Month: February 2017 (Page 1 of 5)

Iran’s start in hockey

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

By Martin Merk –

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kazakhs sweep Asian Games

By Jack Gallagher –

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Turkmenistan’s debut with winning streak

Turkmenistan forward Ezizmuhammet Akmuhammedov and team captain Ahmet Gurbanov celebrate a goal against Macau during the national team’s first tournament participation at the 2017 Asian Winter Games

By Jack Gallagher –

Japan – One of the nice stories of the Asian Winter Games thus far has been the play of the Turkmenistan men’s hockey team.

The squad comes from a central Asian nation with a population of five million people that is a relative newcomer to the sport. Ice hockey has just started recently and was never played in the country during the Soviet times.

Despite that fact, Turkmenistan has posted three impressive victories in the Division II tournament here. They opened with a 9-2 win over Malaysia in their first-ever international game, followed that up with a 16-0 rout of Macau, and beat Indonesia 12-2 on Friday at Hoshioki Skating Rink.

The Turkmens displayed both good speed and power in their latest triumph and their showing bodes well for the future growth of the sport back home.

Forward Dovlet Soyunov, who scored two goals against Indonesia, expressed his pleasure with the team’s latest performance.

“These are good teams here and we came to play with our hearts,” Soyunov commented. “We beat Malaysia, Macau and today Indonesia. I am born in Turkmenistan and am a student there. This is our first time to play in a championship like the Asian Winter Games.”

The 22-year-old provided some background on the sport in Turkmenistan.

“We have eight teams and we play against each other,” he said. “This is a really good experience for us. I play for Galkan, the No. 1 team back home.”

The Turkmenistan roster features 15 players from the Galkan club.

“Hockey is becoming popular for people in Turkmenistan,” he noted. “We have been playing for 10 years. We started with professional coaches about three years ago. All of the players are from Turkmenistan. Our players play for private clubs that have sponsors.”

Soyunov is often called on to translate in English for teammates, having had some education in the United States.

“I studied English in the United States,” he stated. “It was in Houston, Texas, at a place called North American College. Learning English as a second language.”

Soyunov clearly paid attention in class, because he speaks and comprehends the language well.

When asked about his favourite NHL players, Soyunov quickly identified two he follows closely.

“I like Yevgeni Malkin and Alexander Ovechkin,” he replied.

Yakut Berdiyev, a forward who has recently finished high school, is enjoying the chance to travel abroad with the national team.

“It is has been a good tournament so far,” said the 18-year-old. “Today was a good game. Japan is a nice country. Hockey is popular here.”

Berdiyev took to the sport after he first saw it at the age of 11.

“I have played for seven years,” he commented. “I saw hockey and it was interesting. I love it.”

The growth of the sport back in Turkmenistan has Berdiyev dreaming of a career outside his country.

“I hope to play in some league outside Turkmenistan someday,” the shy Berdiyev said.

Jora Hudayberdiyev, who was recently appointed as new Chairman of the National Winter Sports Centre, was on hand for his team’s latest win and provided some details on how hockey is progressing in the country.

“There are around 700 hockey players currently in Turkmenistan,” he cited. “Our president, Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedow, is helping us to get the players and improve the sport in the country. The president is sponsoring everything. He is giving the money for the uniforms, the equipment, and travel to competitions.”

Hudayberdiyev has enjoyed the Asian Winter Games and is already eyeing the future.

“It has been interesting. We are very happy,” he said. “We need to get points to get into the first division. We hope to win the next game. We will try our best to win. We hope to play interesting hockey.”

The Division II tournament of the Asian Winter Games in Sapporo was played in two groups that were won by Turkmenistan and Kyrgyzstan with an undefeated streak. The two Central Asian nations will play each other for tournament win on Sunday. The Philippines and Macau will play for third place.

Japan’s women claim gold

The Japanese women’s national team celebrates after winning gold at the 2017 Asian Winter Games on home ice in Sapporo

By Jack Gallagher –

Japan – Japan’s march to the gold medal at the Asian Winter Games culminated with a solid 6-1 victory over China in the final on Friday night at Tsukisamu Gymnasium. China had to settle for the silver medals, Kazakhstan won bronze.

Despite the triumph, Japan coach Takeshi Yamanaka still wants to see more from his team that earlier this month earned qualification to the 2018 Olympic Winter Games.

“Our defence was very good in the tournament, but the offence needs to progress some more,” Yamanaka stated after watching his side surrender just one goal in five games.

