Month: August 2021

The final three Olympic spots for men’s ice hockey at Beijing 2022 will go to Latvia, Denmark and Slovakia

By George Da Silva – National Teams Of Ice Hockey

Final Group D

Ondrej Nepela Arena in Bratislava played host to a ferocious match between Slovakia and Belarus that ended 2-1 for Slovakia. This secured Slovakia’s place in the men’s ice hockey competition in Beijing 2022.

Slovenia and Belarus entered the final period level after goals from Peter Cehlarik (SVK) and Yegor Sharangovich (BLR), both teams were well aware that a draw after regulation time would see Slovenia progress as group winners on 7 points, but Libor Hudacek’s goal late in the third period gave Slovakia a 2-1 victory and a trip to Bejing.

Final Group E

Denmark, Latvia, and Slovakia have won their respective Olympic qualifying tournaments and will participate in the men’s ice hockey competition at the Olympic Winter Games in Beijing in 2022.

All three nations finished in the top two in their respective IIHF qualification groups, adding to the already strong 12-team field at Beijing 2022, which also features top-8 teams and hosts China.

Having won both of their Group E games on home ice against Italy 6-0 and Hungary 9-0, Latvia entered the final game with a perfect record.

On the final day of their group, the Latvia played undefeated France, which was hoping to qualify for the Olympics for the first time since Salt Lake City in 2002.

At the 11-minute mark in the first period, Latvia strike  first when  Rihards Bukarts scored the first goal of the game.

Miks Indrasis notched Latvia’s the game winning goal in the third period. However, Stephane da Costa’s long-range effort brought France back into the contest for a frantic finish.

The Latvian penalty kill was strong for the last two minutes of the game as they hung on for a 2-1 win and a birth to the Winter Olympics, Beijing 2022.

Final Group F

A 2-0 win over Norway in Oslo gave Denmark its first appearance at the Olympic games has they topped Group F.

Both teams had undefeated records after beating Slovenia and the South Korea, goals from Frederik Storm and Nikolaj Ehlers booked Denmark’s passage to Beijing, they defeated their arch-rivals 2-0.

Winnipeg Jets forward Ehlers sealed victory for the Danes with just over Three minutes remaining, forcing Norway to pull their goaltender Adding another attacker to try and score a goal that did not materialize.

Hockey in Holon: Ice sport takes over Holy Land despite heat

Holon Vipers forward Yan Raskin protects the puck from Bat Yam Dolphins defenseman Jake Nowry

Ben Barch – The Jerusalem Post

Holon, and pretty much all of Israel, is very hot and humid in the summertime. Those are awful conditions for playing ice hockey. But at the Israel Elite Hockey League, Israel’s premier summer hockey league, it happens anyway.

Walk into Ice Peaks in Holon for a game and you’ll find players with tzitzit flying, skating around, playing against their Israeli peers or even foreign professionals.

“You get the North American experience right here [in Israel],” Jerusalem Capitals captain Itzik Levy said. “They are hard games, especially in this league with guys from North America and Europe. It’s really a fun experience. It’s fast-paced, it’s a smaller rink, so you’re getting to see a lot of action, it’s nonstop movement. I think you’ll get a kick out of it. The level of hockey is actually really high considering the imports and the Israeli mix.”

Unfortunately, the quality of play is far from that of North America’s National Hockey League or Europe and Asia’s Kontinental Hockey League. You just can’t compare Israeli players to NHL stars like Sidney Crosby, Connor McDavid or Alex Ovechkin. As the rink is smaller than NHL rinks, they play four on four (as opposed to the traditional five on five) with modified rules.

But he’s right that it’s a fun experience. The league currently plays all of its games at Ice Peaks, which is akin to a local rink in a small town in North America. Before the league’s playoff games, people were enjoying an open skating session when the rink manager announced that there would be a hockey game right after. Many people stayed and enjoyed it.

There were about 100 people in attendance for the playoff games on June 26. There were parents with their kids, relatives of players, and even adults who stuck around for the spectacle. The small arena got pretty loud after goals.

“It’s very interesting and crazy,” Tal, who was watching his first live hockey game, said. “It’s not the sport I see every day. I think it could be popular, but we don’t see it enough on TV.” He said that if Israeli TV broadcasted the league, he’d watch. 

If you know about the league, getting in or watching games is very easy. Tickets were free this season, but might cost as much as NIS 20 next summer. The games are also broadcast live on the Israel National Hockey Society YouTube channel. But there’s not much national publicity about the league.

“I think the greatest message that this league is sending to these guys that are not Israeli or not Jewish is what Israel is really about,” Levy said. “It’s a democracy, it’s free life, it’s being able to live your dream, live your life and go all out. I think we gain big fans of Israel, and I think they’re going to spread the message and hopefully more players will come next year.”

THE CULTURAL osmosis works both ways. For those Israelis who were exposed to the game and were able to crack the IEHL, the league serves as an incredible development tool.

“Bringing in these players from the US, Canada, Germany, France and Russia helps raise the level of the Israeli guys even further,” Brunengraber said. “That, in turn, helps the Israeli national league and helps the national team program by having our summer league serve as an incubator to really help those guys gain experience beyond just skating and stick-handling, but learning how to ‘think’ the game with guys from traditional hockey markets.”

It’s important to note that this league, like the Israel National Hockey Society, functions outside of the jurisdiction of the Ice Hockey Federation of Israel (IHFI), the governing body of ice hockey in Israel. However, some players compete in both the IEHL and the IHFI’s main league, which consists mostly of Israelis.

