Month: November 2021 (Page 1 of 2)

The traditional Catalonia-Basque ice hockey returns this Christmas

Four years after the last edition, the two powers of state ice hockey will meet again on December 28, 2021 on the ice rink of Puigcerdà

Source: Catalan Federation of Winter Sports

In a further sign of a return to normalcy prior to the pandemic, on the 28th of December the Puigcerdà ice rink will host a new clash between the Catalan and Basque ice hockey teams. A duel with a certain tradition behind it that had not taken place for four years The last edtion was in 2017, also in Puigcerdà, with a Catalan victory. 

With the organization of the Catalan Federation of Winter Sports (FCEH) and the support of local institutions and entities, the Christmas festivities will once again feature a two games between two friendly teams and with strong social and sporting roots in the state ice hockey.

And it is expected that many of the players who make up the staff of the men’s and women’s teams are from  CG Puigcerdà  and  FC Barcelona , in the case of Catalonia, and  CHH Txuri-Urdin , in the Basque Country.

Catalunya – Euskadi  Femení     14:00h

Catalunya – Euskadi   Masculí     20:00h 

Action from 2017 Catalonia and Basque Country

Both teams have a significant weight in Spanish ice hockey, where CG Puigcerdà, FC Barcelona and CHH Txuri-Urdin have dominated the state competitions in recent years. The League is a clear example of this, as you have to travel back to 2015-2016 season to find a champion who is not Catalan or Basque.

Chinese hockey team loses another game in test for Olympics

Kunlun Red Star’s Parker Foo, left, and Avangard’s Arseny Gritsyuk battle for the puck during the Kontinental Hockey League ice hockey match between Kunlun Red Star Beijing and Avangard Omsk in Mytishchi, outside Moscow, Russia, Wednesday, Nov. 17, 2021.

BY ASSOCIATED PRESS

The players hoping to make China’s men’s hockey team for next year’s Beijing Olympics lost a second trial game against a Russian club on Wednesday as uncertainty builds over whether they will be allowed to play at the Winter Games.

International Ice Hockey Federation officials observed Kunlun Red Star’s 4-1 loss to Avangard Omsk in the Kontinental Hockey League. The Chinese team’s 5-4 overtime loss to Amur Khabarovsk in another KHL game two days earlier was also used to assess the competitive strength of the team. Kunlun has a 7-22 record in the Russia-based league.

Kunlun coach Ivano Zanatta said the games were evidence his team meets the Olympic standard.

“Definitely not second to a Norway or a Denmark or Latvia. We’re equal to those countries,” Zanatta said. “Today and the last game they proved they have the character and the ability and they have the right to participate in their own Olympics.”

Denmark and Latvia qualified for Beijing. Norway is the highest-ranked unqualified team — and a possible replacement if China doesn’t play.

China is using Kunlun as a proxy for the national team. Most of the roster consists of North American-born players who league records list as having taken Chinese nationality. More players could be naturalized in time for the Olympics.

Avangard had 35 shots on goal while Kunlun had 14, but the score was only 2-1 with four minutes remaining. Former Detroit Red Wings defenseman Jake Chelios — son of NHL great Chris Chelios — scored Kunlun’s only goal.

China has never previously competed in a men’s Olympic hockey tournament. It most recently played in the fourth-highest division of the IIHF world championships in 2019, before it naturalized foreign-born players.

Zanatta said the club was building team spirit between its foreign-born players — many of whom have Chinese heritage — and the players born and raised in China who are on the roster and practice squad.

“There’s a great union made, I would have to say, through the months here, and there’s a great group of guys, there’s a great mix. And there’s been a lot of sharing of Chinese culture,” Zanatta said.

The IIHF has acknowledged concerns about China’s competitiveness but president Luc Tardif said this month the federation would not remove the team from the Olympics. Tardif appeared to change his stance Tuesday, telling reporters in Canada that the IIHF and International Olympic Committee would decide next week whether China could play and that Norway’s team could step in as a replacement.

It’s unclear how many foreign-born players could represent China. The IIHF has refused to say which Kunlun players are eligible — Chelios, for example, is listed as a U.S. player in KHL records — and Tardif has said the IIHF needs to confirm player eligibility.

Zanatta, who has experience at the Olympics as a Canada-born player for Italy, has said his players will struggle to keep the score down in Beijing.

“For me, it’s pretty easy, having lived the experience of the heritage player with the Italian national team. We basically circled the wagons and we held solid defense and that has to be the attitude,” Zanatta said Monday. “Let’s face it, we’re playing Canada, USA. We’re not looking at anything other than, you know, you’ve got to be able to compete, stay with them.”

