Month: December 2018 (Page 3 of 3)

Kakko aims to win for Finns

Kaapo Kakko celebrates a goal with his Finnish teammates during the 2018 IIHF Ice Hockey U18 World Championship.

By Derek O’Brien –

For the past several years now, the Finnish rosters at the IIHF World Junior Championships have featured players projected to be among the top few picks at the upcoming NHL Entry Draft. In 2015 it was Mikko Rantanen, in 2016 it was Patrik Laine, in 2017 it was Miro Heiskanen and in 2018 it was Jesperi Kotkaniemi. Now, in 2019 it’s right winger Kaapo Kakko.

Kakko plays for TPS Turku in the Finnish Liiga, where he’s having a fine rookie season. He got his first taste of the pros last season with a six-game stint as a 16-year-old. This season, he has been more productive with 18 points (7+11) in 26 games, which puts him fourth in team scoring and third in the league among junior-aged players behind Aleksi Heponiemi and Rasmus Kupari.

“It’s a high-level league,” Kakko said of the Liiga. “I think this year I have more strength and power, so I can play my game a little bit better.”

Going into greater detail about his game, Kakko said: “I think my strengths are my offensive game and my hockey sense, finding players and making plays. I need to improve more on the defensive side of the puck.”

At 17 years of age, it’s hardly a surprise Kakko is the youngest player on his team by a couple of years. He considers himself fortunate to have received good guidance from some of the leaders on the team, particularly team scoring leader Ilari Filppula and captain Lauri Korpikoski. Unfortunately, Korpikoski has yet to play this season as, in September, he was diagnosed with myocarditis – an inflammation of the heart muscle caused by a virus, which can be fatal in serious cases. As scary as that sounds, Kakko is optimistic about the outlook.

“It will be a few more games,” he said about the timing of Korpikoski’s return. “Fortunately, the team has managed to play pretty well and we should be even better when he returns.”

Like the other Finnish prospects who came before him, he’s also had a fair bit of success on the international stage. Last season, he had 10 points in seven games at the U18 World Championship in Russia, helping Finland to the gold medal.

Kakko doesn’t find it much of an adjustment moving back and forth between the pro game and top-tier international junior hockey.

“Both are high-tempo,” he compared. “When you get these top teams from the world, top-level junior hockey is almost like professional-level hockey – it’s not that different. Both have a lot of good players.”

In his first taste of U20 international hockey this season, he doesn’t look out of place on a Finnish team that looks poised for more success. Bringing a young roster to a tournament in the Czech Republic in November, the Finns dominated Russia, Sweden and the Czech Republic, outscoring them 16-5, en route to a first-place finish. Kakko himself had three points in three games.

“Of course we’re happy, but we’re not very surprised,” Kakko said confidently. “We have a lot of good 2001-born players in our country, so I think we can play against anybody,” he said of a group that includes himself, Anton Lundell and defenceman Mikko Kokkonen, who could all play in the upcoming World Juniors and a second U18 World Championship in April.

Projected as one of the top picks for next summer’s NHL Entry Draft, Kakko is already been compared to Jack Hughes, the American whose name is at the top of many lists.

“I know who he is, obviously,” Kakko said of Hughes. “I know he’s a good player and he’s always been ranked No. 1 in the draft rankings, but that’s all I really know about him.”

Kakko and Hughes faced each other in the gold medal game of last year’s U18 World Championship and will likely meet again on New Year’s Eve in Victoria, when Finland and the USA play Group B’s final game. However, Kakko denied any personal rivalry.

“Maybe that’s how the media will build up the game, but we’re just going to look at it for what the game means to the team,” he dismissed. “They’ve got a lot of good players, we’ve got a lot of good players and we’ve played against a lot of those guys before. It won’t be about Hughes and it won’t be about me, it will be Finland and the USA, and it should be a good game.”

On the draft, Kakko said: “Of course, I want to get picked as high as possible, but I don’t want to think too much about it because it’s a long way from now. It doesn’t really make any difference in how I play this season. Every year, I just want to be the best hockey player I can be, draft or no draft.”

Bringing focus back to his teams, Kakko said: “On the international stage, winning the World Junior Championship is my main goal. At the club level, I want to play as well as I can and help TPS win.”

While some young Finns, such as former TPS teammate Olli Juolevi and a few of the hopefuls for this year’s junior national team, opted to go overseas at a young age, Kakko has opted to stay the course at home.

Lafreniere looks to join Crosby, McDavid in exclusive World Junior group

Forward can become sixth 17-year-old to play for Canada in tournament

By Kevin Woodley –

Alexis Lafreniere is looking to join Pittsburgh Penguins center Sidney Crosby and Edmonton Oilers center Connor McDavid in some exclusive company.

