Month: April 2022

France returns to Women’s Worlds

The French players celebrate after a win at the 2022 IIHF Ice Hockey Women’s World Championship Division I Group A on home ice in Angers.

By Martin Merk –

The French women’s national team defeated Norway 4-1 to win the 2022 IIHF Ice Hockey Women’s World Championship Division I Group A on home ice in Angers at a packed IceParc and earns promotion back to the top division of the Women’s Worlds for 2023.

The 3,586 fans at the rink also created a new attendance record for women’s hockey in France and saw a tight game in which France outshot the Norwegians 40-37. Four different players scored for France with Estelle Duvin having three points (1+2).

“It was a really good thing in front of our audience. We played a great game from the beginning until the end. We started well, we showed them that we are here and we are ready. We are very happy about that,” Duvin said.

France and Norway were on par after three games with the French having the upper hand in the head-to-head game against a hard fighting Norwegian team.

Both France and Norway entered the last game with two wins against the Netherlands and Slovakia, and an overtime loss to Austria, with seven points and a +6 goal difference. It was a winner-takes-it-all game. Whoever would score more goals after 60 minutes, or after overtime or a shootout, would win the tournament and promotion to the 2023 IIHF Ice Hockey Women’s World Championship.

It turned out to be the return to the top level for France where it was relegated from in 2019 while Norway’s dream of getting back for the first time since 1997 was postponed.

“It’s been a goal for Norway for a very long time now. We almost made it a couple of times. For everyone on the team who has seen the ups and downs and never quite made it to the top division it would be huge,” Norwegian forward Andrea Dalen said before the game. The wait for the promotion will continue.

Norway had the better start into the first period. After eight minutes of play the Norwegians had a 10-5 shot advantage and were about to start their second power play when they fatally lost the puck in the neutral zone.

Chloe Aurard took the puck for a two-player rush on Norwegian goalie Ena Nystrom and sent a horizontal pass to Estelle Duvin, who opened the scoring for Les Bleues while playing shorthanded.

“It’s unreal. We’ve been waiting for years to have a World Championship at home and then it finally happened and we got the gold. It’s a dream come true,” said Aurard.

“It wasn’t an easy start. It was tough but we had our systems and we followed them. We knew how to stop them. We shot the puck to the net, we brought traffic. We just did what we had to do.”

With the goal France also improved its game and created more danger in front of the Norwegian net.

At 10:28 of the middle frame the French efforts paid off as the Norwegians struggled with the second offensive line of the French again. Defender Lucie Quarto netted the pack with the assist coming from Duvin.

1:39 later Duvin was again in the spotlight with a takeaway in the neutral zone and feeding Clara Rozier for the 3-0 goal.

The Norwegians tried hard to come back but struggled created high-calibre scoring chances against a tight-knit French defence.

In the third period the Norwegians came out strong putting pressure on the French net and were eventually rewarded when Andrea Dalen spoiled Caroline Baldin’s shutout with the 3-1 marker at 8:15. However, the French restored the three-goal lead three minutes later. With Lene Tendenes in the penalty box for an illegal hit Lara Escudero made it 4-1.

“We worked hard. We finally played our best game of the tournament. We just came back together today in front of the crowd so it’s quite a perfect night,” Baldin said.

“Norway played a really good game but we played as a team. It’s the heart of the team that made the difference. We say quite often “Team France Family” and it’s not just an image, it’s the truth and the solidarity between each other that worked.”

The French managed to defend the score before starting their celebration in blue with their home fans.

Also the top players of the tournament were split up between these two teams. French players Baldin and Aurard were named Best Goalkeeper and Best Forward respectively while Norway’s Emma Bergesen was voted Best Defender.

Slovakia edges Austria for bronze

In a neighbouring clash Austira wanted to keep its chances for gold alive while Slovakia had the chance to win bronze with a regulation-time win. It was the Slovaks who succeeded. The 2-1 victory against Austria meant third place and the best finish since 2013 for the Slovak women’s national team.

Slovakia had a dream start with Tatiana Korenkova’s opening marker after just 37 seconds of play. Austria had a surplus of scoring chances but struggled putting the puck past Slovak goalie Nikola Zimkova. Instead it was Lucia Haluskova, who scored the second goal of the game at 15:13 of the middle frame.

“Best feeling in my life!” Haluskova said quick as a shot after the game.

Annika Fazokas eventually put Austria on the scoreboard just 52 seconds later but seemed to run out of energy while looking to tie the game.

“We came here from the beginning to win a medal and even after the tough losses it remained our goal,” Haluskova said. “We worked for each other and stuck to our systems. We just wanted it more than they did.”

