Month: January 2022 (Page 1 of 2)

The rise and demise of South Korea’s Olympic ice hockey dream

By Sunghee Hwang – Yahoo Sports

As 2018 hosts, South Korea dreamed of Olympic ice hockey glory, importing a star coach and roster of players. Four years later, not only did they fail to qualify for this week’s Beijing Games, most of their players quit the sport.

The team’s demise — hastened by the Covid-19 pandemic — is symbolic of how the Pyeongchang Games four years ago failed to spur much in the way of lasting interest in winter sports in South Korea and investment dried up.

The ice hockey minnows were granted an automatic berth for their home Olympics, leaving officials scrambling to assemble a competitive men’s team in a country with only a handful of professional players.

Their solution: give seven North American players new passports and places in the squad, hire an ex-National Hockey League (NHL) player as coach and pump money into training and facilities.

The team lost all of their three matches at the Olympics, but South Korea gradually climbed from 31st to 16th in the world rankings.

Then the pandemic hit, games were suspended and play in the regional league cancelled for two consecutive seasons, meaning little match time for players.

They ended up training in car parks.

“Olympics was great, the media coverage and everything was fantastic, the interest was climbing,” head coach Jim Paek, the first Korea-born NHL player to win the Stanley Cup, told AFP.

“Then boom. All these other obstacles happened,” said Paek, who remains the coach but saw the 2018 Olympic team gradually fall apart.

Six out of the seven naturalised players returned to North America, forced into early retirement when their contracts were not renewed after public interest and cash for the team dwindled.

They got married, they had babies, and they moved on, Paek said.

“They gotta continue their life,” he added. “They can’t just stay stagnant.”

The public — which enjoyed a brief obsession with ice hockey during the Pyeongchang Games, especially after the women united with North Korea to field a unified team — has also moved on.

– Training in car parks –

The only one of the 2018 imports to remain in South Korea is goalie Matt Dalton — now the sole Canadian-born player on the team.

Many of his former team-mates would have liked to stay, he said, but due to the problems caused by the pandemic and declining public interest in the sport, it “just didn’t work out”.

Because of Covid, players had little in the way of competitive action or opportunity to stay in game shape before the qualifiers for the Beijing Olympics.

South Korea’s virus measures also meant training facilities were shut down, forcing the players to practise in indoor car parks.

The team lost all three games in the final Olympic qualifying tournament, scoring three times while conceding 19 goals.

“When you go in with nothing, it’s pretty tough to come out with something,” Paek said.

– ‘Nothing to show for it’ –

South Korea bars dual citizenship but it revised immigration law ahead of the 2018 Olympics to allow “qualified” foreign nationals to hold multiple citizenships.

It wasn’t just for hockey: they imported 19 athletes ahead of the Games, out of 144 competing overall, for events including biathlon and luge.

At the time, local media questioned whether athletes would abandon their new passports and leave after the Games — a prediction that has largely come true.

In addition to the six departed ice hockey players, cross-country skier Magnus Kim, who is South Korean/Norwegian, switched his allegiance to Norway three months after the Pyeongchang Olympics.

“I didn’t think it was worth putting my future at stake to ski here,” he told Yonhap news agency.

Aggressive investments and imported athletes helped South Korea to avoid humiliation at the Pyeongchang Games — finishing in seventh place with 17 medals, including five gold.

But for the Beijing Games, which start on Friday, Korea has scaled back its ambitions, aiming for just two gold medals and a top-15 finish.

The government’s financial support for winter sports has fizzled out.

“All the hard work everybody put in and the time and the blood, sweat and tears that were put in… there’s nothing to show for it anymore, really, except for memories,” said Paek.

“We are back to square one again it seems like.”

2nd Games without NHL participation, more teams added into Olympic title chase

Source:  Xinhua

The Beijing 2022 will be the second Winter Olympic Games without professional ice-hockey players, but more teams join in the chase of the titles this time.

The ice-hockey tournament of the Beijing 2022 Olympic Winter Games will take place at National Indoor Stadium and Wukesong Sports Center on February 3-20, with a total of 22 teams – 12 men’s and 10 women’s – to compete.

The National Hockey League (NHL) announced late last year that it won’t send players to the Games due to regular-season schedule having been materially disrupted as a result of increasing COVID-19 cases and a rising number of postponed games.

Therefore, the U.S. men’s squad will be mainly comprised of college players and Americans playing overseas, which will have the team’s competitiveness affected to a certain extent.

That is almost the case for Canadian men’s team, but they still have former NHL player Eric Staal in their roster, who helped the country win the Olympic gold on home ice at Vancouver 2010. And Owen Power, the No. 1 pick in the 2021 NHL Draft, is in the team as well.

