Date: March 28, 2017

Women’s World Championship 2017: Team Sweden

By

The team arrived in Ann Arbor, Michigan last week and got to work:

Before we look at this year’s team, let’s look at their history in the tournament. You know that Sweden is one of the powerhouse hockey countries, but the history of women’s hockey in Sweden is one of a struggle not just to close the gap on Canada and the USA, but to keep pace with Finland and, increasingly, Russia.

In 1990 when this tournament began, Sweden came fourth behind Finland. In 2005, they won their first bronze medal, and it looked like they were the team to challenge Finland as the usual third-place finisher. This was a time of marked shrinking of all the skills gaps in the women’s game and Sweden, Finland and some other countries started to catch up.

Sweden won their second bronze in 2007, finished fourth the next time the event was held in 2009, and they’ve never been in contention since. Not even as host in 2015, have they finished as high as fourth. The surge of the Russian team has left them looking like they are standing still in this race.

The second most popular sport in Sweden after hockey is the one where everyone asks, “What’s wrong with Swedish hockey?” A situation that is familiar to many Canadians. The answer is likely very complicated and is partly about money devoted to the sport but also simply a numbers game. Sweden has a tiny population compared to Russia. But their even-smaller neighbour Finland can’t count on the bronze medal without a heavy fight anymore because of the growth in Russia and other countries.

It’s a whole new world in the women’s game.

It’s not clear that the governing body of Swedish hockey is entirely comfortable in that new world. For the third year in a row, the head coach of the women’s team is Leif Boork, who is 67 and a veteran of SHL coaching in prior decades. And while the most important and talked- about member of the team should be the women playing on the ice, Boork is always at the centre of the story with this team.

Two of the women most people think we should all be talking about are Jenni Asserholt and Emma Eliasson, two top players in the women’s league, the SDHL. Asserholt was captain of the national team the last time Boork allowed her on it. Because of his personal feud with these two women, he will not consider naming either of them. And yet, he continues as head coach and is expecting to be extended and to coach the team through the Olympics next year.

The official list of players as announced on March 14 included some surprising names:

Goalkeepers:

Sara Grahn , Brynäs, Lovisa Berndtsson , Djurgården, Sara Berglind , Modo

Defenders:

Anna Kjellbin , Linköping, Johanna Fällman , Luleå, Johanna Olofsson , Modo, Annie Svedin , Modo

Jessica Adolfsson , Brynäs, Emilia Ramboldt , Linköping, Maja Nyhlén-Persson , Leksand

Fowards:

Sara Hjalmarsson , AIK, Sabina Küller , AIK, Lisa Johansson , AIK, Pernilla Winberg , Linköping

Anna Borgqvist , Brynäs, Emma Nordin , Luleå, Olivia Carlsson , Modo, Hanna Olsson , Djurgården

Erika Grahm , Modo, Erika Uden-Johansson , Sundsvall, Fanny Rask , HV71, Michelle Löwenhielm , University of Minnesota-Duluth

Maria Lindh , Univ. of Minnesota-Duluth

As you can see, the majority of the team is from the SDHL with only two US College players. The SDHL champions, Djurgården, are not well represented, however, their head coach, Jared Cipparone, 31, is the assistant coach, leading some to hope that he brings a more modern approach to the team. Maria Lindh has also signed to the team for next year, leaving college hockey behind her.

Boork has been criticized for playing a defensive style that stifles offence, but he sees their struggles to score in recent national team matches as a problem of injuries:

We’ve had some problems with the scoring. Emma Nordin , Anna Borgqvist , Erika Grahm and so on. We have had several of those supporting offensive players away. Maybe not at the same time, but from time to time. This has meant that we have not been able to transform the team so we have the really aggressive quality.

There are very few new players on the team since last year, but one that stands out is Maja Nyhlén Persson, a 16-year-old defender who has never played on the women’s national team, but has been a regular on an SDHL team. It is really difficult not to see her inclusion on this team in the same light as Rasmus Dahlin’s turn on the recent Swedish WJC team at the same age. That move garnered a lot of buzz while he didn’t add a lot to the play on the ice.