More AP Olympics: https://apnews.com/hub/olympic-games and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports

Russia perfect in Angelholm

Danila Yurov was among the key players for Russia in its tournament in in Sweden in what was the last big test for the teams before departing to the World Juniors in December

By Risto Pakarinen – IIHF.com

Russia came, they saw and they conquered, winning all three games in the under-20 Four Nations tournament in Angelholm, Sweden. The tournament is an important part of the four teams’ preparation for the 2022 IIHF World Junior Championship in Edmonton and Red Deer, Canada in December. 

What makes the feat even more impressive is the fact that Russia had age-eligible players in the Karjala tournament with the men’s team, including the 16-year-old phenom Matvei Michkov. 

The Russian team still had enough firepower, scoring 16 goals in the three games. 

Head coach Vladimir Filatov, who will be an assistant on the World Juniors team, was happy with his team’s play, and even opened the door to Edmonton for some.

“Yes, we have a lot of players in Helsinki at the same time, but these guys are candidates to make the World Juniors team as well as players in Canadian junior leagues,” he said. 

“Coaches don’t usually like to name names publicly, but Alexander Pashin has scored in every game and deserves to be named,” Filatov said of the diminutive forward who led the tournament in scoring with four goals and six points in three games.

Finland finished second, having lost their opening game to Russia.     

For the hosts, more important than their third-place finish was the fact that they’re finding their groove at the right time. 

“We’ve taken a major step since the July-August games when we didn’t play very well and were rather pedestrian. Over here we showed that we can put up a fight [against these teams],” said Sweden’s head coach Tomas Monten. 

The offence is still lacking that one high-quality scorer, and unfortunately for Monten and Sweden, the players that would bring scoring to the team, such as Lucas Raymond and Alexander Holtz, are playing in North America, and especially in the case of Raymond, so well in the NHL that he probably won’t be available in December. On the other hand, Monten does have William Eklund in reserve as the 19-year-old forward just returned to Sweden from the San Jose Sharks. 

“We have good goalies, defence is solid, but unfortunately, we don’t have many forwards who stand out in the SHL, or that would, for example, get to play a lot of minutes on power play,” he said. 

However, Monten did have the tournament’s best defenceman, Simon Edvinsson, who was a majestic presence on the Swedish blueline. He recorded two assists in the two games he played. The 18-year-old was recovering from an illness and hadn’t practised the week before so he was given some rest after the first two games. 

The Czechs had a weak outing, finishing fourth, and having scored just five goals. Their leading scorer was defenceman Jakub Sedivy who collected two assists, tied for 18th in the tournament scoring.

Germany wins in Lillehammer

For World Juniors teams were involved in the Four Nations tournament in Lillehammer where Germany got the most out of it. After starting with a 5-4 shootout loss to Slovakia, the Germany rebounded and beat both host Norway (4-2) and Switzerland (5-2) to claim first place. The 5-2 win in the neighbouring clash against Switzerland was a winner-takes-it-all game as the Swiss had previously beaten Norway (6-3) and Slovakia (5-3). Norway finished in third place after a 5-3 victory against Slovakia.

Goaltender Niklas Lunemann shone with a tournament-leading 92.7% save percentage while Maksymilian Szuber, Joshua, Samanski and Florian Elias were among the scoring leaders only behind Switzerland’s Simon Knak, who impressed with five goals and seven points in three games.

Belarus finished another tournament in neighbouring Latvia in first place ahead of Austria, the only top-division team in the tournament, while France succeeded in a four-team tournament in Italy.

Sweden wins Karjala Tournament

Swedish forward Anton Lander got the opening goal in the decisive game and scored a couple against Russia

By Andy Potts – IIHF.com

Sweden took the honours in the first stage of this season’s Euro Hockey Tour, defeating Finland in Sunday’s decisive game at the Karjala Tournament in Helsinki. The Tre Kronor enjoyed a perfect weekend at the start of the international campaign, beginning with a 4-1 win over the Czechs in Linkoping before heading to the Finnish capital to beat Russia 4-2 and Finland 3-1.

The game against neighbouring Finland was a winner-take-all clash, with both teams victorious in their opening games. However, Sweden always held a slight advantage and converted that into an opening goal from Anton Lander late in the first period. The middle frame brought two more goals for the visitor, with Jesper Olofsson and Henrik Tommernes on target before Heikki Liedes potted a consolation effort for Suomi in the third.

