Category: World Championships (page 2 of 9)

Lithuania moving up Next stop: Division 1A

By Henrik Manninen –

In the battle of the Baltics, Pavilas Verenis scored a brace while blueliners Nerijus Alisauskas and Jaunius Jasinevicius scored one apiece as Lithuania went undefeated through the 2018 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship Division I Group B in Kaunas.

Lithuania’s 4-1 final day win sealed their promotion to the 2019 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship Division I Group A. Japan finished second to win silver while Estonia slipped down to third in Division I Group B.

“I think one of the biggest influence to our success was the arrival of Darius Kasparaitis and Dainius Zubrus to our team. We had read about them, but we never had them together in our locker room. We have a good team, but those two guys made the difference,” said Lithuania’s captain of the evening, Mindaugas Kieras who played his 100th and last game for Lithuania this evening.

Robert Rooba got Estonia’s marker as they went ahead before conceding four straight unanswered goals. Villem-Henrik Koitmaa recorded 39 saves and was voted the best goalkeeper of the tournament by the Directorate.

“They guys gave it all and I am very proud of them. You could see right after the game that the players are disappointed as there was so much at stake. In the third period we still had chances which could have gotten us close, but tonight we lost against worthy winners and the best team of the tournament” said Estonia’s head coach Jussi Tupamaki being gracious in defeat.

The clash got off to an intriguing start as it was the surprise package Estonia that got in front. Lithuania’s netminder Mantas Armalis had lost his stick when Rooba surprised by snapping a trademark wrister from the left boards after 4:20 for a shock lead that helped settle Estonian nerves.

“It was such an important game for gold or bronze, and I’ve never played in front of so many people so it was a bit nervous, but when you got into the game it was ok,” said Estonia’s Artjom Gornostajev.

The lead only lasted for just over three minutes before Zubrus won a draw and Alisauskas hit a bullet from the blueline for this first of the tournament to tie the game at one.

“I was impressed by Estonia, they have a young team now and new guys stepping in and playing really good hockey without trying to make any mistakes. We knew they were a good team, but we felt that they would have to do something extra in order to take the win away from us,” said Kieras.

Winning the shots in the first frame 14-7, Lithuania went in front when Daniel Bogdziul fed Jasinevicius who lofted a shot past Koitmaa for 2-1 after 15:42.

With the game still in the balance, Tadas Kumeliauskas collected the puck from his own defensive zone and charged towards Estonia’s net, got intercepted by Marko Kettunen before the puck went to Verenis who showed no hesitation to hit high past Koitmaa to stretch Lithuania’s lead to 3-1 at 35:58

With Verenis serving a cross-checking minor at the start of the final frame, Estonia piled up the pressure on powerplay with Robert Arrak and Andrei Makrov both denied by Armalis.

As Estonia’s energy level deteriorated, Tupamaki called a timeout with 8:53 for a well-deserved breather. With 3:41 left of the game, Estonia pulled Koitmaa from the net, but it took only 20 seconds before Verenis converted an empty-netter as the crowd got on their feet to celebrate a memorable night for Lithuanian hockey and its


Georgia’s joy Emerging nation claims first gold

By Andy Potts –

Georgian hockey is celebrating after the former Soviet republic produced its best-ever result in IIHF play to win the Division III title in Cape Town.

The mountainous nation, high in the Caucasus, only played its first internationals in 2010 and competed in IIHF events for the first time in 2013. For two seasons, it could not manage a single victory, but those struggles were all forgotten after four wins from five games in South Africa secured the sought-after gold medals and elevation to Division IIB.

The change in fortune came namely thanks to Russian-trained players who have joined the Georgian national team in the past two years. Of the five best scorers three have names hailing from Russia or Ukraine and all five learned their hockey abroad. The tournament’s scoring leader Alexander Zhuzhunashvili originally came from Moscow to play for the country of his ancestors and made it to the second-highest junior league MHL-B in Russia. Also Alexander Vasilchenko, Artyom Kozyulin and Artyom Kurbatov played their hockey in Moscow while Oliver Obolgogiani, second in scoring, played junior hockey in Finland, and goalie Andrei Ilienko is a native of St. Petersburg.

The free-scoring offence put Georgia in control of the group. The country started with a 6-2 win in a neighbouring clash with Turkey and followed that up by beating Bulgaria 5-3. Next came a crushing 11-1 demolition of Hong Kong before a stumble against the host nation saw South Africa win 4-2 and threatened to halt the promotion parade. Going into Sunday’s final round of games, Georgia knew that it had to defeat Chinese Taipei or be overtaken when Turkey and Bulgaria played later that day.

