Category: Asia (page 1 of 9)

Trans-Tasman ice hockey series added to Winter Games

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By Stuff

A three-test ice hockey series between New Zealand and Australia has been added to this year’s Audi quattro Winter Games in Queenstown.

The Ice Blacks will host their trans-Tasman rivals on August 31, September 2 and September 3 at Queenstown Ice Arena.

“It’s something we had in our initial planning, but it has taken until now to make it come to fruition,” Winter Games NZ chief executive Arthur Klap said.

 “This is all due to the efforts of both the Australian and New Zealand Ice Hockey Federations.”

It is the first time Queenstown has hosted an ice hockey international and New Zealand Ice Hockey President Gunther Birgel is hopeful that being involved in such an event will give the sport’s profile a significant boost.

“Ice Hockey is such a heavy impact and fast sport, and we are very pleased in being able to show off the excitement and skills of the sport,” Birgel said. “Being an official part of the Winter Games will give us a large exposure and hopefully a lot more people will realise that ice hockey is being played in NZ.”

Birgel added that he and his Australian counterparts were working towards holding the series on an annual basis, alternating between the two countries.

Alex Plante Trading nations for an Olympic ice hockey ticket

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By Pulse News Agency International

Fidgeting nervously, Canadian ice hockey defenceman Alex Plante cleared his throat and addressed a roomful of Olympic officials in a halting new language: “I want to represent South Korea.”

South Korea is among the world’s most racially homogeneous non-island societies but its ice hockey team is becoming unusually diverse as Seoul seeks to avoid humiliation at the rink when it hosts next year’s Winter Olympics.

Following a change in the law, a steady stream of imports have been given new passports and places in the squad, making it one-third white, even though the population is around 96 percent ethnically Korean.

Plante, a journeyman in his eighth year of professional hockey, played in the US, Norway, Austria and Germany before coming to South Korea nearly two years ago.

Aged 29, his carefully memorized five-line address to the Korean Olympic Committee was a key step in probably his last chance to appear on the sport’s biggest international stage.

“It was an opportunity that we thought could happen,” he told AFP. “We decided to come here so we invested everything that we can.”

If his application is approved he will become the seventh North American on the team.

South Korea sit 23rd in the world ice hockey rankings and have never qualified for the Winter Olympics’ blue riband event.

But as the host nation of Pyeongchang 2018 they have an automatic berth and are scrambling to build a competitive roster to avoid embarrassment.

Dual citizenship is generally prohibited in South Korea, but Seoul revised its immigration law to allow “qualified” foreign nationals to hold multiple citizenships.

At a practice in Goyang on the outskirts of the capital, the new South Koreans were easily spotted amid a pack of players in blue and white uniforms emblazoned “KOREA”.

“It’s a different jersey than you grew up looking at and cheering for,” said Canadian-born defenceman Eric Regan.

Never drafted, Regan bounced around teams, leagues, and countries until he came to South Korea three years ago to play for one of its three professional clubs, and was eventually offered a new passport and a spot on the national team.

As “a Caucasian playing for an Asian country”, it took “a little bit of adjustment” before he could fully embrace his new uniform, he admitted.

The team’s Canadian coach and former international Jim Paek — the first Korea-born NHL player to win the Stanley Cup — shouted orders in a mix of English and Korean as his multicultural team skated at speed, passing the puck and smashing it into the net.

“It doesn’t matter where you came from,” said Paek, who moved to Canada with his parents as a baby. “Now, we all have one goal as the Korean national hockey team.”

In top hockey-playing nations such as Canada, the unveiling of the men’s Olympic roster is a highly publicized event after top NHL players have competed for months to wear the Maple Leaf.

Canadian-born goaltender Matt Dalton, once the backup for the backup of the Boston Bruins, was never likely to get a chance to participate.

Instead, a South Korean agent approached him three years ago after his contract with a Russian team ended, offering him a club spot with a bigger paycheque and job security — and a chance to stop pucks at the Olympics.

“If I didn’t take it, I knew someone else would take this opportunity and I didn’t want to regret it,” he said.

Nation v Nation

Some South Korean media have labelled the exercise a vain attempt at one-time Olympic glory, expressing concerns that the players could abandon their new passports and leave after the Games.

As well as imports, the South Korean government has pumped millions of dollars into its previously ignored hockey programme, hiring top coaches and upgrading the team facilities and equipment.

But the challenges are daunting. The country of more than 50 million people has only 133 professional male ice hockey players.