The absence of NHL players could be good news for the Finnish men’s team. Finland, with ice hockey as its national sport, has secured Olympic silver and bronze medals but never gold. In recent years, its men’s team, spearheaded by young players, has performed well in international games, thus hailed as the “Dream Team” by its domestic media. The team is reportedly in peak form, aiming at the gold in Beijing 2022.

The Olympic Athletes from Russia (OAR) team claimed PyeongChang 2018 title after beating Germany 4-3 in overtime in the men’s final. In the group stage of the ice hockey event at Beijing 2022, the Russian Olympic Committee (ROC) will face the strong competitors of the Czech Republic, Switzerland and Denmark, while Germany will face Canada and the United States. Both ROC and Germany will have to play at full strength to progress to the knockout stage.

China’s men’s ice hockey team will make their Olympic debut in Beijing and face three of the five top-ranking teams in the world: Canada, the U.S. and Germany. Brandon Yip, the captain of the team, has NHL experience and the Chinese men’s team ranked 32nd in the world.

Women’s ice hockey made their Olympic debut at the 1998 Winter Games in Nagano and the U.S. and Canada combined to win five golds in the following six Winter Olympics. The battles between the U.S. and Canada have always been a highlight in the women’s games.

Joel Johnson, head coach of the U.S. women’s team, said they are focusing on bringing home the gold medal at Beijing 2022.

Finland won the bronze medal in the women’s tournament in PyeongChang. Its coach Juuso Toivola said that the women’s side has improved on speed in recent years and become a stronger competitor compared with powerhouses Canada and the U.S.. According to the format, they will go straight to the top eight with the ROC, the United States, Canada and Switzerland as the seeds.

It has been 12 years since the Chinese women’s ice hockey team finished seventh in Vancouver Winter Olympics. And their best performance in the Winter Olympics was the fourth-place finish in Nagano in 1998. And they will compete with Japan, the Czech Republic, Sweden and Denmark in group B for three tickets to knockout stage in Beijing 2022.

It is worth mentioning that Denmark will make their debut in the Winter Olympics by meeting China in the opener.

Ice hockey is known for its nature of being fast-paced, hard-hitting and thrilling. It is one of the most eye-catching events in the Winter Olympics. Countries like the United States, Canada and Russia boast their rich culture and tradition in ice hockey and have long been strong in international ice hockey competition.

2022 Winter Olympics Men’s Ice Hockey Tournament

By George Da Silva – National Teams of Ice Hockey

Winter Olympics in ice hockey will take place in Beijing, China between 9 and 20 February 2022. Twelve countries qualified for the tournament; eight did so automatically based on their IIHF rankings.
(Canada, Russia, Finland, Sweden, Czechia, USA, Germany & Switzerland). The Olympic Athletes from Russia are defending champions, while three others qualified through a qualification tournament. (Slovakia, Latvia and Denmark). China qualified automatically as host nation.

Twelve teams are divided into three groups of four teams each, and each team will play the other once. In each group, the top team and best second-ranked team advance to the quarterfinals, while the other teams compete in the qualification round. After the group stage, there will be a knockout stage.

In each group, teams will be ranked according to the following criteria:

  1. The number of points (3 points if you win during regulation time, 2 points if you win in overtime or in a shootout; 1 point if you lose during regulation time);
  2. If two teams are tied on points, their head-to-head game determines their ranking;
  3. The following criteria will be applied if three or four teams are tied (if two teams remain tied after applying all criteria, their head-to-head game will determine their ranking):
  4. The points gained in the head-to-head game between the two teams;
  5. The goal differential between the two teams;
  6. The total number of goals scored by each team in a head-to-head game
  7. When three teams are tied, results of head-to-head games between each team concerned and the remaining team in the group (points, goal difference, goals scored)

Schedule for Men’s Olympic Tournament

2022 Winter Olympics Women’s Ice Hockey Tournament

By George Da Silva – National Teams of Ice Hockey

Ten countries qualified for the tournament; six of them did so automatically due to their ranking by the International Ice Hockey Federation. (USA, Canada, Finland, Russia, Switzerland & Japan. ) The women’s ice hockey tournament will take place between 3 and 17 February 2022 in Beijing, China. China is the host countryand the U.S. is the defending champion.
Three other teams qualified through qualification tournaments. (Czechia, Denmark and Sweden)

Ten teams will be divided into two groups made up of five teams each, in which each team will play the other once. All teams from Group A and the top three ranked teams from Group B will advance to the quarterfinals. A knockout system will follow the group stage.

