Category: Europe (page 2 of 6)

Satan Slovakia’s GM

By Martin Merk –

The Slovak Ice Hockey Federation named Miroslav Satan as new General Manager of the national team and head of the national team program.

Satan was presented to the media in Bratislava on Friday. He signed a one-year contract with the federation with an option for another year. He replaces Robert Svehla and will also be looking for a new head coach. Most recently former player Zdeno Ciger has coached the team for the past two years.

“I’m glad that Miro has accepted our offer,” Slovak Ice Hockey Federation President Martin Kohut said. “We believe that this is the best solution for Slovak hockey.”

The man from Topolcany is one of the greatest legends of Slovak hockey in the modern era. He played in the top Czechoslovak and Slovak leagues for Dukla Trencin and for the Slovak men’s national team in its first editions after independence at the 1994 Olympic Winter Games and the 1994 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship C-Pool before moving to North America.

The 42-year-old spent 14 seasons in the NHL for the Edmonton Oilers, Buffalo Sabres, New York Islanders, Pittsburgh Penguins and Boston Bruins. With the Pens he won the Stanley Cup in 2009. In 2010 he moved back to Europe, played for Dynamo Moscow in the KHL and for Slovan Bratislava that played first in the Slovak Extraliga and then two years with Satan in the Russian KHL.

He represented Slovakia in four Olympic Games and in 14 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championships (12 in the top division where Slovakia has played since 1996), was part of the team that won the only world title for Slovakia in 2002 when he was named Most Valuable Player of the tournament and also won two silver medals (2000, 2012) and a bronze (2003). He was twice on the World Championship All-Star Team, in 2000 and 2002 when he led the tournament in points both times.

Now he returns to the national team in a new position and after tough years. Slovakia hasn’t reached the quarter-finals at the Worlds or Olympics since 2013 and finished the 2017 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship in 14th position, lower than ever since moving up to the top level after the country’s independence. That’s something that Satan is here for to change.

“It’s quite a big job, it’s two positions combined, but it’s something that I’ll now try to do and help my own country, the team I used to play for a lot and care for a lot. It’s interesting new times and a big challenge to stabilize our hockey and hopefully improve it in a short time,” Satan said.

For Satan it’s the second experience managing a team in international ice hockey. The Slovak was the General Manager of Team Europe. The selection of European NHL players from other than the continent’s top-four countries (Czech Republic, Finland, Russia, Sweden) surprised the world by reaching the final of the 2016 World Cup of Hockey in Toronto where it was eventually stopped by Canada.

The Slovak Ice Hockey Federation hopes to present the new head coach in the upcoming weeks. In the second half of August, two exhibition games are scheduled across the border with neighbouring country Czech Republic, on 23 August in Trinec and on 24 August at home in Zilina. In the November international break Slovakia will participate in the Deutschland Cup in Augsburg, Germany.

At the 2018 Olympic Winter Games in PyeongChang, Korea, Slovakia will face Russia, the United States and Slovenia in its group next February. At the 2018 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship in Denmark, Slovakia will play in the group in Copenhagen against Russia, Sweden, the Czech Republic, Switzerland, Belarus, France and Austria.

Latvian-born Canadian hockey player Krista Yip-Chuck allowed to represent Latvia

By Kas

Canada-born Latvian-born hockey player Krista Jip-Chaka received the International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) Council authorization to represent the Latvian national women’s national, reports the Latvian Ice Hockey Federation.

Currently, 21-year-old Krista Jip Caka last year turned to LHF and expressed her willingness to represent the Latvian female national team. In the spring IIHF application was submitted to Jip-Chaka could play in the world championship under the Latvian flag.

As the main argument for playing for Latvia national team Krista Jip-Caka said her roots were from Latvian orgin. Krista is Canadian with Latvian dual nationality, she acquired a Latvian passport  on April 14, 2015.

The previous four seasons Krista Jip-Chaka played for National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) Yale University team, which last season she recorded 20 points ( 5+ 15) she was elected captain by her teammates.

She was born in Whitby, Ontario, while her mom Liza Preisa once engaged in volleyball and played for University of Cincinnati.


