Month: November 2020 (Page 1 of 2)

Richmond’s Julius Zhang eyeing Olympic battle, versus Canada

Richmond’s Julius Zhang, suited up for his native China

Alan Campbell – Richmond News

Three years ago, Julius (Dehan) Zhang would never have believed what was coming down the road in his fledgling professional hockey career.

If someone had even hinted to the Richmond Seafair Minor and Delta Hockey Academy product that he could potentially line up in the Olympic Games – suited for China, against Canada – he’d have thought you certifiable.

But that is exactly the prospect facing 21-year-old Zhang, a Richmondite in every sense of the word, who emigrated from China as a young child, before being selected at 18 for the Chinese national hockey program.

Since then, he’s been playing second tier club hockey in Russia for a Chinese-based team, until the pandemic halted most professional sports.

Zhang is now hoping to return to China in the new year to begin his home nation’s preparations for an Olympic games debut in Beijing in 2022, where they will face Germany, the U.S. and, of course, Canada.

“It’s crazy. In fact, the whole last three years has been crazy,” said Zhang from his parent’s home near Williams Road and Railway Avenue.

“It would be amazing (to face Canada). If you told me this five years ago…I would never have believed it in a million years.

“I’ve gotten lucky with all these opportunities. I have a Chinese passport, I’m only a permanent resident here.

“In order to play in the Olympics for China, you need a Chinese passport and China is one of the only countries that doesn’t allow dual citizenship. They’ve been trying to get players with Chinese-Canadian heritage to go over to play, to strengthen their program.

“There are some ex-NHL guys. But the problem is, they don’t have Chinese passports. They’re trying to get it so they can play in the Olympics.”

Zhang, who has turned out for the Chinese national U18, U20 and men’s teams, admitted his passport situation gives him a little shove up the ladder, but he’s more than ready to grab it.

As for his native nation’s actual chances competing against the powerhouses of hockey, Zhang said they’ve got a little more than a year to improve.

“As the host country, China received automatic qualification and they obviously want to do well,” said Zhang, who has been training every day since the pandemic and playing some hockey with other pros and university players.

“We’ve always had high level Russian or European coaches. There’s a lot of resources being poured into it. In China, hockey is still new but it’s growing rapidly.

“They have the resources at grass roots level and, of course, they have a huge population, so they will get better.

“I take a lot of pride in growing the game in China. I’m not quite a pioneer, but a role model. It’s a very proud country.

“But as far as I’m aware, I’m the only player on the team who grew up in Canada.”

Bulls’ Japan-born players having an impact on the ice this season

The North Iowa Bulls’ Sota Isogai practices at the Mason City Multipurpose Arena


When you think of hockey hotbeds, Japan is probably not the first place that comes to mind. For the North Iowa Bulls though, the country has had a sizable impact on the team’s 2020 success so far.

Second-year Bulls’ player Sota Isogai was named the NA3HL West Division Star of the Week for the week of Nov. 3, after scoring two goals with one assist in the Bulls’ record-setting 13-3 win over Willmar on Oct. 30. Isogai, a native of Nagano, Japan, is tied with Garrett Freeman for the team lead with six goals this season.

Isogai has been playing abroad for several years, with two seasons in Russia and two in Austria before coming to the United States.

Aside from Isogai, the Bulls also have first-year forward Shota Kaneko, of Tokyo, on the roster. This season is Kaneko’s first in the U.S., after he spent last season as a member of Japan’s U20 team. Kaneko currently has two goals on the season, along with three assists.

Shota Kaneko takes a shot during the North Iowa Bulls’ practice at Mason City Multipurpose Arena

Isogai and Kaneko are not the first Japanese born players to have suited up for the Bulls. Kohei Sato played for North Iowa for parts of three seasons from 2014-2017, before going on to play at the University of New Hampshire, becoming the first-ever Japanese born player to play Division I hockey.

“We like the Japanese players in that they are smart hockey players,” Bulls head coach Todd Sanden said earlier this season. “The first year is a bit of a language barrier, but the universal language of hockey is pretty transparent, and easy for those guys to understand. We’ve been blessed to have some very good Japanese players in our program.”

With one year under his belt, Isogai has grown more comfortable in a Bulls uniform. His English has improved by a lot over last season, and he has turned into a key player for the team.

Sanden was thrilled when Isogai announced he would be coming back, and said that Isogai’s return has been a big factor in the 9-3 Bulls’ success this season.

“Certainly we are excited when guys decide to come back, but with so many options and teams available at this level and different countries at the tier two level, it is never a given that guys are just going to return,” Sanden said. “We were very excited when he decided to come back, and he had other options, for sure. We’ve made him a captain here too. His return certainly is an important piece for our team.”

Isogai and the Bulls first connected at a tryout in Edina, Minnesota, in 2019. After trying out for several teams in the NA3HL, Isogai made the choice to join the Bulls, where he scored 22 goals in his first season in the states.

North Iowa Bulls players are given some instruction from coach Todd Sanden

“It’s been kind of a lucky, opportunity-based situation for us,” Sanden said. “Sota came to us on a bit of a bluebird opportunity. A guy reached out, he tried out for a couple teams in our league and ended up picking our team, which we are very thankful and fortunate for.”

