The Kuwaiti women’s ice hockey team is taking part in the international competition which kicks off Monday at the Thai capital Bangkok.
In statement to KUNA, Head of Kuwaiti Winters Sports Club and Kuwait’s delegation Khaled Al-Mutairi said the team left for Bangkok on Sunday. He disclosed the first match will be on Tuesday against America’s ‘Black Stars’, and then they will play on Wednesday against Malaysian side Jazura before the final rounds kick off.
Al-Mutairi added that the team is fully prepared for the competition as it held a training camp in Thailand for three weeks last August, followed by intensive training in one of the ice skating rinks in Kuwait, let alone holding some friendly games.
He affirmed that the girls, whether veterans or promising talents, are properly psyched up to present the best level of performance in the competition. He said the club provided all their administration and technical needs, and most important of all is reserving the local ice skating rink for them to practice locally and also outside the country.
The technical management of the team invested in developing the athletes’ fitness and prepare them to participate in the most important tournament in their career in order for them to compete strongly in this tournament which will see the participation of a number of Asian and international teams.
The 2017 CIBC Canada Russia Series is less than two weeks away, signalling the approach of the IIHF World Junior Hockey Championship that gets underway on Boxing Day in Buffalo, New York.
Last year’s silver medal finish in a crushing shootout loss to the Americans on home ice still looms fresh in the minds of many. This year’s event, highlighted by a Canada/USA outdoor showdown at New Era Field on December 29th, presents a new chapter in the North American on-ice rivalry.
For new Hockey Canada Program of Excellence Head Scout Brad McEwen, the 15th edition of the annual Canada/Russia clash is the continuance of a talent evaluation process that began this past summer at Canada’s National Junior Team Summer Showcase in Plymouth, Mich. A total of 31 CHL players that attended the camp will represent their respective leagues in the coming weeks, taking on a group of Russian National Junior Team hopefuls with plenty to play for themselves.
McEwen inherits the Hockey Canada management role from Ryan Jankowski who has become director of amateur scouting with the Buffalo Sabres after four years with the organization.
“It’s a critical evaluation opportunity for us,” said McEwen, who formerly worked as an amateur scout with the Calgary Flames after serving as general manager and director of scouting for the WHL’s Medicine Hat Tigers. “It’s the one time since summer camp that we get a chance to put the kids in their regions and look at different combinations and be able to mix and match a little bit.
“It offers us a chance to give the guys a refresher on expectations should they hope to be with us come Christmas time.”
As is the case every year, question marks linger concerning the availability of possible CHL returnees in Pierre-Luc Dubois (Columbus Blue Jackets/Blainville-Boisbriand Armada) and Michael McLeod (New Jersey Devils/Mississauga Steelheads) who remain with NHL clubs.
Five CHL players from last year’s World Junior Team are eligible to return including defencemen Jake Bean (Calgary Hitmen) and Kale Clague (Brandon Wheat Kings), forwards Dillon Dube (Kelowna Rockets) and Taylor Raddysh (Erie Otters) as well as goaltender Carter Hart (Everett Silvertips).
With so many roster spots up for grabs, the evaluation process is sure to be an exhaustive one.
“There are a lot of spots there to be earned,” affirmed McEwen. “We want to take another good look at the players who attended the Summer Showcase, but also see some other players who have impressed with their teams early this season. These are guys that caught the attention of our selection committee members who have done a lot of work to help us put these rosters together.”
The CHL has won the series in three of the past four years, but not without a challenge. The Russian Hockey Federation continues to send a capable and skilled opposition under long-time head coach Valery Bragin.
“In my last job with the Flames I was able to see quite a few games and came away impressed with some of the Russian players,” McEwen noted. “They use this for their World Junior purposes as well and come over here serious about winning the series.
“It’s a good event for us and it’s good for them too,” he added. “At the end of the day we want to give our guys opportunities and it’s up to them to show that they should be part of where we’re going come Christmas time.”
A total of 29 players from last year’s event competed at the World Juniors, with 15 CHL players earning silver for Canada while 14 claimed bronze with Russia.
72 CHL players will represent their respective leagues in this year’s event, 54 of whom have been chosen in either the 2016 or 2017 NHL Draft. An additional seven players competing in the series are in their first year of NHL Draft eligibility including such QMJHL standouts as Joe Veleno (Saint John Sea Dogs), Jared McIsaac (Halifax Mooseheads) and Benoit-Olivier Groulx (Halifax Mooseheads) along with OHL prospects in defencemen Evan Bouchard (London Knights), Kevin Bahl (Ottawa 67’s) and goaltender Jacob Ingham (Mississauga Steelheads).
This year’s opening leg of the series is set in Saskatchewan as Team WHL hits the ice on Monday November 6th in Swift Current and Tuesday November 7th in Moose Jaw.
A little over a year ago, the Aga Khan Youth and Sports Board for Pakistan launched a sports training program, which proved to be popular and successful ahead of the 2016 Jubilee Games. This winter, the Youth and Sports Board expanded the program to include golf, ice skating and ice hockey.
