Despite being one of the lesser well-known sports ice hockey has enjoyed a passionate following over a number of years, during which time the local teams have experienced a number of highs and lows.
The date of the origins of the game are unclear but it’s believed to have originated as a spin-off from hockey in Canada.
It was first seen by Europeans being played by native Mi’kmaq in Nova Scotia in the 17th century.
Early years of hockey in Canada
The early examples of the game were played with a stick and ball but over time the game developed.
It is understood that in 1860 a group from the Royal Canadian Rifles Regiment played a game in Kingston, Ontario using a ball that was partially sliced to give a flat side. The game was played on the frozen harbour.
Here in England a league was formed in 1903 and consisted of five teams that played at two ice rinks in London.
This influence increased the interest in ice hockey with the formation of the national ice hockey team. These teams enjoyed some amazing results culminating in winning a bronze medal at the 1924 Olympics in Chamonix and a gold medal at the 1936 winter Olympics in Garmish- Partenkirchen, Germany.
As the interest in skating and ice hockey developed Southampton opened an ice rink on the 18th July 1931. The first ice hockey match was to follow in November 1931 between Great Britain and Germany.
The original Ice rink in Southampton
That win at the Olympics made some impact locally for in 1936 Southampton tasted its first match by a team of its own.
The game was played by a local team against a team of London All-Stars with Southampton winning the game by 10 to 5.
The Southampton team became known as the Vikings in 1936 and this came about following the collapse of the French team named “Club Francais Volants”, from Paris, who played in a team strip with a large V on the front of their shirts. Unfortunately, due to financial difficulties, the club folded after only one season just as the French team had done.
The outbreak of the Second World War further hampered people’s enjoyments and the ice rink was also to suffer as a result.
In 1939 a local businessman Charles Knott purchased the ice rink with the intention of building a new team. That team was named the Southampton Imperials with the intention of playing in the London Provincial League.
Nicky Drew scores his first senior goal for Vikings 79-80 season
However, during one of the air raids, a parachute mine landed on the site promptly ending any prospect of sport being enjoyed at that location until after the war.
In 1952 a further attempt was made to resurrect the sport in the town and once again Charles Knott was instrumental in the construction of the new rink by obtaining an ice plant from the neighbouring Purley rink and a steel building structure from the Woolston Supermarine site.
A new team was arranged and play recommenced.
This new team initially achieved great success by winning the Southern Intermediate League at the first attempt. Alas, this success was short-lived and by 1964 the latest attempt to have an ice hockey team in the town was over.
Vikings League Winning side 83-84 season away at Peterborough
This however was not the end of the story for in 1976 a further attempt was made to create a team for the city.
Once again success followed with the team winning the league in the 1983/1984 season. The Vikings would again be avidly watched until the closure of the ice rink in 1988.
Recently Mika Zibanejad, the Swedish NHLer of Iranian roots, made headlines with two six-point games in the NHL. At the same time the country of his roots itself is starting to gain ground in ice hockey.
Iran, which has joined the International Ice Hockey Federation as a member in 2019, has made another step forward in the coolest game on earth by hosting the first men’s and women’s ice hockey championships in Tehran.
The country aimed to start ice hockey during the past few years but was restricted to small sized ice rinks in Tehran, Mashhad and on Kish Island. But in 2019 the opening of the first full-size ice rink, the IceBox located at the Iran Mall in the capital of Tehran, made it possible to bring the game to another level.
The ice is there as are the players. Iran has been playing inline hockey for decades and is a giant in the sport in Asia. That’s why it hasn’t been a big issue for the Iran Skating Federation and the Iran Ice Hockey Association to find players with experience on rollerblades to take on hockey on the ice and enjoy the new experience.
The championships took place this month on the 60-on-30-metres ice sheet at IceBox, which also offers 450 seats and a standing area for 2,500 fans around the rink.
It’s not an easy time to start the first championship with the COVID-19 pandemic but after PCR tests of all team members and safety measures at the rink it started with the four-team men’s championship that ended in a tight gold medal game that Online Tire won 2-1 against IceBox.
The first Iranian champions in men’s ice hockey, Online Tire Tehran
After the first champions crowned, the women took the ice with the three teams playing a round-robin event. The name of the champion was the same as Online Tire shut out its opponents and won the championship ahead of M.R. Farmanie and IceBox.
