Month: December 2018 (Page 2 of 3)

Spengler Cup Day 2 Recap

Alexander Ruuttu dominates Trinec

By Hansruedi Camenisch – Spengler Cup

At their Spengler Cup debut on Thursday afternoon, KalPa from Kuopio won 3-1 against Ocelari Trinec. Alexander Ruuttu dazzled as the first player to shoot 2 goals in one game.

The young Finns from Kuopio and the Czech league leader Trinec provided a typical Spengler Cup match-up – exactly as the spectators love – offensively with lots of tempo and numerous goal opportunities, following the motto “play and let play”. That only 4 goals were scored is primarily thanks to the efforts of the KalPa goaltender Denis Godla. The 23-year old in the Finnish net – who played for Slovakia at the World Championships last season – kept his team in the game with his spectacular saves. He deflected 29 out of 30 shots-on-goal, giving him a defensive quota of 96.67 percent. At times it seemed the Czechs were careless with their goal opportunities.

The first goal was scored by Alexander Ruuttu when he accepted a fantastic straight pass from Jaakko Rissanen (13th minute). The scorer has ice hockey in his blood: his father Christian Ruuttu participated in 663 NHL games. Towards the end of his career, he played for the Grasshoppers in the B National League during the 1996/97 season. When the defender Martin Gernat shot the equalizing goal for the seemingly overpowering Czech team in the 33rd minute, the spell seemed to be broken. But only 53 seconds was needed by Alexandre Texier to take advantage of a defensive mistake by Trinec to counterattack and take the lead 2-1. Ruuttu sunk his personal second goal just 32 seconds into the third period to decide the game.

HCD wins against the Thomas Sabo Ice Tigers 3-2 at the Spengler Cup

In an absolutely spectacular game, HC Davos wins against the Thomas Sabo Ice Tigers 3-2 at the Spengler Cup Thursday night. The Germans caught up after falling behind 0-2. The winning goal was shot by the 18-year old defenseman Julian Payr in the sold-out Vaillant Arena. Game winner for HCD was also the outstanding goalie Gilles Senn.

After Davos began its last 3 games under Coach Harijs Witolinsch by falling behind in the first period each time, they started the game against the Ice Tigers powerfully. Their intense concentration in the first period paid off with 2 brilliant goals. Inti Pestoni, elegantly and with lots of speed, skated around Nuremberg’s defenseman Marcus Weber before he left the goaltender Niklas Treutle no chance to deflect (6th minute). Just 64 seconds later Dario Simion completed a textbook combination from Andres Ambühl via Niklas Klasen to sink a direct pass into the net.

Taking advantage of a power play situation at the start of the second period, the Germans found their way into the game. Senn became the focus. He displayed his best defensive maneuvers against Chris Brown and following the end of a penalty also against Chad Bassen, both solo attacks. For HCD Coach Witolinsch it was clear that the time had come, in the 26th minute, for a timeout to bring the Davos team back into the game. The result was a more open, spectacular slugfest with many scoring opportunities for both sides (13-14 shots-on-goal in the second period alone). Brandon Buck scored in a counterattack to reduce HCD’s lead to one (37th minute).

In an enthralling final period, the Olympic silver-medal winner Leo Pföderl increased the intensity of the game by scoring the equalizing goal during a power play situation for the guests (49th minute). Of all the players, it was the youngest on the ice that landed the deciding puck in the net. The 18-year old HCD defenseman Julian Payr scored after receiving a cross pass from Klasen. Senn defended his team’s narrow lead for the remaining time. The HCD goaltender demonstrated his magnificent skills. He deflected 33 shots-on-goal and was selected as Davos’ best player of the game.

WJC Day 1 roundup

United States rallies for victory against Slovakia


United States 2, Slovakia 1

Michael Anderson and Evan Barratt scored in a span of 4:32 of the third period to help give the United States a 2-1 victory against Slovakia in Group B competition at the 2019 IIHF World Junior Championship at Save-On-Foods Memorial Centre on Wednesday.

Goalie Kyle Keyser (Boston Bruins) made 13 saves, including a penalty-shot attempt by Adam Liska 13:15 into the third to help U.S. maintain the lead.

Anderson (Los Angeles Kings), a defenseman, scored a power-play goal 1:10 into the third for a 1-1 tie. Barratt (Chicago Blackhawks) scored off his backhand at 5:42 for a 2-1 lead.

“I thought our line was playing well all night,” Barratt said. “Tyler Madden and Noah Cates are really good players down low and we were cycling all night and we finally got a break and saw an opening to the net and kind of just shot … I don’t know how it went in but it looked pretty good I guess.”

Defenseman Marek Korencik gave Slovakia a 1-0 lead in the second period when he scored off a snap shot from the left circle at 17:17. Slovakia goalie Samuel Hlavaj, a B- rated goalie in NHL Central Scouting’s Players to Watch for the 2019 NHL Draft list, made 32 saves.

Forward Jason Robertson (Dallas Stars) was denied on a penalty shot by Hlavaj 12:29 into the second to keep the game 0-0. The victory by the United States against Slovakia was its 13th in 18 tries, including one tie, in WJC competition.

“We knew it was going to be hard going into it and we just wanted to work every shift in five-minute increments of the game,” Barratt said. “We knew it wouldn’t be easy but at the end of the day we knew we would run them down and come out on top.”

The United States will next play against Kazakhstan in preliminary-round action Friday.

Canada 14, Denmark 0

Max Comtois (Anaheim Ducks) scored four goals and Morgan Frost (Philadelphia Flyers) had three goals and two assists to help Canada open the 2019 IIHF World Junior Championship with a 14-0 win against Denmark in Group A play at Rogers Arena in Vancouver on Wednesday.

Owen Tippett (Florida Panthers) and undrafted 19-year-old Brett Leason each scored twice, and Jack Studnicka (Boston Bruins), Jaret Anderson-Dolan (Los Angeles Kings) and MacKenzie Entwhistle (Chicago Blackhawks) had a goal each and Cody Glass (Vegas Golden Knights) had four assists.

“The message to us was stick to our game plan and don’t; sway away from that, don’t get any bad habits,” Frost said. “We are trying to build with every game and that was the message, keep playing and keep playing the right way and we did a good job of that.”

Comtois, Canada’s captain, had seven points (two goals, five assists) in 10 games with Anaheim to start the 2018-19 season. He is the fifth player for Canada to score four goals in one World Junior Championship game, joining Taylor Raddysh (2017), Brayden Schenn (2011), Simon Gagne (1999) & Mario Lemieux (1983).

“It’s always fun to score goals and it doesn’t happen often,’ said Comtois, who has not had a hat trick since his first season of junior hockey with Victoriaville of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League in 2016-17. “I got a couple lucky bounces and good passes from my teammates. I just put the puck in the net.”

Frost was named player of the game for Canada and his name was chanted by the crowd as he received the award.