A little over a year ago, the Aga Khan Youth and Sports Board for Pakistan (AKYSBP) launched the Sports Fellowship program, an initiative to improve the sports skills of Jamati youth. Led by an elite athlete and supported by local coaches, the training program proved to be popular and successful ahead of the 2016 Jubilee Games.
This winter, during the holidays, the Youth and Sports Board expanded the programs to include golf, ice skating and ice hockey. Continuing the spirit of “One Jamat” — a defining Jubilee Games theme — two elite players from the Canadian Jamat volunteered their expertise to train aspiring Ismaili athletes in Pakistan.
Salimah Mussani, a professional coach and former elite golf player from Burlington, Canada engaged 55 eager participants in Karachi and Islamabad to improve their golf skills.
After graduating from Stanford University on a golf scholarship, Mussani took the sport up professionally in 2002. She competed on the LPGA and Futures tours, and won the PGA Women’s Championship of Canada in 2007.
“The opportunity to go to Pakistan and teach golf to men, women and kids of all skill levels and backgrounds was unique in itself,” says Mussani. “This opportunity was not all about golf but the unity of our Jamat, it was about merging diversity of culture and it was ultimately about the connection of spirit within the ethics of our faith.”
During the winter in the northern areas of Pakistan, the Aga Khan Youth and Sports Board organises recreational activities such as mountain climbing, hiking, skiing, and ice skating. The harsh weather limits the choice of activities that youth have during their leisure time, so when AKYSBP offered a sports fellowship in ice hockey for the first time, it was well received.
Facilitated by elite Canadian ice hockey player Omar Kanji, the programs in Hunza and Karachi drew over 130 participants, including some from Gilgit and Ishkoman-Puniyal.
Born in Thornhill near Toronto, Kanji is a goalie who played for Upper Canada College before moving up to the NCAA level while attending Cornell University on a sports scholarship. He was also associated with the Tulsa Oilers for a season, and is a banker by profession.
“I cannot emphasise how thankful I am to have received such an incredible opportunity to teach and work with the youth in Pakistan,” said Kanji at the end of the coaching session in Hunza. “It will never cease to amaze me how naturally talented and gifted the youth in the country are. The sheer improvement in the kids’ skating, puck handling, and shooting abilities that I witnessed over the two weeks are beyond impressive.”
The first sports fellowship was in athletics and took place in Karachi in December 2015. It was led by Myra Nur Lakdawala, Pakistan’s national record holder in the ladies 3,000-metre run. Lakdawala earned a sports scholarship and is studying English with a minor in Philosophy and pre-law at the University of the Pacific in the United States.
By accessing professional talent from the global Jamat, AKYSBP has been able to diversify the programs so that Pakistani youth gain exposure to sports that are not traditional to the country.
This project is one of the major presidential pledges by President of Uzbekistan Shavkat Mirziyoyev and has attracted a great deal of attention from the local government and the public. Heerim is responsible for the design and CM (Construction Management) work by promoting a world-class competitiveness in sports facility design & CM technology that have been accumulated for decades. The design for the Tashkent Ice Rink construction will be approximately 9 months, where the construction work will be conducted in the Fast Tracked, which aims to complete the design and construction at the end of 2018.
Four storeyed Humo Arena with the area of 74,000 square meters will include two complexes – training and main ice ranks with the area of 60×30 meters. Tashkent Multi functional Ice Rink Complex will consist of the main ice rink with 12,500 seats where international matches can be held, and secondary rink with a capacity of 300 seats.
There are various additional facilities to be built around the rink such as parking building (2000 parking lots), restaurants, children’s theme park and others.
The complex can host Ice hockey, short-track, figure skating and curling. In addition, the complex can be used to organize basketball, volleyball, handball, futsal, boxing, taekwondo and other sport tournaments. In addition, the complex will be able to hold concerts, exhibitions and forums.
Russia’s participation in the Winter Olympics is still in question?
The Russian national ice hockey team is doping-clean and will have no problems whatsoever getting the permission to participate in the 2018 Winter Olympic Games in South Korea’s PyeongChang, President of the Russian Ice Hockey Federation (RHF) Vladislav Tretiak told TASS on Wednesday.
“I do not think that Russian ice hockey players will have problems,” Tretiak said in an interview with TASS. “Being a member of the IIHF [the International Ice Hockey Federation] I can say that the federation cannot imagine the Olympics without Russia’s participation.”
“The IIHF is not playing politics and is guided by the real state of facts,” Tretiak said.
“It is clear as of today that the national ice hockey team of Russia is not into the doping abuse issue.”
The next Olympics, which are XXIII Winter Olympic Games, will take place in South Korea’s PyeongChang on February 9-25, 2018 and Russia’s participation in the event is still in question.
