Category: Europe (page 1 of 5)

‘Why are you playing ice hockey? You’re a girl’ — Meet the women skating to success in Ukraine

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The Ice Hockey League that’s more then a game. Female ice hockey players
in the Ukraine are trying to revive a national league against all odds.

Clad in a purple jersey with an orange crown emblazoned across the front, the Dnipro Queens forward whizzes across the ice at lightning speed and slams the puck past Kyiv Ukrainochka’s goalie. The crowd goes wild. Horns blare. Players embrace.

With just minutes left on the clock Elena Tkahuk has netted the goal that will win her team Ukraine’s first ever women’s ice hockey league title.

In a symbolic gesture, these historic finals were played on March 8 to coincide with International Women’s Day — an event usually celebrated in Ukraine by men giving flowers to the significant ladies in their lives, not by women donning shin pads, face guards and skates to battle it out on the ice.

But there’s still a long way for these women to go before they are recognized as sporting equals in a country where the United Nations rates female participation in decision-making as “extremely low” and perhaps the best-known sports coverage of women has centered on fears over prostitution and sex trafficking during the Euro 2012 football tournament that was co-hosted by Poland.

“In Ukraine the men, when they see me with my equipment, they ask me: ‘Why are you playing ice hockey? You’re a girl — it’s better you’re in the kitchen,'” says Valery Manchak, one of the star forwards of the Dnipro Queens team.

The scorer of 18 goals this season, the 20-year-old learned to skate as a child and, against her mother’s wishes, took up playing ice hockey with a boys’ team.

A sports fanatic, she dreamed of one day representing Ukraine at international level, but was forced to give up playing at 13 — the age where men’s hockey becomes a contact sport — because there were no girls’ teams to play with in the former Soviet state.

The Kyiv Ukrainochka team played in the first Ukraine's women's final.

The Kyiv Ukrainochka team played in the first Ukraine’s women’s final.

Fighting for acceptance

Disappointed but undeterred, Manchak took up boxing instead, and was soon competing at international level.

Ice hockey, however, remained her “one true love.” So when two years ago she heard a team had been set up in Dnipropetrovsk — a city some three hours’ drive from her hometown Kharkiv — she knew straight away that she would join.

“People have prejudices about women playing ice hockey, but when they see we’re good they get interested, they start to respect us,” she says. “So just getting out there and playing, that’s a powerful thing.”

Among Manchak’s first converts to women’s ice hockey was her mother who — although initially disapproving of her daughter playing a “man’s game rather than sitting home and studying” — quickly became her biggest fan, attending all her games and loudly berating the male referee from the sidelines if he missed a penalty.

Years of hockey experience, however, makes Manchak the exception rather than the rule.

Registered in September 2016, Ukraine’s women’s hockey league has only five teams, just passing the four-team threshold required to gain official recognition by the International Ice Hockey Federation. The Russian women’s league has eight teams.

Finding enough players to cobble together teams was among the biggest challenges in getting the league up and running. Aside from the half-dozen or so who lived or were born outside of Ukraine, most of the league’s 166 registered players had never played ice hockey before they signed up for a team.

To make up their numbers, like all the teams in the league, the Kharkiv Panthers — who wear a striking pink-and-black kit with their growling namesake on the front — have drawn players from a host of different sporting disciplines and professions: figure skating, soccer, yoga and fitness instruction.

Players from the Dnipro Queens prepare for the league finals.

Players from the Dnipro Queens prepare for the league finals.

Depending on women from such varied backgrounds has brought a whole of host of challenges.

Halfway through the season, the Panthers’ goalie quit after too many training sessions clashed with her work as a veterinarian, and the team was dealt another blow when one of its best players was unable to attend the final because she had a football tournament to play in Iran.

With several of the women either mothers to young children or employed in full-time jobs ranging from gaming app development to working for local government, just organizing three weekly practices can be a logistical nightmare.

