In its last friendly double-fixture ahead of the upcoming 2021 IIHF World Championship, Slovakia ice-hockey team got beaten twice by its traditional rival, the Czech Republic, 2-0 on Thursday and 2-1 on Friday.
Making up a federation for several decades and then splitting in 1993, the Czech Republic and Slovakia still have excellent relations but have also developed a strong sports rivalry. The Czechs usually have the upper hand in most encounters across various sports, especially in ice hockey, and they confirmed the pre-game expectations on both recent occasions.
On Thursday, the Czech Republic decided the outcome of the first friendly match against Slovakia with two goals late in the game. The young visitors were the more dangerous team but failed to convert on their many opportunities. Instead, Rudolf Cerveny opened the score in the 54th minute on a 2-on-1 fastbreak and 45 seconds later, David Tomasek scored winner to make it 2-0. The Czech goalie Roman Will’s 24 saves turned into a shutout.
In the second fixture on Friday, the Slovaks were close to opening the score in the first period but the video footage of Peter Cehlarik’s redirect showed that the puck bounced off both posts and the Czech goalie Kvaca made the save. Instead, the home team struck in the second period when Adam Musil converted on a pass from behind the goal and sent a shot between the visiting goalie’s legs.
The Slovaks managed to answer two minutes later when the 20-year-old Martin Fasko-Rudas converted on his breakaway opportunity, scoring his first goal for the national team in his career to level the score.
The Czechs went ahead again in the third period after Andrej Sustr’s one-timer found its way into the back of the net flying in just under the crossbar, bringing the 2-1 victory to his team as Slovakia failed to capitalize on a late 5-on-3 powerplay with Cehlarik’s promising attempt bouncing off the post.
“Our Thursday match was better. Our skating was off today and we got under pressure as a result. Our effectiveness is lacking at the moment, we are having trouble scoring goals. We need to stay more active. We will now have to make final adjustments before the championship as we are expecting skilled players arriving from finished leagues from all over Europe,” said Slovakia assistant coach Michal Handzus after the game.
The IIHF World Championship starts on May 21 in Latvia.
The 2010 Winter Olympics were filled with iconic sports moments from premiere athletes who were arguably in their prime at the time. Shaun White took hissecond-straight gold medalin the Men’s Halfpipe, Apolo Ohno became one of the USA’smost achieved winter athletesin the country at the time and Sidney Crosby closed the games with his iconic“Golden Goal”to give the Canadian men’s hockey team the gold medal in an overtime win against the United States.
Yet, in the 2010 games, and in most Olympic processes, a majority of fans choose to tune out the qualification process of getting to the games in the first place. Sometimes, these events can be just as interesting as the Olympic games.
This happened to be the case for theBulgarian Women’s National Teamin ice hockey, yet, in a way that the hockey world never thought would be imaginable before.
Step 2: Qualification
Qualification for the women’s hockey tournament at the Olympics started in 2008. The system of qualification ran through the International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF), and it’s a process that still occurs today.
At the time, there were a total of34 countries in the worldcompeting in women’s ice hockey at the international level. Throughout the course of annual world championships, the IIHF ranked all 34 countries based on several performance indicators at each championship. The system then assigned points to teams at each tournament for ranking purposes. The IIHF totaled these points every four years to determine the top six teams that qualify for the following Olympic games.
Based on performance at the 2005, 2007 and 2008 world championships, along with the 2006 Winter Olympics, Canada (2,950 points), the United States (2,930 points), Finland (2,770 points), Sweden (2,760 points), Switzerland (2,645 points) and Russia (2,575 points) all received automatic qualification to the 2010 Winter Olympics.
To give lower-ranked teams a chance to qualify for the games, the IIHF split every remaining team after the top six into groups. These groups were split into four-to-five teams per group, who played each other once. The team with the most wins, and thus points in the standings, would then compete in a playoff format to determine the final two teams that qualify for the Olympics.
For the sake of the article, we’re going to focus on Group A, which consisted of Slovakia, Italy, Latvia, Croatia and Bulgaria.
There were a total of 10 games played in Liepaja, Latvia between these teams over the course of five days in September of 2008. These five days would prove to be a nightmare for the Bulgarian team.
Step 3: Embarrassment
Bulgaria opened group play with a game against the Italians on Sept. 2, 2008. A total of 45 people in attendance witnessed the Bulgarians get crushed by a score of 41-0. To put this in perspective, the Italians scored a goal about once every minute of the game.
