Month: April 2017 (Page 1 of 4)

GB storms past Japan, returns to Division 1A

By Andy Potts –

In an arena overlooking the shipyard that built the Titanic, Great Britain ensured that its World Championship heartache would go on no longer. A crushing 4-0 victory over Japan earned gold for the host nation and secured promotion to Division IA after four seasons.

For many of the players it was a case of third time lucky. In Eindhoven in 2015, and again in Zagreb 12 months ago, Britain had been within minutes of promotion only to fall at the final hurdle. This time, there was no mistake.

Aided by a couple of early GB penalties, Japan took the early initiative and home hearts were in mouths as a shot dinged off Ben Bowns’ post. But the Japanese suffered a big blow midway through the opening stanza when Hiroki Ueno limped out of the game after taking a hit in front of the benches. Ueno, part of Japan’s free-scoring first line, was replaced by Masahito Nishiwaki, but some of the chemistry that had powered the team’s speedy offence was diluted and Britain began to take control of the game.

The breakthrough came late in the first period as Japan ran into penalty trouble of its own. GB earned a 5-on-3 advantage and Robert Dowd cashed in with the opening goal. Ben O’Connor saw a slap shot come back to him and passed to Robert Farmer on the goal line. Farmer then picked out Dowd in front of the net and the Sheffield Steeler sent the crowd into raptures with his fourth goal of the tournament.

And Dowd was involved again as the host nation doubled its lead on another power play in the 25th minute. His shot from the top of the circle took a touch from Brendan Brooks and went through the five-hole.

Japan thought it had a lifeline in the 28th minute when Kenta Takagi put the puck in the net, only for the on-ice officials to call no goal because the net was off its moorings. After a long look at the video, that verdict was upheld, much to Takagi’s disgust.

Seconds later, Japan trailed by three. Colin Shields, one of the heroes of the tournament for GB, fired in a shot from the point and Matt Myers threw up a huge screen to redirect the puck beyond Fukufuji. The Belfast crowd, which included Rod Stewart, in town to watch his son Liam, went wild.

Then Myers grabbed his second of the night, finishing off an odd-man rush after a superb David Phillips pass sent Evan Mosey off to the races. With a 4-0 lead, the home crowd started the party 20 minutes ahead of schedule.

That confidence was justified. Japan struggled to get its pacey offence into the game, managing just 10 shots on goal through 40 minutes, an astonishing turnaround from the devastating attacking play Takahito Suzuki’s team had produced in its first four games. The loss of Ueno clearly hurt the Japanese, but the home defence deserves credit for the way it denied the opposition the chance to turn over the puck as freely as it had in previous games.

Aside from a spell early in the third period, Britain kept Japan at arm’s length, and when called upon Bowns was alert between the piping to deny Makuru Furuhashi on a power play chance or kick away a dangerous effort from Takagi. The Cardiff Devils goalie made 20 saves for a well-deserved shut-out as Belfast got ready for a party that will run right through the holiday weekend.

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.

Mr Taxi Cup Standings

Korea promoted!

By Martin Merk –

It will be the first time in history that the host of the 2018 Olympics will play in the top division of the IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship next year in Copenhagen and Herning, Denmark, where they will be joined by tournament winner Austria.

“The first and second periods were a little tough but we did our best and skated hard so we could get out with a good result. Now we will be focusing on the top division and will do our best to stay there,” Sanghoon Shin said.

It will be the first time for an Asian team to play in the top division since Japan between 1998 and 2004 when the Asian qualifier had a spot. Korea overtook Japan as the top-ranked Asian nation for the first time in 2016.

Korea finishes the 2017 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship Division I Group A in second and the World Championship program this year in 18th place overall. The previous best placing was 21st in 2013 and 2016.

“It was a very exciting game until the last shot. The Ukrainian players played extremely hard, they blocked shots, they’re physical, they have individual skill. Their goalie was outstanding all tournament. They took us all the way to the shootout,” Korea head coach Jim Paek said.

“It’s very important for us [to be promoted]. We get to play against top-division teams and get this experience. For many years we haven’t been able to play against such countries so it’s important to get this experience.”

Kazakhstan finishes the tournament in third place ahead of Poland, Hungary and Ukraine. The host earned its first and only point tonight but will be relegated.