No medal instead of gold medal for Austria

Austria started the tournament with three overtime/shootout wins against tournament favourites France and Norway and against underdog Netherlands making them the only undefeated team going into the last day but having one point less than France and Norway.

With a regulation-time win the Austrians could have kept their chance for gold and promotion alive but instead were left empty-handed after losing to Slovakia.

For Austria it’s the second bitter ending this season in their quest to join the top nations. Last November the Austrians upset Germany with a 3-0 win in the Final Olympic Qualification but a 1-0 loss to Denmark sent the Danes to Beijing 2022 instead.

Learning experience for the Netherlands

For the Netherlands it was only the second time after 1999 that the orange team played in the second tier of women’s ice hockey. The Dutch won both the Division IIA in 2018 and the Division IB in 2019 to earn promotion. They managed to keep up with their opponents in most games and scored a goal in each of the four games but finished on bottom of the ranking with one point from a 2-1 shootout loss against Austria.

More women’s hockey is coming soon with two tournaments that were moved to summer months due to Covid concerns. The Division IIB will take place in Zagreb, Croatia from 17-22 May.

The top-level 2022 IIHF Ice Hockey U18 Women’s World Championship will take place from 6 to 13 June in Madison and Middleton in Wisconsin, USA the Division IB of the category is scheduled for 5-11 September in Radenthein, Austria.

For the first time a top-level IIHF Ice Hockey Women’s World Championship will take place in an Olympic year. Denmark will host the tournament from 25 August to 4 September in Frederikshavn and Herning.

The tournament program, dates and hosts for 2023 will be determined in late May.

Gold for Iceland

By Andy Potts –

Iceland held its nerve to see off a spirited Belgian team and secure top spot as it staged 2022 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship Division II Group B.

The host nation reeled off four victories, culminating in a 3-2 win over Belgium on Saturday evening to clinch gold in Reykjavik. Georgia, which began the tournament with a surprise win over the Belgians, took silver and recorded its best ever result in IIHF play.

At the other end of the table, Mexico lost all four games and finishes last of the five teams. New Zealand was unable to compete due to Covid restrictions.

Ragnarsson denies Belgian forwards

Saturday’s showdown between top seed Belgium and host nation Iceland saw the Nordic country come into the game with a three-point advantage. After its 3-4 reverse against Georgia, Belgium needed to win by at least two goals against the undefeated Icelanders if it was to succeed in a three-way tie.

After an even first period, Belgium took lead in the second when Jacques de Ceuster potted his third goal of the tournament. Suddenly, Iceland’s grip on top spot looked less secure and Belgium was one marker away from assuming the lead. However, the home team responded with two goals in the middle frame to move ahead in the game and enliven the Laugardalur Arena crowd.

First, Gunnar Arason’s stretch pass sent Axel Orongan into the danger zone and he deked his way past a defender before beating Arne Waumans in the Belgian net. A needless foul by Hakon Magnusson put Iceland back under pressure, with Johann Ragnarsson called upon for a couple of big saves during the penalty kill, but late in the frame the host nation got in front. This time, it was a spectacular coast-to-coast effort from Halldor Skulason, who managed to squeeze the puck past Waumans just before his momentum sent him crashing into the net. The Belgians protested, claiming the frame was off its moorings before the puck crossed the line, but the officials awarded the goal.

Down, but not yet out, Belgium began the third period with a flurry of chances. The best of them went to Bryan Henry, who found himself clean through on Ragnarsson’s goal but could not find a way past the teenage goalie. Ragnarsson is rated as one of Iceland’s top prospects: this season he has been with Czech club Rytiri Vlasim in the country’s fourth league, gaining experience of junior and senior play in a country with a stronger hockey infrastructure than his native Reykjavik can offer. At this tournament he was deservedly named the top goaltender, thanks in no small part to his impressive performance against Belgium.

Ragnarsson finished the game with 44 saves; his opposite number Waumans faced just 26 shots. But Belgium was unable to find its way back into contention and a tripping call on Alec James handed Iceland the chance to finish the job. The home power play delivered: Orongan blasting home his second of the night from between the hash marks off Bjorn Sigurdarson’s feed. That wasn’t quite the end for Belgium: with 2:34 left on the clock, Frank Neven’s one-timer made it 2-3 as his team converted a power play chance. But there was no late drama as Iceland closed out the final minutes to secure its first gold medal in IIHF competition since winning Division 3 in 2006. Belgium, relegated from IIA in 2019, had to settle for bronze here.

