Month: April 2021

Outdoor rinks being built in Pakistan in spirit of NHL Green initiative

By William Douglas – NHL.com

As part of the NHL Green initiative celebrating Green Month in April, NHL.com will feature stories on how the NHL is looking to grow and protect the game of hockey and its communities for generations to come. Today, how hockey is being used as a tool to combat climate change in Pakistan.

Diplomats from Canada working in Pakistan are using hockey as a way to teach the impact of climate change.

The Canadian High Commission has partnered with winter sports organizations in northern Pakistan’s mountainous region, where outdoor rinks have been built as part of an effort to promote winter tourism.

High Commissioner Wendy Gilmour also saw the rinks as an opportunity to grow hockey among Pakistan-born youth and use the sport as a tool to show the effects of climate change.

“The interesting thing about this part of the world is the Himalayan mountains are the major water source for billions of people here,” Gilmour said. “The snowpack is very important there, and the snowpack is growing in some areas and diminishing in others. The glaciers in northern Pakistan, and it’s one of the most glaciated regions on Earth, are surging in some areas, which is really unprecedented. … Because of these changing water patterns, it renders the communities in their path very vulnerable.”

Irfan Karim, president of the Altit Hunza Town Management Society, said the program is helping people in the region understand “what is the value of snow, what is the value of ice.”

“Because of the snow, winter sports, people are getting the idea of how to protect the ice, glaciers and snow,” he said.

The hockey program has generated enthusiasm in areas like Gilgit-Baltistan, a region administered by Pakistan as an administrative territory, with communities offering up land for rinks to be built.

“We see this is a really good way to have responsible tourism start in the winter around winter sport (and) that they need to do it in a way that’s environmentally friendly,” said Jenilee Ward, the high commission’s counselor and head of political and public affairs, “because tourists want to come to places that are clean and taken care of.

“The communities themselves are telling others about the need to pick up trash, start waste management systems and have the whole community involved. It’s a great and growing community initiative.”

Ice hockey In Gilgit-Baltistan region, Pakistan

Gilmour said the program also has been successful in encouraging girls to play hockey and join teams.

“It really took some effort in some of these communities to convince the parents that it was appropriate for the girls to come out,” she said.

Kahkashan Ali, captain of the region’s Booni girls’ hockey team, said girls were drawn to the sport because “it was really different for us, a new game for us.”

Girls from Booni hockey team playing ice hockey on the frozen lake

Ward said program participants were so enthused, they’ve started to form ice hockey clubs and are teaching the game to kids in their neighborhoods and surrounding communities.

“We have the young girls from the teams who are teaching other girls from across the area as well,” Ward said. “It’s a really natural organic thread across the country.”

NENT Group orders ice hockey legend Börje Salming biopic series

Actor Valter Skarsgård

By Davide Abbatescianni – Cineurope

NENT Group is ready to launch a new original production, a biopic series about Sweden’s greatest-ever ice hockey player, Börje Salming. The English-language show, created and directed by Amir Chamdin (the series Partisan), will star Valter Skarsgård (Don’t Click, Funhouse) in the leading role.

The series, penned by Martin Bengtsson, will follow Salming’s trailblazing journey from his humble roots north of the Arctic Circle to become an NHL legend. The first Swedish player inducted into the prestigious Hockey Hall of Fame, Börje Salming broke numerous records, captured the hearts of millions of fans and paved the way for countless Europeans to forge careers in the NHL, the world’s best ice hockey league. In detail, Salming played over 1,100 games for the Toronto Maple Leafs across 16 seasons (1973-1989), notching 148 goals and 620 assists, and in 2017 was named one of the 100 greatest NHL players in history.

Salming himself commented on the making of the show: “It’s flattering and exciting that my story will become a series. When we began discussing this project, I reflected over everything that’s happened in my life, from taking care of myself at a young age after my father passed away, to the journey from Kiruna to the NHL, and I realised there’s a lot of screen potential there. It will be really exciting to see the show when it’s ready.”

Speaking about his involvement in the series, Skarsgård said: “This is the scariest and coolest thing I’ve ever done. It’s fantastic to get to know Börje personally – he tells such amazing stories with complete humility. His attitude was always to do things his way and enjoy it, and I’ll try to bring the same approach to the task of playing him.” 

