Date: December 17, 2016

Johnston leads Canada past US in exhibition

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By The Canadian Press

Rebecca Johnston had a hat trick as Canada’s national women’s hockey team rallied past the United States 5-3 on Saturday in an exhibition game.

Jillian Saulnier and Natalie Spooner also scored for Canada. Shannon Szabados stopped 32-of-35 shots in 51 minutes of work in net for the Canadians. Ann-Renee Desbiens stopped both shots she faced in eight minutes of play.

Special teams were key in Canada’s victory. The Canadians were 1 for 4 on the power play and the U.S. was 2 for 10 with the man advantage.

“I felt like I had my legs and our line was playing really well,” said Johnston. “But I think as a whole our team really took it to them and had a lot of energy. We killed off a lot of penalties and I think that gave us a lot of momentum and energy when we’re 5-on-5 and on the power play.”

Brianna Decker scored twice for the Americans, while Hilary Knight added a power-play goal. Alex Rigsby turned aside 18 shots in net.

Johnston opened scoring on the power play 6:37 into the first then added two goals in the third. Spooner also scored in the third as Canada reeled off three unanswered goals.

“(Johnston) is a kid that is extremely positive and she never stops working,” said head coach Laura Schuler. “Tonight was her doing just that, not stopping and just going hard and getting up the ice and doing her magic. She had a tremendous game for us for sure.”

The game was the first of two exhibitions between the powerhouses, designed to help them tune up ahead of the world championships in Plymouth, Mich., from March 31 to April 7. The two teams will meet again on Monday in Sarnia, Ont.

“Every time we play them it’s such a hard-fought battle and it’s always an exciting game. It’s back to back and it’s best-on-best competition. We were obviously really excited to see some success, especially here in this building where worlds is going to be taking place.”

Sophie Shirley, Micah Hart, and sisters Amy and Sarah Potomak added some youth to Canada’s senior team as Melody Davidson, Hockey Canada’s general manager of national women’s teams programs, considers her roster for the worlds and the 2018 Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea.

“It was great to be able to see them in this kind of environment,” said Schuler. “All four of those players it was great to get them this kind of international experience.”

Belarus to Buffalo

 

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By Chapin Landvogt – IIHF.com

Timely goals, a clear cut mission, and a boatload of routine ultimately proved to be simply too much for the rest of the competition at the 2017 IIHF Ice Hockey U20 World Championship Division I Group A this past week in Bremerhaven, Germany, as these proved to be the ingredients that allowed Belarus to slip by the competition on its way to promotion.

Ten seconds before the siren rang to complete Belarus‘ 4-0 victory over Austria, ensuring a move back up into the world‘s top U20 group, the arena was flooded with the sound of emphatic cheers and the clapping of sticks coming from Belarus‘ player bench.

Not long thereafter, all those sticks were scattered across the ice along with helmets and gloves as the team hurriedly piled itself on top of its goalie Alexander Osipkov, who had just pitched his first shutout of the event, beating Austria 4-0 to claim first place overall in the tournament.

“I am so happy right now,” shouted team captain Ilya Sushko. “I am happy for this magic end to the tournament. I’m happy for my teammates and the coaching staff. I’m so relieved, because no-one gave us this tournament as a present. All of the teams were good. Every game was difficult. We had to battle for everything. I am so proud of our accomplishments.”

The path to promotion was anything but easy for a program that just about looked to be in shambles after being dominated by Switzerland in the relegation round of last winter’s World Juniors in Helsinki, Finland. After a clear 6-3 victory over France to get the tournament started, the team needed three third-period goals against Norway to ensure a 4-2 win. A 4-3 overtime loss to host Germany was followed by a hard-fought 3-1 win over Kazakhstan.

The elation head coach Yuri Faikov felt couldn’t be masked. “I simply can’t find the words to describe how good this feels. We worked so hard for this. I am very proud of everyone involved.”

Today’s conclusive 4-0 victory was once again made possible thanks to the offensive contributions of the tournament’s top goal scorer Alexander Belevich (6 goals), later named the tournament’s top forward, and the point production of linemate Ruslan Vasilchuk, who concluded the game tied for the tournament lead with 10 points, having contribute three to this decisive victory.