In July 2016, the IOC set up two separate commissions to probe doping abuse allegations in Russian sports as well as alleged involvement of state officials in manipulations with performance enhancing drugs, particularly at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Russia’s Sochi.
The first of the two commissions is an Inquiry Commission, chaired by the former President of Switzerland, Samuel Schmid. The commission is looking into accusations set out in the McLaren report that alleges the existence of a supposed institutional conspiracy in Russia’s summer and winter sports, in which the country’s state officials were allegedly engaged in.
The second investigative body at the issue is a Disciplinary Commission, chaired by IOC Member Denis Oswald. This commission is tasked to address alleged doping uses and manipulation of samples concerning the Russian athletes, who participated in the Olympic Winter Games Sochi 2014.
Starting from last year, Russian athletes were constantly under the gun due to numerous doping abuse accusations. The World Anti-Doping Agency’s (WADA) Independent Commission, chaired by Canadian sports law professor Richard McLaren, conducted an investigation into doping allegations in Russian sports and eventually came up in 2016 with two parts to the report, the first delivered in July and the second in early December.
Canadian head coach Laura Schuler walked into the mixed zone at the Videotron Centre in Quebec City. She was asked what she thought of her team’s performance in their 5-2 loss in the exhibition series opener against the United States.
She paused. Then she began.
“We played awful,” she said, before another pause. “It was just a horrible performance from all of our players and we’ll address it tonight and make sure we’re better and ready in Boston.”
This was the first of six exhibition games between the top two women’s hockey countries in the world as they prepare for the 2018 Olympics in February. The next game will be Wednesday night in Boston.
“It wasn’t the game that we could play,” Schuler said. “Obviously we’ve played significantly better against them. We have been playing better and that was not a good example of how we can play. It was an embarrassment to our country and we need to be better as we go forward.”
“We were bad from the net all the way out. All of us. We weren’t good.”
“It wasn’t the best game for us that’s for sure,” said Canadian forward Meghan Agosta, who is preparing for her fourth Olympic tournament. “We’re a lot better than that and we just need to refocus.”
The game was 2-1 USA after one period, but the second period ended with the score 5-1 as the United States had three power play goals, one short-handed marker and one at even strength.
Canada has been playing in the Alberta midget boy’s league while centralized in Calgary. The United States, based in Tampa, have also been playing boys teams.
“We get caught up playing our men’s circuits or whatever we’re doing in our respective areas but whenever we can play against one another it’s a great game and it’s the games that you live for and cherish whether it’s your first game or your 100th, it’s just a great rivalry,” said USA forward Hilary Knight.
“It’s always a game that brings out the best out of both teams,” said Canadian goaltender Ann-Renée Desbiens. “Today it was more one side than the other and we definitely need to improve that in the next few months before the Olympics.”
The game started off well for Canada, and it appeared that they took the lead. However, after Bailey Bram beat USA goaltender Maddie Rooney, it was ruled that the forward kicked the puck in.
The United States used the reprieve to open the scoring. On the power play about four minutes later, Megan Bozek took a point shot that rang off the post. Knight then took the rebound and put it past Desbiens for the 1-0 lead.
Seven minutes after that, Brianna Decker picked up a Jocelyne Lamoureux rebound to double the American lead.
“Coming up here and playing the way we did [is a great start],” said Decker, whose second goal made it 5-1 late in the second period. She also assisted on the first goal for a three-point night. “We got off the plane yesterday, showed up today and we’re looking forward to the next game.”
Canada would get one goal back just 1:31 after Decker made it 2-0 when Agosta jumped on the loose puck and took advantage of Rooney slipping to score in the open net.
The two teams now have a few days off, and will meet again in Boston on Wednesday. You should expect to see a different Canadian team, and not only because six players were scratched.
“This is obviously something that we’re going to have to continue to look at, how we can be better as we go forward,” Schuler said. “You always get excited to play against the US and that’s not a typical game that we play against them. We just have to be better going forward.”
“You’ll see a different team. You’ll see a team that will play how they can play with grit, determination and pride. And we did not see that tonight,” she continued.
Her players also know there is work to do.
“We need to work on the little things, moving the puck up with speed, burying the opportunities that we have, not letting them get in behind us and getting those scoring chances,” Agosta said.
“We need to give them less respect than we gave them today,” said Melodie Daoust. “We need to really attack a bit more.”
“We play every game like it’s the final,” said Marie-Philip Poulin. “We need to take it one game at a time and find what it takes.”
Although the Americans were the better team on the night, it was a sloppy game all around and they know they also have work to do for the Olympics.
“There were some times out there we needed to be a little sharper, some defensive zone coverage, some better passes out there need to be a little more crisp so we’re just going to focus on those little things,” Decker said.
“Speaking on our behalf and I’m sure Canada’s not much different is we’re looking at this as a starting point and where we’re at for now,” said USA head coach Robb Stauber. “There’s a lot to build on and it is great to get the win against your arch rivals and we’ll take that any day but it’s obvious that there’s room to grow still.”