Finally, NENT Group’s Chief Content Officer Filippa Wallestam added: “Börje Salming’s sporting achievements rank with fellow Swedish superstars Björn Borg and Ronnie Peterson. Today, when 10% of NHL players come from Sweden, it’s easy to forget that Europeans were once thought too weak for this unforgiving competition. This is a story of remarkable talent, athleticism and perseverance that deserves an international streaming audience. On his 70th birthday, we hope this launch is a fitting homage to the man known simply as ‘The King’.”

Filming of the series will begin in 2022. The show, still untitled, is set to premiere exclusively on NENT Group’s Viaplay streaming service. Johanna Wennerberg of Warner Bros. International Television Production Sweden is producing.

Women’s hockey players ‘devastated’ after world championship cancellation

Jamie Rattray (L), captain Brianne Jenner and Jillian Saulnier of Canada.

Source: Canadian Press

Shock and disbelief gave way to a swirl of emotions as players on the Canadian women’s hockey team packed their bags in Halifax and headed home Thursday.

In a span of two days, they’d gone from nervously anticipating the announcement of the world championship roster to standing around baggage carousels feeling demoralized.

All systems appeared go for the women’s world championship May 6-16 in Halifax and Truro, N.S., when premier Iain Rankin pulled the plug Wednesday over concerns about COVID-19.

Nine other teams would have arrived Thursday to join Canada in a 14-day quarantine before the tournament.

Nova Scotia’s chief medical officer Robert Strang had given his approval for the tournament a day earlier, which sharpened the sting for the Canadian women.

“We were pretty shocked,” said forward Brianne Jenner of Oakville, Ont. “I know Hockey Canada was shocked because the chief medical officer had OK’d it.

“This kind of came out of the blue for us. We really felt we had a safe protocol in place.”

The 2020 women’s championship in Nova Scotia was also cancelled because of the coronavirus. Canada’s women’s team has played a total of five international games in the last two years.

The combination of the pandemic and women’s leagues in transition has kept many of them from playing in any real games in over a year.

While the International Ice Hockey Federation and Hockey Canada vow to hold the women’s championship in Canada this year, when will they play a game that isn’t an intrasquad is a question that continues to go unanswered.

“Is this going to happen and when is big on all of our minds,” Jenner said. “It’s tough to plan ahead. We still kind of have a dream of competing in a world championship this year.”

Nova Scotia launched tighter travel restrictions Thursday. The premier stated the women’s tournament wasn’t essential.

“I’m a hockey fan. I’m not happy with the decision, but we have to put public safety first,” Rankin said.

“I couldn’t conceivably ask Nova Scotians to restrict more of their lives and make an exception to have people fly into Nova Scotia from other countries.”

The 2021 men’s under-20 championship was held in Edmonton, with coronavirus protocols there supplying the template for Nova Scotia.

This year’s men’s under-18 championship starts Monday in Frisco, Texas. The men’s world championship is scheduled to start in less than a month in Riga, Latvia.

The cancellation of January’s world under-18 women’s championship in Sweden has Jenner feeling that, for a myriad of reasons, international women’s hockey is getting hit by the pandemic in a way that international men’s hockey isn’t.

“If you pan out beyond this tournament and you look at the fact that we haven’t played a game all year, I don’t know if there’s anyone to blame, but if you’re a young girl, the outcome is you are seeing no women’s hockey games this year,” Jenner said.

“If you are a young boy, you are not seeing the same.”

Her teammate Sarah Nurse of Hamilton has similar feelings.

“Without pointing a finger and placing blame, because we can’t really compare our tournament location to any other tournament, every government has their own guidelines so I definitely want to make that clear, but I just feel like it’s very hard not to look at it from a gender standpoint because it’s seems like a little bit of a trend,” Nurse said.

“It’s hard not to look at it through that lens for sure.”

Canada’s roster for last year’s championship was set when that tournament was cancelled, so Hockey Canada made it public in recognition of the work the women did to make that squad.

Head coach Troy Ryan of Spryfield, N.S., and his staff, along with director of national women’s hockey teams Gina Kingsbury, were about to start the heavy discussions over which players would be named to the Canadian team when the tournament was called off.

