Month: September 2017 (Page 1 of 2)

Morocco dominates at the Development Cup

By National Teams of Ice Hockey

The Moroccan national hockey team was on the ice against the national team of Andorra in the first game of two today at 2017 Development Cup.  

The Moroccan team won 9-3 to qualify for the finals tomorrow. 

The Moroccan national team held its second game of the day against the Portuguese team.
The game was dominated by Morocco who scored 7 consecutive goals before Portugal scored there first goal of the game. The Moroccan team followed by scoring 4 more goals and the match ended
11-2 for Morocco and ended a perfect round robin portion of the tournament by going 3-0.

Morocco will play in the Gold medal game tomorrow against Ireland who also won both games today against Andorra and Portugal. 

The Bronze Medal game will pit Portugal against Andorra, Portugal won the first encounter against the hosts 3-2 in a dramatic shootout.


The Fighting Irish

Aaron Guli, Paul Cummins and Damien Roche defend against Morocco’s Redouan Bouhdid in front of Irish goalie Chris Devine

By Martin Merk –

Ireland had a short history of World Championship play at the lower levels between 2004 and 2013. While the shutdown of the Republic of Ireland’s last rink caused a meltdown for Irish ice hockey, enthusiasts fight to keep the Irish ice hockey family alive. 

“A few years after the closing of the rink nothing was really happening. Since the current executive board took over four-and-a-half years ago we started building up with youth hockey. The last two years we have been successful with senior hockey too,” said Aaron Guli, the President of the Irish Ice Hockey Association, who also serves as both player (although a soon-to-be-retired one as he added) and team manager for the men’s national team that currently plays at the 2017 Development Cup, an initiative of smaller IIHF members that established a tournament among themselves. 

“The level starts to pick up. We started with four teams, now we have 11 teams in the Cross-Border Cup,” he said. In that competition seven teams play from the Republic of Ireland and four from Northern Ireland (UK) with all games being played in the Belfast area in Northern Ireland. 

In Andorra the men’s national team plays for international honours for the first time in four years. While the other countries come from warmer places, Ireland geographically doesn’t exactly look like an exotic place for ice sports. The capital of Dublin is at a similar latitude like hockey places such as Astana, Berlin, Edmonton, Minsk, Saskatoon, Sheffield or Ufa. And then there were players of Irish heritage in the NHL. And in the state of Indiana, USA, the University of Notre Dame’s sports teams are nicknamed the “Fighting Irish”, including their NCAA ice hockey team. 

However, opposed to all these places the Republic of Ireland just has lacked an ice rink for the past seven years. And that’s obviously a major problem to keep the sport striving. 

“Mismanagement with too many owners led to the closure in 2010. The arena is not used anymore but the boards and the Zamboni are still there. There’s a business plan ready to meet for a possible re-opening,” he said about the former ice rink in Dunedin. 

The first games in Ireland were played in the ‘80s and the Irish Ice Hockey Association joined the IIHF in 1996. The country got a permanent full-size rink in 2006 with the Dundalk Ice Dome that also hosted the 2007 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship Division III. A sell-out crowd of 1,522 saw how Ireland beat Luxemburg 4-3 in shootout to earn promotion to the Division II level for one year. In 2010 the Irish earned promotion again a few weeks before the rink halfway between the country’s capital of Dublin and the Northern Irish capital of Belfast shut its doors. 

The national team couldn’t keep momentum and hasn’t played in the World Championship program since 2013. Once there were 1,100 players in the Republic of Ireland. Without an ice rink many quit the sport or turned to inline hockey. According to Guli 400 players are still active and play ice hockey in exile in the Belfast area. Belfast is a little less than two hours away by car from the Irish capital of Dublin and about one hour from the former hockey town of Dundalk. 

“We started a recreational league, now the national team players get 15 games a season,” Guli said. 

Most players come from the Republic of Ireland while goaltender Chris Devine is from Northern Ireland, Ian Courtney plays in London, England, 2000-born Thomas Carpenter for Swiss fourth-tier team HC Chateau d’Oex and Declan Weir for German minor-league team EA Schongau. Two players (Paul Cummins, Niall McEvoy) played for the senior national team in IIHF play and Vytautas Lukosevicius, who emigrated to Ireland in 2007, represented his native country Lithuania at Division I level until 2004. 

To get back to former heights, the IIHA is not only in discussion with the Dundalk ice rink owners but also for a new rink in the country’s capital. 

“We are talking with potential investors for a rink in Dublin. We met with them and with Sport Ireland. The investors are looking for 2,500 seats to put in a professional team,” Guli said. Professional team, that would ideally mean one playing in the top British contest, the Elite Ice Hockey League. And a possible derby with the Northern Irish neighbours. “The Belfast Giants would love it!” Guli said. 