Teams will be ranked in each group according to the following criterionNumber of points (3 points for regulation-time wins2 points for overtime or shootout wins1 point for a regulation-time defeat);

If two teams are tied on points, the head-to-head match will determine their ranking; if three or four teams are tied on points, the following criteria will apply (if, after applying a criterion, only two teams remain tied, the head-to-head match will determine their ranking)

  1. The number of points earned in head-to-head games between the teams concerned.
  2. The goal differential in head-to-head games between the teams concerned.
  3. Number of goals score in head-to-head games between the teams concerned.
  4. If three teams are tied, result of head-to-head games between each team and the remaining team in the group (points, goal difference, goals scored)
  5.  Placement  in the 2021 IIHF World Ranking.

Schedule for Women’s Olympic Tournament

Ice sports event concludes in Hunza

By Jamil Nagri – Dawn

The first five-day national ice sports competitions concluded in Ghulkin village of the Upper Hunza area on Sunday.

The Altit SCARF team became the National Ice Hockey, 2022, champion defeating the Ghulkin Winter Club 2-0.

The SCARF won all its matches. It defeated the Ghulkin Winter Club 2-0, Yasin Janbaz 3-0 and GB Scouts 3-0.

The event was organised by the Ghulkin Winter Club in collaboration with the Pakistan Winter Sports Federation.

A total of 20 teams of men and women from Punjab, Sindh, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Azad Jammu and Kashmir, GB Scouts, PAF, Skardu, Yasin Ghizer, Khalti Ghizer, Nagar, Altit Hunza, Ghulkin Hunza, Karimabad Hunza and Chipurson Hunza participated in the ice skating, ice hockey, ice football and ice polo contests.

The concluding ceremony was attended by Force Commander of the Force Command Northern Areas Major-General Jawwad Ahmad, GB senior minister retired Colonel Ubaidullah Baig, chief secretary retired Captain Mohammad Asif, GB Winter Sports Federation president retired Colonel Amjad Wali, civil and military officials, and winter sports fans.

The five-day national ice sports competitions had started in Gulkin on Jan 18.

Handicraft and Food Street were set up during the festival, elders danced to traditional music.

Prizes, models and certificates were distributed on the occasion.

Three and a half years old Mahnoor from Hoper valley of Nagar district became the first girl to participate in the competitions. She got the silver medal in the ice skating competition.

Earlier, the week-long Karakoram Winterlude-4 competition concluded in the Altit area of Hunza.

The events of ice hockey, ice climbing, mountain cycling and other winter sports were part of it. The concluding ceremony was held in Altit of Hunza, where Force Commander of the Force Command Northern Areas Major-General Jawwad Ahmad was the chief guest.

Minister retired Colonel Ubaidullah Baig, government officials and a large number of people attended it.

Hirano aiming to become first Japan-born skater in NHL

By William Douglas –

Yushiroh Hirano got an offer from the then-coach of Cincinnati of the ECHL that he couldn’t refuse.

“Matt Thomas called me and said, ‘I will let you score 35 goals if you come play for my team,'” Hirano said. “That’s when I decided to sign a contract with them.”

The 26-year-old forward from Tomakomai, Japan, appeared well on his way to that 35-goal mark, scoring 29 points (16 goals, 13 assists) in 25 games for Cincinnati before he signed a professional tryout agreement with Abbotsford, the Vancouver Canucks’ American Hockey League affiliate, on Jan. 5. Hirano made history Saturday when he became the first Japanese player born in the country to score in the AHL, on a one-timer 10 seconds into the first period against San Diego. He has scored two goals in six AHL games.

He led Cincinnati in goals, points and power-play goals (seven) and was the third-leading scorer in the ECHL before the call-up to Abbotsford. He was the ECHL Player of the Week for Dec. 6-12 after he scored 11 points (six goals, five assists) in four games.

“He has an NHL-caliber shot, hands down,” Cincinnati coach Jason Payne said. “With that shot, he just needs a split second to find that opening. And if he does, there’s a good chance that puck is going to find the back of the net and find it fast.”

Hirano is hoping to become the first Japan-born skater to play in the NHL and build on the legacy of players of Japanese heritage that includes 2017 Hockey Hall of Fame inductee Paul Kariya, Montreal Canadiens forward Nick Suzuki and Edmonton Oilers forward Kailer Yamamoto.

Yutaka Fukufuji, a goalie, became the first Japan-born player to appear in the NHL when he debuted with the Los Angeles Kings against the St. Louis Blues on Jan. 13, 2007.

