Month: August 2016 (page 1 of 3)

Girgensons eyes PyeongChang 2018 in Riga

latvia ice hockey

By Martin Merk – IIHF.com

There’s no secret about Zemgus Girgensons strong bond with Latvia. That’s where the Buffalo Sabres forward comes from and where he got so many votes from to be lifted to the NHL All-Star Game in 2014/2015. This week he can play in front of his hometown crowd for the first time in his professional career.

“It’s definitely awesome to play in front of my hometown crowd. It’s special. I’ve never done it. There’s nothing better than to play at home in front of our fans, who are so passionate and always cheer for us. I expect it to be fun games,” the 22-year-old said about the days to come.

Girgensons was just 12 when Latvia hosted the 2006 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship. He was playing at the Edmunds Vasiljevs hockey school before leaving for the U.S. as a teenager.

“When I was 15 I went to Burlington, Vermont. It was a big change. The first year was tough. It’s not easy to move away when you’re 15 but I had a host family that took care of me and I was there to do a job so you understand why you are there,” he said.

“I missed mostly my family and friends but also the city of Riga. Every time I come back it’s a pretty special feeling. I drive around downtown, walk in the old town.”

Girgensons played three years of junior hockey in the United States. In his last season he captained the USHL’s Dubuque Fighting Saints and played in the top division of the World Juniors with Latvia in Calgary and Edmonton. That’s when the Buffalo Sabres used their first-round pick and drafted him 14th overall. After one season with the with the AHL affiliate Rochester Americans he made the NHL team and has played there the last three season.

The young Riga native also represented Latvia at three World Championships and the 2014 Olympic Winter Games. That’s where he wants to be again with the small but hockey-crazed Baltic country.

“I’ve never been that far east,” he said about what comes in mind when hearing PyeongChang, the Korean host of the next Winter Olympics. “I have no expectations what it can be like there but the Olympics are why we are here. It’d be fun to go there. It’s something on the to-do list.”

Girgensons is currently the only Latvian in the NHL. He played 202 games for the Sabres scoring 30 goals and 70 points. It has been a time with ups and downs for him.

“Each season was different. The second season was the best one, the last one was not that good but that’s how hockey goes,” Girgensons said.

“I learned a lot in the last three years. Being 22 I went through a lot, played three full seasons, we had a couple of coaches changed. It’s not a bad thing for a young guy to go through all that kind of stuff so it won’t be a shock when it happens later.”

The forward spent most of the summer back in Buffalo since returning from the World Championship in Moscow and was training there while still being a restricted free agent.

“I don’t have a contract yet but it’s in discussion. I definitely plan to play there,” he said.

The Latvian national team came together only on Sunday and got to know their new coach, Haralds Vasiljevs, after the sudden resignation of Leonids Beresnevs.

“We just had a practice and a game against Denmark so we’re still learning about the team but we’ll be good to go tomorrow,” he said before the next practice this evening. Having a coach change at this time is something he doesn’t see as something too dramatic.

“I had coach changes mid-season, that’s probably worse than now,” he said. For him it’s anyway not just about relying on the coaches. “[Vasiljevs] brings with him a lot but it’s more about the players doing their job.”

Their job, that’s winning three games this week after a 3-0 exhibition-game loss against Denmark. On Thursday the Latvians will open against Austria, another team that made it to Sochi 2014. The night after the maroon-and-white team will play Japan, which advanced after winning in the preliminary round. On Sunday evening a possible final awaits with Germany as the opponent.

“It will be hard. Austria and Germany are really good teams and Japan will bring their A game too. Each game will be hard but we definitely feel confident winning this,” he said.

And he can be sure to have a vocal crowd behind him that finally gets the chance to cheer on him not only through the internet but live at Arena Riga.

Big plans: Capitals are part of owner’s vision for building Chinese hockey

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Caps majority owner Ray Zhang, right, and coach Bob Beatty
during training camp.— image credit: Kevin Rothbauer/Citizen


By Kevin Rothbauer –
Cowichan Valley Citizen

If things pan out the way new Cowichan Valley Capitals majority owner Ray Zhang has envisioned, the Cowichan Valley could end up helping China become a hockey power.