Thursday was going to be a difficult day for the players released, but it turned out to be a sad day for all.

“It just felt like we got the rug pulled out from under us,” Nurse said.

Kingsbury said a 2021 roster would not be released.

Canada’s 47-player selection camp that ended abruptly and the world championship roster that would have been chosen from it are key pieces of preparation for the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing.

Hockey Canada has little in the way of game data to choose a “centralization” roster of roughly 30 players who will congregate in Calgary in August and start working toward Beijing.

“I don’t think we’re in a position right now to know what our next move is and how we prepare for Beijing,” Kingsbury said.

“We’ll work closely together as a group and put together the best possible plan to make sure we’re successful in Beijing and our athletes are prepared and get the experience and opportunities they deserve here moving forward.

“To be honest, right now we’re just digesting this disappointment.”

The majority of the Canadian team was playing in the Canadian Women’s Hockey League when the CWHL folded in the spring of 2019.

Those players and American stars became the faces of the Professional Women’s Hockey Players’ Association (PWHPA) working to create a league that provides a living wage and the competitive supports men’s leagues have.

The PWHPA ran “Dream Gap Tour” tournaments and games on both sides of the border in 2019-20. The pandemic knocked similar plans for this season sideways.

The PWHPA’s American chapter played a few games in the U.S. in recent weeks, but the Canadians haven’t because of tighter pandemic restrictions in their country.

So while the NHL, AHL and other men’s pro hockey leagues carry on, Canada’s top female players remain in limbo.

“Our group in a way feels as if our sport is on hold,” Jenner said. “It goes beyond just one tournament. We’ve just had a string of bad luck in women’s hockey.

“There’s a lot of layers to it. I’m still processing it and my teammates are too. It would be nice to catch a break in the near future.”

For the Nova Scotians hoping to represent Canada on home ice, the disappointment was acute.

They felt the tournament could help heal a province in which 22 people were killed in a mass shooting just over a year ago at the same time the pandemic was descending upon the globe.

“The only thing we were going to bring into this province was excitement, joy, and a little bit of life at a time when I know we all needed it most,” Haligonian forward Jill Saulnier wrote Thursday in a social media post.

Marleau surpasses Howe

Canada’s Patrick Marleau (against Sweden’s Johnny Oduya) during the gold medal game of the 2014 Olympic Winter Games where he won his second Olympic gold medal

By Andrew Podnieks – IIHF.com

It is the last of the old, great records, and it is gone. Patrick Marleau, from tiny Aneroid, Saskatchewan, has now played more regular-season games in the NHL than any other of the nearly 8,100 players who have skated in the league between 1917 and today.

Marleau played in his 1,768th game Monday night at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas while playing for the San Jose Sharks, the team with which he has played more than any other. The 41-year-old surpasses Gordie Howe, from the equally tiny Floral, Saskatchewan, who played 26 seasons in the NHL before retiring at age 52 in 1980, his fifth decade of play.

“It was definitely a long ride,” Marleau said after the record-breaking game. “I’m very grateful and blessed that I was able to do this with all the support I’ve had over my career. It’s something I’ll never forget… It was a really special night. You don’t have these nights without teammates, without great organizations. Definitely have those covered for sure.”

Howe’s record was one of the longest lasting in league history, having survived more than 41 years. In third place is Mark Messier, who played in 1,756 games before retiring in 2005 prior to the start of the new season and after missing all of 2004/05 because of the lockout.

Marleau is not the oldest player in the league today. That distinction goes to Slovak defenceman Zdeno Chara, who is 43 and who was drafted in 1996. Marleau was selected 2nd overall in 1997, one behind Joe Thornton, who is the second oldest player this season at 41 for the Maple Leafs.

But what separates Marleau from everyone else is not only his longevity but his consistent resilience. As of now, he has an Iron Man Streak of 894 consecutive games, the 4th-longest in NHL history. He last missed a game on 7 April 2009.

