Day: February 13, 2023

Hallam keeps up winning start

Sweden’s Anton Bengtsson celebrates a goal against Czechia at the last World Championship. Sweden has won all three Euro Hockey Tour tournaments so far this season.

By  Andy Potts –

Sweden continued its impressive Euro Hockey Tour campaign by winning the Beijer Hockey Games on home ice. Despite dropping an overtime verdict to Czechia in the opening game, Tre Kronor rebounded to blank Switzerland before facing Finland in the deciding action in Malmo.

In the latest instalment of that big Nordic rivalry, Sweden eased to a 3-1 lead against the current World and Olympic champion. Theodor Lunnstrom opened the scoring midway through the first period, converting the first power play of the game after Tommi Tikka sat for tripping. At the start of the second, Hardy Haman Aktell got his first goal in international hockey. The Vaxjo Lakers defender saw his shot deflect into the net off an opposing player to double Sweden’s lead. Anton Bengtsson added a third midway through the game and after that, Tre Kronor had little difficulty protecting that lead. The only blemish came a fraction of a second before the hooter when Robert Leino’s consolation goal denied Lars Johansson a shutout.

The victory secured top spot for Sweden for the third time in three Euro Tour competitions. That’s a great start for new head coach Sam Hallam, who replaced Johan Garpenlov at the end of last season. The 43-year-old, a three-time Swedish champion with Vaxjo and twice named Coach of the Year, stepped up to the national team in the summer and is enjoying the role so far.

“The big thing is that we have very good players out there in Europe,” he told TV6 after the tournament in Malmo. “If you look at the guys we put on the ice today, and in the other tournaments, we have a very good team.

“But really, it’s all about May and another World Championship.”

The game against Sweden was a test too far for the free-scoring Finns. Earlier, they edged Switzerland in a shootout after a 5-5 tie, then thumped Czechia 6-1. Team manager Mika Kortelainen told “I have to admit that Sweden was better today. They had more energy, they skated better. We had a hard week, we did a lot of work, but we couldn’t meet that final challenge.”

Sweden’s victory in its home tournament consolidates its position at the top of the overall Euro Hockey Tour standings. Tre Kronor has 19 points from nine games over the three tournaments to date, five clear of Czechia. Finland is third with 13 points and Switzerland remains in fourth with eight points.

Although Switzerland finished at the foot of the standings in Malmo, there was some good news. Two of the three games were tied in regulation, including the clash with Finland. That game was the first chance for the Swiss national team to play at the new Swiss Life Arena in Zurich, one of the venues for the 2026 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship. That inaugural fixture turned out to be a barn-burner, with the Swiss powering to a 5-2 lead against Jukka Jalonen’s Finns, only to end up tied at 5-5. Finland took the verdict in a shootout after Ahti Oksanen beat Melvin Nyffeler.

Boost for Austria against Elite Pool opponents

Austria triumphed at a four-team tournament in Denmark, enjoying victories over Norway and the host nation. That’s an encouraging result for the Austrians, who escaped relegation from the top division of the World Championship last season thanks to a big fightback in the third period of their final game in Tampere.

Against Norway, Austria grabbed the lead with a shorthanded goal from Thomas Raffl midway through the first period. Eskil Wold, a 20-year-old forward establishing himself on the national team this season, tied it up for Norway in the 33rd minute and the game remained locked at 1-1 until Manuel Ganahl gave Austria the shoot-out verdict.

That win sent Austria into a final against Denmark, 3-0 victors over France in Friday’s other game. David Madlener made 26 saves to backstop a 3-0 win for Roger Bader’s team. Paul Huber, Fabian Hochegger and Lucas Thaler got the Austrian goals. In the game for third place, Norway edged France 2-1 with Mats Rosseli Olsen potting the winner 90 seconds before the hooter.

Ticar leads Slovenia to success in Italy

Slovenia claimed top spot at the Michele Bolognini Tournament in Bolzano, Italy, by the narrowest of margins. A goal from Roc Ticar three minutes into overtime snapped a goalless tie between the Slovenes and the host in their first action of the competition. Ticar’s effort decided the whole tournament: the two countries would finish tied on seven points, with Slovenia getting the verdict thanks to the head-to-head result.

