Month: October 2017 (Page 2 of 2)

Ice Hockey, Curling and Luge will be part of the Portuguese Winter Sports Federation.

By National Teams of Ice Hockey

Ice Hockey, Curling and Luge will be part of the Federation of Winter Sports of Portugal (FDIP), said Lusa Pedro Farromba, president of FDIP.

Curling and Luge federations have already join, while Ice Hockey will happen at the congress meetings scheduled for May of next year, with Pedro Farromba added that he has only met a few days with the Ice Hockey representatives.

The goal, according to Pedro Farromba, is “to give a new Identity to the FDIP,  by adding new winter sports”,  Skiing and Snowboarding federations have been already welcomed.

Portugal already have an ice hockey team, a formation that on September 29th won it’s first international game by defeating Andorra. In the case of curling, there are players in the country who go to Spain to play.

Curling is practiced on an ice rink and the teams aim to get the stones thrown as close as possible to the target by rubbing the ice to try to defend it’s Territory. 

As for the luge, “there are no place for it to be practiced in Portugal because it is a sled that descends down a mountain in an icy circuit, but there is the possibility, as on the roller skies, of doing it without snow, and adapting.

When it comes to infrastructure, Pedro Farromba believes that if there are athletes and will there will be a number of users, the possibility of a ice rink is real. If there are enough athletes, there will be those who want to invest to do it. We have to make it happen and show people that Portugal have enough interest in winter sports.

The role of the FDIP, to be a leader in winter sports and encourage, motivate, through promotional programs that can create greater adherence to young people in Portugal.

The Russian Senior Women’s Team Snap Japan 26 Game Winning Streak

By Patrick Conway – Conway’s Russian Hockey Blog

The Russian senior women’s team was also at work this past week, preparing for their second annual trip to the United States to face clubs from the National Women’s Hockey League.  The final stage of that preparation was the visit of Team Japan to the Russian hockey base at Novogorsk for a pair of exhibition games yesterday and today.  The Japanese national team came into the series riding a 26-game winning streak in all competitions, so definitely a squad not to be taken too lightly, even as Team Russia looked ahead to the North American tour.

Team Japan served notice early in the first game, too, that they were to be reckoned with, as Akane Hosoyamada of the CWHL’s Calgary Inferno gave the visitors a 1-0 lead after 20 minutes.  Russian Head Coach Alexei Chistyakov’s players found the range thereafter, however; Yevgeniya Dyupina of Dynamo St. Petersburg tied the game seven minutes into the second period.  Then the big Tornado Moscow Oblast trio struck, as Yelena Dergachyova scored with assists to her club linemates Alevtina Shtaryova and Anna Shokhina, and Russia led 2-1 after two periods.  In the third, the Russians pulled away.  First it was another Tornado player, Lyudmila Belyakova, getting her name on the scoresheet, before Agidel Ufa defender Tatyana Shibanova rounded out the scoring in the final minute of what ended as a 4-1 Russian victory.  Shibanova’s Agidel team-mate, the formidable Olga Sosina, picked up assists on both the third-period goals, while Biryusa Krasnoyarsk’s Nadezhda Morozova earned the victory in goal.

Chistyakov opted to go with Valeriya Tarakanova of SKIF Nizhny Novgorod in net for today’s second meeting between the two teams, but the game’s opening act followed the same script.  Once again, Japan held a 1-0 first-intermission lead, this time thanks to Miho Shishiuchi.  And once again, Tornado’s big line came to the fore in the second period, as Shtaryova leveled matters with assists from Dergachyova and Shokhina.  This game, however, would go down to the wire.  With less than three minutes on the clock, Dyupina pounced on a mistake at the Japanese blueline, skated in alone on Nana Fujimoto, and scored what would turn out to be the game winner (see photo at the top of this post).  Tornado’s Nina Pirogova added a third into the empty net with just a few ticks left, and Russia came away with their second victory in two days, by a score of 3-1.

Team Russia sets off for the U.S. on Wednesday, and will open their series on Friday against the New York Riveters.  The full schedule is as follows:

  • Friday, October 13th: New York Riveters
  • Sunday, October 15th: Connecticut Whale
  • Tuesday, October 17th: Connecticut Whale
  • Wednesday, October 18th: Boston Pride
  • Saturday, October 21st: Boston Pride
  • Sunday, October 22nd: New York Riveters

SKA St. Petersburg It’s a record!

Sergei Shirokov: "It's difficult to set records"

By KHL. ru

SKA set a new KHL record for consecutive victories, picking up its 19th win in a row since the start of the season to move past Avangard’s mark. But Sibir made it tough for the Army Men, threatening to crash the party with a resilient display and a third-period fightback.