“I can’t tell you how great this feeling is right now,” explained an excited Vasilchuk. “All these opponents were so strong and demanded so much of us to achieve this promotion. If I’m around the top of the scoring list here, it’s only been made possible by my teammates, who I’d like to thank for their play and sacrifice in making this experience possible.”

The chemistry between him and Belevich ended up playing a crucial role for the team’s success. And it isn’t something that just showed up out of nowhere.

“It’s hard to say what the key to this is. We played together at other tournaments before and things clicked. The coaching staff put us together here as well and it worked out again. We first really met last year as part of the U20 team, but it feels like we’ve known each other for a long, long time now.”

Of course, Belevich isn’t one to claim he was here in Bremerhaven looking to be the tournament’s top sniper. “I didn’t come here with any such expectations. I just wanted us to show up as a team and hit the ice with a purpose. It’s just a coincidence that I ended up scoring a good amount of goals. It is thanks to my partners and teammates that this was possible whatsoever.”

The year has now been a real big one of Belarussian hockey, which not only gained promotion here in Bremerhaven, but had also done so domestically in Minsk last spring at the U18 World Championship. A very common denominator there was head coach Yuri Faikov, who has manned the bench for both teams.

“It’s been such a huge year moving up at both the U18 and U20 levels,” said Faikov. “The team we have here now is a completely different team from the team that played in Finland. We as a program have unified our system from the men’s national team to the U20 to the U18. It’s been a lot of hard work and we’ve faced fierce competition in both tournaments. But yes, we’ve decided to go a different route and can now look forward to a new challenge and new results next year at this time.”

“I can’t thank the coaching staff enough for all the time and effort they put into us. I am so happy to see that all our hard work and preparation this year has led to this success, and it couldn’t be done without them,” explains Vasilchuk, speaking for the team in showing his appreciation of all Faikov and his staff have invested into these achievements.

Forward Maxim Sushko, currently playing in Canada’s Ontario Hockey League, could only concur, seeing as how he should be a big part of the team next winter in Buffalo. “I want to say thanks to the staff and all the guys born in 1997 and 1998. They’ve given us younger guys an excellent opportunity to present ourselves at the highest level of hockey and even more to a whole world of NHL scouts and media. It’s so amazing to know we’ll be part of it all next winner.”

The presentation in Bremerhaven has shown that Belarus is ready to take on 2017 with all it’s got to offer.

Norwegian relegation

For Norway, the tournament ended in the worst way imaginable, namely relegation.

Despite a pre-tournament 5-3 victory over Germany, the team kicked off things with a 6-3 loss to Austria followed by a 4-2 loss to Belarus, before squeaking by France with a tight 3-2 victory. With things looking like the Scandinavian nation was back on track, Norway couldn‘t muster a goal in a very tight 2-0 loss to Germany, a game that remained goalless until Bremerhaven‘s own Christoph Korner first popped in a power play goal in the 52nd minute of play. The goal drought continued in a do-or-die match with Kazakhstan, in which the Norwegians remainder scoreless until the third period.

Two late goals in the third period made things interesting, but it proved to be too little too late as Kazakhstan heartily celebrated their class retention. In U20 history Norway only twice was not part of the top-16 hockey nations, in 1998 and in 2007. 2011 and 2014 the country even played in the top-division World Juniors.

“The feeling is tough right now. It’s brutal. It’s tough knowing the games are over and we’re heading down. We’ve been close to this point before and we have to improve the situation with Norwegian hockey,” explained head coach Tor Erik Nilsen. “We need to invest our money more wisely. We need better coaching. We need our kids to have a better sense for the game. This relegation is definitely a heads up for Norwegian hockey. If we don’t do anything, it’s going to be like this.”

For Kazakhstan, which enjoyed a very convincing 6-3 win over Austria along the way, the victory was of decisive importance.