Japan scored lopsided wins over Hong Kong (46-0) and Thailand (37-0), and notched shutout decisions over Kazakhstan (6-0) and Korea (3-0) in the six-team women’s ice hockey tournament.

Japan’s next event will be at the 2017 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship Division I Group A in Graz, Austria, in April where the team aims at promotion back to the top division of the Women’s Worlds.

Yamanaka says he is not set on his current roster as the team he will take to the PyeongChang Olympics in 2018.

“I want to see some more players in competition before deciding on the roster,” Yamanaka commented, while adding that team will likely be set in late November or December.

Yamanaka, though happy his team captured the gold on home ice, explained why he was not totally satisfied with these results.

“As the top team there should be a bigger gap (in points) between us and the others,” he said. “We kept our opponents’ point totals to less than 10 in Europe as well.”

Japan’s high-powered attack blitzed China in the opening period for five goals and never looked back on Saturday.

Star forward Hanae Kubo had two goals for Japan in the win. Naho Terashima, Yurie Adachi, Aina Takeuchi and Rui Ukita also scored in the triumph in front of 1,807 fans.

China came into the contest with a 3-1 record. China beat Hong Kong, Kazakhstan and Thailand, but lost to Korea in a shootout.

Fang Xin scored the lone goal against Japan in the tournament on a slap shot in the second period.

Kazakhstan with a 3-2 record took home the bronze medal in the competition after an 8-0 rout of Thailand earlier on Saturday. The Kazakhs earlier edged fourth-ranked Korea 1-0 to move to a medal spot.

China coach Richard Seeley paid tribute to Japan following the final.

“They’re a hard-working, well-conditioned team that plays together,” Seeley said. “It is clear that they were in better condition. This was a good experience for our girls. They can see that to play five games in seven days you have to be in better shape.”

Seeley believes Japan has a real chance at making the podium next year in Korea.

“The U.S. and Canada are the favourites for the gold and silver in PyeongChang, but I think Japan has a chance to get the bronze medal there,” Seeley commented. “The gap is closing now.”

Japan defender Akane Hosoyamada felt she and her teammates did a good job of protecting their net the past week.

“I got a lot of chances in the tournament, but could only put a few in the net,” said Hosoyamada. “We were able to keep the puck in the offensive end most of the time (during the tournament). We have had like three total shots on our net in the last four games, so I thought that was good for us, blocking shots and all that stuff.”

Hosoyamada thinks the vibe in the Japan team is good coming off their victory in the qualifying tournament for PyeongChang earlier this month and win here.

“We were coming out of the qualifiers and have been together for a month and a half now,” she pointed out. “We’re basically family and like being around each other. All around it was a positive turnout.”

Kubo said Japan set the tone early in the final and smoothed the past to victory.

“We scored a lot of goals in the first period tonight, so we were able to set our own pace for the rest of the game,” Kubo stated.

Kubo admitted it was challenging to focus after coming out of the qualifying tournament in Tomakomai earlier this month.

“It was kind of hard to stay motivated with this coming right after the Olympic Qualification, but because we received a lot of support from the fans, we pushed hard to win for the country,” Kubo said.

“Our whole team believes we are at the level of possibly winning a medal in PyeongChang,” noted Kubo. “So we are aiming for that target and doing our best.”

Thailand Wins First Ever Ice Hockey Gold Medal

By Steven Ellis –

A 14-0 victory over Singapore has given Thailand their first ever ice hockey gold, taking place at the 2017 Asian Winter Games in Sapporo, Japan.

Thailand was strong from the offset of the tournament, with the team winning their first game against Mongolia 5-4. The team then stopped UAE by a score of 6-4 before easily defeating Hong Kong 8-2. Their game against Chinese Taipei later in the week was expected to decide who would win the tournament, and with a 3-2 overtime victory, Thailand was in the hot seat heading into their game against Singapore.

Coming into the game, Singapore had allowed 42 goals in four games, so Thailand’s chances were extremely high. Thailand’s top player, Kim Aarola, had four goals and two assists for six points in the game, good to give him 15 in five games. Likit Neimwan-Andersson was strong for his nation, putting up two goals and an assist to top off the impressive tournament performance.

Thailand’s last medal came at the 2012 Challenge Cup of Asia, a silver medal. The team now has five total medals in international competition, with two silver, two bronze and now a gold to their credit.