“That was coolest moment I have ever been a part of and I had chills running right through my body,” Frost said.

Michael DiPietro (Vancouver Canucks) made 14 saves, had an assist and stopped Danish forward Phillip Schultz, who is eligible for the 2019 NHL Draft, on a penalty shot in the third period.

Mads Sogaard, a 6-foot-7, B-rated goaltender on NHL Central Scouting’s players to watch list for the 2019 draft, stopped 30 of 41 shots before leaving with a left leg injury with 7:27 left in the third period. Undrafted 19-year-old William Rorth made one save in relief.

Canada pays Switzerland on Thursday.

Sweden 2, Finland 1

Defenseman Erik Brannstrom, a first-round pick (No. 15) in the 2017 NHL Draft by the Vegas Golden Knights, scored two power-play goals to help lead Sweden to a 2-1 win against Finland in Group B action at Save-On-Foods Memorial Centre in Victoria on Wednesday.

The win gives Sweden 45 straight victories in preliminary-round action at the World Junior Championship. The last defeat was Dec. 31, 2006, 3-2 in overtime against the United States.

Defenseman Adam Boqvist (Chicago Blackhawks) had two assists for Sweden. Aarne Talvitie (New Jersey Devils) scored for Finland, which took seven penalties in the game.

Brannstrom scored his first power-play goal off a shot from the point at 13:14 of the first period to give Sweden a 1-0 lead. His second came off a one-timer from the left circle on a 5-on-3 advantage 3:55 into the second for a 2-0 lead.

Talvitie scored a power-play goal 16:26 into the third off a pass from Kaapo Kakko, an A-rated skater in NHL Central Scouting’s Players to Watch list for the 2019 NHL Draft, to make it 2-1.

Sweden plays Slovakia on Thursday  & Finland will play Kazakhstan on Thursday Also.

Czech Republic 2, Switzerland 1 (OT)

Defenseman David Kvasnicka scored 52 seconds into overtime and Lukas Dostal (Anaheim Ducks) made 26 saves to help the Czech Republic to a 2-1 win against Switzerland to open Group A play at the 2019 IIHF World Junior Championship at Rogers Arena in Vancouver.

Martin Kaut (Colorado Avalanche) had a goal and an assist for the Czech Republic, outshot Switzerland 9-1 to start the game. Kvasnicka, undrafted, beat Swiss goalie Luca Hollenstein with a high screened shot from above the right face-off circle shortly after Kaut hit the post.

Nando Eggenberger, a 19-year-old C-rated skater on NHL Central Scouting’s November players to watch list for the 2019 NHL Draft, put Switzerland ahead 1-0 with a power-play goal at 7:45 of the second period.

Kaut tied it 1-1 at 9:02 with a one-timer of a pass from below the net by Martin Necas (Carolina Hurricanes). Kaut, 19, has 12 points (five goals, seven assists) in 26 games with Colorado in the American Hockey League.

Hollenstein, who is eligible for the 2019 draft, made 25 saves for Switzerland.

Spengler Cup Day 1 Recap

Magnitogorsk wins the first game of the 2018 Spengler Cup 2-1 in the penalty shoot-out

By Hansruedi Camenisch – Spengler Cup

Tournament favorite Metallurg Magnitogorsk had a tough time against the well-organized Trinec team in the first game of the 92nd Spengler Cup. Maxim Matuschkin shot the equalizing goal only in the 53rd minute for the Russians to make it 1-1. In the resulting penalty shoot-out only Roman Ljubimov landed the puck in the net for Magnitogorsk.

Goals were rare in the opening game of the 92nd Spengler Cup, although there were many attempts. The 5,359 fans in the Vaillant Arena enjoyed the extremely engaging match. Both goaltenders – Simon Hrubec (Trinec) and Artem Zagidulin – hat several chances to demonstrate their expertise. While both teams demonstrated not only their superb organization but also their skating skills and tactical training.

With a practiced powerplay maneuver, Trinec took the lead. Martin Adamsky deflected the hard-hit pass from defender Vladimir Roth into the net (23rd minute). Immediately prior and also thereafter Martin Ruzicka failed in his quick solo counter attacks against Zagidulin. In the third period, the Russians increased their offensive pressure as is clearly shown in the shots-on-goal statistic 12-5. Only Maxim Matuschkin was successful in beating Hrubec (53rd minute).

After a goalless overtime, the penalty shoot-out was needed to force a decision. Trinec brought in Petr Kvaca for Hrubec at this point. He was overpowered by the first penalty shooter, Roman Ljubimov. All subsequent penalty shooters failed. Trinec’s Ruzicka had an unlucky shot that hit the goal post. Kvaca was also unlucky when he injured himself during his successful defense of the penalty attempt by Matuschkin.

By Canadian Press

Canada opens Spengler Cup defence with 2-1 win over HC Davos

Matt D’Agostini’s goal early in the second period stood as the winner as Canada held off HC Davos 2-1 on Wednesday in both teams’ opening game at the Spengler Cup.

Zach Boychuk opened scoring for Canada, while Zach Fucale made 18 saves for the win.

Thierry Bader ended Fucale’s shutout with less than two minutes remaining in the second period and Anders Lindback stopped 24 shots for HC Davos.

HC Davos hosts what is considered the world’s oldest hockey tournament annually.

Although most participating teams in the event are club teams from around Europe, Hockey Canada puts together a team of free agents and other Canadians playing abroad to compete.

Canada has won the tournament 15 times since first taking part in 1984, including the past three years.

Neither team scored on the power play. Canada was 0 for 6 and HC Davos was
0 for 4.

Team Lebanon ‘writing history’ from Canadian hockey hub

The team was built by Lebanese community members in Montreal

By Jillian Kestler-D’Amours – Middle East Eye

Dozens of players from across North America currently play for Lebanese national hockey team, a grassroots initiative with hopes set on Olympics

At first glance, Saturday night’s hockey game was like any of the thousands of others taking place across Canada.

But as the starting rosters were read out over the arena’s sound system – and fans wove red and white flags, emblazoned with a green cedar tree, enthusiastically in the stands – it was clear that something else was taking place.

The game was a chance to showcase Lebanese hockey talent – and give the close-knit community in Montreal something to cheer for.

Charles El-Mir, president of the Lebanese Ice Hockey Federation, said between 50 and 60 players – all of Lebanese descent, between ages 18 and 38 – currently play on the team.

They hail from across North America, but the majority are based in Canada, “the hub of ice hockey”, El-Mir said.

We say … that we are writing history, to be honest with you
– Charles El-Mir, Lebanese Ice Hockey Federation president

Last month, the Lebanese Ministry of Youth and Sport gave the federation official accredited status in Lebanon, making it the only official body representing Lebanese ice hockey players in the world.

That status also paves the way for the federation to apply to join the Lebanese Olympic Committee and the International Ice Hockey Federation, which would open the door to international matches, including at the Olympics.

