Month: March 2018 (Page 2 of 2)

Malaysia Women’s team wins CCOA event

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By Martiin Merk – IIHF.com

Malaysia won the 2018 IIHF Ice Hockey Women’s Challenge Cup of Asia Division I on home ice in Kuala Lumpur.

After growing pain in its first two years the Malaysian women’s national team has improved to win its first tournament in its third year of existence. Having its first full-size ice arena since this season to practise and play the sport paid off for the women’s team from the Southeast Asian country.

Two years ago in Taipei City the team started with a 1-3 record and getting its only win against India, 6-3. Last year in Bangkok, the Malaysians were even last with a 1-5 record and getting the only win from a 5-4 opening-day win in overtime against the United Arab Emirates.

This year on home ice the Malaysians went all the way to first place on home ice at the Malaysia National Ice Skating Stadium. At this brand-new facility, the Malaysia Ice Hockey Federation currently hosts both divisions of the Women’s Challenge Cup of Asia and the Division I tournament ended on Friday to the liking of the home crowd.

The Malaysians started with a 3-1 victory in a neighbouring clash with the Philippines. The Philippines managed to tie a Malaysian lead from a late Nurul Aliya Versluis first-period goal when Bianca Yasmine Cuevas scored the equalizer at 5:33 of the middle frame. But seven minutes later Fatin Muhd Fadzli Amin scored on the power play and made it 3-1 with her second goal in the third period.

Five different scorers led Malaysia to a 5-0 blanking of India in the second game to set up a final against the United Arab Emirates. The Emirati started in similar fashion. Dana Al Hosani’s hat trick and a pair of goals from Fatima Al Mazrouei led the UAE to a 6-1 win over India and despite strong pressure from the Philippines, the Emirati won their second game 5-4 with Khulood Shugaa scoring the game-winner with her second marker 2:14 before the end of regulation time.

460 fans came to the Malaysia National Ice Skating Stadium located at the Empire City mall in the Kuala Lumpur region to witness the final where Shugaa continued her scoring streak with the 1-0 marker after 78 seconds of play but five minutes later Versluis tied it up for the hosts.

At 4:15 of the middle frame Al Mazrouei increased her scoring account by regaining the lead for the United Arab Emirates that stayed until the Malaysia scored two quick goals midway the period. Captain Nur Iman Sofiah Nur Aziz tied the game at two at 12:44. After the next face-off Al Mazrouei was sent to the penalty box for an illegal bodycheck and 15 seconds later Nur Illina Mohd Rothi scored on the power play to give Malaysia its first lead in the game.

The teams exchanged more goals in the third period but Malaysia kept its lead until the end and won 5-3 for its historic tournament win as the bottom-seeded team.

The Philippines ended the tournament in third place. The Indian women, who came from the Ladakh region at the foot of the Himalayas, had a promising start with goals from Kunzes Angmo and Rinchen Dolma but then came the second period with four unanswered goals from Bianca Yasmine Cuevas. After two more third-period goals the 6-2 win and third place were final for the Philippines and Cuevas was voted MVP with her eight goals in three games.

With the Division I competition in Kuala Lumpur over, the top division of the Women’s Challenge Cup of Asia continues in the Malaysian capital and includes the women’s senior teams from Singapore and Thailand as well as the U18 women’s teams from Chinese Taipei and New Zealand.

Ramping up China’s puck luck

By China Daily

Before the International Ice Hockey Federation considers offering China direct qualification to the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics tournament, the country first has to show it deserves it, a top IIHF official said in Beijing on Wednesday.

After watching host South Korea vie with world powers amid sensational support at last month’s Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, China’s hockey heavyweights are eager to see similar enthusiasm for the home team at the 2022 Beijing Games.

IIHF president Rene Fasel said in Pyeongchang the federation is exploring proposals to qualify both the Chinese men’s and women’s teams for the 2022 tournament as a way to popularize the sport in the world’s most populous country.

Thomas Wu, an IIHF vice-president, confirmed to China Daily that the proposal to qualify the Chinese teams will be officially decided either at the federation’s annual congress in May or at the semiannual congress in September.

A long-term commitment to transform the niche sport into a mainstream staple in the buildup to the 2022 Games and beyond is crucial to earn the nod from the world governing body, said Wu.

“The IIHF’s goal is to promote the sport globally and China has huge potential in the game,” Wu said on Wednesday.

“We’d love to see the Chinese teams at the 2022 tournament, but we also have to make sure the world-class quality of the Olympic competition won’t be compromised, which is always the priority.