South Korea lost 25-0 to Japan in 1982, but performances have improved more recently, and they won silver at this year’s Asian Games in Sapporo, shutting out China 10-0 and defeating the hosts 4-1.

But at Pyeongchang 2018 they face far tougher opposition, drawn in a pool with Switzerland, the Czech Republic, and top-ranked Canada, hunting their third consecutive Olympic gold.

That means most of the imports will line up to play against the country of their birth.

“Is there going to be little bit more added incentive and eyes on us? Yeah. But it’s still a hockey game,” Regan told AFP.

“When I put the jersey on I know who I’m playing for and who I’m playing against.”

Challenge Cup of Asia begins

By Martin Merk – IIHF.com

A new season begins for the IIHF Ice Hockey Challenge Cup of Asia with two tournaments being held in the Thai capital of Bangkok during the next two-and-a-half weeks.

Nine days after the end of the Asian Winter Games that involved 24 national teams in four tournaments more international tournaments await Asia. The Challenge Cup of Asia is mainly aimed at countries that do not, or not yet, participate in the IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship program or do not fulfil the criteria to do so, and gives them the opportunity to compete against each other on an annual basis on their continent.

On Tuesday the 2017 IIHF Ice Hockey Women’s Challenge Cup of Asia begins in Bangkok. For most teams it will be the first tournament of the season as only Thailand participated in the Asian Winter Games’ women’s ice hockey tournament. The hosts enter the tournament as the top-seeded team. Singapore, Malaysia and Malaysia also return from last year’s event.

The United Arab Emirates are back in the competition after a break last year while the Philippine women’s national team will have its international debut. For the first time New Zealand will participate with the U18 women’s national team. It will be their debut in an official event after having previously played exhibition games against Australia and against club teams.

The women’s tournament will be held as a seven-team round-robin tournament from 7 to 15 March and once it’s over, the rink will be busy with men’s hockey for the 2017 IIHF Ice Hockey Challenge Cup of Asia from 17 to 23 March.

The men’s top-division tournament includes the United Arab Emirates, Mongolia, Thailand, Singapore, Kyrgyzstan and Malaysia who will play a six-team round robin. All teams recently participated in the Asian Winter Games where Thailand had most success of these teams winning the men’s Division I tournament ahead of Chinese Taipei, the United Arab Emirates and Mongolia.

Both tournaments will be held at international-size The Rink Ice Arena, which is located on the seventh floor of the CentralPlaza Grand Rama 9 shopping mall in the Ratchadapisek area of Bangkok.

The third tournament will be the 2017 IIHF Ice Hockey Challenge Cup of Asia Division I to be held 22-30 April in Kuwait City. Seven teams will battle for promotion to the top division here. Macau, Qatar and India return from last year’s event, host Kuwait and Oman stage their comeback after missing last year’s event and Turkmenistan and the Philippines will play their first IIHF-sanctioned games. Both teams will travel to Kuwait with high hopes after their international debut in February in the men’s Division II tournament of the Asian Winter Games that was won by Turkmenistan while the Philippines reached third place.

Challenge Cup of Asia Schedule

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.

Who can break China’s ice hockey deadlock?

By xinhuanet.com

Whitewashed by South Korea 10-0 on Sunday, the Chinese men’s ice hockey team ended its Asian Winter Games campaign with three straight losses, having scored none and allowed a total of 32 goals.

Head coach Hu Jiang blamed his team’s poor performance on a lack of talent in Chinese ice hockey. “The national team does not have a pool of players from which to choose,” he said.

The Chinese women’s team, in contrast, did a much better job in the Games, finishing second, but its 6-1 loss to Japan on Saturday has exposed a huge gap between the two East Asian teams.

Chinese ice hockey has fallen into a vicious cycle: the lack of players leads to a low level for the sport in the country, and lackluster performance on the part of domestic teams drives away potential ice hockey aspirants and audiences.

There are only three professional men’s teams in China – Qiqihar, Harbin (both from Northeastern China’s Heilongjiang Province) and Beijing. As for women’s team, there is only one – in Harbin, despite the women’s game being introduced to China in 1984.

The official website of the International Ice Hockey Federation shows China with 1,101 registered players of both genders, while Japan has nearly 20,000.

“How can we develop women’s ice hockey in a country which has only around 100 players?” complained Yu Tiande, head coach of the Chinese women’s team.

According to coach Hu, South Korea has the pool of talent necessary to form three or four national men’s teams, while China can barely group together a single team.