The tournament triumph also saw Iceland’s head coach Vladimir Kolek banish the spectre of relegation in his first season in charge of the team. The Czech, who played several seasons in the Czechoslovak top flight with Dukla Jihlava, took on the Iceland role in the 2017/18 campaign when the team dropped out of Division IIA. The following year brought IIB silver behind Israel before the pandemic halted international play at this level. Back in action, Iceland returned with a youthful roster including seven teenagers while Orongan, a two-goal hero against Belgium, is a 21-year-old making his World Championship debut. There is still room for experience, though: Iceland’s leading scorers here were 28-year-old alternate captains Bjorn Sigardarson (3+6 points), Johann Leifsson (2+6) and 31-year-old Andri Mikaelsson (3+4).

Georgia celebrates best result

This year’s tournament was also a big success for Georgia, which won silver and clinched its best ever result in IIHF play. In contrast with the winning Icelandic roster, this was an experienced team – average age 28 – featuring many players who have been involved throughout the country’s rise. Just eight years ago, Georgia played its first Division III campaign, losing all five games and allowing 78 goals in the process. In Reykjavik, though, victory over Belgium was followed with further success against Bulgaria (10-3) and Mexico (5-0). Only a 2-5 loss to Iceland slowed the progress of Roland Svanidze’s team.

Georgia also had the tournament’s leading scorers: Nikita Bukiya (7+4) and Ivan Karelin (5+6) both finished with 11 points from four games. Like many on the team, they learned their hockey in Russia, Bukiya playing two seasons in the second-tier VHL in his hometown of Saratov while Novosibirsk native Karelin was part of the system at KHL organisation Sibir before joining Mimino in the Georgian mountain resort of Bakuriani in 2018/19.

The directorate awards went to Ragnarsson (best goalie), Belgium’s Neven (best defenceman) and Leifsson (best forward).

Hockey is making inroads in Mexico. Yes, Mexico

Players in the Jr. Kings youth hockey program in Mexico City skate during drills March 23 at the Centro Santa Fe shopping mall. According to the Mexico Ice Hockey Federation, 1,600 junior players participate in the sport in Mexico.

Kevin Bater  Gary CoronadoLA Times

Ian Tarazona’s black helmet is so big it looks like an upside-down satellite dish, and his oversized hockey sweater hangs to his knees. But don’t let appearances fool you. Ian is a terror on the ice.

At one point during a recent practice, Ian skated up to another player, pulled his stick back and cracked him over the head. And that player was a teammate.

It didn’t qualify as assault because Ian is only 3 years old and the player he whacked, who was unhurt, is 5.

But it did serve as proof that it can be a challenge introducing little kids to any sport. And when the sport is hockey and the location is a shopping mall in Mexico City, that challenge only grows.

Luis González often has to suppress laughter while coaching four dozen kids, the oldest of whom are 7.

“Obviously the little kids are harder because you just have to keep them focused,” he said.

In between coaching sessions, González, who answers to Oso or “Bear,” a childhood nickname he can’t fully explain, plays for Mexico’s national ice hockey team. If you didn’t know Mexico had a national ice hockey team, don’t feel bad. Aside from the 22 players and their families, few others know either.

But the sport is gaining a foothold, or at least a toehold, in Mexico.

According to the Mexico Ice Hockey Federation — there’s one of those too — 2,690 players participate in the sport in Mexico, 1,600 of whom are junior players like the ones González coaches.

It’s a small number — and certainly an underestimate — but it still has drawn the attention of several NHL teams, which see a chance to grow the game and develop a new fan base with the hope of playing an NHL game in Mexico in the near future.

“I don’t see any reason for us to wait,” Kings President Luc Robitaille said. “It’s more important for us to go out of our way and to make it available. There’s enough kids we know like to play.”

Many of them play at an ice rink tucked into a dark corner of a Mexico City shopping mall, between a Dairy Queen and a Carl’s Jr. and below a Sears.

The Centro Santa Fe, Mexico’s second-largest shopping mall, sprawls along a major boulevard in a tony neighborhood of skyscrapers and gated apartment buildings on the western edge of the capital.

Roberto Arriaga, whose three boys all play hockey, makes the three-hour round trip there from Toluca as many as five nights a week, spending almost as much time in the chilly bleachers overlooking the ice as he does running his business in aftermarket car sales.

“A lot of friends tell me that I’m crazy,” said Arriaga, who discovered hockey almost by accident. After introducing his eldest son, Beto, to more traditional sports such as soccer without success, on a whim he put the boy in skates and hockey gear at age 6. Nine years later, Beto is still playing, as are brothers Mateo, a speedy 12-year-old defenseman, and Paulo, a skinny 10-year-old goalie so small he can fit inside the net without having to duck his helmeted head.