Four years ago Krista Jip-Caka was part of the Canadian U-18 list of candidates, as well as becoming the Canadian U-18 Championship winner.

Latvian women’s national team in April played at world championship division I Group B and finsh in third place.

Karjala Tournament grows

By Martin Merk –

The Karjala Tournament, one of the men’s national team events of the Euro Hockey Tour, will grow to six teams. The traditional four national squads of the Czech Republic, Finland, Russia and Sweden will be joined by Canada and Switzerland.

“There was desire from Canada to play against Euro Hockey Tour countries,” said the Finland Ice Hockey Association’s General Director Matti Nurminen. “The significance of the Karjala Tournament for the teams involved this year is particularly high. As NHL players are not going to join the Olympics in February, players from other leagues will give a taste of the Olympics at the Karjala Tournament.”

Switzerland as the fifth-best European nation in the IIHF World Ranking was invited as well and will complete the six-team tournament in Finland.

The event, known as Karjala-turnaus in Finnish, has been held every season since 1995/96 and is one of the most prestigious annual invitational tournaments for men’s national teams outside of the Worlds and Olympics. It usually takes place in November in Helsinki. Last year’s event was won by Russia.

For Canada the Karjala Tournament held 8-12 November will be a major opportunity to test players from Europe ahead of the 2018 Olympic Winter Games as will be the Spengler Cup in Davos, Switzerland, 26-31 December.

Ticket sale for the event will start on 31 August it was announced by the Finnish Ice Hockey Association and the schedule will be released in mid-August.

Hungarian Hockey Team Launches VR Experience For Young Players

By Dave Claxton – Sport Techie

The Hungarian national hockey team has launched a motivational 360 virtual reality experience to inspire the next generation of ice hockey players in the country.

In the experience, the team sings along with a stadium full of Hungarian fans to the national anthem and is intended to inspire younger players by seeing fans encouraging the national team.

To launch the experience, two members of the national team, forward István Bartalis and defence man Arnold Varga visited a youth training session and provided the players with cardboard VR headsets.

The initiative was launched by, the organization which has responsibility for encouraging young people to play ice hockey. It is supported by Skoda, the Czech automotive manufacturer and also the Hungarian Ice Hockey Federation.   

Hungary is currently ranked 19th in the International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) world rankings. Last year they claimed their first victory in the Ice Hockey World Championships after 77 years of waiting beating Belarus.


Portugal plays in first international tournament

By National Teams of Ice Hockey

Portugal is not known for ice hockey, they don’t have a rink but they do have a national team and in a effort to be more visible Portugal for the first time enter a international tournament in Grenada, Spain playing against amateur club sides from Spain and Finland .

Portugal is coached by Jim Aldred a former IHL & AHL player and the team is made up of players of all ages.

Portugal finished in 7th, place in a 8 team tournament and at times really struggled on the big ice losing 8-1 and 9-0 but there was a bright spot when they beat Eagles Granada 5-0 for there only win and the teams first ever shutout.

Goaltender Maxim Andreyev who was born in Kazakhstan recorded the blank sheet but  Maurício Xavier president of Federação Portuguesa de Desportos do Gelo said

I wouldn’t make much of it. It was in the game against the weakest team, who didn’t shoot too much. For example Ivan Silva, was much better in the games he played, especially in the last game against the Mr. Taxi team where he kept us in the game. That was an authentic shooting gallery at him.”

The appetite for Ice hockey and winter sports is there but what is really need is an ice rink in the country and for these players they won’t stop until that goal is accomplished.

From Boston to Belfast

By Andy Potts –

It’s been a tough week for the Netherlands. With the country’s top team, Tilburg Trappers, still in German playoff action, head coach Chris Eimers is forced to go with a young roster and hope that some of his more experienced guys can get to Northern Ireland in time to help the team’s bid to stay up in Division IB.

But crisis brings opportunity: that youthful line-up gives a chance to run the rule over the next generation of Dutch hockey talent. Among the youngsters who are growing up fast here, 20-year-old Guus van Nes has been one of the most eye-catching.