Earlier on Sunday, Russia defeated the Czech Republic 5-2 to take third place. Once again, the Russians played a youthful roster – 25-year-olds Alexander Yelesin and Danil Vovchenko were the elder statesmen on the team – but unlike last season the Red Machine found it tough against more experienced European opposition.

Sweden’s roster was uncharacteristically light on KHL players this time, with Johann Garpenlov choosing to take a look at his Swiss-based players. The likes of Lander, Tommernes, Olofsson, Niklas Hansson, Mathias Brome and Carl Klingberg all featured in the Karjala Tournament but will be unavailable for December’s Channel 1 Cup due to club commitments. That could open the door for several KHLers to take part in the tournament in Moscow.

That tournament will also feature a Canadian line-up. Russian Hockey Federation vice-president Roman Rotenberg confirmed that Hockey Canada had asked to take part, explaining that Canada wanted to prepare a team of European-based players in case the Covid-19 situation makes it impossible for NHLers to go to the Olympics in February.

Michkov makes an instant impact

While Sweden took the honours in Helsinki, Russia’s 16-year-old star Matvei Michkov wrote plenty of headlines. The SKA St. Petersburg prospect became the youngest ever player to represent Russia or the USSR, making his debut in Thursday’s game against Finland at the tender age of 16 years, 11 months and two days. That smashed the record set by Alexander Ovechkin in 2003 as the youngest skater on a Russian team, and the all-time Russian and Soviet record held by legendary goalie Vladislav Tretyak since 1968. Ovechkin and Tretyak were the only players to represent the Red Machine at the age of 17; Nikita Chibrikov became the third to do so at the weekend.

Meanwhile, Michkov was by no means overawed in that exulted company. In his second appearance, Saturday’s 2-4 loss to Sweden, he became his country’s youngest ever goal scorer – and how! Early in the second period, the teenager collected the puck behind Gustaf Lindvall’s net and executed a lacrosse goal. The following day, Michkov was on the scoresheet again as a youthful Russian team signed off with a 5-2 win over the Czechs to take third place in the competition.

Like any sniper, though, Michkov’s thoughts were as much on the chance he missed as the goal he so spectacularly scored.

“In the first period I should have scored, but the puck didn’t quite drop for me. In the second, when I scored, everything fell into place; the puck dropped onto the crook, I decided to give it a go and it all worked out,” he said after the game. “I don’t even remember when I first learned that trick, but if you keep slaving away at it, you can work these things out.”

Meanwhile, the SKA youngster got rave reviews from his clubmate Lars Johansson, who was understudy to Lindvall for the game against Russia. “Michkov’s goal was unreal,” he told RIA Novosti. “I know how much of a skilled player he is, but I’m still amazed by how quick his hands are, how quickly he reads the situation.

“When I was 16, I was nowhere near that level. Michkov is a unique talent, and I’ve seen how hard he works. I hope he’ll just get better and better.

“He’s scored on me more than once in practice and, believe me, he’s scored some crazy goals there, but I’ve never seen a ‘lacrosse’ goal before. Matvei loves to compete, so it’s always fun to come up against him.”

Germany triumphs in Deutschland Cup

Three wins from three saw the host nation top the standings in Krefeld. This four-team contest came down to a winner-takes-all showdown between Germany and Slovakia on Sunday afternoon and Toni Soderholm’s team came out on top with a 4-1 verdict. Leonhard Pfoderl opened the scoring after 14 seconds, Tobias Rieder led the scoring with two goals and an assist, while Marcel Noebels had two helpers. Dominik Bittner was the other German scorer, while Samuel Bucek got Slovakia’s consolation effort. Switzerland took third place in the group after recovering from 0-2 to post a 3-2 victory over Russia ‘B’. Long-serving captain Andres Ambuhl started the fightback, Sven Andrighetto potted the equalizer and Inti Pestoni grabbed the winning in the final minutes.

Rieder’s game-winning display against Slovakia helped him to the top of the scoring charts with 5 (4+1) points. Noebels’ handful of assists saw him join his colleague on five, while Pfoderl finished with 4 (3+1) from the weekend.

Young Belarusians impress in Slovenia

Slovenia hosted a four-team tournament in Jesenice, inviting Belarus, France and Austria to the competition. For three of the teams, this was a chance to prepare for the World Championship promotion campaign in Division IA in the spring, while for Belarus it was an opportunity to build a team ready for elite pool action in Finland in May.

