Month: May 2022

UAE Ice Hockey Team Claim Title Of 3Rd GCC Games Kuwait ’22

Source: Kuwait News Agency 

The national ice hockey squad of the United Arab Emirates were proclaimed champions of the 3rd GCC Games Kuwait 2022 on Friday evening.
The Saudi team won the silver medal and the host Kuwaiti team won the bronze medal.
The game, hosted by Kuwait Winter Games Club, saw the UAE team unbeaten in the three matches, thus securing nine points.
The Green squad, of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, secured six points from two wins and one loss.
The Blue, of the State of Kuwait, won bronze from one win and two losses, while Bahrain’s team lost their three matches. 

Icelandic women win thriller

The Icelandic players celebrate with their gold medals and trophy after winning the 2022 IIHF Ice Hockey Women’s World Championship Division II Group B in a nailbiter of a game against Australia.

By Henrik Manninen – IIHF.com

Iceland kept a cool head to win gold by the tiniest of margins at the 2022 IIHF Ice Hockey Women´s World Championship Division II Group B in Zagreb, Croatia.

Team captain Silvia Bjorgvinsdottir led by example by scoring the shootout winner to give Iceland a 2-1 victory over Australia. Her coolly dispatched backhand high past Australia’s netminder Olivia Last seals top spot for the Scandinavians. The Icelandic team captain was the sole skater to convert in a nailbiter of a shootout contest lasting six rounds.

“We have been working so hard for the past three or four years for this moment. I am so proud of all the girls on the team, and I think that we deserved it this year,” said the 22-year-old following an afternoon of high drama inside Zagreb’s Velesajam Ice Rink.

A vital cog in the Icelanders’ memorable promotion success was also netminder Birta Helgudottir, who kept all of Australia’s half-a-dozen penalty shots out of her net. Helgudottir and Silvia Bjorgvinsdottir were selected as the tournament’s best goalkeeper and forward respectively by the Directorate.

“It was a very important win for us in a game where the difference between the teams was small in details but huge by going up a division. Everyone contributed as we rolled four lines for most of the game so for me the win came from a team effort,” said Iceland head coach Jon Gislason.

“Our focus was to grow fast as the tournament went on and save the best for last and that worked out for us this time. I felt we improved our puck game throughout the tournament and we had to work hard for any possession against a strong forechecking Australian team that I feel belongs in the group above. But I think we do as well and ahead of next year with good preparation I believe we can play good games and compete for a win against any team in Division IIA,” he said.

The win sees Iceland promote to skate at the 2023 IIHF Ice Hockey Women’s World Championship Division II Group A. It also marks the highest overall position Iceland’s women’s national team has been at since entering World Championship play in 2005.

“Huge compliments to our girls who have worked very hard for this for many years and also to all our former players who have made this all possible. Our new generation of players are bringing new skills to our program while our veteran players guide them well and share their experience to take this team to new levels,” said Gislason, who as a player himself was an influential member of the Icelandic men’s national team, who back then punched well above their weight.

In Zagreb, Iceland had gotten the tournament underway by scoring double-digits in a 10-1 win against South Africa. A tougher nut to crack came against eventual bronze-medallists Turkey in game two as Sunna Bjorgvinsdottir scored the winner early in the third period in a 3-2 victory. An 11-1 blowout against Croatia then set them up in a winner-takes-it-all game for gold against Australia on the final day.

In a see-saw battle in Velesajam Ice rink, Australia started the brightest, but as the period wore on Iceland worked themselves into the game, winning the shots 10-6 during a goalless first frame.

Iceland’s men’s national team won gold as recently as last month at the 2022 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship Division II Group B. Now eager to emulate their success, the women’s team came one step closer during the second period against Australia.

Despite being outshot the Scandinavians broke the deadlock with 2:23 left of the second period. From her position along the boards Silvia Bjorgvinsdottir picked out Teresa Snorradottir whose shot from the point was saved by Last before Sunna Bjorgvinsdottir reacted quickest on the rebound to score Iceland’s opener.

Australia’s men’s team had withdrawn from World Championship play contested last month at this very same venue. With the women’s team now being able to return to the world stage as first team from Down Under in two years, the “Mighty Jills” were eager to make up for lost time.