Kaneko came to the Bulls through an advisor the team has worked with in the past, and who helped the team acquire Sato several years ago.

For both Isogai and Kaneko, the biggest adjustment between Japan and North Iowa has been the language, but both of them have been working hard to be able to communicate with their teammates.

“Language is probably the biggest thing, and chemistry. Just getting to know each other is probably the hardest thing,” forward Sean Sullivan said. “They’re pretty quiet and shy, coming over here and not knowing anyone. We just talk to them and try to get to know them. Being the initiation to try to get to know them is the biggest thing.”

So far, the differences between Japan and Iowa seems to fall by the wayside once the pair step onto the ice. Hockey in America is more physical than hockey in Japan, according to Isogai, but he and Kaneko have adjusted to it well.

“Physicality certainly is a part of the game, and they have integrated into that part of the game seamlessly,” Sanden said. “Shota initiates a lot of physicality when he is out there. He gets in quick on fore checks, and he separates guys from the puck with his body. We haven’t seen any tentativeness, they both are able to handle the physical style of play that we play in.”

This season, Isogai has felt a lot more comfortable both on the ice and off. With his English skills improving, and his body more adapted to American hockey, he has become a crucial part of the team’s attack.

“This year, I have better English,” Isogai said. “Everything is better. I’m more fast, and more strong.”

But this year has been an especially strange one in NA3HL hockey, with COVID-19 changing much of how the team goes about its day to day life. For foreign-born players, it can be an especially worrisome time as the pandemic continues to spread. Isogai says that his family hasn’t expressed too much concern about the virus, as the team is taking precautions.

“A little bit worried, but I’m playing hockey,” Isogai said. “It’s fun.”

Once you look past the language, the hockey style, and the other cultural differences that exist between Japan and the United States, there is one thing that Isogai, Kaneko, and the American-born Bulls can all agree on.

The glory of American cuisine.

“I like your food,” Isogai said. “I like hamburgers.”

Slovenia’s world-leading goal scorer

Slovenian forward Pia Pren celebrates a goal with her teammate Sara Confidenti at the 2019 IIHF Ice Hockey Women’s World Championship Division II Group A

By Liz Montroy –

No other player has collected as many goals, assists or points for their country at the IIHF Ice Hockey Women’s World Championship program than Slovenia’s Pia Pren.

Through 57 World Championship games, Pren has amassed 65 goals and 71 assists for a total of 136 points. The prolific scorer has demonstrated her offensive prowess wherever she’s played – through 66 games in the Slovenian women’s hockey championship between 2006/07 and 2019/20, Pren had a staggering 178 goals and 171 assists. These 349 points are over 100 more than that of the league’s second highest scorer, Jasmina Rosar (230).

With her talent, Pren managed to play in one of Europe’s top leagues, the SDHL in Sweden, where she was fifth in scoring for SDE last season with 18 points (4+14) in 32 games.

How did Pren become the powerhouse forward she is today? It all started in the Slovenian capital of Ljubljana when she was five years old.

“The coaches at first were a little skeptical, like how is that going to go with a girl among the boys,” Pren said of when she first joined a local hockey school. “After some time they gave up and they gave me a chance.”

Everybody believed that it was going to be a month and then I’d have had enough, but it turned into a little longer time.

Pia Pren Slovenian forward

“A little longer time” is an understatement. Now 29 years old, Pren is not only still competing, but has been part of the national team program for nearly two decades.

“Pia was, from the beginning, the kind of girl who liked competing with boys and wanted to be better than the boys,” said Slovenian national team and Olimpija Ljubljana coach Franc Ferjanic, who first met Pren when she was six. “She worked really hard and her skills are now really at a very high level.”

Starting from a young age, Pren has dedicated hours towards her shot.

“I don’t have a strong shot, so I always try to work on accuracy,” she said. “When I was younger I spent quite some time at the hockey arena on a little synthetic ice rink we had beside the actual one shooting on targets that were set on the goal posts.”

Pren was just 12 years old when she made her debut with the national team in 2004, a few months after playing in a U13 boys’ tournament in Canada. The extra work on her shot paid off, with Pren contributing four goals and three assists in her inaugural Women’s World Championship tournament, which she followed up with a whopping 10 goals and 9 assists at the 2005 tournament.

Pia Pren in action with the Slovenian women’s national team

Having spent her childhood playing with boys, these early experiences as a rookie with the national team were also her introduction to playing with other women.

“I had almost 20 moms beside me, everybody taking care of me,” she said. “At the same time, I think there was some pressure as well. It’s a big, big stage for a 12-year-old for sure.”

However, Pren proved that she could handle herself on that stage, becoming a consistent face on Slovenia’s roster and collecting numerous accolades at the World Championships. She has been named Best Forward five times and Top Player on the Team six times, in addition to leading Slovenia and the tournament in goals, assists and points on multiple occasions.

Sure, it’s not the top level. With just 82 female players in the country to choose from, Slovenia competes in the fourth tier of the Women’s Worlds and is ranked 24th in the 2020 IIHF Women’s World Ranking. But wherever Slovenia plays, Pren shines.