When Howe retired, he led the league in career goals, assists, points, and games played. Wayne Gretzky wiped out the first three, and now Marleau has taken care of the last. But one record that no one has come close to breaking is Howe’s record of 22 straight seasons of 20 goals or more. Ron Francis had 20, and three players had 19 – Brendan Shanahan, Jaromir Jagr, and Dave Andreychuk.

“I think dad would be very thrilled and the first one out on the ice to applaud Patrick on this really incredible milestone,” Murray Howe, one of Gordie’s four sons, said of Marleau’s achievement.

Marleau had surpassed the hallowed 500-goal and 1,000-point marks earlier in his career, but his other greatest claim to fame is a record he doesn’t want to own. He has played more games in the regular season and playoffs than anyone else without winning the Stanley Cup. He has played parts of 21 seasons with the Sharks over three stints, but in two years with Toronto he never came close and at the end of the 2019/20 season, after a trade to Pittsburgh, he lost in the first round. In all, he has played in 20 playoff seasons and 195 games, coming closest to the Cup in 2016 when San Jose advanced to the finals, only to lose to Sidney Crosby and the Penguins in six games.

Marleau may not have won the Cup, but his international career with Team Canada has few equals in the modern game. He won Olympic gold in both 2010 and 2014, playing alongside Crosby, and he also won gold at the 2003 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship and silver two years later.

Marleau’s durability in a high-paced and physical league have set him apart from the rest. Although he has never won an individual league trophy, he is respected league-wide for his sportsmanship and dedication, his love of the game and his leadership in the dressing room.

Marleau has scored 25 goals or more in a season 13 times, peaking in 2009/10 when he had 44. In 2005/06, he had 86 points, the most of his career. He has always been known as a balanced player, one who can score and pass and create offence in many ways. He leads the Sharks in virtually every significant statistical category, and no doubt when he retires his number 12 will be raised to the rafters of the SAP Center.

Above all, his games played record is one born of passion.

“I just love it,” Marleau said about playing hockey every night, every year. “There’s nothing else like it.”

And for the record, the Knights won the game, 3-2, in a shootout. Marleau took the first shootout shot for the Sharks but was stopped by goalie Robin Lehner.

Estonia national team to participate in international tournament

Estonia national team head coach Jussi Tupamäki

Source: ERR

This weekend, the Estonian national ice hockey team will participate in an international tournament in Poland, where they will face off against four opponents.

The Estonian national team got together in Tallinn last took part in international competition a year and a half ago. World championship qualification tournaments were canceled both this year and the year prior due to the coronavirus pandemic and the team is using the opportunity to train and compete together.

“I started missing the national team a little myself. It is always good to see friends and play together, to represent the Estonian national team and in a tournament such as this upcoming one in Poland. I think we will get good experience,” national team forward Rasmus Kiik told ERR.

The Estonian national team is made up of multiple players who have performed in world championship competitions before, including goaltender Villem-Henrik Koitmaa. Most of the team is however made up of younger call-ups, still lacking much international experience.

Rooba’s overtime winner gives JYP tenth victory of season

“I think there are quite a few young players who are very thankful to even train with the men. Then they see what the level is and how much more they should put in to make the team in the future,” said national team head coach Jussi Tupamäki.

National team mainstays Robert Rooba, Kristjan Kombe and Robert Arrak will have to skip the current training camp and upcoming tournament. In addition to Poland, Estonia will face off against Latvia’s under-20s team, Lithuani and Croatia.

“I think the first game against Poland will be very hard. I know this already, but we all know it and it is a challenge,” Tupamäki said.

Rasmus Kiik added: “We cannot say we will go to win this tournament, but we will also not go to lose. We will give our best each game. The final games of the tournament will certainly be better. I think we will give our best and try to win a few. We’ll see what happens by the end of the tournament.”

As Jamaican hockey movement grows, Blackhawks’ Isaak Phillips could soon become its first NHL alumnus

Isaak Phillips has played 16 games this season for the Rockford IceHogs

In some aspects, Blackhawks prospect Isaak Phillips has followed a typical hockey path.

His mother is Finnish. He grew up an hour outside Toronto. He worked his way up through Canadian juniors, including two years with Sudbury of the Ontario Hockey League. He was drafted by the Hawks in the fifth round in October and signed his NHL entry-level contract March 31.

