Category: Women (page 1 of 5)

Bulbul Kartanbay is first Kazakh athlete to play in National Women’s Hockey League

Kartanbay has become the first Kazakh athlete to play in NWHL

By Zhanna Shayakhmetova – The Astana Times

Left wing forward Bulbul Kartanbay has become the first Kazakh athlete to play in the National Women’s Hockey League (NWHL) after signing Aug. 16 with the Metropolitan Riveters. 

“We are really proud to welcome Bulbul to the Riveters and the NWHL. Her skill, dedication to the game and incredible enthusiasm will make her a valuable player for our team and a favourite of the fans,” said general manager Kate Whitman Annis.

According to the release, Kartanbay, 26, has been in the Kazakhstan National Team system since she was a teenager, putting up six points in 10 games in a pair of U18 World Junior Championships. She made her senior team debut at 18, has competed in five World Championships and played for Tomiris Astana and Aisulu Almaty of the Kazakhstan Women’s League. Last season, Kartanbay had eight goals and 21 assists for 29 points in 21 games with the Calgary Coyotes of the Southern Alberta Women’s Hockey Association.

Kartanbay started playing hockey at age 13 at the sports school for gifted children in Almaty. At first, she played football, but since she could not combine training with study, her parents began to look for another school. 

“The start of the season is always exciting. I hope this season will be great for me and my team. I also hope the experience I get from playing games and practicing at this level will help with my development. I also hope the Riveters will be successful in our pursuit of winning the Isobel Cup,” Kartanbay said in an interview for The Ice Garden after signing the contract. 

Kartanbay’s assent started in 2017 when she met former Toronto Furies General Manager Sami Jo Small, who advised her to play in the American or Canadian hockey leagues.

“Unfortunately, I had some visa issues and I couldn’t play for the Boston Blades for the 2017-18 season. In 2018, I got the visa and I was invited to join the Calgary’s training camp. I played this season at the Southern Alberta Women’s Hockey Association in Canada,” Kartanbay told The Astana Times. 

This summer, she participated in free agent camps with the Minnesota Whitecaps and Buffalo Beauts. 

“Actually, I was also offered a contract from a second NWHL team, but I decided to play for the Riveters,” she said. 

Kartanbay is currently involved in pre-season hockey training programmes in New Jersey.

“Of course, the trainings we have here are different from those we had in Kazakhstan. We have a training programme specially designed for ice and off-ice workouts. Our coaches, who are also rehabilitologists, pay attention not only to physical training, but also to mental health. I really like this approach. The workouts are diverse, intense and interesting,” she said. 

Adapting to her new surroundings was an easy process, she noted, as the team and coaches are friendly and ready to help in any situation.

“I enjoy playing hockey. I am happy to be a part of this team. This is my dream,” she said. 

On Women’s Equality Day, Kartanbay posted a message to thank NWHL sponsors and inspire female athletes globally. 

“Women’s hockey is not popular in my country. Many people told me ‘This kind of sport is not for girls,’ but I have my own opinion, my own right, my own views on life,” she said. 

In total, 171 Kazakh female players are registered with the International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF). As of September, the national team is 19th in the IIHF Women’s World Ranking.

Launched in 2015, NWHL has five teams – the Boston Pride, Buffalo Beauts, Connecticut Whale, Metropolitan Riveters and Minnesota Whitecaps. The league’s main trophy is the Isobel Cup. 

The Metropolitan Riveters, previously known as the New York Riveters, are based in Monmouth Junction, New Jersey.

Swedish women’s hockey looking for relaunch

For the Future: Thea Johansson and the Swedish U18 women’s national team left the Czechs, Finland and Russia behind at a recent tournament while the senior women’s national team works with the Swedish Ice Hockey Association on better conditions

By Martin Merk – IIHF.com

Swedish women’s hockey has had mixed news recently in international ice hockey. While the senior women’s national team’s relegation last spring was one of the biggest upsets and ended up with a battle off the ice for better conditions, the U18 women’s national team surprised with a tournament win.

Never before had a Swedish national team been relegated in an IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship event before but in spring it happened after Sweden’s “Damkronorna” lost to the Czech Republic, Germany and Japan. Four months later there was no such thing as a fresh start on the ice when the senior women’s national team was supposed to meet for a camp back home followed by the Euro Hockey Tour in Finland where – opposed to their status in IIHF play – they would have met the top nations.

43 national team players joined a strike, many posted a message on social media on 14 August with the hashtag #FörFramtiden (“for the future”) where they declined the invitation to the camp. With heavy hearts but with reasons the players’ association SICO revealed two days later with ten demands.

One major one seems to be on the way to be solved when the Swedish Ice Hockey Association and the (men’s) Swedish Hockey League announced a financial solution for the women’s national team program including compensation for loss of earnings when players join the national team camps that will be paid through the clubs of the Swedish women’s hockey league SDHL.