“You want to come in and win every game. We played five games. We started the tournament 3-0; then Austria set us back. It was pretty tough today. Ukraine is a top team. They’re good to play against. We knew [if] we win we’re going up so that was in the back of the mind all game. It put a lot more pressure on the guys but we came through. It was a nail-biter but it was fun for the fans,” said Michael Swift, who was credited with the game-winning goal after opening the shootout with a marker.

“The next 12 months that are coming up will be something very special for Korean ice hockey. They’ve never been to the top [division]. We’re there now and we want to stay there. We’ve got a lot of work to do.”

Korea out shot Ukraine 36-23 during the 65 minutes of play but did too little with its opportunities.

Korea had more opportunities in a scoreless first period also during two power plays and eventually opened the scoring at 4:59 of the middle frame.

Shangwoo Shin got the time and space to patiently wait on the right side of the Ukrainian net before sending a pass to Jin Hui Ahn to the left, who gave Korean the lead. However, Ukraine stepped up in the period and was rewarded.

Sergi Babynets took Korea goalie Matt Dalton the puck away behind the net, skated back and put the puck in to tie the game.

“Our team was doing the best, sometimes even more than they could. There’s of course always the desire to do something magic but it’s not always possible,” Ukraine head coach Olexander Savitsky said after the game. “We have youngsters with good potential and hopefully in the next championship they will be good.”

There were several hot moments in the third period like when defenceman Vsevolod Tolstushko saved a Korean shot with his skate and on the other side a Ukrainian shot missed the net me millimeters.

For the last 29 seconds of regulation time and 71 seconds of the overtime period the Koreans played with a man advantage but Eduard Zakharchenko in the Ukrainian net had a strong night. Korea out shot Ukraine 8-0 in the 3-on-3 overtime. They managed to skate close to the Ukrainian net to shoot several times but missed out from great positions.

However, in the shootout the Koreans were eventually more efficient while Dalton made two great saves to lead Korea to the top division.


Round 1: Micheal Swift (KOR) 1-0, Nikita Butsenko (UKR) save.

Round 2: Minho Cho (KOR) missed, Vitali Lyalka (UKR) save.

Round 3: Sanghoon Shin (KOR) 2-0.

Austria returns to Worlds

By Martin Merk –

Brian Lebler scored a hat trick, Konstantin Komarek and Lukas Haudum each had two goals and an assist.

With the result Austria is not only promoted but also the tournament winner.  The only open question is which will be the second team and follow the Austrians to the elite level. Korea can do it by beating Ukraine in its last game. If they lose, Kazakhstan will take the second place instead.

“I thought it was a really good game tonight. We started off the game very well. We got a 3-0 lead after the first period. In the end of the night it was a little high. We are happy. We take it as it is and are happy to move to the top division,” Austrian captain Thomas Raffl said.

“It feels nice. We’ve been working hard the last five days. It was different and hard games for us. We struggled too, especially at the start of the tournament. We showed that we have a mentally strong team. We got better every game.”

Austria knew it would be promoted with a regulation-time win while Poland entered the day with small hopes for promotion and these were more or less destroyed with Kazakhstan’s win against Hungary. And if not the by that, then by a strong start of the Austrians, who went up 3-0 after just ten minutes of play.

Martin Ulmer opened the scoring after just 104 seconds. Then Brian Lebler converted a centring pass from Konstantin Komarek at 7:01.

At 10:02 Fabio Hofer made it 3-0 with his second goal of the tournament. Raffl shot from the right side and although Hofer fell down between three opponents, he managed to shovel the puck over the line.

“Of course it helped us to score two quick goals early in the game, our self-confidence grew and we played a great game until the end. We didn’t think about the score or whether it’s a record, we were just thinking about the game and the tournament,” Austria head coach Roger Bader said.

The Poles entered the second period with Rafal Radziszewski in the net replacing number-one goalie Przemyslaw Odrobny but still without success in the offensive zone despite becoming more initiative.

Midway the second period the Austrians extended the lead. Raffl shot at 8:36 and was lucky that the puck was deflected by a Polish stick to find its way into the net. Just half a minute later Lukas Haudum shot for the 5-0 goal, also that one went behind Radziszewski deflected. And at 15:39 Komarek deflected the puck into the net after a pass to the crease from Fabio Hofer to extend the lead to 6-0.