SKA’s success this season has been built on rollicking offense; this week alone the team blasted 12 goals in road games at Lokomotiv and Salavat Yulaev. Nikita Gusev and Ilya Kovalchuk were in red hot form, and the crowd settled down to await the latest firework display. And waited. And waited. The first intermission arrived, and the game was goalless. And, by recent standards, bereft of goal action. SKA was limited to nine shots at Alexei Krasikov and when the goalie was beaten, a video review reprieved him.

After the break, finally, SKA found its scoring form. The third power play of the night ended with Gusev setting up Sergei Plotnikov to break the deadlock. Two minutes later, Dinar Khafizullin made it 2-0. This was more like it, but the home team’s progress was disrupted by penalty trouble and Sibir was still in the game – just – after 40 minutes.

Jonas Enlund pulled a goal back in the 49th minute, and suddenly a routine engagement was starting to look problematic. The winner came from an unlikely source: Evgeny Ketov is a player often overlooked on SKA’s stella offense, but he came up with the all-important goal when he surprised Krasikov with an early shot from the top of the circle. Sibir tried to battle back, and Simon Onerud got his first goal for the club after moving from Sochi, but SKA closed out the game and established that record.

Andorra slowly growing

Andorra National Team

By Martin Merk – IIHF.com

The 2017 Development Cup offered Andorra to form a national team for the first time and serve as host of an international ice hockey tournament. Although the host team lost the games against Morocco, Ireland and Portugal, it was a good experience for them. 

“It’s our first appearance in an international event. It was difficult against the opponents. We thought we could win against Portugal but we were not so good at converting the shots,” said Aleix Manosas, the local club’s President and Vicef President of the Andorran Ice Sports Federation who was in the net for his team. 

“It’s important for us to have some international exposure, to say we’re little hockey countries but we’re developing and we’re here.” 

Ice sports in Andorra are centred in the 2,000-soul village of Canillo in the northern part of the country in the Pyrenees. It is one of the major winter sport destinations in the country last but not least thanks to having the principality’s only ice rink, the Palau de Gel (“Ice Palace” in Catalan) that includes a full-size ice rink with 1,500 seats and an indoor swimming pool. 

The opening of the ice rink in 1987 was the start of ice hockey, ice skating and curling in the country. The only hockey club, Andorra Hoquei Gel, was founded in 1990. The Andorran Ice Sports Federation came into existence in 1992 and joined the IIHF in 1995. 

Since then Andorra hasn’t hit the international spotlight that much. Senior and junior teams sometimes play games in their neighbourhood with cities with hockey clubs such as Puigcerda (48 km) and Barcelona (200 km) in Spain, or Font-Romeu (65 km) or Toulouse (170 km) in France in driving distance. And in 1997 Spain hosted the 1997 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship D-Pool in Canillo. 

“I remember Korea was here and now they earned promotion to the top division. I know we cannot play against Finland or Sweden like them but why not play in the lower divisions? We’ll fight for that. We are sure that the event is a sign that more people can try to play hockey like us and that more children will play the sport. Like that we can have a better team in the future,” said Manosas. 

According to him there are 90 ice hockey players in the country, about half are senior players and half are children including 12 girls. 

“Hockey in Andorra is played by only few people. Football and basketball are the sport played most often here. But in Canillo it’s a bit colder than in the rest in the country and we have an ice rink. We’ve been developing hockey since the early ‘90s and have been progressing step by step culminating with hosting the Development Cup,” he said. 

2017 was a milestone with having the first official national team. It was mostly composed of players from the local club but also included former players of the club who moved to France including defenceman Louison Courcol (Poitiers), forward Alex Palmitjavilla (Montpellier) and captain Ludovic Blasi (Font-Romeu), who all play in the French fourth-tier competition. 

“Most players are from Canillo, about 70 per cent, or from other towns in Andorra. We just had three players who played in France because they are students. In Andorra we don’t have a lot of universities so they have to go abroad. It’s good for us because they can see another style of hockey and coaching,” Manosas said about the situation in the high-altitude country of around 80,000 inhabitants. 

“Normally the players here play in two small tournaments with ten games and some players play with Font-Romeu in the south of France to have maybe two or four games more. We are trying to do some exhibition games but it’s not so easy to go outside because our budget is not high. And we try to find more players to play in a French competition.” 

For captain Blasi the event has been a great experience despite the losses. 

“We are a small country with a few hockey players in Andorra and those who went to play abroad play at amateur level. We try to play against better teams like at the Development Cup, which is a good way to progress and grow hockey in Andorra,” the captain said. “10 to 12 players from the team have never played according to IIHF rules and with body-checking before. They were adapting the game with more intensity and more shots. 

“It’s an honour to play for the country for the first time. Many play in the club in Andorra but it’s not the same as representing your country. We’ve been hoping for this since childhood.” 

Andorra has a senior and now a youth team to make progress with the youngest players. 

“We formed the under-10 team last year. They competed in two tournaments here and in Barcelona so they had 12 games. In the new season we want to take part in four tournaments so in the future we will hopefully have future champs,” Manosas said. 