With more discussions scheduled between the association and the players representatives, that could solve a major stumbling block as the lack of compensation for the players, who in most cases play their club hockey as amateur players, was the straw that broke the camel’s back.

Since winning the historic silver medal at the 2006 Olympic Winter Games the results of the Swedish senior women’s national team have only known one way: down. 4th in Vancouver 2010, 4th in Sochi 2014, 7th in PyeongChang 2018 and 9th at the recent Women’s Worlds. The result at 2018’s Olympics also resulted in lost financial backing of the Swedish Olympic Committee for women’s ice hockey, which was the starting point of the financial issues for the funding of the program and financial support for the players.

“We have not seen any positive development in recent years. Compared to 2015, the programs are not stronger, the players are not physically better and the results are worse,” Swedish Olympic Committee CEO Peter Reinebo explained to Swedish broadcaster SVT. After the recent issues and negative press, they may be open to rethink the funding issue when meeting with the Swedish Ice Hockey Association in September.

“It has to do with whether you decide to invest in achieving international success. Our organization is not for a national team to function well, but to be able to win Swedish Olympic medals.

“Ice hockey is important in our country. After all, we got off because we were disappointed with the development. We want to turn it around, this is clear. I hope and believe that they can put the ambition together. But 2022 is a short-term perspective.”

Bad results caused funding from the Swedish Olympic Committee going away after the team hasn’t shown results. But this step is unlikely to improve those results as the relegation has indicated. It may even fuel the downward spiral. Next spring Sweden will have to travel to Angers but not to play the creme de la creme of women’s ice hockey but to play in the Division I Group A against host France, Norway, Austria, Slovakia and the Netherlands to be able to get back to the top level. That will also prevent them from earning enough world ranking points to be automatically qualified for the 2022 Olympics. The “lady crowns” will have to go through a qualification tournament in the 2020/2021 season.

Last Thursday there was a first meeting between the Swedish Ice Hockey Association and the players’ association SICO to solve the situation with the hope to end the strike soon.

“In general it was constructive and good. There were many good questions from them and I hope we were able to answer them. The representatives from SICO were satisfied with the answers for now but so far we have no final agreement,” General Secretary Tommy Boustedt told SVT after the meeting and mentioned that one major issue, the players income loss for playing on the national team, was solved. The players’ side will now work on a proposal for a three-year agreement. “I think we are close to each other in all the issues raised.”

The good news came the next day when the association found an agreement with the Swedish Hockey League that will contribute up to SEK 400,000 (€43,000) a year for the compensation of earning losses for women’s national team players through the clubs of the Swedish women’s hockey league SDHL during the next three years. A similar agreement had been set in place for 2018/2019 but expired. The Swedish Ice Hockey Association will also use SEK 450,000 for further investment in the development of Swedish elite women’s hockey.

“I’m pleased that we found a solution for the players of the women’s national team for compensation of lost earnings for the next three years but also that this is done with the agreements we have between us and the leagues. Some questions remain in our discussions with the players and SICO and that, thanks to the SHL, we can now solve one of the important parts about compensation also provides good conditions for our continuing discussions,” the Swedish Ice Hockey Association’s chairman Anders Larsson said in a statement after the announcement on Friday.

In a few weeks Sweden is scheduled to host Canada, Finland and the United States for a Four Nations Tournament in Lulea, 5-9 November. If everything turns out well, it will be the first tournament under the new agreement that will run until 2022.

Good news for the future

In the shadow of the conflict there was some good news for the future as well. The Swedish U18 national team has been medalling more regularly in IIHF competitions recently. It had to settle for 5th place last winter at the 2019 IIHF Ice Hockey U18 Women’s World Championship but now hit the headlines with a win of the Four Nations Tournament in Jihlava in the Czech Republic. There the Swedes left the hosts, Russia and Finland behind.

The team started with a 3-0 loss to Russia, which scored all three goals in the last six minutes of play including two from Varvara Boriskova, but then got two wins that were enough to move up to first place.

Malou Berggren and Linnea Johansson scored the goals in the 2-0 win over the hosts while goaltender Ebba Svensson Traff earned her shutout with 29 saves.

While Russia lost the other two games, the Swedish juniors had a big win on the last day. Amanda Ahlm and Thea Johansson opened the scoring against Finland late in the second frame and Hanna Thuvik made it 3-0 late in the game to beat the Finns for first place in the tournament. Ida Boman had 23 saves for her shutout.

The Czechs had the scoring leader with Tereza Mazancova (2+2=4), Boriskova was the best goal scorer with three markers while two goaltenders led the goalie stats ending their one game with a shutout, Svensson Traff and the Czech Republic’s Viktorie Svejdova.

While there are still some discussions to be done to bring Swedish women’s hockey back to track, that was already a good sign on the ice for the future of Swedish women’s hockey.

Road to the 2019 CCOA: Kuwait prepares to make IIHF women’s debut

By Liz Montroy – Womens Hockey Life

When Kuwait’s women’s hockey team makes its IIHF debut this April at the 2019 Challenge Cup of Asia (CCOA), it will be with a roster full of family connections. Included on the team are several sets of sisters, as well as a set of triplets.