Given that Emma Eliasson scores at over a point per game in the SDHL as a defender (and was tied for second in defender scoring in the World Championships last year) and Nyhlén Persson doesn’t quite hit .5 points per game, this exchange of the veteran the coach can’t get along with for a budding young future star seems like it isn’t doing the team any favours.

The rest of the defence corps are seasoned SDHL veterans and most are national team and World Championship veterans who will carry the team with the bulk of the ice time.

The expectation from Boork is that two forward lines will produce for him:

Now, I think we have two lines that have offensive qualities. Lisa Johansson , Anna Borgqvist and Emma Nordin, we have a line. Pernilla Winberg and Hanna Olsson is another line.

A surprising omission from Boork’s analysis of where his offence will come from is Fanny Rask. She is coming off the best year of her career at only 25, and looks to be in peak form. She led HV71 in points and goals by a massive margin this year, and led her team to the finals losing only to the champion Djurgården. Of course, HV71 is Asserholt’s team, and Rask is a close friend and supporter of her teammate and captain.

Rask (#49 in white) is shown here, first in the corner digging for the puck, then out in the slot and then she drifts away like a leaf floating on the current, only to zip in and grab the goal when everyone’s lost track of her.

Lisa Johansson is Rask’s equal in points this season, as is Erika Grahm. Pernilla Winberg, however, has played at the World Championships since 2004, and is not having a great year at the net. She does bring a wealth of veteran experience, however. And that’s how this team has been built with a mix of youth and experience.

Sara Grahn is expected to start every game as the main goaltender. She has a .934 save percentage in four games with the national team this year, and is the strength they will be relying on in tough matches.

Sweden plays in Pool B, which means they have to outplay only two of the Czechs, the Swiss and the Germans to get into the quarterfinals. That part should be a given. It’s the next step that looks difficult for this team, and one they’ve done poorly at in recent years. Last year Russia thumped them 4-1 in the quarterfinals, and they do not want a repeat of that performance.

Women’s World Championships 2017 Preview: Finland

By

In our second installment of What’s Up With Team Not-North-America, we turn our attention to one of the Nordic countries, specifically Finland. Last year, Finland had a good showing at the World Championships, even giving Canada a bit of a scare in the semifinal round before eventually losing 1-0 to Russia in the bronze medal game. Coming so close to a medal has to sting, but since then, Finland had an undefeated showing to win gold at this year’s Nations Cup. After a near miss in 2016, they’re angling to come home from Plymouth with some hardware.

What’s different this year, you might ask? Well. This year, Noora Räty is back on the Finnish national team.

Why You Should Know Her Name

Räty is one of the best female goaltenders in the world right now. A quick peek at Räty’s career stats is eye-popping, especially her NCAA career at the University of Minnesota. In her senior year she posted a 0.956 SV% and 0.96 GAA, leading Minnesota to a championship and the only undefeated season in women’s Division I hockey to date. She still holds the women’s NCAA record for most career wins (114). Like Canada’s Shannon Szabados, Räty’s spent the past few years playing in men’s leagues—after becoming the first woman to play in Mestis, she’s played the past couple seasons in the Suomi-sarja, the third-tier Finnish league. She’s currently with Nokia Pyry when she’s not playing for her country.

Since returning to the Finnish women’s national team for the 2016 Four Nations Cup, Räty’s played fourteen games for Finland and put up good numbers–0.927 SV%, 1.80 GAA. It goes without saying that having her back is huge for Finland; like Florence Schelling, Noora Räty is exactly the sort of goalie you want on your roster for a short international tournament. Finland is in Group A, with Russia, Canada, and the United States. If the US brings a scab roster, Finland has a great chance at finishing second in that group.