A Female Hasek: Klára Peslarová, Team Czech Republic Goalie

By Nathaniel Oliver – The Hockey Writers

The three highest save percentages of Dominik Hasek’s international career were .961, .924 and .923. Those numbers came in international tournaments like the Winter Olympics or World Championships when “The Dominator” played in at least four games of each tournament. In the process, Hasek won an Olympic gold and bronze, and a World Championship silver with three bronze. The Hockey Hall of Famer’s Olympic career save percentage is a staggering .946. As every hockey fan knows, very little ever got by Hasek.

The three highest save percentages (thus far) for fellow Czech goaltender Klára Peslarová in which she has played at least four tournament games have been .975, .954, and .951. Yeah, not much gets by her either.

And she is only a 20-year-old.

“My brother Jakub always said, ‘You are like “You are like  Dominik Hasek in a skirt’,” Peslarová shared.

Peslarová’s Youth Hockey and Where It Began

Like most elite hockey players, Peslarová began playing hockey at a very young age. Born November 23, 1996 in the Czech city of Ostrava she ended up finding inspiration as a goaltender from two remarkable Swedes instead of her fellow countryman, Hasek.

“I started playing when I was three,” Peslarová recalled. “My father was a coach and my brother played hockey too. Because my father was a coach to little children — four to six year olds — I was in the same group. The goalie was sick, so I wanted to try it. I stayed with my group as a goalie, and then the younger group as a forward. You know, you have to be a good skater.”

Around the world, numerous hockey leagues are beginning their 2017-18 seasons. Peslarová is now returning to play in the Czech Republic with a men’s team, HC RT TORAX Poruba after playing two seasons for SDE HF of the Svenska damhockeyligan (SDHL); the top women’s league in Sweden. The SDE HF hockey club is located in Stockholm. While she may be returning to her homeland, it would seem that Peslarová had developed a kinship toward the Scandinavian country long ago.

Henrik Lundqvist was always my hero,” she explained.

Separately, one of the other top female goaltenders in the world — who is also a Swede — helped provide tutelage and fostering to a young Peslarová: “I didn’t know too much about a women’s hockey league, but it was Kim Martin Hasson who helped the team in 2006 around the Olympic Games. This was the first time that I saw women’s hockey.”

Martin Hasson is a silver and bronze Olympic medalist for Sweden, and an NCAA champion from her time with the University of Minnesota Duluth. She is also the Athlete Ambassador to the Czech Republic, and worked with Peslarová at one of the IIHF’s high performance camps when the Czech was a youngster.

Beginning of Her Success at the International Level

Peslarová first got into international play for the Czech Republic during the 2013 IIHF Women’s U18 tournament held in Finland. She appeared in five of the Czech Republic’s six tournament games and posted an important win over Russia. Peslarová’s statistics from that showcase are a bit tough to swallow from sight alone, as her .880 save percentage is rather average while her 5.18 goals against average is cringe-worthy to look at.

However, those numbers do not tell the entire story though. Keep in mind that Peslarová was only 16 at the time of this tournament. In a 10-0 drubbing by the United States in the semifinals she took on 42 shots of a total 76 that the U.S. peppered onto the Czech net that game, and still stopped 37 of them. Her other save totals in the tournament games were 11, 28, 26 and 30 respectively. Certainly a solid performance by a first year player on the national team.

The numbers that Peslarová was about to produce from here on out would seem otherworldly.

2014 Becomes Peslarová’s Coming-Out Party

The 2014 IIHF Women’s U18 tournament was held in Budapest, Hungary and would be the final U18 of Peslarová’s career. Seemingly, this tournament belonged to her. Through Peslarová’s remarkable play in net, the Czech Republic would win only their second medal in the tournament’s history, and their first since 2008 when the Women’s U18 was first brought about by the IIHF.

Peslarová was brilliant in net. She posted four wins to go with two losses, with one of the wins coming in a shootout over Finland in the Czech Republic’s first game of the tournament. She shut out Sweden in the quarterfinals of the tournament 3-0, and then did the same to Russia in the bronze medal game by a score of 1-0. In total, she played 345:00 of ice time, allowed a mere nine goals in six games, had a 1.57 goals against and a whopping .951 save percentage.

Three times Klára Peslarová has been named Best Goaltender by the IIHF in international competition

Peslarová’s greatest heroics came in the 3-1 semifinal loss to the United States. In the 2013 tournament, the Czech Republic had twice allowed 10 goals to the U.S. the two times the teams squared off. This time Peslarová was a wall that could also move and stand on its head. The U.S. put 61 shots on Peslarová and she steered aside 58 of them. In a most deserving performance, Peslarová would be named the Best Goaltender award recipient for the entire tournament.

When asked what that tournament and bronze medal mean to her today, Peslarová shared: “Certainly a lot. I like to always remember it. This was the last opportunity at the U18 level. Also, every award and medal means a lot for me.”