“Winning is always important, but this victory was vital for us,” said captain Kirill Panyukov. “This was big not only for the team, but for the entire country, because by retaining the class, we now have a strong opportunity to hold the tournament in Kazakhstan next year.”

Things are getting closer

If anything, this tournament proved more than ever that the competition continues to get closer and more even. Every team won at least one game and every team experienced at least one loss by two or less goals. Austria, for example, began with two very decisive victories, including a 3-0 shutout of host Germany, before proceeding to lose three games in a row, started by an unexpected 6-3 loss to Kazakhstan.

“Most certainly. When you see the results here, it’s clear things are getting tighter,” states Norwegian coach Nilsen. “If we had won the close game against Germany, we could have played for promotion today. Instead we played for relegation. Last year we beat Italy 10-1. This year, there was no Italy. Every game was tight. And that’s great. It’s great for hockey, but also for the players. Every game matters and that’s how you get better.”

Host Germany entered the tournament with high expectations, especially in light of a roster chock full of kids playing their last tournament as a member of the nation’s junior program. Consistency proved a bit of a problem, as the team experienced a number of swoons in momentum throughout the tournament, even if the only loss of points was to Austria and an overtime point to Belarus.

“I kept mentioning before the tournament that every team could win on any given day,” elaborated German Head Coach Christian Kunast. “If we have a good tournament, we can move up. If we have a bad tournament, we’ll be moving down. Hey, we had a close game against Norway the other night. We knew that if we lose, we’d be playing today to avoid relegation. We ended up second despite only one loss. It’s so close in this group and it’s not going to get any easier. But this is a top flight tournament for our boys and there’s a lot they can take from this type of competition. It’s so incredibly difficult to move up another level when there’s this level of level of competition.”

These sentiments were only reiterated by his Belarussian colleague Faikov: “The level of play was very high from all of the competitors, much like we saw at the U18 in Minsk last spring. You had to be ready for every team. Any team could surprise at any time. You could never afford to take a day off. In fact, when you see how good the teams are getting here in the Division I Group A, it’s my personal opinion that the top group should consider expanding to include more teams.”

As things stand now, the Belarusians can simply watch and enjoy the 2017 World Juniors in Montreal and Toronto, fully aware that their ticket is punched for the 2018 IIHF World Junior Championship in Buffalo, New York.

“I fully believe we belong amongst the elite teams in the world at the U20 level. I have no doubt of that,” claims confident sniper Belevich. “We are on the right path and we’ll be ready to show that to everyone next winter in Buffalo.”

Lithuania defeats Japan, wins promotion

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By Joeri Loonen – IIHF.com

After three consecutive silver medals, Lithuania finally managed to claim gold at the IIHF Ice Hockey U20 World Championship Division II Group A. Four unanswered goals including an Emilijus Krakauskas hat trick were key in a 6-4 victory over Japan on the final day of the tournament.

Both teams came into this game undefeated and had proven to be a class apart from the rest of the teams in the group out. In what was expected to be a close final game. Japan came out strong to stun the vocal Lithuanian crowd in the stands.

Japan took a commanding 2-0 lead halfway the first period by goals from Atsuki Ikeda and Jin Sawade. Lithuania head coach Jim Setters was pleased to see that his team was able to shake off the nerves and didn’t collapse. His men responded strongly and found a way back into the game when a Kostas Gusevas shot from the blue line deflected off a Japanese player into the net to cut the deficit to one at 12:03.

The goal sparked the Lithuanian team who were suddenly in full control, led by tournament top scorer Emilijus Krakauskas. The forward who plays for EHC Biel in the Swiss junior league continued to cause havoc in the opposition’s defensive zone and turned the game around with three unanswered goals.

First his wraparound at 12:38 tied the game 2-2 and early in the second period he added another pair. Coming in from the left wing, Krakauskas slotted home in the top right corner with the first shot of the second period. Two minutes later he did the same but then from the opposite side. It was Krakauskas’ 11th goal of the tournament.

The goal forced Japan coach Teruhiko Okita to execute a goalie change. Yuuki Mizuta was taken off and replace by Yujiro Isobe. The wake-up call worked as Japan stopped the Lithuanian dominance.

