Day: February 15, 2018

From the Land of Canaan to Canada, Israel’s first hockey star shoots for NHL

By Robert Starner – The Times of Israel

 At age 10, David Levin decided it was time to leave the Land of Canaan for Canada — to become a professional ice hockey player.

At the time, the Israeli boy didn’t know how to skate or speak English and had never experienced a Canadian winter. So back in 2010, his parents brushed off his request, thinking it “just a phase.”

Two years later, Levin persisted.

This time, to his surprise, they relented and let him go live in hockey’s promised land with the then-preposterous goal of becoming the first Israeli-born player in the National Hockey League (NHL).

Today, his aspiration is no longer far-fetched: Levin stands a good chance of being selected in the league’s annual draft of young players in June. Thanks to his innate skill, tenacity, hard work and all-consuming sense of purpose, he’s turned what once seemed a highly-improbable mission into a now credible scenario.

Like Omri Casspi, who in 2009 became the first Israeli to compete in the National Basketball Association (NBA), Levin seeks to break new ground for Israeli athletes by being the first to play in the world’s elite professional hockey league.

“I want my country to actually see that I’ll do whatever it takes to make the NHL, which would be a huge accomplishment for both me and for Israel,” says Levin, 18, who was born and grew up in a small town near Netanya. “I want to show everyone that any kid from whatever country can make it in the NHL if he wants to follow his dreams and do what’s necessary.”

How a nice Israeli boy met hockey

Levin spoke with The Times of Israel a few hours before he and his current team, the Sudbury Wolves, played in a recent Ontario Hockey League (OHL) game against the Niagara Ice Dogs in St. Catharines, a small city that’s a 120 km (75 mile) drive south of Toronto. We spoke in the modest hotel where the Wolves were staying, after arriving earlier in the day on their team bus following a five-hour drive from Sudbury in northern Ontario.

Despite being from Israel, where hockey is, at best, marginal, Levin’s involvement in the sport is less surprising given his family’s background. His mother, Lena, moved to Israel from Russia where hockey is popular. But more importantly, his father, Pavel, immigrated from Lativa where he played recreational hockey and was a professional soccer player.

In Israel, after first playing for the Maccabi Tel Aviv soccer team, Pavel created a youth sports club and a roller and ice hockey school for which he takes students to Metulla on the border with Lebanon to play at Israel’s best ice hockey facility.

“I went to Metulla a couple of times to try ice hockey,” says Levin, “but I didn’t really like it. I couldn’t skate so I went back to roller hockey.”

Until age 9, he also played soccer, tennis and basketball — but excelled in roller hockey under his father’s guidance. For several years, he played for an Israeli youth team, competing in tournaments in Europe from 2010. Due to his standout ability, coaches representing several countries at the tournament suggested Pavel send his son to Canada to develop his hockey talent on ice. That planted the idea in Levin’s head.

Since then, his hockey odyssey has proven compelling enough to attract considerable media attention in North America in recent years.

David Levin playing inline hockey in Israel before he learned to play ice hockey in Canada

In a lengthy 2016 profile in The New York Times, Levin spoke of how he was influenced by watching NHL games on TV with his father in Israel, starting at age 7 or 8. He said that’s how he developed a love for the game, supplemented by watching NHL highlights on YouTube.

“I remember seeing a film about Sidney Crosby when he was young and how he worked hard every day on his hockey skills to get better. That’s what I wanted to do, too,” Levin told the reporter, referring to the current Pittsburgh Penguins superstar.

Levin, a left-handed forward, is now in his third year with the Sudbury Wolves. They are one of 20 teams in the OHL, a major junior league closely followed by scouts for NHL teams. After making the playoffs last year, Sudbury is struggling this season, mired in last place in the 10-team Eastern Conference. Likewise, Levin’s offensive output is down from last year, in part due to a major knee injury in late October that caused him to miss 18 games. As of mid-February, he had 12 goals and 13 assists for 25 points.

Cory Stillman, head coach of the Wolves, is a big supporter of Levin.

“Despite how late he began playing hockey, I’m not surprised where David is today,” says Stillman, who played 16 seasons in the NHL. “Great athletes often pick up a sport at a later age. David developed his hands and shot playing roller hockey. Skating came after. The more he works and plays, the better his skating will become. He’s still young and showing improvement. I think he has a good chance of being drafted in June.”

In 2015, following an excellent season (39 goals, 41 assists) in Toronto’s Minor Midget Hockey League, Sudbury chose Levin as the first overall pick in that year’s OHL priority selection draft.

It linked him to some of hockey’s biggest names, such as Connor McDavid, Steven Stamkos and John Tavares, all current NHL stars who previously were first overall picks in the OHL.