The president of the Lebanese Olympic Committee, Jean Hammam, did the ceremonial puck drop at the start of the game in Montreal on 22 December, which saw the Lebanese side win 11-6 against a local team.

Ralph Melki, the team’s coach, moved to Canada from Lebanon at age six. He started to play hockey two years later, after he asked his father – by that time, a fan of the Montreal Canadiens, the city’s National Hockey League team – to sign him up.

“I grew up here and fell in love with the game,” Melki told Middle East Eye ahead of Saturday’s game.

The Lebanese men’s team played an exhibition game on 22 December in Montreal

When he moved onto coaching after his playing days ended in his later teenage years, Melki said he noticed the high number of talented players of Lebanese background in Montreal.

Melki said some of the players come from as far away as the US states of Ohio and Michigan, or the cities of Calgary and Edmonton in western Canada, to represent Lebanon.

“They’re all dedicated,” Melki told MEE. “We have talented players on the team.”

For El-Mir, the next major goal is to build an ice rink in Lebanon and begin training more players there. But until then, the base remains in Montreal. “We say … that we are writing history, to be honest with you,” he told Middle East Eye.

“There is a lot of work to go on the next two years. A lot a lot of work, but at least it’s a reality.”

Changing perceptions

This month also marked the first time the Lebanese Ice Hockey Federation helped get a women’s team on the ice.

Ranging in age from 15 to 38, the players came to Montreal from across North America to play an exhibition match of their own on 22 December.

“It’s surreal,” said Sally Tabarah, the women’s team’s manager, who hails from New Jersey. She told Middle East Eye she said she spent four months scanning the rosters of university teams and others, searching for last names that hinted at Lebanese ancestry.

“We want to make it to the Olympics one day. It’s a lofty goal – but why not?” she said.

The women had never played together before, but they bonded almost immediately, Tabarah said, revelling in their shared backgrounds and dreams of representing Lebanon.

“We all have this shared ancestry… All that matters is we’re playing for the cedar,” she told Middle East Eye. “This is history in the making.”

2019 World Junior Championship Group A & B preview

By Adam Kimelma & Mike G. Morreale

Canada coach Tim Hunter is looking for one attribute more than any other as his team prepares for the 2019 IIHF World Junior Championship.


“We’re going to try to be the fastest World Junior team yet,” Hunter told TSN. “And we have a lot of work cut out for us, but that’s the goal and that’s the identity we’re going to have.”

And it’s not just skating speed. Hunter wants his team to play fast and think fast.

“It’s being fast in every aspect of the game, with and without the puck,” he said. “Off face-offs, on your forecheck, tracking back. I’ve studied that really hard over the last two years and talked to some great hockey minds and got some great opinions on it so we’ll implement a lot of the stuff. I’ve used it with my own team in Moose Jaw (Western Hockey League) this year. We’ve had a lot of success with some of the things.”

he 2019 WJC begins Wednesday and runs through Jan. 5, with games at Save-On-Foods Memorial Centre in Victoria, British Columbia, and Rogers Centre in Vancouver. Canada, the defending champion, is in Group A along with Czech Republic, Denmark, Russia and Switzerland, and will play its preliminary-round games in Vancouver.

Here’s a look at each Group A team, in predicted order of finish:


Coach: Tim Hunter

2019 NHL Draft watch: Brett Leason, F, Prince Albert (WHL)

Schedule: Dec. 26, Denmark (8 p.m. ET; TSN, NHLN [joined in progress]); Dec. 27, Switzerland (8 p.m. ET; NHLN, TSN); Dec. 29, Czech Republic (8 p.m. ET; NHLN, TSN); Dec. 31, Russia (8 p.m. ET; NHLN, TSN)

Outlook: The defending champions will have one player returning from last year’s team, Anaheim Ducks forward prospect Max Comtois, but remain one of the tournament favorites. Canada’s size and skill at forward could be its strength, led by a projected first line of Comtois (6-foot-2, 207 pounds), Vegas Golden Knights prospect Cody Glass (6-2, 178) and Florida Panthers prospect Owen Tippett (6-1, 216). One player to watch is high-scoring forward Alexis Lafreniere, who will become the seventh 17-year-old to play for Canada at the WJC (Connor McDavid, Sidney Crosby, Jason Spezza, Jay Bouwmeester, Eric Lindros). He’s projected as the No. 1 pick of the 2020 NHL Draft. Canada’s chances of success could hinge on the play of Michael DiPietro (Vancouver Canucks), the favorite to start in goal after Carter Hart (Philadelphia Flyers) backstopped runs to the championship game the previous two tournaments. 


Coach: Valeri Bragin

2019 NHL Draft watch: Vasili Podkolzin, F, SKA St. Petersburg 2 (RUS-JR)

Schedule: Dec. 27, Denmark (4 p.m. ET; NHLN, TSN); Dec. 28, Czech Republic (8 p.m. ET; NHLN, TSN); Dec. 30, Switzerland (8 p.m. ET; NHLN, TSN); Dec. 31, Canada (8 p.m. ET; NHLN, TSN)

Outlook: Russia will have two players back from the team that finished fifth at the 2018 WJC, ending its run of seven straight tournaments with a medal. Forward Klim Kostin (St. Louis Blues) and defenseman Dmitri Samorukov (Edmonton Oilers) are back and each has North American experience. Samorukov is in his third season with Guelph of the Ontario Hockey League, and also played five games with Bakersfield, the Oilers’ American Hockey League affiliate, last season. Kostin has 11 points (five goals, six assists) in 28 games in his second season with San Antonio of the AHL. Russia’s most intriguing player could be Podkolzin (6-1, 190), an A-rated player for the 2019 draft. He helped Russia finish second at the 2018 World Junior A Challenge, which ended Dec. 16, and tied for the tournament scoring lead with eight points (three goals, five assists) in six games. Russia always is well-coached and aiming to return to the medal stand.

Czech Republic

Coach: Vaclav Varada

2019 NHL Draft watch: Martin Has, D, Tappara Jr. (FIN-JR)

Schedule: Dec. 26, Switzerland (4 p.m. ET; NHLN, TSN); Dec. 28, Russia (8 p.m. ET; NHLN, TSN); Dec. 29, Canada (8 p.m. ET; NHLN, TSN); Dec. 31, Denmark (4 p.m. ET; NHLN, TSN)

Outlook: Martin Necas (Carolina Hurricanes), who tied for the tournament scoring lead with 11 points (three goals, eight assists) and led Czech Republic to a surprising fourth-place finish at the 2018 WJC, will be back to help the Czechs try to win a medal for the first time since finishing third in 2005. Necas has two points (one goal, one assist) in seven games with the Hurricanes this season, and has 22 points (seven goals, 15 assists) in 26 games with Charlotte of the AHL. Also returning from last year is forward Filip Zadina (Detroit Red Wings) who tied for second at the tournament with seven goals. Goalie Jakub Skarek (New York Islanders) had an .848 save percentage in five games at the 2018 WJC and could start the tournament as the No. 1, but Lukas Dostal (Anaheim Ducks) could push him for time.