Israel became a member of the International Ice Hockey Federation, the worldwide governing body of the sport, in 1991. The national team won gold at the Division II Group B World Championships in 2019. They were promoted to Division II Group A, but the last two tournaments were canceled due to COVID-19 restrictions. They still have a long way to climb before reaching the Top Division.

 But there is tremendous potential to grow the game in Israel. The country has a sizable population of olim from hockey-loving countries. Those who built connections to teams back home have to wake up in the middle of the night to watch them live. Having a local league could help these olim develop a deeper love of their country.

The Israelis who were at Ice Peaks and experienced the atmosphere of a hockey game firsthand could also support a quality league.

Still, there are plenty of hurdles the league needs to jump to come close to their European or American counterparts. Having the European influence on the team could provide insight into what they could do better.

“The training facilities [could be better], the rink here is good but you have no fixed locker rooms, you have really small ice, the ice quality is nowhere near Germany or Europe, the professionality of the people – they show up five minutes before practice – you’d never see that in Europe,” Fischbacher, who normally plays minor league hockey in Germany, said.

He also said Israel needs to build more rinks, preferably in the Tel Aviv area. Additionally, they need to hire more coaches, get young people on the ice and provide summer training.

“There’s a lot of things to do here, but maybe that’s a good start,” he said. “It’s really important. They have to do it or there’s no future, to be honest.”

The 2021 season ended on July 31 with HC Tel Aviv taking home gold. The Holon Vipers won silver and the Jerusalem Capitals won bronze. The league has multiple sponsorship deals and is already gearing up for the Summer 2022 season.

2021 IIHF Women’s World Championship Preview

It’s August, so let’s get these tourneys GOING! August is ending with a bang as the Women’s World Championship event is playing out in Calgary from the 20th to September 1st. There have been a few changes – including the location and team size – but otherwise? It’s all the same job, and 250 athletes are here to do it.

Women’s World Championship Preview

The biggest change for the teams this time out is an increase in size. With no one allowed to add players in case of injury or availability, the roster size is now at 25. That’s a good excuse to get younger players a look at what’s going to be expected of them when their turn comes. If you watched any of the “Bubble Cup” from 2020, you get the idea. Your subs still have to be able to play, but you’re hoping not to use them.

PANIC! At The Truro

The world rankings aren’t quite in line with who has the invites. That’s because France (ranked 10th in the world) and Sweden (ninth) were relegated at the last tournament in 2019. Denmark (11th) and Hungary (12th) won promotions in 2019, and without any tournament play in 2020, the IIHF kept everyone in place. Division II B and Division III got their tournaments done, but those had no effect on the top ranks.

As a result, the 2020 tournament that would have been at Truro and Halifax was cancelled along with every other international match. This might mean the selections are going to be frozen for the 2022 Olympics. But if their final decision is to go by international ranking, that means Sweden and France will have no opportunity to gain points while Denmark and Hungary will. But that doesn’t mean there are no stakes.

With the top six teams automatically going through, one of Czechia, Germany, Denmark, or Hungary is going to lose their place to host China. A good showing at the Olympics in any of those countries would provide a real boost. Just like with the men’s, the international tournaments are for people who are already fans. The Olympics, on the other hand, gets the attention of EVERYONE.

It’s Just Like Starting Over

If you aren’t familiar with the Women’s tournament format, here’s a quick rundown. (If you are, let the newbies catch up here and we’ll meet you next segment.)

Of the ten teams in Calgary, the top five in Group A will play against each other for position. The next five in Group B aren’t just playing for position, but to avoid relegation. So the winner of Group B will face whoever finishes third in Group A. Second in Group B plays against second in Group A, third in Group B is up against Group A’s winner, and third and fourth in Group A face off against each other.

And the bottom two are out. That’s not as dramatic as it sounds this year because the federation has decided this year is a mulligan. Everyone lives, no one relegated. Which you can be sure annoys Sweden and France no end, but without each division playing it’s fair. Or as fair as they can manage after two ridiculous years.

Honey, We’re Home!

Calgary is going to have a lot of COVID-19 protocols in place because this is the Women’s World Championship. Do it right or don’t bother coming. All the teams have been in town at least ten days ahead of time to quarantine to match seven days in their home countries, with international teams taking chartered flights in. Again, they’re here to do a job. If they happen to bring a medal back with them, so much the better.

Let’s meet the teams.

Canada – Host, Rank: 2

You have to know that number burns. But if there’s any country here that has to remember the maxim: “Thank your enemies, for they make you strong” it’s Canada. They may share the world’s longest unprotected border, but they and the United States have been fighting over this ground for decades.

Player to Look For

Going to go a little – very little – off the board for this one. Keep an eye out for Sarah Fillier – the first 2000-born player to score a goal for Team Canada. And she did it in 2018. To be blunt, this is NOT a team you can just walk onto as an 18-year old! Between her national turns, she was named captain of Princeton, leading them to their first ECAC crown.

Thing is, she’s got a lot more going on than a highlight reel. She is a smart player and has a good eye for intercepting plays, either catching pucks mid-pass or disrupting an opponent’s line. Take your eye off the puck when she’s on the ice and she’ll teach you a thing or two.

USA – Rank: 1

They won the gold in Pyongchang in 2018, and they have no interest in going to Beijing as an underdog. They’ve won five straight Women’s World Championship tournaments and not one was a fluke. The team with the target on their back, and they welcome all comers.

Player to Look For

Yes, obvious pick is obvious with Kendall Coyne-Schofield. But for good reason: how many players have a youth program named after them? Okay, a fair number, but how many named quite so perfectly as the Golden Coynes? C’mon! Her impact is huge and didn’t go down with her appearance at the 2019 NHL All-Star game.