The two younger boys say they want to play in the NHL someday, something no Mexican has done. Arriaga chuckles when he hears that.

“At that age,” he said “it’s very good to have a dream.”

That dream isn’t what motivates the four coaches at the rink, who work with more than 140 players in six divisions, ranging in age from 3 years old through high school. Nor is producing professional players what has led the Kings to partner with the rink, offering in-person and virtual clinics as well as material assistance.

Banners touting the relationship with the L.A. team hang throughout the mall while many of the tiny players take the ice wearing black or gray Kings sweaters with a Mexican flag sewn on one shoulder.

The goal, the Kings insist, is simply to introduce the kids to hockey, teach them how to play (and sometimes to even skate) and to fuel a passion for the sport.

“It’s just a totally different vibe over there,” said Derek Armstrong, who spent six seasonplaying for the Kings and is now the team’s community and hockey development specialist. “We want to bring hockey to Mexico, but we also want them to embrace it themselves and put their own little twist on it, their own little culture on it.”

That seems to be taking hold at the Santa Fe rink, where rushes up and down the ice take place at breakneck speed, with few passes and even fewer checks — physical defensive moves intended to disrupt play. In that way, Mexican hockey can sometimes look like soccer on skates.

Instructions and encouragement — vámonos! vámonos! dále! dále! — ring out in Spanish, although most of the hockey terms, like stick and puck, go untranslated.

Paulo Arriaga, 10, protects the goal during practice with the Mexico City Jr. Kings youth hockey program.

What the Kings want to create, then, is hockey with a Mexican accent and Latin sensibility. They’re not looking to import a sport wholesale but rather to create a hybrid. What they want are players such as 15-year-old Paula Martínez, one of two girls in the bantam age group — and one 270 girls playing hockey nationwide, according to the federation.

She started skating at 3 and has been playing hockey with boys almost as long, tucking as much of her long brown hair inside her helmet as she can, then letting the rest spill down to her shoulders. Her friends, she said, don’t understand the game — or why she plays it.

“Every time you say you play hockey, they’re amazed. So you have to explain what it is. They think it’s only fighting, and it’s really not just that,” Paula said, flipping through cellphone photos of a trip to the University of Wisconsin, where she skated with members of the school’s women’s team.

“If I had to choose a sport again,” she said, “I would still choose hockey.”

Many in Mexico don’t have that choice. Cost and access to an ice rink are major obstacles to hockey’s growth in Mexico.

Players in Guillermo Díaz’s program at the Santa Fe rink pay a $125 annual registration fee and $146 a month for instruction and ice time. That doesn’t include the brightly colored composite sticks, durable skates and other equipment such as pads and helmets, which can easily top $1,000 combined — more for goalies.

That’s well beyond the reach of most families in a country where the typical salary hovers around $17,000 a year. And while Mexico City has four rinks, there are just 14 in the rest of the country, according to the national ice hockey federation.

The level of play at the Santa Fe rink varies widely depending on the age group. On a recent Monday night, the peewees’ game, for kids 11 and 12, was so quick and well-played, dozens of shoppers stopped to peer down from the mall’s upper floors and watch.

For the youngest players, meanwhile, simply staying upright and focused is the goal, which is why Díaz spent most of an hourlong practice simply trying to herd his toddler students into a straight line. During one drill, the players, many of whom wore blue COVID facemasks beneath their helmets, set off after the puck only to forget what they were supposed to do with it once they got it.

Kids pulled back their sticks, which were often bigger than they are, then shot at the wrong net, while others simply wandered away in the middle of a drill or skated into one another for no apparent reason. One boy brought his stick to shoulder level like a rifle and pretended to shoot teammates.

Players with the Jr. Kings youth hockey program gather at the end of practice. Cost and access to an ice rink are major obstacles to hockey’s growth in Mexico.

As for Ian, when he wasn’t whacking teammates in the head, he was often lying face down on the ice, the white No. 26 on the back of his jet-black jersey facing the Sears store a floor above.

“You have to invent some things,” González, the coach, said when asked how he kept the youngest players focused.

González’s time with the national team makes him an elite player in a country that has had few success stories to emulate in hockey. That could be changing.

Héctor Majul, who was lured away from a soccer field and into a Mexico City ice rink as a 6-year-old because his sister was a skater, followed his first coach to Arizona, where he attended high school. He practiced there alongside a local standout named Auston Matthews, whose mother was born in Mexico.