Coach: Christian Wohlwend

2019 NHL Draft watch: Valentin Nussbaumer, F, Shawinigan (QMJHL); Nando Eggenberger, F, Oshawa (OHL)

Schedule: Dec. 26, Czech Republic (4 p.m. ET; NHLN, TSN); Dec. 27, Canada (8 p.m. ET; NHLN, TSN); Dec. 29, Denmark (4 p.m. ET; NHLN, TSN); Dec. 30, Russia (8 p.m. ET; NHLN, TSN)

Outlook: Switzerland is hoping experience makes up for a lack of top-end talent, with 13 players from the 2018 WJC returning. Among them is goalie Akira Schmid (New Jersey Devils), who was the third goalie at the 2018 WJC and has a 2.73 GAA and .905 save percentage in 11 games with Omaha of the United States Hockey League this season. Defenseman Tobias Geisser (6-4, 201), a Washington Capitals prospect playing with Hershey in the AHL, will anchor the defense. Forwards Phillip Kurashev (Chicago Blackhawks) and Valentin Nussbaumer, a B-rated prospect for the 2019 draft playing with Shawinigan in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, could be the leaders up front. It’s been more than 20 years since Switzerland won its only WJC medal, a bronze in 1998; the goal for this year is to beat Denmark and avoid the relegation round.


Coach: Olaf Eller

2019 NHL Draft watch: Mads Sogaard, G, Medicine Hat (WHL)

Schedule: Dec. 26, Canada (8 p.m. ET; TSN, NHLN [joined in progress]); Dec. 27, Russia (4 p.m. ET; NHLN, TSN); Dec. 29, Switzerland (4 p.m. ET; NHLN, TSN); Dec. 31, Czech Republic (4 p.m. ET; NHLN, TSN)

Outlook: Denmark remained in the top division of the WJC after defeating Belarus in two games in the best-of-3 relegation round in 2018, and will be hard-pressed to avoid going through that again. Much of the responsibility for avoiding relegation could fall on Sogaard, the third goalie on the 2018 team who is a B-rated prospect for the 2019 draft. He has a 2.39 GAA and .931 save percentage in 19 WHL games with Medicine Hat. Also returning is forward Jonas Rondbjerg (Golden Knights), who led Denmark with seven points (two goals, five assists) in six games. Denmark reached the quarterfinals at the 2017 WJC, but with Canada, Russia and Czech Republic looking strong, their best bet for tournament success will be a win in the preliminary round against Switzerland.

Group B

Many anticipate Jack Hughes of the United States being the most-watched player at the 2019 IIHF World Junior Championship.

“Jack is a special player wherever he plays, on any team,” U.S. general manager John Vanbiesbrouck said about the 17-year-old center who is projected to be the No. 1 pick in the 2019 NHL Draft. “The uniqueness is he’s a young player and now a potential first-overall pick and we don’t want to be bashful about it or shrug the story off, but we have to manage it, and manage him.

“It’s not that hard to do when a guy like that has the puck on his stick a lot and controls the play. He’ll receive a lot of the attention and that gets tough for one player, so we have to help him absorb some of that, but he’s got a bit of a runway here, and it’s a good tournament for him to launch.”

The 2019 WJC begins Wednesday and runs through Jan. 5 at Save-On-Foods Memorial Centre in Victoria, British Columbia, and Rogers Centre in Vancouver. The Group B bracket includes Finland, Kazakhstan, Slovakia, Sweden and the United States.

The last time the WJC was held in Canada was 2017 and the United States defeated the host country 5-4 in a shootout to win the gold medal at Bell Centre in Montreal. Only three countries have won the WJC on home ice: Canada (1991, 1995, 2006, 2009, 2015), Finland (1998, 2016) and the Soviet Union (1983).

Here’s a look at each Group B team, in predicted order of finish:

United States

Coach:  Mike Hastings

2019 NHL Draft watch: Jack Hughes, C, USA U-18 (USHL); Spencer Knight, G, USA U-18 (USHL); Sean Dhooghe, C, Wisconsin (Big Ten) 

Schedule: Dec. 26, Slovakia (6:30 p.m. ET; NHLN, TSN); Dec. 28, Kazakhstan (10:30 p.m. ET; NHLN, TSN); Dec. 29, Sweden (10:30 p.m. ET; NHLN, TSN); Dec. 31, Finland (10:30 p.m. ET; NHLN, TSN)

Outlook: The United States is looking to win a fourth straight medal after winning gold in 2017 and bronze in 2016 and 2018. In addition to being fast and creative on offense, and strong on defense, the United States also has depth at the goalie position with Cayden Primeau (Montreal Canadiens), Kyle Keyser (Boston Bruins) and Knight (2019 NHL Draft-eligible), who received an A rating in NHL Central Scouting’s Players to Watch list in November. There are five returning players: defensemen Quinn Hughes (Vancouver Canucks), Dylan Samberg (Winnipeg Jets) and Michael Anderson (Los Angeles Kings); and forwards Josh Norris (Ottawa Senators) and Ryan Poehling (Montreal Canadiens). 


Coach: Tomas Monten

2019 NHL Draft watch: Philip Broberg, D, AIK (SWE); Nils Hoglander, LW, Rogle (SWE)

Schedule: Dec. 26, Finland (10:30 p.m. ET; NHLN, TSN); Dec. 27, Slovakia (6:30 p.m. ET; TSN); Dec. 29, United States (10:30 p.m. ET; NHLN, TSN); Dec. 31, Kazakhstan (6:30 p.m. ET)

Outlook: Sweden ended a three-year medal drought when it earned silver last year, falling to Canada 3-1 in the gold-medal game. Sweden will have a different look this year but will still be a hard-working, fast-skating team with quick transitions that plays to the inside. It has a solid nucleus, particularly with defensemen Rasmus Sandin (Toronto Maple Leafs), Nils Lundkvist (New York Rangers), Erik Brannstrom (Vegas Golden Knights) and Adam Boqvist (Chicago Blackhawks). Defenseman Timothy Liljegren (Toronto Maple Leafs) is out because of an injury so Broberg, an A rated skater in NHL Central Scouting’s Players to Watch list, may play a significant role. 


