Date: February 25, 2017

Turkmenistan’s debut with winning streak

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By Jack Gallagher – IIHF.com

Japan – One of the nice stories of the Asian Winter Games thus far has been the play of the Turkmenistan men’s hockey team.

The squad comes from a central Asian nation with a population of five million people that is a relative newcomer to the sport. Ice hockey has just started recently and was never played in the country during the Soviet times.

Despite that fact, Turkmenistan has posted three impressive victories in the Division II tournament here. They opened with a 9-2 win over Malaysia in their first-ever international game, followed that up with a 16-0 rout of Macau, and beat Indonesia 12-2 on Friday at Hoshioki Skating Rink.

The Turkmens displayed both good speed and power in their latest triumph and their showing bodes well for the future growth of the sport back home.

Forward Dovlet Soyunov, who scored two goals against Indonesia, expressed his pleasure with the team’s latest performance.

“These are good teams here and we came to play with our hearts,” Soyunov commented. “We beat Malaysia, Macau and today Indonesia. I am born in Turkmenistan and am a student there. This is our first time to play in a championship like the Asian Winter Games.”

The 22-year-old provided some background on the sport in Turkmenistan.

“We have eight teams and we play against each other,” he said. “This is a really good experience for us. I play for Galkan, the No. 1 team back home.”

The Turkmenistan roster features 15 players from the Galkan club.

“Hockey is becoming popular for people in Turkmenistan,” he noted. “We have been playing for 10 years. We started with professional coaches about three years ago. All of the players are from Turkmenistan. Our players play for private clubs that have sponsors.”

Soyunov is often called on to translate in English for teammates, having had some education in the United States.

“I studied English in the United States,” he stated. “It was in Houston, Texas, at a place called North American College. Learning English as a second language.”

Soyunov clearly paid attention in class, because he speaks and comprehends the language well.

When asked about his favourite NHL players, Soyunov quickly identified two he follows closely.

“I like Yevgeni Malkin and Alexander Ovechkin,” he replied.

Yakut Berdiyev, a forward who has recently finished high school, is enjoying the chance to travel abroad with the national team.

“It is has been a good tournament so far,” said the 18-year-old. “Today was a good game. Japan is a nice country. Hockey is popular here.”

Berdiyev took to the sport after he first saw it at the age of 11.

“I have played for seven years,” he commented. “I saw hockey and it was interesting. I love it.”

The growth of the sport back in Turkmenistan has Berdiyev dreaming of a career outside his country.

“I hope to play in some league outside Turkmenistan someday,” the shy Berdiyev said.

Jora Hudayberdiyev, who was recently appointed as new Chairman of the National Winter Sports Centre, was on hand for his team’s latest win and provided some details on how hockey is progressing in the country.

“There are around 700 hockey players currently in Turkmenistan,” he cited. “Our president, Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedow, is helping us to get the players and improve the sport in the country. The president is sponsoring everything. He is giving the money for the uniforms, the equipment, and travel to competitions.”

Hudayberdiyev has enjoyed the Asian Winter Games and is already eyeing the future.

“It has been interesting. We are very happy,” he said. “We need to get points to get into the first division. We hope to win the next game. We will try our best to win. We hope to play interesting hockey.”

The Division II tournament of the Asian Winter Games in Sapporo was played in two groups that were won by Turkmenistan and Kyrgyzstan with an undefeated streak. The two Central Asian nations will play each other for tournament win on Sunday. The Philippines and Macau will play for third place.

Japan’s women claim gold

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By Jack Gallagher – IIHF.com

Japan – Japan’s march to the gold medal at the Asian Winter Games culminated with a solid 6-1 victory over China in the final on Friday night at Tsukisamu Gymnasium. China had to settle for the silver medals, Kazakhstan won bronze.

Despite the triumph, Japan coach Takeshi Yamanaka still wants to see more from his team that earlier this month earned qualification to the 2018 Olympic Winter Games.

“Our defence was very good in the tournament, but the offence needs to progress some more,” Yamanaka stated after watching his side surrender just one goal in five games.

Japan scored lopsided wins over Hong Kong (46-0) and Thailand (37-0), and notched shutout decisions over Kazakhstan (6-0) and Korea (3-0) in the six-team women’s ice hockey tournament.

Japan’s next event will be at the 2017 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship Division I Group A in Graz, Austria, in April where the team aims at promotion back to the top division of the Women’s Worlds.

Yamanaka says he is not set on his current roster as the team he will take to the PyeongChang Olympics in 2018.

“I want to see some more players in competition before deciding on the roster,” Yamanaka commented, while adding that team will likely be set in late November or December.

Yamanaka, though happy his team captured the gold on home ice, explained why he was not totally satisfied with these results.

“As the top team there should be a bigger gap (in points) between us and the others,” he said. “We kept our opponents’ point totals to less than 10 in Europe as well.”

Japan’s high-powered attack blitzed China in the opening period for five goals and never looked back on Saturday.

Star forward Hanae Kubo had two goals for Japan in the win. Naho Terashima, Yurie Adachi, Aina Takeuchi and Rui Ukita also scored in the triumph in front of 1,807 fans.