While Matthews went on to become the first overall pick in the 2016 NHL draft — and this season has broken the Toronto Maple Leafs’ franchise record with 58 goals — Majul played at Curry College in Massachusetts before being deported back to Mexico after his student visa was suspended.

That led to a nomadic journey that took him to hockey rinks and professional teams in Serbia, Lithuania, Finland and Italy. He will turn 28 next month, far too old to be considered a top prospect but not too old to give up his dream of becoming the first Mexican-born player to reach the NHL.

“Many times, being from Mexico causes people to assume that I can’t play hockey well and they don’t take me seriously until they see me play,” said Majul, who had a career-high 21 goals and 19 assists in 22 games this season for Como in Italy’s second-tier hockey league. “They wonder how it’s possible, which makes me laugh.

“I do think if I was Canadian or American, I definitely would have had better opportunities. But at the same time, it’s part of being the first Mexican to play at the level I’m playing and breaking the mental barrier that the hockey world has of not accepting players who don’t come from countries where hockey is popular.”

The kids at Centro Santa Fe might do even more to change that perception.

“Some of the kids here could play anywhere,” said Ross Wonnick, a Canadian transplant from Calgary whose son, Harrison, 9, just started playing at the rink.

Yet the sport still seems a strange fit in a country that has nearly three times as many international airports as it does ice rinks — and the rinks that do exist are almost always jammed into a lightly trafficked nook of a shopping center.

“I think there’s only one ice rink that isn’t at a mall,” Paula, the 15-year-old center, said with a sigh.

Even so, Paula, her father, Francisco, a researcher at the National Autonomous University of Mexico, and dozens of other kids and parents crowd into the dark corner of the Centro Santa Fe as many as five nights a week. And the NHL has taken note.

“We’re definitely going down there to grow the game,” Robitaille, the Kings president, said. “That’s a no-brainer for a team like us, to help grow the game on the south side of the border.”

The team’s outreach to the Latino community began in Southern California but quickly reached south. Those efforts were stalled by COVID-19 but picked up again last fall when Armstrong went to Mexico City to put on a clinic.

Now other teams are following. The Dallas Stars, who play in a market that is more than 40% Latino, have begun broadcasting their games on Spanish-language radio and are developing a relationship with the Mexico Ice Hockey Federation.

“We’re trying to be Mexico’s team,” said Stars President Brad Alberts, who sees that effort as targeting Mexicans and Mexican Americans on both sides of the border in much the same way football’s Dallas Cowboys did. That team now has a license from the NFL allowing it to expand its home marketing base into Mexico.

“We look at it as a long-term, authentic community investment,” Alberts said. “We’re going to look at the Hispanic community in a much different way that we have ever before.”

At some point, Alberts said, that will mean playing a regular-season game in Mexico, as the three other major U.S. pro sports leagues have done. The Kings and Arizona Coyotes have also acknowledged similar hopes.

“We look at [Mexico] as an untapped market,” Alberts said. “We’re trying to capitalize now.”

Back at the Santa Fe rink, it’s apparent Alberts’ timing is right. Kids roll in from the covered parking lot wearing hockey uniforms and riding in-line skates, their parents following behind carrying heavy equipment bags and hockey sticks.

“Saturdays, we stay here from 12 o’clock until nighttime,” said Cindy Rojas, the mother of an excitable rosy-cheeked 5-year-old named Sebastian, whose black No. 17 Kings jersey fits him like a tunic. “I can see that he enjoys it. That’s why it doesn’t matter if we have to come four or five times per week or stay here more than 10 hours.

“It doesn’t matter because I love when he’s happy.”

Women pucksters rising the ranks

Team China captain Yu Baiwei lifts the trophy after winning the IIHF Women’s World Championship Division I Group B event in Katowice, Poland, last week.

By Sun Xiaochen – China Daily

Chinese national team builds on Beijing 2022 campaign with promotion to Group A of world championship

A new day is dawning for Chinese ice hockey, with the national women’s team’s promotion to the second tier of the world championship building on the momentum of the Beijing 2022 campaign.

The Chinese women won five straight games to emerge victorious last week at the International Ice Hockey Federation Women’s World Championship Division I Group B event in Katowice, Poland, thereby claiming a spot in the Group A tournament next year.

After doing home fans proud with its solid performances at Beijing 2022 in February, China is back in Group A-a second-tier event in the IIHF system-for the first time since 2011. Previously, China had been in the world championship’s top tournament, above the divisions from I-III, from 1992 until 2009, finishing fourth at the 1994 and 1997 top-tier worlds, as well as at the 1998 Winter Olympics in Nagano, Japan.

