Day: December 9, 2016

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

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.”

Howe International Friendship League to organize North Korean hockey exhibition in support of disability sports


Friendship oriented hockey summit hosted by the DPRK men’s and women’s national ice hockey teams to be held from March 7-15, 2017.

The PIHL 2017 is being organized by Howe International Consulting Group (HICG) and Lupine Travel in conjunction with the DPRK Ministry of Sport and the Korea International Youth & Children’s Travel Company. Lupine Travel are a UK tour company, founded in 2007 and specializing in unique destinations and travel ideas, but bringing them to you at affordable budget prices.

The first annual Pyongyang International Friendship Ice Hockey Exhibition (PIFIHE) saw a team of elite foreign players engage the DPRK men’s national ice hockey team in a three-game series. Team Korea surprised most observers by winning the series 2-0-1 including an impressive overtime victory.

Event organizers used the opportunity to conduct sports workshops for intellectually disabled children in Pyongyang. While inside the DPRK, organizers were impressed by the local commitment to improving the well-being of individuals with intellectual disabilities. This provided the inspiration for an expanded program set to commence in early 2017, which will be implemented by the HICG.

“Our goal is to facilitate a society that is more inclusive of individuals with disability and we feel that the current push by the DPRK to improve disability services is a commendable cause that should be supported,” said HICG managing partner Scott Howe.

HICG is primarily a consulting firm specializing in economic and social development. It was on a 2014 trip to Pyongyang with an NGO to deliver workshops to entrepreneurs inside a Special Economic Zone outside Pyongyang that HICG managing partner Scott Howe first thought about bringing hockey players to the DPRK.

The success of the first PIFIHE led HICG to launch the Howe International Friendship League (HIFL) — a series of international events with the simple objectives of promoting goodwill and building friendship between cultures around the world through the power of sports, as well as supporting sport programs for athletes with intellectual disabilities. The inaugural 2017 season will see international participants play football (soccer) in Masaï Mara, Kenya and flag football in Puerto Viejo, Costa Rica in addition to the second annual event, the PIHL 2017, in Pyongyang.

Sport organizers intend to establish interactions where political and ideological differences can be set aside and genuine friendships can form. “Sport has a unique way of forging cross-cultural connections where few previously existed,” said Gordon Israel, managing partner of Howe International Consulting Group.

Qualified sports trainers, players and coaches interested in participating in HIFL events are encouraged to submit applications. All participants are asked to cover the costs of their travel.

Spectators are welcome to attend all events, with proceeds from tour package sales being used to support projects for children living with intellectual disabilities.

Latvia Finishes Off Pre-Tournament Series With Victory

By Steven Ellis –

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.