Month: January 2019 (Page 1 of 2)

World Juniors: Italy Junior Hockey News

By Kerry Jackson –

Italy finished an uninspiring fourth in the 2019 International Ice Hockey Federation’s U20 World Junior Championship. But it was an improvement over the previous year when the Italians were winless and last in Group B of Division I.

After the WJC, head coach Giorgia De Bettin was quoted by Italy’s sports federation as saying he was “satisfied but not completely” with his team.

“However there are also many positive notes,” he added. “The strength of the group, the intensity, the ability to play on a par on skating and physicality. After this World Cup you can plan the next having a lot to work on.”

Next year just might be one of marked improvement. Top goalie Davide Fadani is surely among those “positive notes” the coach was thinking about. The 2000 recorded a 2.75 goals-against average and a .911 save percentage in five games. The six-footer, who was named top goalie in the 2019 WJC, should be an anchor for his national team in 2020 with another year to develop. He is currently playing elite junior A hockey in Switzerland where he has a 2.78 GAA.

Other 2000-born players who will be expected to contribute heavily after gaining more seasoning and maturity are forwards Stephan Deluca and Patrick Demetz. They scored only one goal each in the 2019 tournament, but both have shined with their junior teams. Deluca has a dozen goals and 17 assists in 32 games in elite junior A hockey in Switzerland, while Demetz has 20 goals and 21 assists in only 28 games in a German U20 league.

2001-born players who didn’t play in the U20 tournament but could help next year include:

Samuel Payra, a defenseman who has 12 goals and eight assists in Italian U19 hockey. Payra has put up solid offensive numbers throughout his career, including one season in which his goal total (19) exceeded his games played (15).

Michele Covi, a forward who has poured in 21 goals in 26 games while assisting on 16 this season in a U18 league based in Hungary, Romania, and Austria.

Yuri Cristellon is another forward who can generate offense, as his nine goals and eight assists in 18 games against grown men in the Italy2 League show.

The only player from the Italian team skating in North America is Gregorio Gios, who has been with the New Hampshire Jr. Monarchs of the National Collegiate Development Conference since the beginning of the New Year. The defenseman has a goal and an assist in six games. Gios, who has an opportunity to fine tune his game for American college hockey while playing in the U.S., has been Italy’s WJC MVP for two straight years.

Ice Arena and Swimming Pool will be built in Batumi

By National Teams of Ice Hockey

A new ice arena and a swimming pool will be built in Batumi. According to Ramaz Bolkvadze, consultations are underway and to be completed by September 1st, 2019.  It is known that the ice arena should be designed to carry out training- processes and different levels of competitions specifically figure skating and ice hockey .

As well as for massive skiing, cultural-spectacular and entertaining events, holidays, concerts and exhibitions. The swimming pool should be designed for swimming, water polo and mass swimming competitions.

Total approximate cost of the project is 46 million GEL. Construction must be completed within 2 years after the contract is concluded.

World Juniors: Estonia Junior Hockey News

By Kerry Jackson –

Estonia had the home ice advantage in the 2019 International Ice Hockey Federation’s U20 World Junior Championship and didn’t squander it, winning the gold and receiving a promotion from Division II, Group A to Division I, Group B.

Along the way to the title, the Estonians scored 25 goals, allowed only seven. They won four games in regulation, their only stumble a 2-1 overtime win against Lithuania on Jan. 14. The 2020 tournament will be the first time Estonia appears in Division I since 2009.

Estonia’s win was produced by a balanced attack. Only one player, 2001-born right wing Kirill Lodeikin, scored as many as four goals. One, Kristofer Jogi, a 2000 center-left wing, had three goals, while five players scored twice and seven contributed one goal. In the gold-clinching win, a 7-2 blowout over Korea, seven different players put the puck in the net.

Jogi was the team points leader with seven, which tied him for fourth for the tournament. No other Estonian was among the top 10.

