Category: North America (page 1 of 7)

Peterborough player Mike Swift finds hockey success in South Korea

Mike Swift

By Mike Davies – Peterborough Examiner  

Mike Swift never quite reached his NHL dream but he’s making his mark in the hockey world in other ways.

Next year he’ll be on the ice with many of the world’s best at the 2018 Winter Olympics in South Korea and 2018 IIHF World Hockey Championships in Denmark.

But the Peterborough native will not be wearing a Team Canada jersey – he’ll represent South Korea. He’ll be joined by Bryan Young, his teammate with High 1 of the Asian Hockey League. Young is an Ennismore native and former Peterborough Pete.

Swift, 30, scored the winning goal in a shootout against Ukraine that clinched second place for South Korea at the 2017 IIHF Division IA World Championship, earning a promotion to the top division next year against world powerhouses like Canada, the U.S., Russia, Sweden and Finland.

Swift moved to Korea in 2011, a year after Young, where the money is actually better for top players than in Europe and North American minor leagues with top players reported to receive upwards of $200,000 a season with all living expenses paid.

They were approached by the Korean hockey federation in 2013 to get their Korean citizenship in order to represent them internationally. With South Korea awarded the Olympics the federation wanted to ensure it iced a competitive team.

They first played for Korea in a Division IA world championship in 2014, when they lost every game and were relegated to Division 1B for 2015. Swift led the tournament in scoring in 2015 as South Korea won the tournament to get back to Division 1A for 2016. They beat Japan for the first time in their history at the 2016 tournament and finished with a 2-2-1 record. This year, they went 4-1-0, their lone loss to Austria, to earn promotion to the top division next year.

Swift says the team has come a long way since his first year when they lost every game.

“That was a real eye-opener,” said Swift. “We basically didn’t even touch the puck in five games. In that same division, four years later, we went 4-1.”

A big turning point, Swift said, was the hiring of former NHL players Jim Paek and Richard Park, both of Korean ancestry, as coaches.

“They brought a system with them and all the guys bought into the system that is working,” said Swift, one of five players on this year’s team not originally from Korea. “These guys in Korea can all skate and they can all shoot the puck, they just didn’t have a sense of direction. Now they have coaching that can tell them and they listen with the wealth of experience the coaching staff brings. All they needed was guidance. It’s part of the process of how we’ve grown.”

Korea is in a pool with Canada, Switzerland and Czech Republic for the Olympics. The NHL has stated it will not be sending its players which is a disappointment for Swift, although, he says he’ll play against NHL players at the worlds two months later.

“Obviously, you want to play against the best in the world with the NHL guys. At the same time it gives us a better chance of winning the games,” he said.

The country’s interest in hockey is growing because of the upcoming Olympics and the national team’s success, said Swift.

“We just made history moving up to the top division,” he said. “When I first came here no one knew anything about hockey. The players didn’t even really follow the NHL. Now, everyone is on their phones at practice watching the highlights or watching the games. With the time change, when I get to the rink in the morning there are NHL games on in North America. Now it’s 24/7 hockey hockey, hockey.”

Swift has become the Wayne Gretzky of the Asian Hockey League, winning the scoring title in five of his six seasons. His 208 goals in 259 games is 10 behind the league’s all-time leader Takeshi Saito who has played 493 games. Swift is 34 points behind Saito with 461. He also has 662 penalty minutes, 205 behind the career leader.

Now that he’s so close to the record Swift says he’d like to catch Saito, who is six years older and still playing.

“When I first went over to Korea I didn’t know what to expect. I didn’t know anything about the country, the culture but now that I’ve been there for six years it would sort of put a stamp on my career,” Swift said.

Swift, who retained his Canadian citizenship, admits pulling on a Korean national jersey took some getting used to.

“It was different. I had mixed emotions,” he said. “Four years later, it feels natural because I spend nine months a year in Korea and I’ve been there for six years. I’m living in Korea more than I do Canada where I come home for three months in the summer.”

Jamaica’s ice hockey dream includes Rangers blueliner

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By Josh Brown – Waterloo Region Record

Jamaica has produced the world’s best sprinters.

Now, the Caribbean hot spot is trying to ice a hockey team at the Olympics.