Until then the Irish try to grow the program with playing in exile. 

“We keep the kids going so that there’s a clear pathway now. That’s why we pushed with the Development Cup that we have a senior national team going for them to look up to,” Guli said. 

The Irish had a rough start against Morocco, 10-2, but then beat both Portugal (9-4) and Andorra (5-3) on Saturday to set up a final against Morocco. The level was quite different. As Guli said, the game against Morocco was the first one with body-checking for some of the players in several years. 

“We battled hard. Unfortunately we were on the wrong side of the score line. All three lines gave it a 110 per cent. I couldn’t ask for more,” Nigel Smeaton, the Cyprus-born Irish head coach who currently lives and plays in Dubai, said after the game. 

For Smeaton development is the key. “We have young players. This squad will eventually feed the senior World Championship squad in the future,” Smeaton said. 

After the two wins against the southern European competitors, the Irish hope for revenge on Sunday in the final against Morocco. Portugal and Andorra will play for third place. 

Olympics could be hot topic in next round of NHL CBA talks

The Associated Press

Going to the Olympics was a life-changing experience for T.J. Oshie, a shootout star for the United States against Russia in Sochi.

Oshie and dozens, if not hundreds, of NHL stars are disappointed they won’t get a chance to do it again at the 2018 Winter Olympics in South Korea. He would like to ensure Olympic participation in the future – but not at any cost.

”To what end, like what we would have to give up?” Oshie said. ”Now you’re talking about an entire league of players and families potentially losing out on whatever it would be. … What we’d be giving up would affect everybody. It’s a tough talk.”

Because Olympic participation wasn’t written into the collective bargaining agreement signed in 2013, the decision rested with NHL owners, who decided against going to Pyeongchang after the league participated in the previous five Games. With the first chance for players or owners to opt out of the CBA now two years away, the Olympics, escrow payments and the draft age look like they are bound to be among the hot topics.

NHL Players’ Association executive director Donald Fehr said owners choosing to skip the 2018 Olympics ”is a thorn, is a sore” for players and is ”not going to be forgotten.”

”I think it is clearly something the players are going to want to think long and hard about when they get to the point of formulating their positions,” Fehr said. ”I would not be at all surprised if they wanted to make this an issue around which they felt very strongly in terms of the overall agreement because you have to remember that while it’s true that roughly a fifth of the players play in any particular set of Games, everyone would like the opportunity to go.”

Dallas Stars center Tyler Seguin said not going to the Olympics ”kind of makes you angry.” Seguin added: ”We’re going to have to figure something out for future players and for our future in general as a game.”

The future of the game likely will involve increased international events that help grow revenue and spread hockey’s influence around the world. The Los Angeles Kings and Vancouver Canucks recently played in Shanghai and Beijing, site of the 2022 Olympics, with the NHL attempting to make inroads in China.

The NHL and NHLPA staged the return of the World Cup of Hockey last year in Toronto, and the Colorado Avalanche and Ottawa Senators will play two games in Sweden in November.

Fehr said the NHL has ”for some time now indicated a lot more interest in China” than in Korea. But Commissioner Gary Bettman said in several meetings with Chinese businesses and government entities ”not one of them asked about the Olympics because what we’re doing isn’t about two weeks.”

The NHL is interested in China, and it wouldn’t hurt the players’ Olympic chances if Salt Lake City or Calgary lands the 2026 Winter Games, but the topic of ensuring participation is not an easy one for upcoming negotiations.

”For us to say that there’s a change of heart, there’s obviously going to have to be a change in circumstance, including how the (International Olympic Committee) and the (International Ice Hockey Federation) view our participation,” said Bettman, who noted that neither side is currently focused on reopening CBA talks.

”I have no idea what the Players’ Association will raise in that regard. But we were clear in the last round of bargaining that we needed the ability not to go to the Olympics because we understood how disruptive they are to the season.”

After 147 NHL players participated in Sochi, much of the reaction inside locker rooms to the NHL’s decision on Korea wasn’t positive. At the very least, a handful of players said they’d like to know in advance about the Olympics so it doesn’t come down to the wire like it did last time.

”I think it’s important that we address it so that it’s a done issue, whether it be that we’re not going or we’re going,” Anaheim Ducks center Ryan Getzlaf said. ”I don’t think we want to leave it open to interpretation every year that it goes on.”

One thing that hasn’t been open to interpretation since 2013 is players having some of their pay held in escrow to compensate for the 50/50 split of revenue with owners. Last season, players had 15.5 percent of their pay withheld and many have expressed displeasure with the system.