“Being the top choice was amazing,” Levin later told a reporter for the NHL website. “It was the best moment of my life. It brought me one step closer to my dream. But after a couple of games, no one really cares anymore. You just have to show on the ice why you went first overall in the draft.”

It was pretty heady stuff for a 15-year-old kid, especially one who only three years earlier had begun a new life in Canada with almost no ice hockey experience, had never worn a full set of hockey equipment and who didn’t even know how to stop on his skates.

Israeli-born David Levin didn’t put on skates until he was 12

Levin arrived in Toronto in the summer of 2012 and stayed with his aunt and uncle, who had previously lived in Israel after moving there from Russia. Weeks later, just shy of his 13th birthday, he enrolled at a private high school that specializes in developing elite sports talent. There, Levin began the transition from roller skates to ice skates under the tutelage of the hockey staff.

“At first, it was really hard for me,” Levin recalls. “I didn’t know any English. I was sitting in class without understanding anything. As for the hockey, I didn’t know how to skate and the first time I went on the ice I crashed into the boards because I didn’t know how to stop.”

Whatever Levin may have lacked then, his determination helped see him through any difficulties. When he wasn’t in class, he was either on the ice or in the gym. In 2014, he earned a spot on a local team in the city’s highest youth hockey division and had a strong season. His parents and brother came from Israel to watch him play in the championship which Levin’s team lost in overtime.

Better late than never

The road to hockey glory is long, arduous and highly competitive. For most professional players, it begins at age 3 or 4 when they start skating, followed a year or two later by playing organized hockey — in places, such as Canada, where the sport is popular and arenas are plentiful. Gifted players also often play for their school teams before being scouted by major junior teams. Only a tiny minority ultimately make it to the NHL.

While Levin may share the same destination with his current teammates, his route for getting there has been radically different from all the rest.

“The biggest challenge for me was leaving my parents, younger brother and best friends behind in Israel,” says Levin. “That was tough and it’s still not easy.”

In Sudbury, home to 160,000 residents, the biggest difficulty for Levin has been the extremely cold winters. Located 415 km northwest of Toronto, the city has a small Jewish community of 250 people (that surprisingly has never reached out to their Israeli hockey phenom).

Levin is the only Jewish player on his team and sole Israeli in the OHL. On a few occasions, opposing players have taunted him about his background.

“There have been a few incidents against me,” Levin says calmly. “Some happened when we were playing in other rinks. Those who made comments about Israel thought they were jokes but I didn’t find them funny because I’m from there and I know what’s happening there and they don’t. But I just have to keep moving forward and not let it bother me. It doesn’t get me down as I know I’m well liked, especially by my teammates.”

When asked to elaborate on what happened, he becomes circumspect.

“It doesn’t really matter the specific comments,” adds Levin. “I prefer not to say the names of the players who said negative things or even identify the teams they’re on.”

Last year, a player from an opposing team was suspended for 10 games after the referee heard what he said to Levin during a game. The player later called Levin to apologize.

As for his own team, made up mostly of Canadians and Americans along with two Russians, Levin insists he’s never heard a negative word from his teammates.

When he dons his equipment and Sudbury Wolves jersey, with “71” emblazoned on the back, Levin feels he’s playing for his team, himself and his country.

“Coincidentally, the main colors of the Sudbury jersey are the Israeli colors of blue and white,” says Levin. “Because that makes me think of Israel, when I’m stepping on the ice, I try to do my best for people in Israel including those who think they can be hockey players too. I want to show everyone they should never give up.”

Unlike other OHL players, Levin has faced the question of his compulsory army service in Israel. In late 2016, he received a temporary deferment from the IDF. His family and agent are working on getting an extended one that’s granted extremely rarely to elite athletes.

Having turned 18 last fall, Levin is keenly aware his friends back home are now serving in the IDF while he’s in Canada playing hockey.

“I love my country, all the people there and that everyone is helping each other,” says Levin, who’s spoken to both the Israeli embassy in Ottawa and the consulate in Toronto about this matter. “Without wanting to sound cocky, not many kids have a talent that would allow them to be the first person from their country to be drafted and possibly play in the NHL. So, people back home have to respect that. It’s going to make Israelis proud.”

Asked what the embassy and consulate told him, Levin answered: “They said, ‘Just worry about hockey for now and get drafted by an NHL team in June and then we’ll go from there.’”

Levin, who at 1.77 m (5’10”) and 77 kilos (170 lbs.) is smaller than most NHL players today, is upbeat about his hockey future.

“I think there are really good chances I’ll be drafted,” he says. “If I keep playing well during the rest of this season, playing hard, I’m optimistic. I really don’t care what team chooses me. It’s my dream to be drafted and play in the NHL.”