On a roster of 22, there is no one playing junior hockey in North America. But it’s clear several could play at a high level if they decided to continue their development in the U.S. or Canada. Lodeikin and Jogi would be solid players, and many coaches would be happy to have Saveli Novikov on their blueline. The 1999 defenseman stands 6’8” and weighs 214 pounds, and was Estonia’s second-leading scorer with two goals and four assists. He was also named the tournament’s top defenseman.

Forward Rasmus Kiik, a 2000 who also totaled six points with one goal and five assists, would also be a welcomed addition on this side of the Atlantic.

Defenseman Eduard Slessarevski, who isn’t small at 6’2” and 185 pounds but isn’t the giant Novikov is, could help a team next season in his last year of junior hockey. He recorded no goals in the WJC but did help set up four.

Many teams would love to get their hands on Estonia’s goalies. Both put up stellar numbers at the tournament. Christopher-Kollervo Jogi, a 2000, finished with a 1.31 goals-against average and a .944 save percentage in three appearances, while Oliver Soovik, also a 2000, went 1.50 and .925 in three appearances.

The sole Estonian playing in North America is blueliner Hendrik-Paul Laosma. The 2000, who has great size at 6’3” and nearly 200 pounds, is in the program at Bishop’s College prep school in Sherbrooke, Quebec, where he is listed as a forward. He has three assists in nine games. In five games at the WJC, he had one goal and an assist in front of the home crowd.

World Juniors: Germany Junior Hockey News

By Kerry Jackson –

Deep interest in the top division of the International Ice Hockey Federation’s World Junior Championship currently being played in British Columbia goes beyond the fans from participating nations. German fans and junior hockey officials are surely watching, too, wondering how their team will fare against the best teams next year after being promoted from Division I, Group A.

The Germans won the 2019 DI Group A gold in December as the host team with four regulation wins, one overtime win and no losses. They finished a plus-17, scoring 22 goals and allowing only five.

Leading the squad was Dominik Bokk, who had eight points. Curiously, the 2000-born winger reached that by scoring only a single goal. It was enough to lead all scorers for the tournament, though.

Tied for second for both the German team and the tournament were forward Justin Schutz, a 2000, and Moritz Seider, a 2001 defenseman. Both had seven points. Schutz had two goals, Seider one.

Germany was so thoroughly dominant that the team had one more player, for a total of four, among the top 10 scorers in the WJC. Nicolas Appendino recorded a pair of goals and three assists.

The Germans also has the WJC best goalie. Hendrik Hane won four games, posted a .949 save percentage, and a 0.98 goals-against average, all tournament bests.

Appendino, a 1999 defenseman, who plays for the Fargo Force of the United States Hockey League, is one of more than a half-dozen players on the German roster who are on North America junior hockey rosters this season. That list includes: Leon Gawanke (1999 defenseman, Cape Breton Screaming Eagles, Quebec Major Junior Hockey League), Colin Ugbekile (1999 defenseman, Fargo, USHL), Moritz Wirth (1999 defenseman, Minnesota Magicians, North American Hockey League), Taro Jentzsch (2000 forward, Sherbrooke Phoenix, QMJHL), Sebastian Streu (1999 forward, Regina Pats, Western Hockey League), and Yannik Valenti (2000 winger, Vancouver Giants, WHL). Goalie Florian Mnich, a 2000, is playing in the NAHL for the Corpus Christi IceRays.

Several from the German team have been drafted by NHL teams. Gawanke was taken by the Winnipeg Jets in 2017’s fifth round; Bokk is a 2018 first-round pick of the St. Louis Blues; and the Florida Panthers have rights to Schutz, who was drafted in the sixth round last June.

The 6’4” 185-pound Seider hasn’t been drafted but could go in the first round in 2019. He was the youngest player on Germany’s gold-medal team and has tremendous potential. At the WJC he was named the tournament’s best defenseman, had the overall best plus-minus (+8), led all blueliners in scoring, and was named his team’s top player. He’s known as a smooth, two-way defender who is “the best German defence prospect since Christian Ehrhoff,” according to Larry Fisher from The Hockey Writers.