The last World Championship was one of Pren’s best, with her, Sara Confidenti and Julia Blazinsek making headlines with their combined 47 points (20 of which belong to Pren) in five games – not to mention that Slovenia won Division II Group A gold after three years of barely avoiding relegation to Group B.

Slovenian captain Pia Pren accepts the winners’ trophy from IIHF Council member Sergej Gontcharov at the 2019 IIHF Ice Hockey Women’s World Championship Division II Group A

Once the pandemic is over and the full World Championship program will be back, Slovenia will for only the second time in history (after 2007) compete in the third tier of international women’s hockey and that’s also thanks to Pren, who has captained the national team since 2014.

“I don’t consider myself a goal scorer – maybe stats say [I am],” said Pren. “I am more of a passer, I love to pass and create for my teammates. Myself and my former teammates agree that I’m shooting way too little and passing way too much even when I should shoot, so that’s something I still have to work on.”

“I don’t have any particular favourite way to score. I like if it’s a team effort, a nice set-up, or a well-executed power play or counter-attack.”

Pren’s team-first mentality is evident in the way she speaks about her own skills and successes, and likely lends well to her role as Slovenia’s team captain.

“Her strengths are her skills, hockey sense and leadership,” said Ferjanic. “As a captain she has a strong personality and because of all her qualities, all the players respect her.”

There is no doubt that Pren, with her offensive talent, extensive experience at the World Championships and in leagues in Slovenia, Austria and Sweden, and competency as a captain, is helping propel Slovenia forward on the world stage.

Hand: New Governing Body Is So Important For The Sport

Source: Ice Hockey UK

Ice Hockey UK’s National Development Head Coach Tony Hand MBE says establishment of a brand new governing body for the whole of the UK is so important to help move the sport forward.

The proposal has the support of the various governing bodies in the UK and now the EIHA members will vote on a unified approach at a virtual AGM on Saturday 12th December.

Hand said: “The sport of ice hockey in the UK has not had a co-ordinated approach for far too long now and I believe now is the time to change.

“We need a new model with new people developing new ideas to build on the success we’ve already had across the various organizations.

“It can’t happen with separate organizations making decisions that are not joined up but if everything is unified, I believe this great sport can make massive strides in the UK.

“Under the current board, ice hockey has come a long way. I think they have done a fantastic job and the sport is in the best place it has been for a long time.

“But we need to build on that now and the time is right for a new governing body to take us to a new level.”

The EIHA has produced a document for its members explaining the proposal to establish a new single governing body for the sport across the whole of the UK.

The document goes through the resolutions and explains what is being proposed, explains what would be different if a new governing body was established in the immediate future, in the short and medium term, as well as setting out the frequently asked questions and providing answers.

Click here to read the document.

In 2006, the first Iranians were selected in the NHL draft

Daniel Rahimi

By Vitaly Nesterov – National Teams of Ice Hockey

In 2006, a historic event happened for Iran – Two hockey players with roots in this country were drafted by NHL clubs

These hockey players were Daniel Rahimi and Rhett Rakhshani

Daniel Rahimi was born in 1987 in Sweden and before the 2006 draft he played in the system of  IF Björklöven. In the 3rd round, under the 82nd overall pick, the defender was drafted by Vancouver and Rahimi immediately moved to Canada, but played only in the AHL for Manitoba Moose.

After two seasons, Rahimi returned to Sweden.,  at the moment, Daniel is a playing in the Allsvenskan league (the second strongest league in Sweden), where he moved this season from the elite division  Club Vaxjo to IF Björklöven.

Rhett Rakhshani was born in March 1988 in the United States and was selected a little later than his future Linkoping teammate Rahimi – he was chosen by the Islanders in the 4th round under the 100th pick overall. Rhett has little experience in the NHL for his team – in the seasons 2010/11 and 2011/12, Rakhshani played a total of 7 games without earning a single point.

In season 2012/13, Rhett moved to Sweden and played fpr HV-71.  Rhett still plays in the country and in the 2015/16 season, Rhett played with Daniel Rahimi for Linköping HC.

For the last two seasons, Rakhshani has played in Frölunda HC and, of course, his achievements include a victory in the Champions League. Before the start of the new season,Rakhshani moved to Djurgårdens IF, but has not yet played for the new club.

Rhett Rakhshani

While Training Continues, China’s Prized Women’s Hockey Players Are in Russia

China’s hockey governing body assigned the Shenzhen KRS Vanke Rays to manage the women’s national team a few years ago. KRS’s general manager attributed the current separation to the coronavirus pandemic limiting travel into China

By New York Times

With the 2022 Winter Games 15 months away, at a time teams would normally be paring their rosters, the North American imports aren’t in the Beijing training bubble.

The players most crucial to Chinese women’s ice hockey reside in a hotel about 70 miles south of Moscow. The quasi resort’s expansive grounds contain horses, stray cats and a speleochamber — a salt cave designed to improve breathing.

That these players are in Russia and not Beijing, 3,600 miles away, symbolizes how far China, whose women’s ice hockey team last qualified for the Olympics in 2010, has moved away from its grand plans in the sport.

“Not seeing it come to fruition and deviate is a disappointment,” said Maddie Woo, who was recruited to play in China and occasionally skated with China’s national team over the past three years. “There was so much potential. There still is. It’s just the time sensitivity of it now. It’s shocking.”