With that in mind, the Belarusians brought a young roster to the competition and named 20-year-old Ilya Usov as captain. The formula was successful: after edging past Austria in overtime in the opening game, the Belarusians went on to top the standings with wins over Slovenia (3-0) and France (6-3). Austria took second place with OT victories in its other two games, while France’s 3-2 success against the host nation secured third place. Slovenia managed just three goals in three games, giving head coach Matjaz Kopitar plenty to ponder before hosting Division IA in April.

Denmark hosted a three-way affair involving Norway and Latvia, with all three countries agreeing to bring experimental rosters to the games in Esbjerg and Vojens. The host nation enjoyed two victories, beating Latvia 5-1 and Norway 3-1. In the third game, Latvia blanked the Norwegians for a 3-0 win.

Hungary also staged a three-team event involving Italy and Ukraine. The host nation came out on top, winning 4-1 against Italy and 2-1 against Ukraine. The Italians pipped the Ukrainians to second place, winning in a shoot-out against a team depleted by last minute withdrawals on arrival in Budapest.

Estonia hosted the Baltic Challenge Cup that after two wins for both teams ended with a winner-takes-it-all game between Poland and Estonia that the Poles won easily 8-1. Latvia’s B-team finished in third place getting its only win against Lithuania, 6-1.

Chinese Hockey Team Loses 1st Trial Game for Olympics in OT

Kunlun Red Star’s Brandon Yip in action during the Kontinental Hockey League ice hockey match between Kunlun Red Star Beijing and Amur Khabarovsk in Mytishchi, just outside Moscow, Russia, Monday, Nov. 15, 2021. Many of Kunlun Red Star’s players are aiming to represent the Chinese national team at the Olympics in Beijing

THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

Mytishchi, Russia (AP) — The players hoping to represent China in men’s hockey at next year’s Beijing Olympics lost to a Russian club in overtime Monday in a game used by international officials to assess the Chinese team’s competitive strength.

Kunlun Red Star, wearing red shirts with Chinese flag patches on the shoulder, fought back from a four-goal deficit to force overtime before losing to Amur Khabarovsk 5-4 in the Russia-based Kontinental Hockey League.

It was a very strong sign of the upside,” said Kunlun coach Ivano Zanatta, who played for Italy at the 1992 Olympics. “There’s definitely signs of character, resilience and there’s more upside, no question.”

Kunlun has been playing in the KHL as a proxy for the China team and a base for naturalized players who grew up in the United States and Canada. The team has won seven of 28 games in the league this season.

Amur led 4-0 with five minutes to go in the second period in a near-empty arena in the Moscow suburbs before the comeback started.

The International Ice Hockey Federation had officials watching the game, and will monitor another on Wednesday, to “evaluate the status of the team’s preparations” amid concerns the China squad will lose big on the Olympic stage. Defense will be the priority in a preliminary round group also containing the United States, Canada and 2018 silver medalist Germany.

The IIHF has refused to confirm which Kunlun players are eligible for Olympic roster spots, but one of those eyeing Beijing is winger Brandon Yip, who played 174 NHL games over five seasons, mostly for the Colorado Avalanche.

Yip scored Kunlun’s first goal on Monday before former NHL prospect Josh Nicholls, Russian forward Mikhail Abramov and former Detroit Red Wings defenseman Ryan Sproul took the game to overtime, where Czech forward Radan Lenc won the game for Amur.

KHL records list 19 players on the Kunlun roster as having Chinese nationality, and more could be naturalized in time for the Olympics. Time spent playing for Kunlun counts toward the IIHF-mandated two years of residence needed to qualify for international play, even though Kunlun has been based in Russia since early 2020 because of pandemic-related travel restrictions.

China got its spots in the Olympic hockey tournaments as host country and the IIHF has said it will not seek to remove the teams from the competitions.

More AP Winter Olympics: https://apnews.com/hub/winter-olympics and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports

Swedish women return to Olympics

Swedish captain Michelle Lowenhielm celebrates the opening goal

By Martin Merk – IIHF.com

The Swedish women’s national team will be back at a top-level event after a three-year absence and has qualified for the 2022 Olympic Winter Games after beating France 3-2 in a winner-takes-it-all game at the Final Olympic Qualification Group E on home ice in Lulea.

The Swedes built up a 2-0 lead after 24 minutes of play and had more energy to take the win home. Sweden had to go through the Olympic Qualification for the first time and continues its streak of Olympic participation.