And Kitchener Rangers defenceman Elijah Roberts hopes to be there if it happens.

“Being the first to play on the team and making history would be great,” he said. “It would mean the world.”

To be clear, the chances of Jamaica sending a team to the Winter Games any time soon are about as likely as snow falling on the white sandy beaches of Montego Bay.

The tiny island nation — population

2.7 million — doesn’t even have an arena and only became an associate member of the International Ice Hockey Federation five years ago.

To gain full status, the country needs a barn and a development program in place.

But the sunny destination has produced winter miracles before.

Jamaica — seemingly against all odds — first qualified a bobsled team for the 1988 Winter Games in Calgary. The underdog story resonated with spectators and went on to inspire the movie “Cool Runnings” years later.

This is different.

Unlike the bobsled entry, Jamaica’s shinny stars — currently an Under-20 team — are trained hockey players that skate in credible outfits such as the Ontario Hockey League. Most players are Canadian or American, but all have Jamaican heritage.

Roberts was recruited by associate coach C.J. Bollers about a year ago. The Brampton native’s dad, Shelton, is from Trinidad and his mom, Vivene, hails from England; but her parents are Jamaican.

“I was pretty interested right away and wanted to get involved,” said Roberts, who has also represented Canada at the U17 World Hockey Challenge.

And he wasn’t alone.

Other up-and-comers, including five-year OHL veteran Jaden Lindo, also joined the club that is coached by Graeme Townshend, who was the first Jamaican-born player to reach the NHL.

The team plays reggae music in the dressing room and brings an easygoing attitude to the rink; but takes things seriously on the ice.

The U20 bunch headed east to Dartmouth, N.S., recently for a game against a squad made up of players from the QMJHL’s Halifax Mooseheads and other area standouts and won 5-1.

“I think people are really surprised about the caliber and that’s good for the future and getting a rink in Jamaica,” said Roberts, 18.

And the team’s success has hockey fever heating up on the island.

“They’ve showed us examples of little kids back in Jamaica watching the game,” said Roberts. “We saw kids with Jamaican flags and that’s pretty cool. Before, they never really looked at hockey. They have embraced what we’re doing.”

Growing the game is the main goal.

“It’s important for us to get the opportunity to open the gates for Jamaicans to play hockey,” said Roberts.

If all goes right, one day that might mean a chance to play in the Olympics.

Promoting youth may be Hockey Canada’s greatest folly

hockey canada

By Kaitlin Cimini – Fanrag Sports Network

Shortly after USA Hockey announced the newest women’s ice hockey national team roster, Hockey Canada made public its short list of national team players in preparation for the upcoming 2018 PyeongChang Olympic Games. Its national team, like the U.S. team, will begin training together in September.

Canada’s women’s ice hockey team has earned a spot on the podium every Olympic Games, the vast majority of those medals being gold. In the past four years since the 2014 Sochi Olympics, Canada has used competitions such as the IIHF Women’s World Championships or the Four Nations Cup to test various combinations of players, systems, and plans of attack.

While those particular iterations of Team Canada have rarely taken home the gold, Canada seems to have hit upon a system that allows it to test its players in a high-pressure environment without its Olympic reputation on the line.

The roster Canada displayed at the most recent Women’s Worlds struggled to come together as a coherent team. Canada simply didn’t click for much of the tournament, dropping games to the U.S. and Finland, both times letting its opponent set the tone of the game. The Canadians constantly played catch-up.

“We’re not getting the bounces that we do, or we have,” forward Meghan Agosta told The Star after Team Canada lost to Team Finland. “It’s just been tough hockey. We’ve just got to figure it out, come back together as a team.

“This is a test. This is a test for Canada. I believe in the girls and I know we believe in each other. We have a lot of skill and a lot of talent on this team. I know we could definitely play better.”

Poulin said “we have to find a way” at least four times in less than two minutes, SportsNet’s Kristina Rutherford wrote. “I keep saying it,” she said, “but it’s true.”

“It’s not our game,” Poulin added.