In the event, there was little to worry about. Zhuzhunashvili opened the scoring after just 17 seconds, potting the first of four goals for him in the game. Defenceman Artyom Kurbanov doubled the lead soon afterwards and Georgia was looking comfortable. There a momentary wobble: captain Vitali Dumbadze took a 5+20 for a high hit and Taipei got one back on the PP, but Semyon Kharizov hit back with a short-handed goal to calm the alarm. Once the teams were back to equal strength, normal service was resumed: Georgia jumped to a 5-1 lead at the end of the first period and added three more in the two remaining frames. Kharizov completed a hat-trick, Zhuzhunashvili completed his four-goal haul with a short-handed marker four seconds from the end. The final score was 11-2, with Yen-Lin Shen and Po-Yun Hsiao getting the consolation goals for Chinese Taipei.

The earlier head-to-head results meant that nobody could catch Georgia now. Bulgaria pipped Turkey to bronze with an overtime victory and South Africa safely navigated a potential relegation showdown against Hong Kong by winning 6-0. But this tournament was all about Georgia’s historic triumph. The team was led by the free-scoring Zhuzhunasvili, one of several Russian-Georgian players on the team. A generation earlier than him, head coach Roland Svanidze underwent a similar journey, starting his career as a player of Georgian descent at Metallurg Novokuznetsk before a stint playing in Dubai and a move into coaching with the Georgian national program. However, this is no mere team of imports playing under a flag of convenience. Most of the roster does indeed have Georgian names and many players come from the domestic system.

So where does Georgian hockey come from? There is a Soviet history to the game here: the first recorded appearance of a Georgian team dates from the Winter Spartakiad of 1962, where Soviet Georgia competed in a kind of Winter Olympics for the republics of the USSR. At the competition in Sverdlovsk, now Yekaterinburg, the team defeated the Armenian and Kyrgyz SSRs but lost to the Kazakhs and all three Baltic republics.

The modern-day team is entirely drawn from the country’s four-team national championship. The bulk of the players, perhaps surprisingly, do not represent the three teams from the capital, Tbilisi, but come from Mimino in the small mountain village of Bakuriani. That community of 2,500 people high in the Borjomi region is something of a winter sport’s hub: a popular ski resort, it was also home to Nodar Kumaritashvili, the luger tragically killed in training at the Vancouver Olympics in 2010. Mimino supplied 11 of Svanidze’s 20-man roster for Cape Town.

Although the early days of Georgia’s new hockey era were tough – no wins in two years of IIHF competition and a chastening -75 goal difference in 2014, then a disqualification in 2016 for selecting ineligible players in Division III in Istanbul – the team has progressed quickly. Last year’s event in Sofia saw the team claim bronze, with only a group-stage loss to eventual champion Luxembourg denying the team a place in the gold-medal game against host nation Bulgaria. With something to build on, Svanidze and his team refined their plans. In 2018, the efforts paid off: a sparkling performance in South Africa secured promotion for the first time and a highest-ever World Championship ranking of 41st.

Fourth gold for Spain

By Andy Potts –

Spain’s golden season continues with the men’s national team winning the 2018 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship Division II Group B on home ice in Granada.

The senior team’s success means the Spaniards have picked up four gold medals this season, securing promotions for the men’s U18 and U20 teams and the senior women’s roster. No other country, at any level of IIHF competition, has managed a comparable medal haul, with Spain ending its campaign with four golds from a possible five. All the successful teams were playing in Division IIB of their respective competitions.

The latest triumph came on home ice in Granada. The Andalusian city hosted the Winter Universiade in 2015, but it has a greater sporting tradition in bullfighting and football. This week, though, it had a chance to enjoy a glut of goals from a Spanish team determined to bounce straight back to Division IIA after relegation 12 months ago. The host nation rattled in 49 goals in five games, allowing just six, as it powered to top spot ahead of New Zealand thanks to a 6-4 success when the teams met.

As the seedings suggested, it all came down to Friday night’s decider against the Kiwis. Both teams had progressed through the competition without dropping a point, although the rampant form of the Spanish offence suggested the host nation might have the edge. Opening with a 15-1 drubbing of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Spain also enjoyed a 14-0 rout of Mexico and a 10-1 success over Luxembourg. With all-out attack at the heart of Luciano Basile’s team for this tournament, Spain took the same approach into the showdown with New Zealand, firing in 53 shots net Daniel Lee’s net.

Despite that, it took most of the first period to find a way through the opposing defence. A power-play goal in the 18th minute – Carlos Rivero winning the puck in the corner and feeding Alejandro Carbonell for a close-range wrist shot – finally broke the deadlock to give Spain a lead that its first-period dominance deserved. Carbonell, who plays his hockey in the French second tier with Annecy, is one of four players on the roster playing abroad. Bruno Baldris (Angers Ducs), Gaston Gonzalez (Montpellier Vipers) and Adrian Ubieto (Anglet Hormadi) also play across the border in France.

