Date: March 5, 2017

Viva Mexico! Div. IIB gold highlights women’s rapid progress

By Andy Potts – IIHF.com

It’s only a few years since headlines about women’s hockey in Mexico expressed amazement that such a thing could exist but five years after setting up the national team program, the country is celebrating its first ever gold medal at a full IIHF Ice Hockey Women’s World Championship event after winning the qualification tournament in 2014.

Mexico won out in the 2017 IIHF Ice Hockey Women’s World Championship Division II Group B in Akureyri, Iceland, topping the six-team group with a game to spare. Victories over the top-seeded Spanish and the host nation set the team on the path to gold, then shutout successes over New Zealand (1-0) and Romania (6-0) put Mexico in an unassailable position before the final day. Not even a 6-5 defeat against a Turkish team battling to avoid last place could dampen the mood ahead of the medal ceremony.

It’s been a long journey in a short space of time – literally, as well as metaphorically, given that the team has traveled to Spain and Iceland to compete in the last three seasons. But head coach Diego de la Garma believes there is more to come from the roster that has just clinched promotion to next year’s Division II Group A.

“Our team is almost like an under-20s roster with five or six senior players added,” he said. “Five of our girls were playing at the U18s in Spain last month, so we’re sure there’s a lot of potential to compete at a higher level next season.”

Many of Mexico’s ice hockey players made the transition from inline hockey when the country decided that the long path to reaching the Olympics might be more realistic for a women’s team. That was in 2012, and the story began with two exhibition games against Argentina (W1, L1). Now, though, de la Garma sees a new generation of players whose experience begins on the ice.

“Our program has been growing every year,” he said. “We’ve got lots of new players, young players, who are taking up the sport – and I think Mexico is falling in love with that.

“It used to be a bit of a taboo here if women played something that is seen as a men’s sport, but people can see how they play the game, how the girls give their hearts to the game, how they have had a lot of success in a little time. That’s a big deal, especially in team sports, because Mexico’s national teams haven’t had much success recently.”

With the country’s football teams, traditionally the biggest source of sporting pride, enduring a relatively fallow period, other sports get a chance to make a mark. “Watching a women’s team winning a tournament, at any level, inspires people,” added de la Garma. “It gets everybody dreaming. It’s won us a lot of fans, not just in Mexico but in Latin America and even around the world. The girls play with so much passion, so much heart, and people respond to it.”

Back home in Mexico – at least 12 hours of flying time away, depending on connections – fans have been following the news from Iceland enthusiastically. “I think our team has really won the hearts of fans back home,” de la Garma added. “Everybody involved with the game has been watching the streams and following the stats, and they’ve been messaging us on social media. The team feels like a big family, and fans respond to that.”

The youth of the team is eye-catching, but there’s solid experience involved as well. First-choice goalie Monica Renteria, 29, had an impressive tournament, giving up just three goals in three games and stopping 96.34 per cent of shots. Claudia Tellez, who finished with 4+4=8 points to claim second place among the team’s scorers is another who was involved from the start, and was a 2016 CWHL Draft pick for the Calgary Inferno. However, she was pipped for the top scorer honours by Maria Chavez, who celebrated her 22nd birthday during the competition. The Rojas twins, Joanna and Giovanna, also had productive tournaments with five and four points respectively: they are two of the four players on the roster who were born in the 21st century.

Once back in Mexico, the immediate focus is on June’s Pan-Am tournament. For Mexican hockey, it’s a valuable chance to showcase the game on home ice, but de la Garma admits that it can be a mixed blessing for the women.

“In the men’s competition, countries like Colombia bring good import players, but for the women it’s not so strong if we don’t have a team from the U.S. or Canada,” he said. “But it helps give our juniors a taste of international action. The under-18s play as a Mexico B team. They experience the pressure and the atmosphere of wearing our country’s jersey, and it gets them dreaming about doing it at a World Championship.”

Other chances to play are limited, a common problem for emerging hockey nations. The women play in the men’s u18 championship to gain extra experience, and have a team in the second division of the five-tier national Sunday Night Hockey league, but opportunities to take on teams from more established hockey nations are rare outside of World Championship trips. The journey to Iceland included a stopover in Toronto and an exhibition game against a local team, an experience that de la Garma feels was invaluable.

The 2017 IIHF Ice Hockey Women’s World Championship Division II Group B concludes Sunday night with Iceland, New Zealand and Spain battling for the silver and bronze medals. Turkey finished in fifth, buoyed by its final day win over Mexico. Romania, without a victory, drops down to next year’s qualifying group.

Indian Women’s Ice Hockey team is all set to make us proud

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By Shuvro Ghoshal – Stree News

While many of us may not be aware, but Indian Women’s Ice Hockey team is all set to participate in the IIHF Ice Hockey Women’s Challenge Cup of Asia to be held In Bangkok, Thailand from 7-15 March, 2017. The 19 member team headed by Captain Rinchen Dolma will be competing with six other countries in the neck to neck competition.

Most of the members in the Indian Ice hockey team are from Ladakh, where the sport is played during winter on frozen lakes before the ice begins to melt. However, lack of infrastructure continues to pose the biggest challenge for the women, but this has not deterred the morale of the team players. The girls have proved they love this sport too much to give up. For them, ice hockey is what gully cricket is for the rest of the country.

With an aim to promote the sport and uplift the stature of women players in the region, the women formed the Ladakh Women Ice Hockey Foundation (LWIKF). Since Ladakh experiences winter for about two and half months, last year, the girls prepared an ice rink on their own which was certainly not an easy task.

