwait and Turkmenistan have now full membership status after having played in the IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship program this season.

In Portugal the ice sports federation has been integrated into the Portuguese Winter Sports Federation (FDI), which is now the Portuguese member in the IIHF with associate member status.

200 days to Olympics

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By Andrew Podnieks – IIHF.com

Today marks exactly 200 days until the 2018 Olympic Winter Games will open. With the Olympic ice hockey tournaments in PyeongChang not far away, we take this summer day to look forward to what will be the pre-eminent event on the international calendar in 2017/18.

Where will games be played?
The 2018 Olympics features two venues for hockey, the 10,000-seat Gangneung Hockey Centre and the Kwandong Hockey Centre (capacity 6,000). Both arenas have an international ice surface. All ice sports will be played in the coastal city of Gangneung. The KTX high-speed train is being extended to PyeongChang and Gangneung. Travel time between Seoul and the Incheon airport to Gangneung will thus be reduced to 68 minutes.

When do the ice hockey games begin?
The game schedules are not final yet but ice hockey is planned during all days of the Olympics starting on 10th February, the day after the opening ceremony, with the women’s ice hockey tournament until 25th February, the day of the closing ceremony. The men’s tournament is proposed to start of 14th February.

What is the time difference?
Korean Standard Time in the winter is six hours ahead of Moscow time, eight hours ahead of Central European Time and 14 hours ahead of Eastern Time in North America.

What countries have qualified for the men’s tournament?
The top-eight countries from the 2015 IIHF World Ranking automatically qualified as well as three countries through qualifying events and the hosts from Korea. In all, 12 teams in three groups will play. Group A features Canada, the Czech Republic, Switzerland, Korea. Group B includes Russia, Slovakia, Slovenia, United States. Group C has Sweden, Finland, Germany, and Norway.

Will NHL players participate?
The NHL announced that it will not make a break for the Olympic Winter Games. All teams will have to create a roster using non-NHL players mostly from Europe and other leagues in North America. This marks the first time since 1994 that this will happen, but the tournament format remains the same. Teams will play a round robin series of games within their group, no team being eliminated at this stage. The top four teams receive byes to the quarter-finals while teams 5 to 12 play a qualification game, the winners also moving on to the quarters.

Who is the favourite?
Typically, Canada would have been considered the favourite as it has won the gold in three of the last four Olympics (except 2006), but the Russians must be mentioned as well because several top NHLers have returned to the KHL for the coming season to ensure they can play in Korea. There is most definitely an uncertainty for the other teams, a sense of the unknown, which will make the Olympics exciting in its own right, in a different way from the NHL years.

Does Korea have any hope at all?
Four years ago, one might have answered with an emphatic no! But under Jim Paek the nation has improved quickly and radically. Indeed, Korea qualified for the 2018 IIHF Ice World Championship in Denmark strictly on its own merit, earning promotion from the 2017 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship Division I Group A to the top this past spring by leaving countries like Hungary and Kazakhstan behind. Of course, a medal might seem a long shot, but the team is likely to be more competitive than many have thought a few years ago.

What about the women’s tournament?
The top-five teams of the 2016 IIHF Women’s World Ranking qualified automatically while two teams had to go through qualification tournaments and the Koreans got an automatic spot as hosts. The format will be the same as recent times. The top-four teams will be in Group A and all will qualify for the playoff elimination. The top-two will advance directly to the semi-finals while the 3rd and 4th-place teams will play the top-two teams from Group B in a quarter-finals round. Group A consists of the top-four seeded teams USA, Canada, Finland and Russia. Sweden, Switzerland, Japan and Korea will play in the “lower” Group B.

Who is the favourite?
It’s no surprise that the North Americans are still considered odd-on bet to make the gold medal game, but Finland’s stunning victory over Canada at this past Women’s World Championship in Plymouth is cause for optimism among the European countries. Between the North Americans, logic dictates that the U.S. is favoured because it has won the gold at the 2015, 2016, and 2017 Worlds, but, paradoxically, Canada has won the last four Olympic golds. In short, it’s a toss-up. Again.

What happens between now and February?
Canada and the United States have already started centralizing programs while the Europeans will place extra emphasis on training as a team as often as possible. Counties will play various exhibition games in the coming months to prepare for the Olympics.

IIHF adds eight to Hall

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By John Sanful – IIHF.com

The event, hosted by international hockey broadcaster Gord Miller, inducted eight members whose contributions to the sport have helped transform the game as they have served as hockey ambassadors for their respective countries. The IIHF Hall of Fame opened in 1997 to celebrate a century of the game being played. Inductees have included some of the biggest names and international contributors to the sport.