The team bounced back in time to shut out Russia, but the damage was done: Team Canada had to fight to earn a way into the gold-medal game. With so many questions surrounding Canada’s discombobulated performance, eyes turned toward the roster, which proved to be disconcertingly young, built for speed and shooting but unable to consistently capitalize on the flaws in their opponents’ systems.

Clearly, the comparative youth of the roster contributed to Canada’s poor performance at Women’s Worlds, but how much responsibility does it bear for the outcome?

Canada may soon find out. While its pre-Olympic national team roster is not an exact replica of the team iced at Women’s Worlds, the similarities are striking. While Canada has added experience to its roster, it has also added even more youth, swapping out players in their early twenties for others, even incorporating some in their teens.

Defense

Erin Ambrose (23)
Renata Fast (22)
Laura Fortino (26)
Micah Hart (20)
Halli Krzyzaniak (22)
Brigitte Lacquette (24)
Jocelyne Larocque (28)
Meaghan Mikkelson (32)
Lauriane Rougeau (27)

Forwards

Meghan Agosta (30)
Bailey Bram (26)
Emily Clark (21)
Mélodie Daost (25)
Brianne Jenner (26)
Rebecca Johnston (27)
Sarah Nurse (22)
Amy Potomak (17)
Sarah Potomak (19)
Marie-Philip Poulin (26)
Jillian Saulnier (25)
Natalie Spooner (26)
Laura Stacey (23)
Blayre Turnbull (23)
Jennifer Wakefield (27)

Goaltenders

Ann-Renee Desbiens (23)
Genevieve Lacasse (28)
Shannon Szabados (30)

Nearly half of the players on this roster are 23 years of age or younger: 11 of 23. The Potomak sisters ring in at 17 and 19, respectively. The potential offensive output is tremendous, however, and may very well be what tipped the scales in their favor.

While the low median is certainly indicative of the development in the world of women’s hockey being driven largely by the NCAA and CIS systems, it still shows an extremely young roster, one without much experience at the Olympic level, ostensibly prioritizing speed and offensive output over wisdom.

Olympic gold medalist and Boston Blades captain Tara Watchorn, for example, was left off the short list for Team Canada despite her leadership skills, precise skating and large frame. While Watchorn has a number of pluses and is still one of the top 10 defenders from Canada, her game is defense-driven and her footspeed is not on the same level as those who made this roster.

Prioritizing speed and shooting over experience may come back to bite Canada, as it did at Women’s Worlds. Team Canada has a little over six months to get its team into Olympic shape… and prove that its youth-driven approach can work.

Jamaican ice hockey team gets an assist from Nanaimo

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By Greg Sakaki – Nanaimo News Bulletin

A Nanaimo resident is helping to bring hockey from one island to another.

Donovan Tait is a Nanaimo RCMP sergeant, and in his spare time, he’s a scout and advisor with the Jamaican Olympic Ice Hockey Team.

Tait has been involved with the organization behind the scenes for a number of years, but only recently has the executive decided to publicize its efforts. A Jamaican U20 team will participate in a hockey tournament in Nova Scotia next month and Tait will be part of the contingent.

“I’m very excited to be going to Nova Scotia and cheering them on, for sure, and [doing] anything I can do to help,” he said. “It’s 30 years too late for me to play, but I can certainly help.”

Tait was born in Canada and grew up on Vancouver Island, but lived in Jamaica as a child, has Jamaican heritage and travels there at least once a year.

“My mom and dad, it was very important to them that me and my brother and sister really knew Jamaica and were always connected there,” he said.

Tait is taking on a few different tasks with the Jamaican Olympic Ice Hockey Federation, including publicity. He was in Jamaica last month and found himself on a radio show talking to a caller about a Zamboni.

“When it gets to Jamaica, it’s going to be the Jam-boni,” came the reply.

Jamaicans like to have a laugh, Tait said, but the hockey team isn’t meant to be a joke or a gimmick to sell T-shirts – the group is earnest in its efforts. While he was in Jamaica, Tait met with the federal minister of sport and with the vice-president of the country’s Olympic committee. Jamaica has been granted associate-member status with the International Ice Hockey Federation, though it can’t become a full member until there is an ice rink in the country, a league and youth programs. Tait has had discussions with various groups and thinks it will take private investment to build an arena; he suggested a partnership with a resort might be realistic.