“Almost all the team, they are sisters,” said captain Rawan Albahouh. “They have two sisters, three sisters, they all play together on the same team.”

In fact, familial connections seems to be a significant factor behind how Kuwait’s women’s program has grown since it was resurrected in 2017.

“Most players are family, sisters, cousins,” said head coach Meshal Alajmi, who has represented Kuwait on its men’s hockey team for over eight years.

Sharing the CCOA experience with family will no doubt be exciting for the women representing Kuwait in Division I of the tournament later this season, especially considering the fairly recent relaunch of the country’s women’s hockey program.

A program for female players was initially created in 2007, but consisted of only around 10 people and, lacking support, quickly ended. However, those players reunited in a second attempt to build a program in August of 2017.

Part of this relaunch involved sending Albahouh and women’s national team supervisor Laila Alkhbaz to the 2018 IIHF Women’s High Performance Camp. Albahouh learned about growing the sport in the World Girls’ Ice Hockey Weekend segment, while Alkhbaz took part in the Leadership Development Program.

This professional development and the efforts of the players in the program seems to be paying off. The IIHF website lists Kuwait as having 203 female players—53 more than the 150 listed male players (also listed are 177 junior players).

However, similarly to other CCOA participants, Kuwait has struggled to find younger female goaltenders. The national team’s two goalies are two of the older members of the team at the ages of 26 and 32.

The country also has just one rink that they use for hockey, which is closed this January and February, meaning that the team is practicing off ice in preparation for the CCOA.

“In our country, it’s not a desert, but it’s hot. So we try to escape to cold places … [the rink] is an escape place,” Albahouh explained of the hockey venue, which the women’s program usually uses at least twice a week.

Albahouh is aware of the challenges she faces with trying to grow and play hockey in her country, but regardless is looking forward to representing Kuwait with her hockey family at the 2019 CCOA in Abu Dhabi.

“We hope to win something,” she said of playing against the Philippines, the United Arab Emirates, India, and Mongolia. “We are furious to win or bring something for our country.”

Albahouh, who took up hockey after seeing another Kuwaiti girl playing it, is eager to share the game she loves with other girls and women, and hopes that participating in the CCOA will help open more doors.

“Once you [start playing], you cannot stop playing this sport.”

Road to the 2019 CCOA: UAE women’s team brings IIHF hockey to the Middle East

By Liz Montroy – Womens Hockey Life

In just under five months, Abu Dhabi’s Zayed Sports City Ice Rink will play host to the 2019 IIHF Women’s Challenge Cup of Asia (CCOA), the first IIHF women’s competition to be hosted in the United Arab Emirates (UAE).

While Abu Dhabi has hosted the Men’s CCOA three times before, this will be a a momentous event for the country’s women’s program.

“It means the world honestly, having the CCOA in Abu Dhabi is really a big deal for us,” said UAE women’s team captain Fatema Al Qubaisi. “All the past years we’ve been hoping for this to happen.”

For Al Qubaisi, this will be an especially important event; she waited over a decade and a half before there was an opportunity for her to play hockey.

“My parents used to take us to the ice rink once a week as a weekend activity,” said Al Qubaisi. “All I really wanted was a hockey team, but it took another 16 years of patience [before] they finally had one for ladies.”

As Al Qubaisi explained, the past few years have seen an increase in women’s hockey programs in the Middle East. Kuwait will be making their IIHF women’s debut at the 2019 CCOA and two non-IIHF members, Saudi Arabia and Bahrain, have recently started women’s programs.

“I’m very proud of my team to have achieved so much to reach to a point that we are hosting something so big, something serious like the CCOA in our country,” said defender Mariam Al Mazrouei. “This is our chance to prove that this sport means so much to us as girls of the UAE, the first women’s ice hockey team in the Middle East.”

While the UAE became a IIHF member in 2001, the country did not have a women’s program until 2010. They made their first IIHF competition appearance in the 2014 Women’s CCOA Division I tournament, finishing in last place.

The team did not play in the CCOA for a few years following their debut, but returned to the competition in 2017. They improved on their inaugural performance, finishing second to last and notching their first ever IIHF win, a 6-4 victory over India.

In the 2018 Women’s CCOA Division I tournament, they rose to second place, beating India and the Philippines and losing to eventual champion Malaysia. The UAE team will be competing in the Division I tournament again in 2019, and look to continue to improve upon their previous results.

“[In 2018] we got second place in Malaysia, that was an honour, to have our team play as one … [Our goals in 2019 are] to put on the ice what we’ve practiced during the past years in the game, play as one unit,” said Al Qubaisi. “And of course we hope to win.”

Al Qubaisi and Al Mazrouei, along with other players such as Fatima Al Ali, have been with the national team program since its first CCOA appearance in 2014 or even earlier. Before joining the program, most of them knew about hockey from films such as Mighty Ducks or from their parents’ previous experiences with the sport.