You Should Know These Names Too

While Finland’s strength is obviously in goal, Räty’s not the only player to watch. One of their more notable skaters is defender Mira Jalosuo. Currently a member of the Minnesota Whitecaps—an independent women’s professional team that includes several members of the US women’s national team—Jalosuo was also Räty’s teammate on that undefeated University of Minnesota team. Like Switzerland, Finland also has some current NCAA players on their roster. They include Saana Valkama, who put up 24 points in her sophomore season at the University of Vermont, and sophomore defender Anna Kilponen, who’s an assistant captain on the University of North Dakota.

On the off chance anyone has questions about team #leadership, they’re also bringing Riikka Välilä, who has played for Finland since 1988. Välilä is 43 and a member of the Finnish Hockey Hall of Fame —she was inducted during her decade long “retirement” from playing hockey between 2003 and 2013. She is still averaging at around a point per game for both her country and her SDHL club, HV71. She scored six points in six games at last year’s Worlds, and only six players in the tournament scored more. And she is fourteen years older than her next oldest teammate. International hockey is awesome, and Välilä should hang out with Jaromir Jagr sometime.

Finland is always a legitimate threat for bronze, and if there’s any good news out of the USWNT strike, it’s that we might see medals for two European teams. The team that just missed the podium in Kamloops has only gotten stronger, and we can expect them to be a medal contender.

Women’s World Championships 2017 Preview: Switzerland

By SB Nation

As the 2017 Women’s World Championships approach, the question on everyone’s lips is, “who will play for the US?” Will it be the original roster? A scab team? This article…will not answer that question.

Instead, we’re going to begin a series talking about the European teams coming to this year’s World Championships, and we’re starting off with a country that just qualified for the Olympics last month—Switzerland. They were, as you can imagine, very excited about that.

But Annie, you might be saying, Switzerland won the bronze medal at Sochi. They had to qualify for Pyeongchang? Yes, yes they did, because international hockey is cruel. They did it in style, too, winning all three games of their qualification round, scoring fourteen goals and only allowing three. They’re bringing a very similar roster to Worlds, and have been put into Group B, along with Sweden, Germany, and the Czech Republic. The game against the Czechs will be especially interesting, as the Swiss beat the Czechs 4-1 in their final game of Olympic qualifications to advance. Knocking the Swiss out of the World Championships in return would, I’m sure, be fun revenge for the Czech team.

So, Who Should I Know On the Team?

Like most of the European teams, the Swiss roster is made up largely of women off teams in their home country or other European leagues, with a few NCAA players sprinkled in. The ZSC Lions have an especially nice showing. Unlike most of the European teams, though, the Swiss have Lara Stalder.

Here she is, batting a puck out of midair to score in double overtime and send her team, the University of Minnesota-Duluth Bulldogs, to the WCHA championship final.

She’s okay, I guess!

In all seriousness, Stalder is exceptional. A top-three Patty Kazmaier finalist this year (the MVP award for women’s college hockey), she scored 56 points in 35 games playing in the toughest conference in the NCAA, and had eight goals and twelve points in three games for Switzerland in the final round of Olympic qualifications back in February. Switzerland only scored two goals that tournament that did not directly involve Lara Stalder. She scored over half of their fourteen goals herself, and had hat tricks in two out of the three games. Stalder is a one-woman offense, and one of the most talented forwards on any team this competition.

She’s got some decent offensive backup, including Alina Müller, the 19-year-old who pulled in 8 points of her own in Olympic qualifiers, and spends most of her time as the alternate captain of the EHC Kloten U17 boys’ team. Müller was on the Sochi bronze-medal team as a fifteen-year-old, which means she had an Olympic medal before the age most of us were allowed to drive a car. Switzerland’s roster also features the Weidacher sisters (there are three of them–Isabel, Monika, and Nina–and they all play on the ZSC Lions, which I’m sure isn’t at all confusing), and Phoebe Staenz, who had almost a point-per-game season at Yale this year. They are also bringing what appears to be the majority of the ZSC Lions defensive corps, which, if it ain’t broke, right?