The International Ice Hockey Federation Hall of Fame inducted a procession of hockey greats in May. The honorees included the former N.H.L. stars Joe Sakic, Teemu Selanne, Saku Koivu and Uwe Krupp as well as Angela Ruggiero, one of the most decorated players in women’s hockey.
But no one made as memorable an entrance as Tony Hand, who stepped toward the podium that night in Cologne, Germany, dressed in traditional Scottish Highland regalia — an argyle jacket, knee-high socks and a kilt.
Hand, who may be Britain’s lone hockey icon, received the Richard “Bibi” Torriani Award, which is given to players from lesser-known hockey nations.
But he might have become well known in North America if a 1980s tryout with the powerhouse Edmonton Oilers had panned out.
“I went and met the queen and had a chat, which was quite nice,” Hand, 50, said in a phone interview from Edinburgh, Scotland. “Even if you look at the career, over here I’ve been fortunate enough to have helped the sport any way I can. I have had a decent career and I’ve got a good family here and a lot of friends. So I’m not sitting back sulking. But it would have been nice to see what could have happened.”
Hand is an accomplished coach in the English Premier Ice Hockey League and with the national program, but his most impressive achievements came during an unrivaled 34-season playing career.
Growing up in Edinburgh, Hand headed to the local skating rink when he was 7 for peace and closure after the death of his father from a heart attack. Playing alongside his brothers, he was eventually discovered by a local team, the Murrayfield Racers, with whom he made his professional debut at 14.
By 17, Hand led the British Hockey League with 116 assists in 50 games to go with 99 goals. He surpassed the 100-goal mark in each of the next four seasons.
Those early years were the statistical high point of a pro career spanning more than three decades during which Hand collected 2,992 assists and 4,634 points, both British hockey records. Wayne Gretzky, the player to whom Hand is most frequently compared in Britain, established N.H.L. records considered un-matchable with 1,963 assists and 2,857 points.
“The goalies were bad; that’s what it was,” Hand said modestly when asked about his British hockey exploits.
Whatever the reason for his remarkable point totals, it was enough to gain the attention of the Oilers, who had built one of the great dynasties in league history when they selected Hand with the final pick in the 1986 draft, making him the first British player drafted by an N.H.L. team. By then, Hand had earned a tryout with Calgary, Edmonton’s biggest rival.
“Our league had a deal with Calgary — they would invite the young player of the year in Britain to the camp in Calgary,” Hand said. “It was a token gesture. I don’t think they realized there was a possible opportunity that one of the players could make the team.”
But his rights were officially owned by the Oilers, who had won consecutive Stanley Cups in 1984 and 1985, so Hand reported to Edmonton training camp in 1986. On a club that would win three more Cups in the next four seasons, Hand made an impression despite facing long odds to make the team.
“There was absolutely no question when he came over for that first training camp that he had enough hockey skill,” said Bill Tuele, the Oilers’ former director of public relations. “He had never been pushed to any great limit. He was a neat kid. He was a bit overwhelmed by the whole process. To be thrown into that caldron was almost an impossible task.”
With few roster spots available, Hand was sent to the Victoria Cougars of the Western Hockey League. After collecting 8 points in three games, a homesick Hand returned to Edinburgh to finish the season with the Racers.
He was invited back to Oilers camp the next season and was one of Edmonton’s final cuts. But Hand again decided to head home rather than report to Edmonton’s top developmental team in the American Hockey League.
He would not receive another invitation to an N.H.L. camp, instead flourishing in Britain and becoming the only hockey player to receive the prestigious Member of the British Empire award from Queen Elizabeth II.
His 82 points with the national team made him the country’s career leading scorer. After 14 seasons serving in a dual role as a player and coach with a number of British teams, Hand retired as a player in 2015 at age 47. He served as head coach of the Manchester Phoenix of the English Premier Ice Hockey League until the club ceased operations in January.
Now consisting of 12 teams, the league is entering what local officials believe could be a new golden age for the sport in Britain, with former N.H.L. players joining the league.
“In Tony’s day, he was the best player in the U.K. by far,” said Andy French, the general secretary of Ice Hockey U.K., the national governing body for the sport. “He was better than a lot of the imports. He had a vision that nobody else had. He’s now passing that quality that he had down through to the younger generation of players. I’m hoping that we can produce another Tony Hand.”
For all the success he enjoyed at home, Hand still, three decades later, sometimes thinks about his decision to leave Edmonton.
“It wasn’t like I was unambitious,” he said. “I just didn’t know. I had never been away. Obviously when you’re young you make these decisions, and I had never had a father figure to sort of guide me. I don’t sit and regret it. But did I make the right decision? Probably not.”
Since ending his playing career, Hand has contributed as a scout and coach to the British national team, which in April won the 1B division of the world championships to earn promotion to Division 1A, one level below the top tier.
Hand’s hope is that Britain’s accomplishments in international hockey can help him find the kind of opportunity in the N.H.L. he never quite pursued in an otherwise illustrious hockey career.