Daichi Saito scored the 3-4 goal and later on Japan had an excellent chance to equalize but Koki Ishikura saw his penalty shot saved by Artur Pavliukov with four minutes left to play in the second period.

Two more power-play goals including an empty netter in the final period sealed the deal for Lithuania. Daichi Igari’s tip-in goal with three seconds before the final buzzer did not change the smiles on the Lithuanian bench as they knew the gold was theirs.

The 6-4 victory means Lithuania will return to the Division I Group B for the first time since 2010. Japan, who were relegated to Division II Group A last year after withdrawing from the tournament in France, will remain playing in the Division II for another year.

In a game with the bronze medal at stake, three third-period goals ensured Romania won a roller coaster game against hosts Estonia, 6-5.

Croatia was relegated to Division II Group B after squandering a 2-0 lead against the Netherlands. The Dutch were pointless before this game but leapfrogged Croatia in the standings after a 3-2 victory and with that, sent the Croats down.

Emilijus Krakauskas finished the tournament as the tournament’s top scorer with 15 points from five games and was selected the Best Forward of the tournament by the directorate.

His team mate Artur Pavliukov was voted Best Goaltender whereas Japan’s Yusuke Kon claimed the best tournament defenceman award.

Taipei women earn promotion

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By Derek O’Brien – IIHF.com

The 2017 IIHF Ice Hockey Women’s World Championship Division II Group B Qualification went down to the very last game in Taipei City, with Belgium and host Chinese Taipei entering the game with perfect records. On the strength of two power-play goals by defender Liu Chih Lin late in the second period, Chinese Taipei won 2-1 to finish first in the five-team event and earn the promotion in its first ever participation in the Women’s World Championship program.

After a scoreless first period, in which Chinese Taipei dominated with a 17-9 shot advantage, the Belgians struck first just 23 seconds into the second when Sonja Frere swept in a rebound. Four minutes later the Belgians thought they’d added another goal from a scramble around the net, but the whistle had blown prior to the puck crossing the goal line.

In the game, the tournament’s two most dominant players went head to head – Chinese Taipei sniper Yeh Hui Chen, who scored 11 goals in the first three games, and Belgian goaltender Nina van Orshaegen, who had 59 of 60 shots saved in the tournament through the end of the first period of this game. In the dying seconds of a power play midway through the second period, Yeh picked up the puck and her own blue line, skated through three Belgian penalty-killers and skated right in on van Orshaegen, who denied her with a pad save.

However, the Belgian penalties kept coming and the Chinese Taipei power play struck twice in the last six minutes of the middle frame. First Liu managed to sweep in a loose puck on a scramble, and later blasted one in from the point after an attacking-zone faceoff.

That was all the offence Chinese Taipei needed, as the Belgians just weren’t able to get things going in the third. They did get three power plays, but two of them were cancelled within 20 seconds by penalties of their own. In the end, Chinese Taipei was 2-for-8 on the power play and Belgium was 0-for-4.

What Belgian shots did get through were handled by Hsu Tzu-Ting, making her second start of the tournament as Chinese Taipei alternated goalies. Ting stopped all nine shots she faced in the third period and 33 of 34 in the game, while at the other end van Orshaegen stopped 36 of 38.

With one assist in the last game, Yeh finished with 15 points, giving her a decisive win atop the tournament scoring, beating her nearest challenger – linemate Hsu Ting-Lu – by five points.

Earlier on the tournament’s last day, Bulgaria and Hong Kong met, still looking for their first points of the tournament, and it was Bulgaria prevailing 6-2 to claim fourth place. As it is a qualification tournament, no team is relegated.

Finishing in third place was South Africa, who were idle on the final day. The South Africans were right in the middle with two wins and two losses – losing to both Belgium and Chinese Taipei and beating Bulgaria and Hong Kong. They were led offensively by Chloe Schuurman, whose nine points ranked third in the tournament.

By finishing first, Chinese Taipei advances to the Women’s World Championship Division II Group B in 2018.