Team China’s impressive run in Poland, capped by a decisive 7-2 win over the host, has built upon the excitement generated during the Beijing Winter Olympics to draw more attention to the sport in a country where ice hockey’s popularity is taking off, especially at youth level.

Yu Baiwei, Team China’s captain and the oldest member of the squad, couldn’t contain her joy after sealing the long-awaited promotion.

“I don’t think I can put it into words. I am just so excited that we’ve made our way back toward the top. It’s a new beginning, and there will be more challenges ahead,” said the 33-year-old Yu, who has experienced plenty of ups and downs over the past 17 years with the squad.

Yu made her national team debut in 2005, when the women’s program began its decade-long struggle following its 1990s heyday.

The home Olympics came just in time with stronger State-funded support helping veterans like Yu return to the Olympic stage after the team’s last appearance at the 2010 Games in Vancouver, Canada.

“I think that playing in the Olympics after missing out on the Games for so long gave us so much confidence,” said Yu, who hails from traditional winter sports hotbed Heilongjiang province in Northeast China.

“We’ve shown what we learned and how we improved from the Olympics at the world championship. It boosted our faith that we can take another step further next year.”

Hot on the heels of the women’s event, China’s men’s squad will also fight for a promotion spot at the Division II Group A worlds, which begin on April 25 in Croatia.

Progression up the annual championship system toward the top divisions was set as a post-Beijing 2022 goal for China’s national ice hockey program leading up to the 2026 Winter Olympics in Italy.

China hopes to at least qualify its 17th-ranked women’s team as a top-division contender; at Beijing 2022, both the men and women qualified directly as host.

A naturalization policy which has added a competitive legion of North American-born players with Chinese heritage is expected to continue through the 2026 Games.

Almost half of the current women’s squad’s 24 members were born or developed their game in the US or Canada.

They were selected at tryout camps as early as 2017 to join the Chinese national program, which is jointly run by the Chinese Ice Hockey Association, KHL Russia-based partner club Kunlun Red Star and its women’s affiliate, the Vanke Rays.

After playing together in the Russian and Canadian professional leagues, China’s homegrown players and their more experienced overseas-born teammates at both KRS and the Vanke Rays have built a strong camaraderie on their mission to help grow the sport in China.

“Overall, I think we’re playing really well,” said Team China center Lin Qiqi, known as Leah Lum in her birth country, Canada.

“The coach has given us a lot of freedom to play how we’ve been playing all year and the team has a lot of chemistry,” said the University of Connecticut alumna whose grandparents were born in China.

Lin Qiqi and US-born Lin Ni, aka Rachel Llanes, both finished with seven goals and 15 points to lead both those categories at the Group B championship.

After playing on the Vanke Rays with their native Chinese teammates for several seasons, first in the Canadian women’s league and then the Russian system, the overseas-born players are proud to represent their ancestors’ nation on the ice.

“We’ve kind of been in and out of the lines in the four years but it’s been pretty solidified this past season. We know each other and how everyone plays, so it’s been really good,” said Lin Qiqi.

China top Ice Hockey Women’s World Championship Group B

Players of China celebrate scoring during the match against Poland at the 2022 IIHF Ice Hockey Women’s World Championship Division I Group B in Katowice, Poland, April 14, 2022.

Source: CGTN

Team China finished first in Group B of the 2022 Ice Hockey Women’s World Championship after beating hosts Team Poland 7-2 on Thursday, securing a spot in Group A of Division 1.

Both teams had clinched four straight wins before the encounter, as the Chinese squad delivered strong performances against Team South Korea, Team Italy, Team Slovenia and Team Kazakhstan throughout the tournament.

China’s Lin Qiqi scored just one minute into the game, and soon doubled the lead with a pass from captain Yu Baiwei.

Four Chinese players, including Liu Zhixin, Mi Le, Zhang Xifang and Lin Ni, contributed goals to help China expand the gap to 6-0 after the first period, while Poland struggled to find form.

Poland’s Klaudia Chrapek scored two goals after the break, but the team couldn’t reverse the match.

Ten minutes before the game ended, veteran Yu fired in a shot to seal the deal for China at 7-2, as China returned to Group A of Division 1 for the first time in 11 years.

Belgian women win

The Belgian players celebrate with the trophy after winning the 2022 IIHF Ice Hockey Women’s World Championship Division III Group A.

By Ivan Tchechankov –

Belgium edged Lithuania on goal difference to finished first at the 2022 IIHF Ice Hockey Women’s World Championship Division III Group A. This unique situation occurred as the tournament held in Sofia, Bulgaria, from 4 to 9 April, took place in a double-round-robin format with just three teams. Belgium won one out of two games against second-placed Lithuania but with the better goal difference in the head-to-head games.

