Category: Women (page 1 of 6)

Ukraine to Debut in Women’s World Championship

For the first time ever, the Ukrainian Women’s National Team will compete in an IIHF Women’s World Championship in February 2020

By Nathaniel Oliver – Hockey Writers

The Ukrainian Women’s National Hockey Team will be playing in an actual IIHF World Championship for the first time ever. Nearly a year ago, the Ukrainians competed in the 2019 Division II B qualification tournament. Going up against South Africa, Belgium, Hong Kong and Bulgaria, the Ukrainians allowed a mere five goals through four games and went undefeated.

This was a victory that we had to make,” said Ukrainian defender Maryna Kobchuk. “We cried, we rejoiced, and we congratulated each other.”

Completing that successful qualification run, the team will now head to Akureyri, Iceland at the end of February. From Feb. 23 through 29, they will partake in the
2020 IIHF Women’s World Championship Division II B.
This is something that Kobchuk – who will turn 21 years old on Jan. 15 – has been working to achieve since the age of 15 when she first began organized hockey.

“It will be difficult – but our team is ready,” Kobchuk said. “Listening to our coaches’ assignments is critical. This group of teams that we will be going up against includes Turkey, Iceland, Croatia, Australia and New Zealand.”

Building Skill and Chemistry With HK Ukrainochka

Kobchuk, along with many of her national teammates, plays for HK Ukrainochka in her homeland. The Ukrainian Women’s Hockey League is quite small and consists of just three teams – Ukrainochka, Pantery Kharkov, and Avtomobilist Kiev. The league itself came to fruition in 2016, and has been the primary training bed for women’s hockey in this country.

“This past season our team HK Ukrainochka became champions of Ukraine,” Kobchuk smiled. “All of us were very happy to see how far we have come along as a team and as a league.”

Going 6-12-18 in scoring through 12 games this past 2018-19 season, Kobchuk was the second highest scoring defender in the league. She would also be named the league’s Best Defender. Across 36 career games for Ukrainochka, Kobchuk has scored 13 goals, 26 assists and 39 points.

Possessing a left-handed shot, she also has ideal size for a rearguard and skates well in and out of the zone. Kobchuk stands 5-foot-8 and is over 150 pounds. Her solid build is an advantage she is quite comfortable using, and she prefers playing an aggressive, physical game.

Marina Kobchuk earned Best Defender honors for the 2018-19 Ukraine Women’s Hockey League season

Looking Ahead to Iceland

The Ukrainians will bring more firepower to Akureyri than what people may realize. They possess a good amount of depth as well.

The oldest players on the country’s national team are 47-year-old twin sisters Inna Kozub and Elena Vansovich. The 5-foot-4 winger Kozub totaled two points (1G, 1A) in Ukraine’s 5-2 victory over Hong Kong on Jan. 17, 2019. Both women’s experience and motherly presence for this otherwise young squad adds a great deal of reassurance.

32-year-old Olena Tkachuk is one of the team’s top scorers. She went 3-3-6 through the four qualification games. Tkachuk is also a former member of the HK Pantera Minsk of Europe’s prestigious Elite Women’s Hockey League (EWHL). One of her teammates in Minsk was current Metropolitan Riveters forward Kelly Nash.

The Ukrainians’ main sniper is 18-year-old Darya Tsymirenko. She was the Ukrainian Women’s League’s top scorer in 2018-19 with a whopping 39 goals, 17 assists and 56 points in a mere 12 games.

“The women’s team – and this is a fact – has seen each player grow in her own way,” said Kobchuk. “At this time, we have added new, young players – just 16 or 17 years old – who did not play with us last year. Each of these girls has trained with men’s teams.”

The team’s top goaltender is 5-foot-9, 150-pound Viktoria Tkachenko. Through the four qualification games, Tkachenko came out of Cape Town, South Africa possessing the best goals against (1.29) and save percentage (.917). Not surprisingly, she was also named Best Goaltender for the tournament as well.

How Will the Ukrainians Fare?

How the Ukrainians will perform in Iceland remains to be seen. While they are a talented bunch, they are going up against well-established countries, namely the Icelanders and the Australians.

Kobchuk and her teammates know that they are in for a challenge.

Ladakh hosts World’s highest altitude women’s ice hockey tournament

By The Bridge Desk – The Bridge

The Ladakh Women Ice Hockey Foundation (LWIHF) organised its second yearly Ice Hockey tournament at Phobrang village in Changthang.