Zhang, the Beijing businessman whose purchase of the B.C. Hockey League club was finalized earlier this month, admires the Canadian hockey culture and wants to replicate it in China. With Beijing set to host the Winter Olympics six years from now, he feels there is no time like the present to start the process.

“I feel it’s the right time for both countries,” Zhang said.

Not only has the Chinese government started to put more support behind ice hockey due to the upcoming Olympics, but the Russian-based Kontinental Hockey League has expanded into Beijing for the 2016-17 season with new team Kunlun Red Star, and a Chinese league with a cap of 50 international players is set to start a year from now.

The Chinese men’s national team sits 37th in the International Ice Hockey Federation rankings for 2016, and will need to make strides if it wants to contend in 2022. Although the host country isn’t guaranteed a berth in the Olympic hockey tournament, South Korea was able to lobby successfully for inclusion in the 12-team tournament in 2018, and China hopes to follow suit.

Traditionally more popular in the northeastern cities of Harbin and Qiqihar, hockey has slowly made inroads in the rest of the country in recent years.

“When my son started, there were only about 200 players in Beijing and 300 in China,” Zhang said. According to the IIHF, there are currently 1,225 registered players out of the country’s 1.3 billion people.

A hockey fan since his son, Simon Chen, started playing in 2003, Zhang had to go through a four-month ordeal in order to acquire the team, the first time someone from China has purchased an overseas hockey franchise. All capital investments using money from China need approval from the government and national bank, and no one could understand why he was interested in buying a money-losing enterprise. He had to explain his longterm plan to get them on board.

Although it isn’t unusual for young Chinese players, like Chen, to play high school hockey in the U.S. or Canada, when they return to China, they go back to a program that is “going in the wrong direction.” Zhang thinks taking the family-oriented Canadian hockey culture back to China will turn Chinese hockey around. His vision involves setting up camps and academies in Canada — most likely on Vancouver Island — to help bridge the two countries.

Although the final roster hasn’t been announced, Chen appears set to line up on defence for the Capitals when the puck drops on the 2016-17 BCHL campaign. Born in 1997, Chen went to high school at the Brooks School in North Andover, Massachusetts. When he started there, his family didn’t realize that the varsity team was entirely recruited, although he managed to get a tryout and ended up being the only player out of 22 on the roster that wasn’t recruited. Chen was the first Chinese-born player on the Brooks School team. He also played for China at the World U18 championships Div. IIB in 2014-15 and is hoping to play for the U20 team this season.

According to Zhang, hockey is Chen’s passion.

“He loves hockey,” Zhang said. “We never push him. I feel if a young kid loves to do something, why not support him?”

Chen has never had illusions of playing in the NHL or even the American Hockey League — “We were never thinking he could play professional hockey,” Zhang said — but he has two dreams: to play college hockey and to play for China in the 2022 Olympics.

Zhang is quick to point out all the benefits of hockey, beyond just being active. For young people like his son, hockey helps prepare them for the real world, and instills leadership and confidence.

“Hockey brings something besides hockey, something more important than hockey itself,” he said. “In the locker room, they learn how to deal with other players. With no adults, they close the door, and it’s the children’s world.”

As for the Capitals, Zhang knows they will be young this season, but hopes they will turn into a contender down the road

“I’d like to stabilize the team, then next season see some improvement,” he said, adding that he’d like to take them on a tour of China in the future as well.

World Cup of Hockey summer check-in: Team USA

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By Mark Spector – Sportsnet

Training camp sites: Nationwide Arena, Columbus, Sept. 5-9; Verizon Center, Washington D.C., Sept. 11-13.

Summer headlines:
Lombardi wants U.S. World Cup team to win like it’s 1996
Lightning’s Callahan out five months following hip surgery
Team USA replaces Callahan with Palmieri for World Cup

Team captain: TBD
Assistant captains: TBD

Front-office refresher:
GM: Dean Lombardi
Head coach: John Tortorella
Other Staff: Paul Holmgren, Brian Burke, Jim Johannson (management group); Mike Sullivan, John Hynes, Phil Housley, Jack Capuano, Scott Gordon (assistant coaches).

Injury concerns:
Kyle Palmieri was added to the roster to replace Ryan Callahan, who had summer hip surgery.