The first Iranian champions in women’s ice hockey, Online Tire Tehran
While there could be only one champion in each category, the big winner was ice hockey in the country as the players got the chance to play each other on the big ice and 20 reporters covered the tournaments. The men’s final was broadcast live by a national sports channel and you can watch it in fullhere.
The next ambition will be to go international as the Iranians plan to join the IIHF Ice Hockey Challenge Cup of Asia program once it resumes after the pandemic.
Charlotte Cagigos is the backup goaltender for the Drakkars of Caen, an otherwise all-male team in France’s Division 1 ice hockey league. Her story is exceptional in French professional sport.
A woman plying her craft surrounded by male colleagues is rare in French sport, but that is what every day on the job looks like for Charlotte Cagigos.
“When I arrived in Caen, I never thought I’d make the pro team someday. And then, I never thought I’d play a game with them,” the 20-year-old goalie tells FRANCE 24. “I don’t want to set limits for myself.”
Cagigos played her first minutes as a first-team player for the Normandy-based club in an exhibition friendly against the Neuilly-sur-Marne Bisons on January 6.
“The match went pretty well. There was a bit of pressure because it was my first match but that’s not what weighed on me the most. A lot of media were interested in my story and I thought ‘Wow! This actually isn’t very common,’ when for me this game was the logical next step in the journey. I knew the opportunity would present itself at some point since I had been with the group since September,” Cagigos recounts. “I saw that I represented a woman who was playing with the men. And I told myself that, if I had a bad game, it would reflect badly and people would say that women don’t belong here.”
“It’s bizarre to be in the spotlight suddenly when I’m a fairly discreet person. But I tell myself that it’s good for our sport, for the goaltender position and for women’s hockey,” Cagigos explains. “When I was little, I would have loved to see a girl playing on a top team and have her as a role model. I don’t necessarily want to become a symbol but I’d just like to show that it’s possible for little girls to play hockey,” she adds.
Originally from the southern French city of Montpellier, Cagigos first hit the rink at the age of three, following in her big brother’s footsteps. Her parents signed her up for skating lessons, expecting she would gravitate towards figure skating. But Cagigos only had eyes for hockey. “It very quickly became a passion. When I got home after practice on the ice, I’d put my rollerblades on to keep playing hockey,” she says. “While my big brother stopped hockey, my little brother took it up. At home, we always played together.”
At 14, Cagigos enrolled in a sport study programme and left her hometown to join France’s women’s hockey centre in Chambéry, in the Alps. “That’s where I discovered high-level sport. I was with the top girls in France and we played against the boys,” recalls the goaltender, who kept up her studies while in the programme, even passing her high-school baccalaureate final exams a year in advance.
Cagigos is an exception in France, not just within hockey but among all team sports. She is the only woman playing alongside men at the highest level.
Ice hockey is distinctive in that a woman can work her way into a men’s team in front of the net. “In hockey, the goaltending position is particular. The skills it requires are more technical than physical. Mixed sports, why not, but it seems to me difficult to extend to all sports,” Cagigos says.
In 2017, she felt she “needed a change” after a knee injury. “I was looking for a club that would give me ice time and allow me to learn, even as a girl. Not every team has that open-mindedness,” the goalie says. “During an interview in Caen, Virgile Mariette, who was in charge of the up-and-coming players, immediately told me that it wasn’t an issue for him whether I was a girl or a boy. As long as I worked, it would make no difference. That appealed to me right away.”
Another woman had already prepared the groundwork for the Drakkars in Caen. Nolwenn Rousselle, who was trained by the club, was the Drakkars’ official back-up netminder in the mid-2000s. Rousselle was the first woman to appear on a scoresheet in the Magnus League, France’s top men’s hockey championship, one notch above Division 1.
“It’s true that this club is distinctive in that way,” Drakkars’ coach Luc Chauvel tells FRANCE 24. “Nolwenn and Charlotte were used to playing with boys up to the Under-17s and so it was natural for them to move towards goaltending within the men’s leagues. We also try to encourage the development of women’s hockey, but it’s complicated to put together a team,” he laments.
Women’s hockey is considerably more developed in North America than it is in France. At the Olympics, only Canada and the United States have managed to claim gold in the sport since the women’s tournament began in 1998. Olympic goaltenders also have a history of trailblazing in top men’s leagues.