They were level at 7:31 of the third peirod. Iceland’s Sunna Bjorgvinsdottir failed to control the puck in her defensive zone, it was snapped up by the lighting quick Kristelle van der Wolf. From her position in the slot between the two face-off circles, she unleashed a wrister between the pads of Helgudottir to tie things up.

With the game appearing now appearing to tilt over into Australia’s favour, 60 minutes of regular time were unable to separate the two evenly matched teams. With overtime and three-on-three taking over, it appeared to suit the pacy Australians better. They outshot Iceland 7-2 but failed to find a way to get the puck behind Helgudottir in the Icelandic net.

“I felt our speed and skating ability was a little bit better than theirs. However, they were able to skate with us during that time and outmuscle us during the 3-on-3. Even though we had a lot of the play at their end, we had a few high scoring chances but we were just unable to put the puck into the back of the net,” said Australia’s head coach Stuart Philps.

Throughout the tournament, Last of Finland’s RoKi Rovaniemi played 125 minutes and conceded just one goal for Australia. She shared goaltending duties with 33-year-old Tina Girdler of the Sydney Sirens, who did not concede a single goal in 120 minutes of play. Rylie Ellis also stood out for Australia being voted the best defender by the Directorate. Going forward they found the net with ease scoring 38 goals while conceding only twice in four games.

“A shootout is not a good way to win or lose a tournament. But that’s the way it is, which we have to accept. The performance of the Australian team has been outstanding. For a team brought together with short notice and to only concede one goal in regulation time in the entire tournament is a credit to our players and goaltenders,” said Philps.

Heronbridge College learner selected as part of South African U20 ice hockey team heading to Mexico

Nicholas Tylor in action in the World Championships in Bosnia.

Source: Fourway Review

Following a successful Ice Hockey World Championships in Bosnia in April, Heronbridge College learner and ice hockey player, Nicholas Tylor said he couldn’t wait for his next trip to Mexico in July.

Nicholas was part of the South Africa U18 National Ice Hockey team that recently won bronze in the World Championships, and will now represent his country at U20 level.

“It was an incredible opportunity for me to be a part of this national team and represent South Africa internationally. To be able to travel and play abroad against stronger teams will help improve the game for my team and myself.”
Nicholas, who started playing ice hockey eight years ago, hoped that the lessons learned at the World Championships would help him and the U20 national team to perform well in an upcoming competition in Mexico.

“I have no doubt that playing in the championships will enhance the level of play that we can bring home to South Africa. I’m so excited about travelling to Mexico. We will be playing against the Mexican team but as far as the other countries involved in the championship, we are still waiting for that confirmation.

Colombia wins at debut

By Christian Pierre – IIHF.com

For a second time the ice rink in Fussen, Germany served as venue for the Development Cup. Celebrating its third edition, the tournament has been established to provide an international tournament for IIHF members that are not able to compete in the IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship program. It has become increasingly important for these countries, and their players, to be able to play competitive games to further their development.

With six participating countries – Algeria, Andorra, Colombia, Ireland, Liechtenstein and Portugal – this third edition of the Development Cup was the biggest and most successful since its inauguration in 2017. The first edition in Canillo, Andorra saw four participants –Ireland, Morocco, Portugal, and host Andorra. In 2018, North Macedonia joined returning countries Andorra, Ireland and Portugal for the second edition in Fussen, Germany.

The Corona pandemic intervened for any further action, thus the hiatus. But with six participating nations the tournament made a brilliant comeback much to the joy of the driving forces behind the event such as Irishman Aaron Guli and Adil El Farj, a Canadian with Moroccan roots.

Common Ground

What all participating countries have in common is that their ice hockey programs are quite small. Either because their countries are small, like microstates Andorra and Liechtenstein, or because ice hockey under IIHF rules is difficult for reasons related to ice rink infrastructure, such as the lack of full-size ice rinks. Of the six participants in Füssen, only Ireland had previous experience of participating in the IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship program. Interesting detail, Andorra boasts a nice regular IIHF ice rink (1,500 seats) in Canillo, where Spain organized the then IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship D-Pool in 1997.