For two games both the Swedes and the French were used to be the dominating force in the game but this winner-takes-it-all battle started with two teams at par. Even though the Swedes were favourites on paper, the French also had their chances. Their probably best opportunity for a lead was missed with a two-on-one attack by Chloe Aurard and Clara Rozier midway the first period.

On the other side Lisa Johansson was close when trying to capitalize on a rebound but the puck landed outside the net.

At 12:30 the Damkronorna team made their home crowd in Lulea cheer. After a shot from Maja Nylen Persson, Felizia Wikner Zienkiewicz was looking for the rebound, skated with the puck behind the net and sent it back to Michelle Lowenhielm, who netted the puck into the top-right corner.

Three-and-a-half minutes into the middle frame the Swedes doubled the gap. Olivia Carlsson sent a diagonal pass from behind the net through the crease and Sara Hjalmarsson reacted fastest to extend the Swedish lead to 2-0.

But France was not done yet. After a lengthy battle around the neutral zone Lea Parment sent a pass to Rozier at the blue line who deked Swedish defender Johanna Fallman in the offensive zone and then beat goalie Sara Grahn with a precise shot for the 2-1 score to the happiness of the travelling French fans at the arena.

The Swedes made one further step toward Beijing early in the third period. After Linnea Johansson had won a face-off at 1:58, Jessica Adolfsson sent off a hard shot from the blue that went in deflected by Lina Ljungblom.

The French suffered another kind of setback a minute later. Rozier illegally hit Lisa Johansson, who got her hand hurt and had to visit the medical staff while Rozier got a major penalty for interference. While the Swedes didn’t capitalize on the five-minute power play, they also didn’t allow the French to have a single shot on goal during the first half of the third period.

With 4:17 left in the game and a penalty against Sweden’s Anna Kjellbin just expired, Lea Villiot found the hole through traffic at Sara Grahn’s near goal post to cut the deficit and make it a one-goal game again.

It became hectic last minutes, in which the French hurt their chances with two penalties while Sweden defended the 3-2 lead until the end before celebrating their qualification for the 2022 Olympics and a comeback with the top nations after relegation from the Women’s Worlds in 2019.

Czech women off to Beijing

By Derek O’Brien – IIHF.com

There was a big-game feeling in the air in Chomutov on the final day of qualifying for the women’s ice hockey tournament at the 2022 Winter Olympics, prior to the start of the all-important clash between the Czech Republic and Hungary. Two 2-0 teams that had come close before but had never reached the Olympics, but only one would make history while the other would have to wait another cycle.

But on this day, the Czechs weren’t in the mood for drama and made it clear right from the get-go that this spot was not up for dispute. They scored three times in the first period before cruising to a 5-1 victory, and punched their tickets to Beijing.

“We played extremely smart, extremely composed, we waited for our scoring chances,” said Czech head coach Tomas Pacina. “We played well offensively and scored on our chances, but also extremely well defensively. I’m very proud of the girls, very happy for Czech women and for women in general. Finally, Czech women’s hockey will be represented where it belongs, and that’s at the Olympic games.”

Just 1:24 into the game, Aneta Tejralova, fresh off a five-assist performance against Poland, added another helper to her total when she came out of the corner and found Klara Hymlarova at the far post for the tap-in, sending the already excited Czech crowd into a frenzy.

“I think the first goal really set the tone for the game in our favour,” said defender Sara Cajanova. “We increased our self-confidence, played our system to the fullest and made virtually no mistakes that could cost us the Olympics.”

Talking about the source of the team’s energetic start, captain Alena Mills said: “It comes from the group of girls we have and the coaching staff. We all work for each other, we all get along on the ice and on. We’re always singing, which makes for a fun game and you see the result. We’re a team and we can build on the little things, support each other and give each other energy.”

A Hungarian power play stemmed some of that early momentum but the Czechs soon went back to the attack again, and in the midst of a goalmouth scramble at 12:15, Lenka Serdar got her stick on the puck and whacked it inside the post to make it 2-0.

Hungary needed to stem the tide and had a chance to do something on the power play when Daniela Pejsova was sent off for interference at 13:45. But after Alexandra Huszak won the attacking-zone faceoff, Vendula Pribylova beat everyone to the puck at the point and was off to the races, beating Nemeth with a forehand deke.