Canada’s Manon Rhéaume made history in 1992 as the first woman ever to play in the National Hockey League when she backstopped the Tampa Bay Lightning in a pre-season exhibition game. Rhéaume went on to win silver at Nagano in 1998. She and Canadian three-time gold medalist Charline Labonté both tended goal in the otherwise all-men’s Quebec Major Junior Hockey League. Goalie Kim St-Pierre, who also won three Olympic gold medals for Canada, has filled in at practice for the NHL’s Montreal Canadiens. The road to success is a narrower one in France.
‘One of the team’
In Normandy, Cagigos has been climbing the Drakkars ranks step-by-step. After two years with the Under-17 elite squad, she spent a season alternative between Caen’s Under-20s and the reserve team, playing in Division 3. Then, in August 2020, when the first team’s back-up goalie left the club, Cagigos officially claimed the job.
“Without being officially on the team, I was already training with them. From that point on, fitting into the team came pretty naturally. The boys were super welcoming,” she recalls.
“Charlotte completely deserves her spot. She’s a hard-worker. She gives it her all. She’s always fully invested and always wants to make progress,” says Chauvel. “She has fit in successfully. The boys consider her one of the team like anyone else.”
Cagigos has taken advantage of the absence of Caen’s number-one goalie, veteran France international Ronan Quemener, who is preparing the next steps of his own career by taking courses in neighbouring Rouen.
While the French hockey luminary has been sharing his experience with her, Cagigos knows she has a long way to go before she can score the role of number-one starting netminder like Quemener. “As it stands, I think I’m still a long way from a number-one goalie job,” she says.
“She still has a lot to learn and experience to acquire to be the number-one starter,” her coach confirms. “But I know that if I need her during a match, she is ready to go.”
The sensible young goalie wants to stay at Caen at least for the next two years, while she completes her Master’s degree in sport sciences “as insurance”. Beyond that, she wants to “not close any doors”, she says.
“I think I’ll find a Division 2 club where it would probably be easier for me to have ice time. Or I might try my luck abroad, in which case I’d switch to women’s championships,” Cagigos says.
Beyond her nascent dreams of a club career, Cagigos especially hopes to earn a spot on France’s national team. She has already had the opportunity to take part in several gatherings with Les Bleues. “Permanently joining the group to be able to compete in the Olympic qualifying tournament for 2022 would be a dream,” Cagigos smiles. “With Covid-19, the competitions were cancelled, just as the World Championships were, but the group has one objective in mind: Competing in the Olympics,” she says.
In Caen, Cagigos’s coach is on board. “She’s dreaming of the Olympics. We’re trying to do everything so that she can make it onto the national squad. The club’s objective is to lead her to the elite level, which would be tremendous for her and for us,” Chauvel says.
Cagigos feels fulfilled by her career so far, but she does miss one thing: The atmosphere in the dressing room, so important in a team sport. “I am all alone in mine. It’s the only sacrifice I make,” she says.
Canada and Sweden will be favorites to win the men’s ice hockey title at the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympic Games, and the COVID-19 pandemic restrictions could work in favor of less experienced teams, Polish legend, and former National Hockey League (NHL) player Mariusz Czerkawski said in an exclusive interview with Xinhua.
“Obviously, Canada, Sweden, and the team with Russian players will be very strong in any case. If the competition is played without NHL stars, the teams like Czech Republic, Finland, Germany, or Switzerland will have their chance to get to the final,” the Pole said.
Czerkawski is believed to be the greatest ice hockey player in Poland as the 48-year-old spent 12 seasons in the NHL. He made his debut in 1994 and played subsequently for several clubs, among others Boston Bruins, New York Islanders, and Edmonton Oilers. After a 30-goal plus season at the Islanders, the pole was named in the 2000 NHL All-Star Game.
Czerkawski played at the 1992 Winter Olympics in Albertville, France, the last Olympic tournament for Poland. The Polish team can still dream about Beijing after they surprisingly won the Olympic qualification’s preliminary phase. The Poles beat the Netherlands, Ukraine, and Kazakhstan.