Lafreniere seeks to become only the sixth 17-year-old to play for Canada in the IIHF World Junior Championship. Crosby and McDavid are on that list, along with Jason Spezza, Eric Lindros and Jay Bouwmeester.

Being mentioned in the same breath as these players does not phase Lafreniere.

“It’s nice, they are big names,” Lafreniere said. “But I try to make my own road.”

Lafreniere, who turned 17 on Oct. 11 and isn’t eligible for the NHL Draft until 2020, is taking part in Canada’s selection camp for the 2019 World Junior Championship this week. Canada coach Tim Hunter doesn’t view age as an impediment to making the team, and already had Lafreniere lead the team stretch after the first practice Monday.

“He is capable of playing on this team because he is good enough,” Hunter said. “We like what he brings as a player. He doesn’t play like a young player. He’s real smart, plays heavy, plays hard and doesn’t have those young player moments where ‘oh this is hard’ or he forgets his assignments and what have you. We like him. He’s capable of making this team.”

The 6-foot-1, 192-pound forward had 80 points (42 goals, 38 assists) in 60 games in his first year with Rimouski of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League last season, becoming the first 16-year-old since Crosby to score more than 40 goals. Lafreniere was named rookie of the year for both the QMJHL and the Canadian Hockey League.

He followed that up by captaining Canada to gold at the Hlinka Gretzky Cup in August, scoring 11 points (five goals, six assists) in five games for a share of the tournament lead, and has 54 points (17 goals, 37 assists) in 31 QMJHL games this season.

“He’s an amazing player. He’s not here for no reason,” said forward Max Comtois, the Anaheim Ducks prospect who’s played against Lafreniere in the QMJHL this season and was a member of Canada’s gold-medal winning team at the 2018 World Junior Championship. “He’s the youngest here and I think he can help this team a lot.”

Playing against older players in the QMJHL like Comtois, who had seven points (two goals, five assists) in 10 games with the Ducks before being sent back to Drummondville, should help Lafreniere in a tournament traditionally dominated by 19-year-olds. And he is already comfortable playing for Canada, having represented his country at the Hlinka Gretzky Cup and IIHF under-18 World Championship last summer, and the World Under-17 Hockey Challenge in 2017.

“The challenge is bigger, so you have to raise your game and I was able to do it, but I’ll have to do it again in this camp,” Lafreniere said. “There is always a little pressure, but I don’t try to think about it. I just try to focus on playing my game and work as hard as I can and try to help my teammates.

“I am confident. I know I can do great things on the ice, but I just have to work hard and do it in practice and in games.”

As for being the youngest player, the only obvious sign is metal cage Lafreniere has to wear on his helmet.

“I don’t feel younger,” Lafreniere said.

Comtois, who with Ottawa Senators forward Alex Formenton are the two returning players from last year’s team, said he doesn’t think age will be a problem when the tournament starts Dec. 26.

“No, he’s a big boy, he can skate, he can hit,” Comtois said. “He’s got his place here and I think he is going to show everyone he has his place here.”

Malaysia’s U20 triumphs again

Malaysia defends its IIHF Ice Hockey U20 Challenge Cup of Asia title

By Martin Merk –

One year ago Malaysia hosted the IIHF Ice Hockey U20 Challenge Cup of Asia as the first IIHF-sanctioned event in the brand-new Malaysia National Ice Skating Stadium at the outskirts of the capital of Kuala Lumpur and finished the event in first place ahead of Kyrgyzstan. During the weekend history repeated.

Having the first full-size ice rink has benefitted Malaysia. Since men, women, adults and juniors can practice and play at the first full-size ice rink of the country, the national teams have improved in international play and won all three Challenge Cup of Asia tournaments they played in – a program aimed at the IIHF’s smaller Asian members not competing in World Championship events.

The Malaysian U20 national team continued the winning streak by winning this season’s IIHF Ice Hockey U20 Challenge Cup of Asia on home ice.

The first to game days proved to be easy with a 14-3 victory against the United Arab Emirates and a 12-2 win in the neighbouring clash against the Philippines. Last year’s runner-up Kyrgyzstan was equally successful beating the Philippines (13-2) and the United Arab Emirates (12-3) with clear margins.

Saturday night’s deciding game was a nail-biter. The Kyrgyz outshot the hosts in each period but ill-discipline made their life difficult. Rafel Zichry Onn Mohammed Rhiza opened the scoring for Malaysia after already 22 seconds when Nikolai Magiev was assessed a match penalty for kicking an opponent. The Malaysians capitalized on the five-minute man advantage with the 2-0 goal from Ilhan Mahmood Haniff.

Kyrgyzstan didn’t give up and cut the deficit in the first period with a Andrei Triskhin goal. And had the chance to tie it up early in the third period. Zhanbolot Tagayev missed out on a penalty shot at 1:13 when Vinodraj Sundram blocked the puck with his hands but 46 seconds later Ernazar Isamatov tied it up.