But she’s also the captain of the US squad after first being named to the team in 2011. Her phenomenal speed gets her into position before most of the defence can turn around. That first tournament saw her score four times in five games. In her last tournament in 2019, she scored another five goals in five games and added four assists. It’s not just that she scores but what she does to do so that makes her worth watching.

Finland – Rank: 3

Perpetually knocking on the door, Finland kicked it down at the Women’s World Championship in 2019. They beat out Canada in the semi-finals and thought they had won the gold in overtime against the US only to have the play reversed after a ten-minute review. The US then won in the shootout on Finland’s home ice. Revenge is a great motivator.

Player to Watch

Normally, this would be an easy pick: Noora Räty. The star goaltender made 93 saves in those two games against the US and Canada, and her not being in Calgary hurts. But one player they’ve relied on for years is returning, captain Jenni Hiirikoski. She is a fast, smart defender who can whip outlet passes forward from anywhere in her end. She’s not just the national captain for Finland, but the captain of the champion Lulea HF of the Swedish Women’s League.

Hiirikoski has won the Women’s World Championship Best Defender seven times between 2007 and 2019. Watch her and you’ll see why.

(Not) Russia – Rank: 4

A court ruling has them competing as the Russian Olympic Committee, but the players remain the same. And in this case, they are coming from the Russian teams in the Zhenskaya Hockey League (ZhHL). The professional league has only been around since 2015, and it incorporates the KHL into the previous Russian League. They’re counting on that influx of skill – and money – to make the women’s side more competitive on the international stage.

Player to Watch

It’s a three-headed monster in the net – the Russians have never had great luck with their goaltenders internationally. But this time out could be different if the team decides to hand the reins to the young Valeria Merkusheva. Their usual workhorse duo of Anna Prugova and Nadezhda Morozova have earned their spots on the international squad with their play in the ZhHL. But the best in Russia was the 21-year old with SKIF Nizhny Novogorod. After 22 regular-season games with a 1.45 goals-against average, she followed that up with a .957 save percentage in the playoffs.

It’s more a case of watching to see if the (Not) Russians give Merkusheva her chance right away or after a game or two – but we expect her to make her presence felt this year.

Switzerland – Rank: 5

The Swiss cracked the Medal Barrier at the Olympic Games in 2014, winning bronze against Sweden. They were the first team outside what was then the Big Four (Canada, US, Sweden, Finland) to do so. It wasn’t a complete surprise, though, as they had won the IIHF bronze just two years earlier against Finland. While most of the women are coming from the Swiss league, this year they are drawing talent from the American college ranks and Swedish leagues as well.

Player to Watch

The bronze medal-winning goal scored against Sweden was by Alina Müller. She was 15 at the time. But hey! Anyone can get lucky once, right? Well, she followed that up with a four-goal game in the 2018 Olympic Games, tying an Olympic record. She’s going into her fourth season with the Northeastern University Huskies, where she’s scored a ridiculous 60 goals and 155 points in 100 games over three seasons. And yes, it’s another woman with a professional brother she’s outshining…

She’s led the team in scoring in all three years she’s played there, and she’ll bring that to the Women’s World Championship.

Japan – Rank: 6

After five straight second-place finishes to either China or Kazakhstan, Japan finally took gold at the Asian Games in 2017. That same year they won promotion to the top division in hockey, pushing them solidly into the top-six and getting a guaranteed berth to this year’s Women’s World Championship. Japan was the first Asian nation to join the IIHF, and they’ve earned their spot.

There’s a push for more, too. Their women’s team won the Youth Olympics gold medal in 2020. By the time relegation returns to international play, they’ll be dug into the top-level hard.

Player to Watch

Captain Chiho Osawa “joined the enemy” by moving to Luela after she helped knock Sweden out of medal contention at the 2018 Olympic Games. Then, for good measure, her team pushed Sweden out of the top level of the World’s later the next year. Imagine living with that pressure, and still getting eight goals and 18 points in 36 games on a Swedish team. She followed that up with six assists in their 11 playoff games as Luela won the league championship that year.

If you need someone who can shut out the noise and get the job done, you can do worse than Osawa.

Czech Republic – Rank: 7

This is as high as Czechia has ever ranked in women’s hockey, but they likely won’t be stopping here. They have yet to qualify for the Winter Games, so this tournament has a lot at stake for the young team. Yes, young: they have all of four players over the age of 25, and one of those – Denisa Krížová – is only 26. Speaking of which…

Player to Watch

Krížová honed her skills at Northeastern, playing four years and finishing as their sixth-highest scorer in team history. For those keeping track, that’s 62 goals and 169 points in 143 games, which isn’t too shabby. She played one season with the Boston Pride – 14 points in 16 games – before moving closer to home. She went to Byrnas with another Czech star, Katerina Mrázová, to terrorize that league for a while. Amusingly, the two followed an identical pattern: US college, one year of NWHL, then off to Byrnas.

Mrázová is a little older, but they can be well described as twin terrors. Krížová scored six goals in eight playoff games when they mattered most; Mrázová only four, but added seven assists in those same eight games. Consider this a two-for-one to watch.

Germany – Rank: 8

Germany has lagged behind the Men’s team of late, but with the Men’s success, hopefully that will inspire a wash over effect. At the Women’s World Championship in 2017, the Germans managed fourth place, their best-ever showing. Unfortunately, any sense of accomplishment there was dampened by 11-0 and 8-0 losses to the United States and Finland in their last games. They survived relegation in 2019, but it was a close call. Most of the national team players are from their domestic league.