“The gap between Team China and the world hockey powers is still quite big, so the most urgent need for China is to improve the competitiveness of its program as fast as possible,” said Wu, an entrepreneur and avid ice hockey promoter in Hong Kong.

“The South Korean team (although qualified as the host) proved itself by advancing to the world’s top grouping and we hope the Chinese team can rise dramatically as well by 2022,” he added.

Bolstered by one American and six Canadian players naturalized without Korean ancestry, South Korea placed second at last year’s IIHF Division 1 Group A world championships, the second-tier world title tournament.

South Korea’s dual citizenship policy opened the door to recruit foreign talent for the Pyeongchang Games, with the only stipulations being acquisition of a Korean passport and playing in the country two years before the Olympics.

The Chinese Ice Hockey Association has a more localized method of drafting players with Chinese ancestry through overseas tryouts.

Foreign-born players first have to be from families with Chinese roots and then must have at least two consecutive seasons representing a Chinese team after changing citizenship in order to be eligible to represent the country.

“From the IIHF’s point of view, this is better because the players have a bond with the country they represent,” said Wu.

“For China, we know we have a lot of work to do in a short time. But we also want to insist that our team is a Chinese team.

“It’s respectable. It’s something that will be supported by the international hockey family. We want to build hockey in China-not just do well in 2022, but as a longer-term project.”

Currently, Shanghai-based Kunlun Red Star plays in the professional Russia-based Kontinental Hockey League while its female affiliate plays in the seven-team Canadian Women’s Hockey League.

Other Chinese teams are playing in minor and junior leagues in Russia, and individual players are competing for college and university teams in Canada and the United States.

Organized by Beijing Municipal Sports Bureau and Beijing Hockey Association, the capital’s current youth league has attracted a record 2,554 children on 162 teams.

“We’ve seen many positive signs that the game is growing in popularity and public recognition in recent years,” said CIHA president Cao Weidong.

“Hopefully to qualify for and perform decently at the Beijing Olympics in 2022 will galvanize the momentum for sustainable development.”

New Zealand’s Under-18s look to defend their Challenge Cup title

By Logan Swinkels – Puck Yeah

This morning New Zealand’s Under-18 women’s hockey team will be boarding a plane to Kuala Lumpur to compete at the 2018 IIHF Challenge Cup of Asia. For some, like rookie Jessie Parker, this will be their first overseas tournament.

The Auckland-based defender was initially named as a reserve when the squad was announced in September last year, and at the time, Parker said she was “screaming for a solid five minutes.” That elation went further after finding out a week later that she would now be making the journey to Malaysia alongside her teammates when another had to unfortunately drop out. “It was out of this world, I’ve never felt happier in my life, it was amazing,” Parker exclaimed upon hearing the good news.

Over the past week, the Under-18s have been together completing a rigorous training camp in Auckland under the guidance of head coach Angelique Mawson. There the team focussed on improving breakouts from their own zone and regrouping to attack.

From following the recent women’s tournament at the PyeongChang Winter Olympics, Parker found herself more inspired to compete in Kuala Lumpur as she watched the likes of Team Canada and Team USA putting into practice those very same drills. “To be able to see the drills that we’re doing applied at such a high level is really cool…they were playing really well, the speed and accuracy, it was really easy to see when they applied their drills to the game,” said Parker.

During training camp, the New Zealanders were also put through their paces with fitness testing on a hot, humid Auckland day – that’s only a sample of the intense heat that will likely greet the team in Malaysia. With temperatures in Kuala Lumpur set to reach over 30 degrees celsius this week it’s just as well ice hockey is played inside a freezing barn, rather than being exposed to the elements like their field hockey counterparts would be.

As far as team strengths go, Parker believes it’s their ability to defend well and keep the puck in the offensive zone. Other teams will find it hard to score if New Zealand manage to control the play so effectively, as was the case at the 2017 Challenge Cup where the team scored 57 goals while only allowing nine in return.

Last night the team named Laney Keenan as captain, with Jana Kivell and Rina Watt serving as alternates.

NZ Women Challenge Cup Champions

Last year for the first time in the ten-year history of the Challenge Cup of Asia tournament, New Zealand sent a team over where they would go undefeated with a 6-0 record, including a 4-3 upset win over host nation Thailand, to claim the gold medal.

The Challenge Cup was created by the IIHF to give Asian countries that either play in the lowest division or are not part of the World Championship program the opportunity to complete and develop hockey in those regions.

In 2017 there were seven teams in a single division, but now with Chinese Taipei sending their own under-18 team this year, the tournament has been split into two divisions. New Zealand make up the top division with Singapore, Thailand, and Chinese Taipei. While the lower division comprises of India, the Philippines, Malaysia, and United Arab Emirates.