Yu Baiwei, captain of the Chinese women’s team, said the national team has always lowered its qualification standard to allow in very young players, because there are few talented players to choose from.

“Compared to the Japanese women, the Chinese team members are young and inexperienced,” she said.

A lack of competition at home was another reason given for the poor performance.

Seeley Richard Edward, head coach of the Chinese women’s team, said his team played quite a lot of practice games while training in Canada. “But once we returned home after the Asian Games, we had few games to play and form soon dipped,” he complained.

Hockey side Qiqihar, from which the Chinese men’s team is built, competes in the Asian league, and went 4:38 this season to place last among eight participants.

China is now looking eastwards for inspiration.

The Japanese women’s team, currently ranked seventh in the world, fell after the 1998 Nagano Olympics, missing three straight Olympics since. By raising the intensity of camped training and competing in more international games, Japan bounced from an all-time low to qualify for the 2014 Olympics in Sochi.

Japan team manager Hosoya Taeko admits 2014 was the turning point.

“The Sochi Olympics has changed our players’ life,” she said. “They are no longer worried about where or how to earn money. They are famous now. Because of them, more young people are taking up the sport.”

In a bid to shine in the PyeongChang Olympics, South Korea took corners by stuffing naturalized players to the men’s team.

Yu Tiande, manager of the Chinese teams, suggests China should start to develop grassroots and youth game immediately and at the same time learn from the neighboring countries.

“With five years to go before the 2022 Beijing Winter Games, China should lay out a long-term development plan for ice hockey,” said Yu.

“I hope China will no longer be a pushover in five years and become a team to be reckoned with in one or two decades,” he added.

Iran’s start in hockey

By Martin Merk – IIHF.com

Iran didn’t officially participate in the ice hockey tournaments of the 2017 Asian Winter Games but collected first experiences in friendly games with countries participating in the men’s Division II tournament.

It was about one year ago when IIHF.com wrote about the interest of the vast country to start an ice hockey program with representatives reaching out during the 2016 Winter Youth Olympic Games about possibilities to join the International Ice Hockey Federation. Since then first steps were taken with the program such as bringing players of the national inline hockey team to the ice last summer in Asiago, Italy, after an inline hockey tournament.

At the Youth Olympics, Iran had two athletes – a male and a female skier. While snow sports have been practised for a long time in the country with mountain resorts, Iran wants to take steps to make ice sports more popular as three small-size ice rinks were opened in the last few years in the capital of Tehran, the second-biggest city of Mashhad and on the island of Kish.

“We’d really love to join the big ice hockey family. I hope we can become members and participate in ice hockey competitions in Asia. Iran is a huge country in Asia, we have a population of almost 80 million. Iran can be a really great destination for ice hockey. That’s why we want to work with the IIHF to have a vision for ice hockey in Iran,” Nasser Talebi, Chef de Mission of the Iranian team at the Youth Olympics, said one year ago and also mentioned the 12,000-seat multifunctional Azadi Indoor Stadium that was built for the 1974 Asian Games and could potentially be used for international ice hockey events.

While not everybody may think about ice hockey in Iran at first due to the hot summers, it can be said that some areas of Iran have cold winters too. Winters in Tehran tend to be slightly colder than in Hamburg in northern Germany and the winter temperatures in Mashhad resemble the ones of Stockholm. That’s also where one of the most famous hockey players of Iranian descent, the Ottawa Senators’ Swedish national team forward Mika Zibanejad, grew up.

“We have had skiing in Iran for 70 years so it’s time to also develop other winter sports. Iran is a huge country, we have cities that have -25°C now and others that have +25°C now. We can have summer and winter sports at the same time,” Talebi said. “We don’t have a championship yet but we have around 100 to 120 players, men and women, and it’s a new policy of Iran to improve winter sports, especially Olympic sports.”

The National Olympic Committee planned its international ice hockey debut at the 2017 Asian Winter Games that ended on Sunday, assembled players from Iran and recruited players with Iranian roots from abroad. That’s where the problems began. Despite being warned about the eligibility rules of the Olympic Council of Asia, which governs the Asian Winter Games, the Iranian delegation travelled to Sapporo with many players from abroad who have neither played nor lived in Iran and are citizens of two countries. The Iranians hoped to be granted an exception to compete in the Division II tournament but were treated by the same rules. In the end only eight players were eligible to participate – too few to play the tournament.

