Date: February 9, 2017

Czechs follow suit

By Martin Merk IIHF.com

After Switzerland’s opening win against Denmark, the Czechs follow suit with another five-goal victory against Norway in the Olympic Qualification.

The Czech women’s national team will play in the top division of the IIHF Ice Hockey Women’s World Championship for the third time in a few weeks in Plymouth near Detroit, USA, but it has never qualified for the Olympic Winter Games.

It’s something they want to chance in the Final Olympic Qualification Group C in Arosa, Switzerland, and their 5-0 blanking of Norway underlines these ambitions as they moved up to Switzerland in the Day 1 standing winning their game with the same margin.

Denisa Krizova, one of the Czechs playing NCAA college hockey, scored two goals en route to the clear victory.

It was her who opened the scoring too. Katerina Mrazova sent a nice pass to the blue line allowing Krizova to skate alone to the net of 16-year-old rookie Ena Nystrom beating the Norwegian netminder top-shelf at 4:15.

It was a period with chances on both ends but with 2:35 left the Czechs made it 2-0. Vendula Pribylova shot on a loose puck from ten metres and Michaela Pejzlova scored on the rebound.

The Norwegians had chances too such as a crossbar shot in the second period and a Line Bialik shot deflected up into the air but the Czechs were more dangerous and more efficient on the other side. After a centering pass from Alena Polenska, Aneta Ledlova made it 3-0 at 12:09 of a second period that followed a similar pattern like the afternoon game as the Czechs netted three goals in seven minutes.

At 15:35 Aneta Tejralova sent of a hard point shot during a Czech power play and Krizova was in perfect position to make it a four-goal lead. And it wasn’t enough yet. The Czechs got another power play and they converted it again when Lucie Povova reacted fastest on a loose puck close to the Norwegian net.

Easy start for Swiss

By Martin Merk IIHF.com

The Swiss women’s national team had a successful start into the Final Olympic Qualification Group C on home ice beating Denmark 6-1.

The Swiss dominated the game for two periods and earned a deserved opening win. Lara Stalder scored a hat trick and collected five points.

“We planned to enter the tournament step by step and stick to our game plan and it worked. We were a bit nervous in the beginning but then played well for two periods. In the third period we allowed them to come back into the game and they scored a goal, which shouldn’t happen, but we learn from that so that it’ll be good against Norway,” Stalder said.

Already after 82 seconds it was Stalder, who had the first chance of the game. The Swiss didn’t manage to capitalize on their chances in the first minutes but at 9:18 they were lucky when a long shot from Alina Muller unexpectedly found the way into the Danish net.

After that goal the Danes had to work more on their offence but they struggled and sometimes became an easy target for breakaways.

Five minutes after the first goal Christine Meier capitalized on a rebound during the Swiss’ first power play to make it 2-0 following a video review by the officials.

At the end of the period the Swiss had a couple of chances including Alina Muller with a penalty shot. She tried to deke Danish netminder Lisa Jensen but didn’t succeed against her.

“The discrepancy is probably the reality. We knew they’re a good team, we’ve never played them before,” Denmark captain Henriette Ostergaard said.

“We knew we had to work hard at our end but that being said I don’t think they were that much better than us. I think we had good chances we should have scored on. They had a few lucky goals in the beginning, which kind of set us back a little bit. We knew we had to play defensive hockey and that’s what we did. I think we did a good job in our own end but we just lacked the last little bit.”

In the middle frame the Swiss became more dominant and gained momentum. They didn’t let the Danes create a single chance for a while and kept the puck in the Danish zone even when playing shorthanded.

The Danes managed to keep the score low until the Swiss netted three goals in the second half of the period. At 13:18 Stalder was free on the right side to make it 2-0 and two-and-a-half minutes later, seconds after a Danish penalty had expired, Sabrina Zollinger scored for Switzerland. With 60 seconds left Stalder scored a shorthanded goal on a breakaway for the 5-0 score after two periods.

The Swiss also outshot Denmark in the last period in which Jeanette Langsager scored the consolation goal for the Scandinavians before Stalder completed her hat trick with a penalty shot.

The Swiss, supported by a vocal crowd of 450 fans in the mountain resort of Arosa, will continue the tournament against Norway on Saturday. Tonight the Czech Republic will play Norway.

“The teams from the Nordic countries are always athletic and fast. We analyzed Denmark as we will analyze Norway and go step by step,“ Stalder said.

Japan overpowers Austria

By James Armstrong IIHF.com

Japan relied on its speed and conditioning to overwhelm Austria 6-1 in its first game of the Final Olympic Qualification Group D.