Serbia steps up

After last year’s silver on home ice, the Serbian U20 national team won it all in neighbouring country Croatia at the 2019 IIHF Ice Hockey U20 World Championship Division II Group B

By Andy Potts –

Serbia’s U20 national team took gold in the 2019 IIHF Ice Hockey U20 World Championship Division II Group B after winning five out of five in Zagreb, Croatia. Fred Perowne’s roster confirmed top spot with a 6-2 win over the Netherlands on Monday afternoon. The Dutch, relegated from Division IIA last season, eventually finished third behind host nation Croatia.

It was a sense of ‘mission accomplished’ for Serbia. A year ago, on home ice, the team missed out on promotion due to an overtime loss against eventual group winner Spain. Twelve months later, there was no mistake. Several players from the 2018 team were available once again and their experience was a big factor in Serbia’s success here.

Those returnees included captain Andrija Spanjevic, who collected the top defenceman award after contributing six assists in five games. Marko Dragovic, the tournament’s top forward and leading goalscorer with 10 (7+3) points was also part of last season’s roster. Those two formed part of an 11-strong contingent from Crvena Zvezda Belgrade. Serbia’s 29th-place overall finish in the U20 World Championship program is the best placement since 2006.

Head coach Perowne, a Quebec-born naturalised Serb whose first engagement in the Balkans was back in 2001 as a forward with Vojvodina Novi Sad, was also back for a second year. His commitment to growing hockey in the region also inspired him to help establish Hockey Without Borders, an organisation that places volunteer coaches in a range of countries across the former Balkans and beyond to the Baltics and as far as India.

Serbia went into Monday’s play knowing that victory over the Dutch would clinch top spot, although a defeat could set up a three-way tie involving Croatia as well. For the Netherlands, it was win or bust and the Oranje struck first through Wouter Sars in the seventh minute. Serbia replied quickly through Lazar Pejcic, another returnee from 2018, and went in front late in the first frame on a power-play goal from Srdjan Subotic. Dragovic potted his seventh of the tournament in the second period as Serbia extended its lead to 4-2 before Subotic and Mirko Djumic scored their second goals of the game to complete a 6-2 scoreline.

Earlier in the tournament, Serbia overcame host Croatia 4-1 in front of a raucous crowd of over 2,000 fans in Zagreb’s Dom Sportova. The host made a slow start and might have allowed more than a fifth-minute goal from Vasilije Andjelkovic as Serbia dominated the opening session. The middle frame was tighter, but again the Serbs found the net through Petar Mirkov late in the frame. Two quick goals from Dragovic and Subotic killed the game early in the third, the latter converting a 5-on-3 power play after captain Spanjevic carefully quarterbacked the play; Patrik Dobric mustered a late consolation for Croatia.

The host nation finished with silver medals, moving ahead of the Netherlands on the final day thanks to a 2-1 win over Israel. The Israelis also had something to celebrate after securing fifth place in the pool and preserving their place for next season. Last year’s Division III champion ensured its survival with an impressive 5-1 victory over Mexico led by two goals and an assist from Yuval Halpert. Mexico failed to record a single victory and drops to the basement division for 2020. Belgium, which survived after coming out ahead in a three-way tie for the last three places 12 months ago, improved to collect two victories in Zagreb and stood clear in fourth spot.

Croatia’s Dominic Canic led the scoring chart with 11 (2+9) points, one ahead of Dragovic and Sars, who tied for second with identical 7+3 returns. Djumic also collected 10 points, with three goals and seven assists. While Serbia picked up the awards for the tournament’s best defenceman and forward, Croatia’s goalie Domagoj Troha was nominated as the best netminder.

China tops Australia to win Division III

The Chinese U20 national team celebrates after winning the Division III in the third attempt.

By Ryan Healy –

China defeated Australia Sunday night by a score of 5-1 to take home the gold at the 2019 IIHF Ice Hockey U20 World Championship Division III. The Chinese team, coached by IIHF Hall of Famer Jakob Kolliker, was dominant throughout the tournament, outscoring their opponents 49-5 on route to a perfect record.