Woo was one of several North Americans of Chinese descent who signed in 2017 with the newly formed Kunlun Red Star, a team now known as the Shenzhen KRS Vanke Rays. With China hosting the 2022 Winter Olympics, the Chinese Ice Hockey Association, the national governing body, assigned the club to manage the women’s national team.

KRS hired Woo and other players to be sport ambassadors, training and playing alongside less experienced Chinese nationals in hopes of elevating the homegrown players’ skills.

In a 2017 interview with The New York Times, Billy Ngokposited that players like Woo might become Chinese citizens, making them eligible for the Olympic team. For the 2018 Games in Pyeongchang, host South Korea deployed a similar tactic, although China has stricter passport policies.

Now, just 15 months before the opening ceremony — when teams begin paring their rosters — the North American imports would ideally be with the Chinese nationals in Beijing, where a training bubble has been set up by the hockey association.

Claire Liu, the general manager of KRS, attributed the separation to the coronavirus pandemic limiting travel into China. But current and former KRS players and coaches added that communication between them and the hockey association had diminished to sporadic messages passed along by a bilingual intermediary.

Rachel Llanes, a Filipino-American forward who also hopes to represent China, said she still trains as if she’s “on call” for the national team. For now, Llanes plays only for KRS in Russia’s Zhenskaya Hockey League with six North Americans of Chinese descent who harbor similar Olympic dreams. In the 2019-20 season, KRS won the league title, but this year the team has had 10 games rescheduled because of the pandemic.

Alexandra Vafina of KRS stick handling. “I hope to be at the Olympics, but I know it’s not guaranteed,” said Rachel Llanes, a Filipino-American player.

“I hope to be at the Olympics, but I know it’s not guaranteed,” Llanes said. “If you’re banking on it, I don’t recommend thinking that way. If we don’t get called, we’ll get four years of experience no one else can say they had.”

Since 2017, KRS has invested millions to create an environment uncommon in women’s hockey. Digit Murphy, an American who had coached in college and the professional ranks, was hired to lead the women’s program. She enticed recruits with a simple, yet novel, approach.

KRS not only pays livable salaries of about $70,000 per year, but provides amenities expected of a pro team like first-class airfare, an equipment manager and ice times when the sun is still shining.

That hasn’t been the case for North American women’s hockey, despite Canada and the United States reigning as the sport’s powerhouses (several United States national team alumnae have also been KRS sports ambassadors). Founded in 2015, the National Women’s Hockey League, which has six teams across North America, had a highest reported salary of $15,000 last season.

In October, Secret, the deodorant brand, contributed $1 million to the Professional Women’s Hockey Players Association, a rare instance in which a party proclaiming interest in elevating North American women’s hockey gave more than just crumbs.

“We’re pretty spoiled, I’m not going to lie,” said Llanes, who worked three jobs while playing in Boston for teams in North American leagues. “We don’t have to worry about anything. You’re hockey players.”

In 2017, KRS staff also ran junior national teams and two franchises in the now-defunct Canadian Women’s Hockey League.

Rob Morgan, who coached one of the Chinese teams in the C.W.H.L. and is now an adviser for KRS, said when he first met the Chinese national players, “we could see in their eyes they were just numb” from practicing four times per day.

The new staff incorporated shorter practices with weight lifting, nutrition lessons or meetings with a sports psychologist.

The Chinese players responded positively to the changes, Morgan said. Murphy said North American players teased Chinese players for hiding snacks in their bags — many were shocked they could freely leave their rooms to eat, instead of being limited to having meals at their training facility’s dining hall.

“The first year, in terms of helping the Chinese players, was probably the most collaborative and most effective,” said Melanie Jue, a Chinese-Canadian defenseman on KRS.

But toward the end of KRS’s first year, higher-ups within Chinese hockey began making unexpected alterations. The national hockey association changed leadership, and junior teams training in the U.S. were disbanded. Regional hockey organizations with political clout grumbled about the resources afforded to KRS.

Tang Liang and Qi Xueting, third from left and fourth from left, are among the Chinese nationals on the team. Since July, about 40 homegrown players have been in Beijing facing youth teams

Xu Guoqi, author of “Olympic Dreams: China and Sports, 1895-2008,” said sports rivalries among local governments in China were not uncommon.

“Backstabbing practices, or they try to lobby, always that’s a case,” Xu said, noting that the Chinese hockey association is essentially under the control of the Chinese government. “The reality is the party is in charge of everything.”

For the 2018-19 C.W.H.L. season, China supplied only one team, the Shenzhen KRS Vanke Rays. (The C.W.H.L. folded soon after and said the revenue from China had probably kept the league from ceasing operations earlier.)

In 2017, KRS also ran a men’s team with a similar mission to build Chinese hockey centered around foreign players and Chinese teenagers who previously trained in America.

In interviews with current and former KRS players and coaches, none said they knew where the partnership between their club and the C.I.H.A. currently stood. The Chinese nationals currently on KRS are mostly older players not expected to compete at the next Olympics.

Liu, the team’s general manager, said that the “relationship is still there” and that the roster composition was different because of the pandemic. The hockey association declined interview requests.