In the middle frame, the Spanish offence was rampant once again – and this time it converted chances into goals more readily, scoring four times on Lee. Patricio Fuentes set the tone in the 22nd minute, adding a second after Spain repeatedly prevented New Zealand from clearing its lines, and there were further tallies from Oriol Rubio, Oriol Boronat and Ignacio Granell.

However, the hitherto reliable defence – which had allowed just two goals in four games – began to wobble. New Zealand scored three of its own to remain in contention. Paris Heyd quickly converted a power play when he tipped home Callum Burns’ point shot, Aleksandr Polozov finished off after Jacob Ratcliffe’s shot was deflected into his path and Andrew Cox saw his point shot bounce off a defenceman and find the net. At the end of the middle frame, Spain led 5-3 and New Zealand, despite facing an onslaught, still believed it had a chance.

Boronat got his second of the night to make it 6-3 early in the third, but a power play tally from Frazer Ellis kept the Kiwis in contention. Now, though, a more cautious Spain slowed down the offence and closed out the victory to spark the gold medal celebrations at the final hooter. For New Zealand, it was a second successive silver medal after finishing runner-up on home ice last year.

Not surprisingly, Spanish players dominated the scoring charts to take four of the top five places. Boronat (5+7) led the way, with the Puigcerda player finishing one point ahead of team-mate Fuentes from San Sebastian. Seven goals for Boronat’s clubmate Pablo Munoz made him the top goalscorer and he was joined on 10 points by the tournament’s most productive defenseman, Ubieto. New Zealand’s Jordan Challis (3+7) also made the top five. Spain’s dominance ensured that the team allowed just 70 shots on its net over the five games. Ander Alcaine faced most of them and finished with a GAA of 1.49 on his way to the directorate award for top goalie, but Israel’s Nir Tichon also made a good case for honours with an SVG of 91.82%. Fuentes was the top forward and New Zealand’s Stefan Helmersson was top D-man.

Israel secured third place with a victory over Mexico in its final game to finish on nine points. That result also condemned Luxembourg to relegation. The team from the principality won its last game against DPR Korea and would have survived on that head-to-head result if Mexico had gained at least a point against Israel. Instead, though, the teams finished in a three-way tie with Mexico and Luxembourg sharing the same goal difference. The Mexicans’ 3-1 success in the head-to-head meeting kept the Central Americans in this section and sent Luxembourg back to Division III after just one season.

Italian scores only goal for promotion

By Andrew Podnieks –

Linda DeRocco scored the only goal of the game midway through the second period and Giulia Mazzocchi stopped all 21 shots to give Italy a 1-0 win over China on the final day of the 2018 IIHF Ice Hockey Women’s World Championship Division I Group B.

The win puts Italy ahead of Korea in the final standings and give it a spot in the Division I Group A for next year. Italy will finish this year’s Women’s World Championship program 16th overall – its highest ranking it also reached in 1999 and 2005 – and will for the first time compete in the second tier of the Women’s Worlds. Its only previous appearance at higher level came when it hosted the 2006 Olympics in Turin.

Italy won the Division I Group B on home ice in Asiago before 550 fans in the final game. A tournament that saw a dramatic turn of events on the final day of the tournament. In the early game on Saturday, Korea hammered Poland, 9-2, to move into top spot with 11 points and a record of 3-1-0-1, putting Italy in a must-win situation in the evening.

The first period was tense and with few scoring chances, and China had a chance early in the second to open the scoring when Xin He hit the post from the slot.

DeRocco put the puck in at 10:17 of the second when her point shot hit a Chinese player in front and dribbled slowly past goalie Yuqing Wang.

Italy played flawless defence, but China nearly tied the game under most improbable circumstances. With a little more than two minutes left to play in the third, Zhixin Liu took a double-minor penalty, and all seemed to be lost for the Chinese.

At one point, though, they fired the puck down the ice and Mazzocchi mishandled the puck behind her goal. Minghui Kong picked it up and tried a quick wraparound. Mazzocchi made the acrobatic glove save facing her own goal, and Italy hung on for the win.

Korea was the only team to beat Italy, 3-2 thanks to two goals in the last three minutes of play from Randi Griffin and Chaelin Park, but had to settle for second place because of losing four points elsewhere. After their Olympic experience the Koreans, who came in as the promoted and lowest seeded team, were on fire and just one point away from earning a second straight promotion. But the Koreans lost an Asian clash between the last and next Winter Olympics host China 3-2 and lost a point in the 2-1 overtime win against Kazakhstan of the opening day.