It’s a quest that has taken Hirano from Japan to Sweden, then Youngstown, Ohio, in the United States Hockey League, and Wheeling, West Virginia, in the ECHL since 2012.

Hirano (6-foot, 216 pounds) also attended development camp with the San Jose Sharks in 2016 and Chicago Blackhawks in 2015. He said he feels age and experience is getting him closer to his goal.

“I have learned how important it is to showcase my best attributes as a player, recognizing my weaknesses via feedback from the coaches, and learned what the differences are between drafted players and myself,” Hirano said in written responses to questions. “I know I’ve gotten closer to the best league in the world. However, I understand that it is not an easy task to crack an NHL lineup, so my focus now has been showcasing what I can do and put up numbers in the AHL.”

Producing offense never has been a problem for Hirano. He has scored 121 points (48 goals, 73 assists) in 144 ECHL games with Wheeling and Cincinnati, and scored 46 points (24 goals, 22 assists) in 54 games for Youngstown of the USHL in 2015-16.

He played one game for Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, the Pittsburgh Penguins’ AHL affiliate, in 2018-19, and became the first Asia-born player to score a point (an assist) in AHL history.

Hirano has played for Japan in International Ice Hockey Federation world championship and junior world championship tournaments. He scored eight points (six goals, two assists) in five games as captain for Japan’s at the IIHF 2015 World Junior Championship Division I, Group B tournament, and scored three goals in five games for Japan at the 2015 IIHF World Championship Division I, Group A tournament.

He said he’s using his time in the North American minor leagues to work on his defense and reading plays.

“One thing I’ve noticed and learned in the last few years in the ECHL is that how one mistake can change the scenario of the game,” he said. “In the AHL, it is evident that there are less mistakes on the ice all around.”

The son of a former national team player for Japan, Hirano wasn’t widely known at first in North America, largely because his country isn’t a hockey power. Its men’s national team is ranked 25th by the IIHF and its women’s team is ranked sixth in the world.

“Hockey in Japan is not nearly as popular as it is in North America,” he said, “and there are definitely areas of the sport we all want to see improve. But I think we are doing our best to make the change and make hockey one of the major sports in Japan.”

Hirano said he hopes to be part of that change by reaching the NHL.

“Absolutely,” he said. “I’m thinking about that every day.”

Maple Ridge man, former NHL player, to captain China’s Olympic hockey team

Maple Ridge’s Brandon Yip will captain Team China at the Olympics

By Niel Corbett – Cranbrook Daily Townsman

Maple Ridge’s Brandon Yip will be captain of the first Chinese hockey team to take part in the Olympics.

The former NHLer, 36, is the leader of the Kunlun Red Star, which is a proxy for the Chinese national team that competes in Russia’s Kontinental Hockey League.

He’s surely had one of the most interesting hockey journeys in Canadian history.

Yip had an NHL career that spanned from the 2009-2010 season until 2013-2014, and saw him skating for the Colorado Avalanche, Nashville Predators and two games in his last season with the Phoenix Coyotes.

He started climbing the hockey ladder with his hometown Junior B Ridge Meadows Flames, and kept moving up to star with the Junior A Coquitlam Express, NCAA Boston University and then was drafted in the eighth round, 239th overall by the Avalanche. He would play 174 regular season NHL games, putting up 29 goals and 56 points.

When his NHL career ended, Yip jumped to Europe, with a couple of stops in Germany’s DEL.

Since 2017-2018 he has played in Russian’s KHL, mostly with the Kunlun Red Star, which is based in Beijing.

He is Mr. Everything for the team – the captain, the first in the franchise to get 100 points, and the second to play 200 games. The latter milestones he reached in recent months.

His mother Gale said she and husband Wayne went to watch him play in a game in Shanghai in 2017, and it was pretty obvious the people were new to Canada’s national sport of winter.

As Brandon and the opposing team captain lined up at centre ice for a ceremonial opening faceoff, a dignitary was handed the puck to conduct the faceoff and officially start the contest. However, he didn’t know he was supposed to drop the puck.

“He hucked it across the ice,” Gale said with a laugh. “It’s a new sport over there.”

She and her husband are Canadian born, but their son is eligible to represent China under international rules because he has grandparents on both sides who were born in China. She said it was a memorable trip.

“It’s an amazing country, with amazing cities.”

The NHL will not allow its players to participate in the Games, which begin on Feb. 4 in Beijing, China, so the tournament teams are rosters of retired NHL players, European professionals, college players and minor pro players.

The Chinese team has been ranked 32nd in the world, and is at the bottom of the KHL standings this season. However, Kunlun coach Ivano Zanatta says the Chinese team will be the equal of teams like Norway and Denmark. Their chances of playing competitive games got a boost with the announcement the NHL would not participate.