Fehr said changes could be made to the escrow system, but added that it has always been his view that salary caps ”cause all kinds of problems.” The NHL and NHLPA instituted the salary cap coming out of the 2004-05 lockout that wiped out a season, and Bettman is proud of the competitive balance it has created.

”That’s why we fought so hard and we were committed to getting a system that would enable all of our teams to be competitive,” Bettman said.

Another topic that is likely to spark conversation is raising the draft age from 18 to 19. Former player and current NHLPA special assistant to the executive director Mathieu Schneider said it can be a positive but knows there are challenges to changing it like the NBA did several years ago.

Fehr, who was executive director of the Major League Baseball Players Association from 1985-2009 and has headed the NHLPA for the past seven years, said preparations for the next round of bargaining will ramp up after the executive board meeting next summer. With plenty of conversations left to have, he thinks it’s too early to tell what will be the central issues when push comes to shove.

”You can make guesses, you can sometimes make educated guesses and every so often you’re going to be right,” Fehr said. ”But it’s a chancy prospect.”

Portugal Wins First Ever Ice Hockey Game

By Steve Ellis –

The 2017 Development Cup saw Portugal win their first ever ice hockey game against another international team, beating Andorra in their debut 3-2 on Friday in Andorra.

It was a big game for Portugal, who were trailing 2-1 after two periods of play. Ludovic Blasi Gazeres scored the first ever goal for Andorra in international play, with Christian Moreno Escriva getting credit for the assist.

Andorra would score a second goal on the power play. This time, Louison Courcol would score his first in international play, doubling up their lead at 2-0.

But the game was all Portugal from there on out. In the second  Christopher Leite scored the first goal for Portugal in international play when he scored off of a Kevin Hortinha pass on the power play, cutting Andorra’s lead in half.

Sylvain Rodrigues, a player playing in France, would tie the game up at two apiece in the third, giving Portugal more life. late in the game, Portugal would score another one when Matthew de Melo scored the winning goal on the first penalty shot to take the lead late, giving the visiting squad their first ever victory in an international tournament.

Exotic gathering in Andorra

The Palau de Gel in Andorra will host the inaugural Development Cup with the national teams from Andorra, Ireland, Morocco and Portugal starting on Friday night.

By Martin Merk –

Andorra hasn’t been your usual place for international ice hockey tournaments. But at the 2017 Development Cup you don’t have your usual national teams either as Andorra, Ireland, Morocco and Portugal will play a four-team tournament between what one could call exotic ice hockey countries. 

The teams, and others that discussed a participation, come from countries that are not part of the IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship program. In that program national teams are expected to have a background of competitive ice hockey at home to enable them to play competitive games in their World Championship division. The IIHF Statutes & Bylaws require minimum participation standards in terms of having a big enough pool of players domestically, a development program, a national championship of a certain size and having at least one permanent international-size ice rink in its territory to be able to play the ice hockey according to the official rules. 

One of the initiators is Aaron Guli, the President of the Irish Ice Hockey Association. 

“About two years ago I came up with the concept of doing something for non-competing IIHF countries. I contacted these countries and Morocco was one of the first to get back to me. At the 2016 IIHF Annual Congress in Moscow I met the other countries face to face and Aleix Manosas from Andorra got involved straight away. We were looking originally at a location in Germany and then Aleix said they had an Olympic-size rink and organized for us to use that location,” Guli said about how the vision became reality. 

“We spoke to some other countries but finances played a big part why they couldn’t come. But we have an interest from other countries like Greece, Armenia, Argentina and Brazil.” 

Other smaller European hockey countries with a smaller program that are currently not part of the World Championship program include Bosnia & Herzegovina, FYR Macedonia, Liechtenstein and Moldova. 

Andorra was the natural choice as a host since it’s the only of the four participating countries with an international-size ice rink, the 1,500-seat Palau de Gel with a 60-on-30-metre ice sheet located in Canillo in the north of the small country nestled in the Pyrenees between France and Spain. 

In fact, the Palau de Gel (“Ice Palace” in Catalan) once hosted an IIHF event, the 1997 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship D-Pool. However, Andorra was not a participant and Spain the home team in the event won by Croatia. 

“We were talking with other non-full members of the IIHF at the Congress and the idea of such a tournament was born. I met a lot of hockey lovers and people who wanted to do new things. Two of them were Aaron Guli from Ireland and Adil El Farj from Morocco. In the beginning of 2017 the conversations between Morocco, Ireland and Andorra restarted. The Andorran Ice Sport Federation wants to develop ice hockey and I thought that this could be a good opportunity,” said Aleix Manosas, the President of the country’s only ice hockey club Andorra Hoquei Gel and Vice President of the Andorran Ice Sports Federation. 