Italy totaled 122 shots on goal in the game, while the Bulgarians managed four shots on its opposition. Four Italian players recorded hat tricks and the team finished with 41 goals and assists in one night of play.
Fast forward to the Bulgarians second game against Croatia the next day on Sept. 3. Bulgaria managed to score a goal late in the third period of the contest from forward player Olga Gospodinova. This would be the only goal scored from the team in the entire group stage and the team went on tolet in 30 goals against the Croatians that night.
In a similar fashion to the team’s first game, multiple Croatian players recorded hat tricks that night. Diana Posavec Kruselj, a Croatian defenseman, recorded 11 goals in the game.
It didn’t get any better for the Bulgarians in the team’s third game against the host country Latvia.Bulgaria lost 39-0and recorded the team’s least amount of shots on goal in a group stage game up to that point, only managing two on the net.
Before recapping the team’s final game against Slovakia, let’s put these numbers into perspective.
Back in the 1980s, it was easier to score a goal in the game of hockey than it is today. Goalie size, both in terms of equipment and physical status, is historically cited as the primary reason for this. In the 80s, goalies weren’t given nearly as much protective equipment that we see today. Pads were much smaller in width, shoulder and stomach protection was very thin and the famous masks that audiences see in movies such as Slapshot were being used in the National Hockey League.
Photo of former United States goalie Jim Craig
Thesize of the net(72” x 48”x 40”) has never changed, nor has thesize of the puck(three inches in diameter). But, when the size of the person guarding the net is smaller, there is more net to shoot at.
The blog,Hockey Wilderness, covered this changing dynamic of the game after former Toronto Maple Leafs head coach, Mike Babcock, told reporters that goals are simply “much harder to come by these days.”
The blog tested this hypothesis by comparing goal totals in 1980 and in the 2014-2015 season. With 30 teams in 82 games, there were a total of 2,460 games of NHL hockey played in the 2014-2015 season. Both conferences scored a total of 6,719 goals that season, averaging 2.73 goals per game.
In the 80s, with just 21 teams in 80 games, the two conferences totaled 6,457 goals that season with 3.84 goals per game. The blog goes on to note that if two extra games were added for each team that season, based on the league’s goals per game average, the total number of goals scored would be 9,446.
It’s an accomplishment (maybe not so for the Bulgarians) that the team let in 110 goals in just three games, especially in the modern era. In 70 NHL games last season,the Detroit Red Wings let in the most goalsin the league with 267. The Bulgarians were a little less than halfway to that amount in three contests.
Step 4: A World Record
The final game for the Bulgarian women’s team in the group stage took place on Sept. 6, 2008, against the Slovakians. Up to this point, Slovakia had been dominating the group, only letting in one goal combined in the team’s two victories against both Italy and Latvia.
The team, undeniably, were favorites to take the group. They ended up doing just that and a few months later, the team would become the seventh out of eight teams to qualify for the Olympics along with China. The team would then go on to getrouted by Canada in the Olympicsby a score of 18-0.
That all came after the teamscored 82 goals in one game against the Bulgarians. The Slovakians scored 31 goals in the first period, 24 goals in the second period and 27 goals in the third period. To achieve this in a 60-minute game, the Slovakians had to score a goal every 43.9 seconds.
A total of 16 out of 20 Slovakian players scored goals that night, with a total of 10 players individually scoring more than five goals. The team also managed 139 shots on goal in the game for a conversion rate of 59 percent. Forwards Anna Dzurnakova, Petra Dankova and Maria Herichova scored more than 10 goals in the game, making them the top goal scorers in the entire group up to that point.
The Bulgarians only statistic was penalty minutes with a total of 39. Forward Tina Lisichkova totaled 25 of those penalty minutes in the game. A wealth of these penalty minutes seem to come from several altercations throughout the game, including shoving and almost fighting between the two teams.
According to blog writer James Mirtle, the Bulgarianssubstituted the team’s starting goalie after letting in 77 goalswith only three minutes left in the game. The backup goaltender then let in five goals on five shots in one minute and 25 seconds. Despite this, starting goalie Liubomora Shosheva saved 57 shots in the game. Offensively, the Bulgarians did not manage a shot on the net.
This scoreline, according to theGuinness World Records, is the highest-scoring professional ice hockey game of all time.
There was no mercy rule in international women’s hockey at the time, either. Mercy rule allows a team facing potential humiliation in terms of the scoreline to forfeit the game, while also preventing the victorious team satisfaction from inflicting a blowout.