“If we were to build a rink, I think there’d be a lineup of kids wanting to try and compete on an Olympic stage,” Tait said.

For now, the hockey team is mostly comprised of Canadian kids who have Jamaican heritage.

“It’s very important to the common Jamaican that this team does have some credibility being Jamaican. [The] Canadian kids, they need to establish their Jamaican citizenship and the people in Jamaica are very sensitive to that,” Tait said. “They’re seeing kids wearing a Jamaica jersey and playing hockey … but they really want to know that these kids have a connection to the island.”

Next month’s event in Nova Scotia isn’t just a showcase, but is meant to celebrate diversity in sport. The tournament is a Canada 150 project and will recall the Coloured Hockey League that operated in the Maritimes from 1895-1930. Graeme Townshend, who was the NHL’s first Jamaican-born player, is coach of the Jamaican Olympic Ice Hockey Team and Willie O’Ree, the NHL’s first black player is, like Tait, an advisor with the federation.

Tait said it will be meaningful to see the team take the ice next month. His parents are “fiercely proud” of where they come from and Tait is “completely passionate” about Jamaican hockey.

“We love this country and we are Canadians no matter what,” he said. “But to say I can help build a national team in the country where my parents were born … I will continue to do it for free and off the side of my desk for a long time.”

Meet Claudia Téllez, the Woman Turning Mexican Ice Hockey into an Olympic Powerhouse

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By Kate Clmini – Remezcla.com

Claudia Téllez sat in her parents’ home in Guadalajara, a fedora perched on her head, ready for an early morning interview on one of her rare days off. A career in hockey is something she’s chased for what feels like her entire adult life, and this is a part of it she takes on willingly—gladly—even if it means giving up some of her precious vacation time.  

Téllez is the international face of Mexican women’s ice hockey. How she got to this point has taken nothing short of a leap of faith.

“When I was younger, Guadalajara didn’t have women’s hockey and my family didn’t like that I wanted to play hockey,” Téllez said. “It was for boys, and so on. My father’s a basketball player and my mother played volleyball so they thought I’d take up one of those sports. That’s not how it went, though.” While Téllez started out in basketball, she soon learned about an inline hockey team when a friend of hers organized a game of street hockey at a nearby rink for her own birthday celebration.

“I had a street hockey stick,” Téllez recalled. “One of those with the wooden handle and a plastic blade—Franklin, I think, was the brand. The four of us went to play at the rink, and just by chance, there was a group of PeeWees, training for a national competition.” Téllez was captivated. She ran home afterwards to break the news to her parents: she wanted to play inline hockey.

“My mother said, ‘if you pay for it…’” Téllez grinned. She worked an after-school job to afford her equipment and team fees, dropping basketball for good. Her natural talent was obvious, and she soon made it to the national inline team. Twelve years later, when Mexico started its own women’s ice hockey initiative, she was asked if she would be interested in making the jump to ice hockey at the age of 29.

It’s an understatement to say Téllez was somewhat reluctant.

“I didn’t like it,” Téllez said of learning to ice skate. “I dominated in roller hockey. On rollerblades…yeah, I dominated. And so, when I switched over to ice….My coach in Guadalajara was like, ‘You have to play!’ ‘I don’t want to!’ ‘You have to!’ So, I got on the ice and tried to do the same thing I did on wheels. I went flying, I hit the boards. It was a little frustrating because I couldn’t do the same stuff I was used to on rollerblades.

“I wanted to stop…and I’d go flying,” said Téllez. “I wanted to cut to the side and stop…and I’d go flying. I wanted to pivot…and I’d go flying. I mean, it happened to all the girls who made the changeover, but I still hated it at first.”

Téllez stuck with it, though. She saw the same opportunity Mexico did: the chance to make the Olympics. With such a small field of competition on the women’s side of ice hockey, Mexico stood a much greater chance of making the Olympics in women’s hockey than in men’s. The Mexican ice hockey federation began pouring everything they had into the sport with the goal of making the shortlist for the 2018 Olympic Games. Although only eight teams including the host country are invited to participate, Mexico stood a good chance. Many of the players, Téllez included, relocated to Mexico City to train full-time. She lived in government-supported athlete housing and supplemented her income by working as a manager for the Mexican Ice Hockey federation.