Continued Heroics Throughout 2014 and 2015

The IIHF decided to host a Women’s World Championships during an Olympic year for the first time in 2014. In order to continue the development of teams not participating in the Sochi Games, the IIHF continued to fund participation in the women’s tournament. The Czech Republic simply ran the table over the likes of Norway, France, Denmark, Austria and Slovakia at that year’s Division I Women’s Worlds. Peslarová had now graduated to the Czech women’s national team and once again shined brighter than the sun as their star goaltender.

Peslarová went a perfect 4-0 throughout the tournament as she helped vault the Czech Republic into the top division for women’s international play. The Czech Republic won all five of their games, and Peslarová was once again named the tournament’s Best Goaltender. In her four games she allowed only two goals and posted an almost unfathomable 0.50 goals against and a .975 save percentage.

There would be a near exact repeat performance by Peslarová in 2015 in France. The Czech Republic went a perfect 5-0 once more throughout the Division I tournament to again be promoted back into the top division. Peslarová allowed just two goals — one each to Latvia and Austria — and posted shutouts over France and Denmark. Once again she finished with a 0.50 for goals against as well as a .954 save percentage. For the third time in international play, Peslarová would be named Best Goaltender.

Looking back on the two successive tournaments, Peslarová recalled: “It is definitely an honor for me. I got a chance as a young goalie, I am glad I got this opportunity; and I did not disappoint the coachesEvery year I am doing my best. We have a lot of young goalies in Czech, and I know that everyone can get this chance.”

Peslarová’s League and Professional Play

Since those stellar performances, Peslarová has played in two other Women’s World Championships and one Olympic qualifier. She also ventured forth into professional play and into some of the premier women’s leagues in the world.  As mentioned earlier, Peslarová played the previous two years with SDE HF. She also briefly spent time with Biryusa Krasnoyarsk of the Russian Women’s Hockey League. Now she will be playing alongside men.  Peslarová explained the progression of the past few years and how it has taken place:

“In Russia I played for Biryusa Krasnoyarsk and in Sweden it was for SDE HF in Stockholm. In both it was the highest league. In Russia I was paid like a professional player. In Sweden I had to earn money by work, and in the evenings I had hockey. In Russia there is a limited number of foreigners that can play, but in Sweden it is an undetermined amount. That’s a reason why I liked Sweden more.  Right now I am working hard and preparing myself for the next Olympics.” She smiled, “Let’s see what happens.”

Intangibles of Peslarová’s Game

Dominik Hasek played professional hockey until he was 46 years old. Klára Peslarová will turn 21 at the end of next month.  Hasek didn’t play his best hockey until after he turned 30 and won Stanley Cups at the ages of 37 and 43. That being said, Peslarová has many, many more years of elite level hockey left to play.

The Czech Republic are not one of the eight teams participating at the upcoming 2018 PyeonChang Games in South Korea. Make no mistake, Peslarová will do everything in her power to get her country there in 2022. She possesses numerous intangibles that will help ensure that it happens.

“I think the best is that I’m positive in my mind. My brother thinks I am better in skating than catching the pucks,” Peslarová laughed. “So definitely my movement helps me. But the most important thing I have learned is cooperation with my teammates. Be part of the team, because when you are successful in collective sport you can be successful in private life too.”

Already Peslarová is the most decorated and is decisively the best female goaltender in the hockey history of the Czech Republic. Asked if she wanted to continue playing until she is 46 like Hasek, Peslarová laughed and responded:

Jaromir Jagr can surpass Dominik Hasek – not me!”

At the very least, we know that there will be a solid number of more years to enjoy the play of Peslarová. When all is said and done, she may very well be forever known as “the female Hasek”. Perhaps someday there may even be a goaltender known as “the male Peslarová”.

Portugal goes on ice

Portugal’s Mauricio Xavier and goaltender Ivan Silva defend against Morocco forward Redouan Bouhdid.

By Martin Merk – IIHF.com

Bullfight arena, travel give new ice hockey exposure

Four teams played at the 2017 Development Cup. While players from three teams are regularly on ice, the Portuguese players that reached third place are mostly roller hockey players who dream of establishing ice hockey in the Southwest European country of over 10 million people. 

The Portuguese Ice Sports Federation (FPDG) joined the IIHF in 1999 when an ice rink was in operation in Viseu in the centre of the country. During the best days a three-team national championship was concluded. However, in 2006 the rink shut down for works in the shopping mall and when it reopened. The federation had plans to make it full size but the owners had different ideas. The ice rink shrank and was not suitable for hockey due to its position within a food court without protection. 

The next attempt to start ice hockey was a temporary ice rink that is installed during winter months in a bullfight arena in Elvas, a city of 24,000 people in the Alentejo region at the border to Spain. Games against a Czech team took place in 2015. 