Starting from scratch

Perhaps the biggest hurdle, however, was that at the beginning of the season many of the players didn’t even know how to skate.

To teach them, the Panthers’ coach Andrey Zemlyansky — a retired professional hockey player — took the new recruits to an ice rink in a local shopping mall and gave them exercises to do.

Even those with figure skating experience had to learn how to use the more cumbersome ice hockey blades, which require a totally different style.

“People were slipping and falling over all the place, families and kids on the rink were crashing into our players because there wasn’t enough space,” recalls Kate Bobyn, a Canadian citizen living in Kharkiv who plays for the Panthers.

“At first it was a total crazy mess, but now you seriously couldn’t tell that just a few months ago these women couldn’t skate! It’s a real achievement.”

Until recently, Julia Artemieva — one of the league’s co-founders — was among those with no experience playing hockey. That changed three years ago, when a friend called by chance to invite her to play in a women vs. men friendly.

That day on the bench at the ice rink, Artemieva first met Nadia Boboshko. The women, who both have a background in figure skating, borrowed oversized equipment from the men.

“It was terrifying. I could fit my hand inside the gloves twice over,” laughs Artemieva, who captains the Kyiv Ukrainochka team but is sidelined after breaking her leg during a match.

“After that first game I said, ‘Never again, never again,’ but that was then, and here we are now … I guess I was hooked!”

Although they first played hockey together as “total strangers,” Artemieva and Boboshko quickly became best friends. United by a shared love for the sport, they started the Kyiv Ukrainochka team.

Only 10 of the 30 women who played that initial game agreed to return, but slowly they recruited more. When teams started in other cities they realized there was enough interest to start a league.

“Sure it seemed crazy at first,” Artemieva says. “But if we’ve achieved this in three years, imagine what we can do in another three.”

Conservative attitudes have not been the only obstacle to women’s ice hockey in Ukraine, however. Historic coincidence has also contributed to the country’s lackluster performance in the sport.

Ice sports have a long history in the post-Soviet world.

While bandy — a sport with similarities to ice hockey but played with a ball rather than a puck — dominated in the Soviet Union as the preferred game for several decades, by the 1950s the bloc had caught the hockey bug and its men’s team quickly came to be considered among the best; winning multiple world championships.

‘Rag-tag’ kits and financial problems

It was not until the late 1980s, exactly around the time the Soviet Union began to crumble, that women’s ice hockey started to gain traction.

Inna and Elena Vansovich were among the athletes caught up in the turmoil surrounding the Soviet collapse. Trained as professional speed skaters when the twins graduated from their sports academy in 1990, they found money for sport had all but run out.

Canadian Kelly Whelan (left) of Kyiv Ukrainochka, vies with Belarussian player Katerina Rudchenko.

Canadian Kelly Whelan (left) of Kyiv Ukrainochka, vies with Belarussian player Katerina Rudchenko.

A year later Ukraine declared independence and, with the encouragement of an academy coach, the sisters joined the newly-fledged country’s national team (although it sometimes still competed as part of a “Unified Team” with players from other post-Soviet countries).

Despite initial skepticism about women playing the sport, both quickly fell in love with it once they were on the ice.

“It was an incredible experience,” says Elena Vansovich, now 43. On a table, she unfolds a yellowed newspaper clipping from a review of a friendly match played against a small Canadian team in 1995.

“They said our kit was rag-tag but our performance was good,” she laughs.

It was one of their last matches. Shortly after, on the way back from competing in a European Cup match, the twins were told for the second time in just a few years that there was no money left for their Sport.

“The situation during the ’90s in Ukraine was very turbulent, the financial situation was very bad,” Elena says. “So that’s just how it was — no more money, no more speed skating, then no more hockey.”

‘I woke up with goosebumps’

For a long time, it seemed the dream of women’s hockey was over before it began for the twins.

That is, until a Kharkiv Panthers player asked them to join the club after finding a photo of them posing with their national team jerseys on Facebook.