Phil Kessel was not added to the original Team USA roster, which raised some eyebrows as he went on to finish fourth in playoff scoring with 22 points. It turns out that Kessel required hand surgery this summer, and likely would have not been ready to play anyway—an injury that could have been at the root of his exclusion in the first place.

Goalie Ben Bishop (strained ankle ligaments) is ready to go.

Zach Parise missed his club’s short playoff run with a back injury. He opted out of surgery and is expected to be ready.

Ryan McDonaghs hand injury hampered him in the playoffs, but he’s healthy too.

This is a huge tournament for many Team USA players who are in the twilights of their international careers, at a time where the pace of play threatens to expose the legs of some American veterans.

There are 14 players on this roster from the Sochi Olympics, where the Americans were shelled 5-0 by Finland in the bronze medal game. Two years later, this roster still contains three Top-10 scorers from the last NHL season — Patrick Kane, Blake Wheeler, Joe Pavelski — but the United States will be looking for the jam and competitiveness to grind their way through an easier pool with Canada, Czech Republic and Team Europe.

Kane will be counted on here to produce offensively, as goals could be an issue.

They’ll count on the checking skills of Brandon Dubinsky and Ryan Kesler to slow down some more high-scoring opponents, and Team USA will grind away and hit their way to victory. That is, assuming these players have that style of hockey in them at this time of year.

Key storylines entering camp:

1. Who Plays Goal?
With Jonathan Quick, Cory Schneider and Ben Bishop, no one has better depth in goal than this team. But, it can also be said that nobody has a tougher decision to make on whom to play.

Quick has the best pedigree, but he was average in a playoff loss to San Jose last spring, missed the playoffs the year before that, and wasn’t very good in that bronze medal loss to Finland. Bishop lost his job in Tampa Bay when he was injured during the playoffs but has the most recent big-game experience, and Schneider is also coming off of surgery to correct a core muscle problem after missing the playoffs with New Jersey.

“Surgery pushed me back a little, but honestly I think having the World Cup sooner was a good thing because once I was cleared and felt good to go, I started pushing pretty hard,” Schneider told NHL.com. “Not only to test the groin and make sure it’s where it needed to be and (that) we didn’t need to do anything else, but to get ready for the World Cup, too.”

Has head coach John Tortorella picked his starter before the tournament begins? Or, with three exhibition games, might each netminder get an exhibition start?

2. Blue-line Blues?
There are some very good players on this Team USA blue-line, but it doesn’t stack up to what the Canadians and the Swedes are icing. Not even close.

McDonagh knows he has to up his own game, after a first-round playoff exit to Pittsburgh in which he was not enamoured with his own play.

“I want to get back (to) where I was a couple of years ago, where I was a difference-maker consistently,” McDonagh told ESPN.com. “It can’t just happen once every three, four games. It has to happen every game. Get that motto and get that confidence going through our team and get everybody rallying together.”

3. The Process
NHLers typically aren’t accustomed to playing at this level of intensity so early in the hockey calendar. Team USA plays back-to-back games versus Canada to open their exhibition schedule, and with only 23 players on the roster, all but three players will play both games — something that would never happen at their regular NHL training camps.

“Canada-U.S.? I don’t think that’s going to be an ease-in process,” Bishop told ESPN this summer. “Exhibition games are going to be a little more intense, especially for goalies who like to slowly get into it. My first game could be against Team Canada, but after practicing for a week and some intra-squad scrimmages, I’m sure I’ll be ready.”

4. The question of captain
Although Team USA has yet to officially name its captains, it is believed Joe Pavelski will get the ‘C’ on his jersey. That marks a subtle changing of the guard in American hockey, and some will question why the annual highest scoring American-born player — Patrick Kane — was not named as captain.

At the 2014 Olympics in Sochi, Parise was captain, while Ryan Suter and Dustin Brown served as alternates. Brown isn’t even on this roster, and if Pavelski vaults past Parise and Suter to take over the captaincy, will that cause ripples? Also, how can your most productive player not even get a letter? Unless, that is, Kane’s off-ice foibles are at the root of that decision.

5. Changing of the guard
For players like David Backes, Suter, and Ryan Kesler — who are closer to the end of their international careers than the beginning — this could be a last hurrah, especially with young stars like Johnny Gaudreau, Jack Eichel, Auston Matthews and Jacob Trouba on their way up in national team ranks. (Of course, those four youngsters will be suiting up for Team North America at this tournament.) All of this under the tough task master John Tortorella, who always brings plenty of drama to the table. Could be fun.