Diaspora

While Andorra has its own ice rink, Liechtenstein, the other microstate participating in Füssen, hasn’t. Its players practise their ice hockey in neighboring countries Austria and Switzerland. Nor does Algeria. The players on its roster live in the diaspora and have Algerian roots and mainly developed their hockey skills abroad, like France or Great Britain. Unfortunately, Dundalk Ice Dome, the only regulation size Irish ice rink, closed a few years ago, in 2010. However, there is hope that a new ice rink will open in the future to give the program another boost. In the meantime, the Irish travel to neighbour Northern Ireland to hit the ice in Belfast. Portugal has had some temporary ice venues and developed its ice hockey program via inline hockey as did Colombia. However, the latter is making a lot of progress having participated several times in the Amerigol Cup in Florida winning the 2018 edition and recently participated in the Dallas Spring Classic, an event powered by NHL club Dallas Stars. In Fussen they showed their mastery of the game coming out on top with four wins and one tie winning the tournament.

Inspirer

Inspirer and organizer Guli, who is also president of the Irish Ice Hockey Association, is extremely satisfied with this third edition. “I conceived this tournament for national teams that for whatever reason cannot participate in the IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship program can still play the sport representing their respective countries on the international level and thus profile themselves as an ice hockey nation. The traditional ways of developing ice hockey don’t really work in these countries. The focus is on showing that these countries are involved in the sport of ice hockey and can use this event to promote the grassroots development of the sport in their country through their national senior men’s teams,” explains Guli.

“This edition was a challenge, obviously with Covid. There was a two-year lay-off. The 3rd edition was originally scheduled for October 2021, but with the Delta variant peaking in that period the decision was made to postpone it until now. But I think it is a sign of resilience by everyone because of Covid and the long gap that there is even more interest as we have grown from four to six teams, and we have also more interest from other men’s teams, and we are even in discussions with the IIHF in holding a women’s edition as well.” 

At the upcoming IIHF Annual Congress Guli and his colleagues will have talks about the future. “We will be looking to take the 4th edition as the next step up. Every time we organize the Development Cup, we want to make it better every new edition. We were so pleased IIHF President Luc Tardif and General Secretary ad interim Gion Veraguth were present, as well as IIHF Council member and retiring German Ice Hockey Association President Franz Reindl. A sign the IIHF is committed to further support the Development Cup which will be massive for us. Mr. Tardif is a strong believer in development and him being present also sent a strong message to the participating teams.”

His colleague Adil El Farj agrees. “Seeing IIHF President Luc Tardif dropping the puck at the ceremonial face-off was huge, not only fur us organizers, but also for the participating nations. The IIHF President met with the Associate Members Working Group (which represents non-championship participants) to talk about the future and working on eligibility. It’s in our common interest that this tournament is more than just a competition, but also continues to focus on development. A Development Cup for women’s teams could be the next step to further improve the sport for associate members worldwide.”

Colombians writing History

For the Colombians this Development Cup couldn’t have been any better, claiming the victory as its first South American participant and writing ice hockey history. “It has been indeed a valuable experience this week,” confirms Daniel Fierro, president of the Colombian Ice Hockey Federation and player on the team. “Honestly, we didn’t know what to expect, as we had no clue about the strength of our opponents since we previously only played in tournaments on the American continent. Obviously, we are very happy in achieving the first place in this IIHF-sanctioned event. It is very important for us to show what Colombian ice hockey is capable of so one day we can participate in the IIHF World Championships.” 

The Colombian Ice Hockey Federation develops its ice hockey program through inline hockey as there are currently no ice rinks in the South American country. And apparently this surrogate sport can help. “We play inline hockey, but we started playing this dryland variant with ice hockey rules, like offside and icing etc., to accustom our players once they hit the ice. Since we don’t have ice rinks in Colombia, we travel a few days prior of a tournament so we can practise a couple of times on the ice before the event starts. We were in Fussen, three days prior to the Development Cup to practise on the ice. It eases our players to make the transition from inline to ice. That was part of the success we had this week.”

The team in Fussen consisted of 22 players. “Twenty of them were Colombian born,” proudly states Daniel. “Two have Colombian roots, being born in Sweden and the USA. Something we are very proud of is the fact that all players play in Colombia today and a few had some experience playing ice hockey abroad in the States and Europe. So, we try to comply with the IIHF rules as we hope to bring this team to an IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship in the future. We are making steps towards that. This victory is a huge step for us. Showcasing our ice hockey skills outside the Americas was very important, especially towards our ministry of sports. A delegate of the ministry was present and saw what we can achieve. Hence, winning on the international scene is huge for us, so claiming the Development Cup was an enormous step forward to achieving a first ice rink in our country.”