Saku Koivu won eight medals on the international stage, including leading Finland to its first ever World Championship gold in 1995. Koivu would play for the Montreal Canadiens and, later, the Anaheim Ducks. He would become the first European captain of the Canadiens. Koivu is also known for his courage off the ice. He battled Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma that kept him out for almost an entire season, including the 2002 Olympics.

“It seems like I’ve come full circle coming back to Germany and being honoured for my career,” Koivu said, reflecting that he made his senior men’s debut with the Finnish national team at the 1993 World Championship in Germany.

Angela Ruggiero was a world-class defenceman and competitor for Team USA. Her contributions in hockey continue to this day as she continues to break down barriers. She earned four Women’s World Championship gold medals and gold at the 1998 Olympics. In 2015, Ruggiero was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame. Ruggiero could not make the event when her father Bill passed away suddenly but her brother Billy was on hand to accept the honour and pay tribute to his sister.

Dieter Kalt was a star player in the 1960s in the Austrian league and has been the face of Austrian hockey for half a century. He represented Austrian at the 1962 World Championships in Colorado Springs and in every major IIHF event from 1962-1972.

After retirement, Kalt was a referee and coach and then President of the Austrian Ice Hockey Federation from 1996-2016.

“This is an honor and I accept this for all that we have done for the development of our federation. We organized world championships and Olympic qualification games. We did this because we had big support from the IIHF, president, council, and delegates.”

Joe Sakic had an illustrious career with the Quebec Nordiques and then the Colorado Avalanche when the team moved to the United States. He captained the Avalanche for 17 years making him one of the longest serving captains in NHL history. Sakic is also the NHL’s all-time leader in playoff overtime goals. Winning World Championship and Olympic gold, along with the Stanley Cup, Sakic is a member of the prestigious triple gold club.

“It was always very humbling playing for your country,” Sakic said. “To be able to play in the World Championships, Olympics, World Cup, there is nothing like it. I am very fortunate for my teammates. I’ve had the good fortune to play with some of the best to play the game and learn from them.”

The Richard “Bibi” Torriani award was presented to Tony Hand, the greatest player in Great Britain’s modern hockey history. The Edmonton Oilers selected Hand 252nd overall in the 1986 draft, the first British player ever taken. When Hand attended training camp, Edmonton general manager Glen Sather announced that the Scottish Wayne Gretzky would try out for the team, which some might have led to think that a player who trained and played in Great Britain would be a curiosity.

“Turns out he was more than just a curiosity; he was a terrific player there and everywhere he played,” Miller said. “It is fair to say that very few players were better longer than Tony Hand.”

Hailing from Edinburgh, Scotland, Hand played professional hockey in the BHL as a 14-year-old and finally in the English Premier Ice Hockey League at the age of 47.

The Paul Loicq award was presented Patrick Francheterre. Francheterre has been involved with French hockey for the better part of half a century. As a pivotal builder of French hockey, Francheterre has overseen the development of the sport and his country’s ascension into the top division of the World Championships.

Teemu Selanne said today’s honour means so much because as a boy, his hope was to play in the top league in Finland and, maybe if things went well, the national team. The NHL was not a thought at the time. Selanne, known as the Finnish Flash, scored 684 goals in 21 NHL seasons and won the Stanley Cup in 2007 and silver medals at the World Championships in 1999 and Olympics in 2006.

“It has been an honour to put this jersey on,” Selanne said pointing to the legendary Finland blue. “You can’t describe this feeling of what it means to put this jersey on and play for your own country. I am so very thankful.”

Finally, Cologne’s own Uwe Krupp gave an emotional presentation about receiving this honour in his hometown. First noticed by Scotty Bowman, Krupp was drafted by the Buffalo Sabres and would go on to an NHL career that spanned 14 seasons with honours that included being the first German to score a Cup-winning goal and the first German player to win the Stanley Cup.

“I am privileged and fortunate to know so many people who were able to take this awkward kid from Cologne, Germany, the first German to come to North America to help him on his way and help him learn to play hockey in the best league in the world.”

He spoke fondly of Franz Reindl and how he was an important person in his career and the next step in his career that has included coaching the German junior and senior teams.

Joint bid from Belarus & Latvia wins tight race

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Martin Merk – IIHF.com

After a tight race between two strong applicants the 2017 IIHF Annual Congress allocated the 2021 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship to the joint bid of Minsk, Belarus, and Riga, Latvia.

The joint bid of the two neighbouring countries won by a tight margin against the Finnish bid with the cities of Tampere and Helsinki. The proposed dates are 7-23 May 2021.