“My first reaction was, ‘No way!’ I wasn’t even sure I remembered how to play after all these years,” Inna Vansovich says with a laugh.

But once the idea was in her mind, she found herself dreaming of ice hockey when she fell asleep. “I woke up with goosebumps … I realized that I tried to forget about hockey but it was impossible, so in the end I said yes, I would like to go back.”

Much had changed in the two decades since the twins last played, but at least one thing has remained the same — finances are still tight.

The approximate $50,000 in funding the women’s league receives from Ukraine’s National Hockey Federation covers only the bare basics: three ice sessions per week per team, and the costs of holding games, including accommodation and food.

Extra practice time, kit and other expenses must either be funded by private sponsors or paid out of the players’ own pockets.

That’s no small ask in a country where the average wage is around $200 per month, but hockey kit costs can easily run up to $1,000.

The Ice Arena in Kiev, where this season’s finals were held, is testimony to the over-stretched budget the league is working with: The floors creak worryingly under the feet around the ice rink, the changing areas are little more than rooms with a few wooden benches, and each team shares just one shower.

Ukrainian politics: ‘Difficult and uncertain’

As in the Vansovichs’ skating heyday, political instability has also made it hard to find money for the league, organizers say.

The annexation of Crimea by Russia in 2014 and the ongoing war in the east have dealt heavy blows to Ukraine’s economy.

Although there have been some tentative signs of recovery in recent months, finding sponsors in such “difficult and uncertain times” is not easy, Artemieva says.

Despite the odds being stacked against them, the sport is slowly garnering attention in Ukraine, and beyond.

This season’s finals attracted hundreds of fans, many of whom had traveled hours across the country to be there — a more than decent showing in a country where ice hockey is still very much seen as a “man’s sport,” says Georgii Zubko, vice president of the Ukrainian Ice Hockey Federation and an ardent supporter of the women’s league.

Hundreds of supporters tuned in to live streams of matches throughout the season, from a host of countries including: Canada, Russia — ice hockey is akin to a religion in those nations — Belarus and Britain.

“Next year there will be thousands (of fans),” Zubko says. “I can tell you, these ladies, never do anything once — especially if it’s already been successful.”

The league is only just concluded, but there is already talk of forming teams in Odessa and Kryvyi Rih to join next season, and organizers also hope to put together an official national team following a trial run of the best players at February’s Global Girls’ Games.

If they are successful, it will be the first time Ukrainian women have competed at international level in ice hockey since the Vansovich twins represented their country more than two decades ago.

“It’s my hope that my daughter will watch me play and want to play too,” Elena Vansovich says, having posed on the ice for a photo with her children and bronze medal after the Panthers finished third.

“That for her there will be the possibility to play hockey.”

Belarus’ Ice Hockey Federation promotes ice hockey in Eastern Europe

By Belarus News

The Belarusian Ice Hockey Federation (BIHF) is actively promoting the development of ice hockey in the countries of Eastern Europe, Deputy Chairman of the Belarusian Ice Hockey Federation, member of the IIHF Council Sergei Goncharov told the media, BelTA has learned.

On 21 February Minsk played host to a seminar on ice hockey development. Partaking in the event were representatives from Armenia, Israel, Latvia, Lithuania and Ukraine. The seminar highlighted the issues related to the training of young players. “In early 2017 the Belarusian Ice Hockey Federation held a similar seminar for the countries of the Balkan region. Today Minsk welcomed representatives of some countries of Eastern Europe. We try to help them develop ice hockey, including through the training of linesmen, sharing methodical instructions,” noted Sergei Goncharov.

According to Sergei Goncharov, the Belarusian Ice Hockey Federation is currently considering including foreign players into the Belarusian Ice Hockey Championship and teams of the neighboring states into the country’s Extra League or Premier League. “Everything depends on our partners. We are ready for the dialogue,” Sergei Goncharov stressed.