Building a new team

It was the first time that Liechtenstein participated in the Development Cup. Previously its national team played only two international games versus Luxemburg. “We started building a new team a year ago for this Development Cup,” explains Liechtenstein coach Herbi Schadler. “We set several goals for our federation, such as a full-size ice rink in our country, the participation of our country in the IIHF Ice Hockey World Championships while aiming towards the top-50 in the World Ranking. Therefore, it was important to be present at this edition of the Development Cup. Our first goal was to develop the team and to find our identity. We were process-orientated, not result orientated. We planned different steps as this participation was also important for our younger players, getting the experience on the international level.”

Liechtenstein ended in second place. Coach Schadler is satisfied. “We reached all our goals set for this tournament. We ran through our process as we aimed to and the result is very good with only one loss against a strong Colombia, so we are very pleased. We planned well. We want to continue with this young team for the next years to come, building a thorough foundation for the national team program. We set up a good environment for the players and now we want to take it to the next level.”

Liechtenstein has only one very small ice rink in Malbun. The national team practises in neighboring countries Austria and Switzerland. “Our participation in the Development Cup will help us achieve a regular-size ice rink in the country. We had a lot of media coverage playing in Fussen, some national press was even present. So we are very happy about the outcome. This was very helpful. We could show the media and politicians that we work professionally to further develop ice hockey in our country. I think we did a good job. We are a step closer to a new ice rink.”

Importance for further development

For first timer Algeria, being present was very important. “The participation in this Development Cup was massive. We really needed this boost,” confirms Karim Kerbouche, from Team Algeria. “Just before we became IIHF member in 2019, we were on a peak with the Algerian government paying attention to us and willing to fund and building our sport in Algeria. It had taken us some years to get this recognition and support. It resulted in government funding for a kids’ program, an ice hockey school on the sole ice rink in Algeria, a rink suited for 3-on-3 games situated in a shopping mall in the city of Setif. Unfortunately, Covid happened some three months later, and everything went in lockdown like in the rest of the world. As a result, our local hockey program went in hibernation for two years. Hence, we needed this Development Cup to get back on track and rekindle the attention of the Algerian government to restart the aid they were providing for us and helping us with the ice hockey school in Setif and for participation in tournaments abroad like this Development Cup.

“I’m very happy with the outcome. I didn’t expect we would win the tournament. We had 10 plus guys born in Algeria. And we bring as many players as possible back to our project for the kids. So, from that side of things, our two victories were amazing. The tournament gave us the opportunity to play against European nations, which was a first for us and win against one, which was big for us. And then of course the historical game against Colombia. An African nation playing ice hockey against a South American, that’s material for the history books of ice hockey. It’s an honour to be part of that history. And it’s definitely interesting, it’s proof ice hockey has become a global sport.”

Perfect finish for Slovenia

By Martin Merk – IIHF.com

Slovenia beat Korea 4-1 in its last game of the 2022 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship Division I Group A on home ice for a perfect finish in Ljubljana that ended with the gold medals for the Slovenes.

Slovenia ends the tournament with a 4-0 record. The Slovenes won all games with a clear margin of three or more goals except the first one, a 4-2 win against Lithuania where they also held a four-goal lead until five minutes before the final buzzer.

Slovenia outshot the Koreans 29-13 although the margin came from the first period when Slovenia had five power plays while the teams had equal numbers of shots on goal in each of the other periods.

At the closing ceremony the Slovenian team got the gold medals awarded and Hungary took silver. The top-two teams earned promotion to the top division for next year. Lithuania didn’t play today and was awarded the bronze medals yesterday.

The game came after a media conference where the ice hockey associations from Slovenia and Hungary announced to bid together to host the top-level 2023 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship in Budapest and Ljubljana (see here) to replace the original host St. Petersburg, Russia. It would be a bonus for the two countries few days after having earned promotion to the top level.

“It’s sometimes tough for focus when the games doesn’t change the standings but we started off well, had chances to score goals,” said Ziga Jeglic.

“It’s fun to be back in the top division. I hope we can stay this time and I really hope that it’s going to work out with Hungary to host. It would be great for hockey around this area. It’s important to develop hockey not just in the top hockey nations and not to have it there every time. It would mean a lot for us and we would have the support from our fans.”