Although she quickly made a name for herself on the ice, Téllez truly made her mark on the business side of Mexican ice hockey. She was charged with organizing the first Pan-American games—the first Latin American ice hockey tournament—which was something she undertook not just to advance ice hockey in Latin America, but also because it was important for the development of Mexican sports in general. Téllez sees events like the Pan-American as an opportunity for Mexico to advance itself as a leader while also growing hockey domestically.

“I believe Mexico has the capacity to advance the most [out of all the countries participating in women’s hockey at the international level] because our neighbors are the U.S. and Canada,” said Téllez. “I see a ton of talent on this side, support by our governing body, families, by private investors. I think that Mexico can achieve a lot of things.”

Team Mexico may have fallen nearly 15 spots short of its stated goal of making the Olympics only four years after launching its first official women’s ice hockey program, but Téllez is extremely proud of her team and what it has achieved in such a short period of time. Team Mexico recently played its way up three spots to a berth in division IIA, making it that much closer to a spot in the 2022 Olympic rotation. At no. 29 in the world, Mexico still has quite a ways to go, but the future is bright.

“I think we’ve had a good start,” Téllez said. “We knew it would be complicated. We’re throwing ourselves at our new division. We knew that the higher in the rankings we went, the more complicated it would be but, well, it’s the foundation for future Olympic cycles. Imagine how good they’ll be in three whole years with the new vision, the new motivation to get to an even higher division than we’re in right now.

Mexico will now face off against teams such as Great Britain, Australia and South Korea, programs that were birthed several few Olympic cycles ago and have shown steady growth since, thanks to the dedication of their players. South Korea in particular will prove even tougher competition after training for and competing in the upcoming 2018 Olympics as the host country. Playing against teams of this caliber will likely help Mexico launch itself even further.

We’re already thinking about how to win, not just maintain our position in this division,” Téllez said. “I think our experience and understanding the level of work necessary will help us, too.”

“In our first Worlds, we finished in second place,” said Téllez. “Nobody believed in Team Mexico. We came in seeded second the following year, 2016, and finished in fourth. That experience stuck with us, because we thought we would be able to accomplish more, but I think that was a reflection of our level of experience.”

Now, having tasted victory, the team is both motivated to keep winning and anxious to start training. Téllez, the coaches, the federation are all on the same page, all putting their best into this next stage.

The Olympics aren’t her only goal; Téllez also applied for the Canadian Women’s Hockey League draft last summer, where she was drafted by the Calgary Inferno, the winners of the 2016 Clarkson Cup. This made her the first Mexican woman ever drafted by the CWHL. Téllez ended up making the Inferno’s reserve squad, spending much of the year in training, flying out to Calgary for chunks of the season to practice with the team in hopes of making the first squad this season.

“Since I was a kid I had it in my head that I wanted to play in the Olympics,” she said. “Maybe that dream won’t come true; I don’t know. Maybe I’ll make it to the next Olympic cycle, but I don’t know. I want to make it to the highest level in my sport. That’s what motivates me. Every step I climbed made me want to go even higher. So, I cross myself and go. I keep pushing forward.”

What’s next on the docket for Téllez? She’ll participate in the Pan-American Games in June, then she’ll attend a hockey camp in Canada this summer. Along the way, she’ll look to get in the best shape possible, train some more in Mexico, then head to Calgary’s training camp in September with the goal of making the first team.

In the meantime, she’ll look for opportunities to rest, in between workouts and matches and interviews like this one. When I ask her when she’ll find the time to rest, Téllez laughed. “That’s why I’m in Guadalajara today.”

Pretty formidable’ team from Jamaican hockey federation to play in N.S.

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By Paul Palmeter – CBC News

Hockey players from the U20 Jamaican Olympic Ice Hockey Federation will be coming to Dartmouth this month to play two exhibition games, with the goal of getting more players from diverse backgrounds involved in the sport.

The players are of Jamaican descent and the majority play in Ontario. They will be going up against a team comprised of some members of the Halifax Mooseheads, local Junior A players and midget hockey players from the Halifax area (Nova Scotia U-20 all-star team),.