The Ladakh Women Ice Hockey Foundation (LWIHF) organised its second yearly Ice Hockey tournament in collaboration with Pangong Youth Cooperative Society for Environment and Care (PYCSEC) at Phobrang village in Changthang. The village lies at an elevation of 14,635 feet above sea level in Ladakh from 15th to 18th December 2019. 

LWIHF was formed by the female Ice hockey players of Ladakh in 2015 and has been engaged in various activities since then to promote Ice Hockey in the region and the country. It is the highest altitude game of ice hockey in the world. 

The ice hockey season in Ladakh lasts for roughly two-and-a-half months. In this period, different clubs and village associations organise winter camps and tournaments. But most of these tournaments are open only for the men teams and individuals. Keeping the scarcity of tournaments for women, LWIHF decided to organise a tournament specifically for the women teams in January 2019 together with Chuchot Sports and Welfare Association in Leh, where four teams participated.

Keeping the positive impact of the 1st tournament, LWIHF organised the 2nd tournament in which 6 teams participated, namely Lalok team, JKP team, Kargyam team, SECMOL team, YAGM team and SAVE Changthang team. A total of 85 girls participated in the tournament. The tournament was funded by the District Administration – District youth services and Sports, Leh under the Khelo India Scheme: Sports for Peace and development. Indo Tibetan Border Police (ITBP) supported the tournament by providing dry ration for the players.

The final match was played between Lalok team and Kargyam team

The girls moved from Leh to the destination on 14 December and two buses were arranged, a community hall was arranged for the participants where the teams stayed together during the tournament period.

The final match was played between Lalok team and Kargyam team. The Lalok team emerged as the champions by scoring 6 goals and conceded none.

The Hockey Foundation earlier raised $30,000 for charity and donated the supplies used for the attempt to the Ladakh Winter Sports Club to help them finish the construction of their first full-sized ice hockey rink, helping to bring jobs and activities to the locals in that region of India.

Swiss women surprise

Swiss forward Lara Stalder led the Four Nations tournament in Fussen in goals and points

By Martin Merk – IIHF.com

About three months away from the 2020 IIHF Ice Hockey Women’s World Championship various teams used the December international break to test against their competitors.

In Hartford, Connecticut, the Rivalry Series between the United States and Canada began with a 4-1 home-win for Team USA thanks to a 31-save performance from Alex Cavallini and multi-point efforts from Alex Carpenter, Amanda Kessel and Kelly Pannek. Victoria Bach scored Canada’s goal.

“I thought everybody played well and we played at a high compete level tonight,” said Team USA head coach Bob Corkum. “We managed the puck much better than we did in Pittsburgh. It was a great environment here in Hartford and we’re thankful to all the fans who came out and supported us.”

The series continues tonight in Moncton, N.B. and with three games in February in Victoria, B.C., Vancouver, B.C. and Anaheim, Calif

Switzerland wins in Fussen

Back in Europe it was time for the traditional tournaments during the international breaks where Switzerland had one of its best performances in years.

Since winning bronze medals at the 2012 IIHF Ice Hockey Women’s World Championship and the 2014 Olympic Winter Games, the Swiss haven’t reached the top-4 anymore in five attempts. And they haven’t beaten Finland during seven-and-a-half years and 12 games.

Not so this month as the Swiss opened the Four Nations tournament in Fussen with a 5-4 shootout win against the Finns, who have been the best European team in the last three seasons.

Susanna Tapani and Noora Tulus each scored a pair of goals for Finland but the Swiss came back from a two-goal deficit with goals from Lara Stalder, Dominique Ruegg, Alina Muller and Rahel Enzler for a 4-3 lead. Eventually the Finns tied the game at four and it went to overtime and shootout where Stalder scored the game-winning goal.

Switzerland continued with another tight win, 5-4 in overtime against host Germany. Again the Swiss came back from a 2-0 deficit. Laura Zimmermann scored two goals in regulation time and Stalder again had two goals including the game-winner at 3:54 in overtime.

The Swiss confirmed the tournament win with a 4-0 blanking of Sweden on the last day, which for the Swedes continued a nightmarish year that started with the first relegation of a Swedish ice hockey national team in any World Championship category. Alina Muller scored two goals for Switzerland in that game.

Stalder was named best forward of the tournament with a tournament-leading four goals and six points while the Swiss also had stellar goaltending. 19-year-old Saskia Maurer helped the Swiss in their upset win against Finland with 36 saves followed by a 31-save shutout against Sweden in her other game.