“We lost 11-0, it’s hard to find words. We were not good from the beginning and after they scored the first goals it was really hard,” said Poland head coach Jacek Plachta. “It’s not so easy when you go down 3-0, we started the second period pretty well and had chances but we didn’t score and then the puck went in on the other side. In all I think we played a good tournament.”

Poland’s biggest chance came with 36 seconds left in the period when Damian Kapica was hooked by Heinrich during a breakaway and got a penalty shot but he lost the puck in front of Bernhard Starkbaum, who again had a strong night and earned his shutout with 26 saves. Instead of the Poles, it was Komarek who scored his second goal of the day on the other side nine seconds before the intermission on a rebound.

Steven Strong added another marker in the third period with a shot from the left face-off dot through Radziszewski’s five-hole. Haudum deflecting a long pass toward the goal from Heinrich and Lebler added two more goals in the end for the final score of 11-0.

For Austria it was an important win after a bad year 2016. For the first time since 1991 did the Austrians not earn promotion when playing at Division I level after having gone up in 1992, 1997, 2006, 2008, 2012 and 2014. That was in spring at the Division I Group A in Katowice. A few months later Austria underperformed at the Final Olympic Qualification in Riga and missed a spot at the 2018 Olympic Winter Games.

The results also led to changes in the coaching position. Roger Bader took over in November and ended his first IIHF tournament as Austria’s men’s national team head coach with gold.

Ukraine hopes to build legacy

By Martin Merk –

One year ago Japan was relegated from the Division I Group A with zero points and a 7-26 goal record in five games. Ukraine may do slightly better this year but after starting with four losses the home team won’t be able to improve from sixth place and will have to go back to the Division I Group B.

This is certainly not what the hosts were hoping for on their home ice in Kyiv but it mirrors the difficult situation for the country and in general since violent acts in Crimea and Eastern Ukraine destabilized the country and its economy.

Its big neighbour Russia also has a big influence in hockey. Until 2014 relations were better and Donbass Donetsk played in the Russian-based Kontinental Hockey League. The KHL as the best league in Eastern Europe has always attracted the best Ukrainian players with good salaries and little language barriers and having a KHL team in the country was a good thing for them.

Since separatists took control of areas in Eastern Ukraine and destroyed the ice rink in Donetsk owned by a pro-Ukrainian businessman, little fittingly for these days called Palace of Sports Druzhba (Friendship), the KHL team ceased to exist and after a one-year break HC Donbass relaunched its operation in the government-controlled part of the Donbass region in Druzhkivka and won the last two Ukrainian championships.

For top players that meant moving to other teams namely in the KHL. This caused the next problem for Ukraine. The Soviet-born Ukrainian players can have citizenship in Russia too by law and thus want to play as Russians in the KHL rather than being part of the import contingent. But by the rules in the KHL, Russians with another citizenship only count as Russians if they don’t play for a national team from another nation.

This rule had a massive impact on this year’s roster. Goaltender Sergi Gaiduchenko and forwards Olexander Materukhin, Pavlo Padakin, Olexi Ponikarovsky, and one tier below the KHL Yevgen Belukhin are some of the country’s top player that were missing due to this rule.

But that’s not all. Andri Mikhnov, who had 85 scoring points in the Belarusian league this season, couldn’t come due to injury, same for Oleg Shafarenko, one of the top centremen of the country, and defenceman Denys Petrukhno. One of the country’s top prospects, Igor Merezhko, went the other direction than other Ukrainian players abroad and is busy in the playoffs of the Western Hockey League with the Lethbridge Hurricanes.

That leaves Ukraine with a roster exclusively from the domestic UHL, mainly from two clubs, HC Donbass and HK Kremenchuk. But playing internationally against teams like Kazakhstan and Korea is hockey at a very different level.

“We don’t have enough good players for the national team but those players we have, we have to use,” Ukrainian assistant coach Pavlo Mikhonik explained the situation. “With a bit more luck at the tournament we could have scored more goals and maybe even victories but we didn’t have it.”

Ukraine didn’t look out of place. All games were lost by one or two goals. Its scoring efficiency wasn’t good, only Poland had more trouble converting chances. Only one of 20 power plays ended with a goal for the Ukrainians while the penalty kill was statistically the worst of the tournament as well.