Once again, Thailand will likely be New Zealand’s biggest challenge at the tournament. But it may be a tougher ask this time around with the Kiwis playing back-to-back games – less than 24 hours before that penultimate matchup they will face Chinese Taipei.

Heather McAslan, Parker’s roommate during training camp, added “We played Thailand last year and the game was only won by one goal, so they’re pretty good…and we’re not really sure how the other (countries) play, so you’ve got to get there and figure out how they play before you can figure out how you play them.”

The fact that these girls are taking on the senior national sides of other countries is also not lost on them. “It’s quite nerve-racking,” McAslan concluded before Parker interjects with a low-key “We’ve got this.”

With the tournament taking place in March, for these young athletes it occurs during the first term of the school year. To make up for the time lost in the classroom, schools supply the team with “massive” folders of homework so they don’t fall behind their classmates. On top of that, some of the girls have to complete internal exams much earlier than their peers, in McAslan’s case it’s four weeks, while others play catch up on assignments and sit exams when they get back.

Being her first international hockey tournament, Parker is looking forward to the learning experience that comes with that and is earnest about her own performance expectations. “As a rookie I’m probably not going to be doing that great, but I’m just going to be giving it absolutely everything I’ve got and I’m sure the rest of the girls are in that same mindset too,” Parker stated.

But her biggest highlight could be putting on that black jersey representing New Zealand. “It means everything in the world to me. I’ve been imagining just putting on this amazing jersey with my name on the back for months and months. I’m so excited, I’m so pumped to be representing my country in such an awesome sport.”

Combining that confidence in her team with a tireless dedication to the cause, it’s hard to argue with the rookie on New Zealand’s chances of returning home with another gold medal around their necks.

Two generations – Arabs united in passion for hockey

By Henrik Manninen – IIHF.com

Almost 28 years separate teammates Omar Al Shamsi and Obaid Almehairbi. Together they aim for future prosperity for hockey in the United Arab Emirates.

With five previous World Championship appearances, the United Arab Emirates performance at the 2018 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship Division III Qualification in Sarajevo left them wanting for more.

Blanked in their opener against debutants and eventual runaway winners Turkmenistan 4-0, the Arab nation was tied with Bosnia & Herzegovina halfway through the game before succumbing to a 6-1 loss. They left it late to get back to winning ways to claim third place against Kuwait in a 4-2 win before quickly packing their trunks and heading back home.

While 44-year-old Omar Al Shamsi had a goal and an assist against its Arab rivals Kuwait was a scant consolation, this game also marked a milestone in the ascending career of 16-year-old Obaid Almehairbi, who racked up his first win at World Championship level while being on school holidays.

“I didn’t really get too much playing time, but I am lucky to be here with the team. The game at this level is far more aggressive than what we have back home, so it is a huge difference to play here,” said Almehairbi, who picked up the game at the age of five and made his debut for the Emirates at the 2017 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship Division III in Sofia, Bulgaria, aged just 15.

During the Division III qualifiers played in Sarajevo between 25-28 February, Almehairbi was the youngest player on the team. Accompanied by fellow millennials, defenceman Abdullah Yahya and backup netminder Abdulrahman Alhosani, they were all ears to learn from their teammates who put United Arab Emirates on the international hockey map.

“The older players tell me about the mistakes I make but also how to learn from them. They are far better than me and I know that I have lots of things to improve in my game such as skating, dribbling and stickhandling,” said Almehairbi, who represents the Abu Dhabi ISC.

Hockey has made fine strides in United Arab Emirates since its trailblazing days in the early 1990s. For Al Shamsi it all started in Al Ain, the second-largest city in the Emirate of Abu Dhabi. Like most other teenagers in the city at that time he was playing football, but soon made an unorthodox switch together with a group of friends in the oasis city 160 kilometres east of the capital Abu Dhabi.

“We used to go to the ice rink for normal public skating. The Canadians and other foreigners soon invited us to play hockey with them and we got addicted to it. I changed from football to ice hockey and I love this game,” he said.

Al Shamsi eventually got rewarded at the international stage for his hard work. Winning gold at the 2009 IIHF Ice Hockey Challenge Cup of Asia on home ice in Abu Dhabi paved the way for him as a 36-year-old to debut at the 2010 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championships Division III in Luxembourg.

“From the old generation, it is now only myself and captain Juma Al Dhaheri left. Then we have the second generation of around two or three players and then the rest of them are the young ones. For five or six of them playing in Sarajevo has been their first international tournament in ice hockey,” said Al Shamsi, who turned 44 at the turn of the year.