Oddly enough, this game was the only of the Bulgarians four contests that collected post-game comments that were on record. Slovakian coach Miroslav Karafiatreferred to the game as “training”in a post-game interview, despite playing two competitive games prior to the contest.
It was a PR-nightmare for the small hockey nation and one that still affects them to this day. The team’s website and social media profiles are outdated and filled with ridiculing comments. In 2020, the Bulgarian women’s team was still ranked last in the world according to the IIHF.
When all was said and done in both group play and in IIHF standings after the 2010 Olympics, the Bulgarian team finished with zero points in the standings. The team just above the Bulgarians was Turkey, with a total of 840 points.
Photo from the Bulgarian Ice Hockey Federation Instagram in a post from 2019.
Very few publications have gone into detail about the Bulgarian team during this time, both nationally and across the globe. Yet, national publications immediately after the game pointed fingers to the Bulgarian government to blame, sourcing the very limited access to play in the country.
To help put this into perspective, at the time, Bulgaria had a population of 7.4 million. Within this number, there were only 299 registered hockey players in the country with three indoor rinks in 42,855 square miles. Out of the 299 registered players, there were only 37 females likely ranging from very young ages.
In contrast, Canada had 74,000 female players registered in various leagues throughout the country. This gives the nation a lot more to choose from at the national level to fill a team consisting of 20 openings.
So, the pool of players to select was minimal and the development of homegrown and professional talent wasn’t there. In the end, there wasn’t much invested in women’s hockey in the country, which still remains true to this day. In fact, national registration for female hockey in Bulgaria recently declined from 65 players in 2016 to 53 players in 2020.
Although unconfirmed, some sources indicate that theBulgarian government simply threw a team together at the last minute, filled with females who could skate. Though the likeliness of this theory remains slim, there are no filings of international play from the Bulgarian Ice Hockey Federation before 2008, meaning that a rushed federation could’ve put a team together just to qualify for play.
In the end, both statements indicate a lack of priority in the country for the game. From roster-building all the way to the team’s final game against Slovakia, it only took a few moves to tarnish the Bulgarian hockey identity forever.
The hardy students at Shaolin Tagou Martial Arts School in Dengfeng, Henan province have been honing their hockey skills since 2019. Combined with their kungfu training and academic studies, the kids practice roller hockey on a daily basis, with plans afoot to introduce them to action on the ice.
As a novice of the sport, China’s ice hockey talent pool is still relatively thin. However, with the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics around the corner and the country’s ice and snow sports industry on the rise, more and more youngsters are picking up sticks to enjoy one of the world’s toughest team sports.
Among the unlikeliest of newcomers to the sport are students at Shaolin Tagou Martial Arts School in Dengfeng, Henan province. In 2019, around 1,000 students signed up for the school’s newly formed hockey club. Ranging in age from 6 to 15 years old, the club encompasses seven squads in total.
But with no ice to practice on, players perfect their skills on roller skates, making for a diverse daily routine of academic studies, kungfu lessons and roller hockey.
“All the students have been through tough kungfu training since they were little kids. They have great physical strength, coordination and flexibility compared with everyday school kids,” Zhang Shanghang, the school’s ice hockey youth training director told Xinhua.
“They are perfect for the sport. Some of them can learn how to skate with all the equipment in just three days. And now we are planning to let them move on to the next step of training－on ice.”
Pulling on a Team China jersey to represent their nation at the Winter Olympics is the ultimate dream for all the youngsters.
“My favorite player now is Zuo Tianyou of the Beijing College of Sports team. He has great dribbling skills,” said Huang Yuxuan, who watches ice hockey in his dormitory after training.
According to the International Ice Hockey Federation, China now has 537 male and 822 female ice hockey players, along with 8,147 juniors. The numbers are still low compared with the sport’s traditional powerhouses. Canada and the United States, for example, boast hockey populations of over 600,000 and 550,000 respectively.
Attracting more people onto the ice and developing the sport from grassroots level are seen as key to the sport’s future in China.
“We should fully take advantage of the Beijing Winter Olympics and facilitate the growth of Chinese ice hockey,” Hu Jiang, the coach of the Qiqihaer city ice hockey team in Heilongjiang province, told Chinanews.com in March.
“Compared with the ice hockey powerhouses of the world, China’s ice hockey development is still at a very early stage, and there is huge room for improvement,” Hu added.
“Building a professional league and developing the sport in schools and universities are vital for the sport’s development in China.
“We should attract more people to participate in the sport and the winter sports sector in general. We should let it grow from grassroots level to lay a solid foundation. We should also promote ice hockey culture among sports lovers.”
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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