China came into the contest with a 3-1 record. China beat Hong Kong, Kazakhstan and Thailand, but lost to Korea in a shootout.

Fang Xin scored the lone goal against Japan in the tournament on a slap shot in the second period.

Kazakhstan with a 3-2 record took home the bronze medal in the competition after an 8-0 rout of Thailand earlier on Saturday. The Kazakhs earlier edged fourth-ranked Korea 1-0 to move to a medal spot.

China coach Richard Seeley paid tribute to Japan following the final.

“They’re a hard-working, well-conditioned team that plays together,” Seeley said. “It is clear that they were in better condition. This was a good experience for our girls. They can see that to play five games in seven days you have to be in better shape.”

Seeley believes Japan has a real chance at making the podium next year in Korea.

“The U.S. and Canada are the favourites for the gold and silver in PyeongChang, but I think Japan has a chance to get the bronze medal there,” Seeley commented. “The gap is closing now.”

Japan defender Akane Hosoyamada felt she and her teammates did a good job of protecting their net the past week.

“I got a lot of chances in the tournament, but could only put a few in the net,” said Hosoyamada. “We were able to keep the puck in the offensive end most of the time (during the tournament). We have had like three total shots on our net in the last four games, so I thought that was good for us, blocking shots and all that stuff.”

Hosoyamada thinks the vibe in the Japan team is good coming off their victory in the qualifying tournament for PyeongChang earlier this month and win here.

“We were coming out of the qualifiers and have been together for a month and a half now,” she pointed out. “We’re basically family and like being around each other. All around it was a positive turnout.”

Kubo said Japan set the tone early in the final and smoothed the past to victory.

“We scored a lot of goals in the first period tonight, so we were able to set our own pace for the rest of the game,” Kubo stated.

Kubo admitted it was challenging to focus after coming out of the qualifying tournament in Tomakomai earlier this month.

“It was kind of hard to stay motivated with this coming right after the Olympic Qualification, but because we received a lot of support from the fans, we pushed hard to win for the country,” Kubo said.

“Our whole team believes we are at the level of possibly winning a medal in PyeongChang,” noted Kubo. “So we are aiming for that target and doing our best.”

Thailand Wins First Ever Ice Hockey Gold Medal

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By Steven Ellis – Eurohockey.com

A 14-0 victory over Singapore has given Thailand their first ever ice hockey gold, taking place at the 2017 Asian Winter Games in Sapporo, Japan.

Thailand was strong from the offset of the tournament, with the team winning their first game against Mongolia 5-4. The team then stopped UAE by a score of 6-4 before easily defeating Hong Kong 8-2. Their game against Chinese Taipei later in the week was expected to decide who would win the tournament, and with a 3-2 overtime victory, Thailand was in the hot seat heading into their game against Singapore.

Coming into the game, Singapore had allowed 42 goals in four games, so Thailand’s chances were extremely high. Thailand’s top player, Kim Aarola, had four goals and two assists for six points in the game, good to give him 15 in five games. Likit Neimwan-Andersson was strong for his nation, putting up two goals and an assist to top off the impressive tournament performance.

Thailand’s last medal came at the 2012 Challenge Cup of Asia, a silver medal. The team now has five total medals in international competition, with two silver, two bronze and now a gold to their credit.

Chinese Taipei finished the tournament with a silver medal thanks to an 6-2 victory over Mongolia to start the day. Wrapping up in third place were the United Arab Emirates following a 5-3 win over Hong Kong.

Jill Saulnier hopes to make leap from cwhl all star to Olympian

By Dhiren Mahiban – Toronto Star

Jill Saulnier is hoping her hat trick in the Canadian Women’s Hockey League all-star game on Saturday will put her on Hockey Canada’s radar for the 2018 Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea.

Saulnier and Jess Jones had three goals each, helping Team White to a 9-5 victory over Team Blue at the third CWHL all-star game at the Air Canada Centre.

“The thought of making that team is always in our mind, for sure, especially in events like this when you’re playing with all your best friends who you’re also competing with for that team,” Saulnier said. “Obviously everything counts towards getting better and working towards that final goal.”

Rebecca Johnston, Marie-Philip Poulin and Meghan Grieves had the other goals for Team White. Johnston and Poulin each had three assists.

Poulin, who scored the winner in both the 2010 and 2014 Olympic gold-medal games, has seen growth in Saulnier’s game since the two played together on the under-18 team.

“She’s got more confidence, she’s got more poise with the puck and you can see that,” Poulin said. “She gets better as the years go, so I’m excited for her.”

Jenelle Kohanchuk scored twice for Team Blue while Kelly Terry, Brianne Jenner, and Haley Irwin also found the back of the net.

Emerance Maschmeyer started for Team Blue and made 14 saves before being relieved by Erica Howe. Christina Kessler stopped all 18 shots she faced before Charline Labonte took over midway through the second period.

“I think (Kessler) knows all my moves from practice,” joked Team Blue captain Natalie Spooner, a teammate of Kessler’s on the Toronto Furies. “She stood on her head, she was amazing for them that first period and a half.”

With Team White leading 4-2 after 40 minutes, the two teams combined for seven third-period goals.