A year ago, he was scrapping for minutes on the fourth line in Jaca as the Dutch took gold in Division IIA. This time, he’s got a spot on the Netherlands’ top line, replacing injured assistant captain Raphael Joly and looking to supply the cutting edge that can preserve his country’s Division I status.

And, despite a tough tournament so far – three losses, 20 goals against and just three scored – the Boston Bruins junior prospect is enjoying the added responsibility.

“This tournament has been great for me,” he said. “The older guys on the roster – guys like Kevin Bruijsten – have been helping me out and I’m learning a lot. I know I’ll be a better hockey player after this experience. It’s great for my development, adjusting to a different level, playing against guys with a lot of international experience.”

That upbeat attitude typifies the Dutch approach to this tournament: dealt a rough hand by the conflicting schedules of club and international competition, Eimers and his team remain stoic – and optimistic.

“We understand the situation we are in, but there are still two games to go,” van Nes added. “If we can win one of them, we that will probably mean we stay in this division. It’s tough, but we’ll try to make the best of it.”

On a personal level, this season has been something of a break-out for van Nes. Coach Eimers was delighted with his player’s progress since Spain in 2016 and insists that the youngster’s current prominent role is on merit, rather than necessity.

“Guus really developed last year,” Eimers said. “He was with us last year in Jaca and he did well there, but since then he’s had a really good camp. When the situation arose with Joly [and his injury], we felt that Guus deserved to be bumped up to that line alongside Kevin [Bruijsten].

“He’s really grown this year, he’s definitely a young prospect and one of the better U20 guys who came here. Now we’re waiting to see if he can get a scholarship with the NCAA.”

For his part, van Nes credits his progress to a summer of hard work and a big opportunity with the Junior Bruins in the USPHL, a Junior A Tier 3 league. The Dordrecht native is in his third season with the organisation, and this time round he plundered 45 points in 43 games in the Premier Division in his most active and most successful campaign to date.

“Being over there is helping me a lot,” he added. “Playing in America is a totally different game. I’m skating a lot and I feel like I get better day on day. It’s very different to playing in Europe, but the whole thing is just an awesome experience.”

For a young player emerging from a relatively small hockey nation, the Bruins name is also a nice line on the resume – even if it’s some way from the fame and glamour of the world-famous NHL team.

“Obviously you don’t feel the whole Bruins history and mystique when you’re playing on a team at that level, but it’s still a good name to a part of and it attracts more people to come and watch, so it’s quite exciting that way,” van Nes added.

For now, though, the focus is on Division I survival. “We feel our performance is better than our results and we’ll see what we can do about getting that win,” van Nes concluded.

Lithuania goalie leads new generation

Image result for Artur Pavliukov
By Andy Pots –

Goalie Artur Pavliukov, aged just 20, has been a big part of that roster. In those victories over Estonia and the Netherlands he’s turned away 30 shots to provide the platform for his country’s winning start. It’s turning into a fine conclusion to a long and sometimes complicated season for the Lake Tahoe Icemen net minder.

The 2016-17 campaign saw Pavliukov head to North America for the first time in his career. Whatever expectations he had when he flew across the Atlantic, the subsequent year brought far more than he anticipated.

“It’s definitely been different for me this season – I went to four different clubs!” he said. That journey began in the NAHL with Coulee Region Chill, then took in a short stint at La Crosse Freeze in NA3HL. Next came WSHL hockey with the El Paso Rhinos in regular season before finally arriving in Lake Tahoe for the playoffs. “It feels like I traveled through the whole of the US.”

While the schedule was sometimes difficult, the experience was valuable. “It’s a different kind of hockey there,” Pavliukov said. “The rinks are much smaller so as a goalie you know you’ll face a lot of shots. I’m sure that I’m developing a lot better as a player for being in North America.”

Player development is a big issue for Lithuania, with opportunities at home very limited. In the words of head coach Bernd Haake, any young player wanting to achieve a high standard has no option but to leave the country and seek a chance elsewhere. The roster in Belfast offers a roll-call of Europe’s mid-ranking leagues. Fortunately, that pressure to travel and explore the hockey-playing world is something that Pavliukov has always relished.