Both nations are looking to prepare for World Championship action in May. Here they were joined by Hungary, back in the top flight after winning promotion last season, and Korea. The Hungarians took third place and also had the distinction of scoring the only goal on Slovenia before going down in a shootout. Korea, though, found things tough, allowing 19 goals in three games that included a 0-10 hammering against the tournament winner.

That emphatic win over Korea helped Ticar finish the tournament as leading scorer. He had a five-point game (1+4) to claim 6 (2+4) points in total. Next came a clutch of six players on four points apiece – Italy’s Peter Spornberger, Phil Pietroniro, Brandon McNally and Daniel Tedesco, plus Slovenia’s Ziga Pance and Anze Kuralt.

GB tunes up for promotion push

Great Britain rarely takes part in international play outside of the World Championship and Olympic Qualification programs. However, as part of the country’s preparations for its Division IA campaign in Nottingham in the spring, the Brits hosted a four-team tournament. The opposition came from Poland and Romania, two opponents in that World Championship group, plus Japan, runner-up in Division IB last season.

The tournament went well for the host nation, which won all three games. A 3-0 victory over Japan started things off, followed by a 4-1 success against Poland and a 6-1 thrashing of Romania. In particular, the return of Liam Kirk – still part of the Coyotes organisation and currently on loan at Jukurit Mikkeli in Finland – was a lift for GB. He had 5 (2+3) points from his two appearances. Kirk scored seven goals in his last World Championship campaign in Latvia in 2021 but was injured as Britain suffered relegation from the top division last May.

Japan, looking to secure promotion to Division IA after three silver medals in its last four IB campaigns, can take several positives from this tournament. The Japanese finished second after defeating Romania and Poland, both of which will play in the higher group this season.

Finnish women top in Fussen

Pauliina Salonen and Emilia Kyrkko were among the young players joining the Finnish women’s senior national team.

By  Erin Brown –

Nineteen women’s national teams were in action across Europe between 7 to 12 February in preparation for upcoming 2023 IIHF Women’s World Championships in April.

The four multi-nation tournaments took place in Germany, Hungary, Poland and Estonia and featured the senior team debuts of a few U18 standouts — including Finnish goalkeeper Emilia Kyrkko, Czechia’s Tereza Plosova and Slovakia’s Nela Lopusanova.

Ukraine’s women’s team also returned to competition for the first time since December 2021.

Finland dominates in Fussen

Finland went unbeaten and outscored its opponents 16-3 in four games in Fussen, Germany.

The Finns opened with an 8-2 win against Switzerland, then posted 3-0 and 1-0 shutouts against Germany and Czechia, respectively. They closed with a 4-1 win over rival Sweden.

“We have grown a lot as a team during the season and we have welded together well,” Finland coach Saara Niemi said. “Our active defence in every area of the ice has paid off. In addition, we have developed our attacking game.”

Kyrkko and Anni Keisala held opponents without a goal for a stretch of 163:33 before Swedish defender Anna Kjellbin struck in the final contest.

Kyrkko led the tournament with a 0.5 goals-against average and 96.3 save percentage in her senior debut. The Best Goalkeeper at the 2022 IIHF Ice Hockey U18 Women’s World Championship, Kyrkko finished with two wins and earned a shutout with 15 saves against Czechia.

Jenni Hiirikoski, who shared the tournament lead in goals with teammate Petra Nieminen with four apiece, provided the game-winner against the Czechs just under seven minutes into the defence-heavy contest.

Nieminen finished atop the scoring leaders with seven points (four goals, three assists). Defender Sanni Rantala ranked second with six, all assists.

Czechia, which captured bronze at the 2022 Women’s Worlds, finished second. Plosova, 16, led her team with three goals and two assists in her first appearance with Czechia’s senior squad.

Sweden (2-2-0-0) placed third.

The teams will face off again from 5 to 16 April at the 2023 IIHF Women’s World Championship in Brampton, Ontario, Canada.

Japan, Hungary stand out in Budapest

Haruka Toko provided the game-deciding goal a 4-3 shootout win over host Hungary, lifting Japan to a first-place finish at the Five Nations Tournament in Budapest.