The country’s 78 registered female hockey players, as well as the majority of the national team, mostly play on teams in the UAE’s capital city of Abu Dhabi. However, with the recent formation of a new team in Al Ain, Al Qubaisi anticipates that they will see more players coming from other parts of the country to join the national team.

The national team has received a lot of attention over the last few years with the rising popularity of forward Al Ali and the team’s trip to North America for the NHL’s Hockey is For Everyone month this past February.

However, for Al Qubaisi, who has dropped a ceremonial puck in front of 18,000 fans at a Washington Capitals game and travelled around the world to play a sport she loves, the experience that she names as her favourite hockey experience is a reminder of the joy these players have just being able to play a sport they love.

“The best [experience] of course was the time I first ever put gear on after so many years of waiting.”

Al Qubaisi may or may not realize it, but her and her teammates are the pioneers of women’s hockey in their country, and the 2019 CCOA will no doubt play an important role in the growth of the sport in the Middle East.

Road to the 2019 CCOA: Team Philippines

By Liz MontroyWomens Hockey Life

At the 2018 IIHF Women’s Challenge Cup of Asia (CCOA) Division I tournament in Malaysia, there was one player who lit up the scoreboard at a rate of 2.67 goals per game. Bianca Cuevas scored eight goals (and notched one assist) in three games for the Philippines’ national women’s hockey team. Her eight goals were more than any other female player in both of 2018’s CCOA and CCOA Division I tournaments.

The Philippines’ national women’s team made its IIHF debut at the 2017 CCOA, where Cuevas also demonstrated her scoring prowess, leading her team in points with five goals and four assists through six games.

The journey that Cuevas took to representing her country on the international stage and becoming a leading goal scorer took her from the Philippines to Canada.

Cuevas first started her career on ice as a figure skater. As a young child, her and her older brother were enticed by a skating rink that they saw in a mall in Manila, leading her mother to sign her brother up for hockey and Cuevas up for figure skating.

“Later on, watching my brother, it made me curious and interested in what he was doing, so I wanted to try hockey,” said Cuevas.

Cuevas’ first few years of hockey were spent honing her skills in the co-ed Manila Ice Hockey League (MIHL) and with a youth team that competed in the annual Mega Ice Hockey 5’s tournament in Hong Kong. However, it was in Canada where Cuevas would become the player that she is now.

In 2016, a new rink was opened in the Philippines’ Cebu City, and an NGO called Pandoo Foundation held a hockey camp to celebrate its opening. The three day camp was run by NCAA Division I Niagara University alumni Sarah Zacharias, Sam Goodwin and Robert Martini.

“[Zacharias] approached me [at the end of the camp] and she invited me to train with her team in Winnipeg,” said Cuevas. Zacharias helps coach the Balmoral Hall Blazers of the Junior Women’s Hockey League (JWHL).

After deferring her university admission in the Philippines, Cuevas made the move to Winnipeg to repeat grade 12 in order to play with Balmoral Hall and experience the sport she loves in what Cuevas affectionately calls “the land of hockey.”

“When I first trained with [the Balmoral Hall Blazers]—wow. I still remember my very first training,” said Cuevas of her introduction to hockey in Canada. “After that my body hurt so much … When I first got on the ice, I was also really nervous, and I was messing up all the drills because I was so shocked by how fast and strong they were. I’d never experienced that before.”

The Balmoral Hall roster was full by the time Cuevas arrived in Winnipeg, but Zacharias found her a team that she could play games with in the Manitoba Women’s Junior Hockey League (MWJHL), the Western Predators.

“I remember the head coach told me that when he first saw me, he was pretty iffy about me, he didn’t think that I would be able to handle it and my skill level was just not there,” Cuevas said of an end of season interview she had with her team’s coaching staff. “But I dealt with it by working hard and persevering … and he said that I greatly improved.”

Cuevas noticed this improvement when playing in the 2017 CCOA. She felt faster and stronger, and was able to score a significant number of goals. Her teammates and coaches from the national team told her that they also noticed a difference in the way she played.

After the 2017 CCOA, Cuevas returned to Canada, where she was accepted into the University of British Columbia in Vancouver. Cuevas wanted to be able to keep playing hockey, and so tried out for the Richmond Rebels of the South Coast Women’s Hockey League (SCWHL), a Senior AA league with teams in BC’s Lower Mainland as well as on Vancouver Island and in Kamloops and Prince George.

While Cuevas didn’t make the cut for the Richmond team, she was referred to the North Shore Rebels, who made their SCWHL debut in the 2017-18 season. The Rebels missed out of the playoffs in their first season, but are looking stronger after their first five games of the 2018-19 season, and already just one win away from matching their total number of wins from last season.

Besides playing in the SCWHL, Cuevas hopes to be able to continue to play for the Philippines’ national women’s team, which will compete in the 2019 Women’s CCOA Division I tournament in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates in April.