Jeglic led the tournament in scoring with seven points (3+4), same as his teammate Jan Urbas (0+7). He was selected as best forward by the tournament directorate and as MVP in the media vote.

“I have to thank first my team and then my linemates Jan [Urbas] and Miha [Verlic]. For sure I couldn’t do that without them,” Jeglic said.

Slovenia and Korea entered the game knowing in advance that they would finish the tournament in first and fourth place respectively. Despite that 4,000 fans came to almost fill the arena for a farewell of the tournament and to see the medal ceremony with gold for Slovenia.

For the Slovenes it was also a chance to avenge the 5-3 loss in the teams’ last Division I encounter three years ago.

“It’s great to win this kind of tournaments in front of the own fans with such a great atmosphere,” said captain Mitja Robar.

“We were a strong team, individually and as a team. We achieved all these good results thanks to our team spirit. We are like a family, a closely tied group. That’s our advantage. When we needed we just changed up a gear and dominated.”

Favorites on paper by the teams’ performances earlier this week the Slovenes lived up to the expectations. Also thanks to its many power plays – Korea took five minor penalties – the Slovenes outshot Korea 18-2 in the opening frame.

With a slapshot from the blue line Robar opened the scoring for Slovenia at 5:54 with the second power play.

The Slovenes also capitalized on the next man advantage with Sangwook Kim in the penalty box. At 11:26 Sabolic’s shot from the right face-off dot bounced from the right goal post to Korea goalie Matt Dalton and from there into the net.

The Koreans played more disciplined in a second period that allowed them to create chances and find back into the game. Shots were 7-7 but the only goal was scored by Slovenia at equal strength.

At 15:35 Sabolic finished a breakout with his second goal after a centering pass from Rok Ticar.

Ticar himself was in charge of Slovenia’s fourth marker just after a successful penalty kill. He intercepted a pass from Korean defender Heedoo Nam in the Korean zone and beat Dalton one-on-one.

“The game didn’t make a difference but we’re all professional. We won the game, that’s what we wanted,” said Urbas.

“Next year it’s definitely going to be a challenge. You always dream to play against the best and that’s going to happen next year. We’re excited about it,” he said. And the Ljubljana native hopes it could happen in his hometown with the bid. “It would be awesome to play in Ljubljana. I hope it happens.”

With 4:37 left on the game clock it was time for the Korean goal song. After Hyeongcheol Song saw his shot from the right side deflected, Jong Min Lee was well positioned to capitalize on the rebound and make it a 4-1 game.

For Korea the game and the tournament didn’t go as well as hoped. With little game experience at home due to tougher Covid-19 rules in the Far East than in Europe and the integration of new and younger players the tournament was a learning experience for the team. Thanks to a 4-1 win against Romania on Thursday the Koreans stay in this group.

“It was a good experience for us. We will try next year to get promoted,” said Sanghoon Shin.

Final Ranking

  1. Slovenia 12 (promoted)
  2. Hungary 9 (promoted)
  3. Lithuania 6
  4. Korea 3
  5. Romania 0 (relegated)

Yuval Halpert: From Israel to McKendree, and Back

By: Dylan Powell – The McKendree Review

Yuval Halpert is a 21 year old freshman forward for the McKendree Men’s DI Hockey team. Recently, Halpert has taken on another position: forward on the Israeli national hockey team!

Yuval grew up just south of Tel Aviv, Israel. “I started playing inline hockey when I was 9 and moved to ice when I was 12. I fell in love with the game of hockey and traveled all over the world playing it” noted Halpert. He first made the Israeli National Team when he was 15, playing in the under 20 year-old class world championship, and since then participated in 9 world championships. Halpert also racked up 2 gold medals, and 1 silver, participating as captain of the under 18 year-old and under 20 year-old teams from 2018 to 2020. 

While he was off of the ice, he served in the Israeli military as a fitness instructor for combat soldiers, recently being released over Christmas break after three years of service. 

At McKendree, Yuval is an exercise science major and a sports psychologist, with a goal of becoming a physical therapist or an athletic trainer, working with athletes. He played Men’s DI hockey for the Bearcats this past season.