Player to Watch

Nicola Eisenschmid decided not to take her older sister’s route through US college ranks, staying closer to home to hone her craft. When Tanja Eisenschmid returned from her turn at the University of North Dakota, though, Nicola jumped at the chance to play with her in Ingolstadt. That’s worked out well for both of them, with defenceman Tanja racking up six goals and 30 points last season, and forward Nicola? Just a league-leading 19 goals and 42 points in 24 games.

Germany’s going to need those goals if she can provide them. They are always light on finishing, putting far too much pressure on their goaltending. They were the second-lowest scoring team in 2019, and need that number to creep up to avoid being replaced by China in Beijing.

Denmark – Rank:11

This is Denmark’s breakthrough tournament – the first time playing at the top level of international hockey. They spent the first decade of the 2000s bouncing back and forth between Divisions I and II. Ironically, the IIHF changed the divisions, creating IA and IB pools just in time for Denmark to leave that third tier for good. After years in the fourth spot in what is now IA, they finally cracked the ceiling. Now the challenge is to stay.

Player to Watch

Fortunately, they have a legend on their side. The 30-year old Josephine Jakobsen has been waiting for this moment her entire professional life. She moved to Sweden at 17 to join Segeltorp IF and finished the season as the league’s fifth-highest scorer. Jakobsen was fifth again the next year and took the league lead the year after that. She eventually took her talents to the University of North Dakota for four years before digging right back into the Swedish Women’s League.

Her scoring isn’t at the heights it once was, honing an excellent all-around game in the WCHA. It’s not like she’s given it up entirely, though, with 73 goals and 165 points in 182 regular-season games since her return. She is the unquestioned captain of this team, and they’ll go as far as she can take them.

Hungary – Rank: 12

Possibly the most important game of the tournament in Group B will be the first match of Day Two. Hungary meets Germany then, and both teams know they have razor-thin margins to work with. Hungary was the host for the 2019 tournament that boosted them into the top division. Unlike the Germans, Hungary has yet to play in the Olympics. They are a core nation in the EWHL – European Women’s Hockey League. The current version has nine teams from six different nations, giving smaller countries where women’s hockey might be less popular a chance to play against good competition.

Player to Watch

Going to cheat a little here for the last selection and go with Alex Gowie. Not the most stereotypically Hungarian name because she was born in South Africa. So how did she get into hockey? By being raised in Port Coquitlam, BC, naturally. She went from there to the Okanagan Hockey Academy then to Alberta, joining the University of Calgary Dinos. She won the Canadian Interuniversity Sport (now U Sports) championship there and got invited by a teammate to play in Hungary.

Then it got wild.

Gowie played in Hungary with KMH Budapest for a couple of years, gaining citizenship and joining their Olympic Qualifying team in 2017. She also played in Slovakia for HC Spisska Nová Ves; then off to Italy (and switching to defence) with EV Bozen Eagles. Continuing to play international matches for Hungary, she went back to Alberta – UofA this time – to finish her degree. Oh, and play two seasons there before going back to Hungary to join the OTHER European Women’s Hockey League team, MAC Budapest.

And now she’s back in Calgary, playing for Hungary once more. And after a story like that, how can you NOT watch?

Dissecting Sweden’s downward spiral in women’s hockey

By Meaghen Johnson – TSN

When the 2021 IIHF Women’s World Championship begins on Aug. 20 in Calgary, there will be a noticeable absentee.

For the first time in the history of the women’s worlds, Sweden will not be participating in the top division. The team was relegated after finishing ninth in the 2019 world championship.

It’s been a remarkable downward spiral for a country that has consistently iced one of the top-four women’s teams in the world. Sweden was the first country not named Canada or the United States to play in the final of an international women’s hockey tournament when they earned silver at the 2006 Olympics. They also earned two bronze medals at the women’s worlds in 2005 and 2007.

So, what happened to the national team that upset the Americans in the semifinals of the Turin Games? Let’s take a closer look at what led to Sweden’s relegation.

START OF DECLINE

After picking up a medal in three straight major tournaments from 2005 to 2007, including the aforementioned Olympic silver, Sweden’s downturn began at the 2008 women’s worlds. The team lost 4-3 to Switzerland in the qualifying round, eliminating them from medal contention and earning them a fifth-place finish.

After bouncing back to play in the bronze-medal match in 2009, losing 4-1 to Finland, Sweden followed that up with two more fifth-place finishes in 2011 and 2012. The Swedes regressed further in 2013, finishing last in their group in the preliminary round after failing to win a game. They would win the best-of-three series against the Czech Republic to avoid relegation, but still finished seventh, the country’s worst result since 2001.

There was more disappointment on the Olympics stage, where Sweden ended up with back-to-back fourth-place finishes in 2010 and 2014.  In the preliminary round of the Vancouver Games, the Swedes were demolished by Canada 13-1 and were outshot 52-13. They followed that up with a 9-1 loss to the Americans in the semifinal.

At the Four Nations Cup, Sweden has not won a preliminary round game since defeating Finland 2-1 in the 2009 tournament.

LEIF BOORK ERA

Sweden’s downward spiral was aggravated during the Leif Boork era, who was head coach from 2015 to 2018. Boork had little experience in the women’s game, spending one season as an assistant with the team before being named head coach. He had success as a coach in men’s hockey in the 1980s, winning a championship in the Swedish Hockey League in 1983.

At the 2015 IIHF Women’s World Championship, which was held in Malmö, Sweden, the team ended up with another fifth-place finish after falling to Russia 2-1 in the quarter-finals. It was déjà vu in 2016, when Sweden once again lost to the Russians in the quarters, this time by a score of 4-1.

After the 2016 tournament, the fifth straight women’s worlds where Sweden failed to reach the semifinals, several players joined forces and asked to meet with the Swedish Ice Hockey Association (SIF) to convey their dissatisfaction with the direction of the team. SIF refused to meet with the players, asking them to submit their grievances in writing.