It is the first season that HC Ararat Yerevan is playing in Belarus’ Premier league. “The seminar helps us study the structure of the training process for young players, enrollment principles for children’s teams. We maintain long-standing partnership with the Belarusian Ice Hockey Federation. Ararat plays in the Premier League and shows good results,” President of the Armenian Ice Hockey Federation Samvel Zakharyan said.

The seminar was also attended by Mr Petr Briza, a member of the IIHF Council, the Chairman of the Youth & Junior Development Committee, and Mr Aku Nieminen, IIHF Sports Manager, Secretary of the Youth & Junior Development Committee.

The BIHF noted that the development of children’s and youth hockey remains a priority. For example, refresher courses for coaches of Belarusian sports schools under the IOC’s Olympic Solidarity program were held last week.

Restart of a Greek ice hockey championship


By National Teams of Ice Hockey

In 2015 the HISF (Hellenic Ice Sports Federation) was absorbed by EOXA (Hellenic Federation of Winter Sports) and now has taking over ice hockey in the country. 

EOXA has restart the Greek Ice Hockey National League 2017 with a Men’s and Junior divisions which have four teams Warriors, Panserraikos, Tarandos and Ice Guardians. 

The Men’s division runs from February 25th to April 23rd and the Junior division runs from February 25th to April 22nd. All Games will be played in two Arenas the Athens Heart Mall and The Iceberg.

Click for Greek Ice Hockey National League 2017

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Game action between Tarandos & Panserraikos

 

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.

 

Croatian prospect Ficur joins MOB for North American experience

By Robert MurrayFort McMurray Today

The first time Fort McMurray Oil Barons head coach Tom Keca met Ficur, the McMurrayite had helped arrange travels through Alberta for a pair of hockey-minded youth groups from Europe. A standout then, Keca left the door open for Ficur to return when he was older if he wanted to experience the game at faster pace.

After travelling over 7,000 kilometers, Ficur reunited with Keca this week as the 1998-born forward seriously considers his hockey future.

“It would be like any Canadian soccer player going over there and trying to play soccer,” Keca said summing it up. “You play here at a certain level, but it’s just a different world.”

Ficur wasn’t front and centre on television screens this holiday, but the forward still took part in the World Junior Hockey Championships in mid-Decmeber, collecting a pair of assists as Croatia finished sixth out of six teams in the Division II Group A Championship in Estonia.

“The conditions here are much greater than in Croatia,” said Ficur. “I’m just enjoying my time here.

“Day after day, I’m getting better with the guys. I’m getting used to it. I’m really happy to be here.”

The reunion was no coincidence. Keca’s connections to the European nation and 26th ranked country in the hockey world — 14th in soccer, if we’re comparing — still run strong more than 20 years after a professional stint in the country.

“The education that I got was nothing that I could ever get from a book or in a classroom,” noted Keca of his professional time. “It was living it. For him, that’s a decision that’s he’s going to have to make as well.”

He added Ficur had aspirations of playing for a year in Canada before attempting to join a post-secondary program south of the border.

The intensity of practice and the mandatory Tuesday yoga sessions took the forward by surprise, but it’s an experience he’s happy to drink in. Though he’s a point per game player with KHL Mladost Zagreb, a team in the Croatian Ice Hockey League that features players almost double his age, getting up to speed in the North American version of the game was an encouraging process.

“It’s a little bit tougher than in Europe,” Ficur added. “It’s more physical. I’m here to see how it works.

“Maybe I go to the college next year. That’s my dream.”

For the brief stay, which will include a trip to the West Edmonton Mall at the request of some of Ficur’s friends back home, the Barons have been accommodating.

“It’s cool to learn how different our lives are,” said defenceman Taner Miller, who has provided Ficur with drives home after practice. “He’s said it’s a lot faster than he’s used to, but I think he’s done really good.

“He’s the same as all of us on the ice, it’s just off the ice you can tell the differences.”

MOB host Kodiaks, Pontiacs

Ficur’s stay will the team will carry through this weekend as the MOB host the Camrose Kodiaks and Bonnyville Pontiacs Saturday and Sunday respectively.