Over the NHL’s 100-year history, relatively few Jews and no Israelis have played in the league. In 2000, Max Birbraer, who was born in Kazakhstan and only moved to Israel when he was 14, became the first and only player with Israeli citizenship to be drafted by an NHL team, but never played in a league game.

On ice, in the wolf pack

Following the interview, Levin joined his teammates for the five-minute bus ride from the hotel to the Meridan Centre in St. Catharines. After the pre-game warm-up and the playing of Canada’s national anthem, the Sudbury Wolves faced off against the Niagara Ice Dogs before 4,000 fans.

Throughout the game, playing center and left wing, Levin showed great concentration and poise. Late in the third period, he set up his team’s tying goal on a power play, making a slap-pass to a linemate who scored a few minutes before Niagara won in overtime.

The next day, in an afternoon game in Hamilton, 75 km (46 miles) west of St. Catharines, Levin scored one of Sudbury’s two goals as his team lost 3-2.

This is no ordinary amateur sports team: During the six-month, 68-game regular season, the Wolves play, on average, three games a week. Many involve extended bus rides from Sudbury. The longest trip is eight hours to Flint, Michigan and slightly less to Erie, Pennsylvania. Coupled with almost daily practices, it’s a demanding routine.

Levin’s parents stay up late to watch most games via a live stream on their computer at home in Israel. The next day, Pavel often calls his son to discuss his on-ice performance.

Levin is constantly working on improving his game. He has no choice if he wants to advance.

“Like many players, David needs to work on consistency in his game,” says Coach Stillman. “To become a pro, you need to be good every day, in practices and games.”

In June, Levin’s parents, brother and agent will join him in Dallas for the NHL draft.

So far, scouts from five NHL teams (Pittsburgh, Chicago, New Jersey, Buffalo and Calgary) have interviewed him as part of their evaluation process of possible draftees.

“They ask you all kinds of questions,” says Levin. “Most are about you and your life off the ice. It’s really important for them that you’re a good person. They ask about your family and what kind of guy you are. They also give you questions to answer in writing. If they think you’re selfish and bad with your teammates, you’re done. I think it’s good NHL teams do this because they put a lot of money into everything and they don’t want a player to embarrass them.”

Amid the pressure and spotlight, Levin remains even-keeled and steadfast.

“With his world-class talent and burning desire to be the best, I believe David will be drafted in June,” says Ryan Barnes, his agent since 2015. “He has elite skill and great hockey sense, and is driven to constantly get better.”

If Levin is a pioneer when it comes to Israelis in North American hockey, he’s already inspired others, including his 12-year-old brother who has taken up the sport and hopes to follow in his big brother’s footsteps.

David Levin, right, with Cory Stillman, the coach of the Sudbury Wolves

“Two Israeli kids from my dad’s hockey school moved to Canada after me,” says Levin. “There were three Israelis at the school that I attended in Toronto. Two of them have since returned to Israel but one is still there and he hopes to do what I’ve done. That’s his dream.”

Regardless of whether Levin makes the NHL, he’s already demonstrated dreams are worth pursuing, even if, at first, they seem unattainable. No small feat for an 18-year-old far from home.

Canada opens title defence in solid style

By Andy Potts

Canada began its Olympic defence with an assured 5-1 victory over Switzerland – and introduced a batch of new names to its illustrious history at the Games. Rene Borque and Wojtek Wolski scored two goals apiece, while Derek Roy had a hat-trick of assists to mark their Olympic debuts.

Deprived of its NHL stars, the current Canadian roster has an rather unfamiliar look. Drawn largely from European-based players, it’s a team that combines NHL veterans approaching the end of their careers with players who tired of life on the bubble and gambled on a fresh start in new surroundings. Head coach Willie Desjardins did not exactly bang the drum at his team’s final practice, suggesting that Canada might have to “score by committee” in this competition.

Chris Lee, a D-man who never made the NHL, explained how the new-look Canada is coming together as a team.

“We have a lot of emotion in the room, and we’re playing for each other and for the emblem,” said the Metallurg Magnitogorsk blueliner. “It doesn’t matter who scores the goals. We’re all going to chip in with a blocked shot or a goal or a hit. It’s fun to see that emotion.”

However, if it’s going to take a committee to get goals for this team, Bourque made an impressive bid to be the executive at the head of the working party. Less than three minutes into the game, he rolled up to the doorstep in time to apply the finishing touch to a Chris Lee pass from the point and send the puck behind Leonardi Genoni in the Swiss net.