Northbrook’s Jesse Compher ready to bring it to Beijing

Jesse Compher of the USA Women’s Hockey Team

By Dave Oberhelman – Daily Herald

The Glenbrook North graduate will get the chance to bring it on the world stage. The Northbrook native was announced as one of 23 players to make up the 2022 U.S. Olympic Women’s Ice Hockey Team during the NHL’s Winter Classic in Minneapolis on New Year’s Day.

Opening group play Feb. 3 against Finland, the U.S. Women enter the Beijing Winter Olympic Games as the defending gold medalist, having won their second gold in 2018. The United States has medaled in every Olympics since women’s hockey was introduced to the Games in 1998.

The team will head to Los Angeles on Jan. 24 and fly to Beijing three days later.

A 5-foot-8 forward who played her college hockey at Boston University, Compher is among eight first-time Olympians named to the squad, along with Savannah Harmon of Downers Grove. Compher trains with the Clarkson University graduate when both aren’t wrapped up in national events and practices.

Despite the timing of the announcement, Compher said the players were notified of their selection in December. The final roster was whittled down from 27 players.

“It’s definitely very exciting when your dreams come true, but not only when they come true with you alone, but also when your best friends and teammates are by your side,” Compher said from Team USA’s training facility, the Super Rink at the National Sports Center in Blaine, Minnesota.

Usual suspect Kendall Coyne Schofield of Oak Lawn makes her third appearance on the Olympic Team and Megan Bozek of Buffalo Grove her second. Hilary Knight, a 2018 favorite from Idaho, is the fourth woman to make four U.S. Olympic women’s hockey teams.

“I’m honestly beyond excited for the experience and the journey over there in China, but I’m just happy to be a part of this program and a part of this team,” said Compher, sister of Colorado Avalanche forward J.T. Compher.

The United States won at the 2018 Pyeonchang Olympics by tying Canada in the third period of the gold medal game, then winning 3-2 in a shootout.

The rival squads faced each other six times in the Why Me Tour with dates in October, November and December, Canada winning four games with three of the six games going into overtime.

The last three scheduled games of the tour were COVID casualties, so the American women scrimmaged boys teams around Blaine, then practiced as a unit since Christmas.

“We looked good,” Jesse Compher said. “We’re just starting to come together, and I don’t think we’ve played our best hockey as a team yet, which is the most exciting part.”

A five-time Hockey East player of the week during her Boston University career, she was a second-team All-America selection in 2018-19 and a top-10 finalist for the 2019 Patty Kazmaier Memorial Award as the top collegiate women’s hockey player. In her final season with Boston University Compher collected 11 points on 7 goals and 4 assists in 9 games.

Compher has seen her USA sweater, but hasn’t been able to pull it on yet.

Having played in nine international competitions since she was 16, she knows what it means.

“I think that representing your country for sure never gets old. It’s a feeling that’s indescribable,” she said.

“I’m excited to be on this journey with my teammates and excited for what we will accomplish.”

The timing of the World Youth Ice Hockey Championship will be determined during the Olympics

By Rustam Sharafutdinov – Tass Russian News Agency

The dates and venue for the World Junior Hockey Championship, which was canceled in December, will be announced during the Olympic Games in Beijing.

The tournament, which started on December 26 in Edmonton and Red Deer, Canada, was canceled by the decision of the IIHF board after positive tests in the US, Czech Republic and Russia teams, which were counted for forfeits defeats. Later, Luc Tardif IIHF President announced that the federation plans to hold the World JUnior Championships in the summer.

“We are preparing to hold the tournament in the summer. The dates and venue will be known during the Olympics,” Tardif said.

The Olympic Games will be held in Beijing from 4 to 20 of February 2022

U20 Euro Asia Championship Day 3 Recap

By George Da Silva – National Teams of Ice Hockey

On the final day of U20 Euro Asia Championship  the U20 national team of Kyrgyzstan won all 3 of their games and became the champions of the tournament. 

On the final day Kyrgyzstan easily beat Bosnia and Herzegovina by a score of 5-2, despite the lights going out in the arena part way through the game. This did stop  the boys from Kyrgyzstan from claiming the title.

The second place was taken by the Turkey who beat Bulgaria by a score of 2-1. This was a physical affair with line brawl breaking out in the third period. 

Results of games of the U20 national team of Kyrgyzstan

Kyrgyzstan – Bulgaria – 7: 5

Kyrgyzstan – Turkey – 7: 5

Kyrgyzstan – Bosnia and Herzegovina – 5: 2

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