In other aspects, however, Phillips’ background and path have been different. He is Black. His father hails from the Caribbean island of St. Vincent. And, in 2018, he played on what was essentially the first Jamaican hockey team.

‘‘That was a pretty awesome experience to have a team full of kids that look like you,’’ Phillips, 19, said. ‘‘You look around, and everyone looks the same. It was a fun summer tournament and hopefully something that can put Team Jamaica on the map.’’

Jamaica became an associate member of the International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) in 2012, and the momentum to grow hockey in the island nation of 2.9 million has taken off in recent years.

It started with that 2018 team, which competed in the Team Elite Prospect Hockey Showcase tournament in Toronto and won, going undefeated in eight games.

‘‘We needed to go ahead and field a team ourselves, so we could show people that this was a probable idea,’’ said E.J. Phillipps, the co-founder and CEO of the Jamaica Olympic Ice Hockey Federation (JOIHF). ‘‘Isaak did a tremendous job coming and really helping elevate the team — and himself, as well — to get the maximum exposure for us to move forward.’’

Team Jamaica at the 2018 TEP Tournament celebrates their championship

That team was made up of Canadian-born under-20 players with various Caribbean ancestries. In the time since, however, the JOIHF has expanded its player-outreach programs enough that it now uses only players with specifically Jamaican ancestry.

Board member Gary Smith said it has developed a 75-player prospect list spanning Canadian junior leagues, college hockey conferences and pro minor leagues.

Jamaica fielded a roster in the 2019 LatAm Cup — a tournament in Florida that included 21 teams from Central and South American countries — and won that tournament, too. After the 2020 edition was canceled because of COVID-19, it will seek to defend its title in October.

And Jamaica has its eyes on greater heights, including Olympic participation. The JOIHF has designed and is raising money for a multipurpose ice rink in Kingston, which would allow the country to become a full IIHF member. And it debuted a hockey class with 42 students enrolled this semester at G.C. Foster College in Spanish Town.

The goal is to develop a national hockey program similar to that of Mexico, which has competed in the IIHF’s Division II World Championships since 2000 and has about 2,700 registered adult players.

‘‘[We want] to continue to grow the program at the grassroots level in Jamaica, which would start with a street-hockey, roller-hockey transition scenario, developing young children at the school level,’’ Smith said. ‘‘Five years from now, hopefully the rink will be built and we’ll have learn-to-skate and learn-to-play hockey programs.

‘‘That’ll really be the start, genuinely, of Jamaican-born players developing into legitimate ice-hockey players.’’

Phillips can take pride in his contributions to the start of this movement. He has become the first JOIHF alum to sign an NHL contract and hopes to become the first to play in the NHL in the not-too-distant future.

Special rules during the pandemic gave Phillips the rare opportunity to play in the American Hockey League this season as a 19-year-old, and he admitted he arrived in Rockford with ‘‘pretty low expectations.’’ He wasn’t sure whether he was just there to practice and improve under the Hawks’ development staff or whether he would play in regular-season games.

It turned out to be the latter. The 6-3 defenseman has played in 16 of the IceHogs’ first 21 games, recording six points and learning how to adapt to the next level.

‘‘You just learn to think the pro game,’’ Phillips said. ‘‘In junior [hockey], you can get away with some stuff — an extra move or holding on to [the puck] for an extra second. But here, everything is going quick, quick, quick. Everyone in this league can play at the next level and everyone is fighting to get there, so you just learn little tendencies and little tips and tricks: how to move the puck quicker, how to use your body.

‘‘I try to learn something new after each game . . . and then I try to be a quick study, get that into my game right away and show them I can be really coachable.’’

When Phillips received the contract offer late last month, he called his parents to break the news, and ‘‘some tears of joy’’ were shed.

The three-year deal officially kicks in next season. Phillips knows he’ll be back in the AHL next fall, but he’s hoping to make his NHL debut at some point during the season.

That would make history for Team Jamaica, but Phillips hopes it eventually won’t be seen as notable at all.

‘‘We are coming up in the sport,’’ he said. ‘‘As you see more Black players in the game, it’s going to help out the younger generations. For me, I know when you see a couple of Black players in the NHL, it inspired me to keep chasing my dreams.’’