Day: November 17, 2021

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.”

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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.