“I’ve been traveling for my hockey since I was about 14,” he said, reflecting on seasons spent playing in the Belarusian and Latvian league systems and representing his country at u18, u20 and senior level in World Championships and Olympic Qualifiers. “This was the first time I went so far from home, but it wasn’t all that difficult to adjust. Luckily, I really like to travel, I love seeing new places so it was kind of an adventure.”

Belfast is a new stop on that voyage, and Pavliukov hopes that the final destination might prove to be promotion. Lithuania has medalled in the last two World Championships and picked up wins against the likes of Great Britain and Ukraine along the way. The young goalie was part of the team that claimed bronze in Zagreb 12 months ago before helping the under-20s win Division 2A in Tallinn earlier this season. Now he is eager to grab more hardware here despite icing the youngster roster in the group with an average age of 24.

“It’s not that we are a young team, I think it’s a balance between youngsters and veteran players,” he said. “We have good speed all over the ice, and that gives us a good chance to compete for medals. In a competition like this, any team has a chance of promotion. It’s a matter of conditioning, of coaching, of getting it all together. Whoever gets it right this week will win the tournament.”

Part of the reason for Lithuania’s rock-solid rearguard thus far has been the calming presence of captain Mindaugas Kieras. On a youthful roster, his 19 World Championship campaigns makes him an example for others to follow as the Baltic nation looks to move from one generation to the next.

“He’s a great guy in the locker room and he’s like the bridge between us young players and the coaches. He helps everyone, the young guys and even the other veterans. We love having him around.”
That blend of experience and youth faces its latest test against Great Britain on Wednesday evening – the start of what coach Haake describes as a series of meetings with the ‘big teams’ in Division IB. And with Pavliukov in red-hot form, there’s every reason for the Baltic nation to hope to upset the host nation and blow the promotion race wide open.

How the coaching staff in Frölunda is handling Rasmus Dahlin’s development


If there has been a breakout story in the SHL this season it is the rise of young defenceman Rasmus Dahlin.

Dahlin turned 17 last week, ending his run as the best 16-year-old hockey player in the world and starting his year as the best 17-year-old.

“I have coached many, many good young players, in both club and national teams,” says Frölunda HC head coach Roger Rönnberg, “and Rasmus is most certainly among the top defenders of those teams.”

Mr. Rönnberg’s assistant and defensive coach in Frölunda, Mr. Pär Johansson, says with a smile, “there is no limit in how good he can become; no limit whatsoever. The amount of skills that Dahlin already possesses is incredible.”

Much has been said about his physique and his skating, but the first thing that comes to Mr. Johansson’s mind is his understanding of the game and his vision. “He does things no one else sees. Not even full-blooded pros have seen that particular solution when he has. He is ahead of the game in many ways. He has so many skills, but that one stands out.”

Even if Dahlin stands tall when being interviewed, everyone keeps saying that he needs to grow his stature and frame.

“This summer is super important,” states Mr. Johansson. “He has been to camps before, but this is his first summer with a proper individual build-up for next season. While he will never be a Shea Weber kind of player, frame-wise, he has to bulk up a bit all over his body. Right now he manages a lot of his defensive responsibilities thanks to his outstanding balance.”

With five points (3G, 2A) in 14 playoff games with Frölunda, what stood out this year was the time in the World Junior Hockey Championship that put everyone’s eyes on the Swedish talent. He became the youngest Swedush player ever to suit up for the WJC.

Mr. Johansson chose his words carefully when asked if he would characterize Dahlin’s play as arrogant or a form of hubris. “I would never say that; I would call it the naïvety of youth, or maybe enthusiasm of youth. He oozes the thought ‘I can do this.’

“You have to remember that’s the thing we pay for when watching hockey. Then everyone goes bonkers when he succeeds and the same people turn on him as soon as he makes a mistake. You can’t have it both ways.”

When it comes to Dahlin’s progress during the season Mr. Johansson is quick to point out “there are more and more successful things compared to the unsuccessful things right now. He knows the difference of when he can try things, and when he can’t try the same thing.”