Because of the coronavirus pandemic, KRS relocated to Russia this season to reduce travel. The hockey association has reason to be cautious of bringing international players into its bubble. In March, two Chinese players training with a travel squad in the United States tested positive for the coronavirus shortly after returning to Beijing.

Since July, about 40 Chinese homegrown players have been in Beijing, playing against youth teams and practicing multiple times a day when most of the women’s hockey world was on pause.

That won’t necessarily create an advantage at the Olympic tournament, though. China ranks 19th in the world, but has an automatic bid as the host.

“If they really want a great showing in 2022, based on what I’ve seen, it needs to include Chinese North Americans,” said Bob Deraney, who coached KRS in 2018.

Deraney and Morgan added that they expected the North American contingent to eventually get called up, and Liu believed it was still a possibility, although another hurdle remained. Since China does not recognize dual nationality, Canadians and Americans would have to surrender their passports.

There are political ramifications to representing China, which has been roundly criticized for human rights abuses and holds a souring reputation in the West.

Rose Alleva, a forward from Minnesota who played one year with KRS, said giving up her American passport was “a deal breaker” and decided not to continue with the program.

“It’s definitely something you have to grapple with,” said Woo, who left KRS to begin her career in biomedical engineering. “You can’t be ignorant to the idea someone will hand you a Chinese passport and everything will be fine, and you’ll still be Canadian or American.”

Xu said there could be one workaround if players got passports from Taiwan or Hong Kong. When the former N.B.A. player Jeremy Lin obtained his Taiwanese passport last year, he became an eligibledomestic athlete for China under new rules instituted by the Chinese government, allowing him to play in the Chinese Basketball Association.

Whether or not the imports play for China in 2022, there have been potent takeaways.

China once built rinks in a decommissioned war bunker, but now state-of-the-art sheets are popping up throughout the mainland. According to the International Ice Hockey Federation, there are 822 rinks in China.

Leah Lum, a Chinese-Canadian forward, noted that when KRS runs youth clinics around the country, there’s an indescribable pride in seeing Chinese children engaged in her sport.

Playing hockey in China has also allowed Lum and her teammates to connect with their families’ heritage in ways that were impossible before.

“It’s a dream to be able to come here and focus on hockey,” Lum said. “Experiencing our culture and ancestry — China, that’s who I am.”

Nikita Bashkirov: “I feel at home here”

By Maxim Garashchuk – National Teams of Ice Hockey

On November 6, Russian forward Nikita Bashkirov signed a contract with the Lithuanian club Baltu Ainiai Kaunas. Previously played in the Sweden for Olofströms IK. In his debut game in the Lithuanian Championship, Nikita scored 4 goals and added two assists, as his team beat Klaipeda (12: 3). In a conversation with one of our journalists, the former Stalnye Lisy forward told why he decided to leave Sweden and also shared his emotions about the first match with Baltu Ainiai Kaunas.

Why did you decide to leave Olofströms IK?

At Olofströms IK I didn’t get enough playing time. At the same time, not all the conditions for my arrival there were fulfilled by the club’s management, and I had problems with the English language. I constantly had to ask Pavils Galsons to translate all the coach’s requirements to me. Then the second wave of coronavirus began and the games in Sweden were postponed for a month. Then I decided that something needed to be changed so that all this would not last the whole season. I began to communicate with the management of the club so that they would let me go.

How did you get the offer to play in Lithuania?

While I was solving issues with the club’s manager, I was looking for options in other countries for a comfortable continuation of this season, and through some friends, I  found a good Belarusian coach in Lithuania – Alexander Mikheyonok . I talked with him, he just said that they have one place for a foreign player and they will wait for me, as I will resolve all issues with “Olofströms IK”.

How would you comment on the debut game in Lithuania?

The debut game was quite interesting, as “Klaipeda” had one of the best goalkeepers in the league. The entire game was played practically in the opponent’s zone and there were a lot of chances to score. we did not start well in the first half of the first period of the game, but then we broke through and the result was a 12: 3 defeat of Klaipeda.

You finished with 4 goals and two assists?

 I didn’t expect it to turn out that way. The last time something like this happened to me was in my youth hockey days.

 Did you know anything about the local championship before coming to Lithuania?

My friend here is Makar Tokarev. Before my arrival, he told me everything: about the city, management, coaches, living conditions and the level of hockey. Therefore, nothing surprised me when I arrived in Lithuania. I feel at home here. The team received me well.

How is the team preparing for the upcoming game against the 21-time national champion Energija Elektrėnai?

It’s just another game for us.  We prepare for all games the same way. We respect all of our opponents in the league.

“Women’s Crowns” win Scandinavian summit

Michelle Lowenhielm scored Sweden’s overtime-winning goal against Denmark

By Martim Merk –

With the Women’s Euro Hockey Tour cancelled during the International Break for national teams in November, a spontaneous tournament of the three Scandinavian countries had the most to offer for fans of women’s ice hockey at the end of last week.

Traditionally Finland, Germany, Russia and Sweden would have met in a four-team tournament last week or a Four Nations Cup be held with the North American teams and their top rivals from Europe. But 2020 is not a normal year and due to the global pandemic the teams decided not to meet for a tournament of that scale.