Veteran Hanae Kubo scored a a hat trick for Japan which is bidding to qualify for its third Olympics following Nagano and Sochi.

“We got off to a bit of a slow start but were able to find our rhythm as the game progressed,” Japan coach Takeshi Yamanaka said. “This was a good way to start the tournament and will give us a lot of confidence going forward.”

Kubo put Japan ahead early in the first period but Austria equalized on a goal by captain Esther Kantor in the final minute of the opening frame.

It was all Japan after that. Shiori Koike widening the lead just under three minutes into the second period and Kubo put Japan firmly in control with her second goal of the night midway through the period.

Shoko Ono put the game out of reach at 4-1 when she deflected a centering pass by Chiho Osawa four minutes into the third period.

Kubo completed her hat trick on a powerplay with with 3:10 remaining and Akane Hosoyamada completed the rout late in the third.

“I had a wide-open net and it was just a question of tapping it in,” Kubo said of her third goal. “I give a lot of credit to my teammates who got me the puck.”

One team in Group D will qualify for the Pyeongchang Olympics. Germany beat France 3-2 in Thursday’s first game.

Manuela Anwander and Andrea Lanzl scored in the shootout for Germany after Marie Delarbre tallied in the final minute of regulation to tie the game at 2-2.

Eight nations will play in the women’s tournament at the 2018 Games. The United States, Canada, Finland, Russia and Sweden have already secured places, along with Korea which earns a spot as the host nation.

Japan will France in its next game on Saturday while Germany takes on Austria.

Anwander scores shootout winner in thriller

By James Armstrong IIHF.com

Lore Baudrit scored four minutes into the third period to give France a 2-1 lead.

It looked like the game would end in France’s favor but with just over a minute left in regulation, Marie Delarbre beat France goalie Caroline Baldin from a tight angle to send the game to a 3-on-3 overtime.

Neither team scored in overtime and the game went to a shootout.

Manuela Anwander scored Germany’s first goal of the shootout, deking Baldin and Andrea Lanzl added another by beating Baldin five-hole from close range. France didn’t score on any of its shootout chances.

“We never gave up and I think today’s result shows our character,” Germany captain Julia Zorn said. “This was the first step and we want to keep improving with every game.”

One team from Group D will qualify for the Pyeongchang Olympics. The other teams in the group are Japan and Austria.

Eight nations will play in the women’s tournament at the 2018 Games. The United States, Canada, Finland, Russia and Sweden have already secured places, along with South Korea which earns a spot as the host nation.

France took a 1-0 lead late in the first period when Marion Allemoz picked up a loose puck on a goal-mouth scramble and fired past German goalkeeper Jennifer Harss.

Germany was penalized three times in the first period and the first goal came on a delayed penalty.

“We took too many penalties in the first period,” Germany coach Benjamin Hinterstocker said. “I talked to the players in the first intermission and told them we have to play a full 60 minutes, period by period.”

Germany equalized on a power-play goal at 14:58 of the second period. Sophie Kratzer grabbed a rebound and lifted a backhanded shot over Baldin.

Germany dominated play in the third but was unable to take advantage of their power-play opportunities. The Germans had a 5-on-3 midway through the third period but couldn’t find an equalizer. When they did get a shot on net, Baldin was there to make the save.

Thriller in Swiss Alps

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By Mark Merk IIHF.com

Three years ago the Swiss women scored an upset by winning Olympic bronze in Sochi. To repeat that success, they first need to win the Olympic Qualification.

As the top-seeded team that is not already among the already qualified ones – the top-5 countries of the 2016 IIHF Women’s World Ranking USA, Canada, Finland, Russia, Sweden as well as host Korea – the Swiss earned the right to host Group C in the mountain-resort town of Arosa while Group D will be played in Tomakomai, Japan.

After a sixth-place finish at the 2015 IIHF Ice Hockey Women’s World Championship and a seventh-place finish last year after missing the final round, the Swiss dropped down to sixth place in the World Ranking and missed a direct spot in PyeongChang 2018.

In Arosa they will face the Czech Republic, Denmark and Norway starting today. All six games of the tournaments will be streamed live on the official event page in co-operation with the Olympic Channel. Games of the Swiss team will be broadcast within the Swiss territory on the streaming and/or TV channels of state broadcaster SRG/SSR.

21-year-old Swiss captain Livia Altmann is one of three players hailing from Arosa. She played her junior hockey in boys’ leagues there before moving to the ZSC Lions Zurich, a top team in the Swiss Women’s Hockey League A, and last year to play NCAA hockey at Colgate University.