“I think I’ve got a lot to offer teams,” Hand said. “I’ve got a lot of experience. I’ve got a lot of knowledge. I haven’t really put my name out anywhere. I thought I would just wait and see what comes.”
The 2017 Southeast Asian Games gold medal is more than a month old already. But forgive the country’s national ice hockey team if they are still giddy over their unexpected triumph.
If it’s any consolation, they already have their eyes set on a bigger prize.
With the country hosting the 2018 International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) Challenge Cup of Asia, the team hopes to make another Disney-like run to the podium in front of a home crowd and build on what a rag-tag “bunch of kids who grew up on SM rinks” accomplished during the Kuala Lumpur SEA Games.
“The gold was really important for the sport of hockey in Manila and in the Philippines,” said goalkeeper Gianpietro Iseppi. “You guys [the media] are now talking to us because we won the gold, if we came in fourth or fifth we probably won’t have this kind of exposure or this opportunity to talk to the young kids out there or the people out there who could potentially learn more about the sport.”
Indeed, the 5-3 stunner over regional power Thailand in the final in Kuala Lumpur lifted the veil of obscurity off the team—and piled up the Mighty Ducks references on the players.
But with the recognition comes the responsibility of continuing push the sport into the public eye. And there’s no better way to do it than being heroes on home ice.
“We are speaking of the perfect timing that the tournament is being held in Manila,” said team captain Steven Füglister. “The SEA Games gold, the new rink inside Mall of Asia, it feels special and everyone is excited to hold this official IIHF tournament in Manila.”
“I’m confident our team will play attractive, fast-paced, and physical hockey and get good results.”
This is the first time the Philippines will join the Challenge Cup of Asia, an opportunity Füglister and the team want to take advantage of to grow the sport’s fan base—and talent pool.
“We hope that we can welcome big crowds to our games and support Team Pilipinas,” said Füglister. “[Anyone] who has never seen a hockey game live will [find it] a thrill to experience it live and at this high level.”
The Philippines is still unranked by the IIHF but the Challenge Cup of Asia could shine a brighter spotlight on the team which, based on its finish in the tournament, could earn spot in the Asian Winter Games.
Already, there is a subplot bubbling beneath the surface of preparations for the tournament next year: a budding rivalry with Thailand.
“I expect that they [the Thais] want to take revenge for the loss at the SEA Games and this could be the start of a nice rivalry,” said Füglister.
Thailand flew to Malaysia brandishing a four-year-old perfect slate and was the favorite to win, and even forward LR Lancero was unsure if they had the chops to take down the regional power.
“We’ve seen Thailand play and they’re really a good bunch of skaters,” said Lancero. “They’re fast, their team plays amazing, and we actually look up to them when they were playing against Singapore.”
“And we were like ‘guys can we do this?’ We were just a bunch of kids growing up in SM’s skating rinks; we are the underdogs.”
But that’s what made the Mighty Ducks movie franchise a hit. The all-too-familiar plot of the underdog overcoming adversity to reach their goal.
Fittingly, it was Lancero who orchestrated the pivotal play in the gold medal match.
The Philippines took a 4-1 lead in the championship but Thailand finally figured the Filipinos out and breathed down their necks, 4-3, in the fourth. That was when Lancero fired a pass straight to Niko Cadiz’ stick for the goal that iced the final count.
Iseppi felt that the team’s obscurity helped them trip the Thais, who fell behind early trying to feel out their foes.
But whether or not the Filipinos could spring a surprise to shake the Thais early didn’t matter. What mattered was they weren’t skating out of Malaysia without the gold medal.
“For me it was what it was—gold or bust,” said Iseppi. “I said it three, four weeks before and everyone was like ‘wow you’re overconfident but I didn’t feel overconfident. I feel like if we played in the level we’re capable of, we were going to win.”
And Füglister believes that win achieved more than just add a gold to the medal haul of the Philippines.
“What makes it even more special is that it has put our sport on the map after years of operating in the shadows with limited awareness in the general public,” he said.
And now that the team is on the sporting map, it is going to do its best to find its way to Asian glory.
With the Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea now just a few months away, rosters for the men’s hockey event will begin to take shape over four upcoming international tournaments.
With the exception of a few U.S. college players, the odd Canadian junior teenager and some AHLers, most of the top Olympic teams will be made up of players who compete professionally in Russia, Switzerland, Sweden, Finland and the Czech Republic.
The top talents from these European leagues will come together to compete for their national teams in the following tournaments in November and December.
The top talents from these European leagues will come together to compete for their national teams in the following tournaments in November and December:
Karjala Cup (Zurich and Helsinki), Nov. 8-12 — Canada, Czech Republic, Finland, Russia, Sweden, Switzerland.
Deutschland Cup (Augsburg, Germany), Nov. 10-12 — Germany, Russia, Slovakia, United States.
Channel One Cup (Moscow), Dec. 13-17 — Canada, Czech Republic, Finland, Russia, Sweden, South Korea.