Many national team camps were therefore cancelled for men and women, senior and junior teams, while others held camps without games or tried to find alternatives in their neighbourhood. Born out of sheer necessity was a “Battle of Scandinavia” with the top Scandinavian countries facing each other.

This hasn’t happened often since Sweden used to play with the top nations. But since sensationally winning Olympic silver in 2006 with a semi-final win against the United States the team has developed from a medal contender to a team battling against relegation in the last few years. At the last Women’s Worlds in 2019 the impossible happened and Sweden’s “Women’s Crowns” (Damkronorna) were relegated from the top division – as first Swedish team in history and in any category.

With relegation the Swedish women’s team also lost its automatic entry at the next Olympics and has to go through a qualification tournament and due to the pandemic last spring it still has to wait for a chance to correct the mishap and earn promotion back to the top level.

At the 2021 IIHF Ice Hockey Women’s World Championship the two relegated teams Sweden and France will be replaced by Hungary and Denmark. Therefore the three-nation tournament last week was a chance for Sweden (9th in the IIHF Women’s World Ranking) to prove on the ice whether they are still the number-one women’s ice hockey nation in Scandinavia in a rare clash against their western neighbours from Denmark (11th) and Norway (13th).

The first game held in Harnosand against Norway sent a clear message as six different players scored in a 6-0 win. Shots on goal favoured Sweden 40-9.

Denmark, the Swedes’ “replacement” at the next Women’s Worlds in Halifax, made it more difficult for the host country in front of 205 fans – almost a sell-out according to the attendance restrictions – in Sundsvall and were leading the game longer than their more famous, yellow-and-blue opponents despite being outshot 33-23.

At 15:18 Nicoline Jensen tied up a Swedish lead by Lina Ljungblom that had only lasted for 25 seconds.

The Danes also reacted fast after the first face-off of the middle frame. Josefine Persson gave the red-and-white team a lead after 24 seconds that stayed for most of the period. At 15:55 Josefin Bouveng tied it up on a 5-on-3 power play but less than two minutes later Persson scored again to give Sweden a 3-2 lead.

The Copenhagen native is one of eleven players on the Danish roster who plays here club hockey in Sweden. She moved over in 2015 and is currently with Lulea. Denmark’s Swedish coach Peter Elander, who led the Damkronorna during its better days including the historic Olympic silver medal in 2006, has become the bench boss for the Danish women’s national team last year.

In a hard-fought and balanced third period it was another Josefine who wrote the next chapter. At 12:50 Holmgren scored another power-play goal for Sweden to tie the game at three and 91 seconds into overtime Michelle Lowenhielm scored Sweden’s game-winning goal again on a power play.

In this game for Scandinavian honour the Swedes succeeded in good timing as they prepare for 2021, which shall be a year of the redemption for the Damkronorna. At the 2021 IIHF Ice Hockey Women’s World Championship Division I Group A next spring in Angers the Swedes will play host France, Norway, Austria, Slovakia and the Netherlands for promotion. In August they will host one of the Final Olympic Qualification groups where they will meet France and Slovakia (as well as a qualifier) again with the top team advancing to the Beijing 2022 Olympics.

While Denmark couldn’t beat their big rival head-to-head on ice, they can still enjoy their top-level status for the Women’s Worlds in Halifax and used this opportunity with a brave game against Sweden and a 4-0 win against Norway. Persson scored her tournament-leading third goal, Silke Glud netted two in the game.

In Halifax the Danes are seeded in the lower of the two-tiered groups and will play Japan, the Czech Republic, Germany and Hungary. The top-three of the five teams will advance to the quarter-finals against the Group A teams while the last two will be relegated.

Good and bad news for Finland

Another Northern European country played its games at home with Finland. The lionesses played two male opponents, the under-18 teams of Assat Pori and JYP Jyvaskyla, and head coach Pasi Mustonen hoped to have games at a pace comparable to their top opponents in women’s hockey.

The camp started well with a 3-2 win against Assat after goals from Nelli Laitinen and Susanna Tapani in regulation time and Petra Nieminen and Michelle Karvinen in the shootout.

The day after the lionesses didn’t seem to have enough energy left. Viivi Vainikka tied the game in a first period that ended 1-1 but eventually the JYP juniors won 6-1.

Things became worse one day later when a player previously tested negative showed Covid-19 symptoms and was tested positive at the end of the camp in Kuortane causing quarantine for players of the women’s national team and its opponents.

Other games were not held in women’s hockey during the international break. Two Hungary vs. Austria games in Budapest were cancelled in the last minute due to increasing Covid-19 numbers and restrictions in Hungary. Most other countries either cancelled their camps entirely such as the Czechs, Germany, Russia and Switzerland or held it without the usual exhibition games such as the United States.

Russian youngsters impress in Finland

Russian forward Rodion Amirov led the Karjala Tournament in goal scoring.

By Any Potts –

International hockey made a long-awaited return – albeit with some adjustments imposed by the coronavirus situation. In Finland, the Euro Hockey Tour got underway in front of limited crowds and players put in a bubble. Elsewhere, Germany staged its first top-level hockey event since the start of the pandemic as the Deutschland Cup took place, although only three teams took part in Krefeld.