“We have an ice rink for about a month and a half they install temporarily in the winter. And we go to Spain like to the Madrid region and to Granada. We want to establish good relationships with Spanish clubs and maybe one day be invited to play in sort of an Iberian league,” said Mauricio Xavier, one of the more mature players on the ice and the President of the Portuguese Ice Sports Federation. The rink in Elvas is 40 on 20 metres, not full size but they can play the games five-on-five and it’s the size of the roller hockey fields the players are used to. And it’s a two-hour journey from Lisbon – less than the four-and-a-half hours to the next rink in Spain or to Andorra for the recent event. 

“We had big help from the Czech ambassador in Lisbon, Stanislav Kazecky, who has helped us out for several years and had players from the Czech Republic coming to play against us and we also went to the Czech Republic to play against them outdoor.” 

Xavier was born in the Lisbon area where he spent most of his life but got infected with the ice hockey virus in Canada. When he was one-and-a-half years old the family escaped from the dictatorship in Portugal in those days and went to Canada. 

“I started to play when I was five years old. We moved back when I was 13 or 14 years old and I was without hockey until inline hockey showed up in the ‘90s,” he said. When the rink opened in Viseu, he was back on the ice for a few years until it shut down. 

Not only the temporary rink in Elvas brought changes into a positive direction for Portuguese ice hockey. 

“We’re in a good place because we will have changes in Portugal that were kind of imposed to us from the government, which is a good sign for us because we’ve never had government support before,” Xavier said. “The current Ice Sports Federation will be extinguished and ice sports moved into the Portuguese Winter Sports Federation.” 

What might cause political fights elsewhere seems to work smooth and peacefully in Portugal. 

“They have this status as a sporting utility entity and get support through government programs. This federation has the goal to bring sports to the Olympics.” 

While the Olympics are far for Portugal right now, the national team finished the 2017 Development Cup in third place, which was the first tournament the team played against other countries. Morocco with players from other countries and Ireland with regular ice experience across the border in Northern Ireland were too strong but the team had two wins against host Andorra. 

“The tournament has been a good experience. We won games here as a country not having a permanent ice rink, that’s something to be proud of. We want to get kids, male, females to get involved in the game but first we need the rink, government support and money,” said head coach Jim Aldred, a U.S. citizen. 

The Portuguese hoped to have an even stronger team than the roster limited to just 11 players. 

“We hoped to be as good as Morocco, we also have Portuguese players all around the world but John Tavares and Mike Ribeiro got missing somewhere,” Xavier said with a smile and added on a more serious note: “We wanted to develop players in Portugal. Everybody is Portuguese except for the coach, who is married to a Portuguese woman.” 

Another reason was that some players from Portugal or abroad didn’t come was money. 

“We want to develop ice hockey in Portugal but we have no ice rink and no money. Most of the people have to pay for their own so some people wanted to come but didn’t have the money,” said Aldred, who has started working for the Portuguese early this year including a tournament in Granada, Spain. 

“The players are coming along. It’s a process. They’re some older guys and some younger guys too. The biggest problem is not having an ice rink, they all have to play inline hockey. The closest rink for us is a four-and-a-half hour journey away in Madrid.” 

Three players joined the team from abroad. Christopher Leite once played games in the top French league for Anglet and Amiens, for whose fourth-tier team he was still active. Sylvain Rodrigues came also from France, from Evry, and one player is originally from the Portuguese Azores archipelago but used to play in the U.S. before returning to Portugal. 

One of the most notable players, however, was a local one: 20-year-old goaltender Ivan Silva. 

“I love inline hockey too but ice hockey is the best thing. It’s the second time I played hockey on a full-size ice rink,” said the goalie who was born in Spain but has lived in Lisbon since the age of one. 

“For a goalie the feeling in ice hockey, the sliding, is better. And it’s less hot,” he said. “It’s sad we don’t have an ice rink except for the winter season when there are tiny rinks in shopping malls and then I go there.” 

Being able to play in Andorra was a wonderful experience for him as he said. And with many Portuguese living in the country nestled in the Pyrenees between France and Spain, they had some local support. 

“We saw we have a lot to learn and to practise. There were players here who play at a much higher level. It was great to be here. 

“We met many Portuguese here especially in a restaurant. They made us feel like at home. They supported us well. 

“My dream for the future is to have an ice rink in Portugal, in Lisbon, to play and practise, and to have teams and get kids to play the sport from the childhood age. It would be nice to be able in a World Championship tournament one day.” 

President Xavier hopes that the ice rink situation will change and is optimistic after the recent political change for ice sports that it will happen and give new opportunities to develop ice hockey. 

“In Portugal we have a football mentality first. It’s easier to build and maintain a football pitch than an ice rink but I still believe that Lisbon with a population of two million people deserves an ice rink. They deny many sports to the people. It’s the only big capital in Europe that has never had an ice rink. We never showed the Portuguese people what ice hockey, figure skating or speed skating is. We have speed skaters on wheels who are world champions and would like to go on ice, every speed skater elsewhere has an inline and an ice season. And it’s similar for us in hockey,” Xavier said. 