Coach: Jussi Ahokas

2019 NHL Draft watch: Kaapo Kakko, RW, TPS (FIN); Lassi Thomson, D, Kelowna (WHL); Mikko Kokkonen, D, Jukurit (FIN); Ville Heinola, D, Lukko (FIN); Anttoni Honka, JYP (FIN)

Schedule: Dec. 26, Sweden (10:30 p.m.ET; NHLN, TSN); Dec. 27, Kazakhstan (10:30 p.m. ET; NHLN, TSN); Dec. 29, Slovakia (6:30 p.m. ET); Dec. 31, United States (10:30 p.m. ET; NHLN, TSN)

Outlook: Since winning a gold medal in 2016, Finland has finished ninth (2017) and sixth (2018). One area that has proven troublesome is goal scoring, as Finland placed last in the 10-team field with a 5.31 shooting percentage (12 goals on 226 shots) in 2017, and ninth in shooting percentage (8.57) in five games in 2018. Finland hopes to resolve that issue with some high-energy performers on this year’s roster, including forwards Rasmus Kupari (Los Angeles Kings), Aleksi Heponiemi (Florida Panthers), Sampo Ranta (Colorado Avalanche), Aarne Talvitie (New Jersey Devils) and Kakko, who is projected to go among the top five picks in the 2019 draft. Buffalo Sabres goalie prospect Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen could receive most of the starts. Defenseman Urho Vaakanainen (Boston Bruins), who has two assists for Providence of the American Hockey League in six games, will represent his country for a third straight time at the WJC. 


Coach: Ernest Bokros

2019 NHL Draft watch: Samuel Hlavaj, G, Slovakia U20 (SVK)

Schedule: Dec. 26, United States (6:30 p.m. ET; NHLN, TSN); Dec. 27, Sweden (6:30 p.m. ET; TSN); Dec. 29, Finland (6:30 p.m. ET); Dec. 30, Kazakhstan (10:30 p.m. ET; NHLN, TSN)

Outlook: One player to keep an eye on for Slovakia is defenseman Martin Fehervary (Washington Capitals). The 6-foot-2, 194-pound left-hand shot, who will represent the Slovakia National Junior Team a third straight year, has one goal and two assists in 23 games for HV71 in the Swedish Hockey League. Hlavaj (6-3, 187) of the Slovak Under-20 team is a B rated goalie on NHL Central Scouting’s Players to Watch list.


Coach: Sergei Starygin

2019 NHL Draft watch — None

Schedule: Dec. 27, Finland (10:30 p.m. ET; NHLN, TSN); Dec. 28, United States (10:30 p.m. ET; NHLN, TSN); Dec. 30, Slovakia (10:30 p.m. ET; NHLN, TSN); Dec. 31, Sweden (6:30 p.m. ET)

Outlook: Kazakhstan is back in the top level at the WJC for the first time since 2009 after winning the Division I Group A tournament in December 2017. Kazakhstan returns many players from that championship group, including left wing Artur Gatiyatov, who was named the best forward of the tournament with seven points (four goals, three assists) in five games. Kazakhstan is the fifth nation in six years to get promoted from Division I, joining Norway (2013), Denmark (2014), Latvia (2016), and Belarus (2015, 2017).

Hockey player Satan ends his career

The “silent assassin”, the nickname for Miroslav Šatan, has symbolically bid farewell to his career. It ended with a unique exhibition match between two teams composed of the so-called “golden generation” players on December 18, starting at 18:00.

One third lasted a symbolic 18 minutes.

Czech goalkeeper Dominik Hašek opened the game, in which dozens of Šatan’s former teammates, with whom he represented Slovakia, appeared on the ice, like Ján Lašák, Ľubomír Višňovský, Peter Bondra, and Michal Handzuš.

“For me, the representation was always the greatest motivation, and I preferred to play with a double cross on my chest,” said Šatan, as quoted by the TASR newswire.

Not about winning

The Ondrej Nepela Ice Hockey Stadium was sold out during the game. The ticket price was a symbolic €18.

“It was one of the few games I did not want to win, but where I wanted to have a a great time,” said Šatan after the match, as quoted by TASR.

Šatan is the only player who earned all the three medals Slovakia managed to win during the Ice Hockey World Championship – Saint Petersburg (Silver, 2000), Goteburg (Gold, 2002) and Helsinki (Bronze, 2003). He scored altogether 81 goals on the Slovak representation team, Sme wrote.

He won the Stanley Cup in 2009 when playing for Pittsburgh Penguins.

Hall of Fame Member

During the match, Šatan received great honours, due to being entered in the Hall of Fame by the Slovak Ice Hockey Federation (SZĽH).

“My entrance to the Hall of Fame is an honour,” said Šatan, as quoted by TASR. “My first coach in Topoľčany always told us that we will become hockey players only after we have played at least 50 games.”

The Agency Partnership Wins Ice Hockey League KHL

By Maja Pawinska Sims – The Holmes Report

Kontinental Hockey League (KHL), the international ice hockey league, has appointed The Agency Partnership as its first retained international PR agency to support its expansion into new markets.

KHL was created in 2008 to develop ice hockey across Europe and Asia. The 11th KHL Championship, which began in September, is contested by 25 teams from Russia, Belarus, China, Finland, Kazakhstan, Latvia and Slovakia. Last month the first regular season game was held in Zurich, and the league plans to move further into Western Europe, including the UK.

The Agency Partnership was founded in February this year by former MSL client director and Ogilvy head of media and entertainment Blair Metcalfe, with a core team in London supported by a network of independent partner agencies and more than 600 consultants around the world.

The agency’s brief for Kontinental Hockey League is to carry out media and influencer engagement and global monitoring, to increase awareness of the sport and attendance at games in key European and Asian markets.

Metcalfe, the agency’s CEO and creative lead, told the Holmes Report: “KHL is Europe and Asia’s answer to the NHL in America: it’s about top-flight ice hockey from multiple countries, and it’s at a pivotal point in its expansion programe. We’ll be helping with corporate promotion of the league, as well as global monitoring and analysis of conversation around the sport, especially from influences, so we can turn those insights into creative campaigns encouraging consumers to go to matches.”

KHL marketing and communications VP Sergey Dobrokhvalov said: “Working with The Agency Partnership will provide us with the expert support we need to develop and execute a communications strategy for our exciting growth plans, helping attract audiences to enjoy some of the best ice hockey you can find anywhere in the world.”

Other recent wins for The Agency Partnership include electric bicycle company Volt, and Vinci UK Developments, which appointed the team on a stakeholder relations and integrated consumer, public affairs and corporate communications brief for developments across the UK.

Finnish women impress

Finnish forward Michelle Karvinen was the scoring leader of the Euro Hockey Tour event in Finland in December 2018

By Andy Potts –

As Europe’s top teams prepare for April’s IIHF Ice Hockey Women’s World Championship, Olympic bronze medallist and World Championship host Finland dominated a four-team tournament the country hosted in Vierumaki, Tampere and Hameenlinna. Newcomer France enjoyed a win over Russia in Pribam, Czech Republic, while Japan guested on the Euro Hockey Tour and earned victories over Finland and Germany.

Finns on top, Japanese spring surprises

The host nation tuned up for this season’s Women’s World Championship – also to be played in Finland, in the city of Espoo – with an impressive display against its European rivals. The Finns were faultless here as they saw off the challenge of Germany, Sweden and Switzerland. However, there was a surprise overtime loss against Japan, invited as a guest team to help its preparations for the Worlds. The Japanese won their first two games and gained valuable experience ahead of April’s big event.