The forward finished the tournament with two goals and nine assists, while Rui Ukita notched six goals and three assists. Riko Kawaguchi and Kiku Kobayashi each recorded shutouts. The Japanese, who went unbeaten in three games, outscored opponents 21-3 and outshot them 138-56.

In the most closely contested tournament of the week, the mix of top-level and Division IA teams required shootouts in four of the nine games.

Hungary, which appeared in one more match than Japan, finished with eight points. France (1-0-1-1) placed third.

All three teams will compete at the top-level Women’s World Championship in Brampton. Norway and Slovakia aim to join them with a promotion from the Division IA in Shenzen, China.

The tournament schedule favoured the Japanese, who only played their first game after all teams except France had skated twice. Slovakia was competing in its fourth game in as many days when it fell to Japan, 10-0.

“The Japanese women have a very strong team and they entered the match relaxed,” Slovakia coach Arto Sieppi said. “After four games, we ran out of energy, but that is logical. We saw what our female players are capable of. It was another important step for us on the way forward.”

Slovakia’s Nela Lopusanova had five points in her senior debut. The 14-year-old phenom scored a hat trick in the opener, a 7-6 shootout loss to Hungary. She added two primary assists and a shootout goal in Slovakia’s 3-2 win over Norway the next day.

Lopusanova became the first women’s player to score a lacrosse-style goal in international competition and earned MVP honours with 12 points at 2023 IIHF U18 Women’s World Championship.

Making their Budapest homecoming, Fanni Garat-Gasparics and Reka Dabasi powered Hungary’s second-place finish. Garat-Gasparics, formerly of MAC Budapest, had four goals and an assist. Dabasi, a long-time KMH Budapest star, finished with a goal and four assists. Both are playing this season with PHF’s Metropolitan Riveters in New York.

Danes go unbeaten in Katowice

Julie Oksbjerg (three goals, one assist) and Silke Glud (two goals, two assists) led Denmark to a sweep in Poland. Netminder Caroline Bjergstad, who shouldered the workload for the Danes, finished with three wins and a 93.7 save percentage.

Oksberg provided the game-winner with 54 seconds remaining in a 2-1 win over second-place Italy.

The Italians secured their finish with a comeback victory over Poland. Trailing 1-0 on a goal by Poland’s Wiktoria Dziwok, Italy’s Greta Niccolai  struck twice in the final three minutes. Niccolai delivered the game-winner with nine seconds left in regulation.

Italy finished also with a 4-2 win over Great Britain.

Denmark will compete at the Division I-A tournament in China, while Italy, Poland and Great Britain will take part in the Division I-B competition in Suwon, Korea.

Ukraine returns, Lithuania shines at Baltic Cup

The Ukrainian women’s national team returned to action for the first time in 14 months and finished second in the 2023 Baltic Cup in Kohtla-Jarve, Estonia.

Ukraine defeated Estonia, 3-2, with captain Daria Tsymyrenko delivering the game-deciding goal in an eight-round shootout. The Ukrainians fell 7-4 to Lithuania the next day.

Lithuania’s Klara Mueller recorded 10 points in the event’s final two matches to earn Best Player honours. The 19-year-old scored four goals and added an assist the triumph over Ukraine and followed with a hat trick and two assists in a 6-0 win against Estonia.

“The women’s team gained much-needed game experience in this tournament, and we know what we have to work on,” Estonian captain Kirke Kulla said. “I would like to thank the team manager Juri Rooba, who organized the whole tournament so well.”

The teams will all meet again alongside Bulgaria, Hong Kong and Romania at the Division IIIA tournament from 3 to 9 April in Brasov, Romania.

In other action, the Netherlands and Austria split a two-game exhibition series in preparation for the Women’s World Championship Division IA. The orange team won 3-1 in the first match before falling 5-3 in the second. The games drew about 1,800 spectators across both days.

Canada and the United States will face off in the final two contests their Rivalry Series 20-22 Feb. in Trois-Rivieres and Laval, Quebec, Canada. The U.S. leads the series, 3-2.

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