China will now advance to Division II Group B for 2020, an important success for the Chinese Ice Hockey Association, who is in the middle of a push to rapidly improve their hockey program ahead of the 2022 Olympic Winter Games on home ice in Beijing. 

This win comes after the team was edged out from advancement in 2017 and 2018. When asked what he thought pushed them over the edge, Kolliker pointed to their disciplined play. 

“The team worked hard. They were disciplined the whole tournament,” the former U20 national team coach of Switzerland said. “I think that was the key – working and discipline. They stayed in the range, and I’m happy about this… I’m happy we can end the week like this, with a medal.”

China’s players dominated the scoring leaderboard, claiming the top-five spots for total points, and throughout the tournament, it was clear that their skill, speed, and conditioning were all at a level unmatched by their competition. Yan Juncheng topped tournament scoring with seven goals and 13 assists in five games, and also tied for a tournament-best +19. 

In goal, the Chinese duo of Wu Siming and Zhang Yuhang were the stingiest in the tournament, allowing only a single goal in each of the team’s games. Goaltending coach Pasi Hakkinen noted that while his goalies may not have been busy, “they did their job every time we needed them to make a save, so we’re pretty happy about that.”

China opened the scoring in the gold medal game 6:21 into the first when Yan Juncheng took advantage of a turnover, broke in alone and scored blocker-side on Australian goaltender Seb Woodlands. 33 seconds later Wang Jing found a hole on the short-side from a bad angle to make it 2-0. China added a third goal in the second period, shelling Woodlands while giving up few if any real scoring chances on their own end. Halfway through the third period, China had expanded their lead to 5-0, until Australian defenceman Hayashi Kenshin blocked a point shot on a Chinese power play and raced in on the Chinese goal under pressure, tucking a deke five-hole on Wu Siming for the shorthanded goal. 

While the Australian team certainly would’ve preferred gold, their strong second-place finish marks a major improvement over 2018, when the team lost three of their five games after being relegated out of Division IIB in 2017. While they didn’t have many high-quality scoring chances throughout the game, they were the only team to hold the high-octane Chinese offence to under six goals, cheered on by a crowd of fans bested in size only by the home team. When the final buzzer sounded, Woodlands and backup goalie Ethan Splede had turned away 45 of 50 shots in a heroic, albeit doomed effort. 

Bronze medallist Turkey returned to Division III in 2019 after playing in Division IIB in 2018. They finished the tournament 3-2, including a 12-1 loss to China in the semi-finals, but were able to shake off that loss and put in a strong performance to secure the bronze in a 6-0 win against neighbouring rival Bulgaria. Sait Bingol netted four of Turkey’s six goals, and goaltender Burak Gumuslu turned away 27 shots on route to the shutout – aided in-part by the absence of Bulgaria’s top-scorer, Miroslav Vasilev, due to suspension. 

Bulgaria looked exceptionally strong in the preliminary round with a 20-7 goal record, thanks in part to notable play from Vasilev, defenceman Kaloyan Vachkov, and goaltender Ivan Stoynov. They had their eye on a run to the gold medal game but lost to Australia in the semi-finals in what was easily the most well matched and exciting game of the tournament. The final score was 7-4, but the game was extremely tight, with Australia netting their game-winning fifth goal deep in the third with only 3:01 left on the clock. 

Despite being forced out of medal contention, the Icelandic team delivered a strong showing in front of their home crowd, including an overtime win against Australia in their opener. In the end, they lost only one game – a 4-2 heartbreaker against Turkey. A win in that game would have secured Iceland first place in Group A, but with the loss, they instead fell to third in the group. Despite that disappointment, the tournament was a success not only for the team but for the host organisation, Ice Hockey Iceland. 

“I believe all teams go home satisfied with the tournament, so everything worked out,” said Ice Hockey Iceland general secretary Konrad Gylfason. “And this was a big tournament – 8 teams – so it was even tougher for us, but still, everything went very well.”

2019 saw the tournament re-expanded to eight teams from the six-team structure used in 2018, with Chinese Taipei and South Africa returning to U20 Division III play. South Africa finished the tournament with two wins, both in close contests against New Zealand, who finished the tournament winless. In their second meeting, the Kiwi team opened the game by performing an impressive haka – a traditional Maori warrior challenge widely popularised by the national rugby team, the famed All Blacks. 