“Obviously, we were the underdogs and it was a quick turnaround after playing late last night, so maybe our gas tank wasn’t quite full,” said Hungarian head coach Lisa Haley. “Playing against a team that has as much speed as the Czechs do, it was a mountain we couldn’t quite get to the top of. We couldn’t afford to fall behind like that. We needed to keep the game close into the third period, but that’s probably the best I’ve ever seen the Czechs play and they’re deserving of this.”

Hungary’s best chance of the opening period went to Reka Debasi, who was robbed by the glove of Klara Peslarova from point-blank range with just over five minutes to go.

After holding a 12-7 advantage in shots over the opening 20 minutes, the Czechs were even more dominant in the second with a 14-3 edge. By this time, they didn’t seem as concerned with adding to their lead as they were managing the puck, and didn’t generate a lot of great scoring chances.

They did score one goal in the 28th minute, with defender Samantha Kolowratova joining the rush to make it a 3-on-2, and converting the backhand pass from Noemi Neubauerova.

“We had our ups and downs,” said Hungarian defender Lotti Odnoga. “I think we could have attacked the net more and closed the gaps and stayed closer with them, but it doesn’t do much good to think now about what we could have done better. I think the Czechs just played better than us and it shows in the result.”

Hungary showed some life on a third-period power play but it came to an end when Hayley Williams was called for slashing while digging at a puck under Peslarova’s glove. On the ensuing Czech power play, Denisa Krizova put in a rebound with 4:30 to play.

The only question remaining was whether Peslarova’s shutout would remain, and with 2:01 to play, spoiled it, Huszak forced a puck over the goal line that the Czech goalie quickly pulled out, but video replay confirmed that it did indeed cross the line.

But that did little to dampen the spirits of the 1853 in attendance, as the tense pre-game air was replaced by one of anticipation. They stood for the final minute and as the seconds ran off, the celebration was on throughout the arena.

After the on-ice celebrations were done, the scene shifted to the Czech dressing room, which according to defender Pavlina Horalkova, included: “Singing, dancing, beer, champagne … I hope it never ends. Let’s keep it going! ”

Turning his attention to the Olympics, Pacina said: “We have a little bit of breathing room now as a coaching staff and we have a tough job to do picking the team. Two of our best players aren’t here. We’ll get together in December and we’ll centralize on January 5th, two weeks before we fly to the Olympics.”

Denmark realizes Olympic dream

Denmark’s women’s national team will compete in the Olympics for the first time in history.

By Adam Steiss – IIHF.com

The ladies in red are bound for Beijing! Securing an all-important point in its last game of the Women’s Final Olympic Qualification Group D, Denmark’s women’s national team will compete in the Olympic Games for the first time in history following a 3-2 shootout loss to Germany.

For Danish women’s hockey, never has a loss felt so good.

“Yeah definitely,” said Danish defender Amalie Andersen. “I was pretty much shaking the whole game but just trying to stay calm, breath and take it one second at a time.”

“It was crazy, everybody was really loud, crying and shouting, I’ve never experienced anything like that before,” said Sofie Skott about the team’s emotions after the clock ran out in the third period, giving Denmark its Olympic spot.

Denmark came into the game needing just a single point to reach the Olympic Games for the first time in history. The Danes so far were unbeaten in two games in Group D after defeating Italy 4-0 and Austria 1-0.

Down 2-1 in the third period, the Danes were fighting to equalize or go home empty-handed. On a 4-on-4, defender Silke Glud shot the puck on net, where it was deflected into the back of the goal by a German player to tie the game at 2-2.

That score would be enough as the Danes held on to force overtime and earn the most important point ever in the history of the Danish women’s program.

“Really admirable,” said head coach Peter ELander about Denmark’s performance. “We started out good but got on our heels in the second period and they got a 2-0 lead. We were resilient and the performance of the team was admirable.”

For Germany, the road to the Games was much more difficult due to the team having dropped its opener against Austria. In order to finish ahead in a tiebreaker, the Germans would either need to win in regulation and get a win from Italy, or defeat the Danes by a six-goal margin in the event of an Austrian victory against the Italians.

But before anything the Germans needed to solve Danish defence and goalie Cassandra Repstock-Romme, who together were riding a 120-minute shutout streak. A scoreless first period played into Danish hands, with shots even at seven apiece although Germany did get a pair of quality chances against Repstock-Romme.

German pressure continued in the second, and finally hit paydirt midway through the period. Tanja Eisenschmid got the puck coming down the high slot area and fired a shot that went past the net to the left of Repstock-Romme. The puck bounced up off the boards behind the net and landed to the stick of captain Julia Zorn who buried it into the back to the net for the 1-0 lead.