“We’re hoping to expose Canada’s favourite pastime to historically marginalized communities,” said Kendrick Douglas, organizing committee chair for the event, which is called Celebrating Diversity Through Sport.

The game will take place on May 14 at the Dartmouth Sportsplex and will be broadcast on Eastlink.

Most play in OHL

“The majority of the players play in the Ontario Hockey League, with the remainder of them playing Junior A with hopes of getting U.S. scholarships,” said Douglas, a Halifax lawyer and former college hockey player.

“They will be a pretty formidable team.”

There will be another game the day before at the Sportsplex, this one between the U20 Jamaican team and a team of prominent local players and community leaders from diverse backgrounds.

The Nova Scotia government is providing $50,000 for the games from the Nova Scotia 150 Forward Fund.

Graeme Townshend is the coach of the visiting team. Born in Kingston, Jamaica, he played with three NHL teams, including the Boston Bruins.

Other events are being planned for the team, including trips to the Nova Scotia Sport Hall of Fame and the Black Cultural Centre for Nova Scotia.

Lebanon Beats Haiti for Historic First International Victory

By Steve Ellis – Eurohockey.com

Lebanon can officially join the history books thanks to a historic debut victory over Haiti in Raymond Bourque Arena in Saint-Laurent, Quebec on Sunday evening.

The game was the first official international competition for both of the teams. Lebanon did play their first ever hockey game a week ago against Maghreb United, who were made up of players from Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia. Lebanon took the 8-3 victory in that game, giving them their first win of any type.

On Sunday, both teams took to the ice for the first time, with Haiti sporting Georges Laraque in the one-off event. Lebanon would get the best of their opponents, taking the 7-4 victory in the process.

While long-term plans for Haiti’s ice hockey team are unknown, Lebanon is hoping to play some teams in the future. Coach Ralph Melki told Euro Hockey that Israel, Egypt and Morocco have all inquired about playing Lebanon in future exhibition games, but nothing has been firmed up.

Video footage of the end of the game can be found here.

Hockey Canada contemplates ‘B team’ to replace NHL stars at 2018 Olympics

Tom Renney was the last man to coach a Canadian men’s Olympic hockey team before NHL players took the reins. It was 1994 in Lillehammer, Norway, an event that produced a memorable gold-medal final. Paul Kariya and Peter Forsberg competed in a heart-stopping shootout duel. Corey Hirsch was heroic in goal for Canada. When Sweden ultimately won the gold medal, the championship was so well-received it was commemorated on a Swedish postage stamp.

Now, a generation later, Renney is the president of Hockey Canada and may be facing a familiar yesteryear scenario.

Increasingly, it is looking as though the stalemate among the International Olympic Committee, the International Ice Hockey Federation and the National Hockey League over the latter’s Olympic participation will drag on – and eventually oblige all national federations to fill out their men’s Olympic hockey rosters with non-NHL players.

If that happens, Hockey Canada is getting ready – just in case.

Back in the fall, Hockey Canada hatched a tentative Plan B, hiring former NHL goalie and two-time Olympian Sean Burke to oversee its participation in two European hockey tournaments – the Deutschland Cup and the Spengler Cup – with a view to evaluating Canadian hockey talent playing abroad.

Renney says he remains in favour of best-on-best competition at the Olympics, but isn’t shrinking from the challenge if it goes the other way.

“We were good in 1980 [without NHL players] and, ultimately, we got ourselves to the point where we were winning silver and within millimetres and milliseconds of gold medals in 1992 and 1994,” Renney said. “Those were special teams and special times. So there’s a bit of me saying: ‘whatever happens, we’ll be ready to go – and we will be.’”

Complicating matters for Canada is the number of different recruiting scenarios that could present themselves if the NHL stays home.

Right now, Burke’s scouting mission focused mostly on Canadians playing professionally in Europe, most of them in either Russia or Switzerland.

But both he and Renney wonder, might the Olympic team have access to AHL players, those NHL prospects on the cusp of playing in the league? Would any Canadians playing college hockey be available? How about top juniors? If Nolan Patrick didn’t make it directly to the NHL as the projected No. 1 pick of the 2017 NHL entry draft, would he be interested in following in the footsteps of his uncle James Patrick, a member of Canada’s 1984 Olympic team?