Amirov sets record in Russian success

This is a big year for Rodion Amirov. The 19-year-old Salavat Yulayev Ufa forward has been tracked as one to watch for a couple of seasons and now he is starting to deliver on that promise. Elevated to a big role in the KHL as illness affected Ufa’s big names, he’s beginning to produce the points his potential demands. Then came a #15 NHL draft pick, linking him to the Leafs, and now a senior international debut.

And not just any debut. Russia decided to use the Karjala Tournament – traditionally a full-blooded men’s tournament – as a testing ground for its U20 roster. The Red Machine’s usual preparations for the World Juniors have been hampered by the pandemic, while national team head coach Valeri Bragin only recently recovered from a case of coronavirus. Thus, the Russian boys – Amirov & Co, under U20 head coach Igor Larionov – would face the men of Europe’s top hockey powers.

It was a controversial decision in Russia, and even more so beyond the country’s Western borders as the other teams didn’t hide their disappointment. But from the moment Amirov put his team 1-0 up in the second minute of the opening game against Finland, it was fully vindicated. Amirov scored in each of his first three international games – the first player ever to do so for Russia – and the team won three out of three to top the group. Only Sweden came close to stopping Larionov’s youngsters, losing out in a shootout after Amirov – who else? – potted a late goal in a 1-1 tie.

In his brief career to date, Amirov has sometimes been criticised as a luxury item. In Helsinki, though, there was no questioning his output or his attitude. His observations about the tournament suggested a big ‘buy in’ to the team amid the clamour about his personal performance.

“The most important thing was that we won the tournament,” he said. “Playing against men was an interesting experience, that’s really valuable as part of our preparation for the World Juniors. I’d like to thank Igor Nikolayevich [Larionov], who found the right words for the team. We always got switched on for the next game right away and we came here to win, not just to take part. The Russian national team’s task is always to win, so we did everything to achieve this with a competitive team. Luckily, everything worked out and we won the tournament.”

Larionov himself said that he was happy for Amirov and fellow forward and first-round draft pick Yegor Chinakhov, who finished with two goals in the tournament. But he also talked up the contribution of SKA St. Petersburg goalie Yaroslav Askarov, who returned to action in the opening 6-2 win over Finland and delivered three wins.

“We discussed it with Yaroslav [Askarov], we wanted to be sure that he felt he could play all three games. He made it clear that he wanted to play, he put in good performances, so we let him get on with it,” Larionov said. “We were all happy that he played so well, he was reliable every time.”

There was also praise for captain Vasili Podkolzin (SKA), but Larionov is looking forward to seeing how his young charges develop over the course of another month of KHL action.

“Winning any game helps us to progress and helps the guys to develop, especially here,” he added. “But there are loads of things that we saw where we can improve. This is just one step towards bringing the team together. Now our players are going back to their clubs, back to their routines, battling for a place on their teams. In another month, they will have that bit of extra experience. We’re looking forward to getting everyone together in Novogorsk at the end of November and work on our game together.”
Russia secured top spot with a 3-0 victory over the Czech Republic on Sunday. Previously the Czechs, coached by Filip Pesan following the death of Milos Riha in the summer, had beaten both Sweden and Finland. However, they could not complete a sweep against Russia and had to settle for silver.

Pesan, who gave 12 players an international debut in the three games, was happy with what he saw over the weekend. Sunday’s game featured three teenagers, including 19-year-old goalie Lukas Parik, as the Czechs looked to build for their future. “I’m happy that we were able to help the U20s prepare for the World Championship,” Pesan told “A lot of the players here made a strong application to be invited back for other tournaments.”

The Czechs had their preparations disrupted by local restrictions that prevented teams from training in indoor arenas. Some of the teams practised outdoor or went abroad. “Right now, it just sounds like an excuse, but our boys were not game ready,” Pesan added. “I’m not interested in opinions, I just wanted to help the juniors and the youngsters played a great game.”

The good news that the Extraliga would be allowed to resume the competition just came when the team departed for Helsinki. The league had its first round on Saturday with no spectators allowed and mandatory testing before the games.

While the Slavic nations battled for top spot, their Nordic rivals had a tougher time of it. Finland and Sweden both selected entirely home-based rosters for the tournament. The two went head-to-head in Sunday’s concluding game with the loser destined to finish last. Sweden jumped to a 2-0 lead at the start of the second period, but the host nation steadily battled back and won on a power play goal from Valtteri Kemilainen with three minutes to play.

For 2016 World Junior champion Vili Saarijarvi, who got the tying goal midway through the third, it was important to finish the tournament strongly – and scoring his first senior international goal was a bonus.

“It wasn’t exactly a dream goal, but I’ll take it!” he said after the game. “We ended with a good feeling and I think we played our best game at the end, which was important. We did well to get back into it and get ahead at the end, and I think we deserved our win today.”

Latvia wins the Deutschland Cup

Top-level hockey returned to Germany for the first time since the pandemic as the Deutschland Cup saw the host nation play a three-way contest against Latvia and a Germany ‘B’ roster. That B team was comprised of under-25 players who are playing their way into contention for a call-up to the 2022 Olympics in Beijing. Due to the pandemic Norway, Slovakia and Switzerland have not been able to travel to Krefeld forcing the organizer to change the setup.