Chinese Taipei dropped their first three games in the preliminary round but picked up a 7-1 win against South Africa in the placement semi-finals. Despite the lopsided record, Chinese Taipei’s goalie, Huang Sheng-Chun, was a standout. He posted an impressive 93.7 save percentage, edged out only by China’s Wu Siming at 93.9. Huang also averaged 47.8 saves per game, a tournament best, earning him the award for top goalie. 

The award for top forward went to Iceland’s Heidar Kristveigarson, who was the tournaments second top goal scorer, with eight goals in five games. Top defenceman went to China’s Zhang Dehan, who was fourth in total scoring with one goal and fourteen assists.

Estonian juniors promoted

The Estonian U20 national team listens to its national anthem after getting its fourth win in the fourth game.

By Henrik Manninen –

Estonia won the 2019 IIHF Ice Hockey U20 World Championship Division II Group A on home ice in Tallinn. Sweeping through the tournament undefeated, Estonia needed only four games to clinch top spot.

The Estonian U20 national team will move up to the Division I level for the first time since 2009.

The Baltic nation struck gold courtesy of a 7-2 win against Korea in front of 1,730 inside Tondiraba Icehall to win promotion to Division IB. Estonia had earlier in the tournament edged Spain (2-1) in their opener, overcome top-seeds Lithuania after penalty shots (2-1) before downing Great Britain (5-2) during day three. The 2-1 shootout win over their Baltic rival Lithuania proved to be crucial as the Lithuanians are second three point behind Estonia but cannot overtake Estonia anymore as the head-to-head game would serve as tie-breaker.

“First of all this win is a testament to the good work we’ve done over a number of years. If we look at the bigger picture, the Estonian Ice Hockey Association has done a good job, offered players opportunities to play elsewhere. Looking specifically at this team, we have a strong team mentally, always staying positive and our level of performance is high. We only conceded six goals in four games and defended really well throughout the tournament,” said Estonia’s U20 head coach Simo Luukkainen.

Seven different scorers with all four lines being on the scoresheet in their final day 7-2 win against Korea is a testament to Estonia’s team-effort. Against a battling Korean team, it was far from plain sail for the hosts, who required a final frame five-goal splurge before sealing their gold medals with one game to spare.

Despite emphatically outshooting their opponents 41-16, Estonia needed to wait almost half-way through the game to break the deadlock against Korea. Rasmus Kiik had seen his one-on-one saved by the Tae Kyung Kim before Christofer Jogi hit home the rebound for Estonia’s opener at 28:26. Estonia captain Ed Slessarevski rounded Kim’s cage and picked out Emil Svartbro, who doubled their lead before the middle frame was over.

But nerves crept back into the game with Estonia’s Slessarevski given a major and game misconduct penalty for boarding 40 seconds into the final frame. Korea needed only 24 seconds to convert with a goal by Seokhwan Kim at 41:04 after Oliver Soovik had saved Beomjun Park’s effort. 64 seconds later Korea rejoiced again as Geon Woo Kim potted home a Geonho Jin shot to silence the expectant home crowd.

“Korea got back to 2-2 but we knew that we needed to win. With so many of our players carrying injuries it was important that we got it done today and we managed to turn it back into our favour,” said head coach Luukkainen.

With plenty of time left on a man-advantage and with Korea surging ahead for more goals, they got punished by a deadly Estonian breakaway. Tommy Jansson picked out Morten Arantez Jurgens. On a two-on-one the latter fed Andre Linde, who put Estonia back in front whilst playing shorthanded at 43:15.

Following a Korea timeout, Junkyung Yang sailed through the Estonian defence but was denied by Soovik, before Estonia once again took control of the game and never relinquished it.

At 47:30 Jegor Nevzorov combined skill and speed as he picked up the puck in front of Soovik’s cage and weaved himself through the entire Korea team for Estonia’s fourth. With Korea running out of steam, and Estonia being on a two-man-advantage, towering Saveli Novikov powered a bullet past Kim.