“With the help of the federation, the ice rink management and the Town Hall, we had the agreement to host this international tournament for the first time. Andorra is a little but multicultural place. There are a lot of different communities, and the Portuguese are one of the biggest. Andorra has good relations with Portugal and we thought that could be nice to invite them too. Their answer was positive very soon so we were four teams. Once this process has begun, some other countries started to follow us and probably the next Development Cup edition is going to be formed by three or four more nations. 

“Andorra is very proud to host this first ever Development Cup and we are sure that it will help to make grow ice hockey in all the countries participating. For the first time, Andorra has a national team, and the local media has their eyes on us. This last weekend of September is going to be very important for the four countries and we will compete and, for sure, enjoy the Cup.” 

Like the hosts the other nations have small programs, but no full-size ice rink or even no rink at all in their country but hope to raise awareness and experience by participating in the tournament. And they hope to make this premiere an event played and organized annually between national ice hockey associations like other events in the calendar at higher levels such as the Euro Hockey Tour or the Euro Ice Hockey Challenge. 

“To really help kickstart our programs we need an event like this, something for our players, particularly our younger player. Being able via our website and social media to show our national team is playing at an international event gives a large amount of interest in the country and I think it will help our countries and sport authorities to take notice that we will take our sport,” said Guli, who will also put on his skates to represent Ireland. 

On Friday and Saturday the four teams will have a dense schedule with six round-robin games followed by the medal games on Sunday. Playing the event in fewer days than usual in international hockey will save the teams with limited funding some costs. 

According to Guli the teams will try “as best as we possibly can” to stick to IIHF eligibility rules when it comes to players with two citizenship’s but also allow few exceptions since some of the countries have a tough time assembling enough players. 

“For example I have a player born and raised in Lithuania [IIHF linesman Vytautas Lukosevicius] but he officially transferred to Ireland seven years ago and is married to an Irish woman and is in the process of getting the passport. He wouldn’t be eligible yet but we allow a few exceptions of that nature. There may be some foreign-born players at other teams too but once the countries have a rink there will be a stronger base for more players,” Guli explained. 

And who’s the favourite to win the tournament? The teams are cautious on that question. 

“Andorra has a good team and wants to win this Cup. It’s going to be hard, but not impossible. In a few days we will know the final scores,” said Manosas. 

“My personal feeling is that anyone can win. Nobody of us particularly knows the level of the other teams. I think we’ll have a very strong chance, I feel confident about our team but I’ve never seen any of the other teams play,” Guli added. 

The organizers will post live scores and delayed game videos on their Facebook page.

Ice ladies eager to put women hockey on the global map

By Fahd Shefaqa – Kuwait New Agency

Pushing themselves beyond their limits on a hard freezing surface of the skating rink, members of the national women’s ice hockey team have set their minds on honorably representing Kuwait at regional and international  tournaments. 

Marking October 31st on their calenders, Kuwait “ice ladies” who recently formed their team with the support of Kuwait Winter Sport Federation  – – said that they would stop at nothing to attain recognition from the global ice hockey community during their participation in an international tournament in Thailand. 

Bearing witness to the devotion and sacrifice of the Kuwait women ice hockey team, Manger Reham Najaf told KUNA that though the unofficial origins of the team date bake to 2007, they got a strong boost from the federation through the formation of the national squad and unconditional financia support. There are around 56 women athletes registered so far, she said.

Manger Reham Najaf

The upcoming international tournament in Thailand (Land of Smiles 2017) will be the first testing ground for the players who are giving it all during the preparations, said Najaf who indicated that the federation showed keenness to develop the team’s skills via holding training camp in the Czech Republic in preparation for the tournament.

While manger Najaf could speak about the administrative aspects of the game, team captain Rawan Al-Bahhou and her teammates are the ones who will fend off the pucks from getting inside Kuwait goal and they are also the ones responsible for drawing smiles on people faces once they score.  Playing ice hockey is a dream come true and I cannot imagine a better thing to do, said Al-Bahhou enthusiastically. 

Team Captain Rawan Al-Bahhou

The team is ready to take on other squads who are far more experienced and disciplined, she affirmed, adding that the participation in Thailand was not only about winning, but rather making a statement Kuwait women are ready and willing to square off against the best of the best.

Not to be outdone by the captain of the team, teammate Aisha Al-Diweli said that her squad was not less important then the male national team who have performed very well in recent regional tournaments. 

The relative young age of the women’s team, 20 years and below, and the players willingness to compete will have an impact on the future of the Kuwait national women team, said Al-Diweli.

The Team, through “blood and sweat”, will gain respect of their international peers and the upcoming tournament will provide a chance just to do that, she affirmed.