The players sent a letter petitioning for Boork’s removal, citing issues with training, tactics, and player treatment, including rules about how players should dress.

In the documentary film Underdogs, the specific contents of the letter were revealed, and the players wrote, in part, “There is a lack of an ounce of human value to be at national team camp.” But according to Swedish newspaper Sportbladet, SIF did not offer any substantial feedback.

In the summer of 2016, veteran defenceman Emma Eliasson, who was rumoured to be one of the driving forces behind the letter, was kicked off the team by Boork. Eliasson, who was 28 at the time, had been on the national team since she was 14, played in more than 200 matches for Sweden, helped lead her country to silver at the 2006 Olympics, and had just been named Swedish Player of the Year.

Boork told Sportbladet, “I think that too much has been compromised and that the leadership has been too weak.”

Eliasson would later tell Radiosporten that following the petition, she was summoned to a meeting with Boork, who asked her if she truly stood behind the contents of the letter, to which she said yes.

Roughly a month later, captain Jenni Asserholt abruptly retired at age 28. She would later tell the Swedish media that Boork had bullied her about her weight.

“It became a number on a scale. That’s what it’s about. He was pretty hard on me that you need to fix this. Somewhere I started to lose the desire to try to get back to the national team,” Asserholt told Radiosporten.

Despite the players’ unrest, SIF president Anders Larsson reiterated that the federation had “full confidence” in Boork, telling Sportbladet that the players’ letter had been “handled.”

In early 2017, a Swedish newspaper, Norrländska Socialdemokraten, reported that Sweden’s men’s national team could earn a bonus of several million kronor for advancing to the finals of the world championship, while the women would receive nothing if they had the same success.

ROAD TO RELEGATION

The unrest off the ice continued to spill onto it. In the 2016-17 season, Sweden won just four international games, the team’s worst record since 2002. The squad finished sixth at the 2017 world championship, losing 4-0 to Finland in the quarter-final and then falling to Russia in a shootout in the fifth-place game.

Following the tournament, Boork took to Twitter and shifted the blame to the players, writing, in part: “One of the problems of Swedish women’s hockey is that they previously compromised with so-called star players.”

At the end of 2017, SIF announced that it would not be renewing Boork’s contract after the 2018 Olympics, but the damage had been done. Sweden finished seventh at the PyeongChang Games, a record low for the team. The Swedes were dismantled by Finland in a 7-2 loss in the quarter-finals, and then fell 2-1 in overtime to Japan in their 5th-8th place semifinals game.

That summer, the Swedish Olympic Committee announced that it was cutting all funding from the women’s national team.

Ylva Martinsen, a former player and an alternate captain on the silver medal-winning team in 2006, was named the new head coach. But even though the team was free of Boork, things would get worse for Sweden.

The team was given just five days of preparation before the 2019 world championship. The Swedes lost their first two games to Germany and the Czech Republic. After a come-from-behind win against France, Sweden needed to beat Japan to avoid relegation.

With the game tied 2-2, Ayaka Toko scored with 1:15 left in regulation to give Japan the win and seal Sweden’s fate: for the first time, they would be demoted from the top division.

TEAM STRIKE

Relegation proved to be the final straw for the Swedish team. In August 2019, all 43 players who were selected for camp announced they would be boycotting the upcoming team activities, including that month’s Five Nations tournament.

The players and their union, the Swedish Ice Hockey Players Central Organization (SICO), which they had joined in 2018, published a list of grievances, including:

·       SIF’s withdrawal of all financial compensation for the women’s team
·       lack of insurance for players
·       limited ice time and poor travel conditions
·       not being provided with uniforms and equipment made for women; instead, SIF supplied the team with the same equipment given to Sweden’s junior boys’ teams
·       being provided supplements and nutritional products that were several months past their “best before” date

SIF said it was “surprised” by the players’ decision and added that compensation and insurance should be covered by an agreement with professional clubs in the country, which is the case for the men’s game.

Several big names in women’s hockey publicly supported the Swedish players, including Americans Jocelyne and Monique Lamoreux, who tweeted: “Proud of Team Sweden and what this will mean for their program and the next generation of young girls in Europe!”

Former player Eliasson also supported the boycott, telling Sportbladet, “It feels like there will be a lot of good from it.”

SIF responded by cancelling the 2019 Four Nations Cup, saying it could not guarantee Sweden’s participation. Klara Stenberg, who represented the players, told TheHockeyNews.com that the federation didn’t talk to the players before making its decision.

“The players did not tell the federation they won’t play. They just said they can’t give the federation an answer [right away], but the federation made the decision all by itself to cancel the tournament,” she said.

In October 2019, the players and SIF announced they had reached a deal, which included compensation for national team duties, bonuses for medals in international tournaments, and an additional bonus if the team rejoins the top division at the women’s worlds.

Forward Fanny Rask, who has since retired, said in a release, “For us players, we have always said that there is nothing greater than playing for our national team. It feels like we have taken important steps in the discussions and that we have now been given better conditions for playing [for Sweden].”

Last year, SICO announced the first-ever collective bargaining agreement between the players and the Swedish Women’s Hockey League (SDHL), which includes insurance to cover injuries sustained in either the SDHL or international play.

Unfortunately, Sweden will have to wait another year to work its way back into the top division for the women’s worlds, with the Division 1 tournament being cancelled the past two years due to COVID-19.