They started with a bunch of shovels to get water but later applied to the Public Health Engineering Department for a regular supply of water. Soon, they had a tanker which used to deliver 3000 litres of water every evening. They would fill buckets and pool from 8 in the evening to 3 in the morning in groups of four girls.

However, the task was not as easy as it sounds. The moment a small amount of water splashed on their clothes, even that would freeze.

Difficulties were many but the ice rink was a big hit. It was so cold that even waterproof gloves weren’t of much help.
“We would almost freeze in cold but that did not kill our spirit. To keep our spirits high we would
turn on some music, and continue the task,” says Noor Jahan, who was awarded Asia’s best goaltender recently.
Further, while the boys used to get donation, the girls had to borrow equipment from the boys, which meant waiting until they finished off with their practice.

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However, now thanks to some donations, the team got few equipment and skates last year. “We got few equipment and skates last year which we gave to the players so that they can concentrate on the game and improve their skills. We don’t have to worry about borrowing equipment from the men’s team any more before playing,” said the ecstatic General Secretary of the Ladakh Women Ice Hockey Foundation.

Accomplishments
There are already some impressive feats that the women have accomplished. Last year, these girls went on to participate for the first time in an international competition in Chinese Taipei. Even though the team returned from the 2016 IIHF Challenge Cup of Asia without a win, there were many positives. A relatively young Indian team almost came close to beating Malaysia in the group stages and Noor, fondly called Noori by the team, was awarded the tournament’s Best Goaltender Award after saving 193 shots from a possible 229.

However, despite great will and determination, the girls continue to face financial crunch. “With our future at stake, the LWIHF has been trying to build an ice hockey culture amongst the next generation. It is important to build the winter sports future in our country, however, there continues to be lack of support, encouragement and even awareness,” says Dolma.

Nonetheless, the team is very hopeful and is positive to bring good results for the country. With Women’s Day just round the corner, the least we can do from our end is to wish the team the very best and boost their morale and enthusiasm.

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Rinchen Dolma – Captain of Indian Women’s Ice-Hockey team.

Burns a special player

By Andrew Podnieks – IIHF.com

If you were to ask Brent Burns what his greatest hockey memory is, it would surely be the gold medal he won with Canada at the 2015 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship in Prague.

He was named IIHF Directorate Best Defenceman, was a force on the blueline, and was among the top scorers in the tournament. In the gold-medal game, a 6-1 thumping of Russia, Burns logged more ice time than any other player on either team.

Burns also helped Canada to the World Cup title this past September. In all, he has played at four World Championships (winning a silver in 2008) and one U20 (silver in 2004).

But now, as we play out the final quarter of the 2016/17 NHL season, Burns is on the cusp of accomplishing something great with his club team, the San Jose Sharks. He sits tied for third in the scoring race with Sidney Crosby and Brad Marchand, all three having 67 points. Patrick Kane is second with 68 points, and at the head of the pack is Connor McDavid with 72 points.

The focus is on Burns, though, because he is a defenceman, and blueliners don’t often produce offensively at the rate needed to put them in consideration for the Art Ross Trophy as leading scorer in the regular season.

Indeed, only six defencemen have finished in the top-ten of NHL scorers. Leading the way is Bobby Orr. The extraordinary Orr is the only D-man to have won the scoring title, a feat he accomplished, twice. In 1969/70, he led all players with 120 points, and in ‘74/‘75 he finished with 135 points. In all, he placed in the top ten for six years running, from 1969/70, through 74/75, before knee injuries ravaged his career.

New York Islanders Hall of Famer Denis Potvin made the top ten twice later in the 1970s, and Paul Coffey did so six times between 1983 and 1995. The only other defencemen to produce to this degree were Ray Bourque (1986/87), Al MacInnis (1990/91), and Brian Leetch (1991/92).

Coffey was the last defender to make the top ten, in 1994/95, a feat Burns is surely going to match some 22 years later. The closest anyone ever came to equaling Orr’s achievement was Coffey in 1983/84, when he finished second in scoring, but that is a misleading figure because although he accrued an astounding 126 points, teammate Wayne Gretzky finished with 205 points!

Why is Burns succeeding this year in a way he never has in this his 13th year in the league? For starters, he has offence in his DNA. When the Minnesota Wild drafted him 20th overall in 2003, he was a right winger with the Brampton Battalion in the OHL. Indeed, the Sharks used him as a forward for much of the two-year period 2012-14, but having a defenceman who can add offence is more valuable than a scoring winger, so the Sharks have kept him on the blueline whenever possible.

Second, Burns is both a tremendous shooter and a skilled passer. He sees the ice as well as any defenceman and is smart about deciding when to pass or shoot. He also is logging plenty of ice time. His 24:55 average per game puts him 10th among all players this season.

At 6’5” and 230 pounds, and a beard that only adds to his intimidating presence, Burns can play physically and create space and scoring chances simply because of his size. Not many players – forwards or defemcemen – can do that.

And, Burns is the anchor on the team’s power play. Indeed, 7 of his 27 goals have come on the power play and 19 of his 65 points are with the extra man. The Sharks are a talented, offensive-minded team, and Burns is a key part of that offence under coach Peter DeBoer.

Last year the Sharks went to the Stanley Cup finals, losing to Pittsburgh in six games. The team has its sights set on getting as far, and then winning it all this year, and key to their chances is Burns’s play from the blueline.

The team has 19 games left in the season, but before the playoffs start Burns has the chance to chase Coffey, and maybe even Orr. No matter how you slice it, he is having a season for the ages.