Finland’s success was dominated by players from its bronze-medal roster in PyeongChang back in February. Leading scorer Michelle Karvinen picked up 6 (2+4) points and blueliner Ronja Savolainen had 5 (4+1) and finished as the top goal scorer.

Germany proved to be Finland’s closest challenger, opening with a 4-2 win over Sweden and edging the Swiss in a shootout. However, the team missed its chance to top the group when it crashed to a 6-1 defeat against Finland in its final game. Four unanswered goals in the first period, two of them from Savolainen, paved the way for an emphatic home win.

The Swedes got off to a fast start with a 7-0 victory over Switzerland – Hanna Olsson, 19, scored a hat trick and highly-rated young defender Maja Nylen-Persson had three assists – but the Damkronorna could not maintain that momentum.

Switzerland came fourth among the European nations with just one point from a shootout loss against Germany to show for its efforts. However, the Swiss became the first team to defeat the Japanese guests, winning 2-0 thanks to goals from Alina Muller and 16-year-old defender Sinja Leemann. Muller made her 100th appearance for the national team in the 1-4 loss against Finland and marked the occasion with a goal.

For Japan, there were eye-catching contributions from Miho Shishiuchi, Haruna Yoneyama and Rui Ukita. Shishiuchi led the team’s scoring with 3+1, including two goals against the Finns. Yoneyama’s two goals paced the Japanese to its 4-1 success over Germany, while Ukita got the overtime winner against the host and had three helpers. All three forwards were part of the Olympic roster last February.

The next phase of the Eurotour will be played in Russia in February before the teams will meet again at the 2019 IIHF Ice Hockey Women’s World Championship, 4-14 April 2019 in Espoo.

Czechs win in Pribam

The Czech Republic came out on top in a four-team tournament in Pribam, taking gold ahead of Norway after the teams tied on six points. It all came down to the head-to-head meeting, and the Czechs skated to a 2-0 verdict. The home defence put in a strong performance to limit Norway to just 13 shots at Kristyna Blahova’s net but in a tight game there was no score until midway through the third period. Tereza Vanisova got the winner in the 48th minute, Noemi Neubauerova added another in the last second.

Norway also finished on six points thanks to wins over Russia (2-1) and France (2-0). The French, preparing for a first ever campaign in the top division of the World Championship in April, took third place thanks to a 3-1 victory over Russia. After falling behind to Tatyana Chizhova’s second-period goal, Les Bleus recovered in the third to win thanks to a double from Chloe Aurard and a late clincher from Betty Jouanny. For France, this was a first victory over a Russian team ranked fourth in the world.

Russia, using an experimental roster heavy on players from last season’s U18 Women’s World Championship roster, found life difficult against more experienced opposition. After defeats against Norway and France, the Russians gained some consolation on the final day with victory over the Czechs but remained in fourth place in the group table.

Two exhibition games in Zeltweg between Austria and Slovakia ended with 5-2 scores. First the Slovaks won thanks to a Janka Hlinkova hat trick, the day after Austria took revenge with the same score.

New wave leads Germany to World Juniors

Germany’s U20 national team celebrates promotion to the 2020 IIHF World Junior Championship in the Czech Republic

By Chapin Landvogt –

Nothing is sweeter than convincingly winning a World Championship tournament on home ice. Just ask the kids playing on this winter’s edition of the German U20 national team.

Better yet, you probably wouldn’t need to if you had seen how the German team stormed the ice when the final buzzer sounded to end Germany’s last game of the tournament, a 6-1 outcome against geographical neighbour France. The team celebrated with an elation that had been building for days and the excitement will only continue to grow, as many of this year’s squad’s key players will still be eligible to play at next winter’s World Juniors. Of the 22 players, 10 were born in 2000 or later.

Finishing first was no easy task, but to do so knowing you’ll be able to take your key players with you to next year’s tournament a level higher is about the best possible outcome for any national program looking to cement itself among the world’s elite once and for all.

“This achievement is of incredible importance for German ice hockey,” explained Franz Reindl, President of the German Ice Hockey Association. “I am so happy and proud of this team and our program. First our men’s team was able to win the silver medal in PyeongChang, now our U20 team has won this tournament and gained promotion. This has been a very special year for ice hockey in Germany.”

The Germans entered Saturday’s game against France in the driver’s seat, as all they needed for advancement was to at least get the game to overtime. Things got off to a good start, but despite a 2-0 lead after one period of play, Germany swallowed a power-play goal against by Antonin Plagnat in the second period, cutting the lead to 2-1 and making things look a lot closer than they’d end up being. 

A goal by Taro Jentzsch in the 34th minute once again gave Germany the momentum, getting a team that had shown some dents in the armour back on track. It would be the first of a natural hat trick by Jentzsch, as Germany added three more goals in the third period to overwhelmingly seal their promotion to the top division. 

“This team truly, truly earned its place in next year’s WJC,” explained an ecstatic Christian Kunast, head coach of the German entry. “Five games, five victories; all done on the back of incredible team spirit. The team is completely deserving of this promotion to the next level. I am so happy for the players for this achievement.”

Germany finished the tournament with five victories in five games and 14 of 15 possible points. With that, the young team is heading to neighbouring Czech Republic for the 2020 IIHF World Junior Championship.

The decisive game

This promotion was largely made possible by Thursday’s tilt against Belarus, both teams having entered the game knowing that a regulation loss to the other team would all but end its chances of moving up to the world’s elite group. Eventual silver medallist Belarus had won its first three games in regulation while Germany had done the same, albeit the first one was a 3-2 shootout victory over arch rival Austria to kick off the tournament. 

In light of the dominance Belarus had shown to date, it was all that much more surprising that Germany was able to take a commanding 3-0 lead within the first 12 minutes of the game thanks to goals by Justin Schutz, Marco Bassler, and Tim Wohlgemuth. They almost ended the period with another goal on top of that, but Tim Brunnhuber failed to capitalize on a shorthanded breakaway in which he beat goaltender Nikita Tolopilo, who had just replaced starting goaltender Andrei Grishenko, but then missed the wide-open net with his shot.

As expected, Belarus came out hard and controlled the first 10 minutes of the 2nd period, eventually getting on the scoreboard with a power play goal by Ivan Drozdov, but Germany managed to catch itself and then pop in a goal just four minutes later by Yannik Valenti to regain the three-goal lead. The teams both headed into the locker room well aware that the game was anything but over, as Belarus had already come back from a 3-0 deficit to beat Norway and a 2-1 deficit to beat France 6-2 – all on the strength of dominant and goal-filled third periods.

But this was a trend Germany was determined to end, and the team did so convincingly. Belarus was never really permitted to get into a productive flow and Germany often spent considerable periods of time with puck possession, managing the game with aplomb. Finally, as Belarus did all it could to get back into the game, having even pulled their goalie for a power play with a good nine minutes to go in the game, Dominik Bokk scored one of the tournament’s most beautiful goals on a solo effort in the 57th minute, letting there be no doubt who was taking these three points.