The 5-2 marker arrived just 33 seconds later as Kirill Lodeikin added further gloss with his power-play goal before Dilan Savenkov closed the scoring 7-2 with 7:40 left of the game.

With a place for the 2020 IIHF Ice Hockey U20 World Championship Division I Group B now sealed, head coach Luukkainen looks ahead of what is to come with plenty of optimism.

“Our win generates belief and this path we need to continue on. We have a good generation where most of the players will be able to participate even next year.”

“Each player must now work hard every day to become a better player – physically, tactically and technically. We defended well, but we can also improve our attacking play as well as everything else in our game,” continued head coach Luukkainen.

Scoring a brace against Great Britain and converting one of Estonia’s two penalty shots against Lithuania, 18-year-old Artemi Aleksandrov praised the togetherness of the team as a contributing factor to their success.

“I didn’t think about scoring points, I just wanted to win the gold medal. Everybody on the team works hard and our coach works well with the team. We are very friendly with each other. Nobody is yelling at each other, so it is a great thing and it was so nice to play for Estonia at this tournament,” said Tallinn-born Aleksandrov, who plays his hockey in Sweden for Rogle Angelholm’s U20-team.

In just over three months’ time the Tondiraba Icehall will play host to the 2019 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship Division I Group B. With Estonia last year finishing a fine third, the feel-good factor is hoped to continue with more juniors also finding their way into the senior national team fold.

“From this group of U20-players there could be a spine for a future national team. At the same time, the Estonian men’s national team standard has also risen of late, but it is realistic that two to five players from the U20 will play also for the men’s senior team this spring,” said Luukkainen

One such player hoping for a call-up is 18-year-old Aleksandrov, who made his debut for the senior national team last November at the Baltic Challenge Cup played in Vilnius, Lithuania.

“It was very interesting to play at senior level. When it comes to speed I didn’t feel too much difference, but the senior players are hitting hard and shoot better. But I don’t want to say anything about the upcoming senior World Championship apart from that I hope I am going to make the team,” said Aleksandrov.

With the 2019 IIHF Ice Hockey U20 World Championship Division II Group A entering its final day of games on Saturday there is still plenty left to play for. Lithuania, Romania and Great Britain are all in contention for a medal, while Korea still has a glimmer of hope to climb above Spain and beat the drop.

Debut win for Ukraine’s women

The Ukrainian players come together after winning the deciding game against Belgium to claim first place and promotion at the 2019 IIHF Ice Hockey Women’s World Championship Division II Group B Qualification.

By Andy Potts –

For Ukraine’s women national team, victory in Cape Town was a long time in coming. The team swept through the Division II Group B Qualification tournament, defeating Hong Kong, Bulgaria, the host nation South Africa and the top-seeded Belgians to enjoy a memorable start to life in IIHF World Championship play.

The competition marked a return to the ice for a Ukrainian women’s team. In the early 90s, shortly after the break-up of the USSR, the country twice played in European Championships with little success. While the men’s team drew on a long hockey tradition to play at 2002 Olympics and spend nine seasons with the World Championship elite, the women slipped away. Girls continued to take up the game, but as they grew up they had nowhere to play.

Captain Diana Kovtun was one of them. “I started playing hockey on a boys’ team when I was about 12,” she said. “After a couple of years, I couldn’t keep playing because there’s no mixed hockey for older players. I had to switch to football.

“In football, I was good enough to play for Ukraine’s U17 team, but I always dreamed of coming back to hockey, the game I’d loved since childhood.”

The birth of a Ukrainian Women’s Hockey Championship two seasons ago made that dream a reality. It all stemmed from the efforts of Olexandra Slatvytska, Nadia Boboshko and Yulia Artemyeva. The three had come to hockey via different routes: Boboshko’s brother is a pro in the Slovak league, Artemyeva’s son turned her into a hockey mom and Slatvytska was an experienced sports lawyer. Their combined expertise in finance, marketing and law made the dream credible; backing from the Ice Hockey Federation of Ukraine (FHU) saw the creation of a five-team league involving 127 players across four regions of the country.