Denmark’s “strongest team ever” optimistic about qualifying for ice hockey tournament at Beijing

Source: Xinhua

Denmark will field its “one of the strongest national teams ever” to an important Beijing Winter Olympics 2022 qualifying tournament taking place in Norway at the end of August,

Five Danes playing in the National Hockey League (NHL) have joined Denmark’s squad Oliver Bjorkstrand, Joachim Blichfeld, Nikolaj Ehlers, Frans Nielsen & Alexander True. On paper makes it one of the strongest national teams ever,” said Ishockeylandsholdene in a press release.

The tournament in Norway sees Denmark face the national teams of Norway, South Korea and Slovenia with the eventual winner being automatically granted a berth at the Winter Olympics being held in Beijing in February 2022.

“Of course, our ambition and mission is to win the tournament in Norway, but we also go to the task in the awareness that we must be humble and not believe that things happen by themselves. On paper, we have a really strong squad and the art is of course to shape the squad for a strong team,” said national team coach Heinz Ehlers.

Denmark made its debut at the Winter Olympic Games in St. Moritz, Switzerland in 1948

However, Denmark has been the least successful medalist of the Scandinavian nations having only ever won one medal when the women’s curling team won silver at the 1998 Nagano Winter Olympic Games.

Russian mission to hone China’s hockey talents

Chinese ice hockey players attend a welcome ceremony in Moscow, Russia, on Aug 7, 2021

By Sun Xiaochen – China Daily

In six months’ time, China’s national ice hockey teams will face the ultimate test against the sport’s heavyweights. But before the puck drops at Beijing 2022, an overseas training program in Russia will help toughen them up for the intimidating challenge that awaits.

With China still but a blip on hockey’s landscape, the host’s 32nd-ranked men’s and 19th-ranked women’s squads face a daunting task on home ice at the Winter Olympics-even if no NHL players are allowed to play at the Games.

China’s winter sports governing body, therefore, hopes the five-month training program in Russia can help deliver significant improvements before then.

The men’s squad will be comprised of players from the Kunlun Red Star club, which will compete in about 50 games in the Russia-based Kontinental Hockey League. The women’s team will play about 40 games in the Russian Women’s Hockey League. Both teams will also take on European national squads in December.

After missing out on international action for over a year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the intensive training and bonding from their Russian adventure will ensure the teams are both physically and mentally ready for Beijing 2022, according to the National Winter Sports Administrative Center.

“The scale of players involved, the length of their overseas stay and the level of competition that awaits have never been experienced before in the history of winter sports development in China,” Ni Huizhong, director of the center, said during a mobilization meeting before the teams departed last week.

“This is a major project in our preparation for the home Winter Olympics. I hope the players can make every day count in Russia to raise their level gradually and be ready to show the world their confidence, progress and team spirit next year in Beijing.”

China’s men’s hockey team has never qualified for the Olympics, but in May 2018 the International Ice Hockey Federation approved automatic berths for the host for Beijing 2022.

A much more competitive force on the global stage, China’s women’s team reached the semifinals at the 1998 Winter Olympics in Nagano, Japan. However, it has failed to qualify for the past two Games, at Sochi 2014 and Pyeongchang 2018, due to stagnant player development.

Even so, the governing body wants the women’s team to target a medal, or at least another semifinal run, at the home Games.

“I think anything can happen in women’s hockey, where the gaps between teams are not as big as on the men’s side,” said Yu Baiwei, the Team China captain who competed at the women’s squad’s last Olympic Games, in 2010.

“Our focus will be quarter after quarter and game after game. Our goal is to execute every 30 seconds as best we can and try to limit our mistakes, and then we will see where we can go from there,” said the 33-year-old forward.

Tough task

Drawn in Group A alongside world No 1 Canada, superpower the United States and fifth-ranked Germany at the 12-team tournament, the Chinese men’s squad has vowed to show it won’t be a mere punching bag for its three opponents.

“We have to be realistic. For me, the main objective is to gain the world’s respect. That’s a lot,” said Ivan Zanatta, the newly appointed head coach of the men’s team.

Zanatta, a former Italian national team manager and ex-coach of KHL club St. Petersburg SKA, said the Russian league is an ideal platform for his Chinese players to raise their game.

“It’s a huge challenge for China, but it’s a good challenge,” said the 61-year-old.

“I think it’s a great way to progress and step up the level so when we get to the Olympics, it’s not like a shock.

“We will be challenged every night. So the boys mentally and physically are going to be ready for the step to the Olympics … This is the best championship we could possibly play in outside of the NHL.I think we couldn’t ask for anything more as far as where you want to prepare.”

With games coming every two or three nights in the KHL, Zanatta will have to build chemistry between China’s homegrown talents and a group of about 20 North American-born players with Chinese heritage.

In 2017, the Chinese Ice Hockey Association (CIHA) launched a talent recruitment drive, aiming to draft foreign-born players of Chinese descent to bolster the Olympic program.

Built in China or not, Zanatta is confident all will be fighting as one solid unit when the Games open on Feb 4.

“There’s no special formula, we definitely have to come together and we will,” said Zanatta, who has three sons all playing hockey professionally.

“I will coach them like they are my kids. So I kick him in the ass and pat them on the back. They get both. Stronger than a team, I want to gel them as a family.

“If we’re going to accomplish anything, it will be because of the strength of the wolf pack. Otherwise, it doesn’t work.”

Bach Nielsen announces top five priorities as part of IIHF Presidency bid

By Patrick Burke – Inside The Games

Henrik Bach Nielsen has advanced his election bid for the International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) Presidency, releasing his top five priorities for his first year should he be successful.

The current President of the Danish Ice Hockey Union since 2007 and IIHF Council member since 2012 released his ‘1st Line’, and is hoping for the sport to expand globally and grow in more countries.