“Polish team played very well. In the crucial game against Kazakhstan, they were effective on defense. The goalie, John Murray, delivered a great performance, while his teammates took over 50 shots to prove that they had an advantage. The team made a surprise as no one could have predicted that scenario. I regret we couldn’t continue the momentum as every competition was suspended due to the coronavirus outbreak,” he claimed.
In August, the side coached by Robert Kalaber will face Belarus, Slovakia, and Austria in Bratislava for the only ticket to Beijing.
“It’s a really tough group, and we aren’t favorites to secure the ticket for the Olympics. However, the team has already achieved a positive result,” Czerkawski added.
The Pole emphasized that the COVID-19 pandemic influences the discipline.
“We feel a lack of excitement without the fans on the stands as the supporters create a good atmosphere. It’s hard to find full motivation when you play behind closed doors. Like other disciplines, ice hockey became even more unpredictable due to the pandemic. The strong teams know how to play under pressure. It’s maybe a little easier for the less experienced sides to make a surprise when the matches are played in front of empty stands,” Czerkawski concluded.
The women’s world hockey championship is scheduled for April 7-17 in Halifax and Truro, N.S., replacing the 2020 tournament that was cancelled due to the pandemic
The Canadian women’s hockey team opened a camp in Halifax on Monday wondering if and when there will be a world championship there.
Nova Scotia’s government has yet to approve the world championship April 7-17 in Halifax and Truro, and the International Hockey Federation wants to postpone it until May.
“We are working now on a postponement,” IIHF president Rene Fasel told The Associated Press on Monday.
“We saw it last year with the virus as soon as the weather was warmer, maybe the restrictions will be different.”
Halifax and Truro were co-hosts of the 10-country 2020 women’s championship cancelled because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The IIHF awarded Nova Scotia the tournament again.
The 35 Canadian players arriving Monday in Halifax are preparing as though they’ll compete for a world title in May.
“I think we had an inclination it would get pushed at some point,” Hockey Canada’s director of national teams Gina Kingsbury told The Canadian Press from Halifax.
“We’re moving ahead like worlds are happening in that time frame.”
14-day isolation is problematic
Kingsbury views a postponement as an indicator both Hockey Canada and IIHF are committed to making the tournament happen, instead of cancelling a second time.
“I really do feel the postponement is to make sure it happens … and to make sure we’re in a good position to be able to host and to do so in a safe manner,” she said.
“There’s definitely a process in place and I think Hockey Canada is going through the right process step by step to ensure we will have a world championship in May.”
Canada requiring travellers arriving from outside the country to isolate for 14 days is problematic in hosting international sport.
Hockey Canada obtained federal government permission to alter that restriction for December’s spectator-free world men’s junior championship in Edmonton, where players and personnel were walled off from the public in a secured zone and underwent regular testing for the virus.
Nova Scotia presents another layer of restriction requiring people arriving from outside the province to isolate for 14 days, which isn’t the case in Alberta.
Nova Scotia health authorities approved the women’s camp with several conditions.
“The players and staff will be maintaining a quarantine between the hotel and rink and will have no contact with anyone outside of their ‘camp bubble”‘, Nova Scotia Health said Monday in a statement.
25-person limit on ice at camp
All players self-isolated for seven days and were tested before arrival in Halifax, Kingsbury said.
She says she could throw a baseball from the team’s hotel and hit Scotiabank Centre across the street, but the players travel by bus to the arena so they don’t mix with the public.
Nova Scotia limited the number of people who can be on the ice at one time to 25 last Friday, so the women’s camp format had to be quickly adjusted, Kingsbury said.
Six goaltenders, 10 defenders and 19 forwards were invited camp, including captain Marie-Philip Poulin, forwards Natalie Spooner and Sarah Nurse, and Nova Scotia natives Blayre Turnbull and Jill Saulnier.
“Being here is a good thing in a lot of ways,” Kingsbury said. “It’s always good to get a sense and a feel of where you’re going to compete. We’re going to be skating on the same ice as worlds.
“Any time you can mimic your biggest competition is a huge advantage I would say in your preparation.”
Since Canada finished third in the 2019 world championship in Espoo, Finland, the team has played five international games against the United States.
Growing up in Canada I was a huge hockey fan, but it wasn't until the 1972 summit series and the 1976 Canada Cup that I became a big fan of international hockey. The best players in world all playing on a sheet of ice.
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