Originally there were six teams in this group, but Hong Kong, China withdrew because of Covid-19 related issues. Soon after Ukraine had to withdraw due to the Russian invasion of the country. Then the Romanian Ice Hockey Federation informed that their team was withdrawn because it would not be able to fulfill the Covid portocols, which would forsee a quarantine for non-vaccinated players.

The last time that the three teams – Belgium, Bulgaria and Lithuania – participated at the world stage of women’s ice hockey was during the 2020 IIHF Ice Hockey Women’s World Championship Division III, which was held at the very same Winter Sports Palace in Sofia. Belgium finished second behind South Africa, Bulgaria was fourth and Lithuania finished fifth in its international debut.

28 months later they were back in the same place, but with some new faces on the rosters and with different success. Belgium and Lithuania exchanged victories and both teams won against the host, so in the end the winner was the one with the better goal difference in the direct games. In the opening game of the tournament Lithuania beat Belgium 3-2 but three days later Belgium got a commanding 8-0 revenge.

“We took a good advantage from the double-round-robin format. After the first game we still had a shot on the gold and in the end, we got it. We changed the tactics for the second game against Lithuania. We put some players on Klara Miuller and tried to keep her out of the game and I think we succeed in that. Of course, they have a good goalie, but we always say: ‘When the first or second goal falls it would be our game.’ At 3-0 they changed the goalie, which was a surprise and then the game was actually over,” said Tim Vos, head coach of Belgium.

Klara Miuller, just 16 at her debut two years ago, shone in her previous visit to Sofia with nine goals in five games and was awarded as the best forward in the 2020 tournament. This week she scored nine goals too, but eight of those were in the first two games including six against Bulgaria. Miuller was unstoppable in the first game versus Lithuania – two goals, an assist and seven shots at the net from the team’s total of 15. The first period finished 2-0, but Femke Bosmans scored the first goal for Belgium in the 35th minute. After a series of ten penalties (seven for Lithuania) to start the third period 16-years old Anke Steeno tied the game on 4-on-3 power play with 5:07 left in regulation time. The parade to the sin bin continued with two infractions in 57 seconds for Belgium and Miuller capitalized on the 5-on-3 advantage for the game-winning goal at 56:43.

“We were the better team in the first game too. We had triple the amount of shots on net – 45 to 15, but we didn’t score as much. In the second game we had a 53-6 shot advantage. We were in a good shape and kept pushing, we outskated them. We were a more complete team. The girls are together for few years now and we grow every year. I think we have a good chance to stay in the above group, but our scoring ability has to go up. For some time that has been a problem for us,” admitted Vos, who was the captain of Belgium men’s national team at 13 World Championship tournaments in the period 1996-2010 and coached the women’s team from 2017 to 2019. In those three tournaments, as well in 2020 Division III Championships, Belgium was always second in the ranking.

On this year roster there were 11 women from the Cold Play Sharks Mechelen, a team that plays in Germany’s second-tier league, and four who are competing in the Netherlands. “We didn’t have friendly games before the championship. We tried to play with Dutch teams, but with the Covid rules everything was cancelled. We practised just once a week for one hour during the season,” explained Vos.

After a day of rest, Lithuania did not look like the team that won the first round-robin stage. The women were slower, didn’t have enough energy and Klara Miuller was not the dominant figure she was at the start of the event. In the first two periods Emilie Simonsen, who plays in Aalborg (Denmark), made 33 saves and was the only reason that Belgium led only 1-0. In just 65 seconds at the beginning of the third period Lotte de Guchtenaere scored two goals and Simonsen was replaced by Vilte Belicenkaite. The latter allowed three goals on six shots in 4:40 minutes and Simonsen, who was selected best goalkeeper in the tournament for second time in a row, was back on net, but the damage was done. 

“Before we came, we said that we want more than bronze medals and now we have silvers. I must say: congratulations to the Belgium team. They were the best; they play as a team. It was not an easy tournament for us. The girls didn’t play one single game during the season because of the Covid-19 situation. The Latvian and Lithuanian leagues are playing together, but this season it was not possible. At any level, if you want to have success and winning, then you must have a summer training and that’s what the girls didn’t do. Our team was not in good conditioning shape and the game experience wasn’t there. During the season we had two practices a week and just before the tournament a week-long training camp with two friendly games. We beat Belgium in the first game here, which was a big surprise, but for the second game against them the girls were very tired,” said Bernd Haake, Lithuania’s head coach.