Then on a power play, Bernadette Karpff found teammate Lili Welcke at the bottom of the circle with a cross-ice great pass, allowing Welcke to fire it into the top corner on a one-timer.

But with 42 seconds left in the frame, the Danes responded and put a stop to the German momentum. A great individual effort by captain Josefine Jakobsen got the puck into the German zone and eventually to Malene Frandsen, who fired a laser from just inside the blue line past goalie Franzizska Albl. That goal gave the Danes a boost going into the final frame, where they got the second score and held on to force overtime and punch their ticket to their first-ever Olympic Games.

The successful qualification marks a historic double for Denmark’s ice hockey program, which back in August saw its men’s national team also earn an Olympic trip for the first time ever.

A big task’: China Olympic men’s hockey team faces questions

For the first time since the NHL began sending players to the Olympics in 1998, there is concern the host country might not be able to score, much less win a game, at the world’s biggest sporting event.

China’s men’s team is ranked 32nd in the world and is in a group with the United States and Canada, two of the medal favorites among the 12 teams going to the Winter Games in February. A team made up of likely Chinese national team players has struggled against other competition so far, raising fears it will be blown out of its own buildings on home ice in Beijing.

This has all led to what new International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) president Luc Tardif called a “test” next week near Moscow, and it is certainly unusual: China will play two games as Beijing-based KHL team Kunlun Red Star against Russian opponents. IIHF and Chinese hockey officials will be watching closely, in person and online, and hoping the team isn’t going to be embarrassed against NHL competition in February.

“The team we will have in front of us, in two games, we will just to see the score and the way the game was playing, we will quickly know if they’ve got the level or not,” Tardif told The Associated Press in a recent interview. “It will be not only the score but the way the game was played.”

It’s unclear how — or who — will grade this test. The IIHF said last week it will not remove China from the tournament — it does not have the unilateral authority to do that — and it would be up to the Chinese government to pull the plug.

That would be a humiliating step: A host country’s team has never been withdrawn from the modern-day Olympics for solely performance-related reasons, according to Olympic historian Bill Mallon.

There is good reason it is even being contemplated: Kunlun, which has been used as something of a proxy for the Chinese national team to get experience in a professional league, has lost 20 of its 26 KHL games this season and been outscored 96-57 in the process.

Tardif said there are no such concerns about China’s women’s team, which is ranked 20th and in an Olympic group with less daunting competition.

The disappointing performance by the Chinese men’s team so far is not for lack of effort, though clearly the work didn’t bear fruit. The Chinese Ice Hockey Association failed in its attempt to develop a homegrown roster over the past few years, so the team’s top players are North American — some with family ties to the country and others who have been naturalized after joining Kunlun and earning international approval to play for China.

Leading scorers Spencer Foo and Brandon Yip and top defenseman Ryan Sproul are Canadian and starting goaltender Jeremy Smith is American, though there is still some uncertainty about who will go to Beijing. The IIHF would not confirm which players on Kunlun’s roster were eligible.

Stocking Olympic rosters with international players is not uncommon, certainly not since the host country started getting an automatic berth in the hockey tournament in 2006. Italy that year had nine Canadians and two Americans, and South Korea in 2018 had six Canadians and one American. Neither team won a game.

Yip, by far the most accomplished player for China with 174 games of NHL experience, hopes playing together for several years and employing a tight defensive scheme can help his team hang with Canada, the U.S. and Germany in a difficult Olympic group.

“Obviously when you look at our teams on paper, it’s a big discrepancy,” said Yip, a 36-year-old from British Columbia who has played for Kunlun since 2017. “We obviously know what we’re up against. They’re the best players in the world, so we’ve got a big task in front of us.”

How big a task?

Longmou Li, a longtime Chinese broadcaster who is VP of communications for Kunlun, figures the U.S. and Canada will shut out China, maybe 8-0 or 10-0, and added the focus is on the third game against Germany. Asked what would be considered success, Li said: “Score one goal and better performance. Not a disaster.”

China has endured painful sporting losses before, namely in soccer when it did not qualify for the 2010 World Cup and sacked its manager after going winless on home soil at the 2008 Olympics. Susan Brownell, a professor at the University of Missouri-St. Louis and expert on Chinese sports, believes a poor result this time could cause an inspection of hockey from the head government level.

“If I was a hockey administrator, I’d be shaking in my boots,” said Brownell, who considers the failure of China’s hockey academy program a big reason for the current conundrum. “The criticism really is that you invest all this money and you can’t produce results.”