“All opponents were difficult for us and the players gave it all, we can’t criticize them,” Mikhonik said. “The players don’t need any extra motivation. They play in their own country, for their fans.”

But Ukrainian hockey can also draw positives from this tournament. Many players from the Ukrainian team are able to compete. Some may be able to play at a higher level elsewhere.

And the Palace of Sports, the country’s most important and storied indoor sporting venue in the centre of its capital, got back ice hockey at the site where many IIHF events took place in the past and where now-defunct Sokil Kyiv was once playing for medals in the Soviet championship.

The arena was full for most of Ukraine’s game and had descent attendance for other games thanks to locals who show genuine interest in hockey and fans from other countries who travelled to Ukraine to loudly support their team and create a hockey party at the arena and around it with a fan zone and music on the stage.

Playing in the heart of Kyiv is important since there’s no club team in the city (but around it) anymore. Now the Ice Hockey Federation of Ukraine (FHU) plans to expand to a new city, Odessa at the Black Sea. The All-Star Game of the newly created women’s league was the first national ice hockey event at the city that gained in importance for domestic tourism after Russia’s annexation of Crimea. Now the federation applied to host the 2018 IIHF Ice Hockey U18 World Championship Division I Group B there in competition with bids from Austria, Hungary and Italy.

The support was not only heard at the arena. Ukrainian politicians and athletes took the opportunity to watch the games at the Palace of Sports as hockey was back in downtown Kyiv. And the TV ratings were great including 13 million watching the 1-0 loss against Austria, about one third of the population.

These are all encouraging signs that will hopefully help make hockey bigger in the country that played in the top division between 1999 and 2007.

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.

Kuwait Wins DI Challenge Cup of Asia After 13-0 Win

By Steve Ellis –

Kuwait easily won the gold medal at the 2017 Division I Challenge Cup of Asia event, beating Oman 13-0 in the final game.

It was an easy game from start to finish, with Kuwait taking a 5-0 lead after 20 minutes of play. Ahmad Al Ajmi scored three of his five goals in the opening frame, eventually earning the top player award for the game. Al Ajmi was also named tournament MVP thanks to posting 11 goals and 17 points in just three games for Kuwait.

Abdulaziz Sheftail was also on top of his game, scoring twice and adding four assists to finish with six points on the night.

Jasem Al Sarraf stopped all 16 shots he faced, resulting in a perfect 2-0 record with no goals allowed on 24 shots overall.

Kuwait was able to secure their second gold medal at the Division I tournament, with the team beating Singapore to win gold back in 2015. India managed to come second place while Oman finished third and Macau came last with zero points.


منتخب الكويت لهوكي الجليد يحرز كأس اسيا ٢٠١٧???? Kuwait national ice hockey team ????

A post shared by نادي الألعاب الشتوية الكويتي (@kuwait_wgc) on

Lithuania goalie leads new generation

By Andy Potts –

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.

Tower in Korea’s defence

Mr. Lee Yang-goo (left), Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the Republic of Korea in Ukraine, and Alex Plante, who was named Best Player of the Korean national team in the game against Kazakhstan

By Martin Merk

In 2007 Edmonton drafted Alex Plante in the first round, so playing international hockey isn’t a surprise. Just that his debut came 10 years later – with Korea.

The two-metre (6′7″) defenceman is not your typical Asia League player. Korea’s answer to Zdeno Chara stands out in size and he’s one of few players in league history with NHL experience even though he didn’t have his breakthrough in the NHL playing 10 games for the Edmonton Oilers in his four years in the organization.

After not getting the chance in the big league, he took in 2013 the path his father Cam had taken about 30 years earlier and moved from the AHL to Austria. After one season with Dornbirner EC he moved to Norway where he played one season with his brother, goalie Tyler Plante, for Lorenskog. Then he suddenly landed at Anyang Halla, Korea’s top club team in the Asia League, where he completed his second season and won the title earlier this month.

“I just signed a two-year deal with Anyang Halla. We’ve had a couple of good years there, we won the [Asia League] championship, the organization has been great, we absolutely love it,” Plante said about his experience.

Korea has made a name for itself in recent years for naturalizing players from its Asia League clubs and Plante is the newest addition. He missed the 2017 Asian Winter Games but got Korean citizenship one month ago and fulfilled the eligibility criteria after two seasons in Korea.