In their last game the Lithuanians scored three goals in five minutes in the middle of the first period after defensive lapses from Bulgaria, but in the second the lionesses stormed back with two tallies – by Maria Runevska and Mirela Zareva and had a 19-4 shot advantage. In the end Bulgaria had few chances to score, but the game finished 3-2 for Lithuania.

“We were lucky to win this game. The Bulgarian team was in good shape and our goalie Emilie saved us, especially in the second period. We want to host the tournament next year and I hope for better results. Klara Miuller has double citizenship – German and Lithuanian, so she will go to play in the German first league next season, probably in Mannheim, and that will bring her level up,” said Haake, the German expert, who has coached different Lithuanian’s national teams in the last decade.

Kaunas, the second-largest city in Lithuania, was scheduled to host the cancelled 2021 IIHF Ice Hockey Women’s World Championships Division III with eight participating countries as Estonia decided to come back to competition for the first time since 2008 and Bosnia and Herzegovina was due to make its debut. For this year there were three more debutants – Serbia, Israel and Iran (later withdrew), and it was decided to create Group A and B in the Division III with all the new and returning countries in Group B, which was staged in Belgrade, 22-25 March 2022, won by Estonia.

The Lithuanian team will receive the silver medals from Sofia by mail because it had to leave Saturday morning before the last game of the tournament and there was a theoretical possibility to finish with the gold if Bulgaria had taken a point from Belgium. The intrigue was there for almost twelve minutes, but then the favorites took control with four goals in just 2:11 minutes. In the end the score was the same as in the first game between those teams – 8:0. In addition to gold, Belgium earned two individual awards – Chinouk van Calster for the best defender and Lotte de Guchtenaere for best forward after she finished with seven goals and six assists.

In December 2019, Bulgaria had thee wins in five games and a 22-13 goal difference. The only defeats were against Belgium (2-4) and South Africa (1-2) and there were wins over Lithuania (2-1), Romania (4-3 OT) and Hong Kong, China (5-0). This time around the host finished with zero points and 5-27 goals.

“It is sad when you finish last and you don’t have any points. We can’t complain about our preparation for the championship. The team was practising the whole season two times a week and played 12 games in the men’s amateur league winning the title in the end. But we were missing some key players in the tournament. We had many problems with the goaltending, allowing soft goals. At the same time, we were not effective in capitalizing on our scoring chances. We were missing the precision and the composure in these situations,” explained Krasimir Monov, Bulgaria’s head coach.

The captain from the last three championships, Stefani Stoyanova, was injured during an exhibition game. The best player from the 2020 event, goalie Paulina Georgieva, suffered a knee injury in the first game and had to be replaced on the roster. And Veronika Metanova, who was at Concordia University Wisconsin and works in Chicago as policewoman, could nоt come. She had 14 goals in nine games for Bulgaria at the world stage since making her debut.

“We had chances against Lithuania. Even in the first game that we lost 3-7, the score was 2-3 until the end of the second period. We couldn’t contain Klara Miuller, but in the two games we scored five goals on a great goaltender as Simonsen. I’m happy with the character that the team showed coming back in the second game and fighting to the end,” said Monov.

GB women earn ice hockey gold and promotion to World Championship Division 1

Great Britain won all their group games to secure promotion

Source: BBC Sports

Great Britain beat Latvia to secure promotion to Division 1B of ice hockey’s Women’s World Championship.

Katie Henry, Katherine Gale, Emily Harris and Louise Adams each scored in the 4-0 victory.

Great Britain won all four games in their Women’s World Championship Division II group to win gold at the event in Jaca, Spain.

Prior to the Latvia game, they had beaten Chinese Taipei 8-0, Spain 3-1 and
Mexico 3-0.

The last time Great Britain were in Division 1 was in 2013.

UAE win Ice Hockey World Championship Division III in Luxembourg

Source: The National

The team topped the five-strong standings in Division III A with a perfect 4-0 record in Luxembourg City after an outstanding victory in their final match.

Hamel Al Qubaisi, vice-president of the UAE Winter Sports Federation, dedicated the landmark victory to the UAE leadership, which he said had provided support and assistance.

“This achievement is a culmination of well-planned strategy and accumulative work by the federation to win international championships,” he said.

Juma Al Dhaheri, captain of the UAE team, said the victory was the culmination of ten years’ work to assemble a competitive team.

UAE joined the IIHF in 2001 but didn’t play their first World Championship until 2010, and earned their first win four years later.

The team is coached by Dave Rich, a 52-year-old Canadian from Ottawa who had a lengthy career in Germany before coaching there for more than a decade. More recently, he coached in Italy before moving to the UAE.
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