Exhibition/Preliminary round schedule:
**Friday, Sept. 9 vs. Team Canada at Columbus
**Saturday, Sept. 10 vs. Team Canada at Ottawa
**Tuesday, Sept. 13 vs. Team Finland at Washington
Saturday, Sept. 17 vs. Europe
Tuesday, Sept. 20 vs. Canada
Thursday, Sept. 22 vs. Czech Republic

World Cup of Hockey summer check-in: Team Sweden

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By Mike Johnston – Sportsnet

Training camp site: Scandinavium in Gothenburg, Sweden and Kettler Capitals Iceplex in Washington, Sept. 5-14.

Summer headlines:

Red Wings’ Henrik Zetterberg named Sweden’s World Cup captain
Jhonas Enroth added to Team Sweden roster for World Cup
Hampus Lindholm to replace Niklas Kronwall on Sweden’s World Cup roster
Rickard Rakell named to Sweden’s World Cup roster, replaces Alex Steen

Team captain: Henrik Zetterberg
Assistant captains: Undecided

Front-office refresher:
• Head coach: Rikard Gronborg
• Assistant coaches: Peter Popovic, Johan Garpenlov
• GM: Tommy Boustedt
• Other Staff: Nick Lidstrom, Mats Sundin, Daniel Alfredsson (team advisors)

Injury concerns:

Henrik Lundqvist. The 34-year-old is coming off a 65-game campaign with the Rangers, but did miss some time in the spring dealing with neck spasms. He is vital to Sweden’s success.

Henrik Sedin. The Canucks star is coming off one of the least productive seasons of his NHL career, but it was revealed he had been playing through a number of injuries, including a broken finger.

Key storylines entering camp…

1. Will they have enough firepower up front?
Sweden’s defence should be the envy of the tournament, but there are some questions up front. Filip Forsberg and Loui Eriksson are the only 30-goal scorers on the team and only one Swedish forward (Nicklas Backstrom) is coming off a 70-point campaign. Sweden has excellent two-way forwards but only a couple high-end offensive threats.

2. Can they perform on North American-size ice?
Even though this Swedish roster is comprised solely of NHL players, historically speaking, Team Sweden performs better on international-sized ice at these types of major tournaments. They won Olympic gold at Torino 2006 and silver at Sochi 2014, but finished fifth in 2010 when the tournament took place on the small ice in Vancouver. This Swedish roster doesn’t boast any heavy hitters and when there isn’t as much room to navigate it becomes more difficult to rely on your skill.

3. Lundqvist needs to stay healthy and be on his game.
The Swedes have a balanced roster, so it would be unfair to write them off if their starting netminder goes down. However, if Lundqvist isn’t 100 per cent or he struggles, success in this tournament could be an uphill battle. Having to turn to either Jacob Markstrom or Jhonas Enroth could impact the team’s collective confidence.

Exhibition/Preliminary round schedule:

** Sept. 8: Sweden vs. Finland at the Hartwall Arena in Helsinki, Noon ET.

** Sept. 9: Sweden vs. Finland at the Scandinavium in Gothenburg, Noon ET.

** Sept. 14: Sweden vs. Europe at the Verizon Center in Washington, 7 p.m. ET.

Sept. 18: Sweden vs. Russia, 3 p.m. ET

Sept. 20: Sweden vs. Finland, 3 p.m. ET

Sept. 21: Sweden vs. North America, 3 p.m. ET

World Cup of Hockey summer check-in: Team Canada

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By Chris Johnston – Sportsnet

Training camp site: Canadian Tire Centre, Ottawa, Sept. 5-12.

Summer headlines:
Sidney Crosby named Team Canada’s Captain for World Cup
Team Canada adds Sharks’ Couture to World Cup roster
Team Canada adds Bouwmeester to World Cup roster
• Price ‘100 per cent’ ready to go for World Cup of Hockey

Team captain: Sidney Crosby.
Assistant captains: Jonathan Toews, Shea Weber.