Malaysia got chances for the lead when Tagayev was assessed penalties first for interference and later for checking to the head and neck area. 74 seconds later Nurul Nizam Deen Versluis scored what would become the game-winning goal at 11:08. With five seconds left Chee Ming Bryan Lim scored the 4-2 goal into the empty net.

In a game for third place the Philippines avenged last year’s loss against the United Arab Emirates and won the game 7-6. The Filipinos fought back from a 6-4 deficit in the second half of the third period. The game-winning goal from Benjamin Jorge Imperial came with 83 seconds left in regulation time.

Malaysia’s Mohammad Hariz Mohammad Oryza Ananda (8+6=14) and Chee Ming Bryan Lim (7+5=12) led the tournament in scoring before Emirati forward Mohamed Alkaabi (7+2=9) and a trio from Kyrgyzstan: Ersultan Mirbek Uulu (5+3=8), Zhanbolot Tagayev (5+3=8) and Sultan Ismanov (4+4=8). Lim won the Most Valuable Player award while Alkaabi was named Best Forward. Ernazar Isamatov was selected as Best Defenceman while the Philippines’ Jaiden Mackale Roxas won the vote for Best Goaltender.

Saturday’s game ended the U20 Challenge Cup of Asia that was played the whole week in two separate divisions.

Overall Ranking:
1. Malaysia
2. Kyrgyzstan
3. Philippines
4. United Arab Emirates
5. Thailand
6. Mongolia
7. Indonesia
8. Kuwait

The IIHF Ice Hockey Challenge Cup of Asia continues with the men’s and women’s senior categories in spring.

The 2019 IIHF Ice Hockey Challenge Cup of Asia for men’s teams will take place at the same venue in Malaysia from 2-9 March 2019. The tournament will be played in two groups where the top-two Group B teams will have the chance to play a playoff game against the bottom-ranked Group A teams similar to the format known in the IIHF Ice Hockey Women’s World Championship. Defending champion Mongolia, the Philippines, Singapore and Malaysia are seeded in Group A while Macau, Indonesia and Oman play in Group B.

The 2019 IIHF Ice Hockey Women’s Challenge Cup of Asia will be played 14-19 April 2019 in Abu Dhabi, the capital of the United Arab Emirates. The top-division tournament includes Chinese Taipei, New Zealand U18, Thailand, Malaysia and Singapore while the United Arab Emirates, the Philippines, India, Mongolia and Kuwait will play the Division I tournament. For Mongolia and Kuwait it will be the first participation’s with a women’s national team in IIHF play.

Thai score high

Thailand celebrates after winning the 2019 IIHF Ice Hockey U20 Challenge Cup of Asia Division I and several individual awards

By Martin Merk –

The IIHF Challenge Cup of Asia program started with two U20 tournaments for the smaller Asian programs held this week at the Malaysia National Ice Skating Stadium outside of the country’s capital of Kuala Lumpur.

The eight teams play in two separate divisions. While the top division is going on with Malaysia, Kyrgyzstan, the United Arab Emirates and the Philippines, the Division I tournament has already ended with Thailand as the winner.

The Thai won all three games in their group with an impressive goal record of 54-1 to show they want to play at a higher level next year. Their most narrow game was the first one, a 14-1 victory against Mongolia. After a 15-0 blanking of Indonesia the day after first place was already locked for the Thai even before ending the tournament with a 25-0 win against Kuwait.

The top 12 scorers of the tournament were all Thai led by 17-year-old Nathaphat Luckanatinakorn with nine goals and five assists in three games, who was named Best Forward of the event. Mongolia’s Sumiyabazar Byambajav followed in 13th-place as best non-Thai scorer with four goals and one assist.

Thailand’s Chayutapon Kulrat was voted Best Defenceman while Kuwait’s Ahmad Alsaegh won the award for the Best Goaltender. He had three busy games facing 182 shots, almost the same number that all other goaltenders faced combined!

Mongolia recovered from the opening-day loss and moved up to second place. The Mongolians beat Kuwait 9-2 before winning 3-1 against Indonesia in a game for second place. The team dominated the game with 39-16 shots on goal and decided it early with a 3-0 first-period lead. Indonesia finished in third place thanks to a 10-3 opening-day victory against winless Kuwait.

World Juniors: Hungary Junior Hockey News

By Kerry Jackson –

When the Division I Group B International Ice Hockey Federation World Junior Championships begin later this week, no team is likely hungrier to win than the Hungarian squad, which was relegated from Group A after going winless in five games last year, scoring only 11 goals and allowing a group-high 25.

The teams of Group B in Division I begin play Saturday in Tychy, Poland. Hungary will open against Japan, which was promoted from Division II Group A after ripping through Group B with four regulation wins and one overtime victory.