The first of his top priorities is to focus on regional development in Asia and the Balkans through committees, with a view to adopting a similar approach elsewhere in the future.

Bach Nielsen also aims to increase revenue streams with an added digital emphasis to increase prize money for the IIHF’s biggest events, and enable the six leading nations in Canada, Czech Republic, Finland, Russia, Sweden and the United States to serve as ‘super mentors’, supported by the IIHF, to assist the development of other member national associations (MNA).

He also hopes to increase investment in women’s ice hockey and female representation in leadership roles, and invest in new technologies and partnerships to reduce the sport’s energy consumption.

The Presidential candidate said of his 1st Line: “I see the opportunity to make international ice hockey truly global and I have an ambitious plan to get us there.

“With innovative ideas, fresh energy, and new leadership, we will take the IIHF beyond what we ever believed possible.”

The Dane has been endorsed by Hans Natorp, the President of the Danish National Olympic Committee, Nikolaj Ehlers, a player of the Winnipeg Jets, and the women’s national team captain Josefine Jakobsen.

Denmark hosted the men’s Ice Hockey World Championship for the first time in 2018, and will do so again jointly with Sweden in 2025.

Bach Nielsen is standing against Belarus’ Sergej Gontcharov, the Czech Republic’s Petr Briza, France’s Luc Tardif and German Ice Hockey Federation President Franz Reindl.

All five candidates are currently members of the IIHF Council.

Incumbent President René Fasel, who was first elected in 1994 and is also a member of the International Olympic Committee (IOC), is not standing for re-election this September – a year later than originally planned because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Elections are set to take place at the IIHF Semi-Annual Congress on September 25 in the Russian city of Saint Petersburg.

Other positions on the 14-member IIHF Council are up for election as well, including the senior vice-president and three regional vice-president roles.

Bach Nielsen is also standing for senior vice-president and regional vice-president for Europe and Africa.

The Congress will also elect two auditors, the Disciplinary Board, Appeal Board and Ethics Board.

Japan aiming high

Sena Suzuki and her Japanese teammates want to improve from their 8th-place finish at the last Women’s Worlds after a quarter-final loss against the United States

By Jim Armstrong – IIHF.com

Japan’s women’s ice hockey team is setting the bar high as they prepare for a busy schedule ahead that includes the 2021 IIHF Ice Hockey Women’s World Championship later this month and the Beijing Olympics half a year later in February 2022.

Women’s ice hockey in Japan has made several big strides in recent years and the goal is to keep the momentum going heading into an Olympic year.

Japan made history last January when their women’s team beat defending champion Sweden 4-1 in the final of the 2020 Youth Olympic Games to become the first team from Asia to win a gold medal in an Olympic ice hockey competition.

Just over a year ago, Japan’s women’s team qualified automatically for the 2022 Olympic Winter Games not far from home in neighbouring China by virtue of being ranked sixth in the world.

Now, they’re moving on to the next challenge with the ambitious goal of a top-four finish at the Women’s Worlds in Calgary, Canada.

“In order to contend for a medal in Beijing our goal is to finish in the top four,” Japan coach and former Oji Eagles forward Yuji Iizuka said.

To help them with that goal, the team held three camps in summer in Hachinohe and Tomakomai and a fourth one started on Sunday in Kushiro. In spring among other things, they also played against a male high school team.

“The team wanted an atmosphere that resembles an actual game,” said defender Aoi Shiga, who played for Japan at the 2018 PyeongChang Olympics. “If you are going to compete on the international level you need that intensity to win the one-on-one battles.”

The Beijing women’s tournament has been expanded from eight to ten teams with the world’s top-six teams and host China all earning automatic berths. The remaining three teams will be decided through qualifiers in the upcoming months.

Japan earned berths in the last two Olympics through the qualification tournaments.

They finished last in Group B in Sochi after preliminary-round losses to Sweden, Russia and Germany.

Four years later in PyeongChang, Japan beat host Korea 4-1 after losses to Sweden and Switzerland and then beat Sweden in the placement games to reach sixth place.

Following the wins over Sweden in PyeongChang 2018 and at the Youth Olympic Games in Lausanne 2020 there is a greater sense of optimism that all the hard work is starting to pay off.

While Japan is far from being an ice hockey powerhouse, there is renewed interest in the game with some of their players making strides overseas.

The women’s team has been steadily improving over the years. The Japan Ice Hockey Federation brought in two-time Canadian Olympic gold medalist Carla MacLeod as an assistant coach in 2012 and the team qualified for the Sochi Olympics one year later.

MacLeod is no longer with the team but keeps close tabs on Japan’s women’s hockey and sent a congratulatory note via Twitter when the team won the 2020 Youth Olympics gold.

Japan will go with a largely veteran squad at the upcoming Women’s World Championship. One player they will be counting highly on to help them achieve their goals in Canada is veteran Hanae Kubo.

The 38-year-old forward has played for the national team since 2000 while scoring a total of 37 goals. “I’m looking forward to taking a pass from one of our younger players and scoring,” Kubo said after the recent training camp.

Another veteran to make the squad is goaltender Nana Fujimoto, who won the best goaltender award at the 2015 Women’s Worlds and later that year played in the inaugural season of the National Women’s Hockey League.

The 2021 IIHF Ice Hockey Women’s World Championship is set for 20-31 August in Calgary, Canada. The tournament was rescheduled and relocated after the government of Nova Scotia had cancelled the Women’s Worlds originally planned for spring in Halifax and Truro at short notice with the Japanese team already on the way to the airport.

Japan is in Group B with the Czech Republic, Germany, Denmark and Hungary.
They open the tournament on 21 August against Denmark, then play the Czechs on 23 August followed by Hungary on 24 August and Germany on 26 August.