Front-office refresher:
• Head coach: Mike Babcock.
• GM: Doug Armstrong.
• Other Staff: Mark Bergevin, Rob Blake, Ken Holland, Bob Murray (management group). Claude Julien, Barry Trotz, Joel Quenneville, Bill Peters, Misha Donskov, Andrew Brewer (assistant coaches).

Injury concerns:
Carey Price. It has been more than nine months since the presumed No. 1 goalie last played a game after knee issues derailed his 2015-16 campaign. He is said to be in good health now, but will be monitored closely during training camp to see if there are any signs of rust in his game.

Claude Giroux. His participation was up in the air because of off-season surgery for hip and abdominal injuries. However, the Flyers captain recently received clearance to participate in the World Cup after a summer of recovery.

Tyler Seguin. A gruesome cut to the Achilles tendon above his right foot kept the forward from participating in Dallas’ playoff run – save for one game in the opening round. Seguin says he’s still feeling some affects from the injury, but is confident that it has healed enough to play.

Steven Stamkos. He made a dramatic return for Game 7 of the Eastern Conference final in May after missing eight weeks following surgery on a blood clot near his right collarbone. The Lightning captain has had another three months since to ensure he’s not at risk of bleeding to death should he be cut while playing.

Key storylines entering camp:

1. What to do with Weber?
The stingy Sochi Olympic team was driven by a top defensive pairing of Duncan Keith and Shea Weber – one that likely would have been reprised at the World Cup if not for an injury to Keith.

Given coach Mike Babcock’s preference to pair left- and right-hand shots, plus those that play on the same team, he’ll have to break up a built-in tandem to find Weber (R) a new partner: Either L.A.’s Jake Muzzin (L) and Drew Doughty (R) or San Jose’s Marc-Edouard Vlasic (L) and Brent Burns (R) or St. Louis’ Jay Bouwmeester (L) and Alex Pietrangelo (R).

2. Who plays with Sid?
Finding the optimal wingers to complement No. 87 rarely seems to be an easy task. Sidney Crosby finished the Sochi Games playing between Penguins teammate Chris Kunitz and Patrice Bergeron, but will find himself with a different unit on a World Cup team that doesn’t include Kunitz.

One intriguing possibility is Crosby with Steven Stamkos and John Tavares on an all-No. 1 overall pick line.

3. Winging It
The only natural winger on this roster is Brad Marchand, which means that several centres will be asked to play out of position during the tournament. This isn’t a new problem for Team Canada – the country features an embarrassment of riches down the middle – but it could result in some serious line juggling while everyone gets comfortable.

4. Patience with Price
The one thing this tournament doesn’t offer is margin for error. Each team gets three exhibition games followed by three preliminary round games which will determine who advances directly to the semifinals. With that in mind, it will be interesting to see how much rope Carey Price is given if he struggles in his first competitive action since last November.

Braden Holtby is waiting in the wings.

Exhibition/Preliminary round schedule:

**Sept. 9: Team Canada vs. Team USA, Nationwide Arena, 7 p.m.

**Sept. 10: Team Canada vs. Team USA, Canadian Tire Centre, 7 p.m.

**Sept. 14: Team Canada vs. Team Russia, Consol Energy Center, 7:30 p.m.

Sept. 18: Team Canada vs. Team Czech Republic, 8 p.m.

Sept. 20: Team Canada vs. Team USA, 8 p.m.

Sept. 21: Team Canada vs. Team Europe, 8 p.m.

World Cup of Hockey summer check-in: Team North America

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By Mark Spector – Sportsnet

For those who say that the Under-23 Team North America is just a World Cup of Hockey gimmick, we would ask you this:

Would you rather watch Team Switzerland, Germany, Slovakia or Latvia try to steal a win from the world powers of hockey? Because those countries make up the next group whose national teams are being replaced by Team North America and Team Europe in this tournament.

Led by Connor McDavid, this team will be as fast as any in the World Cup, and will be the dark horse in their pool, hoping to knock off two of Russia, Sweden and Finland in order to advance.

With the World Cup around the corner, here’s a look at Team North America.

Training camp site:

Montreal (Bell Centre): Sept. 5-7
Quebec City (Videotron Centre): Sept. 8-10
Montreal (Bell Centre): Sept. 11
Pittsburgh (CONSOL Energy Center): Sept 12-14

Summer headlines:

• The biggest story for Team North America actually happened this past spring, as Pittsburgh goaltender Matt Murray established himself as a Stanley Cup winner during the Penguins’ Cup run.