Currently, he is in Slovenia in training camp for the world championship in Croatia. Soon, the Israeli National Team will be playing against China, Croatia, the Netherlands, Spain, and Australia. “We have players coming from all around the world, in countries such as the USA, Canada, Israel, Ukraine, and Germany to be a part of the national team. During the season, we play in different places, but for two weeks a year, we are seeing each other and representing our country” said Halpert.

Speaking on his preparation for the tournament, Yuval mentioned the struggles of Covid and the amount of work the team has been putting in. “I’ve been waiting for this week and championship the entire year, especially after a 2 year break because of Covid. All of the guys that are here are guys I grew up with, and the only way I can see them is playing in the world championship, so it’s pretty fun being with all of them. I’ve been skating and working out every day for the past two months before the tournament, with some video sessions.” 

Given the amount of time that has passed since the last tournament, Halpert was relieved to get the call to return to the world stage, playing the game he grew up on with the teammates he has played with for several years. We wish Yuval the best this coming week in the world tournament!

Gold for Poland

Poland’s Arkadiusz Kostek celebrates the opening goal as Poland defeats Japan in the Division IB championship decider in Tychy.

By Any Potts – IIHF.com

Arkadiusz Kostek was Poland’s unlikely gamewinner as the host nation took gold in Division IB. The 27-year-old defenceman is very much a stay-at-home type – until the 26th minute of today’s game. That’s when he grabbed his first ever World Championship goal, breaking the deadlock and setting Poland on course for a hard-fought 2-0 victory over Japan. Alan Lyszczarczyk added a clincher 96 seconds from the end.

Goaltender John Murray, so impressive throughout the tournament, also had another great game. He made 21 saves for his second shut-out of the championship, none bigger than his stop to deny Makuru Furuhashi a tying goal late in the third period. Murray finished with an impressive 97.78% save ratio but head Robert Kalaber would not be drawn into singling out individuals.

“We don’t have any one hero,” he said. “We have a team of heroes.”

The result secures a return Division IA for the Poles, who were relegated in 2018. Prior to the tournament, head coach Kalaber told journalists that he believed IA was Poland’s natural level and now he has led his team back there.

Japan wins silver, its fourth medal in a row at this level, but a return to the second tier of global hockey remains elusive. Head coach Rick Carriere, who was the Oilers’ director of player development before taking the Japanese job last season, was disappointed with the outcome but encouraged by what he saw in Tychy.

“Games like this are what makes our program better,” he said. “You don’t always get this playing at some other events.

“But playing in a final against a good team like Poland, we learned some lessons and we’re going to get better from it.”

Poland had Aron Chmielewski in its line-up for the first time in this tournament. The forward slotted straight into the first line alongside Lyszczarczyk and Filip Komorski. All three are signed to Ocelari Trinec in Czechia, but while the latter have been available throughout the World Championship after ending the season on loan at farm club Frydek-Mystek, Chmielewski is part of the Ocelari first team that won the Czech championship on Thursday.

“I’m so happy,” Chmielewski said as his second championship party in four days got started. “I didn’t have much time to party with my friends in Trinec before coming here, but now it feels so good.

“The national team had to wait four years for this because of Covid. I’m so happy to be here and to be a part of it.”

In the first period, though, Chmielewski and his teammates found it hard to get much of a result from the Japanese defence. With a typically hard-skating performance, Japan limited Poland’s opportunities and that top line managed just one shot on goal in an opening stanza shaded by the visitor.

At the other end, helped by two power plays, Japan was more threatening. Early in the game, John Murray made a good stop from Yushiroh Hirano and Shigeki Hitosato fired a dangerous shot into the side of the net. Later in the frame, Hitosato was even closer when he forced a sliding pad save out of Murray on the second Japanese power play of the afternoon.

“I was worried before this game,” admitted head coach Kalaber. “When we played exhibition games with Japan, they were very strong. I expected them to be our closest rivals here.

“But I want to talk about our heroes. The way we sacrificed ourselves on defence. The way we stayed solid and organised. That was the key to this victory.”

If the weight of expectation hampered Poland in the first period, the host nation stepped things up after the intermission. Early on, Chmielewski set up Lyszczarczyk for a shot off the crossbar and Japan struggled to clear its lines for long spells. That pressure paid off: five minutes into the middle frame, Lyszczarczyk played the puck out from behind the net, Mateusz Bryk’s point shot was padded away and fellow defenceman Arkadiusz Kostek put in the rebound. Normally, the 27-year-old blue liner would have no business trying to emulate a centre; gold-medal showdowns, though, are a bit different and Kostek could hardly have picked a better moment to open his international account.