Bourque is a player typical of the NHL-free Canada roster. Undrafted, his career has been a tale of trades and debates rather than trophies and celebrity. Along the way, he’s struggled with injuries – including a horrific neck injury when inadvertently slashed by a skate during a scrummage in the crease while playing for the Blackhawks in 2006 – and faced accusations of failing to make the most of his talent. Highlights included a call-up to Canada’s 2010 World Championship roster and a time when he was viewed as the answer to Calgary’s scoring needs. A summer move to Djurgardens in the Swedish Championship paused an NHL career with 725 appearances, and opened the door for an Olympic call-up.

And he had a role in Canada’s second, which arrived in the eighth minute on the team’s first power play of the night. Maxim Noreau met Chris Lee’s feed with a devastating one-timer from the point; Bourque threw up the screen for the SC Bern defenceman to score on his club colleague Genoni.

Another man who characterises the unlikely Canadian line-up is defenceman Chay Genoway. In the KHL, his Lada Togliatti team is well out of playoff contention, but tonight he was making his Olympic debut. Not surprisingly, he was fully motivated. “It didn’t take much to get up for this game,” he said. “It’s been a long time coming. We’ve been thinking about this for a while. It was fun to get out there and burn some energy.”

Switzerland sought to recover from those blows, but struggled to generate offence in the first period. And the game was effectively ripped from Swiss hands in the 26th minute when Canada scored twice in quick succession. Bourque made it 3-0, a lovely touch and backhand finish as he got right in front of Genoni to convert Derek Roy’s pass with some style. That had Canada two from two on the power play – another area Desjardins had identified as mission critical – and in control.

Then came Wolski, crowning his incredible recovery from a broken neck with a goal on his Olympic debut. As a Swiss attack broke down, Wojtek streaked onto Noreau’s pass down the right channel, danced his way past Simon Moser and Fabrice Herzog, and fired an early shot past a startled Genoni. That was the last action of the night for the goalie; Jonas Hiller was called from the bench to replace him and was almost beaten by Roy almost immediately when the Linkoping forward shot over an empty net.

It was an emotional moment for Wolski, whose life was turned upside down after a freak accident playing for Metallurg Magnitogorsk in the KHL in 2016 left him with a broken neck and potentially paralyzed. “There were a lot of ups and downs,” he said. “I’m so grateful for how it worked out, for being here. I’m so happy I can experience this but it wasn’t easy. There were times when I didn’t think I’d be able to walk again, be able to play hockey, to lead a normal life. It’s pretty special to be here.”

In the face of the Canadian offence, the Swiss struggled to find a way into the game. A couple of early wobbles from goalie Ben Scrivens offered Switzerland some hope, but the Salavat Yulaev Ufa man survived those anxious moments and grew into his game. There were flashes of encouragement for the Europeans – lovely hands from Andres Ambuhl created a presentable second-period chance for Eric Blum – but it wasn’t until the last minute of the second period that Scrivens saw any sustained pressure in front of his net.

Moser felt that his team’s improvement in the closing stages was partly due to Canada putting the result beyond doubt, but still saw some positives from the way Switzerland finished the game.

“They didn’t have to play their hard game anymore. They just had to focus on defence and that gave us time with the puck,” he said. “If we manage the puck better and believe in our skills, I think we can play the game better.”

The final frame saw Switzerland get a great chance to score its first goal of the Games during a 5-on-3 power play eight minutes into the session. Denis Hollenstein dinged the post, Scrivens survived a breakdown in communication in front of his crease, but Moser finally forced the puck into the net when he stuffed home the loose puck after Thomas Rufenacht’s shot squeezed through the goalie’s defences.

That goal came with Hiller on the bench, sacrificed for an extra attacker during the power play. But when Switzerland repeated that gamble at even strength with almost six minutes to play, the plan backfired. Wolski cashed in to fire his second of the night into the empty net after the Swiss turned over possession in the Canadian zone.

It wrapped up a satisfying night for Canada, but Wolski warned there could be more to come. “We’re happy with how we played, we’re happy we won but we have to forget about it,” he said. “We’ll celebrate a little bit after the game, cherish the moment, but tomorrow we’ll look at the video, see where the mistakes were and see where we can build.”

Czechs spoil Korea’s debut

By Lucas Aykroyd

In any case, the Korean men’s national team should be proud of its Olympic debut at the packed Gangneung Hockey Centre against a formidable foe.

“Obviously they have fans behind their back,” said Repik. “They were very excited to play the Olympics at home, and they left everything on the ice, so it was a hard game for us.”

This was Korea’s first official top-level IIHF game ever, and head coach Jim Paek got great mileage out of both his domestic talent and North American imports. A 2-1 loss is very respectable for Korea, which sits 22nd in the IIHF World Ranking, while the Czechs are sixth.