Remember, shortly after the U-23 concept was raised co-GMs Stan Bowman and Peter Chiarelli petitioned tournament organizers for an age exemption in goal, where they feared they wouldn’t have a candidate that would allow them to compete against the best players in the world.

Now, with Murray having stolen Marc-Andre Fleury’s job while becoming a Conn Smythe candidate, and Anaheim’s John Gibson (.920, 2.07 GAA) having taken over the No. 1 job in Anaheim, the kids might just have enough goaltending to make a run.

• At the time of this writing, neither Winnipeg defenceman Jacob Trouba nor Calgary winger Johnny Gaudreau have signed contracts with their clubs. Both are restricted free agents expected to sign soon, and each will be provided with insurance (by the NHLPA and NHL) should they remain unsigned when the tournament begins.

Both have committed to play in the tournament, but the contract situation will be a distraction for both — especially considering that short window between the end of this tournament (possibly Oct. 1) and the NHL regular season opener on Oct. 12.

• As it turns out, Auston Matthews first game at the Air Canada Centre won’t be in a blue and white uniform after all. The Toronto Maple Leafs No. 1 overall draft pick debuts in the black, grey and neon orange of Team North America, which might just provide a convenient break-in period for the pressure he’ll be feeling once the NHL season starts for real in Toronto.

“I think it’s great for Auston,” said Leafs and Team Canada head coach Mike Babcock on a Team Canada conference call. “I don’t know what his role is going to be, but he’s going to learn from this tournament and he’s going to get better every time out.”

• Perhaps the most intriguing part of this concept will be to see Matthews, Connor McDavid and Jack Eichel potentially on the same powerplay. Particularly Eichel and McDavid, who spent their rookie seasons being compared to one another.

“I’m definitely excited to play with him and get to experience to be on the ice with him on the same team as opposed to playing against him,” McDavid told the Toronto Sun in August. “I think we’ve always been tagged as kind of rivals and all that but I definitely don’t see that or think that.

“It will be cool to play with him.”

Team captain: TBD
Assistant captains: TBD

Front-office refresher:
• Co-GMs: Stan Bowman and Peter Chiarelli
• Head coach: Todd McLellan
• Assistant coaches: Jon Cooper, Dave Tippett, Gerard Gallant, Jay Woodcroft

Injury concerns:
Sean Couturier sprained his shoulder on a hit by Alex Ovechkin in Philadelphia’s playoff opener and did not return in Round 1. He’s ready to go now, as is teammate Shayne Gostisbehere, who had hip and abdominal surgeries in May.

McDavid returned last season from his broken collarbone and is fine as well.

Key storylines entering camp:

1. The defence
Can a defence comprised wholly of 23-and-under players allow this group to compete against the best players in the world? Put it this way: Of the seven players named to the team — Aaron Ekblad, Seth Jones, Ryan Murray, Colton Parayko, Morgan Rielly, Gostisbehere and Trouba — how many would vie for a spot on their national team if this team North America didn’t exist?

With Murray having emerged in goal, the question becomes if this defence can weather the storm against pressure from the best veteran players on the globe.

2. Matt Murray
What if Murray was a “one spring wonder?”

What if, like Antti Niemi’s wonderful run with the Blackhawks in 2010, Murray can’t follow up with a sustainable level of play the following season? That would leave Gibson and Connor Hellebuyck to tend the North American twine, but in a short tournament, by the time you figure out your No. 1 isn’t good enough, it might be too late to recover.

3. The competition
Team North America finds itself in a bracket with Russia, Finland and Sweden, and only two teams emerge to face the top two clubs from the opposite bracket (Canada, USA, Czechs and Team Europe) in the two semi-final games.

Can this group pull off two victories to get through to the semis? They’ll have to use every ounce of their speed and youthful exuberance to make that happen.

Exhibition/preliminary round schedule:

**Sept. 8: Team Europe vs. Team North America, Videotron Centre, 8 p.m.

**Sept. 11: Team Europe vs. Team North America, Bell Centre, 6 p.m.

**Sept. 14: Team Czech Republic vs. Team North America, CONSOL Energy Center, 3:30 p.m.

Sept. 18: Team North America vs. Finland, 8 p.m.