“Lisbon wants to be capital of sports in 2021 but doesn’t have an ice rink and at least five sports are neglected. But we’re in a transitory phase and I believe we’ll have an ice rink in one or two years.” 

Nathan Walker makes Washington Capitals’ opening 2017/18 roster, set to become first Australian to play in NHL

By News.com.au

NATHAN Walker is set to realize his dream of becoming the first Australian to play in the NHL after making the Washington Capitals’ opening roster for 2017/18.

Walker was named as the Capitals released their squad on Wednesday, ahead of their season opener against the Ottawa Senators on Friday.

The 23-year-old is no guarantee to feature in that game — and the roster is still subject to change — but his long-awaited debut now appears only a matter of time. He’s already made history in becoming the first Australian to make an NHL team’s roster.

Walker impressed for the Capitals in pre-season, fighting off stiff competition from other forwards to earn a place in the squad. It’s a culmination of years of perseverance and hard work for Wales-born, Sydney-raised Walker, who played in the Czech Republic before moving to the US and getting drafted by the Capitals in 2014.

Walker has spent much of his time since playing for Washington’s feeder team, the Hershey Bears in the AHL (American Hockey League). He scored 11 goals and 12 assists in 58 games last season and looked on the verge of a mid-season NHL call-up before an untimely wrist injury.

At just 173cm, Walker is often one of the smallest players on the ice but has impressed with his energy, pace and penalty-killing ability.

“He has an effect on the game,” Capitals coach Barry Trotz said.

“He may not be the most natural goal scorer, but he has (an) effect on pace of play, the zone play. He wears people out. He’s in your face and gets people off their game, so there’s a lot of good things about Nathan that you like.”

Hungary celebrates 90 years of ice hockey in the country

By Szabolcs Zavodszky – IIHF.com

The Hungarian Ice Hockey Federation celebrated the sport of ice hockey with a star-studded gala event that consisted something for everyone. 

The Hungarian Ice Hockey Federation celebrated 90 years of ice hockey with an event that had a kids’ ice hockey tournament, a women’s game that pitted the national teams of Hungary against Poland. There was an “old boys” game that had the 2008 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship’s Hungarian team that won promotion to the top division against the Finnish “Golden Lions”, that was largely made up of players from the 1995 World Champions. The final game was the Hungarian men’s team playing Poland. 

The guest of honour was Vladislav Tretiak. “The Hungarian Ice Hockey Federation has done great work,” Tretiak said. “The fans are great and we are all familiar with the work that Dr. Zsuzsanna Kolbenheyer has done.” Tretiak and Kolbenheyer know each other very well since both are IIHF Council members. 

The women’s team set the tone for the celebration as they defeated Poland 8-1 thanks to Alexandra Huszak’s hat trick. The game was tied early but Hungary pulled away in the second half of the game. 

For many fans the biggest treat of the gala event was seeing players such as Balazs Kangyal, Levente Szuper and Krisztian Palkovics go up against Jere Lehtinen, Niko Kapanen and Reijo Ruotsalainen. This might not have had the same pace if it was played 10 or 20 years ago but it was still exciting for both the players and the fans. Hungary had a 2-0 lead after the first period and were up 5-1 at one point before Finland came back, but Hungary hung on for the 6-5 win. 

Former Hungarian head coach Pat Cortina had a blast coaching his former players again. “It is always special to be back and it feels better the older I get. There are great people here and the team is a group of unbelievable guys. It was a great atmosphere and everyone had fun,” the Canadian said. 

Jere Lehtinen has become familiar with Hungarian hockey the last few seasons as the GM of the Finnish national team. “For me it was great because I had a chance to see the Hungarian fans again who were the talk of the World Championships in Russia two seasons ago. Actually Finland played in Hungary last year, so this is the third year that I have had a chance to see these great fans,” he said. 

Lehtinen was the leading scorer for Finland with two goals and an assist. “It was fun but we had a long trip here and our legs were still heavy at the start. It was a good team, both teams had a lot of fun, Hungary still had a lot of players who I think could still play. We are pleased that the Hungarian Ice Hockey Federation invited us to play in this game and we are happy that the fans enjoyed themselves.” 

Gergely Majoross and Csaba Kovacs finished with two goals and an assist each as well. “This was an extremely great experience to be back on the ice with these guys playing against the opponents that we played and in this arena, it could not be much better than this. I am not in match form but maybe I did have a bit of an advantage because of my young age,” said Kovacs and thanked the Golden Lions for coming to Budapest. “There were legends playing on both sides who I have tremendous respect for. We saw these guys play on TV and we would like to thank them for coming here and playing against them.” 