The two countries decided a few months to join together for the bid with the slogan “Passion. No Borders” that seeks to show a good relationship between a country in and another outside of the European Union, which they symbolically did at yesterday’s presentation with a video sequence from a space shuttle, and without borders. And it emphasized that the passion of the hockey fans from both countries is well known despite the fact that the two countries are neither among the biggest ones in population in Europe nor among the very top nations in the World Ranking. Belarus will be ranked 10th in the new IIHF World Ranking, Latvia 12th.

Minsk is the Belarusian capital, with almost two million inhabitants and 3.4 million in the region. In 2014 it broke the World Championship attendance record that was reclaimed by the Czechs in 2015. For 2021 the 15,086-seat Minsk Arena, with two practice rinks on site, would be used as the primary venue.

Minsk is the cultural centre of Belarus with numerous events and activities. The bid presentation recalled the great atmosphere of 2014, with its downtown fan village and fan zone as well as the convenience of Minsk Arena being just 15 minutes from the city center and the airport.

“We learned a lot from organizing the 2006 World Championship in Riga and the 2014 World Championship in Minsk and with that experience can make things even better in 2021,” said Belarusian Ice Hockey Association General Secretary Yaraslau Zauharodni.

Riga, Latvia’s capital, is just a one-hour flight away. It has 640,000 inhabitants and 1.4 million people living in a 100-kilometre radius. Latvia is renowned for its passionate fans traveling to World Championships all around the world, and the country hopes to recreate the great atmosphere of 2006 when the 10,300-seat Arena Riga was opened to host the Worlds. And they promise that a new practice arena will be built next to it.

“I truly believe in a Europe with no borders and with passion. It would be a fantastic experience to show that Europe is about passion, not about borders. I truly believe in social responsibility. And that also means the prices for fans. They will not have to pay a lot. It’s just €2.20 for a beer and in Minsk it’s even cheaper,” said Riga Mayor Nils Usakovs in his speech. And Minsk Mayor Andrei Shorets added that in Minsk it’s even less, just one euro.

New LHF President Aigars Kalvitis remembers the 2006 Worlds in Riga well. At that time he was the Prime Minister.

“Hockey is loved so much in our country and we are thankful that our Belarusians friends invited us. In Cologne we had at least 7,000 to 8,000 Latvian fans who supported the team. We hope with this championship we will develop hockey in the region,” he said.

Both arenas were opened to host the first-ever World Championship in each county, the Arena Riga for the 2006 Worlds and the Minsk Arena for the 2014 edition. The two venues also hosted the Final Olympic Qualification stages in 2016 as well as World Championships in the U20, U18 and women’s categories and the IIHF Continental Cup. They are currently mainly used by the local KHL teams, Dynamo Minsk and Dinamo Riga. Dynamo Minsk has the highest attendance in the KHL and the second best in Europe.

“Ice hockey is number one in our countries. You would give us the biggest honour possible and the greatest event our countries can host,” said IIHF Council Member and BIHA Vice President Sergej Gontcharov.

The upcoming IIHF Ice Hockey World Championships:
2018: Copenhagen & Herning (Denmark) – Website
2019: Bratislava & Kosice (Slovakia)
2020: Zurich & Lausanne (Switzerland)
2021: Minsk (Belarus) & Riga (Latvia)

Women’s Worlds grows

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By Martin Merk – IIHF.com

The 2017 IIHF Annual Congress unanimously approved to extend the IIHF Ice Hockey Women’s World Championship from eight to ten teams as of 2019.

The change was recommended by the IIHF Women’s Committee and by the IIHF Council and today ratified by the IIHF’s member national associations to give women’s hockey another boost.

“We started the discussion three years ago within the committee because we felt that since the Vancouver Olympics in 2010 women’s hockey has developed so much,” said IIHF Council member Zsuzsanna Kolbenheyer.

“We still can feel the gap between the North American teams and the rest of the world. However, the gap between the third and 15th team is not that big anymore. This is the next step to promote the women’s game.”

With the increasing number of participating teams – 37 countries were entered in the Women’s World Championship program in six tournaments – and the increasing competitiveness the proposal was to extend the number of teams in the top-tier event to ten teams as of the 2018/2019 ice hockey season and with this step aim to discuss with the International Olympic Committee to have ten teams at the 2022 Olympic Winter Games in Beijing.

The top division has been played with eight teams ever since the first tournament in 1990, the only exception being the 2004 edition that featured nine teams (when one team was promoted but no team was relegated in 2003 due to the cancellation of the top tournament in China because of the outbreak of the SARS disease).