While in the past, any Filipino woman who played hockey could make the national team, Cuevas is anticipating that the coaching staff will need to make cuts for the 2019 CCOA. The Philippines currently has 33 registered female hockey players, a significant increase from when Cuevas first started playing in 2009. When she first started, representing her country on the international stage was far from her mind.

“If you asked my 10 year old self or 12 year old self, I probably would say that that would never happen, because we didn’t even have enough girls for a line.

“When I started playing there were only two, three girls, so I would never have imagined being able to represent my country playing hockey … It’s actually quite cool and quite amazing how far we’ve gone and how much we’ve grown.”

Two-time Olympian Daoust to finally make WHC debut

By The Canadian Press

Had the final score been different, Melodie Daoust’s shootout goal would be more celebrated in Canadian hockey history.

With an Olympic gold medal on the line last year, Daoust didn’t play it safe by choosing a corner of the net and shooting.

She wheeled in on U.S. goaltender Maddie Rooney, going forehand-backhand-forehand before reaching to slide a one-handed backhander by the netminder’s outstretched pad.

It was a perfect rendition of the move named after Hockey Hall of Famer Peter Forsberg.

“What I’m thinking about as I go down, if I try to pick a spot and shoot right at that corner, but I miss the net, you look as bad as trying that move and missing it,” Daoust explains a year later.

“You always need a Plan B.”

Her gobsmacking goal giving Canada a 3-2 lead in the shootout was subsequently overshadowed by the dramatic finale in Pyeongchang, South Korea.

Jocelyne Lamoureux-Davidson’s equally impressive moves to score on a sprawling Shannon Szabados, followed by Rooney stoning Meghan Agosta to end the six-round shootout in favour of the U.S., get higher billing any time the 2018 Olympic women’s final is re-lived.

Video of Daoust’s execution of “The Forsberg” endures in social media, however, as a GIF.

“I’m happy to see the world knows what girls are capable of,” Daoust said. “We’re training the same way as the guys and trying the same moves.”

Had that goal led to gold, it would have felt like sweet justice to Canadians who can recall Sweden’s Forsberg beating Canada’s Corey Hirsch in a shootout with those moves for Olympic men’s gold in 1994.

Daoust, pronounced dah-OO, was two years old in ’94. She says she didn’t analyze all the available video of Forsberg or others succeeding with those dangles.

She thinks she saw the sequence once, which was inspiration enough to work on it in the months the Canadian women were centralized prior to the Winter Olympics.

“I’ve seen that move so many times in practice and so to see Melodie pull it out, I wasn’t surprised,” her Canadian teammate Brianne Jenner said.

“I’m still in awe of it.”

Canada’s scoring leader in Pyeongchang with three goals and four assists in five games, Daoust was named the Olympic tournament’s most valuable player.

She joined Hayley Wickenheiser (2002, 2006) and Agosta (2010) among Canadians to earn that distinction.

Daoust also won Olympic gold with Canada in 2014.

So it seems odd a two-time Olympian is about to play in her first world championship.

Daoust, from Valleyfield, Que., makes her debut Thursday when Canada opens against Switzerland in Espoo, Finland.

An unheralded 22-year-old rookie when she was named to the 2014 Olympic squad, torn knee ligaments cost Daoust most of her 2014-15 season with the McGill University Martlets.

Passed over for subsequent world championships because of “injuries and bad timing”, Daoust had to climb over other forwards on Canada’s depth chart to be an Olympian again in 2018.

She was a Canadian Women’s Hockey League rookie this season playing for Les Canadiennes de Montreal.

Daoust was sidelined for three months with another knee injury, but returned in time to score two goals and assist on three others in the Clarkson Cup playoffs.

Her 11 goals and nine assists in just 14 regular-season games with Les Canadiennes is offensive output Hockey Canada covets.

“She’s a special player,” said Gina Kingsbury, director of national women’s teams. “She might be, in my mind, the smartest player we have.

“She’ll be a big part of our group and our identity as well.”

Daoust was also an assistant coach this past season with the University of Montreal Carabins, who won a bronze medal at the U Sports women’s championship.

With coaching definitely in her future plans, the 27-year-old didn’t want to wait until the end of her playing career to start down that path.

“I feel I can still learn about the game by me playing it and then I can share it with the girls,” Daoust explained.

“I just thought for me it was good start to step into the job life and see if I do like it,” she continued. “I studied to be a phys-ed teacher. I liked it, but it wasn’t a passion of mine.

“A hockey career is the job that’s going to give me the most thrill.”

Daoust could teach The Forsberg, although she’ll keep a few secrets to herself in case she needs to break it out again.

“First, you need to breathe in and loosen up the hands,” Daoust said. “When you go in, you want to have a good angle and you want to make the goalie move in her net.

“It’s usually one or two moves before you see if the goalie is going to bite or not and follow you. I can’t give all my tips away.”

In addition to her coaching gig and commitments to her CWHL and Canadian teams, Daoust and partner Audrey St-Germain have a 10-month old son Matheo.