Spengler Cup (Davos, Switzerland), Dec. 26-31 — Canada, Switzerland and four club teams.
Here’s a quick glance at the top eight medal contenders for the 2018 Winter Games.
Odds courtesy of Bodog
World ranking: 1
Odds to win gold: 3-1
General manager: Sean Burke
Coach: Willie Desjardins
Player to watch: Andrew Ebbett. A veteran of 243 NHL regular-season and playoff games, the 34-year-old forward from Vernon, B.C., plays for Bern in the Swiss league. He was a standout for Canada at the 2016 Spengler Cup and sits second in his league’s scoring race with 19 points (five goals) in 12 games.
The skinny: Canada has plenty of depth playing in Russia and Switzerland. Burke and his scouts also will keep an eye on the junior loops at home.
World ranking: 2
Odds to win gold: 7-4
General manager: Vacant
Coach: Oleg Znarok
Player to watch: Ilya Kovalchuk. The 34-year-old left wing decided to forego a return to the NHL and stay in Russia for one more season in order to play in Pyeongchang. He has 17 goals and 28 points in 23 games for KHL-leading SKA St. Petersburg.
The skinny: Since the Russians were upended by Dominik Hasek and the Czechs in the 1998 gold-medal final, they have just one Olympic men’s hockey medal — a bronze in 2002. But because of Russia’s depth, they will go to Pyeongchang as the favourites. Znarok coaches Kovalchuk’s St. Petersburg team, which set a KHL record with 20 wins in a row to start the season and also features Pavel Datsyuk.
World ranking: 3
Odds to win gold: 7-2
Coach: Rikard Gronborg
Player to watch: Robert Nilsson. The 32-year-old Calgary-born forward leads the Swiss league in scoring with 20 points in 14 games with Zurich SC. The son of former NHLer Kent Nilsson has formed quite an on-ice partnership with fellow Swede Fredrik Pettersson in Zurich.
The skinny: Sweden won its 10th world championship last spring, defeating Canada in a shootout in the gold-medal final. Of course, in the last non-NHL Olympic Games, in 1994, Sweden also beat Canada for gold in a shootout. Former NHLer Johan Garpenlov is Gronborg’s trusted assistant coach.
World ranking: 4
Odds to win gold: 8-1
General manager: Jere Lehtinen
Coach: Lauri Marjamaki
Player to watch: Eeli Tolvanen. The Nashville Predators selected the 18-year-old right wing 30th overall in the NHL draft last June. He has started his KHL season with Jokerit with an eye-popping 11 goals and 21 points in 18 games.
The skinny: The Lehtinen-Marjamaki combination didn’t produce good results for the Finnish team in the 2016 World Cup of Hockey, where the Finns failed to win a game and finished a disappointing eighth out of eight teams.
World ranking: 5
Odds to win gold: 10-1
GM: Jim Johannson
Coach: Tony Granato
Player to watch: Brian Gionta. At 38, the 2003 Stanley Cup champion and 2006 Olympian signed a practice-only contract to play with his hometown Rochester Americans of the AHL to keep sharp for the Pyeongchang Games.
The skinny: Granato played for the United States in the 1988 Olympics in Calgary and was an assistant coach in Sochi four years ago. He coaches at the University of Wisconsin and will use the Deutschland Cup next month as the U.S. Olympic team’s main tryout opportunity.
World ranking: 6
Odds to win gold: 9-1
General manager: Milan Hnilicka
Coach: Josef Jandak
Player to watch: Jan Kovar. The 27-year-old forward will be asked to provide offence for the Czechs. He has strung together four consecutive 20-goal seasons in the KHL with Magnitogorsk Metallurg and is on his way to a fifth with six goals in his first 22 outings.
The skinny: The Czechs have put together an impressive coaching staff with assistants Vaclav Prospal and Jaroslav Spacek (both former NHLers) as well as Jiri Kalous, the head coach of Sparta Prague.
World ranking: 7
Odds to win gold: 33-1
GM: Raeto Raffainer
Coach: Patrick Fischer
Player to watch: Gregory Hofmann. The Carolina Hurricanes selected the 24-year-old forward in the fourth round (103rd overall) of the 2013 draft. He has scored 10 goals in his first nine games with Lugano HC.
The skinny: The Swiss are only four years removed from when coach Sean Simpson of Brampton, Ont., steered them to a silver medal at the 2013 worlds. They have an ability to stifle the opposition with a strong defensive system and outstanding goaltending.
World ranking: 11
Odds to win gold: 80-1
GM: Miroslav Satan
Coach: Craig Ramsay
Player to watch: The Slovaks are hamstrung by the fact most of their top players — like Zdeno Chara (Boston), Christian Jaros (Ottawa-Belleville) and Martin Reway (Montreal-Laval) — are in the NHL or AHL, and thus not allowed in the Olympics. Left wing Libor Hudacek, 27, had a strong 2012 worlds, when the Slovaks settled for silver. He plays for Orebro HK in Sweden. His brother Julius could be one of the Slovakia goalies.