“Today we took the next step in our team’s development and the realization of our goals. The boys delivered an absolutely incredible performance against one of the tournament’s top favourites and with that, clearly earned this victory”, explained coach Kunast.

The team was celebrated after the game by roughly 1,700 spectators in Fussen and awards were handed out by Konrad Abelthauser, a Red Bull Munich defenceman who has won the DEL championship three years in row and who himself had also been an integral member of the 2013 U20 team, which like this year’s edition managed to gain promotion at a U20 World Championship Division I held in Bavaria (Garmisch-Partenkirchen). And with that, Germany has swept away three straight years of disappointment at this tournament, namely in Vienna, Bremerhaven, and Meribel and Courchevel, to finally gain promotion back into the age group’s top circuit.

“We wanted to show the hockey world that it was a mistake that we were relegated last year, that we belong in the top group”, explained disappointed Belarusian captain Maxim Sushko. “We wanted to use this tournament to give the next generation the opportunity to play at the highest level.”

“We were ready and rested. We watched videos and even had plan B, which we had used the third period of the previous game to practice. We knew what was coming and we went into the game confident that we could win, knowing it’d be a hard and fun game that, was, well, an end game.”

For Belarus, which came into to the tournament as the top-seeded team to gain promotion, things had started out with three straight regulation victories, beating Norway 5-3, France 6-2, and Austria 5-0. This left little doubt that there’d be no promotion for any other team without the Belarusians having a say in the matter. The loss to Germany then sucked the life out of them. Getting down 3-0 early was only enhanced by a plethora of poor passes and a bevy of missed opportunities. That trend continued throughout the game, and into the next one. Belarus ended the tournament with a 3-1 loss to Latvia. Nonetheless, Belarus did finish second overall in the final standings.

The rest

The tournament kicked off with Belarus, Latvia, and Germany being the odds favourites. In fact, it was hard to tell which of these teams would have the upper hand and it was looking like quite the battle royale coming in. But that all changed in the very first game, when Latvia was stunned by France, losing 3-1 to “les bleus”. They appeared to have recovered from that upset when they took down Austria 4-1, but then host Germany came along and ended hopes of promotion with a 4-1 win of its own against the Latvians, who wound up finishing 4th overall.

Ultimately, third place was locked up by Norway, which was the “newcomer” in the group after gaining promotion at last year’s Division I Group B on the strength of an overtime victory over Poland. The traditional Scandinavian mainstay in Group A had ups and downs throughout the tournament, kicking things off with a 5-3 loss to Belarus and a 4-0 shellacking against Germany. The team looked a lot better on the ice than those scores indicated, and proved what it could do by beating France 5-0 and then knocking off Latvia 4-2, before settling things with a 3-2 overtime victory over Austria. 

This turnaround surely had much to do with the arrival of the team’s star Mathias Emelio Pettersen, who missed the first game while flying halfway across the world from Denver, Colorado, where he had played several college games with the Denver Pioneers just last weekend before hopping on the plane. He did play against Germany, pretty much heading into the game straight from the airport after roughly a day of travel, but proceeded to put up three goals and six points in the final three games of the tournament. That begs to question what might have been, if the team’s already drafted star had been fresh and ready to go right from the beginning?

In addition to France, Austria can be anything but happy about this tournament. Unlike France, it did manage to avoid relegation with a hard-fought and concentrated 3-2 OT loss to Norway on the final day of play. Things began well for the Austrians as the came back to force Germany to overtime on the first day of the tournament. It then lost its next two games convincingly in regulation, before beating France 4-2 in a game that had the look of a do-or-die relegation event. With a win and two overtime losses, the Austrians live to fight again at next year’s event, one in which several strong 2002-born players should be on the team and leading the way.

After doing the top teams a favour by beating Latvia on the first day of the tournament, France wasn’t able to gain even one more point the rest of the week, struggling mightily to create any offence whatsoever. When all was said and done, the team only managing to score eight goals in five games and has been relegated in what is an unfortunate step back for a program that had looked to be very much at home in this class in recent years. 

Special talents of note

For the scouting community – and indeed various NHL, European, and junior club scouts were in attendance – this tournament featured a number of players in just the type of pressure situation they wanted to see them in. Particularly Germany’s captain Moritz Seider was under the microscope right from the get-go and he didn’t disappoint. He not only ate up gobs of ice time in all possible situations and scenarios, he also chipped in a goal and six assists while going +8 throughout the tournament. Almost more impressive was his astounding ability to calm down and control hectic situations with the poise of a player much older and experienced than he is while setting the physical tone with every opportunity. Moritz won’t even turn 18 until next April and already gets somewhat regular ice time playing for the DEL’s first-place team, Adler Mannheim.

He’s expected to be a top-50 pick in this summer’s NHL draft.

Also of great interest were the performances at this level of a number of players who have already been drafted, including Germany’s Dominik Bokk, Leon Gawanke, and Justin Schutz, Belarus’ Maxim Sushko and Vladislav Yeryomenko, and Norway’s Mathias Pettersen and Kristian Marthinsen. As a first rounder for the St. Louis Blues in last summer’s draft and a forward who has already been getting somewhat regular power play time this season for SHL powerhouse Vaxjo Lakers, much was expected of Dominik Bokk at this tournament and it was clear to him that no player had higher expectations to live up to. 

Although there were plenty of instances where he held onto the puck too long or tried to do too much on his own, he nonetheless led the tournament in scoring and flashed the kind of innate skill that nary a player at this tournament, much less whatsoever in his age group, possesses. Cool, calm, collective, and confident, he often put on a show and one could argue that if he were playing with a few more guys with a similar skill level, he might have had upwards of 15 assists at this tournament.

Of players who were looking to use this tournament to make a bigger name for themselves internationally, Belarus’s Ivan Drozdov did just that in leading the team’s attack to the tune of four goals and six points and earned the Best Forward award. Already a regular for Dynamo Minsk in the KHL at age 19, many in the scouting community have looked to see more out of him on a bigger stage and this tournament apparently was just the right tonic for a kid who has wanted to show what he’s capable of.

Likewise, Norwegian right winger Samuel Solem led his team in scoring and was one of the tournament’s top goal scorers with four tallies and six points. He has played for SHL team Brynas’ junior club in recent years and has even suited up for six SHL games this season. His performance was crucial for his team and exactly what experts had expected to see out of him. 

Things were unfortunate for several youngsters who were expected to play a huge role in helping their team gain promotion. German 16-year old winger Tim Stutzle came into the event looking to make sure that his name was finally engraved in the notebook of any and every scout out there. Already committed to the University of New Hampshire as of the 2020/21 season, the multifaceted forward is felt to be the most dynamic German prospect since Leon Draisaitl, Bokk included. Unfortunately, he was injured in the warm-ups to the game against Norway and missed the rest of the tournament. He could only support his team from the sidelines, but rest assured that he’ll play a huge role for Team Germany in next year’s World Juniors.