Dahlin is a work in progress, and Mr. Johansson treads carefully in working with the raw diamond in his hands. “We are pushing him every day to try things, but also to learn from his mistakes. He has scored three goals this playoff run, and he hasn’t cost us more than three; that means he’s still on the plus side of things. That’s all we can ask for since he is good for the team.”

Coach Rönnberg is in the same boat as Mr. Johansson, and the Frölunda spirit shows through. He knows his role and his vision is clear. ”We are here to educate players. That means I want to support them in the things they do. Of course, if things happen at the wrong moments or a few too many times, then I step on the brakes. But if he wants to deke someone in the offensive zone then he has to do that, and it is up to an attacker to cover Dahlin’s “normal” position.

“It’s a team effort and the upside that a player such as Dahlin brings, you have to use it.” It is a balancing act especially during the playoffs, but as Mr. Johansson says, so far it has worked out on the plus side for Dahlin.

To speed up and further the education, the day after a game is usually spent with the master and student watching every shift played on video going over strengths and weaknesses during the previous match.

When Dahlin steps off the ice after practice, the first thing that hits me is how tall he is, already standing 6’1” without skates. It’s the day after Game Five in the best-of-seven semifinal against Brynäs, a game Frölunda won. Brynäs eventually took the series in seven games, and is currently playing in the final against HV71.

“Playoffs!” says Dahlin with a smile. “They are great. You have a bad period every now and then, but both teams were struggling last night during the first period.”

Dahlin has made an impact and the previous night he scored another goal. When asked about what has changed for him during the playoffs, he answers without hesitation. “I have gained confidence throughout the playoffs, and I have matured a lot. The physique will have to wait until summer, hence right now it is the development of my game that has changed the most.

“My position game in the defensive zone and the defensive side of things overall is where I have improved a lot, and of course mentally. But it has also been a huge change how to prepare yourself before a game; what to do in difficult situations during the game to get maximum output every game. Eat, sleep, practice. Offensive play too. The work I do with Pär [Johansson] helps me on both sides of the puck.”

When asked to describe himself for the North American crowd that has only seen him in the World Junior Championship he says, “I try to be a two-way defender with an offensive upside [understatement of the year]. I am a bit more offensively inclined than defensively. Now, during the playoffs, I am more of the offensive guy on my pairing, but when it comes to it I will do what the coach tells me to do.”

One thing that has surprised a lot of people around hockey in Sweden is how well the 165-pound defender has adjusted to playoff hockey, which is usually a fair bit more physical than the grind of league play. Dahlin had three points (1G, 2A) in 26 games and has already surpassed that in game 11 of the playoffs.

It is his physical play that has surprised many. Speaking about the upcoming summer Dahlin offers up his thoughts and this own explanation to why he isn’t as big as he could be.

“I have practised hard all summer before, but I hadn’t really entered puberty so I haven’t been able to build up muscle the way that I have needed. It will be important this summer to build up my muscle mass a bit.

“I am looking forward to summer training. Maybe I shouldn’t,” he adds with a laugh. “Really, I am looking forward to it, you want to improve and this is the first step to do it.”

The answer is no surprise when asked whether he has a favourite team or player in the NHL. “I am looking more towards the stars over there, rather than a particular team. My favorite player is Erik Karlsson hands down.”

When it comes to the NHL team that drafts Rasmus Dahlin, you have to remember that he will never be a bruising type of player. He isn’t the big, stable defender. Dahlin’s upside lies in his offensive play and any team that selects him would do well to use Frölunda’s way of thinking: as long as he is generating more goals than he causes due to his sometimes naïve play, the team will benefit from his presence.

It will be interesting to see his next steps in Frölunda and the SHL next season, because it will undoubtedly be the last spent in Europe for a long time.

The next step has already been achieved. When Frölunda got knocked out of the playoffs, Dahlin wasn’t called in to join his fellow teenagers for the Under-18 World Championship; he was called up for the friendly games for the National Men’s Team against Belarus.

“It’s a dream come true,” he told the Gothenburg Post about the honour. “I haven’t really understood it yet.”

For the young phemon, you have to believe that his experience on the international stage is just beginning.

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

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.

Older posts Newer posts