Chinese Taipei finished the tournament with a silver medal thanks to an 6-2 victory over Mongolia to start the day. Wrapping up in third place were the United Arab Emirates following a 5-3 win over Hong Kong.

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.

S. Korea defeats Japan for 1st win in men’s hockey

By Yoo Jee-ho – Yonhap News

South Korea defeated Japan 4-1 for its first victory in men’s hockey at the Asian Winter Games on Friday.

Four different players scored for South Korea, and goalie Matt Dalton turned in a solid performance at Tsukisamu Gymnasium, as South Korea evened its record at 1-1.

South Korea will close out the Winter Asiad against China at 9 a.m. Sunday. Japan will play Kazakhstan in the finale, also on Sunday. The top three teams after the round robin play will emerge as the medalists.

Kazakhstan leads the tournament with two victories. South Korea and Japan both have a win and a loss, but South Korea is in second place thanks to its superior head-to-head record.

Mathematically, South Korea still has a shot at winning gold here — which would be its first for an Asian Winter Games — but will need plenty of help from other nations to win the tiebreaker.

At the previous Asian Winter Games in 2011, Kazakhstan won the gold, with Japan and South Korea winning silver and bronze, respectively.

South Korea, ranked No. 23, has now beaten the 21st-ranked Japan in three straight games, after suffering 19 losses and one tie in 20 previous meetings.

South Korea began the Asian Games here with a 4-0 loss to Kazakhstan Wednesday, a game that was even more lopsided than the score indicates. And the one that beat Japan seemed to be an entirely different team, as it played with far more oomph and chutzpah.

South Korea opened the scoring at 9:33 in the first, with Seo jumping in on an odd-man rush and beating goalie Yutaka Fukufuji with a slap shot from the right slot.

After a nifty outlet pass, Shin Hyung-yun sprinted up the middle and found defenseman Seo Yeong-jun charging down the right wing. Seo then sent a rising shot that zipped past Fukufuji over his right shoulder.

South Korea spent the majority of the first period in the Japanese zone, as the forwards frequently outmuscled the opposing defenders on forechecks and stripped them of the puck when Japan tried to mount counterattacks.

Japan came out in the second period with a little more juice, but South Korea quickly regained control. Japanese players then started taking some dumb penalties — four alone in the second period — and forward Michael Swift made them play with a power-play goal at 9:49.

With one second left in the second power play of the period, Swift beat Fukufuji with a wrister from the left wing. The forward appeared to have no angle, but somehow squeezed one past the Japanese goalie on the stick side.

South Korea went up 3-0 at 12:04 in the third, as forward Kim Won-jung, all alone at the top of the crease, deflected a point shot by defenseman Kim Won-jun.

Japan, after peppering shots at Dalton for the better part of the final period, finally solved the goalie at 15:53, with Hiroki Ueno banging home a rebound from the point-blank range.

South Korea killed a late penalty, and after Japan pulled Fukufuji for an extra attacker, Park Woo-sang scored one into the empty net to seal the deal.

South Korea was missing No. 1 line forward Michael Testwuide, who hurt his left shoulder in a collision with Kazakhstan goalie Vitaliy Kolesnik on Wednesday. Testwuide has been ruled out of the Asian Games.

Ed Willes on Barry Beck and building hockey in Hong Kong: ‘I went to Templeton high school and I never thought of Asia’

By Ed Willes – The Province

Stan Smyl arrived before the appointed hour and was taking in the sights and sounds in Kowloon when he saw his old friend wading through the crowd.

He was older, to be sure, but the frame, the presence, were unmistakable. The setting? That was a little different, but the man Smyl had known for over 40 years had always wanted to find his place in the game.

He just found it in another world. Literally.

“It was Bubba,” said Smyl, the Canucks’ director of player development.

And Barry Beck was home.

Beck, the legendary defenceman of a bygone era in the NHL, has spent the last decade in Hong Kong, where he’s become the driving force behind the Hong Kong Academy of Ice Hockey and, by extension, the nascent hockey program in the Chinese territory. Starting with 10 registered players in the metropolis of seven million, the academy has grown to more than 500 players with age-group programs ranging from five- and six-year-olds to high school teams and, ta-da, the Hong Kong national team that competes in Division III at the IIHF world championship.

Beck has since stepped down as the national team head coach, but last spring he took them to the world championship in, of course, Istanbul, where they finished fifth in their six-team pool, largely because Georgia was disqualified for an eligibility transgression.