“This was a huge first night in the Olympics,” said Paek. “First game ever in the Olympics, first goal scored in the Olympics. It was a fantastic night for sure, and why it was fantastic was because our players played extremely hard.”

Jan Kovar had the other Czech goal, while Minho Cho scored Korea’s historic first Olympic goal.

It was an intriguing goalie duel. Pavel Francouz, a four-time IIHF World Championship participant and a KHL all-star, got his first Olympic start between the pipes for the Czechs. Korean starter Matt Dalton, 31, is a native of Clinton, Ontario, and saw action in the NCAA, ECHL, and KHL before starring for Anyang Halla over the last four seasons.

The Czechs, seeking their first gold medal since 1998 and first medal since 2006’s bronze, outshot Korea 40-18. Dalton was superb to keep it close.

“That’s why he’s there,” said Korea’s Brock Radunske. “He’s played well ever since he came to Korea and gives the guys confidence that he’s going to be there if somebody does make a mistake.”

The Koreans played with pride, grit, and structure, determined not to make it a cakewalk for their opponents. Neither team seemed distracted by the hypnotic spectacle of a whole section of synchronized North Korean cheerleaders directly behind the Czech net in the first and third periods.

The red-, blue-, and white-clad cheerleaders have also supported the unified Korean women’s team at all of its games. Their presence here was noteworthy since the men’s team has no North Koreans.

The atmosphere was electric. There were gasps and cheers from the 6,025 in attendance when Dalton foiled Czech captain Martin Erat’s opening shot on goal, and they only got louder when Kisung Kim set up Sangwook Kim – the team’s two biggest Korean-born threats – in front for an even better chance.

At 7:34, Korea opened the scoring on a glorious rush. The towering Radunske, nicknamed “Canadian Big Beauty,” dished a pass to Minho Cho, who used Czech defenceman Jan Kolar as a screen to fool Francouz with a low release from the high slot.

Cho wears #87, and this was a goal Sidney Crosby wouldn’t have sneezed at. The 1987-born Anyang Halla forward has played hockey since he was 10 years old, and was named the Asia League’s 2010 rookie of the year.

Midway through the first period, Dalton made a mind-blowing save on Roman Cervenka, who grabbed the rebound from defenceman Adam Polasek’s shot and cut cross-crease, only to be denied by the goalie’s blocker as he dropped his stick.

At 11:59, the Czechs made it 1-1 on their first power play. Repik zipped a pass to the crease, where Jan Kovar coolly tipped it past Dalton.

Opportunistic hockey is Czech hockey. Repik got a shorthanded break with Lukas Radil off for goalie interference. The former Florida Panther burst down left wing to squeeze a high shot through Dalton and then ducked behind him, banging in the loose puck for a 2-1 lead at 16:18.

“I’d like to have that second one back, but I felt better as the game went on,” Dalton said.

Even though the Koreans trailed by one through 20 minutes, they had to be happy with their position after being outshot 15-6.

In the scoreless second period, the physical intensity ramped up, and the crowd roared with disapproval when Kovar dumped Mike Testwuide into the boards. And the Koreans kept coming in the third, crashing Francouz’s crease for rebounds during an early power play with Ondrej Nemec off for hooking.

The Czechs pressed for that third goal during back-to-back Korean minors, but couldn’t find the twine, although Cervenka came close, hitting the cross bar from in tight.

“It was a tight game, but we had some chances we didn’t score on,” said Repik.

With just over seven minutes left, Dalton stoned Tomas Mertl from the slot with his quick mitt and left the Czech forward shaking his head. Two minutes later, Cervenka got two cracks at it on a solo jaunt, but couldn’t solve the goalie. There was still hope for the hosts.

Paek pulled Dalton for the extra attacker with 1:03, and the Koreans laid it all out there. Francouz made a fine pad save on Radunske’s last-second centre point blast to preserve the 2-1 win.

“If we can continue to show that kind of effort, it’s good for Korea,” said Dalton. “It’s good for Korean hockey.”

On Saturday, the Czechs will face Canada, while Korea battles Switzerland.

This is just the start of Korea’s international odyssey in 2018. It will also make its IIHF World Championship debut in Denmark in May.

Sweden drowns Norway


By Callum Ng –

The Swedes are the defending world champions and they played like it on Thursday, leveraging a strong first period to dispatch Norway 4-0. 

Viktor Fasth produced an 17-save shutout in his Olympic debut. Par Lindholm notched the game winning goal early in the first period, and Linus Omark impressed with three assists.

“I think we’ve been waiting for this game a long time now,” said Fasth. “To get it out of the way and get going in this tournament, it’s great for us.”

The first shot of the game was also the first goal, Sweden’s Lindholm whipped a wrister beyond a motionless Lars Haugen. The sweet set-up from Omark deserved applause, with Oscar Moller getting the other assist.   