Teammate Aisha Al-Diweli

Canadian hockey teams open Olympic gold medal defences versus Switzerland, Russia


The International Ice Hockey Federation released the ice hockey schedules and matchups Monday for the 2018 Winter Games in Pyeongchang, South Korea — the first Winter Games that will not feature NHL players since 1994.

Canada opens defence of its Olympic men’s hockey gold Feb. 15 versus Switzerland and women’s gold Feb. 11 against Russia.

The International Ice Hockey Federation released the ice hockey schedules and matchups Monday for the Winter Games in Pyeongchang, South Korea.

Canada’s women, who are currently training full-time in Calgary, will try to extend the country’s run of gold to five in a row.

Canada will ice a team of non-NHL players in the men’s tournament for the first time since 1994. The league chose to skip next year’s Games.

The Canadian men take on the Czech Republic on Feb. 17 and conclude the preliminary round in Pool A the following day against host South Korea.

Quarter-final games are Feb. 21 followed by the semifinals Feb. 23. The bronze-medal game is Feb. 24 and the gold-medal game Feb. 25 prior to the closing ceremonies.

Russia, the United States, Slovakia and Slovenia are in Pool B. Sweden, Finland, Norway and Germany make up Pool C.

Canada’s women face Finland on Feb. 13 and the archrival Americans on Feb. 15 in Pool A games.

The quarter-final matches are Feb. 17 followed by the semifinals Feb. 19. The bronze-medal game is Feb. 21 and the championship game is Feb. 22.

Sweden, Switzerland, Japan and host South Korea round out the women’s field.

Games will be played at the Gangneung Hockey Centre, which has a capacity of 10,000 spectators, and the 6,000-seat Kwangdong Hockey Centre.

Lebanon gets its own national hockey team — and it’s in Montreal

Claude Kfoury, 39, proudly shows off the Lebanese cedar on his T-shirt, his native country’s national symbol. Kfoury learned to play hockey as
a teenager, when his family came to Canada. (CBC)

Elias Abboud – CBC News

Team is brainchild of Lebanese Montrealers who love the game, but players fly in from as far away as France

“Twenty bucks, guys,” says a player who’s just suited up in his hockey gear, as he makes his way around the locker room collecting his teammates contribution to pay for the ice time at  Montreal’s Collège Brébeuf arena.

It’s after 10 p.m.

Most of the guys are here after work, and they have to get up early the next morning to return to their jobs.

It’s a scene repeated at beer-league hockey games in arena locker rooms across the country.

These players, however, aren’t your average beer leaguers. They’re members of Lebanon’s first national ice hockey team.

Joe Bouhaidar, left, and Frédéric Nassif, centre, suit up for practice at the Collège Brébeuf arena. (CBC)

Canadian hockey players speak of the immense pride they feel when they pull on the maple leaf jersey to represent their country. The Lebanese players say they feel the same way about the cedar tree — the national symbol of Lebanon.

“I feel like someone gave me a mission, and this mission is to represent my country,” said winger Joe Bouhaidar.

Joe Bouhaidar, 29, played Midget AAA hockey in Quebec City. He said he always wanted to
play for a national team. He just didn’t know it would be Lebanon’s. (CBC)

Bouhaidar, 29, was born in Quebec City and grew up playing hockey, reaching Midget AAA.

“Since I’m young, I always wanted to play for a national team,” he said. “Obviously, it’s a great honour to play for a team like Canada or U.S.A.

“When I heard [Lebanon] has a national team, I said I have to try myself there and give it all I got. I made the team, and I was pretty happy.”

‘I was just hooked

Claude Kfoury, 39, didn’t lace up skates until his teen years. His family came to Canada in 1991 to escape the violence in their war-torn home country.

The defenceman remembers, soon after he arrived, watching the 1991 Stanley Cup finals between the Pittsburgh Penguins and the Minnesota North Stars.

“I was just hooked.”

Kfoury wanted to play right away. One problem: his family arrived in May.

“No more ice, no more snow,” said Kfoury. “The next winter, I was playing in the parks around Ville Saint-Laurent. I was on the ice for 10 hours a day. I didn’t want to leave, I didn’t want to eat. Since then, I hit it off and I haven’t stopped skating.”

Why not Lebanon?

The team was the brainchild of Ralph Melki and a group of friends — Lebanese Montrealers who loved the game.

Melki, now the team’s coach, said they realized other Middle Eastern and Arab teams have national teams. So why not Lebanon?

“We started something here in Canada, because there’s a lot of Lebanese in Quebec. There’s a lot of Lebanese that play the game, and this is how it all started,” said Melki.

Ralph Melki, the Lebanon team’s coach, said the team’s goal is to be accepted into the
International Ice Hockey Federation. (CBC)

The group created a Facebook page, and word spread. At the first tryout last spring, 75 players came out.