Much like in other sports, China brought in international coaches to help: Stanley Cup winner Mike Keenan was fired after just 36 games behind the bench with Kunlun in 2017, and the team has gone through Bobby Carpenter, Curt Fraser and Alexei Kovalev before landing on Italian-Canadian Ivano Zanatta for the Olympic job.

“Usually resources and money is not a question in China,” said Li Li Ji, a Chinese national and professor of kinesiology who brings Chinese athletes and coaches to study at the University of Minnesota. “If they want to build something, they seem to be willing to put an unlimited amount of money in.”

Time was not on China’s side. Li pointed out that it took Switzerland decades to reach the top level of international hockey, and China only put efforts into high gear after being awarded the 2022 Olympics in the summer of 2015.

The result could be similar to men’s basketball, in which China lost 108–57 in the ’88 Games to a U.S. team made up of college all-stars. Still, it sparked the nation’s appreciation of that sport’s best and the NBA-stacked Dream Team steamrolled the competition four years later with the world watching in admiration.

“It’s going to be six dream teams — hockey teams — that play in Olympics in front of China fans,” Li said. “If Team China can be host and nobody care about the score, everybody (is) going to know hockey is (the) best game in the world and they’re going to be letting the kids play and they’re going to pay the money to watch the games. This is best for the hockey.”

Still, there are potentially unwelcome optics that come with the likelihood of China getting blown out of its sparkling arena by Canada and the U.S. while relations between those nations are colder than ice. And there’s the possible blowback of home fans taking issue with a Chinese team full of foreigners.

Brownell, an American who represented Beijing University in collegiate track and field in the 1980s, said Chinese people will take it as an honor if foreigners perform well. If they don’t, it could become a source of parody.

As one of those players who chose to play for China, Yip is trying to see the big picture. Beyond a few anticipated losses in February, he wants to set the stage for a brighter future.

“If I’m sitting on the couch 20 years from now and I flip on the TV and you see a Chinese national player getting drafted in the first round or the Chinese men’s hockey team in the Olympics again, and they interview one of those players: ‘Why did you get into hockey?’ And they said, ‘I watched the Chinese national team in Beijing in 2022 and that inspired me’ — that would be really what success is determined by this whole experience,” Yip said.

‘A big task’: China Olympic men’s hockey team faces questions originally appeared on NBCSports.com

Veteran player retires from competition

Dunedin Thunder veteran Paris Heyd has retired from competitive ice hockey

By Adrian Seconi – Otago Daily Times

Long-serving Dunedin Thunder player Paris Heyd is retiring but is not about to skate off anywhere.

The 30-year-old will still be holed up at the Dunedin Ice Stadium — he manages the facility so he will never be very far from the ice.

But after 15 seasons in the New Zealand Ice Hockey League (NZIHL), it is time for him to do something different.

His decision to retire from competitive ice hockey has brought an end to the career of one of the greatest New Zealand players.

‘‘It is something I’ve thought about for a while,’’ he said.

‘‘It is just time to spend time doing other things.’’

Heyd played more than 30 games for his country and 203 NZIHL games between 2006 and 2021. He also spent a season playing in France and played division 1 for Harrington College in Canada in 2009-10.

The prolific points scorer was part of the Stampede squad which won the NZIHL title in 2006 and helped the Canterbury Red Devils win the 2009 crown.

Heyd joined the Thunder in 2010 and was named league MVP in 2011 and again in 2018.

He accumulated 174 goals and 189 assists but his enduring memories will not be how many goals he scored, but of watching the league grow from very humble beginnings.

‘‘Tom Wilson came back and played for the Thunder this year and the last time he played must have been about 2011 or 2012 or something.

‘‘It was interesting to hear what he said, because when you’re involved with it you don’t see the growth.

‘‘But he said the difference between the last time he played and now, in terms of the level of hockey and the following, you wouldn’t recognise it as being the same league.

‘‘It is nice to know that the sport has grown and that was always the purpose of that league.’’

Heyd has made a massive contribution in that sense and will continue to stay involved in the sport.

He helps run development camps through New Zealand Ice Hockey, coaches the under-18 men’s national team and plans to get more involved in coaching youth in Dunedin.

He will miss the action, though.

‘‘When you are in the moment and in the game, it can be all-consuming and you forget about everything else. You are just there with the other 19 players and you can go through so many highs and lows in those 60 minutes.

‘‘I think that is the part that you miss the most.’’

« Older posts