With a playing career approaching its twilight years, Al Shamsi is also playing an integral role in nurturing the next generation. Back in Al Ain, home of home of 767,000 people, he is working as both team- and activity manager for his hometown club.

“Most of our domestic players come from Al Ain. In Abu Dhabi there are more foreign players playing hockey, so our focus in Al Ain is to build up the new generation. At the moment we have for instance around 30-35 players in the under-9 and in the next category U12 between 40 and 45 players,” said Al Shamsi, who also acknowledges the challenge to close the gap between certain age groups.

“From the ages 16 to 20 we are suffering. Also, some of our players go studying abroad while others go to the military service. In Sarajevo we missed many players, but I hope they will be with us next year,” he continued.

With the World Championship Division III Qualification being their sole IIHF tournament this season, the United Arab Emirates have of late also been on the lookout for other international competitions to bolster its hockey program. One such example has seen them take part at the President’s Cup Tournament which in early January saw Al Shamsi play in Minsk, Belarus.

“It is the fourth time I took part in it and for us it is a very good tournament. It is a really high level of hockey and a good opportunity for us to learn from them. There are a lot of ex-professional players and it can help us to improve the level of hockey,” said Al Shamsi.

Another addition to that there will also be a regional tournament held in Abu Dhabi next month. With the hosts welcoming club teams from Algeria, Egypt, Kuwait, Oman and possibly Qatar, it is hoped to help develop the game in the region while offering valuable competitive action for up-and-coming players. One of those being 16-year-old Almehairbi, whom Al Shamsi have high hopes for ahead of the future.

“He is good and he has the passion, so he will be one of the best in the team,” said Al Shamsi.

KHL postpones playoffs to let Olympic gold medalists party more

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By Kyle Cantlon – Yahoo.com

Team ‘Olympic Athletes From Russia’ has transformed into team ‘Olympic Boozehounds From Russia’ awfully quickly, and the bender isn’t over yet.

Less than a week out of the PyeongChang Games where a group of Russians captured men’s hockey gold, playoffs in the country’s top league are set to begin. Two of the clubs comprising the majority of Team OAR in South Korea — CKSA Moscow and SKA Saint Petersburg — are slotted to face off against Sparktak and Severstal, respectively, in the opening round, but the KHL is reportedly postponing the start of both series.

For a very legitimate reason – if you ask me.

Powerhouse No. 1 overall seed SKA Saint Petersburg, which went 47-5-4 during the KHL’s regular season, featured 15 players on Russia’s Olympic team, including former NHL All-Stars Ilya Kovalchuk and Pavel Datsyuk, and gold-medal game hero Nikita Gusev.

Second ranked CSKA Moscow boasted eight players on OAR’s gold-winning squad, including Nikita Nesterov, Alexey Marchenko, Mikhail Grigorenko, and Kirill Kaprizov — who potted the OT winner against Germany in the final game.

Both behemoths are on a collision course to the KHL finals, so why not delay the inevitable in the name of a good hangover.

KHL Playoff matches ups

Galloping to glory Turkmenistan wins Div. IIIQ in debut

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By Henrik Manninen – IIHF.com

Despite being newcomers at this level, Turkmenistan blazed through the competition to win a place at the 2019 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship Division III.

The up-and-coming Central Asians were in a class of their own in the winner-take-all encounter against hosts Bosnia & Herzegovina at the 2018 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship Division III Qualification. Trailing 1-3 after the first frame, Turkmenistan fought back and steamrolled their opponents in ruthless fashion during the next two periods. A barrage of unanswered goals silenced the expectant home crowd and saw Turkmenistan sail away to a 13-3 victory at the Olympic Hall Juan Antonio Samaranch (aka Zetra Olympic Hall).

Earlier in the tournament, Bayram Allayarov’s men had needed one period to get on the scoresheet, before three final frame goals saw off United Arab Emirates 4-0 on the opening day. Ahead of their second game, the Turkmen had found their scoring touch as they annihilated fellow newcomers Kuwait 24-2.

Scoring a whopping 41 times while only conceding five throughout the tournament, Turkmenistan captain Ahmet Gurbanov led the team in scoring with 6+6 in three games, closely followed by Pavel Barkovskiy’s 3+8. Netminder Keremli Charyyev was hardly tested and only faced 29 shots in 140 minutes of play.

The 2019 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship Division III now awaits the new kid on the block on the hockey scene who come a long way since being admitted as an associate member of the IIHF in May 2015.