“The sensational team spirit and professional attitude were the main reasons for the success,” said head coach Colin Muller. “We played indeed well. It was noticeable that compared to the previous tournament we had an experienced team here. We did a step forward but still have potential for improvement.”

Finland also lost its second game, 4-1 to Sweden, but thanks to a 3-2 win against Germany reached four points, which was enough for second place before Germany and Sweden

Young Russians wins in Sochi

Further east Russia hosted a Six Nations Tournament at the Olympic park in Sochi. Even though the Russians tested a B squad rather than the official women’s national team, they won the tournament.

The Russians beat Norway (4-2) and Denmark (6-0) in the group stage before celebrating a 3-1 win in the final against the Czech Republic, the other group winner.

The tournament was also an opportunity for the two newly promoted Women’s Worlds teams to test against higher opposition. Hungary with a 2-1 record and third place fared better than Denmark, which eventually got its first win in the game for fifth place against France.

Cornell Sophomore Min Shin ’22 Shines as Member of Korean National Women’s Ice Hockey Team

Sophomore Min Shin’s dreams of playing for Korea’s National Women’s Ice Hockey team came to fruition as she prepares for the 2020 IIHF Championships in Poland

By Renee Hoh – The Cornell Daily Sun

At just 12 years old, Min Shin ’22 appeared on Korean national television declaring her dream to one day play for the Korean National Women’s Ice Hockey team. Now, seven years later, the Cornell sophomore can finally don the Korean jersey.

Shin’s determination to play college hockey and for Team Korea has jetted her across various states and countries. Most recently, Shin travelled to Ottawa, Ontario for a two-week training camp with her new teammates in preparation for the 2020 IIHF Championships in Poland. Balancing hockey and school work, Shin brought all of her studying materials and returned to Cornell from the camp a few days early –– just in time for her Introductory Oceanography prelim.

“Playing college hockey at Hamilton [College] before I came here really taught me to stay on top of my work, because as a college athlete, you’re always really busy,” said Shin, who transferred into Cornell this semester.

Shin was born in South Korea, but spent her childhood in Ithaca. Growing up, Shin’s parents used to drive her to ice rinks in Lansing, thinking that she would pick up figure skating. Shin, however, had other ideas.

“My brother was playing hockey, so obviously I wanted to also play hockey, not figure skate,” Shin said with a laugh.

Getting serious about ice hockey, Shin moved back to Korea, where she played alongside boys for club teams and was invited by the Korean national team to participate in training camps by fifth grade. However, the opportunity to play high school hockey prompted the goalie to return to the U.S. and attend the Groton School in Boston, where she captained the varsity ice hockey team during her senior year.

Still, every summer, Shin would lug her hockey gear back to Korea with her, dedicating her time to showcases, camps and tournaments. Shin tried out for Team Korea during her high school junior year, but narrowly missed out on playing in the 2018 PyeongChang Winter Olympics and was the “last goalie cut in the final roster.”

“I was pretty bummed out about it,” Shin said. “I was planning on quitting hockey after that.

“And to end on a good note because, my senior year, I was voted captain and we beat our rival school in more than six years,” Shin continued. “It was such a great final game and I was good with ending my [hockey] career here.”

Shin had the option to attend University of California, Los Angeles, but still could not give up the prospects of playing college hockey. Instead, she walked onto the DIII hockey team for Hamilton College in the NESCAC league before transferring to Cornell, where she intends to major in anthropology and minor in law & society.

“No! I want to keep going,” Shin said, when asked if attending law school would end her hockey career. “Playing hockey, playing for Team Korea, that has been my dream for as long as I can remember.”

Next semester, Shin will have a few more stops to hit. She’ll be traveling to Korea for the Legacy Cup, the Czech Republic for a training camp, and Poland for the World Championships. If Team Korea plays well, Shin may have the opportunity to compete in the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics, flying out to another country and fulfilling yet another dream of hers.

While Shin does not currently play for the Cornell women’s team, she skated with the team to prepare for her training camp. Despite her already busy schedule, Shin said she would love to play for the team she grew up watching.

“When I was younger, I’d go watch the college hockey games at Lynah [Rink],” Shin said. “So, coming back here it’s been like ‘oh my gosh, if I could play for this team that would be so cool.’ Cornell’s ice hockey is amazing.”

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.”

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