Luckily for the Iranians the ice hockey family got together and welcomed the remaining players with open arms. After discussions with the organizer in Sapporo, the scheduled games happened as friendly games and with some improvisation. The eight players were boosted by players from the other teams and the games were played without body-checking to make the start easy and do the best to avoid injuries for the new players and the other teams competing in the Division II event.

Like that the Iranian players had the chance to play with and against players from Macau, Indonesia, Malaysia and Turkmenistan. It wasn’t the planned official debut yet but still a happy ending and an opportunity to get first experiences in ice hockey games for the players who usually rather put on inline skates. And hopefully it will be the start of something bigger once ice hockey grows in Iran.

Kazakhs sweep Asian Games

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By Jack Gallagher –IIHF.com

Kazakhstan captured the gold medal in the men’s top division at the 2017 Asian Winter Games with a comprehensive 7-0 victory over Japan on Sunday afternoon at Tsukisamu Gymnasium.

Yaroslav Yevdokimov and Ilya Kovzalov had two goals each in the win for Kazakhstan, with Konstantin Savenkov, Kirill Savitski and Madiyar Ibraibekov also scoring.

Japan struggled against their bigger and faster opponents, who dominated puck possession for the majority of the contest, and outshot the hosts 41-12.

“This game was very important. We got off to a very good start,” Kazakhstan coach Sergei Starygin commented. “We have a young team here, but we will have the official national team at the World Championship [Division I Group A] in April.”

Despite the scoreline, Starygin indicated the triumph was hard-earned.

“Japan has a strong team, so we prepared well for this,” Starygin said. “It was not an easy game for us.”

Kazakhstan came into the final with a 2-0 record, having defeated Korea (4-0) and China (8-0) in the four-team tournament for a total 19-0 goal record in three games.

Japan was 1-1 with a victory over China (14-0) and a loss to Korea (4-1). Japan needed to beat Kazakhstan by four goals to win the gold medal.

Korea, which beat China 10-0 earlier on Sunday, claimed the silver medal with six points, with Japan (three points) settling for the bronze. The final ranking does represented the hierarchy of the four Asian countries in last year’s World Championship program.

“We played well today and had some good moments,” said Kazakhstan captain Savenkov. “I promise that this will be only the start of the goals for my career because I am very young.”

Starygin told his players beforehand to retain their poise and stay with their game plan.

“We wanted to play the right way and not have any distractions like fighting,” Savenkov stated. “We knew we had better speed and skills than them.”

Kazakhstan wasted little time getting on the board Sunday, with Yevdokimov beating Japan goalie Yutaka Fukufuji from close in on the right side just 31 seconds into the first period.

“It was a very emotional game and an important result for us,” said Yevdokimov. “We had good speed and moved well. It was important that we had a good start in the first period. We felt confident after that.”

While Kazakh KHL team Barys Astana is busy in the playoffs, the players like Savenkov and Yevdokimov were recruited from the Kazakh league.

The Kazakhs tallied again less than two minutes later when Kovzalov scored. The margin went to 3-0 at 15:14 of the period when Savitski flipped a shot past Fukufuji from close range.

Ibraibekov made it 4-0 when he ripped a blast from the slot at 7:16 following a pair of nice passes from Maxim Volkov and Ilgiz Nuriev, who were both credited with assists on the play.

Japan pulled Fukufuji for Takuto Onoda with 6:48 remaining in the first period, but the damage had been done.

Kazakhstan scored on a power play at 10:21 of the second period when Yevdokimov punched a rebound of his own shot past Onoda. The advantage ballooned to 6-0 with just over four minutes remaining in the frame when Savenkov fired in a slap shot from the point.

Kazakhstan closed out the scoring with 1:27 left in the final period on a goal by Kovzalov.

Japan coach Takahito Suzuki bemoaned how his team was put in an early hole by the Kazakhs.

“We didn’t play very well in front of our own goal today in the first period and that was key,” noted Suzuki. “We need to improve our one-on-one game moving forward.”

Suzuki acknowledged that the Kazakhstan players utilized some of their strong points in the tournament.

“They have good skills and big bodies and have improved in the past few years,” Suzuki said. “We lost (4-1) to Kazakhstan in the final of the last Asian Winter Games in 2011 in a closer match.”

Thailand won the Division I tournament with four regular-time victories and an overtime win for 14 points, with Chinese Taipei taking second on 12 points, and the United Arab Emirates (9 points) coming in third.

Turkmenistan prevailed in the Division II competition, defeating Kyrgyzstan 7-3 in Sunday’s final. The Philippines, who like Turkmenistan gave their international debut, routed Macau 9-2 in the third-place game.

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.

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