The gala came to an end with the Hungarian men’s national team taking on Poland. Both teams named new head coaches who were making their coaching debuts with their teams that will battle for promotion to the top division next April at the 2018 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship Division I Group A in Budapest. The visiting team Poland had Ted Nolan with Jarmo Tolvanen behind the bench for Hungary. 

After a scoreless first period the floodgates opened up in the second period in great delight for the fans. Hungary jumped out to a 4-0 lead thanks to a pair of goals from Brance Orban with Poland ending the shutout that David Duschek had going in the final minute of the second period. The final score was 5-1. 

“We want to thank everyone that came out to the Laszlo Papp Sportarena. I am sure the highlight was the chance to see the ‘Sapporo Heroes’ back on the ice. It was great to see the stands full with fans who created a great atmosphere in the arena,” said Gergo Nagy after the game. 

Tolvanen was also happy with the result of the game: “This is the time where we can get to know each other. It was a good performance and a good team effort. We had four solid units. It was great effort for the home fans.” 

Hungary has had an extraordinary 90 years of ice hockey with ups and downs and will hopefully see new highlights during the next 90 years. 

Morocco makes it

By Martin Merk – IIHF.com

Morocco beat Ireland 11-4 in the final to win the inaugural Development Cup. It was the first time Morocco won an international tournament in the event that also included Portugal, which finished third, and host Andorra. 

The four-team tournament is an initiative from some of the smaller IIHF member countries not part of the IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship program to give them an opportunity to play amongst each other similar like the IIHF Ice Hockey Challenge Cup of Asia for the Asian members. 

Morocco was the strongest team both in the preliminary round and in the final. The team that mostly consists of Moroccans who learned and played their hockey in Europe and the Canadian province of Quebec finished the event with a 4-0 record. 

Ireland has been the toughest opponent in the preliminary round – even though scores may tell otherwise – and it was similar in the final between the two most skilled and physically strongest teams. During Morocco’s first power play Thomas Carpenter gave Ireland the lead on a breakaway but a few moments later Mehdi Ghazi converted the man advantage to tie the game. 

The Moroccans continued to be strong and were ice-cold with their chances. Hakim Bouchaoui gained Morocco its first lead and a natural hat trick from Damien Bourguignon made it 5-1 for Morocco after one period. 

“Of course it was great to have such a good start but even if I scored three goals it was not just me, it was great work from the whole team. We had a good team here. Everybody contributed to winning the tournament,” said Bourguignon. 

The son of a French father and a Moroccan mother was one of the most skilled player from the European-based contingent. Last season he played in the French second tier for the Clermont Sangliers and this season one league below for the Dijon Ducs. France, which held Morocco as a protectorate until 1956, has a big diaspora of people from Morocco and other North African countries. 

“I played first time last summer in the Africa Cup. I really appreciated playing in that tournament and that’s why I came again for this event without hesitating a second,” the 25-year-old forward said. 

“It was unbelievable to play in Morocco last year. If somebody had told me ten years ago that I’d play ice hockey in Morocco I’d have said “you’re crazy!” and when I got the invitation I first thought my friends were kidding me until I realized it was real and I went to Rabat. There’s a group of very motivated people from the President to the players.” 

The second period against Ireland continued in the same direction the first frame had ended. Youssef Chadli, Charles-Hichem Balha and Yassin Ahrazem scored for Morocco, Ian Courtney had a marker for Ireland before a few players unloaded their emotions in a hard-contested game with their fists, just to later mix together for a more peaceful team photo after the game. 

The end of the second period continued with four-on-four and one goal each for a 9-3 score after the second period. After exchanging three more goals in the third period Morocco won the game 11-4, got the trophy and celebrated with it and hearing their national anthem, the Cherifian Anthem, in the background. 

Another player with high-level experience is captain Youssef Kabbaj from Westmound, Quebec, who played three years at the highest level of junior hockey in Canada’s QMJHL, four years of CIS college hockey and since 2016 minor league hockey in Quebec, this season for St-Cyrille Condors (LHSAAAQ). 

Hakim Bouchaoui, who was born in the Swedish hockey town of Karlstad, is another player who plays amateur hockey in a top hockey country, currently for Swedish fourth-tier team Kils AIK. 

“It was fun. It was hard in the beginning. We knew Ireland was going to play hard and be good,” Bouchaoui said. “But some of the guys play a lot and know the game well.” 

Bouchaoui came in through his brother, who played for Morocco in the 2008 Arab Cup in Abu Dhabi. “We tried all kind of sports, football, hockey, but I loved hockey. I played first time last year in the Africa Cup. It was special since we played we played 3-on-3. It was a good experience.” 

Ice hockey in Morocco is a rather young sport and the first generation of players who started as kids in Morocco is slowly moving into senior hockey. The roster included two young players developed in Morocco. One of them is Mohamed El Idrissi from Rabat. 