The skinny: Satan hired Ramsay on a two-year deal that takes him through Pyeongchang and the 2019 worlds, which Slovakia will host. The Slovaks surprised some with their trip to the bronze-medal game at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics, but they lost 5-3 to Finland.
Without NHL participation, the focus for Hockey Canada and USA Hockey is on players who are performing well overseas and in the minors. So, who is standing out as pre-Olympic tournaments approach?
If this were a normal Olympic year, or an Olympic year the likes of which we’ve come to know over the past two decades, much of the conversation surrounding the rosters for the Canadian and American squads would focus on the early season play by some of each respective nation’s top stars.
For instance, there’d have to be some talk about Dustin Brown, who is having a somewhat remarkable resurgence through the early part of the year with the Los Angeles Kings. Will Butcher would certainly be garnering some attention from USA Hockey, as well. And with eight points through six games, not to mention good chemistry with Patrick Kane, the American team might consider sending Ryan Hartman to the Olympics. The Canadians, meanwhile, might be looking at Brayden Point, Brayden Schenn and James Neal as players whose early play has thrust them into the spotlight.
Unfortunately, though, we all know that’s not the case. There will be no NHL participation in the 2018 Winter Games, so these early season performances, while impressive, do nothing for what Olympic squads will look like come February. What will, mind you, is the play of those who are spending this campaign overseas, and through the early part of the respective seasons in Sweden, Finland, Russia and beyond, there are a fair number of players who are starting to make their case.
For those players, the hot start is coming at the right time, too, as tournaments for both national teams are around the corner. Canada will be sending a team to yet another tournament, the Karjala Cup, beginning on Nov. 8. It will be the third tournament for the Canadians in the lead-up to the Olympics. As for USA Hockey, the new-look, non-NHL men’s national team will get its first taste of international action on Nov. 10 when the Deutschland Cup opens. But who will be there? Here are the players who have been turning heads:
Standouts: CAN: Linden Vey, Wojtek Wolski and Justin Azevedo appear to be well on their way to locking down spots on the Canadian squad. Vey is currently third in league scoring, seven points off the lead, with five goals and 25 points through 21 games, and Wolski (19 points) and Azevdeo (18 points) aren’t too far off. And while he sits third among Canadian scorers, it might actually be Azevedo who’s having the most impressive early season, but there’s good news and bad news. The good? In 19 games, the former Kings draft pick has 12 goals. The bad? He’s out two months with injury.
USA: Matt Gilroy might be the name to watch for the American side. Like any team, production from the back end could be a difference-maker, and Gilroy is certainly managing that in the KHL right now. Through 18 games, his five goals and 15 points are the second-most among American skaters. Dan Sexton is the top American scorer, however, with four goals and 18 points through 21 games.
Keep An Eye On: CAN: Defenseman Mat Robinson will be an option on the back end. In goal, Ben Scrivens is pacing all Canadian netminders with a .919 save percentage and 2.20 goals-against average in 16 outings. Brandon Kozun, a standout scorer last season, has struggled to find the scoresheet.
USA: Nick Ebert is another defender who is putting up points at a steady pace, but keep an eye on goaltender Ryan Zapolski. He won top goaltender honors this past week and is rocking a stellar 1.11 GAA and .955 SP through 17 appearances.
Standouts: CAN: Derek Roy’s veteran presence, not to mention two-point performance at the Puchkov, makes him someone in heavy consideration for the Canadian squad, and his three-goal, 11-point start to the Swedish League season isn’t going to hurt his chances of donning the maple leaf. Rene Bourque has made himself a player to watch, too. One year removed from a 12-goal NHL campaign, Bourque already has half of that total in nine games in Sweden.
USA: Making the jump to the NHL hasn’t happened, but 2011 Hobey Baker winner Andy Miele has been nothing short of phenomenal everywhere he’s played since turning pro. It’s no shocker that has carried over to Sweden, where he’s already put up three goals and seven points in eight outings. He’s not the top American scorer, however. That honor goes to Ryan Lasch, who is building off of last season’s solid performance in the Swiss League.
Keep An Eye On: CAN: Mike Kostka bounced between the NHL and AHL over the past few seasons, but he seems ready-made for the Canadian blueline. Daniel Paille may also be an option if looking to add a veteran presence up front.
USA: Aaron Palushaj has had a tough time catching on full-time overseas, but his hot start in Sweden gives him hope of sticking around and of landing a spot with Team USA. He has a history, previously representing his country at the 2009 World Junior Championship.
Standouts: CAN: Andrew Ebbett has carved himself out a nice spot with SC Bern in the Swiss League, but he’s seemingly taken his play to the next level this season. After seasons of 13 and 25 points, Ebbett has blown the doors off the competition early on with five goals and 19 points in 12 games. He had two assists at the Sochi Hockey Open, so he’s only making his case stronger with his current performance. Don’t sleep defenseman Maxim Noreau, either. His four goals and 11 points put him third in scoring by defensemen.