Two wins to end 2016 put the Barons on a good path to being back in the hunt for the North Division lead, but they won’t matter much unless the MOB strike against two of the Alberta Junior Hockey League’s best teams.

An offensively dangerous team like the Kodiaks will be trying to avoid the season series sweep while also fighting a positioning battle of their own in the South Division. With the Pontiacs, the MOB will try to score their first win on home ice against Bonnyville since Feb. 4, 2015, a streak of five straight losses.

“For whatever reason there’s just certain teams that you just don’t match up well against,” continued Keca. “They’re a team that outworks you if nothing else. They’re a team you can hit once, twice three times and they still keep coming at you.

“That relentlessness is a characteristic that we’d like to see a little bit more of in our team.”

Swedish hockey player Rasmus Dahlin impresses at world juniors

By Sean Gordon – The Globe and Mail

In case you’re wondering what the future looks like, it’s right there in the Swedish blue and gold sweater with No. 8 on the back.

You know, the fluid-skating, confident, ridiculously-gifted-with-the-puck 16-year-old named Rasmus Dahlin, about whom much will be said and written between now and the 2018 NHL draft, where his could be the first name called.

The defenceman is the youngest player to dress for Sweden at the world junior championship (by one day, but still), and the youngest in this year’s tournament.

One NHL amateur scout said he’s the best 16-year-old defenceman in living memory – “way ahead of [Ottawa Senators superstar Erik] Karlsson” at the same age.

It happens he’s taller and larger-framed than Karlsson, his favourite player, and is, in the words of TSN draft guru Craig Button, “icy” regardless of circumstance.

As long as we’re making comparisons, his skating may not be as explosive as Karlsson’s, but it’s smooth in ways reminiscent of another generational talent, former Detroit Red Wing Nicklas Lidstrom.

Perhaps the best way to describe Dahlin’s game is: Karlsson-like vision, lateral movement and attacking instincts in the offensive zone, whereas in his own end, his poise and ability to both defend and elude are Lidstrom-light.

How does it feel to be compared with a couple of the best Swedes to play the game, young Rasmus?

“I don’t really agree with it,” he said this week. “I mean, I’m just 16 years old … I’m just trying to play my game and do my best.”

Fair enough. But he’s also a 16-year-old who recently signed his first senior pro contract, an indication his days with Frolunda’s junior squad are over.

Being drafted first overall – he would become the first Swede to earn the distinction since Mats Sundin went to Quebec in 1989 – is “a dream, so I’m trying.”

Dahlin grew up in a hockey-playing family in Trollhattan, a town of 45,000 in an area that is, he said, “100-per-cent bandy” – an 11-a-side outdoor game played with a ball, not a puck, and with sticks that look better suited for field hockey than the NHL.

“The first time I was on the ice I was two years old. My dad plays hockey and my brother, too,” said Dahlin, who also has a sister (his parents made the trip to Montreal this week).

He played minor hockey down the road in Lidkoping, before moving to Frolunda, the club in nearby Gothenburg that spawned Daniel Alfredsson, Henrik Lundqvist and Karlsson, among others.

Anaheim Ducks prospect Jacob Larsson, who played four games with the NHL club before being returned to Frolunda, insists Dahlin is already among the Swedish Hockey League’s standout talents.

“He’s pretty much been the same player with Frolunda as he is here,” said Larsson, the anchor of the Swedish defence at this tournament. “He’s got some sick moves when he’s skating up with the puck – he’s going to be really, really good. I mean, he’s already a good player.”

Larsson said Dahlin’s skill and evident promise have been a regular topic of conversation among the club’s senior players for at least a couple of years.

Now, others have become SHL regulars at 16 and later flattered to deceive: Former Edmonton Oilers draft Magnus Paajarvi-Svensson leaps to mind.

Much can and will happen between now and June of 2018. Confidence is breakable, knees or shoulders can give out, progressions can plateau.