Omark was encouraged by his three-point night, “I can do better, of course, like the whole team, but it’s a good start,” said the former Edmonton Oilers and Buffalo Sabres forward.

Sweden’s second shot was also dangerous, from scoring position.

And in this way, drenched with Swedish prowess, is how the first period would roll on.

The overwhelmed Norwegians managed their first shot on goal just before the 15-minute mark, but it was a lob into the glove of Fasth.

“We were a little bit passive in the defensive zone,” said Norwegian alternate captain Patrick Thoresen, “We were not able to get the puck up in their zone and play some offense. That was our big problem, especially in the first period.”

Sweden’s second goal, tallied by Anton Lander, came off quick pressure to the slot, and a juicy rebound after a hard shot from Simon Bertilsson.   

The first period ended with Sweden ahead 2-0, having outshot their opponents 14-1.

Encouraged by their poor initial 20 minutes, the Norwegians were much better to begin the second period.

However, at 7:29 of the middle frame, Tommy Kristiansen took a cross-checking penalty and the weight of the required penalty kill harpooned Norway’s momentum. The rest of the period was mired in penalty issues.

Then, Norway’s Kristian Forsberg caught Joel Lundqvist’s skate under the visor late in the second period, sending him to the dressing room clutching a bloody towel to his face. His team outshot the Swedes 12-6 in the second period but still found themselves down 2-0.

The closest the Norwegians would come to scoring was at 13:48 of the third period, with the Swedes leading 2-0, when Mathis Olimb stumbled backward into Fasth, knocking the Swedish goalie down. Ken Andre Olimb capitalized on his older brother’s ill-fated play, but the goal was overturned after a coach’s challenge and review.

Sweden added two more later in the period, Dennis Everberg flying off the bench, and a point shot from Mikael Wikstrand.

The Swedes meet the Germans on Friday, next up for Norway it’s a game with Finland, also on Friday.

Tolvanen gets four points in Olympic debut

By Lucas

The Finns also enjoyed balanced scoring from their veterans. Sami Lepisto and Joonas Kemppainen had a goal and an assist apiece, and Mika Pyorala and Lasse Kukkonen also scored. Petri Kontiola added two assists.

“I think today we played a good game,” said Kukkonen. “Of course the young kid [Tolvanen] was awesome. He was leading the way, and it’s always exciting to see new players coming up and taking the next step.”

Brooks Macek and Frank Hordler replied for Germany.

Finnish goalie Mikko Koskinen, a 29-year-old veteran who has won two Worlds silver medals (2014, 2016) and two Gagarin Cups with SKA St. Petersburg, turned in a strong performance with 22 saves. Germany’s Danny aus den Birken made 15 saves.

The Finns won bronze at the 2014 Olympics in Sochi, and own six medals from the last eight Olympics. They have never won Olympic gold. Germany last appeared at the 2010 Olympics, finishing 11th, and hasn’t medaled since the Cold War era. West Germany claimed bronze in 1976.

“All I care about is that we got the win tonight, and let’s go forward,” said Kukkonen.

These two teams are both known for their nose-to-the-grindstone approach to hockey, but the Finns indubitably have a better nose for the net. On balance, they took care of business the way you’d expect, despite a bit of a third-period let-down.

It didn’t take long for the Finns to get rolling at the Gangneung Hockey Centre. On their first power play, Lepisto’s rising howitzer from the center point eluded aus den Birken through traffic at 3:13.

“The power plays were pretty good,” said aus den Birken. ‘They had a lot of traffic in front.”

Germany struck back 21 seconds into its first man advantage. Taking a feed from veteran ex-NHLer Christian Ehrhoff, Macek powered a slapper over Koskinen’s glove to tie it up at 8:44. It was the first German shot on goal.

Finland went up 2-1 at 15:30 when Pyorala banged a rebound past aus den Birken in a crazy goalmouth scrum, The Germans struggled with turnovers throughout the game.

“I think we played actually not that bad, we played actually pretty good,” said aus den Birken. “I think just the Finnish guys were really skilled in front. The defence made little mistakes and the Finnish guys used the little mistakes.”

Halfway through the second period, Koskinen stood his ground on a German rush when David Wolf set up Gerrit Fauser for a great chance from the slot.

Tolvanen gave Finland a two-goal lead with the man advantage at 17:22, accepting a short pass from Teemu Hartikainen and lifting a deadly wrister from the faceoff circle past the German netminder. Tolvanen, a top prospect of the Nashville Predators, became the youngest player to score a KHL hat trick with Jokerit Helsinki earlyier this season.