There’s no formal structure. The team doesn’t even play in a league at the moment, instead arranging exhibition games against other national teams such as Egypt, Morocco, Haiti, Algeria.

Melki says Lebanon’s team has players coming in from Toronto, Ottawa, Michigan and France. Four players even flew in from Calgary for the team’s first game in April.

That game was a 7-4 win over Team Haiti — a group of Montrealers who grew up playing hockey much the way the Lebanese players did.

Since that first win against Haiti, the Lebanese national team has gone on to beat Egypt and Morocco. Tonight they play Algeria — a team made up of players of Algerian descent now living in France.

Melki says the team is aiming for a bigger stage — being accepted into the International Ice Hockey Federation. To accomplish that, the team needs the backing of the Lebanese government and proof that the country has at least one ice hockey rink and a league with teams.

No politics, no religion on the ice

Skating on the national team has done more than bring hockey players together from far and wide.

It has also bridged a stark cultural and political gap: the two prominent religions back home, Islam and Christianity, have long been a source for conflict.

Off the ice, Frédéric Nassif is a Montreal documentary producer. He plays goal for the
Lebanese national team. (CBC)

Once the players pull on their jerseys with the cedar tree on the front, political and religious differences are set aside.

“No one talks about it,” said Bouhaidar. “We look like a united team, and that’s what we like about it. I have fun with those guys. Now I’m chilling with those guys outside of the ice, and before I didn’t know them.”

“We’re all Lebanese, we all care about the cedar,” said Coach Melki. “So once they put that jersey on: ‘Be proud to represent your country.'”

Tonight’s matchup between Lebanon and Algeria takes place at Place Bell, 1950 Claude-Gagné Street in Laval.

Game time is 9:15 p.m. ET.

From centuries-old traditional roots to the modern game, hockey in China ‘ready to blow up

Misha Song of the USHL’s Madison Capitals is the first Chinese-born player drafted in the NHL.

By Ed Willes – The Province

Misha Song, a true hockey pioneer in China, can look back over his career and understand he’s had a front-row seat for the game’s remarkable growth in his country.

Now, there are hockey-specific facilities sprouting up all over China. Then, the only ice available to Song was the straightaway of a short-track rink in his native Beijing. 

Now, with the Beijing Winter Olympics set for 2022, the Chinese government, the NHL and the IIHF are all pouring money into the sport. Then, the game was little known outside the city of Harbin in China’s remote northeast corner.

Now, Chinese nationals are playing in elite developmental streams in Canada and the U.S, and it only seems a matter of time before one of them cracks an NHL lineup. Then, Song was the first Chinese-born player to be drafted by an NHL team when he was selected by the New York Islanders in the sixth round, 172nd overall, in the 2015 NHL Entry Draft.

Yes, with a perspective that can only be gained through experience, Song has witnessed something special between hockey and his country, something which will reshape the sport and elevate it to a new place in China. Where it all goes from here is the next question, but the defenceman with the USHL’s Madison Capitals is excited about what will come next.

Misha Song, then eight years old, played with the Sinoca Beijing Dragons in a tournament in Ottawa in 2005

And he should be. Misha Song is 20 and just 12 months away from entering his freshman year at Cornell University.

When I started almost 15 years ago, hockey was an unknown sport in many parts of China,” Song writes in an email.

“Now there are more rinks being built, more people playing, and more resources dedicated toward hockey. 

“The changes have a profound effect on me. When I started, barely any of these resources were available. It is amazing to see more people welcome hockey into their lives.”

But is there a permanent place for the game in the Chinese heart? The larger hockey world is about to find out.

This week, the Vancouver Canucks and Los Angeles Kings meet for a pair of exhibition games in Shanghai and Beijing in what’s being advertised as a watershed moment for the sport. These games, the first live action for an NHL team in the Asian giant, represent a significant development for the NHL and a chance to plant its flag in a country of 1.4 billion.

But it’s also just one frame in a story that’s moving a million miles an hour. The intent of this piece is to provide some background on the game’s history and development in The Red Dragon, which is tricky because hockey’s history in China is what happened yesterday.

Yes, the game has a tradition in China, and there is a backstory to tell. But that history has been overtaken by the powerful forces which now promise to take hockey to some exhilarating new places.

If I’m being reasonable about it, we’re not there yet,” said David Proper, the NHL’s executive vice-president of media and international strategies and the league’s point man on the China games.

“We’re not going to grow hockey in two games. What we’re trying to do is get people into the doors to watch live hockey.

“It’s definitely at the embryonic stages. But the fact is things can move very quickly in China if you have the support of government and business.”

Charles Wang is the owner of the New York Islanders

And hockey is moving quickly now, even if it’s unclear where it’s going.