“It’s great there. The team belongs to the university, so everything is combined. You go to school, then to practice, then to school and there are great facilities. In Switzerland not all teams in the league are at the same level while the league is more balanced [in the NCAA]. Every game is a good game,” Altmann said about her new experience.

She is one of three Swiss players on the roster who play college hockey in North America, the Czechs even have seven, the Danes one. Since Tuesday the Swiss practice in Arosa. “We’ve had good practices and we definitely have a great atmosphere. All the team can’t wait that it’ll start,” she said. “We’re always a positive team as one could see at the Olympics and we play with passion. It will be great games for the fans to watch.”

The tournament includes two Top Division and two Division I nations. The Swiss will open it today at 16:00 local time against Denmark while the Czechs take on Norway at 20:00.

Tournament favorites Switzerland and the Czech Republic will play each other on Sunday in a key game that could turn out as a “final”. The Swiss have a bone to pick with the Czechs on home ice after losing to them 3-1 at the 2016 IIHF Ice Hockey Women’s World Championship last spring. For the Swiss the loss meant they didn’t make the final round of an IIHF event first time since 2009. For the Czechs, who have never qualified for an Olympic women’s ice hockey tournament, it meant reaching its best tournament placing ever, sixth in the world.

“It’s tough to say who’s favorite in the tournament, I haven’t seen the Czechs play for a while,” Altmann said. “They have become more skilled. We have to play our best game against them. Most important is to play our own game and be focused for 60 minutes. We know that we cannot underestimate any team here.”

Final whistle for Huet

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By Organizing Committee IIHF Worlds 2017

Cristobal Huet officially announced he will retire from international competitions after the 2017 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship.

Cristobal Huet started to play for the French national team in the 1996/97. The emblematic French goalkeeper then took part to 12 World Championships and two Olympic Games with France. Currently playing in the NLA in Switzerland with Lausanne, Huet is the only French player to have won the prestigious Stanley Cup (2010, Chicago Blackhawks). We met the French hockey legend.

Since you arrived in the French national team, what has changed the most according to you?

Many things have changed since 1996. At the time, we already had talented players such as Philippe Bozon, Christian Pouget, Fabrice Lhenry, Denis Perez, Antoine Richer, or Stephane Barin, but we had to complete the team with French-Canadian players. Since then important reconstruction work has been made by the French Federation to train more high-level players. We can see it by the emergence of very good players in the NHL such as Stephane Da Costa, Antoine Roussel, Pierre-Edouard Bellemare and Yohann Auvitu. The competition is increasing and the coach has choices to make, and this is a very positive evolution. The hard work done by Dave Henderson and his staff, as well as the emergence of leaders such as Laurent Meunier allowed the team to progress year after year.

You will have played 20 years at the international level. What is the secret for such longevity?

I don’t know. As players, we don’t calculate anything. The seasons pass one after the other, but the pleasure remains. After my NHL years (2002-2010), I was able to involve myself again with the French team, which made me feel good. Every season, we want to come back to defend our country’s colours at the World Championship. Playing for the own country is an exciting challenge to face.

At the beginning of your career, what would you have said if we had told you that you would finish your adventure with the French national team with a World Championship on home ice in Paris?

I wouldn’t have believed it! When I came back to Europe in 2010, I always thought it could be the last year. Playing in May after each season represents sacrifices but it is such a pleasure to wear the French jersey, so I don’t regret anything. The group lives very well together and the team is more and more performant. Thus, when Paris’ candidature for the organization of the World Championship got concrete, it convinced all the “old ones” to go on, to be able to live this experience.

Let’s talk about the World Championship to come. What does it represent to you and what can it bring to French ice hockey?

As a hockey player, it is a major event. Organizing the World Championship in France is a great opportunity for the French population to discover our sport, to gather all the passionate, and for the foreign fans to discover Paris. Welcoming the Canadians, the Finnish and the Swiss is amazing. For 10 days, we will focus the attention. Now it’s our turn to make it a successful championship and to show our team values.

Do you have a special message for the French hockey family?

This is THE meeting not to miss. We have a great opportunity to gather ourselves and to show the beauty of our sport to a maximum of people. I am very sure this will be a beautiful hockey celebration, so join us: we are waiting for all of you!

Finally, what can we wish you for your last months on ice hockey rinks?

I first hope to realize good playoffs with Lausanne, and then of course an excellent World Championship with France. It is always better to win games, but in every case, it will for sure be unforgettable. If I can have a happy ending by beautiful national team career, I would be the happiest hockey player on earth.