At 18:43, the Finnish leadership group came through. Kukkonen, the captain, put the game out of reach when he took a pass from Petri Kontiola, an assistant captain, on the rush and beat aus den Birken high to the glove. It was the 36-year-old’s first Olympic goal in four Winter Games, and he hadn’t scored in IIHF competition since potting two goals at the 2006 Worlds in Latvia.

Tolvanen praised Kukkonen: “I think he’s a legend. I mean, he’s our great captain. He’s been to all of these tournaments, he’s seen a lot, and I think he’s a big help for me and all the young guys.”

In the third period, the Germans tried to fight back early on. At 1:51, they cut the deficit to 4-2 after Miro Heiskanen turned over the puck and Hordler’s shot went in off Atte Ohtamaa’s skate.

At 12:48, Finland made it 5-2 on the power play thanks to Tolvanen’s first primary assist of the afternoon. He skimmed a beautiful cross-ice feed to Kemppainen, who tipped it in at the crease.

The Germans outshot Finland 9-3 in the third period, but Koskinen was impregnable. Next up, the Finns face Norway and Germany takes on Sweden on Friday.

“To put this jersey on and be in the Olympics, I think it’s every athlete’s dream,” Kukkonen said.

Finland has now won five straight Olympic meetings against Germany, dating back to 1992, and six all-time. The only two German wins over Finland were in 1960 (4-1) and 1964 (2-1).

Finn win sets quarters

By Andrew Podnieks

The Finns cofed three goals with the extra man.

“I think it’s important to get the goals,” said Karvinen of her team’s outburst today. “We wanted to have a good feeling going into the quarter-finals and know we could score goals, especially on the power play. Overall, five goals in a game is really good.”

The result means that the Finns finish third in Group A with a win and two losses and will face Sweden in one quarter-finals on Saturday. The Swiss will play the OAR in the other. That first winner will then play the United States in the semi-finals while the Swiss-OAR survivor will take on Canada.

“Sweden is always a little bit of a rival,” Karvinen continued. “They’re a tough team. They work really hard, and it’s going to be a challenge for us. We can’t really worry too much about what we’ve done so far in the tournament. It doesn’t really matter now. We experienced that in Sochi. We’re really well prepared and we know what we need to do.”

The OAR’s scoring woes continued today. In three preliminary-round games they scored but once while giving up five goals each game, a fact that led directly to their 0-3 record.

“Scoring the first goal was always going to be important against them,” OAR forward Anna Shokhina said, “but fortune wasn’t on our side. They managed to get it, and we took too many penalties.”

To be fair, they played their best period of the tournament in the first this afternoon, but Noora Raty was rock solid in the Finland goal when she had to be. Be that as it may, some scoring touch and finish around the Suomi net would have gone a long way to change the result of this game. Case in point, Yelena Dergachyova, who had a clean break but couldn’t beat Raty.

The Finns opened the scoring late in the first on the power play. Jenni Hiirikoski made a nice no-look pass to her point partner Michelle Karvinen, and Karvinen’s long blast went all the way in at 17:47.

They made it 2-0 early in the second on another man advantage. This time it was a perfect pass from Emma Nuutinen from the corner to Karvinen at the top of the crease. She one-timed a quick shot past the pad of Nadezhda Morozova for the goal.

Again later in the period the Athletes had ther chances, and again they couldn’t get the better of Raty. She stopped a nice tip by Valeria Pavlova and seconds later made two more quick saves from in close, first off Anna Shokhina and then Diana Kanayeva.

Then, with 51.5 seconds left in the middle 40, Finland got an insurance marker thanks to a sensational play by Riikka Valila, the 44-year-old puck star who shows no signs of slowing down. Shokhina was checked just inside her blue line and Valila claimed the puck. She moved in on goal, deking defenceman Angelina Goncharenko out of her patns and then doing the same to Morozova before roofing a backhand home to make it 3-0.

Finally, though, Russia was rewarded for strong play in the offensive end. Lyudmila Belyakova spotted Shokhina open on the far side and made a nice cross-ice pass. Shokhina faked a shot as Raty slid over, then popped the puck in the open net at 4:50.

It was OAR’s first goal of the preliminary round and saved the team from ignominy. No women’s team at the Olympics or Women’s Worlds has ever played a round robin of at least three games without scoring at least once.

That was as close as they got, though. Minnamari Tuominen wired another power play point shot past Morozova at 12:49 to restore the team’s three-goal lead.

Petra Nieminen made it 5-1 at 15:33 on a goal similar to Valila’s. Nieminen coralled a turnover just inside the OAR blue line, made a great move around Goncharenko again, and beat Morozova with a backhand, putting the game well out of reach.

Canada’s goalie stops 44 shots in 2-1 win over U.S.