The scoring and award race was dominated by the top-two ranked countries. Italy’s Eleonora Dalpra led with nine points (3+6) ahead of two Koreans, captain Jongah Park (4+3) and goal-scoring leader Yoonjung Park (5+0). Jongah Park, who two months earlier carried the Olympic torch to lit the cauldron as second-last athlete together with North Korean player Su Hyon Jong, was voted best forward by the tournament directorate. The other two individual awards when to Italians. Mazzocchi, who had the best save percentage with 94.62% tightly before China’s Yuqing Wang (94.44%), was named best goaltender and Nadia Mattivi best defenceman.

After starting the tournament with a loss, Latvia moved up in the standings and beat Kazakhstan for third place on the last day – 1-0 thanks to Sarma Ozmena’s goal.

China, which won bronze one year ago and had hope for more thanks to its ambitious program that includes two teams in the Canadian Women’s Hockey League, finished the tournament in fifth place with two wins and three losses and will remain in the Division I Group B for 2019.

Although Poland finished in last place, it will not be relegated because the top level is going to ten teams. The group will be completed by the Netherlands next year.

France moves up

By Andrew Podnieks –

Home ice suited France well in Vaujany this weekend as the French women claimed first place in the 2018 IIHF Ice Hockey Women’s World Championship Division I Group A to earn promotion to the 2019 Women’s Worlds.

France will complete the top division that will be extended to ten teams for next year’s event in Finland.

The French finished their five-game round robin campaign with four wins and a loss, including today’s impressive 7-1 win over Slovakia ahead of Austria and Hungary, teams they had beaten before.

“We knew every game would be a challenge, but we were here at home playing in front of family and friends, so we felt we had to win,” said winning goalie Caroline Baldin. “Today, we played well again. We have a lot of solidarity among us, which was the difference. We fought hard every game.”

Although France has participated in the IIHF’s women’s program since 1999, this is the first time the nation will be in the top pool. The team’s only loss was a 2-1 decision to Norway last Monday.

“I think the thing we look forward to next year the most is playing against the top teams,” Baldin continued. “We’ll be able to see if the gap between us and the top teams is small or not. We hope to fight against every team.”

Although France has only a small number of women’s players, the advantage is that they are a dedicated group – to the game, and to each other.

“Many of us have played together for seven or eight years,” Baldin explained, “so we know each other really well. We grew up together and have known each other since we were 12. This year we were a bit lucky and came together. But even though we’ve been together a long time, we’re still a young team. I think our average age is about 23.”

Slovakia finished in last place with one win, but because the top pool is expanding from eight to ten teams it won’t be relegated.

In truth, tonight’s result didn’t mean much for France as it had advanced earlier in the day after Austria beat Norway and Hungary beating Denmark, both by 3-0 scores. Before Day 5, Norway had been the only team to beat France and could have caused a tie for first place at nine points with France and other teams if they had won in regulation time and if France had lost in regulation time. Neither happened.

France sealed its victory tonight thanks to three goals in a span of 4:20 early in the period. Chloe Aurard opened the scoring with a low shot that fooled Romana Kiapesova at 3:37.

A minute and a half later, Clara Rozier went end-to-end and finished with a pretty wrist shot to the far side to make it 2-0, and Margot Desvignes made it 3-0 on another chance from in close.

Slovakia’s coach, Jenny Potter, long-time star with Team USA, changed goalies, but that move couldn’t help the team’s offensive struggle. Late in the period the Slovaks had a two-man advantage for 52 seconds but didn’t generate any great scoring chances with the opportunity.

Aurard got her second midway through the middle period to give France even more breathing room but just a few minutes later Nikola Rumanova got Slovakia on the board.

Soon after, the team had a great opportunity to make a game of it when Lea Villiot was given a major and game misconduct penalty for hitting from behind, but Slovakia gave up a goal with the lengthy advantage, more or less sealing its fate.

For Baldin, the win caps a memorable season which saw her backstop the ZSC Lions Zurich to the women’s championship in Switzerland.

“I’ve made a lot of good friends with my club team in Zurich,” she enthused. “They’re like family to me. Even though they might play for Team Switzerland, that doesn’t matter. For the moment, this win today is the biggest win of my life. But last year at the Olympic qualification, we came close to beating Germany, and really close to beating Japan, so tonight it was amazing to finally win.”

Austria, after opening the tournament with a loss, improved to a silver-medal finish while Hungary won the bronze. Norway’s Ena Nystrom was named best goaltender by the tournament directorate while Gwendoline Gendarme of France was voted best defender and Fanni Gasparics, who led the tournament in scoring (6+4), won the award as best forward.