For its first 100 years, hockey in China was almost the exclusive domain of the northeast and its two biggest cities: Harbin and Qiqhar. Going back 1,500 years or so, the Daur people of that region had played a game called beikou, which resembled field hockey. But puck came to Harbin and the surrounding area via Russia — Siberia is located just to the north — around 1915 and set down some deep roots.

It was charming to find a northern place that had a kinship with the game, and they do love the game,” says Dave Bidini, a writer/musician/journalist who first traveled to Harbin to play hockey in 1999.

“But it’s detached from the rest of the country, and travel in China wasn’t easy 20, 30 years ago. The game never spread. Consequently, it didn’t grow.”

Still, it found a home. Harbin first hosted a tournament for teams from the north in the 1930s, which led to the formation of a Chinese league in the mid-50s. In ’57 China joined the IIHF. By then, the Chinese national team had toured in the Eastern bloc and teams from Czechoslovakia and Japan had toured in China.

Anatoli Tarasov, considered the father of modern Russian hockey, visited the region frequently to set up camps and training programs. He was still traveling to Harbin in the early ‘80s.

Hockey, in fact, was enjoying steady growth and caught the attention of the Communist Party in the late 1950s, which loved the spirit of the game. Alas, the Cultural Revolution wiped out the infrastructure of most sports in the ‘60s and the game was largely abandoned until the early ‘70s.

It started to come back in 1972 when China went to the C pool of the world championships and finished fifth. By then, the first indoor rink was being built in Beijing. China would go on to win four straight gold medals at the Asian Games in the 1980s, but while there was isolated growth, the sport remained largely in the northeast.

As it happens, the 1980s was also the period China began opening its borders to the larger world under Deng Xiaoping who, among other things, opined: “Poverty is not socialism. To be rich is glorious.” It took hockey a while to catch the new spirit which was transformed the country, but in the 2004-05 season, both Harbin and Qiqhar joined the nascent Asian League and the game caught a spark. 

For the next 10 years, China would be represented in the Asian League which drew former NHLers like Esa Tikkanen, Tyson Nash, Jamie McLennan and Claude Lemieux. In 2007-08, Harbin and Qiqhar consolidated into the China Sharks, which were owned and operated by the NHL’s San Jose Sharks for two years before the Chinese Hockey Association took over the franchise.

“It was a positive experience, but it was probably a couple of years ahead of its time,” says Sharks GM Doug Wilson. 

Still, the Sharks wouldn’t be the last North American entity to invest in Chinese hockey. Last season, the Asian league operated without a Chinese franchise for the first time in 13 years as Kunlun Red Star, based in Beijing, joined the KHL. Kunlun is now coached by Mike Keenan and forms the basis of the national team program preparing for the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing.

A similar model is being used for the women’s program, which operates two Chinese-based teams in the Canadian Women’s League out of Shenzhen. Digit Murphy, the 18-year coach at Brown who coached the CWHL’s Boston Blades, oversees the women’s national team.

It’s further expected a second China-based KHL team will be added next season and there are plans for a Chinese domestic league. New York Islanders owner Charles Wang, a champion of the game in China, has helped fund 28 rinks in China and the Islanders have partnered with the Beijing Hockey Association to sponsor a junior team which plays out of the Islanders practice facility. The Boston Bruins have also partnered with O.R.G., the packaging giant which is the presenting sponsor of the Canucks-Kings series.

The old rink at Harbin, meanwhile, has been replaced by a new facility, and the sports institute there offers a hockey-specific program designed to grow the sports’ administrative and coaching base.

Chinese men play a game of pick-up ice hockey on a frozen canal on December 14, 2016 in Beijing, China

Yes, you can get a degree in hockey in China.

Aaron Wilbur, the former coach of the Richmond Sockeyes, was coaching at UBC seven years ago when he was approached about an opportunity in China. By his own estimation, he’s since been back 30 times and now represents ProSmart, a digital education platform for sports which provides a coaching blueprint for hockey and soccer.

When Wilbur first started working in China, coaches wouldn’t allow players to drink water during practices for fear of stomach aches. Wilbur recalls one session where a coach lit up a cigarette on the ice.

Seven years later, he sees a completely different picture.

It’s pretty cool,” he says. “I started with some kids when they were five. Now I’m writing letters to get them into prep schools (in the States).”

Wilbur has also done some work in arena management with the Chinese. A year ago, he was at Huaxi Live, the rink where the Canucks and Kings will meet in Beijing this week. Huaxi Live was formerly known as LeSports Centre, the Wukesong Arena before that, the MasterCard Centre before that and the Beijing Olympic Basketball Arena before that.

Did we mention things move quickly in China?