Japan’s best finish at a Women’s World Championship so far is seventh place (2015, 2008).

Iizuka says the expectations will be higher now that Japan has qualified for the Olympics due to its place in the world ranking.

“Compared to Sochi and PyeongChang, the bar has been set higher,” Iizuka said. “The team qualified (for Beijing) not through qualifying but due to our place in the world rankings. We want to raise the level of our game to meet the challenges.”

Finns shine at Summer Showcase

Finland’s Aatu Raty, who had three points at the 2020 World Juniors but wasn’t selected to play in 2021, topped the points parade at the latest World Junior Summer Showcase

By Lucas Aykroyd – IIHF.com

Boom! Finland’s Aatu Raty answered his critics by leading the World Junior Summer Showcase in Plymouth, Michigan with 14 points in six games.

The renaissance of the 18-year-old Karpat Oulu centre was a major storyline at the tournament at USA Hockey Arena, which featured U.S. White and Blue squads battling Finland and Sweden’s top U20 prospects (24 to 31 July). The Finns dominated under coach Antti Pennanen, winning five of their six games with a 26-19 goal difference.

Raty was once deemed a top contender to become the #1 overall pick in the 2022 NHL Draft, an honour that instead went to defenceman Owen Power (Buffalo Sabres). Raty fell to the second round, where the New York Islanders took him 52nd overall. The 185-cm, 82-kg talent, who had two goals and an assist as a 17-year-old World Junior debutant in 2020, failed to make the 2021 team altogether.

Raty’s dazzling hands and anticipation also benefited 19-year-old linemate Roni Hirvonen, who wore the “C” for Finland. Hirvonen, who chipped in six points when the Finns claimed the bronze medal in 2021, ran wild in Plymouth with eight goals – including two hat tricks – and two assists to finish second in Summer Showcase scoring. And Topi Niemela led all blueliners with six points and had a tournament-best +10 plus-minus rating.

Finland came into this event nicely warmed up after going undefeated in an exhibition series against the Czech Republic and Switzerland at Vierumaki (17 to 21 July).

Although a stacked USA Blue squad fell 4-2 to the Finns in the Summer Showcase finale on 31 July, there was plenty of reason for optimism for the host nation, which captured its fifth World Junior gold medal of all time in Edmonton back in January.

The Americans used 44 players on their split squads, whereas Finland and Sweden had between 26 and 28 players apiece. Returning U.S. head coach Nate Leaman has some interesting decisions to make between now and the 2022 World Juniors.

“Both the Finns and Swedes are really good teams,” Leaman told USAHockey.com. “We’re getting hard competition, really good evaluations of our guys to see how they’re going to stack up against the best competition.”

Leaman will likely get to ice five 2021 returnees: Brett Berard, Brock Faber, Tyler Kleven, Jake Sanderson and Landon Slaggert.

Sanderson, picked fifth overall by the Ottawa Senators in 2020, is expected to provide leadership and play big minutes as an all-around 19-year-old defenceman. Partnering with Luke Hughes, New Jersey’s #4 overall pick this year, Sanderson delivered four points at the Summer Showcase and generally performed well against the Finns. He’s a no-brainer.

Yet some U.S. newcomers could also be impactful.

Thomas Bordeleau was unfortunately ruled ineligible to play at the 2021 World Juniors due to COVID-19 exposure protocols. The Houston-born, Bern-trained centre from the University of Michigan led all Americans with seven points in four Summer Showcase games (2+5=7).

While a knee surgery and illness denied National Team Development Program sniper Chaz Lucius a chance to strut his stuff at the U18 Worlds in Texas in April, he contributed a pair of goals in three games in Plymouth. He’s an intriguing name to watch.

Leaman also singled out forward Matthiew Knies as a pleasant surprise. The University of Minnesota forward, drafted in the second round by the Toronto Maple Leafs (57th overall), showed good hustle and offensive savvy in his three Summer Showcase games (2+3=5).

Meanwhile, Sweden is still working out the kinks. The Juniorkronorna ended on a good note with a 7-1 romp over USA White, but had lost five straight games before that.

Coach Tomas Monten is aiming to author a comeback story in 2022 after he – along with multiple Swedish U20 players and fellow staff members – missed the 2021 tournament due to testing positive for COVID-19. Yet there’s clearly plenty of work to be done in terms of team-building over the next five months. Sweden is looking for just its third World Junior title of all time (1981, 2012).

One bright spot was the performance of Zion Nybeck. The 19-year-old HV71 forward, who helped Sweden capture its first U18 Worlds title ever in Ornskoldsvik in 2019, paced his Summer Showcase squad with three goals and two assists in five games. Nybeck was limited to one assist in five games in his 2021 World Junior debut.

Canada, naturally, was not idle, despite not taking part in this event due to COVID-19 restrictions. The 18-time World Junior champions – who settled for silver on home ice last year after winning gold in the Czech Republic in 2021 – invited 51 players to their own internal Summer Showcase in Calgary.

In the opening intrasquad game on 31 July, Cole Perfetti’s second-period power-play goal was the difference as Team Red beat Team White 4-2.

Perfetti, a top Winnipeg Jets prospect, was part of Canada’s silver-medal World Junior team. The nifty 19-year-old forward also scored two goals in the improbable 2021 IIHF World Championship run that saw the Canadian men rally to win gold in Latvia after dropping their first three games for the first time in tournament history. Canadian World Junior fans would love to see Perfetti driving the offence on home ice in 2022.

The 2022 IIHF World Junior Championship will take place in Edmonton and Red Deer, Alberta (26 December 2021 to 5 January 2022).