“The rest of my life is kind of separated from sport,” Daoust said. “Those are two big parts that are taking up a big part of my life. I’m really happy I can do both.”

Women brace for tough challenge in ice hockey championship

Turkish women’s ice hockey team trained for three weeks at a rink in Bursa for the upcoming world championship

By Daily Sabah

The national women’s ice hockey team wrapped up training for the upcoming world championship in Romania, where they seek to repeat their past success and top their group.

A difficult contest is ahead for the national women’s ice hockey team, but they are confident of success when they travel to Romania next week to take on acclaimed teams in a world championship.

The team wrapped up a three weeks of training in the northwestern city of Bursa for the Ice Hockey Women’s World Championship Division II and hope to make this sport, which is often sidelined in the Turkish media, the talk of the town again.

Ice hockey has been an officially recognized sport in Turkey since the early 1990s, but few teams have found constant success, and it is only recently that a men’s team proved Turkey is capable of competing with the best with consecutive titles in local and international tournaments.

The women’s team already attracted attention when they finished Group B first in Division II of the world championship four years ago, and the same lineup look to repeat this accomplishment. They will square off against Croatia on April 1, before taking on Taiwan the next day. On April 4, they will play against New Zealand, before a game against Iceland on April 5 and against Romania on April 7, the last day of the tournament.

Head Coach Çağrı Karabulut said they are “all ready” after “a fruitful training session.” Speaking to Demirören News Agency (DHA), Karabulut said it has been a tough period for the team, which pushed their limits for a difficult tournament. “They are a bit tired, but I am confident we’ll get good results,” Karabulut added.

The 25-year-old forward Başak Demirkol has been with the team since 2011 and said it is “a love” for her. “I started playing when I was 10, and since then, I have a passionate connection to the sport. It added new things to my life, like planning ahead and scheduling better. Playing with the national team also taught me about team spirit. We learned how to be a family and rather than players, we are like a large group of sisters,” she said.

“We came a long way, from a time when people would ask if ice hockey existed in Turkey to a time where people are interested in the sport,” she said. She also brushes off the view that it is more a male-dominated sport. “There isn’t much difference between men’s and women’s hockey. It is not about having stronger muscles solely. You have to take other things into account, like coordination, keeping balance, team play and tactics. I think it is a very good sport for women to take up,” Demirkol said, adding that new facilities, an increase in the number of coaches and referees helped Turkish ice hockey to overcome the obstacles it faced.

For 24-year-old forward Seda Demir, ice hockey is more “a lifestyle” than a sport. “We not only train in the rink, we also train outside, especially on how to keep better balance. This is a branch that needs you to be agile, stronger and fast. Outside the rink, we work out, run and lift weights. It is tiring, but we are having a good time. Playing for the national team really motivates you to win titles, and I believe we will get good results in Romania,” Demir said. Demir is also pleased to see the rising interest in ice hockey. “Children from nearby schools come here to watch us, and after we end the training, they come for practice,” she said. “We want more people to watch us. If you can’t go to Romania, you can watch our games live online,” she said.

Road to the 2019 CCOA: Chinese Taipei

By Liz Montroy – Women’s Hockey Life

If there’s one team that historically has been the team to beat at the IIHF Women’s Challenge Cup of Asia (CCOA), it’s Chinese Taipei.

While still relatively new to the international women’s hockey scene, the country has won gold at all three of its CCOA appearances (2015, 2016 and 2018), also taking gold at the 2017 Women’s World Championships Division II Group B Qualification tournament and silver at the 2018 Women’s World Championships Division II Group B tournament.

Expectations may seem high for the team that has been put together to represent Chinese Taipei at the 2019 CCOA this April in the United Arab Emirates, but for head coach Andrew Yin, the focus will be on using this competition as a development opportunity.

“For this year’s CCOA, I’m trying not to put any pressure on the players, as this tournament is really for development of the younger players in Taiwan and giving the players that didn’t make the world championship team a chance to compete at the international stage,” said Yin.

Two such players are Hsin Jung (Kelly) Li and Hsin Yu (Amanda) Wang. Both made their international debut last season at the 2018 World Championships and both are looking to improve their offensive skills through playing in the 2019 CCOA.

“I’m looking forward to seeing how the other teams play hockey and meet new friends, but most of all I hope we have a good performance at the CCOA,” said Li. “Especially I hope I can score or assist for our team.”

Li has been playing hockey for three years, having taken up the sport after being introduced to ice skating as a college freshman.

Wang, who started out with roller hockey before taking to ice hockey, will also be attending the 2019 World Championships.

“I’ve never scored a goal in an international tournament before and I scored my first ever goal just two months ago,” said Wang. “It was such a wonderful feeling so I want to have that feeling again on the international stage.”

Both Li and Wang are in their twenties, with Li being one of the program’s older players at the age of 25. The teams that Chinese Taipei has iced at IIHF tournaments have been noticeably young (even when not purposefully sending their U18 team, as they did with last season’s CCOA), with the average age usually being around 19 or 20.