That competition is now in its third season, its leading teams – Kovtun’s Kharkhiv Panthers and Ukrainochka Kyiv – provide the bulk of the national team. But first the girls needed to persuade the FHU that it was time to approach the international stage. When Kyiv staged a men’s U18 World Championship last season, Slatvytska and her colleagues made their pitch.

“People weren’t sure at first whether we could do it, but FHU Vice President Georgi Zubko spoke up for us and said he could guarantee that we would do our best,” she recalled. “That support was really important when we spoke with the executive committee.”

Under the guidance of head coach Vadym Radchenko, whose Kharkhiv team had just won the women’s championship, preparations began for the trip to South Africa. Although the team is almost entirely amateur – Kovtun and forward Yelyzaveta Ryabkina, once captain of Harvard’s NCAA team, are rare exceptions who have played sport at a higher level – the backroom preparations were highly professional. A team of six support staff, led by Radchenko and team manager Yuri Kyrychenko, worked hard on a holistic approach to all aspects of the players’ lives, including diet, exercise regimes and even sleeping patterns. The attention to detail was so great that the team flew its own massage table to Cape Town for the championship, while video coach Nikita Artemyev was supplying insights in the locker room during each intermission.

The efforts paid off. Despite the sudden switch from the cold Ukrainian winter to a southern hemisphere summer – “it was so warm on the ice we found it difficult to breathe at our first practice,” admitted Kovtun – the team produced some high-quality hockey to win all four games with an aggregate score of 17-5. “It was really important for us,” Kovtun added. “We were nervous before the tournament. We felt that we were representing our country here and we didn’t know what to expect. So we prepared very hard and we knew that we had a strong roster.

“Before we came, we got together and made a promise to each other that we would do everything we could to leave with the gold.”

Success in South Africa has raised the team’s profile back home. During the tournament, the women’s Facebook page saw an influx of visitors – over 50,000 in four days – and there was even backing in Cape Town’s Ice Station arena. “We got great support from the Ukrainian diaspora in South Africa,” Slatvytska said. “There must have been about 50 people who came to the games with our country’s flag, shouting and screaming for our girls. In the first game the South Africans were amazed. It felt like we were the home team!”

Now the plan is to build on that. Slatvytska estimates that there are around 120 under-15 girls playing hockey in Ukraine and hopes that this week’s success will inspire them and bring more youngsters to the game. The league is working to bring in some international officials to help raise standards; already, clubs benefit from large amounts of data designed to help coaches monitor and improve player performance.

On the international stage, the women’s team is actively seeking more opponents: more than 35 national federations have been invited to send teams to joint training camps in Ukraine, taking advantage of some impressive facilities in an immersive hockey environment without the costs associated with similar events elsewhere in Europe.

Slatvytska believes that the women’s team can help to generate more opportunities for kids in Ukraine to take up sport. “We’re putting our hearts into this because we believe it can help our country,” she said. “Giving kids a chance to play sports improves our whole society. It steers people away from bad habits and, for some of our players, it’s been a chance to travel and see the world for the first time. It helps people to understand that, if they really want something, they can achieve it.”

World Juniors: Netherlands Junior Hockey News

By Kerry Jackson –

The Netherlands national team, which was relegated to Group B of Division II after a last-place finish in the 2018 International Ice Hockey Federation’s U20 World Junior Championship, has started this year’s tournament in a deep hole, losing 7-0 to host Croatia Tuesday night.

The Dutch, who struggled to score goals last year, totaling only 13 in five games, a tournament low, will have a chance stop bounce back Wednesday against Belgium, which has won its only game so far, beating Israel 6-3.

Gone from last year’s team are the top four scorers, including 1998-born defenseman Noah Muller, who is now playing Division III hockey in the U.S. at St. Michael’s College, where he has one goal and four assists in 16 games this season. The team will have to rely on returnees Dennis Sikma (1999 forward, one goal, two assists in last year’s WJC), Wouter Sars (2000 forward, one goal, one assist), and forward Jay de Ruiter, who had only one assist last year, but was playing as a 16-year-old and could be a breakout player in this year’s WJC.