The 2019 IIHF Ice Hockey Women’s World Championship will include the United States, Canada, host Finland, Germany, Russia, Sweden, Switzerland, the Czech Republic, Japan and France. The host city and the dates will be announced soon. Next year’s Division I Group A will include Austria, Hungary, Denmark, Norway, Slovakia and Italy, which earned promotion tonight

Dutch delight in Maribor

By Andy Potts –

The Netherlands powered to gold in the 2018 IIHF Ice Hockey Women’s World Championship Division II Group A with a flawless week’s work in Maribor, Slovenia. Unbeaten in five games, with just three goals allowed, the Dutch were a class above the opposition throughout the competition and wrapped up the title in fine style with an impressive 4-0 victory over Great Britain in Friday’s decisive game between the best two teams of the tournament.

As a result, the Netherlands returns to Division IB. Relegation in 2016 in Asiago was followed by a silver medal in Korea last year at one of the preparation events for the Olympics in PyeongChang, but this time the Dutch went one better.

The game against Great Britain was a clash between two nations with 100% records, but even in the early rounds of the tournament the Dutch had looked stronger. More goals scored and fewer allowed at the other end meant the Netherlands would be the favourite ahead of the gold-medal showdown.

Joep Franke’s team lived up to its billing from the start. The first period was one-way traffic, with the Brits limited to just a couple of shots at Nadia Zijlstra while the Netherlands fired in 13 efforts at Nicole Jackson. Britain was fighting to stay in the game, but lost that battle in the middle frame when the Dutch scored three without reply. Captain Savine Wielenga got things started with a power-play goal shortly after the intermission before feeding Kayleigh Hamers for a rocket of a shot to make it 2-0.

Britain’s best hopes of a recovery came and went with a 5-on-3 power play towards the end of the second period. The Dutch, though, not only killed the penalty but went on to kill off the game with a third goal seconds after Hamers escaped the box. Julie Zwarthoed scored, with Wielenga among the assists again, to make it 3-0 and take her to 11 points for the tournament. Another power play saw Bieke van Nes add a fourth early in the final frame, and the outcome was beyond doubt.

Zwarthoed and Wielenga led the Dutch scoring with 11 and 10 points respectively, while Zijlstra’s goaltending brought her two shutouts from three starts, and just one goal allowed in the 2-1 win over Slovenia. That game was the tightest battle for the eventual champion: the other results were a 5-2 win over DPR Korea and big shutout wins against Australia and Mexico.

For Britain, a silver medal was an improvement on bronze in 2017 and that gave cause for encouragement for head coach Cheryl Smith. “We have plenty to be proud of, and the program is clearly going in the right direction,” she said after the game. The tournament also marked the end of Angela Taylor’s international career after two spells on the national team totalling more than a decade brought 54 appearances and 70 points for her country.

The tournament also brought a bronze medal for DPR Korea. The roster featured several players who gained Olympic experience as part of the Unified Korean team in PyeongChang in February. Un Hyang Kim, who made five Olympic appearances, was the top goalscorer with six; Hyang Mi Kim, who featured in three games in PyeongChang, led the scoring with nine points. Su Hyon Jong, who famously joined her South Korean colleague Jongah Park to carry the Olympic Torch to the cauldron during the Opening Ceremony, contributed with six assists in five games.

Australia edged the Slovenian hosts for fourth place, winning 4-2 when the nations went head-to-head on Friday; Slovenia’s Pia Pren had some consolation as her two assists lifted her to 11 points and a share of the tournament scoring lead with Zwarthoed. Mexico struggled throughout the competition and was relegated after failing to win a game and scoring just three goals.

Window to the west

By Henrik

Once flying high at the top level of the women’s game, Kazakhstan has since seen its fortunes plummet drastically. With their top club team Aisulu Almaty competing in Europe and with more domestic teams on the rise, there is once again cause for careful optimism.

With Italy’s Asiago hosting the 2018 IIHF Ice Hockey Women’s World Championship Division I Group B starting on Sunday, Kazakhstan makes a return to European soil with a point to prove. Having dropped down three places on the most recent IIHF Women’s World Ranking and currently occupying 20th spot, the Central Asians will be keen to reverse the trend as China, Italy, Korea, Latvia and Poland await.

Kazakhstan’s current predicament is a far cry from the heady days which saw them compete at the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City. It was followed up by four appearances at the top division of the World Championships between 2005 and 2011 with memorable victories against Russia and Switzerland.