Sept. 19: Team Russia vs. Team North America, 8 p.m.

Sept. 21: Team North America vs. Team Sweden, 3 p.m.

Claudia Téllez Arrives in CWHL With a Vision for the Mexican National Team

mexico ice hockey

By Dustin Nelson – The hockey Writers

Claudia Téllez is the first Mexican player to work her way into the Canadian Women’s Hockey League (CWHL). The Mexican National Team alternate captain is looking to inspire and break new ground. She entered the 2016 CWHL Draft at age 32 with lofty ambitions. It’s not just about forging a spot in the league, but about a dream of getting the Mexican National Team into the 2018 Winter Olympics.

It’s a long shot, but being selected by the Calgary Inferno in the eighth round of the draft already says a lot about how far the national team program has come in Mexico.

First Steps

Mexico officially became an International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) member nation in 1985, but it wasn’t until 2012 that a women’s team was formed. The team was assembled from women who had been playing inline hockey, including Téllez. “I’ve always wanted to go to the Olympic games,” said Téllez through a translator, “and the only way to go is through ice hockey.”

It’s a long path, but Téllez took the challenge seriously, moving to Mexico City to focus on training full-time. Then, watching a CWHL game she had recorded, she decided to pursue more than an Olympic berth for Mexico. “One time I got invited to Spain to play inline hockey in the European League. But because of political problems with the inline federation, they didn’t let me go.

“So I got the opportunity to play ice hockey and I find out that there’s a professional league in ice hockey, and I decided that the next four years I’m going to work on the project for the Olympics and also to prepare for professional hockey.”

The first step has been taken toward the latter goal. On Aug. 25 she was drafted by the CWHL’s Calgary Inferno. “I was very excited, very emotional,” she said.

“When I decided to apply for the draft last year, I was watching a Calgary game. So, I fell in love with the team, and I said I want to be there. I want to play there.”

She’s supported along those first steps by the Comisión Nacional de Deportes, which offers a stipend to female athletes in Mexico who are training. They will help fund Téllez for CWHL camp. She also has a sports management team helping her to raise money. It’s yet another challenge for Téllez, as the CWHL doesn’t pay players a salary, though they somtimes offer support finding housing or jobs.

A Big Year

It will be a whirlwind fall for Téllez. First, she heads to Calgary’s camp in an effort to turn being a draft pick into being a roster player. “I think that my game is to create opportunities. I am a playmaker. That’s my strength here on the Mexican team. I play for the team. I’m a team player… And I score,” she says with a smile.
 
She will return to Mexico City in October, where the first round of Olympic qualifications is being held. From that qualifier to PyeongChang, South Korea, where the 2018 Olympics will be held, is a difficult slog — it starts with this qualification round, pitting the 26th ranked Mexican team against Turkey and Hong Kong.

“It’s very amazing to be at home,” says Téllez of the opportunity to play the first qualifier in Mexico City. “The number of fans of the Mexican hockey team has grown… they’re very excited to attend the game from all over the country.”

If Mexico comes out of that qualifier, they’ll head to Spain in November, where they will need some major upsets to continue. They would be berthed into a group against Kazakhstan, Great Britain and Poland where eight teams will compete for two spots in the next round of qualifications. After Spain, there are still two more qualification rounds where the competition gets even more challenging.

The Future of Hockey in Latin America

Olympic qualification for Mexico is unlikely, but Téllez and teammates are inspiring the next generation of players in Latin America, where only three countries have women’s national ice hockey clubs. Among them, only Mexico will compete to qualify for the Olympics. But she understands that making into the CWHL is another way to inspire teammates and future players at home.

“Of course [teammates are inspired], but they are in the process of finishing university,” she says. “There are four players that aspire to go to the professional league, especially the goalkeeper. I hope they have the time and development to grow and get the same opportunity that I am getting.”

She hopes to inspire and to bring pride to her national federation, but she’s a determined athlete. She’s also striving to show she belongs among the best in women’s hockey. “I hope to prove myself,” she says of what could be a defining year in her career and the history of the Mexican national team.