Could Russian scoring machine Andrei Svechnikov or OHL forward Ryan Merkley pull ahead of Dahlin in the rankings? Could U.S. national junior program slickster Jake Wise, or CHL starlets Benoît-Olivier Groulx, Joe Veleno or Ty Smith also pull ahead of him?

They could, but none is at the best-on-best under-20 world showcase ahead of older, highly-regarded players.

That he finds himself playing against men for a powerhouse SHL club with a history of developing NHL talent augurs well.

Dahlin said this week that his expectations for the tournament were “not much.” Sweden’s coaches brought him as a seventh defenceman.

In his first game, Dahlin played just under nine minutes. In that time he chipped in a goal and an assist.

In his second, he played 12:17 and, while he didn’t score, showed plenty – his evasive manoeuvre on Switzerland fore-checker Marco Miranda early in the game was jaw-dropping – and was thrown over the boards late in the third with the Swedes chasing a go-ahead goal.

Seconds later, captain Joel Eriksson Ek scored.

He also got into a bit of a kerfuffle with 19-year-old Swiss captain Calvin Thurkauf, who yanked him to the ice with what appeared to be a slew-foot at the first-period horn.

Dahlin was having none of it, and immediately got up to challenge the older player before a teammate quickly shepherded him away.

The scouts will have ticked another box.

Hartley signs on to coach Latvia

By  The Score

Latvia has landed another high-profile coach.

Former Stanley Cup champion and Jack Adams Award winner Bob Hartley has been hired to lead the Latvian national team.

“I’m excited for the newest challenge in my career as a coach. It will be my first experience working with a national team and I’m grateful to the Latvian Hockey Federation for giving me the opportunity and confidence,” Hartley told IIHF.com’s Martin Merk.

Latvia’s former coach resigned this summer just before the program failed to qualify for the 2018 Olympics in Pyeongchang.

The country’s best finish at an Olympic competition came three years prior in Sochi under the direction of longtime NHL coach Ted Nolan. That team played Canada to a 2-1 final, and eventually finished eighth.

Hartley was fired by the Calgary Flames at the end of last year after failing to return to the playoffs in his fourth season.

Bulgarian national player excels in two sports

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By Ivan TchechankovIIHF.com

The 2017 IIHF Ice Hockey Women’s World Championship Division II Group B Qualification starts on Monday in Taipei City. The host Chinese Taipei will make its debut in the competition and the other participating countries are Belgium, Bulgaria, Hong Kong and South Africa. One player to watch at the Annex Ice Rink is Bulgarian forward Amalia Koleva.

Koleva scored the most goals (3) for her national team a year ago when the qualification was held in Sofia and this was her best showing on the international stage. Well, not really. It’s better to say “on international ice” because she has over 80 (eighty) medals from World and European Championships in Taekwon-Do (ITF) since 2001. In 2016 Koleva won the European title in power test and silver medal in the team sparring competition in Thessaloniki. The 36-years-old athlete has a collection of 4 World (individual sparring under 57 kg in 2009, team special technique in 2011, team sparring in 2013 and individual power test in 2015) and 15 European titles.

On top of that she has two more bronze medals from the 2013 WAKO World Championships in kickboxing – kick light and light contact under 55 kg. And she competed successfully in savate (French boxing) and muay thai (the combat sport of Thailand). At one time she was on the Bulgarian national team in four different sports – taekwon-do (ITF), ice hockey, kickboxing and savate.

“Since this year I have concentrated only at taekwondo and hockey, but my schedule is so busy as before,” says Koleva, who is an international instructor and is working with 40-45 kids in three different groups. Some of them are following into her steps practising a second sport, although not ice hockey.

“I was lucky with my discovery of ice hockey, because I had some kind of background after practising figure skating as a kid. Everything happened by chance. Eight years ago, during a free skate, I was approached by Tina Lisichkova. At that time she was the captain of the Bulgarian national women’s team and was looking for new players,” recalls Koleva. After one month she was playing international games. The beginning was quite difficult with nightmarish losses at the Olympic Qualification in Latvia.