The games at Krefeld’s Yayla Arena represented a return to action for some of the country’s top players. The DEL, Germany’s top league, has postponed the start of the season and will soon discuss about the possibility of launching it in December. Following the weekend’s action, some of the clubs will play in a pre-season tournament.

Despite hopes for a smooth return to action, preparations for this tournament hit turbulence. Germany’s head coach, Toni Soderholm, tested positive for COVID-19 prior to his planned departure for the games. He remained in quarantine, communicating with his colleagues online, while Steffen Ziesche, U18 head coach, took charge of the team.

Latvia faced similar challenges, with Bob Hartley remaining in Russia where he is head coach of Avangard Omsk. Artis Arbols stepped up to replace him. With Dinamo Riga using the international pause to catch up on KHL games missed during its own quarantine, Latvia’s roster was a mix of home-based players, rising stars and, in the form of Martins Karsums and Andris Dzerins, a couple of veterans currently without a club.

The tournament format saw a round robin with the two top teams advancing to Sunday’s final. Germany B found life tough, losing 7-2 to Germany and 5-2 to Latvia. On Saturday, in a dress rehearsal for the medal game, the Germans defeated Latvia 2-0 and looked set to win it all.

However, the Latvians had other ideas. Down 0-1 to Andreas Eder’s goal midway through the first period, the Baltic nation hit back with two goals in 11 seconds to take a lead into the first intermission. Gatis Sprukts and Frenks Razgals were the scorers. Marc Michaelis, a Canucks prospect loaned back to his native Mannheim for the start of the DEL season, tied it up for Germany in the third but Razgals came up with an overtime winner to give Latvia the trophy.

Two wins for Hungary

The first action, on Thursday, ended in a 5-2 win for the host. First period goals from Balint Magosi and Istvan Bartalis set Hungary on its way. Poland rallied in the middle frame, getting back to 2-3 thanks to markers from Martin Przygodzki and Mateusz Bryk but the Hungarians took the game away with two unanswered goals in the third period.

After a comfortable win in the first game, the Magyars also took the second encounter. This was a tighter affair, with Poland leading twice before Istvan Sofron scored two to give the home team another victory.

End of the World’ discovers Para ice hockey

our players are currently practicing Para ice hockey at Ushuaia’s outdoor ice rink
ⒸNicolas Badaracco

By Stuart LiebermanWorld Para Ice Hockey

Nicolas Badaracco has been a goaltender on Argentina’s national ice hockey team since it made its international debut in 2012.

Now, he is dedicating just as much time to his sport off the ice. He is working to bring Para ice hockey to the “End of the World,” otherwise known as Ushuaia, the southernmost city at the tip of Argentina.

Ushuaia is the first known city in Latin America where Para ice hockey is starting to take off.

“Everyone has to have the opportunity to play ice hockey,” Badaracco said. “Here, there are a lot of people who cannot even try to play because the sport barely exists. So, I started investigating how Para ice hockey works, and then I started to make plans for how to build my own sledge and made drawings for it.”

Badaracco has played ice hockey since he was 11 years old, experiencing the sport at the international level while also coaching the next generation of players in his country. Additionally, he now works as the manager of Ushuaia’s Olympic-sized outdoor ice rink.

In 2019, he flew to Miami, Florida with Argentina’s national team to compete in the LATAM Cup, a tournament held to help grow the sport’s presence throughout Latin American countries.

Prior to one of his games he met Ron Robichaud, the head coach of the Florida Sled Bandits team. Robichaud invited Badaracco to try Para ice hockey for the first time while he was there.

“It was amazing,” Badaracco said. “It’s very hard. Even for me, as someone who plays hockey for a living and who knows his body, it was very hard. To skate straight is hard – at least the first time, but after that you can learn.”

Robichaud gifted Badaracco a sledge after that so he could take it back to Argentina as a model to copy and create several more.

In Miami, Badaracco also met Karina Villegas, a forward on the USA women’s development Para ice hockey team who lost her right leg at age 13 after being struck by a government vehicle while standing outside a school in Venezuela.

Villegas, who fled to the USA in 2001, immediately agreed to help him introduce Para ice hockey to Latin American countries.

“When I met her in Florida, she fell in love with the idea and brought me some sticks — my first Para ice hockey sticks — so I could copy those sticks here in my country,” he said.

Badaracco has since recruited four athletes with a disability to the sport locally. He is working with the local government in hopes of receiving funds from the Ministry of Education to help grow Para ice hockey, but budgets are now frozen due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

In the meantime, from 30 November to 4 December, he will lead a Para ice hockey information session as part of the Facundo Rivas Tournament, an annual multi-sport festival for people with a disability.

This year, the event will be held virtually for participants in Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile and Uruguay. Villegas will also be helping out with the festival.

“There are a lot of people who can probably play they sport, yet they don’t even know what it is,” Badaracco said.

“There is going to be a model to showcase how Para ice hockey is played and how they can develop this sport in their cities. I already have four athletes who are training here, and I’m trying to adapt my sledge for people to use on all surfaces with wheels, too,” he added.

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