Poland hoped to extend its lead on a power play midway through the session, but instead Japan almost grabbed a short-handed goal when Makuru Fukuhashi jumped on a loose puck and engaged the turbos to sprint down the ice and shoot from the top of the circle. Murray made the stop, but in the subsequent puck battle Poland took a penalty.

During the brief Japanese power play that followed, Yusuke Kon had a decent look but the defenceman could not get the puck out of his skates and Hitosato’s follow-up shot lacked punch. Almost immediately, Patryk Wadja jumped out of the box and straight onto an odd man rush but the defenceman could not get clear of the Japanese defence and the chance was lost.

In the third period, Poland looked to protect its advantage. Mindful of the danger of Japan’s pacy forward line, the Poles opted for a ‘safety first’ approach and, for long periods, there were few chances at either end.
There were still some anxious moments, though, none more so than Furuhashi’s 54th minute breakaway. The speedy forward came out of the penalty box and straight onto a stretch pass that left the Polish defence floundering in his wake. Murray, once again, saved his team and that stop was greeted with a cheer as loud as any goal in this arena.

“He’s just a wall,” Chmielewski said of his netminder. “He’s like 70%, 80% of this team and we’re delighted to have him with us. We have a great goalie.”

But the final cheer was for Lyszczarczyk’s goal. Japan will lament a treacherous bounce off an official’s skate the presented the Polish forward with the chance to seal the deal, but few in the Tychy crowd will worry about that as the celebrations of a home gold got started in earnest.

China marching to gold

The Chinese players celebrate with their gold medals after winning all games in Zagreb.

By  Henrik Manninen – IIHF.com

Two-and-a-half months after skating at the 2022 Olympic Winter Games, the Chinese men’s national team stormed through the 2022 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship Division II Group A in emphatic style and same as the women’s team recently earns promotion this spring.

The Chinese men will play in the Division I next year for the first time since 2007 when China hosted in Qiqihar.

Sweeping the field with a perfect record of four straight wins and a goal difference of 28-4, China skated in a class of their own. The gold medals were secured after just three games courtesy of a 5-1 win against hosts and bronze winners Croatia on Friday night.

With an entire roster skating for Kunlun Red Star of the KHL, China had earlier in the tournaments rolled past Israel 14-1, beaten their closest rivals, the Netherlands, 5-1 before dispatching the youngest team of the tournament, Spain, 4-1 in their final game.

“We were expected to win and we won, so that is important,” said China´s head coach Ivano Zanatta. “This is the first step of our heritage group of players participating at the World Championship. They showed the qualities that we need. Patience, determination, the right attitude, commitment, and that’s what’s important. I am really happy for Team China.”

The Netherlands defeated Croatia 6-2 in the closing game of the tournament to get their hands on the silver. At the opposite end of the table, promoted Israel lost all four games to finish bottom to drop down to Division IIB. Australia, bronze winners at its most recent World Championship appearance in 2019 was unable to compete due to Covid concerns and travel restrictions.

23-year-old Fu Shuai of China and Nick Verschuren of the Netherlands both tallied 4+6 in four games to top the scoring charts. China’s Fu Jiang also collected 10 points, with three goals and seven assists in just three games. The directorate awards went to Vilim Rosandic, Croatia (best goalkeeper), Jordy Verkiel, Netherlands (best defender) and Fu Jiang, China (best forward).

Structural damage caused by an earthquake in 2020 on Zagreb’s main rink Dom Sportova saw the tournament being relocated across River Sava. It was inside the spartan surroundings of Zagreb’s Velesajam Ice Rink that a new chapter of China’s World Championship history would be written.

Blueliner Kelin Zhou and forward Shen Jialei replaced Dannisi Auxibofu and Rudy Ying from China’s Olympic roster in Beijing. Another notable omission was netminder Jieruimi Shimisi. Ouban Yongli, who was in the net during five Olympic periods, took over as the first-choice goalie. Playing full minutes in Zagreb, the 22-year-old recorded a save percentage of 95.60 and a GAA of 1.00.