Stalder, though, is not the only star the Swiss have to offer. In goal, they have Florence Schelling, another NCAA product out of Northeastern University. After college, she spent the 2012-2013 season in the CWHL with the Brampton Thunder, ranking third in the league with a 0.901 SV% for a mediocre Brampton team before returning to Europe for Switzerland’s Olympic centralization. She currently plays for the women’s Linköping HC club in Sweden, where she is teammates with current Canadian national team player Jennifer Wakefield. This season in Linköping, Schelling has posted a 0.963 SV% and 1.09 GAA over ten regular season games. In Olympic qualifiers, her save percentage of 0.941% was good for second highest in the tournament and first in Switzerland’s Group C. Like Stalder, Schelling is a top-level women’s hockey talent, and strong goaltending is of utmost importance in a short international tournament. Florence Schelling is the sort of goaltender who could steal some games.

This combination might not be enough to carry the Swiss through against some of the better teams–Canada would have them for lunch, on lack of depth alone–but they’ve already handled the Czechs once this year, and Germany’s hardly heavy competition. If they make it to the quarterfinals, I think they could give Russia or Finland a hard time. No matter what, we can count on a few highlight-reel goals from Lara Stalder.

Swedish Ice Hockey Federation wants NHL GMs to keep their prospects in Sweden rather than the AHL

https://cdn0.vox-cdn.com/thumbor/hC2MQNbMB3Pn0sRb7sDheR6cGzk=/0x0:3000x2371/920x613/filters:focal(1332x717:1812x1197)/cdn0.vox-cdn.com/uploads/chorus_image/image/53611035/453174388.0.jpg

By SB Nation

As the GMs meeting wrapped up, plenty of information has come out about a number of things you’ll be hearing about in the next couple of days. One interesting wrinkle that’s come out for this is what the Svenska Ishockeyförbundet (Swedish Hockey Federation) wants for the NHL’s young swedish prospects.

Namely, for them to not play in the AHL.

….Well that kinda came out of left field.

Currently, Boston has two players from Sweden in their AHL affiliate, with a host of Swedes outside the semi-pro system (Oskar Steen, Johansson, Forsbacka-Karlsson) that, once they hit a certain level, have to make a choice in regard to their development. Move to Rhode Island, or return to their Sport Clubs in Sweden.

On the one hand, it’s not hard to understand why Sweden might want their young players to come home every once in awhile. The time difference to see these talents in their prime is sometimes very prohibitive, and having them playing on Swedish teams means more revenue for said teams. It also has precedent for the development perspective, as Peter Forsberg and Mats Sundin took a season off from NHL play to return to their previous teams in Sweden, and both came back just as good, if not better, than they were. Sometimes players still need a better transition period that doesn’t always come with playing in the AHL. A more recent example that Swedish officials got word of was that of Alex Nylander (brother of William) struggling mightily in the AHL where he previously…didn’t. Artturi Lehkonen wasn’t exactly a bad player, but after a stint in Frolunda he came to the NHL and has been a promising (and infuriating) prospect for Montreal. There’s plenty of precedent for improvement being made from the SHL.

On the other hand…there are plenty of players who can say the opposite has been working out for them in the NHL because they went to the AHL instead of Sweden. Oscar Sundqvist in Wilkes-Barre has improved his point-getting immensely from any season he had at the highest level of play for Skellefteå in Sweden. To say nothing of course of Boston’s own David Pastrnak, whose currently blowing any previous season he’s ever had in Europe out of the water. His time in the AHL put him at a point-per-game no matter what sample size they threw him in. 25 games? 28 points. 3 games for conditioning? 4 points. Anton Blidh at the SHL level had less than 10 points in his 60+ career. In Providence? Much more consistent with at least 12-15 points a season.

On top of all of that there’s still that whole “North America doesn’t play on Olympic ice“ thing that can be kind of an issue sometimes? It’s not that much of one anymore, but it can still take some getting used to. The Bruins have gotten around this mostly by having players who’ve already made the transition to North American leagues by choice or have been playing on NHL level ice for awhile now. Oh…and probably a much more pressing matter: whole “Geography” thing. If you’d like to get a player called up? You’re gonna have to wait on a plane that at the absolute least 10 hours or more while they get on a flight.