The IIHF Statutes & Bylaws will have to be amended by the 2018 IIHF Annual Congress in one year to formally implement the change and by then a playing format for the ten-team Women’s World Championship will be established and proposed by the IIHF Competition and Coordination Committee in co-operation with the IIHF Women’s Committee.

With the IIHF membership accepting the extension, the new format for 2018/2019 with ten teams will be reached as follows:

– No team in the entire 2017 IIHF Ice Hockey Women’s World Championship program for all divisions will be relegated. This also means the last-ranked team Czech Republic will stay in the top division for 2019 and be joined by Japan as ninth team, which recently earned promotion. The tenth team will be determined next season.

– Similar like during the last Olympic year, the 2017/2018 season will not include a top-level Women’s World Championship due to the 2018 Olympic women’s ice hockey tournament while the other divisions will be played in 2017/2018. At all these tournaments the winning team will be promoted to the next level and no team will be relegated.

– These steps will create a ten-team top division for the 2019 IIHF Ice Hockey Women’s World Championship in Finland while the other divisions will operate with six teams as usual and be aligned accordingly with teams being promoted in 2017 and 2018 while no teams will be relegated.

The 2019 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship will take place in Finland, which confirmed its readiness to host ten teams. The dates and cities will be announced later. The lower divisions of the Women’s World Championship will be played in the 2017/2018 season and the hosts will be determined during the Congress this week.

New WW format proposed

By Martin Merk – IIHF.com

The IIHF Council recommended a proposal of the IIHF Women’s Committee during its recent meeting in March to extend the number of participating teams in the IIHF Ice Hockey Women’s World Championship from eight to ten teams.

All national associations participating in the program have been informed accordingly about this idea following the meeting to ensure the teams are aware of the initiative ahead of this year’s tournaments.

With the increasing number of participating teams – 37 countries are entered in the Women’s World Championship program in six tournaments – and the increasing competitiveness the proposal is to extend the number of teams in the top-tier event to ten teams as of the 2018/2019 ice hockey season and with this step aim for having ten teams at the 2022 Olympic Winter Games in Beijing.

The top division has been played with eight teams ever since the first tournament in 1990, the only exception being the 2004 edition that featured nine teams (when one team was promoted but no team was relegated in 2003 due to the cancellation of the tournament in China because of the SARS outbreak).

Path to ten teams

The 2017 IIHF Annual Congress will discuss the proposal in May in Cologne during the 2017 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship. If the IIHF membership accepts the proposal, the new format for 2018/2019 will be reached as follows:

  • No team in the entire 2017 IIHF Ice Hockey Women’s World Championship program will be relegated.
  • Teams winning their division in the 2017 IIHF Ice Hockey Women’s World Championship program will be promoted to the next level as usual.
  • Similar like during the last Olympic year, the 2017/2018 season will not include a top-level Women’s World Championship due to the 2018 Olympic women’s ice hockey tournament while the other divisions will be played in 2017/2018. At all these tournaments the winning team will be promoted to the next level and no team will be relegated.
  • These steps will create a ten-team top division for the 2019 IIHF Ice Hockey Women’s World Championship in Finland while the other divisions will operate with six teams as usual.

 
If the proposal will be approved, the IIHF Competition and Coordination Committee will work with the IIHF Women’s Committee to create the best possible playing format for the new ten-team IIHF Ice Hockey Women’s World Championship starting in the 2018/2019 ice hockey season.

No changes during 2017 IIHF WW

The proposal does for the moment not change anything in the events of the 2017 IIHF Ice Hockey Women’s World Championship program meaning that the last-ranked team in each division is considered relegated until the eventual approval of the new format in May and the best-of-three relegation round will be played at the 2017 IIHF Ice Hockey Women’s World Championship currently taking place in Plymouth, Michigan, USA, knowing that there are two possible outcomes for next season pending Congress’ decision about the new format.

Challenge Cup of Asia begins

By Martin Merk – IIHF.com

A new season begins for the IIHF Ice Hockey Challenge Cup of Asia with two tournaments being held in the Thai capital of Bangkok during the next two-and-a-half weeks.

Nine days after the end of the Asian Winter Games that involved 24 national teams in four tournaments more international tournaments await Asia. The Challenge Cup of Asia is mainly aimed at countries that do not, or not yet, participate in the IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship program or do not fulfil the criteria to do so, and gives them the opportunity to compete against each other on an annual basis on their continent.

On Tuesday the 2017 IIHF Ice Hockey Women’s Challenge Cup of Asia begins in Bangkok. For most teams it will be the first tournament of the season as only Thailand participated in the Asian Winter Games’ women’s ice hockey tournament. The hosts enter the tournament as the top-seeded team. Singapore, Malaysia and Malaysia also return from last year’s event.