A few members of the Dutch team have developed, or are developing, their games in U.S. junior leagues. Alexandar Makarin, a 2000-born forward, was playing in the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Knights’ organization as far back as the 2015-16 season, when he skated in the Knights’ North American Prospects Hockey League and Atlantic Youth Hockey League U16 teams. Tobie Collard, a 1999 forward also known as Tobie Tjin-A-Ton, has played for both the New Hampshire Jr. Monarchs’ NCDC and USPHL Premier squads this season. Eef Gerritsen is also a part of the Monarchs’ organization. The 2000 forward has dressed for a dozen games in the Tier 1 Elite Hockey League U18 division.

De Ruiter, who turned 17 on Aug. 1, has played 11 games with the Connecticut Jr. Rangers at the USPHL U18 level, where he’s scored three goals and added four assists. De Ruiter is already a veteran of international competition, having played not only in last year’s IIHF U20 World Junior Championship, but the U18 tournament, as well.

Looking ahead to the U18 WJC in Serbia at the end of March, the Dutch will lean on at least one young player to spark the offense. Jay Huisman, a 2002 forward, scored a pair of goals in the 2018 tournament. So far this season, Huisman has scored five goals and set up four in 12 games for the Zoetermeer Panters of BeNeLiga, the top league in the Netherland and Belgium.

World Juniors: Spain Junior Hockey News

By Kerry Jackson –

Spain’s junior hockey program had a year that most would expect from Canada. Or Sweden. Maybe even the U.S. In 2018, two of Spain’s national junior teams won gold. The U18 boys took first in Group B of Division II in the International Ice Hockey Federation’s World Junior Championships in Croatia, while a few months earlier the U20 squad won WJC gold in Group B of Division II in Serbia. Both earned promotions to Group A for the 2019 WJCs.

“For us, this feels like a miracle,” Frank Gonzalez, president of the Spanish Ice Sports Federation, told Inside the Games last spring. “We’re here in the southernmost point of Europe, and we’re showing that we can compete against countries with a real tradition and culture in ice hockey.

“We’re still a long way from competing at the elite level,” he added, “but the work of all our teams deserves a lot of credit.”

Two Spaniards were among the top four scorers in the U20 tournament, Joan Cerda and Dorian Donath Sanchez. Cerda finished with five goals and five assists in five games, good for third overall and two points off the lead. Donath also had five goals and assisted on three, tying him for fourth among all scorers, and was a +6 in five games.

Cerda is a 2000 forward who has been playing in France, never in North America. He had a big year in 2017-18, scoring 15 goals and 10 assists in only 20 games for Angers in France’s U20 league, earning him second in the points race. He is currently on loan to a pro team in France’s Division 2.

Sanchez is a 1999 forward born in Sweden. He has played both youth and junior hockey in Sweden, never in North America. He’s been strong in the J20 Elit League this year with eight goals and five assists in a dozen games.

Keep an eye on the development of Oscar Rubio, a 2000 who scored five points in each of the last two U20 WJC and eight points (four goals, four assists) in the 2017 U18 WJC. He could be a force on the 2019 squad.

Defenseman Alexander Torres-Gil (three goals, one assist in the 2018 U20 WJC) is one of the few Spanish players who has migrated to North America for hockey. The 1999 has played midget and junior hockey in Canada, including two years in the Central Canada Hockey League 2, where he’s totaled eight goals and 14 assists over 51 games.

The best goalie in the 2018 U20 WJC was Spain’s Raul Barbo, who posted a 1.57 goals-against average with a .901 save percentage and a shutout. Those were actually better numbers than those he generated in the U18 tournament. The 2000 also appeared in the men’s 2018 Division II Group B World Championship April. Barbo got into two games and posted a 1.000 save percentage for the gold-medal winning home-team Spaniards. After winning three world golds, he is now playing the 2018-19 season at the Ontario Hockey Academy where he has a 2.62 GAA in three games.

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