Backup goalie Han Pengfei remained as one of only three players who skated for China at their most recent World Championship in Belgrade in 2019. Back then China had avoided relegation by a whisker. Three years on, this new-look China team was in a class of its own up at the top.

China’s key game in the Croatian capital came in their second game against the Netherlands. Their most recent meeting at this level in 2018 had seen Netherlands blank China 7-0. With the Dutch now being underdogs, they fearlessly set out facing China in a fast-paced first frame.

Outshooting their European opponents 15-4 in the first frame, China struck first blood with 2:17 left of the period. Jian An picked up the puck in his defensive zone rounded his own net, fed Jieke Kailiaosi with a pass his father, the former NHL great Chris Chelios, would have been proud of. Jian An collected it at full speed to burst through a Dutch rearguard caught off-guard to clinically dispatch low to get China off the mark.

Ten seconds before the end of the first period, China scored again. Ruian Sipulaoer bounced a cross ice pass to Taile Wang who brought it down with his hand, picked out Jialei Shen in front of the Dutch net who outmuscled Verkiel before scoring on his rebound to double China´s lead behind 25-year-old netminder Ruud Leeuwesteijn.

Diego Hofland, making his first World Championship at the age of 31, clanged one off the post for the Netherlands only 90 seconds into the middle frame. But once again it was China being clinical in front of the net as the period wore on. They were three goals up at 5:02 of the middle frame. Jieke Kailiaosi fired a wrister and on the rebound from Leeuwesteijn, 37-year-old veteran Jinguang Ye grabbed the puck, turned around past Ties van Soest of the Dutch defence to dispatch home China’s third.

Skating with an all-Dutch born roster, the Netherlands had arrived to Zagreb with ten debutants at this level. One of those, 23-year-old blueliner Noah Muller, instigated the move offering the men in orange and white a lifeline late in the second period. Behind China’s net, he picked out Verschuren in the slot who showed great composure burying it top shelf at 16:17.

The lively Taile Wang capped a fine afternoon for China at 6:36 of the third frame. He got his third point of the afternoon as he raced past Mike Collard to score at the back door from a pass by Ruian Sipulaoer. Firmly in control of the proceedings, China closed the scoring with 2:56 left to play. Fu Jiang lobbed a backhand pass out of his defensive zone over three Dutch players and onto the path of Fui Shuai who from the face off circle to the right of Leuwesteijn finished high to close the scoring at 5-1.

“This would be the first game at this level I’ve experienced with this kind of tempo, so it was a pretty good hockey game for Division IIA,” said the Dutch head coach Doug Mason, who first coached the Netherlands back in 1993 and experienced a game or two at this level.

“Our players weren’t afraid at all, they wanted to put pressure on China whenever they had the opportunity to and wanted to try things. China’s second one was a cheesy goal. The fifth one too, but our goalie made some really good stops so they could have had other goals. The bottom line regardless of the score, is that I am very happy that our guys went out to play.”

Equally content with his performance and relishing every moment in Zagreb was China’s Zheng Enlai.

“It’s my second time representing China. The Olympics was my first. This setup at this tournament is not quite on the same level as the Olympics, but once you are out on the ice and representing your country it’s just an awesome experience,” he said.

Born in British Columbia, the 25-year-old is one of the so-called heritage players on China’s roster who has returned to his roots to bring the promise of a new dawn for Chinese hockey.

“It is awesome not just for myself but also for my family and my grandparents,” he said. “I still have a lot of family in China. They even tried to call me just a few seconds ago. They are really happy for me and I am happy that I have the option to do this.”

Throughout the history of international hockey, national team programs have been looking at various ways to speed up their progress. The Netherlands during the 1970s and Croatia from the last decade are just two examples. But despite the superiority of the Chinese team in Zagreb, head coach Zanatta dismisses any claim that China would now frantically start climbing up the divisions. Next up they will skate at the 2023 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship Division I Group B.

“I’ve been through this with Italy, both as a player and as a manager and it’s very difficult. This is one level and it’s still a battle as you saw against Spain and the next level is even more difficult,” Zanatta said.

“I think we are taking steps in the right direction. But you need a lot of patience in hockey. It’s a sport that requires time. You aren’t wearing shoes you are wearing skates, so people forget about the dynamics. But China has great infrastructure and obviously, they are going to have to continue working with the youth and kids and I think it looks good.”

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