Why so young? Yin says that the female hockey program in Chinese Taipei didn’t really kick off until about three and a half years ago, so most of the girls that started playing or joined the national program then haven’t yet finished school.

“I am one of the few female players who already entered the workforce,” said Li. “I’m trying to keep playing as much as possible, even though now I have to work. Most of the players are students and after they graduate from college they might be going to work, so some players quit playing ice hockey.”

Yin says that 90% of Chinese Taipei’s female hockey players are still in school, and notes that there may be a variety of reasons for why some quit once they reach Li’s age.

“The players that quit, from my understanding is not because they enter the workforce, it’s because of the younger players coming up and pushing them out of the national team, and since there aren’t many girls club team games, they stop being competitive.”

The sole female hockey club in Chinese Taipei is Girl Power, which used to be part of the now defunct three-team Chinese Taipei Women’s Hockey League (CTWHL). The other two teams folded several years ago, one because of coaching issues and the other because it was a junior high school girls team that had most of its players graduate.

Now, Girl Power, which Wang and other young national team players play for, competes against junior and senior high school club teams in national tournaments, playing around 10 to 15 games a year.

National program players like Li who are over the age of 20 mostly just practice with the national team, which gets several ice times a week and occasional exhibition games against high school teams.

This year’s Chinese Taipei CCOA team will have several Girl Power players on it, along with several of last season’s gold medallists. With so many new and young players competing, the event has the potential to identify Chinese Taipei’s up and coming stars, as it did with Hui Chen Yeh at the 2015 and 2016 CCOA.

After making her international debut at the 2015 event and scoring five goals and three assists, Yeh (who is now 19 years old) eventually become the country’s all-time leading scorer. She had 14 goals and 22 points at the 2016 CCOA, and 11 goals at both the 2017 and 2018 World Championships, along with a few assists at each.

“I believe [the CCOA] is important for the development of women’s hockey in Taiwan as it gives most players hope for the future and it keeps players in the game,” said Yin. “What I’m really hoping to accomplish at the tournament really is to let everyone try their best and have fun. The result will take care of itself.”

Road to the 2019 CCOA: Malaysia ices dynamic goaltending duo

By Liz Montroy – Women’s Hockey Life

There may be a 25 year age gap between Tg Farhana Azuma Tg Abdillah and Wen Min Low, but together they make up Malaysia’s promising and talented goaltending duo.

The two goalies will once again be protecting Malaysia’s net at the upcoming 2019 IIHF Women’s Challenge Cup of Asia (CCOA), having also done so last season. Their age difference could perhaps be one of their biggest strengths, with each bringing a different experience and outlook to the team.

Tg Abdillah has been a mainstay of Malaysia’s women’s hockey program for several years, and has represented the country at each of the IIHF Women’s CCOA events that Malaysia has participated in.

“I would say Azuma [Tg Abdillah] has been there for the Malaysian team from the very beginning. I don’t remember a time when we didn’t have her as a goalie,” said national team player Eunice Boon.

Tg Abdillah, a former inline hockey player who took up ice hockey in 1998 after the opening of the country’s Sunway Pyramid rink, gradually moved from forward to defence to goaltending. In 2003, she became one of Malaysia’s first female goaltenders.

“I’m not sure what made me do it,” said Tg Abdillah. While she eventually took some time off from the sport, she returned to ice hockey about five years ago. “When I came back I was asked if I could play in net since they needed another goaltender for an upcoming tournament in Singapore and I said yes. Again, I have no idea why I said yes, however, I have grown to love being a goaltender.”

Malaysia faced some tough competition in the 2016 and 2017 CCOA events, but had a fantastic showing at the 2018 tournament, winning the gold medal in Division I to earn promotion to the Top Division this year. Tg Abdillah had a career-defining tournament, leading all goalies with a 931.0 save percentage and a 1.43 goals against average.

While Tg Abdillah has now become accustomed to competing on the international stage, the 2018 CCOA was Low’s first introduction to a IIHF competition. Fifteen year old Low only played just under 12 minutes in a 5-0 win over India in the tournament, and while she has yet to achieve more of a starting role, she represents the future of hockey in Malaysia.

“Min brings hope to the women’s team that this isn’t a dying position, and that there are young Malaysian girls like her who still want to play goalie,” said Boon. There are currently less than 10 female goalies in Malaysia, with only three being qualified to play for the national team based on their age and skill level.

Like Tg Abdillah, Low also came to ice hockey through inline hockey, and also started as a player before taking up goaltending. When her team was in need a goalie for a tournament four years ago, her coach brought out a set of equipment for the players to try out.

“When I tried on the gear and took shots for the first time, I found it natural to butterfly,” said Low. “We weren’t told what we had to do … I just did it anyways. I liked the position a lot better than I liked being a player, so I decided to be the team’s goalie.”