By Andrew Podnieks

Both teams had already qualified for direct entry into the semi-finals, but the win was important all the same. Canada has now won the last six meetings, dating back to the exhibition series in December.

The four-time Women’s Worlds champions Americans might be at a loss for answers for this losing streak, but today it was clear Lacasse was the difference. She stopped 44 of 45 shots to earn the W.

“Any game at the Olympics is good to play in,” Lacasse enthused. “That was my first Olympic start. I was just excited to be out there with the girls and to contribute to our team win today.”

“They played a great game,” said Kendall Coyne. “I think we did, too, but it was just finding a way to get it over the line. I think we did a good job at the end with that 6-on-5, 6-on-4 for a little bit, but we just couldn’t get the puck in the back of the net. We’ve got to look at it and find a way.”

In a rivalry where the slightest advantage can make a difference, today’s game featured several. Canada was a little bit more disciplined; the U.S. had ridiculously bad luck, hitting no fewer than four posts; Canada stayed calm when the Americans ramped up the pressure; the Americans looked just a shade unresponsive at critical times.

Up front, Canada scored both its goals in the second, and Coyne, the diminutive but supremely talented U.S. forward, scored her team’s only goal early in the third. She led all skaters with seven shots on goal.

“Their goalie played well,” Duggan agreed, “but obviously we have to find ways to put the puck in the net. I’m happy with the way we played. We have to fine-tune a couple of things. We have to bury a few of those chances. I’m proud of the way we competed. We fought to the end.”

A tentative start to the game opened a bit after a terrible line change by Canada that gave Hilary Knight a clear breakaway. She was stopped by Lacasse, but from there on Canada had the better of play in the period.

Meghan Agosta was at her best, and she got Canada’s game going by coming out of the corner and trying to jam the puck in. Maddie Rooney held her ground, but Canada seemed energized by the aggressive play.

Both teams had a power play, and both came as a result of similar plays—the attacking team getting the puck deep, and a defending player forced to take her man with extra vigour. Neither advantage produced a goal, though.

Canada got the opening goal at 7:18 of the second on its second man advantage. A nice backpass by Natalie Spooner to the side of the goal found Agosta in front, and her shot trickled under Rooney.

“I was driving it wide and got below the goal line,” Spooner detailed. “I saw my players going to the net, so I figured I’d kind throw it and one of the would hopefully tap it in.”

That got the attention of the Americans, who carried play for several minutes and created two great chances. Monique Lamoureux went in alone only to be stoned by Lacasse, and soon after her sister Jocelyne drilled a shot off the bottom of the post that had the goalie beaten.

Canada made it 2-0 on a shot Rooney would like to see again. Sarah Nurse came down the left side on a three-on-two, and being cautious fired a shot on net rather than risk a turnover off an intercepted pass. Her snap shot found the top corner to the short side at 14:56 to give Canada a bit of a cushion.

The rest of the period was dominated by the Americans, who did everything humanly possible to score. One mad scramble saw Haley Irwin deny a goal with a skate save in the crease after two fantastic saves by Lacasse, but in the ensuing mayhem Renata Fast put her hand on the puck, resulting in a penalty shot.

“Lacasse absolutely stood on her head,” Irwin enthused. “Not only did she make some really big saves, but some timing saves as well. She gave us all the confidence in the world. I made a little bit of a save as well. I guess I learned it from her!”

Jocelyne Lamoureux took the freebie, but she ill-advisedly tried a trick play that backfired. The Americans continued to pour it on, though, and Brianna Decker fired another shot off the post that came back underneath Lacasse.

Despite being on their heels for so long, Canada almost scored in the dying seconds, but a quick shot by Jillian Saulnier was nicely stopped by Rooney.

Coyne got the Americans into the game early in the third, though. She showed a terrfic burst of speed through the middle and snapped a perfect shot between the pads of Lacasse just 23 seconds in, igniting the U.S. bench and setting the stage for another wild finish between these two great rivals.

Canada broke, but it didn’t bend. The team played excellent defence while not trying to sit on the lead, but in the final minute all hell broke loose in the Canada end with Rooney on the bench for a sixth skater.

Decker hit the post again in the final seconds, and Knight had a seeing-eye pass slide between her skates and stick, narrowly missing a one-timer to the open side of the goal. A crazy scramble as time expired saw Lacasse hold the fort, and teams skated off ice after another exhilirating and emotional battle.

“I just kept the puck in front of me,” Lacasse said of the mad finish. “I made a couple of saves. The girls were trying to box them out. I kinda got shoved into the net there at the end but I just kept the puck in front of me.”

They can now sit back and practise for four days while the rest of the pack sorts out who will join them in the semi-finals next Monday.

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