The United Arab Emirates are back in the competition after a break last year while the Philippine women’s national team will have its international debut. For the first time New Zealand will participate with the U18 women’s national team. It will be their debut in an official event after having previously played exhibition games against Australia and against club teams.

The women’s tournament will be held as a seven-team round-robin tournament from 7 to 15 March and once it’s over, the rink will be busy with men’s hockey for the 2017 IIHF Ice Hockey Challenge Cup of Asia from 17 to 23 March.

The men’s top-division tournament includes the United Arab Emirates, Mongolia, Thailand, Singapore, Kyrgyzstan and Malaysia who will play a six-team round robin. All teams recently participated in the Asian Winter Games where Thailand had most success of these teams winning the men’s Division I tournament ahead of Chinese Taipei, the United Arab Emirates and Mongolia.

Both tournaments will be held at international-size The Rink Ice Arena, which is located on the seventh floor of the CentralPlaza Grand Rama 9 shopping mall in the Ratchadapisek area of Bangkok.

The third tournament will be the 2017 IIHF Ice Hockey Challenge Cup of Asia Division I to be held 22-30 April in Kuwait City. Seven teams will battle for promotion to the top division here. Macau, Qatar and India return from last year’s event, host Kuwait and Oman stage their comeback after missing last year’s event and Turkmenistan and the Philippines will play their first IIHF-sanctioned games. Both teams will travel to Kuwait with high hopes after their international debut in February in the men’s Division II tournament of the Asian Winter Games that was won by Turkmenistan while the Philippines reached third place.

Challenge Cup of Asia Schedule

Barkov confident about future of Chinese hockey

By Alistair McMurran – IIHF.com

China’s surprise 2-1 loss to Turkey in the 2017 IIHF Ice Hockey U20 World Championship Division III final will not dint the confidence of new head coach Alexander Barkov.

The experienced Russian coach, who also played and coached in Finland and is the father of Finnish national team and NHL forward Aleksander Barkov, was hired late to become the head coach of the Chinese men’s under-20 side that was expected to win the U20 Division III gold medal.

China was demoted from Division II Group B last year and was desperate to get promotion back to the higher grade.

There is an air of expectation in Chinese ice hockey circles that the Beijing Winter Olympics in 2022 will lift the profile and standard of the sport in their country.

China is currently ranked 37th in the world. If it stayed at this level they would be easy beats at the Olympic Games. Therefore there are ambitions to make China Olympic-ready.

“We don’t want to go there at the level where hockey in China is now. We are determined to improve the hockey standard in China,” the 51-year-old Barkov said.

Barkov and his assistants have only been working with the Chinese under-20 national since being appointed late in December. In that short time he has improved the speed on the ice and the attitude of the Chinese players. But there remains a lot of work to do.

But his ambitions for Chinese hockey go further than this. He wants China to be competitive at the 2022 Olympics Winter Games in Beijing.

The surprise 2-1 loss has shown Barkov that there is work to be done to get his team winning tight games when there is sustained pressure from their opponents.

The job at the moment for Barkov is to build a hockey system in China that will lift the ranking of China from 37th where it stands at the moment. He has a contract to work with Chinese hockey until the Winter Olympics in 2022.

“This was just a first step because many of these players will be in the Chinese Olympic team then,” Barkov said.

“It is our long-term project to bring these kids to a higher standard. It starts with work ethics and attitude and ends with the coaching skills from the team staff.”

The Chinese team demonstrated sound team work on the ice and the speed of the players on the ice has improved.

“We’ve been training to get speed on skates and everything else,” Barkov said. “We spend time on all the basics – shooting, and tactics.”

They play a European style of hockey and know how to use every part of the ice rink.

“We always use as much of the ice as is possible,” Barkov said. “We try to use the skills that the players have. We are not asking them to do anything they cannot do.

“We ask the players to follow the coach’s instructions on the ice but still leave room for the players to use their own skills and imagination.”

Barkov, a former centre, had a long career in the Soviet Union with his hometown team Sibir Novosibirsk and Spartak Moscow. After a short stint in Italy he later played for Tappara Tampere in Finland for ten years.

He represented Russia at three World Championships (1992, 1997, 1999) and then started coaching.

He was an junior coach at Tappara Tampere and an assistant coach for the senior team, then worked for Metallurg Magnitogorsk, Ak Bars Kazan and Amur Khabarovsk in the Kontinental Hockey League for four years.

He then had a short stint with the Finnish under-20 team where the entire coaching staff was replaced during the 2017 IIHF World Junior Championship before becoming the Chinese coach afterwards.

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