An ageing team and a new crop of players thrown into the deep end saw Kazakhstan fall down as far as Division IIA in 2015. Arresting their slide and playing an integral part in their recovery has been Aisulu’s regular involvement in European competitive action.

Competing in both the Elite Women’s Hockey League (EWHL) and its adjoining cup-competition, the EWHL Supercup, sees Kazakhstan’s top players at Aisulu take on clubs from Austria, Denmark, Germany, Hungary, Italy and Slovakia.

“While Russia has invited us to play with them, we find it more useful to play here in Europe as we are regularly facing our main opponents in the World Championships, such as for instance Italy,” said Alexander Maltsev, head coach of both Aisulu and the Kazakh women’s national team on their involvement in the EWHL which began in 2015/16.

Apart from keeping close tabs to their rivals, the EWHL offers Aisulu competitive matches played in a very concentrated area of Europe. The drawback is that your team is based in Central Asia, separated 4,600 kilometres by air from this season’s EWHL-champions Austria’s Sabres Vienna. With all of Aisulu’s EWHL matches played on the road on venues across Europe, an intense schedule awaits the team whose name translates to ‘beautiful moon’ as it ventures to the west.

“Playing in the EWHL is for us a very good competition, but it is also difficult, especially by playing against many strong teams in such a short distance of time,” said Aisulu’s Alyona Fux, who keeps alive a family tradition of competing in Europe from her father and uncle, who both played in Germany’s top division.

The 30-year-old hailing from the hockey hotbed of Ust-Kamenogorsk was part of the bronze-winning Aisulu team in the 2008 edition of the now defunct European Women’s Champions Cup. She later also tasted immediate success when the team from Kazakhstan’s largest city finished third in their debut season of the EWHL in 2015/16.

Fux and her teammates play around 50 competitive matches a season, with the bulk of them being part of Aisulu’s intensive schedule in European competition.

11 games across Europe in 18 days in September was followed by a second somewhat more arduous schedule starting in late November last year. With 12 games in 20 days, it began with a jetlagged contingent of Aisulu players hurrying to a game from their delayed flight arriving in Copenhagen.

“In Denmark, we didn’t have much time to prepare to the game,” said Maltsev of a 3-1 loss against Hvidovre, which a day later saw Aisulu back up to speed again as they downed their Danish opponents 6-2. “After that, we continued to Central Europe for games in Slovakia, Hungary and Austria. With such a hectic schedule and moving around so much means that we are not able to practise much during those trips,” said Maltsev, whose team just missed out on the EWHL playoffs this season and with that a potential third trip back to Europe with Aisulu.

When they now make their return to Europe, it is in the guise of the Kazakh national team. Arriving in Italy to play at the Women’s World Championship Division I Group B, they do so as the second-lowest ranked team in the competition. Head coach Maltsev believes, however, that brighter days are looming around the corner.

“Our government is paying good attention to women’s hockey, but our player development is not so fast. Now we have more younger players in the senior national team and even in the national championship, we have an Aisulu U18 team taking part. What we know hope is that another team soon could play in Europe which would further help our development,” said Maltsev.

Despite opening the tournament with two defeats, Kazakhstan finished second at last year’s Division I Group B in Katowice, Poland. In this year’s edition in Asiago, they now need to get into their stride right from the outset. Despite a tricky opening game awaiting against Korea, there appears to be no shortage of belief within the Kazakh camp that following many barren years the only way will be up.

“To advance to the next division,” said Fux on her hopes for the outcome in Asiago. A level of optimism surpassed by head coach Maltsev when asked on when Kazakhstan once again will be locking horns with the likes of Russia or Switzerland at the top of the women’s game: “In three years, I hope,” he said.

Spain Wins Women’s Worlds Division IIB Gold

Spain Women claim Gold on home ice.

By National Teams of ice Hockey

Spain’s women took top spot in 2018 IIHF Ice Hockey Women’s World Championship Division II Group B, by winning promotion to Division II Group A for the first time ever. And the gold medal on home ice. Spain won all Five games beating New Zealand 5-2 on the last day. 

Alba Gonzalo and Elena Alvarez took best goalkeeper and best defenceman In the tournament, Spain only gave up 5 goals in five games.

Taiwan’s women’s national ice hockey team stunned hockey fans and themselves when it finished second in Group B of Division II of the 2018 Ice Hockey Women’s World Championships this past week.

Having just qualified for Group B last year, Taiwan’s team of mostly college students in their early 20s and a high school seniors won four of its five games.

Taiwan’s women’s national ice hockey team stunned Division II Group B.

Woden Sun, general secretary of the Chinese Taipei Ice Hockey Federation was quoted in a phone interview Sunday “that for a country that barely sees snow, the national team’s success was a true Cinderella story”.