Belarus bids to host IIHF World Ice Hockey Championship 2021

belarus ice hockey
By Belarus News

Belarus’ Ice Hockey Federation as submitted a bid to host the IIHF World Ice Hockey Championship 2021, BIHF Secretary General Yaroslav Zavgorodny said in an interview with the Belarus 5 TV Channel. According to him, the official documents have been sent to the International Ice Hockey Federation. Belarus will know who it will compete with at the upcoming IIHF Congress. In case the Belarus bid fails, the country intends to apply to host 2022 IIHF World Championship. Belarus plans to hold the world championship in two arenas Minsk Arena and Chizhovka Arena which were the venues of the 2014 IIHF World Championship. “The necessary infrastructure for the world championship is already in place. The previous world championship cemented Belarus’s image as a truly hockey country capable of hosting high-profile events at the highest level,” the federation said. The BIHF is well aware that it will be very hard to win the bid at the first attempt because among the bidders is also Finland.

Belarus win Cup of Three Nations

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By National Teams of Ice Hockey

The Belarus national ice hockey team won the Three Nations Cup  which took place in Minsk.
Belarus claimed victory in two games. The Belorussian won 5-2 over France and then defeated Germany 3-2.  Belarus claimed the Cup, with Germany and France placing second and third respectively.

The Three Nations Cup was an important preparatory stage for the Belarus team ahead of the 2018 Olympic qualifying tournament, which is due to take place at Minsk Arena on September 1-4. Four teams will complete for the Olympic berth in Group D. Slovenia and Poland will take to the ice on September 1st. Belarus will face Denmark on the opening day of the tournament as well. On  September 2nd Slovenia will go against Denmark, while Belarus will face Poland. September 4th will feature Poland vs Denmark and Belarus vs Slovenia. The winner in Group D will secure a place in the 2018 Winter Olympics. The Belarus national team took part in the Olympics three times (in Nagano in 1998, Salt Lake City in 2002 and Vancouver in 2010). Belarus played in the Olympic qualifying tournaments four times. In 1997 and 2001 the Belarus team secured its berth in the Olympics Games of 1998 and 2002. In 2005 and 2013 Belarus finished second behind Latvia and Slovenia respectively.

NWHL teams to play Team Russia in preseason series

Image result for NWHLrussia ice hockey

Kaitlin Cimini – Today’s Slapshot

The NWHL announced the details for its eight preseason games of 2016 late Monday afternoon. All four teams will play two games apiece; among the teams the NWHL will match up against are the Boston College Eagles, the Buffalo Jr. Sabres, Brock University and, most unusual of all, Russia’s national women’s ice hockey team.

The Russian National Team will play a five-game series against NWHL teams, with one game against the Boston Pride and two games against the New York Riveters and Connecticut Whale. At least two former NWHL players – Katia Smolentseva previously of the Connecticut Whale and Lyudmila Belyakova of the New York Riveters – could come face-to-face with former teammates and coaches. It is not yet known if they are on the roster for the upcoming matches.

During the inaugural season the NWHL set up a short series of intra-league matches between the NWHL and the Minnesota Whitecaps, a professional women’s hockey team that has been without a league for several seasons.

Preseason begins on September 22nd and ends on Oct. 2, less than one week before the start of the regular season. Per the league, tickets are $5 for preseason matches. The full preseason schedule is as follows (all times Eastern Standard Time):

Boston Pride at Boston College
Thursday, Sept. 22, 7 PM

Kelley Rink at Conte Forum

Boston Pride vs. Team Russia
Saturday, Sept. 24, 7 PM

Warrior Ice Arena

New York Riveters vs. Team Russia
Sunday, Sept. 25, 4:30 PM

Barnabas Health Hockey House at Prudential Center

Buffalo Beauts vs. Buffalo Jr. Sabres
Sunday, Sept. 25, 7 PM

HARBORCENTER

New York Riveters vs. Team Russia
Monday, Sept. 26, 7 PM

Mennen Arena in Morristown, NJ

Connecticut Whale vs. Team Russia
Tuesday, Sept. 27, 7 PM

Northford Ice Pavilion

Connecticut Whale vs. Team Russia
Thursday, Sept. 29, 7 PM

Northford Ice Pavilion

Buffalo Beauts at Brock University
Sunday, Oct. 2, 2:15 PM

Jack Gatecliff Arena in St. Catherines, ON

 

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