More unfortunate however were the hopes of Austria’s top youngster, Marco Rossi, who was looked at to lead the way for Austria if there’d be any hopes of gaining promotion. Playing for the OHL’s Oshawa Generals, for whom he’s already collected 27 points in 23 games this season, the 17-year-old who is first eligible for the 2020 NHL draft sustained an injury shortly before the tournament began and, as was then seen over the course of the week, could not be compensated for as Austria spent more time battling against relegation than finding a way to move up the totem pole. Sadly, this also means that local hockey fans missed out on seeing one of the finest young phenomena Austria has ever produced. 

Of course, no team felt the absence of its best possible player more than France, who showed up without Alexandre Texier, its best prospect in decades. Despite looking outstanding for the first 127 minutes of the tournament, the roof crashed in on the French once the Belarusians popped in four third-period goals against them in game 2. The team failed to gain a point after that. 

Texier surely could have been an immense help in swaying the French’s fate in another direction, as this would have been his third U20 World Championship event. In addition, the all-round forward has been a mainstay for Liiga team KaiPa Kuopio in Finland, for whom he currently has 15 points after putting up 13 goals and 22 points last season. There’s absolutely no telling what he could have meant to this French side, as he’s clearly this generation’s leader and would have been the most experienced professional player at this tournament. Alas, KaiPa wasn’t willing to release him to attend.

As a side note, although all six participating nations hail from Europe, roughly 20 of the players who participated in the tournament had to cross the Atlantic from North America to get here. Alone 10 of them hailed from Belarus’ roster.

Happy hosts

The German Ice Hockey Association (DEB) showed itself to be quite happy with not only the outcome of the tournament, but also the numbers in attendance. With the exception of the weekday games against Norway and Latvia, to which roughly 1,100 people pilgrimed into the arena, all of Germany’s games were attended by over 1,600 spectators, with the final game against France seeing a good 2,000 in attendance. 

Robert Schutt of the DEB summed up the organization’s overall feeling about hosting this event: “We are very satisfied with the tournament, with how many people came to see the games, with the atmosphere they created in cheering on no less than the home team, and of course with the fact that Germany gained promotion by finishing first overall. The National Center for Performance and Competition, which hosted the games in Fussen, proved to be a great host site for the event and all of the teams have expressed how happy they were with the overall organization and accommodations.”

Tops in the tournament

  • The top goaltender of the tournament was Germany’s Hendrik Hane, who had four victories, a 94.9 save percentage, and an outstanding 0.98 goals against average.
  • The top defenceman of the tournament was Germany’s captain Moritz Seider, who finished third overall in scoring with one goal and seven points while going +8.
  • The top forward of the tournament was Belarus’ Ivan Drozdov, who led his team in scoring with four goals and six points.
  • The tournament’s top scorer was Dominik Bokk with one goal and eight points, accompanied by a +5 rating.

Slovenia steps up

The Slovenian players celebrate after getting their fifth win in the fifth game at the 2019 IIHF Ice Hockey U20 World Championship Division I Group B against Ukraine to earn promotion.

By Andy Potts –

Slovenia’s juniors are celebrating gold in 2019 IIHF Ice Hockey U20 World Championship Division I Group B, two years after the same group of players won the U18 Division IB.

A 4-1 victory over Ukraine on Friday afternoon secured top spot for Ales Burnik’s team. Despite going behind midway through the second period, Slovenia rallied to claim a comfortable win thanks to goals from Aljaz Predan, Jaka Sturm, captain Jaka Sodja and Martin Bohinc. Defenceman Nejc Stojan collected three assists to finish with 2+5 for the tournament; Jan Drozg’s helper on Predan’s marker took him to 12 (4+8) points, finishing as the competition’s top scorer, five points clear of a clutch of players.

Slovenia wrapped up top spot after the first game of the final day in Tychy, Poland, but the tournament was far from one-sided. Going into Friday’s play, there was a three-way battle for top spot and five of the six nations were in with at least a theoretical chance of a medal. In the event, the host’s 4-2 win over Hungary secured silver for Poland and left Hungary with bronze. Italy defeated winless Japan in overtime to take fourth place ahead of Ukraine. The Japanese drop to Division IIA for next season.

Slovenian head coach Burnik said: “It was a very interesting tournament. The competition was high quality because all the teams were fairly evenly-matched. Even going into the last day we had three teams going for promotion and five hoping for a medal.

“In the end we proved to be the best team but we faced tough games against good opponents. We managed to reach our goal thanks to our preparations, our excellent staff and some great energy among the players.”

The toughest battle for Slovenia came against Hungary. Down 1-4 after 40 minutes, a big fightback in the third period set up a shootout win that gave the Slovenes a crucial advantage going into the final day’s play. Captain Sodja had an assist as Rok Kapel made it 2-3 then scored the tying goal himself. Slovenia won all five games at the tournament but only three of them came in regulation time.

“Every game was tough but I think Hungary was the hardest,” Sodja said. “We came from a 1-4 deficit, got through overtime and won in a shoot-out. I think we deserved our first place here.

“We’re especially happy because we’ve repeated our success at the U18s in Bled two seasons ago.”

Promotion brings new challenges, not least because many key players will be unavailable to tackle Division IA next year. Absentees will include Sodja and the two North American-based forwards, Drozg (Shawinigan Cataractes) and Mark Strazisar (Hampton Roads Whalers).

“It will be difficult since about half the current team was born in 1999 and won’t be able to play next year,” Sodja admitted. “That won’t be easy, especially against even stronger teams at that level. But the team spirit we showed here means we can stay in a higher group even after next year’s tournament.”

Slovenia’s success has a strong Jesenice accent, reflecting the status of Anze Kopitar’s hometown as the hockey hot spot of the country. Ten of the roster play their hockey there, including Stojan, Sodja and goalie Ziga Kogovsek, and many of them have been getting extensive experience of the adult game in the cross-border Alps Hockey League. Head coach Burnik is also part of the staff at Jesenice and recently had a spell as interim head coach following the departure of Gaber Glavic last month.

Burnik is hopeful that this season’s international success can serve as an inspiration for the next generation. “Next year will see even better hockey played in Division IA. The 1999 year group is an above average group of players for us, but some key players will stay with the team. We cannot aim for the top spots but we will put in the maximum preparation. And let’s hope that this can motivate our younger players to starting practising hard tomorrow.”

While most of the plaudits went to Slovenia, there were honorable mentions for two Hungarian forwards. Kristoff Papp’s six goals made him the leading goalscorer of the tournament, one ahead of Hunor Csaszar. Slovenia’s Drozg earned the prize for top forward, Poland’s Olaf Bizacki was named top D-man and Italy’s Davide Fadani was the leading goalie.

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