He’s also retired from the full-contact men’s league — please consider the image of the former blue-line terror playing in a Hong Kong recreation league — because a) his body couldn’t take the grind, b) he has five stints in his heart and c) he was suspended “a couple of times.”

My office told me maybe it was time to quit,” Beck says in a phone conversation from Hong Kong. “I think they were doing me a favour.”

He continues.

“I went through different stages in my life, but to me it was all growing experiences to take me where I am now. It was a different era (in his playing days) and a lot of things were around. But they never altered my decision-making.

“I’m still competitive and I get to coach kids in a competitive environment. I think we’re building something here and I always think of Ernie (McLean, who coached Beck and Smyl on the fabled New Westminster Bruins team of the late ’70s). He did so much for us as players and men, I try to use the same things he taught us.”

Barry Beck, first row, third from left, sits with the Hong Kong men’s national
team at the 2014 IIHF Challenge Cup of Asia in Abu Dhabi, UAE

Beck was brought to Hong Kong 10 years ago through a Vancouver connection with Thomas Wu, a local businessman who was interested in starting the academy. His position has since taken him all over Asia, including the Chinese hockey hot-bed in Harbin, Malaysia, Vietnam, Thailand and Indonesia. He’s also travelled to Russia, the Czech Republic and taken the national team to Luxembourg. This summer he’s taking a group from the academy to Boston University, where they’ll rub elbows with the 40 or so NHLers who train at BU.

“I think about it,” Beck says of his long-strange trip. “Growing up in Vancouver, I mean I’d go to Chinatown, but I went to Templeton high school and I never thought of Asia as a destination.

“To me, this has been more of a spiritual journey.”

Still, that journey has placed Beck at a critical moment in the game’s development in Asia. The Winter Olympics are set for South Korea in 2018, where former NHL defenceman Jim Paek has helped build a competitive program, and Beijing for 2022.

The Canucks and the Los Angeles Kings are scheduled to hold training camps in Beijing this fall and play a couple of exhibition games in Beijing and Shanghai, where the Anschutz Entertainment Group owns the Mercedes-Benz Arena. AEG owns the Kings and Beck has talked to his old Kings teammate Luc Robitaille, now the Kings’ president of business operations, about growing the game in China. The Boston Bruins are also running youth programs in Beijing. The Islanders and their owner, Charles Wang, are involved in Harbin. Then there’s the Canucks’ connection.

“The hockey world is changing,” Beck said.

And he’s changed with it.

If you’re unfamiliar with Beck, the player, think of a cross between Scott Stevens and Brent Burns and you’d be close. In his rookie year with the Colorado Rockies, Beck scored 22 goals. Two years later, he was traded to New York for five players and would be named the Rangers’ captain during the height of their rivalry with the Isles

Sadly, Beck could never stay healthy enough to fulfil his limitless promise. The temptations of Manhattan also distracted him from his purpose and the hockey world never really saw the best of Beck.

“When he was traded to the Rangers I thought, ‘Oh, oh,’ ” Smyl said, before adding. “I know everyone goes through hard times and goes through different phases in their lives, but I’m so happy he’s found himself. He absolutely loves it there. He’s at peace with everything and he’s making a difference. He’s always been a friend.”

And always will be, even if he’s a world away.

For naturalized Dalton, the puck stops in South Korea

By Associated Press

Growing up in rural southern Ontario, Matt Dalton never figured that his career path in professional hockey would take him to South Korea.

Dalton, along with a handful of other North American players, has acquired South Korean citizenship and is a key member of the men’s national ice hockey team as it prepares to take on the world’s best as host of the 2018 Winter Olympics.

“The possibility of getting citizenship intrigued me,” said the 30-year-old goaltender who is in Sapporo representing South Korea at the Asian Winter Games.

“Also, the job stability,” added Dalton, who played briefly in the Boston Bruins organization. “When you are playing overseas it’s kinda one year at a time. You can get bounced around pretty quick.”

Dalton was playing in Russia in the KHL before getting invited to play for South Korean team Anyang Halla in the Asia Ice Hockey League. The paycheck took him to South Korea. The lure of the Olympics is keeping him there.

The South Korean team has never qualified for the Olympics and is hoping to avoid an embarrassing drubbing on international ice hockey’s biggest stage.

The Korean Olympic Committee asked the justice ministry to fast-track the naturalization of the import players and they were approved in accordance with a revised immigration law that allows qualified foreign nationals to hold multiple citizenships.