“We enjoyed ourselves here. Everything was perfect for our team and I also got to score in every game,” said 23-year-old Dovlut Soyunov on his experience in Sarajevo. As one of 15 players on the roster representing Galkan, Soyunov and his compatriots’ hard work are paying dividends as they aim to continue their rise in the World Championship program.

“We practise six days a week. We love hockey and our aim is to promote to division three, two and one. That is the reason we train so hard,” he said of his team which so far is undefeated in a short history of competing at international level.

Predominantly a desert nation with a population of almost 5,7 million, Turkmenistan introduced itself to the international ice hockey world just over a year ago. Competing at the 2017 Asian Winter Games they won all their games in Japan’s Sapporo to finish top of Division II.

While horse-riding, wrestling and martial arts are among the most popular sports in Turkmenistan, ice hockey has been on a steady rise since the first indoor rink was opened in the country’s capital Ashgabat in 2006. The first domestic tournament was played in 2012.

“I had just been skating as a kid, but in 2006 I started to play hockey, then after 2012 hockey really took off in Turkmenistan,” said Soyunov.

The first national championship was contested in 2013/2014, with all the country’s eight teams currently based in Ashgabat.

“Our biggest ice arena holds 10,000 (Winter Sports Palace in Ashgabat) and we have four ice rinks in Ashgabat. In Galkan there’s one more and we have another one coming in the town of Mary,” said Soyunov.

With Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Afghanistan and Iran as it’s neighbours, Turkmenistan has instead opted to establish stronger ties with another former Soviet Republic which been contributing to their success with their hockey program.

Starting back in 2014 when Turkmenistan’s first national champions Galkan were invited to Minsk in Belarus for the 2014 World Championships, the exchange between the two countries have since continued.

“We like their style of teaching hockey and we also visited Belarus before the 2017 Asian Winter Games,” said Soyunov. “We were back in Minsk for a training camp for thirteen days in December last year.”

While Turkmenistan’s hockey program is on an ascent upwards, Bosnia & Herzegovina will be left wondering what could have been at the 2018 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship Division III Qualification.

Going into their final game with two consecutive wins, the hosts came out with all guns blazing against Turkmenistan.

Their influential second line saw Mirza Omer take a leading role from the outset. He opened the scoring at 4:28, had a hand in second as Bosnia & Herzegovina’s lead was doubled a minute and a half later. Despite Turkmenistan replying at 7:50 with Soyunov firing home straight after Barkovskiy’s winning the face off, the crowd of 1,000 were soon at its feet again. Omer once again being the provider when rounding Turkmenistan’s cage to find pick out Amon Rakic for 3-1 at 11:40.

Omer’s 2+10 minutes misconduct penalty for checking to the head at 16:18, was followed up by compatriot Nermin Logo who got ten minutes for unsportsmanlike conduct at 19:58. Two incidents that turned out to be disastrous for Bosnia & Herzegovina as the game tilted firmly over into Turkmenistan’s favour as they scored a dozen unanswered goals in the two final periods.

“We knew that their goalie only received around twenty shots in two games and it proved us right by scoring three goals in seven-eight shots, so had them against the wall. But those two ten minute misconducts shortened our bench and we didn’t have enough depth and that cost us the game,” said Bosnia & Herzegovina head coach Brian Jokat.

“I cannot stress discipline strongly enough and we need our players to stay on the ice,” he continued but was also courteous in defeat to heap praise on Turkmenistan. “Once they got momentum, they got some good players. They can move the puck, skate and they can pass,” said Jokat who despite the lopsided scoreline feels it is an experience that will stand the players in good stead for the future.

“I am optimistic and our guys showed a lot of heart. I am proud of them either way. After they get 7-8 goals, we got our extra goalie in and get the rest of the players some experience,” Jokat said.

United Arab Emirates who had finished last of the teams participating at the 2017 World Championship Division III in Sofia, Bulgaria, clocked up their first win in Sarajevo during the final round of games in a slow burner of an encounter against Kuwait. Veteran captain Juma Al Dhaheri led by example with a hat-trick in a 4-2 win in the desert derby.

“We had expected to try and become second in this tournament, but we’re not able to come up to that level,” said new head coach Aliaksei Strakhau of Belarus after their third-place finish.

Debutants at this stage, Kuwait fought valiantly throughout the tournament. Despite lopsided scorelines against both Bosnia & Herzegovina and Turkmenistan, they outshot United Arab Emirates 22-20 in a 4-2 loss.

“It is a big step up in level, but it is a huge step for Kuwait to be here. Game by game, we are learning more, so hopefully, the results will improve for the future,” said Kuwait’s assistant coach Bojan Zidjarevic.

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