It must be hard for her to accept defeats on the ice after so much success in taekwon-do. “Actually, hockey is relaxing for me. It’s a great pleasure to play this exciting game and to know that you can count on your teammates. In taekwon-do you’re alone and you suffer from every error that you make. I don’t like to lose, but I know the reality in Bulgarian women’s ice hockey. Most of the girls have started at age 17-18 and that’s too late for hockey. Now the top players have to train and prepare the next generations from very early age and then we’ll see a difference,” says Koleva, but she doesn’t think that she is quite good to be a hockey coach.

Contrary to the expectation Koleva thinks that hockey is giving her some edge in taekwon-do instead of the opposite: “We are under enormous pressure in taekwon-do, because everyone thinks that we have to win medals and if you don’t do it – it’s a tragedy. I have the opposite situation in hockey and now I’m bringing this mental approach to my taekwon-do career – it is not a big deal if I screwed up. Not that happened to me recently.”

Koleva is 160 cm tall and stands quite strong on her skates. When there is a physical contact, the opponent is falling on the ice almost every time. “It comes from inside of me. I have the flair for this stuff, how to approach these situations. Taekwon-do and hockey are contact sports, although in different aspects,” thinks Koleva. Body-checking is not allowed in women’s hockey, but sometimes she can’t resist the temptation and then has to sit in the penalty box.

Koleva still has the motivation to practise two sports (taekwon-do at ABC Fight Club and hockey at NSA) and is joking that she even has free time: “The stress on the body is different, the time of the practices and the competition period too, so I can combine the sports. There are days in which I have to work with the kids and to practise taekwon-do or ice hockey, but one day a week I have all three commitments. During the weekend I’m working at an artificial ice rink in the mall.” For some time Monday was sort of her off-day with only one taekwon-do practice.

The Bulgarian national women’s team flew to Taipei City yesterday and the main focus is to stop the streak of seven straight defeats in the IIHF Ice Hockey Women’s World Championship program. The last win dates back to 21st March 2014 – 4-2 against Hong Kong.

“Our best chance is the first game on Monday against the hosts as they are making their debut. Hong Kong already had two games in the Olympic Qualification this season and we didn’t participate, so they are ahead in the preparation for sure. We had some good moments against them and South Africa last year, but lost both games. I hope that it will be closer this time around,” said Koleva before leaving for her first trip to Chinese Taipei.

They play hockey in Estonia? RoughRiders winger Robert Arrak proves they do

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By Jeff Johnson – The Gazette

There are only a handful of rinks in his home country.

“Maybe five or six,” Robert Arrak said. “We’ve got maybe five, six, seven teams.”

The accurate number is four teams that play in Estonia’s highest league. Let’s just say this kid definitely is the exception.

A hockey player.

“It’s not big there,” the Cedar Rapids RoughRiders forward said. “My father played, my brother played, so I decided to try it, too. I was really young when I started skating. Like 3 years old.”

Here he is playing in the top junior league in the United States, with aspirations of someday playing college hockey. Ascending beyond college hockey, to tell the truth.

The tall and lanky 17-year-old is on the Central Scouting Service’s list of European players available for the 2017 National Hockey League Draft. He’s a “C” prospect, or someone projected to possibly be selected in the middle to lower rounds.

That’s why he’s here, actually. If you want to play in the NHL, you move closer to it.

“There are more scouts and coaches watching games from the NHL and college hockey here,” Arrak said.

The 6-foot-2, 185-pounder only has played in four games with the RoughRiders, but it appears Coach/General Manager Mark Carlson pulled off quite the coup when he convinced Arrak to make the move a couple of weeks ago from his junior team in Finland. Arrak has shown off a slick, skilled and advanced game, including notching the winning goal this past weekend against Madison.