With goaltender Matt Dalton – arguably the most important addition last year – defencemen Plante, Eric Regan and Bryan Young as well as forward Michael Swift the Koreans have five Canada-born players on the roster. And that line-up doesn’t include forwards Brock Radunske and American-born Mike Testwuide, who missed out on the tournament this year due to injury. Add to that NHL experience behind the bench with Jim Paek and Richard Park, who were born in Korea but grew up and played in the United States and one can easily see that the ambitions are high one year before Korea hosts the 2018 Olympic Winter Games.

Since 2015 Plante lives in Anyang, a satellite city of Seoul. “It took time to adjust but we have nothing than good things to say, we feel safe. We have a nice little community and fan base and the club itself treats us very well. There was a little risk since we had no idea where we’re getting ourselves into but it definitely paid off,” Plante said about his decision. “The language itself has been a challenge, maybe some words I learned on the road. Basic words and locker room banter so far. The longer we’re there, the more we pick up.”

One word he learned is chamchi gimbap, which he calls his favourite Korean food. “It’s a little roll that has tuna, and, I can’t name all the stuff that’s inside, it looks like a reversed sushi. It’s traditional snack food in Korea but I can’t get enough of it,” he said.

Knowing about the Koreans’ desire to have him join the national team, he already played exhibition games with them before actually getting his passport.

“I’ve done it all year now with the Euro Ice Hockey Challenge and stuff like that. I look at this like I’m thankful to have this opportunity. It was a bit different in the beginning but I’ve been in Korea for two years, it’s been a great family for myself, my kids and my wife,” he said.

“Alex Plante has been a good addition to us,” said head coach Paek. “He has a big body and a lot of game experience, international and North American experience. That’s very good for us. He’s a leader on the team and becoming an important part.”

“The tournament gets harder and harder. Every game is a championship game. Our players work extremely hard. They’re a dream to the coach because they listened to the coach. I have to give all the credit to them. They try to get better all the time,” the coach added.

Korea improved over the last few years. Thanks but not only because of its imports because other players got better too. The first two offensive lines are made of native Koreans including Sanghoon Shin and Kisung Kim, the scoring leader and the top goal scorer of the Asia League playoffs respectively.

Although the team just ended up in fifth place in last year’s IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship Division I Group A in Katowice with tight standings, it was in contention for promotion until the very last day when losing the spot in the top division to Italy after a 2-1 loss against the Azzurri.

This year the team started well with two wins including the first-ever victory of Korea against Kazakhstan.

“It’s my first Worlds, I didn’t know that we wrote history. I’m just happy to be part of it. We just keep finding ways to get the bounces and to get them in. We’re going to enjoy this for a couple of minutes and then get ready for the next one. It’s a short tournament and we have to move on,” he said after scoring two goals in the victory against Kazakhstan.

“There’s no secret to success. We got systems in place we try to stick to as much as we can. It’s hard work and determination and the bounces went our way. We have a great goaltender, we definitely cannot forget about him, he gave us more than enough opportunities to get a win in both of these games. He’s been a huge piece for us and I hope we can help him out a little bit more.”

The word promotion wasn’t heard that often but the slogan hanging in front of the locker room is “Make Korea proud”.

“We came with the expectation to compete every night and let the results take care for themselves. The nation continues to get better. We’re getting more consistent, have more depth. It’s all new for me so I’m just here to enjoy and help as much as I can. Our goal as a country is to get better and better,” he said. “Ideally of course everybody would love to go up but we’re focusing period by period.”

The next period comes soon. After beating one of the two teams that came down from the top division, they will play the next one today, Hungary, at 17:00 local time (16:00 in Hungary, 23:00 in Korea).

The current road clearly goes to PyeongChang 2018 where Korea wants to be competitive against nations that are even higher ranked than the ones here. They’re seeded in a group with defending champion Canada, the Czech Republic and Switzerland.

“It’s our big goal but we’re looking now where we are at. It’s in the back of our mind. This tournament here is a step to competing at the Olympics,” he said.

And if Korea continues to play well here in Kyiv, they may play at the top level next year not only as the host at the Olympics but also as one of the teams promoted to the 2018 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship in Denmark.

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