At any rate, Wilbur was informed plans were in place for a three-rink training centre to be built near the larger arena and it would be completed in September 2018. 

It can’t possibly be ready by then, Wilbur opined.

Don’t worry, it will be ready, his Chinese hosts said.

“And I believe them,’ Wilbur says, adding, “There’s so much going on over there. The game is ready to blow up.”

Q & A With Aleix Manosos

By George Da Silva –  National Teams of Ice Hockey

Andorra is a tiny, independent principality situated between France and Spain in the Pyrenees mountains. It’s known for its ski resorts and a tax-haven status that encourages duty-free shopping, but Andorra has a little secret that not to many people know about and that is it plays Ice Hockey.
We got a change to speak to Aleix Manosas Vice President of Andorra HG the only club in the country.

How did you become the Vice President of Andorran Ice Sports Federation?

I’ve been named President of the only ice hockey club in Andorra on May 2016. This same year I started to be a part of the Andorra Ice Sport Federation Board. In 2017 there was a Board change and I became the Vice President.

What changes do you think you can make for ice hockey that others have not made in the passed?

First of all I prepared a Development Plan for Andorra Ice Hockey involving referees, coaching and goalie training on one hand, and female and children hockey  development program on the other.

Can you provide our viewers a brief history of ice hockey in Andorra?

Ice hockey in Andorra has a short history. As usual in all Europe, soccer is the most played sport. In our country, skiing is the national sport and very well practiced, too. Andorra Hoquei Gel is the only ice hockey club, established in 1989. Since then, all the people who have been involved in the club has worked hard to develop this sport in our little country. We have played a regional league in France and we use to organize and participate in different friendly tournaments. Last year we started with a ladies team and a children teams Under 9. We have a lot of work to do but I’m sure that we are on the good path.

Andorra has been an IIHF member since 1995, why has the game taking so long to developed?

Ice hockey is a kind of sport that needs a lot of money to be developed. We are lucky to have the government and town hall help in that matter. Anyway, the easiest way to develop the sport is having senior league where child can mirror. Actually we are not there, but I hope that this will not take a lot of years to be done. As I said before, soccer is the most played sport in Andorra. The second one maybe is Basketball because Andorra has a team in the professional Spanish basketball league for the last two years.

There is only one Ice Hockey club in Andorra (Andorra Hoquei gel). What ice hockey programs does it provide for children and Adults?

Yes, there is only a club. Our coach and sportive director is using the Learn to Play program for the children. This helps a lot because all the kids are enjoying a the game a lot and that has been the main subject to achieve our goal of having an under 9 team.
In Adults we are playing and organizing several friendly tournaments in the club.

Andorra Hoquei gel the only club team in the country

The Andorra Hoquei Gel takes part in a senior tournament against clubs from France how has this tournament help the development of hockey in the country?

When you are taking part in tournaments like this, it’s is easier to bring new players, adults and children. Every player needs a goal to achieve, no matter your age. This kind of competitions will help us to grow hockey in Andorra.

Andorra Hoquei Gel taken part in Torneig Internacional

A new tournament will be played In Andorra at the end of the month 2017 Development Cup, why did Andorra get involved?

On may 2016 was my first time in the IIHF Congress. There I met people from a lot of different countries and how to learn to develop hockey in Andorra. during a coffee break, I was talking to the Ireland and Morocco delegates. They were talking about creating a new tournament where the little countries who are not available to play in IIHF competitions can play  against each other. That conversation was the seed for the Development Cup. During this year we were talking a lot about how to organize a Cup of that kind. For different reasons it was on standby for a while. At the beginning of 2017 we started to talk again. I proposed Andorra as host country for the first Development Cup. I thought that an international tournament would help Andorra to develop this sport. Since then, we are working a lot on the Cup, which is being played on the last weekend of September.

This will be the first time that the Andorran National Team plays in a tournament, How will the team be selected and prepare for this event?

Yes, for the first time Andorra has an Ice Hockey National Team. Our players have been selected by our National Coach, Oriol Boronat, an Spanish player of the Club Gel Puigcerdà and international player for Spain. We know him and we are sure that his experience is going to be a big helping point for us.

Andorra National Team

When your tenure is over with Andorran Ice Sports Federation what things would like to have accomplished?

Once my tenure ends I hope to have accomplished the Children’s National program and have more participation on the following of the Development Cup tournaments and the most important thing: to help more people know that ice hockey is played in Andorra and to make this sport grow in our country.

What is the one thing that is unique about playing ice hockey in Andorra?

Maybe the landscape surrounding the ice rink is different from other places. Andorra is nestled between mountains and hat makes it peculiar. In addition, we have good facilities and connections to carry out parallel activities.

Palau de Gel the only Arena in Andorra

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