“The second place finish came as an even bigger surprise given the fact that the team has only existed since 2014 and gets an average of only three hours of practice a week on ice” he said.

“There is only one standard ice rink in Taiwan,  the Taipei Arena, and the women can only practice there after the arena is closed at 9:30 p.m. once a week,” Sun said.

“On other occasions, they practice on roller blades at a roller rink”, he said.

The team now has a 16-1 record in international competitions.

After a 4th place finish in last years tournament Iceland Improved this year by winning the Bronze Medal.

Iceland’s Silvia Bjorgvinsdottir was name the the best forward of the tournament.

Galloping to glory Turkmenistan wins Div. IIIQ in debut

By Henrik Manninen –

Despite being newcomers at this level, Turkmenistan blazed through the competition to win a place at the 2019 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship Division III.

The up-and-coming Central Asians were in a class of their own in the winner-take-all encounter against hosts Bosnia & Herzegovina at the 2018 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship Division III Qualification. Trailing 1-3 after the first frame, Turkmenistan fought back and steamrolled their opponents in ruthless fashion during the next two periods. A barrage of unanswered goals silenced the expectant home crowd and saw Turkmenistan sail away to a 13-3 victory at the Olympic Hall Juan Antonio Samaranch (aka Zetra Olympic Hall).

Earlier in the tournament, Bayram Allayarov’s men had needed one period to get on the scoresheet, before three final frame goals saw off United Arab Emirates 4-0 on the opening day. Ahead of their second game, the Turkmen had found their scoring touch as they annihilated fellow newcomers Kuwait 24-2.

Scoring a whopping 41 times while only conceding five throughout the tournament, Turkmenistan captain Ahmet Gurbanov led the team in scoring with 6+6 in three games, closely followed by Pavel Barkovskiy’s 3+8. Netminder Keremli Charyyev was hardly tested and only faced 29 shots in 140 minutes of play.

The 2019 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship Division III now awaits the new kid on the block on the hockey scene who come a long way since being admitted as an associate member of the IIHF in May 2015.

“We enjoyed ourselves here. Everything was perfect for our team and I also got to score in every game,” said 23-year-old Dovlut Soyunov on his experience in Sarajevo. As one of 15 players on the roster representing Galkan, Soyunov and his compatriots’ hard work are paying dividends as they aim to continue their rise in the World Championship program.

“We practise six days a week. We love hockey and our aim is to promote to division three, two and one. That is the reason we train so hard,” he said of his team which so far is undefeated in a short history of competing at international level.

Predominantly a desert nation with a population of almost 5,7 million, Turkmenistan introduced itself to the international ice hockey world just over a year ago. Competing at the 2017 Asian Winter Games they won all their games in Japan’s Sapporo to finish top of Division II.

While horse-riding, wrestling and martial arts are among the most popular sports in Turkmenistan, ice hockey has been on a steady rise since the first indoor rink was opened in the country’s capital Ashgabat in 2006. The first domestic tournament was played in 2012.

“I had just been skating as a kid, but in 2006 I started to play hockey, then after 2012 hockey really took off in Turkmenistan,” said Soyunov.

The first national championship was contested in 2013/2014, with all the country’s eight teams currently based in Ashgabat.

“Our biggest ice arena holds 10,000 (Winter Sports Palace in Ashgabat) and we have four ice rinks in Ashgabat. In Galkan there’s one more and we have another one coming in the town of Mary,” said Soyunov.

With Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Afghanistan and Iran as it’s neighbours, Turkmenistan has instead opted to establish stronger ties with another former Soviet Republic which been contributing to their success with their hockey program.

Starting back in 2014 when Turkmenistan’s first national champions Galkan were invited to Minsk in Belarus for the 2014 World Championships, the exchange between the two countries have since continued.

“We like their style of teaching hockey and we also visited Belarus before the 2017 Asian Winter Games,” said Soyunov. “We were back in Minsk for a training camp for thirteen days in December last year.”

While Turkmenistan’s hockey program is on an ascent upwards, Bosnia & Herzegovina will be left wondering what could have been at the 2018 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship Division III Qualification.

Going into their final game with two consecutive wins, the hosts came out with all guns blazing against Turkmenistan.

Their influential second line saw Mirza Omer take a leading role from the outset. He opened the scoring at 4:28, had a hand in second as Bosnia & Herzegovina’s lead was doubled a minute and a half later. Despite Turkmenistan replying at 7:50 with Soyunov firing home straight after Barkovskiy’s winning the face off, the crowd of 1,000 were soon at its feet again. Omer once again being the provider when rounding Turkmenistan’s cage to find pick out Amon Rakic for 3-1 at 11:40.