USA: Two of the league’s top eight scorers, Garret Roe and Mark Arcobello, are American-born. Some will be familiar with Arcobello, who has 139 NHL games under his belt, but Roe is a player who could make himself known at the Olympics. He has been a consistent contributor in European leagues since turning pro and his first season in the Swiss League, which has seen him score seven goals and 18 points in 13 games, is getting him noticed.
Keep An Eye On: CAN: A fixture of the European leagues, Barry Brust could be a backup or third-string option in goal. Mason Raymond has only suited up in seven games thus far, but he impressed when Hockey Canada called on him for the tournament in Sochi.
USA: Nathan Gerbe was a point-per-game player in Switzerland last year and, with nearly 400 NHL contests to his name, his experience could be a valuable asset for the American side at the Olympics.
Standouts: CAN: Trevor Parkes is hardly a household name, but Hockey Canada saw enough there to invite him to the Puchkov. He didn’t manage to find the scoresheet at the tournament, but he’s gone back to the German League and put up six goals and 13 points in 13 games. Not a bad start. Dane Fox is also showing he still has his scoring touch. In 13 games, he has six goals and 11 points and could be a power play triggerman for the Canadians.
USA: You know one great thing about the Olympics sans NHLers? A guy like Keith Aucoin might get his due. He’s one of the most prolific players in AHL history and he continues to produce as a 38-year-old overseas. He has three goals and 21 points in 13 German League games this season. Put him on the American power play and let him go to work. Goaltender David Leggio has also turned some heads with a .931 SP and 2.14 GAA through six games.
Keep An Eye On: CAN: He’s nowhere near the top of the scoring list, but Devin Setoguchi’s four goals and seven points might be enough to create some conversation. He played half a season with the Los Angeles Kings in 2016-17 and he chipped in four goals and 12 points.
USA: After 655 games in the NHL, Tom Gilbert found himself out of a job this summer and headed to Germany. He hasn’t put many points up — five assists in 13 games — but he might be hard to pass over for Team USA.
Standouts: CAN: Ryan O’Connor hasn’t pulled on a national team jersey since his U18 days back in 2009-10. In fact, the last time he skated on the same ice as Team Canada, he was the opponent at the Spengler Cup. But the rearguard’s two-goal, nine-point start to his season in the Finnish League could open some eyes.
USA: Former U18 and U19 rearguard Teemu Kivihalme — despite what his name suggests, he was born in Minnesota — is off to a good start in his first pro campaign. He won’t be a top-pairing guy, but as a depth option, he could have an outside shot.
Keep An Eye On: CAN: Shaun Heshka’s solid performance last season earned him an invite to the Spengler Cup. He’s not at the top of the list, but he could be in line for an invite to camp.
USA: Ben Blood is big, strong and tough as nails. The game will be played on the big ice, but if Team USA wants to add a blueliner who can punish players, Blood might be their guy.
Standouts: CAN: Players on two-way deals aren’t eligible, but that does leave some options for the Canadian team, the clear standout being Colin Campbell. He re-upped on a two-year deal with the Grand Rapids Griffins and has started off with one goal and six points in four games for the defending Calder Cup champions.
USA: No Olympic squad may draw more talent from the AHL than Team USA. Chris Conner, Chris Bourque, Steve Moses and Travis Morin are all capable scorers who could add offensive depth to the team, while Ryan Malone’s comeback seems to be going according to plan. He has two points in four games in the AHL.
Keep An Eye On: CAN: Patrice Cormier is a former World Junior Championship captain who could be a sneaky addition to bulk up the bottom-six. He’s a role player and a lead-by-example type.
USA: T.J. Hensick hasn’t found the scoresheet yet, but it’s only a matter of time. He put up 16 goals and 52 points with the Kings’ farm team, the Ontario Reign, last season.
CAN: Andreas Athanasiou is set to make a decision regarding his future this week, and, if he’s available, Canada may as well prepare his jersey early. He’s a lock for the team if he wants to play.Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman also reported that Jarome Iginla will get an invite to camp. Another name to keep an eye on is Chris Lee. Cut from Kings training camp, Lee was a stud blueliner in the KHL last season and earned a spot on the World Championship club. He could be an offensive addition. Also watch for P-A Parenteau if he’s available.
USA: Brian Gionta is skating with the Rochester Americans and wants a shot at playing for Team USA. He’s a no-brainer for camp and probably a lock for the roster. After getting cut from a PTO, Drew Miller remains without a job. Chris Vandevelde also is seeking work and could have his eye on the Olympics. After a good season in the DEL, Rob Schremp could also be an option.
Growing up in Canada I was a huge hockey fan, but it wasn't until the 1972 summit series and the 1976 Canada Cup that I became a big fan of international hockey. The best players in world all playing on a sheet of ice.
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