Dalton said being able to maintain his Canadian citizenship made the decision a lot easier.

In the 12-nation men’s tournament in Pyeongchang, South Korea has been placed in Group A with top-ranked Canada, the Czech Republic and Switzerland, ranked sixth and seventh respectively.

With or without NHL players – the league is still undecided on whether it will take part – that’s a tough group for the hosts.

“Hockey-wise, we are in pretty deep with the competition,” Dalton said. “There are big challenges no doubt. But we are working hard and trying to get better so, hopefully, we can have a good showing for South Korea.”

Former NHL defenseman Jim Paek was hired to coach the team.

Paek, the first Korean-born hockey player to play in the NHL, won two Stanley Cups with the Pittsburgh Penguins in 1991 and 1992.

His team, 23rd in the International Ice Hockey Federation’s rankings, lost their opening game of the Asian Winter Games 4-0 on Wednesday to Kazakhstan, which is No. 16 in the world rankings.

“They are a good team,” Paek said of the Kazakhs. “We had some good chances but we couldn’t capitalize.”

Paek said getting in games against high-level competition is one of the toughest things about preparing his Olympic squad.

“The lack of game experience at a high-level is our biggest challenge,” Paek said. “In order for us to compete with top-nation teams we need to play them. Hockey is a small world where they have their small group of friends and it’s tough to get in and play any games. So we have to do the best we can and move forward.”

At the IIHF’s second-tier tournament in 2014, South Korea went 0-5 on home ice, was outscored by 30-12, a result that saw the team relegated to world hockey’s third tier for 2015.

South Korea has three clubs in the Asian League Ice Hockey, the only professional league in the region. Those clubs provide most of the national team’s roster.

While some would argue the import players are merely hired guns, Paek had a different take.

“Adding the import players has really helped grow and develop our (Korean) players,” Paek said. “I count on the kids that have been developed in Korea a great deal now.”

For now, Dalton and his fellow transplanted teammates will continue to work on their game and adjust to a new culture.

Having Paek as the coach has made the transition much easier.

“The cultures are so different that things don’t always mesh” Dalton said. “So it’s nice to have that buffer there and know he’s got your back.”

Philippines Win First Official Game, Thailand in Good Standing

By Steven Ellis –

Division I All But Decided

Thanks to a 3-2 overtime victory over the pre-tournament favourites from Chinese Taipei, Thailand just need to tackle Singapore on Saturday to secure the tournament title for Division I at the Asian Winter Games.

Chinese Taipei took the early lead thanks to a goal seven minutes in by To Weng, a lead that would stand for almost the entire game. When teammate Chang-Hsing Yang made it 2-0 with 11 minutes left in the contest, it really looked like Taipei was in a great position to take the tournament lead heading into the final game later in the week.

But Swedish-born and trained defenseman Ken Kindborn was the man of the hour for Thailand, scoring the first goal and the eventual deciding marker before a minute was even complete in the extra frame. Kindborn is second in team scoring and fourth overall with eight points, and with one game to go, he’s been a major player for the team currently in the catbird seat.

Thailand just needs to beat Singapore on Saturday to grab the gold medal, which shouldn’t be a tough task. After four games, Singapore has scored just four goals and have allowed 42 to sit last place in Division I.

Third Place Heating Up

The battle for third also played a big role on Thursday, with the United Arab Emirates (11-2 over Singapore) and Mongolia (8-6 versus Hong Kong) both taking victories. The wins put them tied for third place with six points each, but the Emirates hold the tiebreaker, if needed, thanks to a 6-3 victory earlier in the tournament.

Mongolia will be in tough on Saturday, having to face Chinese Taipei, who of course still have a chance to win the gold medal. The Emirates will have it easier due to Hong Kong’s weaker place in the standings, but a win could boost them up to second if Mongolia loses as well.

History in Division II

A massive 14-2 victory over Qatar helped make hockey history as the Philippines managed to secure their first official victory.

Lenard Lancero posted three goals in the victory, with all three of the markers coming in the third period. Paul Sanchez was red hot as well, putting up seven points, including two goals as the biggest performer for Philippines. Adbdulla Mohammed scored both goals for Qatar.

The other game on Thursday saw Macau take down Indonesia 6-2 in what was Indonesia’s best game of the two they’ve played. Kim Hei Mok led the way with three points for Macau, while Ka Yu Jonay Leung scored twice for his nation. Indonesia’s goals came from Roy Nugraha and Ronald Chandra.

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