Cedar Rapids (3-16-2) plays a road game Thursday night against the older of the United States National Team Development Program’s two teams, then is at Youngstown on Friday and Saturday nights.

“He’s a ballplayer,” smiled Carlson.

That’s hockey speak for someone who is good.

“He’s got a good attitude,” Carlson said. “I think he wants to get better every day. He’s working really hard. I think he’s got the chance to be a really well-rounded player. He shoots well, sees the ice, he’s good pretty good hands, can shoot it. He’s a young kid, so he’s got a long way to go. But there is a lot of upside there.”

“I love this place,” Arrak said. “It’s a good place, good guys on the team. It is a good league here, the USHL. Good games.”

Arrak had been in the U.S. only once prior to making the move to Cedar Rapids. That was to a camp in the Detroit area.

He speaks good English, thanks to studying it in school when he was young. He has spent the last handful of years playing in neighboring Finland, away from his family in Tallinn, Estonia’s capital.

“It wasn’t that hard to convince him to come here,” Carlson said. “I think he understood the opportunity here and the exposure. He wants to play in the National Hockey League, and he felt the United States Hockey League was the best league to play in. This is the best opportunity for him to keep growing.”

Carlson was asked if it was realistic to think Arrak could someday be his country’s second NHL player. Leo Komarov of the Toronto Maple Leafs is the only Estonian-born player to make it to the NHL thus far.

“That’s a long ways away,” he said. “But I think he’s got a realistic shot to get drafted. It’s up to him as to how hard he wants to work.”

Cedar Rapids has won three games in a row after an 18-game losing streak to begin the season. That includes a sweep of Madison, 4-1 and 2-1, last weekend.

“The kids are working,” Carlson said. “I think we’ve played some pretty good hockey here the last couple three weeks. We’re chipping away.”

Latvia Finishes Off Pre-Tournament Series With Victory

latvia ice hockey

By Steven Ellis – Eurohockey.com

Latvia was able to defeat Kazakhstan 3-0 on Thursday in U20 action, finishing off the two-game exhibition series with an aggregate score of 4-4.

Using mainly reserve players while the top Latvian stars were away with their usual clubs, the newly-appointed top division squad played a stronger exhibition game on Thursday. Unlike Wednesday’s contest, that saw them show almost strength in a 4-1 loss to Kazakhstan, Latvia forced their opponents into a tough situation in the first period. While no goals were scored, Latvia peppered goaltender Anton Bruyev with chances in the best period of hockey in the exhibition series for the Latvians.

After a good back and forth battle in the second, Latvia appeared to have scored with eight minutes left in the second. Valters Apfelbaums, who had a solid rush early in the first period, kept with a scramble that saw him finally tip the puck over at the last second, but the whistle blew just before due to the refs no longer seeing the puck in the crease.

Latvia finally saw themselves in the lead for the first time in the exhibition series with three minutes to go. Desperate to take the lead, Roberts Štelmahers finally jammed one in past Bruyev to make it 1-0 for the Latvians just prior to heading to the intermission.

At 3:34 of the period, Latvia doubled up their advantage. This time, Eduards Fjodorovs used Eduards Hugo Jansons as a screen in front of the net before firing a hard shot from the point. Bruyev had no chance of keeping the puck out of the net, giving Latvia the 2-0 lead with most of the third period still to play.

Elvis Dins Kalnbērziņš isn’t a favorite to make the World Junior team for Latvia, but he sure helped his case by making it 3-0. Having helped out with Latvia’s second goal just minutes later, Kalnbērziņš put the game out of reach after tapping in the pass from Haralds Štrombergs just eight minutes into the third. Denijs Romanovskis would hold on in Latvia’s net for the shutout, leading his country to a 3-0 victory on Thursday.

Latvia will play Denmark in a pre-tournament game on December 22nd at the Centre Multisport in Châteauguay, Quebec, not far from one of the World Junior locations in Montreal. Latvia will begin their run in the top tournament on December 26th when they start Toronto off with a 3:30 PM start against Team USA. 

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