Omer’s 2+10 minutes misconduct penalty for checking to the head at 16:18, was followed up by compatriot Nermin Logo who got ten minutes for unsportsmanlike conduct at 19:58. Two incidents that turned out to be disastrous for Bosnia & Herzegovina as the game tilted firmly over into Turkmenistan’s favour as they scored a dozen unanswered goals in the two final periods.

“We knew that their goalie only received around twenty shots in two games and it proved us right by scoring three goals in seven-eight shots, so had them against the wall. But those two ten minute misconducts shortened our bench and we didn’t have enough depth and that cost us the game,” said Bosnia & Herzegovina head coach Brian Jokat.

“I cannot stress discipline strongly enough and we need our players to stay on the ice,” he continued but was also courteous in defeat to heap praise on Turkmenistan. “Once they got momentum, they got some good players. They can move the puck, skate and they can pass,” said Jokat who despite the lopsided scoreline feels it is an experience that will stand the players in good stead for the future.

“I am optimistic and our guys showed a lot of heart. I am proud of them either way. After they get 7-8 goals, we got our extra goalie in and get the rest of the players some experience,” Jokat said.

United Arab Emirates who had finished last of the teams participating at the 2017 World Championship Division III in Sofia, Bulgaria, clocked up their first win in Sarajevo during the final round of games in a slow burner of an encounter against Kuwait. Veteran captain Juma Al Dhaheri led by example with a hat-trick in a 4-2 win in the desert derby.

“We had expected to try and become second in this tournament, but we’re not able to come up to that level,” said new head coach Aliaksei Strakhau of Belarus after their third-place finish.

Debutants at this stage, Kuwait fought valiantly throughout the tournament. Despite lopsided scorelines against both Bosnia & Herzegovina and Turkmenistan, they outshot United Arab Emirates 22-20 in a 4-2 loss.

“It is a big step up in level, but it is a huge step for Kuwait to be here. Game by game, we are learning more, so hopefully, the results will improve for the future,” said Kuwait’s assistant coach Bojan Zidjarevic.

WC Div 3Q: Turkmenistan & Bosnia remain perfect

By Steven Ellis –

Turkmenistan was not expected to have much trouble with Kuwait, but the dominant display the Central Asian team put on surpassed all expectation. Eight goals in the first period, seven in the second and nine in the third made 24 in total for Turkmenistan, with Kuwait scoring twice in the third period after the game was well in hand. Captain Ahmet Gurbanov racked up four goals and four assists in the game, with Aleksandr Vahovskiy, Arslan Geldimyradov, Dovlut Soyunov, Ishan Veleyev and Nikita Avdeyev also recording hat-tricks.

“It was very difficult, but you have to remember that some of our players have only been playing hockey for two years,” Kuwaiti head coach Pavel Arnost shrugged after the game. “We played hard against Bosnia yesterday but Turkmenistan is on another level entirely.”

In the nightcap, Bosnia and Herzegovina needed a win against the UAE to keep pace with Turkmenistan and did so with a 5-1 win, but it wasn’t easy.

Amar Hadzihasanovic opened the scoring at 4:48 but, despite dominating the first period, that was the only goal for the Bosnians. Then, early in the second period, captain Juma Al Dhaheri tied the game with a brilliant individual effort in which he undressed a Bosnian defenceman and the goalie. Less than five minutes later, though, Bosnia’s captain answered when Dino Cordalija intercepted a pass in the UAE zone and fired the eventual game-winning goal on a blistering slapper while shorthanded.

“We were superior physically and superior mentally, but sometimes it takes a catalyst to get the boys going and once they get their confidence, they get on a roll,” said Bosnian coach Brian Jokat.

Less than two minutes after that, Mirza Omer put the hosts up by two with a nice goal of his own, going inside-out and firing top shelf. In the third, Cordalija scored twice more to complete his hat-trick.

“I have to take my hat off to Dino. He was the leader out there today, took the bull by the horns and made the difference,” Jokat continued. “He’s a true leader and he showed out there tonight why he wears the ‘C’.”

On the tournament’s final day on Wednesday, two ties will be broken. First off, either Kuwait or the United Arab Emirates will get their first win. History favours the UAE, who have won all previous meetings against their Middle-Eastern rivals. Then the final game will decide which team advances to Division III of the World Championships.

“It’s the last game and we’ve got a day off to prepare, so we’ll talk a little bit about what happened today and try as best we can to finish on a high note,” said Arnost.
“The stage is set now. We’re three periods away from playing on the world stage again,” said Jokat. “It’s really their choice now how much they want it. We’ll just put this one behind us, look forward to the next one and lay it all out on the line.”

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