All good questions, said Renney, for which there are no ready answers.

Unlike 1994 and the four men’s Olympic teams before Lillehammer, Canada will not centralize a men’s team in Calgary, with a six-month lead time to get ready, said Renney, because the costs would be too prohibitive.

Instead, Canada is tentatively planning to hold a summer evaluation camp, and then bring those players together for multiple international competitions before the 2018 Olympics in the hope of developing the necessary chemistry. The team could be a work in progress until the 11th hour.

An Olympics without NHL players will shift the favourite’s role to Russia, as was the case when Renney and Dave King were icing teams of “amateurs” against the powerful Soviet Union teams of a previous generation.

The NHL’s Russian content has dropped precipitously since the high point – 2000-01 – when 89 played here. This year, it’s down to 39.

According to figures supplied by the Elias Sports Bureau, among the 934 players to have played at least one NHL game through Wednesday, Russia ranks fourth by nationality behind Canada (435), the United States (246) and Sweden (82) and just ahead of Finland (35) and the Czech Republic (34).

In effect, the Russians will lose access to far fewer players at the top end of its player pool – and would have available the likes of Ilya Kovalchuk, Pavel Datsyuk, Slava Voynov and others playing in the KHL.

Canada, by contrast, would lose a far greater number of its most accomplished players and thus would have to plumb deeper into the mid-echelon of its talent pool.

Ultimately, it could evolve into the sort of David vs. Goliath battle that characterized King’s three terms as Olympic coach – and Burke’s time as a player in the national program, where he is the career leader in games played (35) and wins (21) at the IIHF world championships.

Burke was also part of the managerial teams that won back-to-back men’s hockey world championship gold medals in 2015 and 2016 and would be the logical candidate to act as Canada’s 2018 Olympic general manager if the NHL bowed out.

In his current role with Hockey Canada, Burke said he was reminded once again of how important it is to players to play for their country.

“We take it for granted sometimes,” Burke said. “We’ve seen [Wayne] Gretzky, [Mario] Lemieux and [Sidney] Crosby in that Canadian jersey and remember the events they’ve played in. But at the Deutschland Cup, which we don’t even go to every year, I saw how important it was, not just for the players, but also for their families and their parents – to see their kids wear that Canada jersey. So that really resonated for me.

“It’s been an interesting assignment – to get to know the Canadian players from around the world who aren’t in the NHL but are still pretty good hockey players.”

One thing Burke is sure of: No matter who might be playing on the men’s Olympic hockey team in 2018, the country will rally around them.

“A year out, sure, people may say they want the NHL players there,” Burke said. “But when that event starts, it is still the Olympics. It is still the greatest sporting event in the world. You’re representing not only your own sport but you’re representing your country alongside other athletes in other sports, too. It takes on a totally different meaning.

“How many people would say, ‘I’m not watching the Olympic hockey tournament because it’s not the NHL guys.’ My guess is, hardly anybody. They’d say, ‘if Canada’s in the gold-medal game in the Olympics, I want to watch it.’ It won’t matter who is playing.”

PLAN B

2018 team (without NHL players)

Goaltenders:

Zach Fucale, Brampton (ECHL); Drew MacIntyre, Medvescak Zagreb (KHL); Ben Scrivens, HC Dinamo Minsk (KHL); Danny Taylor, HC Sibir Novosibirsk (KHL)

Defencemen:

Chay Genoway, Jokerit Helsinki (KHL); Geoff Kinrade, Neftekhimik Nizhnekamsk (KHL); Chris Lee, Metallurg Magnitogorsk (KHL); Patrick McNeill, Ingolstadt ERC (Germany); Shaone Morrisonn, Medvescak Zagreb (KHL); Maxim Noreau, SC Bern (Switzerland); Blake Parlett, Medvescak Zagreb (KHL); Mat Robinson; HC Dynamo Moscow (KHL); Jonathan Sigalet, Frolunda HC (Sweden); Daniel Vukovic, Genève-Servette (Switzerland)

Forwards:

Chris Didomenico, SCL Tigers (Switzerland); Andrew Ebbett, SC Bern (Switzerland); Matt Ellison, HC Dinamo Minsk (KHL); Cory Emmerton, HC Ambri-Piotta (Switzerland); Andrew Gordon, Linkoping HC (Sweden); Dustin Jeffrey, Lausanne HC (Switzerland); Brandon Kozun, Lokomotiv Yaroslavl (KHL); Jonathan Matsumoto, Red Bull Munchen (Germany); Jacob Micflikier, EHC Biel-Bienne (Switzerland); David McIntyre, EV Zug (Switzerland); Marc-Antoine Pouliot, EHL Biel-Bienne (Switzerland); Mason Raymond, Geneve-Servette (Switzerland); Derek Roy, Omsk Avangard (KHL); Greg Scott, CSKA Moscow (KHL); James Sheppard, EHC Kloten (Switzerland); Nick Spaling, Genève-Servette (Switzerland); Paul Szczechura, Traktor Chelyabinsk (KHL); Maxime Talbot, Lokomotiv Yaroslavl (KHL)

U.S. women to boycott hockey worlds, citing unfair wages

By Justin Cuthbert – The score

The U.S. women’s national hockey team announced Wednesday that it will not defend its title at the IIHF World Championships in Michigan later this month, citing wage inequality and lack of support from USA Hockey.

Players will not report until meaningful progress is made in their negotiations with the governing body, discussions they say have been put off for more than a year.

“We are asking for a living wage and for USA Hockey to fully support its programs for women and girls and stop treating us like an afterthought,” captain Meghan Duggan told ESPN.

“We have represented our country with dignity and deserve to be treated with fairness and respect.”

ESPN reports that players competing for the highly successful program earn $1,000 per month during the six-month Olympic residency program. Beyond that, compensation is “virtually nothing,” and that players are expected to maintain fitness levels and compete at the highest level during that time for negligible pay.

“We are fortunate to have strong pioneers who have changed the landscape of their sport. Figures such as Billie Jean King or teams like U.S. women’s soccer have built a foundation not only for hope, but for action,” Hilary Knight said, a member of Team USA since 2006.

“As leaders in the sport of hockey, we are asking for equitable support and encouragement for participation for women. This is another important step for women in sports, but also for women at large and for generations to come in our fight for equal pay and support.”

The team was scheduled to arrive at training camp on March 21 before the tournament begins 10 days later in Plymouth, Mich.

Jill Saulnier hopes to make leap from cwhl all star to Olympian

By Dhiren Mahiban – Toronto Star

Jill Saulnier is hoping her hat trick in the Canadian Women’s Hockey League all-star game on Saturday will put her on Hockey Canada’s radar for the 2018 Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea.

Saulnier and Jess Jones had three goals each, helping Team White to a 9-5 victory over Team Blue at the third CWHL all-star game at the Air Canada Centre.

“The thought of making that team is always in our mind, for sure, especially in events like this when you’re playing with all your best friends who you’re also competing with for that team,” Saulnier said. “Obviously everything counts towards getting better and working towards that final goal.”

Rebecca Johnston, Marie-Philip Poulin and Meghan Grieves had the other goals for Team White. Johnston and Poulin each had three assists.

Poulin, who scored the winner in both the 2010 and 2014 Olympic gold-medal games, has seen growth in Saulnier’s game since the two played together on the under-18 team.

“She’s got more confidence, she’s got more poise with the puck and you can see that,” Poulin said. “She gets better as the years go, so I’m excited for her.”

Jenelle Kohanchuk scored twice for Team Blue while Kelly Terry, Brianne Jenner, and Haley Irwin also found the back of the net.

Emerance Maschmeyer started for Team Blue and made 14 saves before being relieved by Erica Howe. Christina Kessler stopped all 18 shots she faced before Charline Labonte took over midway through the second period.

“I think (Kessler) knows all my moves from practice,” joked Team Blue captain Natalie Spooner, a teammate of Kessler’s on the Toronto Furies. “She stood on her head, she was amazing for them that first period and a half.”

With Team White leading 4-2 after 40 minutes, the two teams combined for seven third-period goals.

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