“I started in 2005. They invited me to play for the Rabat Capitals when they started the team and I have liked playing hockey ever since then. I’m very proud to be a member of the national team and represent Morocco,” said El Idrissi, who usually plays one game a week plus practice in the Moroccan capital. 

“We have played well here, won games. We have the qualities to play good hockey. My dream is to develop hockey in Morocco and find the means to play hockey and get a full-size ice rink. We need a rink and then we can move further. We don’t have a lot of means but we dream about a rink to play international ice hockey. We have two small ones but it doesn’t work to invite bigger teams who are used to play on international-size rinks.” 

Mrini’s dream started in the ’80s in Quebec

The Royal Moroccan Ice Hockey Federation is a life-long dream of Khalid Mrini, who grew up in Morocco before moving to the Canadian province of Quebec. Behind the bench he had his fellow Morocco-Quebecer, Development Director Adil El Farj, and his brother Mimoun Mrini, who lives in Morocco and served as head coach of the team. 

“We work a lot. Now we have more than 400 players in Morocco. We started last year our first national championship. It’s growing. It’s a lot of work but the future is bright,” said Khalid Mrini. 

His dream of ice hockey in the North African country started a long time ago. He moved to Quebec as a 17-year-old to study in Canada and immediately fell in love with ice hockey when he saw a Montreal Canadiens vs. Detroit Red Wings game on TV. “In Morocco sometimes you see in the sport news the Stanley Cup or the World Championship but just a 30-second highlight. When I first time saw a full game I started following the Montreal Canadiens and travelled to games a lot in the ‘80s and ‘90s. I love this game because it’s so exciting,” he said. 

In 1983 he was at the International Pee-Wee Hockey Tournament in Quebec. “I saw all these flags, Canada, United States, Switzerland and so on. I told my girlfriend that one day I’d put my flag there. She started laughing. She said “it’s only I dream”. I knew it was a dream but you can’t live without dreams. 

“When they opened the first ice rink in Morocco in 2004 my brother called me and told me there’s an ice rink in Rabat. I went to Morocco and we started the first hockey school. In 2006 I went to Quebec City to participate with 14 players from Morocco. I called my ex-girlfriend. I told her “I made it!”. It took me more than 20 years but I did it. I had my flag there. It was a feeling I can’t explain, to have the flag there with the Canadians, Americans, Russians.” 

After starting ice hockey at the small rink in Rabat – in the meantime a second small-size rink is used for hockey in Casablanca – Morocco started to look out for international contacts. First Moroccan kids played against kids from hockey countries who were kids of diplomats in Morocco. Later they hosted a Canadian team, French teams, Spanish teams, went to Switzerland for a ten-day camp. In 2008 they participated in the first and only Arab Cup in Abu Dhabi. 

“In 2010 we became IIHF member, something I’m proud of because that’s where all the big and smaller hockey countries are members. I started to speak with many presidents from other countries and look for help,” Mrini said. 

“Last year we had the first Africa Cup against teams from Algeria, Tunisia and Egypt. The government started believing in us and saw that it’s getting serious. Two years ago we went from being a national association to being a Royal federation. It means a lot. It means the government started to believe in us and that hockey is growing in Morocco.” 

Now he has his Moroccan flag in other tournaments too including the 2017 Development Cup where Morocco for the first time played national teams from Europe. 

“I’m living my dream and being here today is still a dream because you have the Moroccan flag here, you hear the national anthem with the other countries. But it’s only the beginning. I want to show the hockey world that we’re serious. Hockey in Morocco is not exotic. We’re not just for the photo gallery,” Mrini said. 

“Hockey is not just the big countries like Canada, USA or Russia. We have here the coverage on the IIHF website. And last year Luc Tardif came to Morocco. When I told the government that he is the IIHF Treasurer and President of the French Ice Hockey Federation, they realized that the IIHF is really supporting us. It was like a wake-up call and they started helping us more and more,” he added. 

“Inshallah we will have an ice rink”

While Morocco has passionate diaspora players who represent the country of their roots, hockey has also grown in the country itself since its start. What once began with six players when the ice rink in the Mega Mall in Rabat opened is now a sport with eight club teams. When the national championship begins later this month, they will be joined by a ninth team. 

Mrini’s dream is not over yet. He knows that to develop hockey within the country and be able to play internationally with homegrown players it needs more rinks. While the federation is working on having a third small rink in Agadir, the challenge is to get the first full-size one to be able to play five-on-five and join more established ice hockey countries in the IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship program. 

“Now I’m looking to build an official ice rink in Morocco. In Rabat, or Casablanca. It’s not so important where it is but to have a big ice arena. I want to start in the IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship Division III,” Mrini said. 

“In the beginning it was very hard but now the government saw our international tournaments and the national championship in Morocco. I have all the plans to build an arena from the IIHF. I have everything ready. Now just the money is missing but I’m working hard for it and Inshallah [if God wills] we will have an ice rink,” he said. “Morocco deserves it.” 

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