This year’s team would probably like to lean on 1999 forward Zsolt Szalma, who scored three of the team’s 11 goals in 2018, and finished with four goals and two assists combined in nine international junior games last year. But he’s been less effective in international play this year, with only a pair of assists in seven games.

Hungary’s top offensive threat in international junior play leading up the WJC has been right wing Natan Vertes, a 2000 who has eight points (four goals, four assists) in seven games. Forward Akos Mihaly, a 1999, has three goals and two assists in seven international games while 1999 forward Hunor Csaszar has recorded five points, all of them assists.

Four players have totaled four points in international junior play. 1999 center Balint Horvath was able to reach four points (three goals, one assist) in just three games. 1999 forward Bruno Kreisz needed five games to reach four points, scoring a pair and helping on two more. Marcell Revesz, a tall (6’4”) forward, has three goals and an assist in eight games. Nandor Fejes, a 1999, leads all Hungarian defenseman with a goal and three assists in six games. Mate Seregely has only two points, both assists, but the 2000 blueliner recorded those points in just three games.

Hungary should probably be expected to play well in the WJC, if its performance in the Friendly International tournament is any gauge. The U20 team beat France, a Division I Group A squad, 4-3 on Nov. 10. Horvath had a pair of goals in that game, including the game winner in overtime. Three days earlier, the Hungarians beat Italy, which will be in Group B, 6-2, with two goals from Revesz and one from Horvath. The team’s only loss was a one-goal defeat to Slovenia, also in Group B. Vertes netted a pair in that one.

Q & A With Sam Uisprapassorn

Sam Uisprapassorn celebrates Latam Cup

By George Da Silva – National Teams of Ice Hockey

We caught up with Sam Uisprapassorn coach of Colombia national ice hockey team and Chapman University hockey. Sam has guided Colombia to Pan American gold and most recently the Latam cup Championship

Can you tell our audience little bit about yourself and your hockey background?

I grew up in Southern California, the son of a Thai father and Colombian mother. I was 8 years old when Wayne Gretzky became an LA King and once I saw the games on TV I knew I wanted to give the sport a shot. I started playing at Paramount Iceland which is actually down the street from where Zamboni is headquartered (fun fact). It seems as I lived on the ice from there on out playing pee wee through my College years.

How does the Coach of Chapman University hockey team end up coaching the Colombia national ice hockey team?

I believe I have the best coaching jobs in all of hockey. I get to coach my alma mater and the national team that is culturally so close to me.

I saw that there was a Colombian national team that had participated in the first Pan-American hockey tournament in Mexico City in 2014. I sent the team an email offering to help in any way possible. A few months back went by without a response and then one day I got a call that the Head Coach position was open and it all goes from there.

You have had success with Colombia winning the Pan American tournament twice and now the Latam Cup. What do you tribute your success to?

I give our players all the credit for the success I have had with this team. I have been fortunate to work with a group of players who have won as a group playing roller hockey or individually at the College or Junior level on the ice. When I took on the role of Head Coach I came in with a clear direction and systems that I wanted to implement offensively, defensively and the player bought in and executed shift in, shift out. I’m proud of our players for taking this approach and it’s the main reason for our success.

Team Colombia

Colombia is a very new to the game of ice hockey how would you judge the talent on the team?

Our group is made up of Colombian players based in the US, Sweden and Colombia. Our players from Colombia have to be some of the most talented I have seen throughout my coaching career. This is a big statement since there is no regulation size hockey rinks in the entire country. The skill development through roller hockey is very evident.

About a third of our team is based in the US and this has really helped bring our team along. It’s an advantage to have players out of the ACHA and ECHL.

What are the challenges for the advancement of ice hockey in Colombia?

I would say the biggest challenge is developing the ice hockey infrastructure. As I mentioned before, there are no ice rinks in the country. The same could be said for the other countries we compete against.

Chapman University Hockey team is not having a great season, do you think you can turn the season around?

The Chapman program is currently in a rebuilding phase. I would expect better results by the end of the season and beyond.

Chapman University

You are also a Golf nut and the founder and CEO of Cut Golf can you tell us little bit about this adventure?

I love golf as much as I love hockey. About two years ago decided that having to pay $35-50 for a tour quality golf ball was insane. Started doing some research and was able to find a way to launch Cut Golf where we offer a tour quality golf ball for under $20 ($19.95 to be exact). It’s absolute blast and I lead our organization more like the captain of a hockey team versus your typical CEO.

who are some of your favorite Ice hockey or inline players?

I’m very old school. I grew up idolizing Wayne Gretzky. Brendan Shanahan, Luc Robitaille, Eric Lindros and Steve Yzerman were some of my favorite players growing up. They just don’t make them like that anymore.

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