Sweden didn’t come down hard on the NHL so it’s still up to player and team discretion to what comes next in their development before they have a chance to make the NHL roster, but it does leave one wondering who will take their home country up on the offer or what GM will consider the proposition.

U.S. women’s hockey team expected to vote on tentative deal with USA Hockey

By AJ Perez – USA Today

USA Hockey and players for the U.S. women’s national team agreed Tuesday to a tentative four-year deal to avert a boycott of the IIHF Women’s World Championship, a person with knowledge of the deal told USA TODAY Sports Tuesday.

The person requested anonymity because the deal has not been finalized. The players were expected to vote around noon ET on the agreement. The financial terms of the deal were not immediately known.

If the players approve the deal, it would end their year-plus efforts to secure higher wages and other support from USA Hockey. The 23 players on the national team drew international attention when they announced March 15 they intended to forgo the World Championship.

Team USA’s first game of the tournament is against Canada on Friday.

Messages left with USA Hockey were not immediately returned. USA Hockey spokesperson Dave Fischer declined comment.

The players said in a statement earlier this month they were seeking a livable wage, although they strongly disputed the numbers put out by USA Hockey that they had asked for $237,000 each in an Olympic year and $149,000 in a non-Olympic year.

USA TODAY Sports reported Sunday that the board was scheduled to consider the same proposal that players and USA Hockey had tentatively agreed to after they met on March 20 in Philadelphia.

The holdout by the women’s team quickly turned into a referendum on equality. The players hit social media hard once they announced the boycott, using the hashtag “#BeBoldForChange.”

Sixteen Democratic senators released a letter Monday written to USA Hockey executive director Dave Ogrean.

“We urge you to resolve this dispute quickly to ensure that the USA Women’s National Hockey Team receives equitable resources,” the senators wrote. “These elite athletes indeed deserve fairness and respect, and we hope you will be a leader on this issue as women continue to push for equality in athletics.”

USA Hockey announced on Thursday that it would seek out replacement players, although dozens of would-be players turned down the offer to don red, white and blue. NCAA Division III, Under-16 girls and adult-league players were sought out after many of the nation’s elite players turned down USA Hockey in solidarity to boycotting players.

While the men’s team players don’t make any more than the women, the men do get upgraded flight and hotel accommodations. And, if you’re a member of the men’s U.S. Olympic teams since 1998, you’d be making more than a livable wage, since the teams have been comprised of millionaire NHL players.

New U20 coach for Latvia

By IIHF.com

The Latvian Hockey Federation (LHF) named Karlis Zirnis its new U20 national team head coach following a board meeting on Tuesday.

The 39-year-old has been working as an assistant coach with the men’s and U20 national teams at several occasions during the last five seasons including stints at the 2014 Olympics and the last four World Championships.

Zirnis grew up in Latvia and represented his country at the 1995 U18 European Championship C-Pool and the 1996 and 1997 U20 World Championship B-Pool tournaments shortly after the country’s independence. Since 1997 he has been living in North America where he played college and minor-league hockey (CHL, SPHL) in the U.S. until 2010. Afterwards he worked as a scout and coach. This season he has been the head coach of junior team Shreveport Mudbugs of the NAHL after three years as head coach of the Nashville Jr. Predators.

“Karlis Zirnis has for several years helped the senior and junior national teams and now quite successfully led a U.S. junior team in the NAHL. He has sufficient experience and expertise to lead the U20 national team to the World Junior Championship,” said LHF President Aigars Kalvitis. “I’m confident that the Latvian junior national team under Karlis Zirnis’ guidance will return to the top division.”

The Latvian U20 national team will play at the Black Sea Cup 2017 in Sochi, Russia, as kick-off for next season’s preparation. After a last-place finish at the recent World Juniors Latvia will compete in the 2018 IIHF Ice Hockey U20 World Championship Division I Group A next winter and aim at promotion against Germany, France, Kazakhstan, Austria and Hungary.