The relationship that has developed between Tg Abdillah, a mature and experienced goaltender, and Low, a younger goalie who is relatively new to the scene, is unique. Tg Abdillah doesn’t see their relationship as being that of a mentor and mentee.

“It’s more like we understand what we’re going through as a goalie and we become each other’s motivator,” said Tg Abdillah. Other players on the national team, such as Boon, agree.

“[They] are more like sisters,” said Boon. “I think Azuma [Tg Abdillah] watches out for Min [Low] a lot as she understands the performance pressure for goalies is very tough and difficult mentally.”

However, Tg Abdillah still serves as a role model for Low, who definitely looks up to her goaltending counterpart and often reaches out to her when she needs advice and comfort.

“The relationship between Azuma and I is something I would consider very special,” said Low. “We encourage and motivate each other mostly by cheering for one another, and it’s awesome having another goalie to be able to talk to, something I’ve never had the privilege of doing anywhere else.”

The 2019 CCOA could prove to be a challenge, with Malaysia competing in the Top Division against Chinese Taipei, Thailand, Singapore, and New Zealand’s U18 team, teams they have previously struggled against in the CCOA.

However, with Tg Abdillah’s experience, leadership, and fantastic 2018 season, Low’s youthfulness and motivation to improve, and the duo’s strong friendship, Malaysia looks good to go with their goaltending.

Road to the 2019 CCOA: Enthusiastic spirit carries Singapore through highs and lows

By Liz Montroy – Women’s Hockey Life

Singapore’s female ice hockey players know that they are fighting an uphill battle. However, that knowledge seems to be fuelling their passion for the sport they love.

“I’ve never felt more hope in my entire life than this previous year,” said forward Kiarra Chin.

At first glance, there doesn’t seem to be much reason for her hope. The country has just 51 registered female hockey players, and female goaltenders are few and far between; there are only two in the country with Singaporean citizenship.

Singapore has two rinks, but only one is used for ice hockey, and the female program competes with a number of other user groups for ice time, usually resulting in them practicing late into the night.

Last season, the country allowed 36 goals against and scored just five goals through three games in the top division of the 2018 IIHF Women’s Challenge Cup of Asia (CCOA).

Singapore’s players long to perform well on the international stage, but know that they are facing tough competition as well as a number of obstacles that hinder them from improving.

“We do know the people, the countries around us, and how ice hockey is actually developing very well in those countries,” said player and program director Valerie Cheng.

However, Singapore’s women’s team has an enthusiastic spirit which allows them to simply enjoy hockey for what it is despite the many challenges they face.

“I think overall the team is a very positive team,” said Cheng. “We encourage one another and off the ice we joke a lot and have a lot of fun together.”

The current era of female hockey in Singapore was kickstarted in 2012, when the JCube rink was opened after four years of there being no ice hockey rink in Singapore (Fuji Ice, the country’s former main hockey rink, was closed in 2008).

Many of the program’s current players, such as captain Emily Kwek and goaltender Caroline Ang, have inline hockey experience and picked up ice hockey in the years following the opening of the JCube rink.

Kwek, Ang and Cheng were all part of the team that took part in the country’s first ever IIHF women’s event, the 2014 CCOA. They finished third out of four teams.

“The first one was terrifying,” Ang said of the team’s international debut. “I think I was only a year into playing at that point, and I’d only ever played casual league games … If you look at the score, the shots on goal, we were terribly outshot.”

However, that first tournament gave Singapore a taste of what their program could achieve. The CCOA quickly became the marquee event for women’s hockey in Singapore.

“The whole experience kind of feels like this is the lifestyle, you can kind of experience it like a hockey player,” said Ang.

“You wake up in the morning, you go for your training, after you nap, you play at night, so it kind of takes you out from your daily life.”

While Singapore did not take part in the 2015 CCOA, by the time they returned the following year, the field of teams had grown. They finished third out of five teams in 2016 and third out of seven teams in 2017.

For the 2018 CCOA, Singapore was placed in the top of two divisions along with New Zealand, Thailand and Taipei, and finished last. However, the attitude of Singapore’s players after losing 14-3, 10-1 and 12-1 is an example of their tenacious and forward-looking character.

“When it ended, I just kept thinking that I can’t wait for more,” said Tiffany Yeoh, who made her debut with the women’s team at the 2018 event.

Singapore will be competing in the top division again at the 2019 CCOA, and the players are looking forward to seeing how they have improved. The team is specifically hoping to increase their number of shots on goal and have closer games against the other teams.

Over the last year, ice times have been progressively improving, and Cheng has collaborated closely with the JCube rink to run learn to play hockey sessions. There is even talk about trying to see if Singapore could have a second rink that could be used for hockey.

“I’m just trying to look at it like baby steps,” said Chin of the progression of ice hockey in Singapore. “I feel like baby steps are big steps for a team like Singapore.”

Regardless of whether or not Singapore can compete with the top teams, the country has a group of players who are passionate about playing the sport and sharing it with others, which is arguably more important than winning a gold medal.

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