Month: January 2024

Guelph’s Finoro climbs the hockey mountain in the Italian Alps

Guelph’s Giordano Finoro of HC Asiago chews on his mouthguard as he sits on the bench watching play in the ICE Hockey League this season. Finoro is in his third season with the Italian team.Serena Fantini / HC Asiago

By Rob Massey –

Just over two years ago, Guelph’s Giordano Finoro had a decision to make.

He was playing for the University of Guelph Gryphons in Ontario university men’s hockey, but the resumption of the 2021-22 season following the usual break for exams and Christmas was going to be delayed due to COVID. This was after a late start of the season – the Gryphons had played seven games before the holiday break – and the entire 2020-21 season had been cancelled due to the pandemic.

Finoro and the other Gryphons had played a total of seven games in a year and a half and there was talk at the time that the remainder of the 2021-22 season might be cancelled too. With that uncertainty Finoro decided he had to go overseas to continue playing his chosen sport.

“It was definitely a very difficult decision,” he said during a virtual conversation. “On one hand, I did feel like I was abandoning the team, abandoning the young guys coming up because as one of the leaders on the Guelph team, I felt that it was a responsibility for myself to take the younger kids under your wing and kind of show them the ropes and be a role model for them.

“I was watching the world juniors and they were talking about certain players from the Finns, from the Czechs, the Swedes and they were saying how many games they had played. There were 14 games played, 20 games played over in the leagues because generally those young kids are playing up in the pro leagues. I thought to myself that all these kids were getting development still. At the university we’re not playing any games,” he continued. “So I sat down with my parents and I said that I didn’t believe that I was done with hockey and I felt that if I was taking two years off of hockey, that would really set me back with my goals and what I wanted to take out of hockey.”

That decision made, Finoro joined Asiago HC, then playing in the Alps Hockey League. Including the playoffs, he had 11 goals and eight assists in 22 games.

The team based in Asiago, a mountain city in northern Italy, had already been accepted into the ICE Hockey League of Austria for the 2022-23 season and his production continued as he had 29 goals and 28 assists in 50 regular-season and playoff games.

Teams in the ICE league are allowed to use more import players than the teams in the Alps league can and that creates an uptick in play.

“The play of the players and the ability,” Finoro answered when asked the difference between the two leagues. “It was a lot faster (in the ICE league). The decision-making had to be a second quicker. You do have more imports and they are better imports. They’re drawing more from guys coming out of the AHL from back home, the ECHL and guys who have been over here for a while who have played in the top leagues in Finland. The calibre of hockey increased dramatically.

“The depth of the teams wasn’t as strong as the depth is in this league. Generally the teams in the Alps league would have one to two very good lines and the play kind of falls off in the third and fourth lines. Up in the ICE league, you have three to four very good lines playing every night.”

While Finoro was born in Guelph – he turns 26 in May – he’s now considered a non- import as he’s a dual citizen of Italy and Canada. And now that he’s played for more than 16 months with Asiago, there are more benefits of being considered an Italian.

“I am officially eligible for the Italian national team and I have been put on the roster as of now,” he said.

But is there a chance of playing for Italy in the six-team world championship Division One, Group A tournament in Bolzano, Italy, at the end of April? Winner of that
tournament moves up into the 16-team world championship tournament that includes Canada and the other hockey superpowers for 2025.

“Definitely,” Finoro said. “They have three tournaments throughout the year to watch you and evaluate you if you can come to the camp. I went to the first one in November. We went to Budapest. There was one in December, but my team didn’t send any players as we had games very close to the beginning of the tournament and the end of the tournament, so they didn’t want to overwork us.

“I’ll be attending the one in February and I have been asked to go to the world championship tryouts for the national team in April.”

As for the hockey in the ICE league, it’s quite a bit different from what Finoro had played in Canada.

“It’s a lot more possession style game. I’m in the top Austrian league right now, the ICE Hockey League, and it’s one of the more physical leagues due to the number of imports. Because we do have a lot of North Americans coming over here, we’re kind of bringing that North American style of game to a bigger ice surface. It’s very fast because of the bigger ice surface. If you’re not a strong skater, it can definitely be shown on the ice. If you watch the Finns, the Swedes, the Russians, you can kind of see that more of possession-style game – slowing the game down, holding it.”

Finoro, though, had been used to playing home games with the Gryphons on the Olympic-sized ice surface at the Gryphon Centre.

“That was definitely an advantage for me coming over here, having already played on the big ice,” he said. “It was an easier transition. I wouldn’t say it was exactly smooth. The pace of play was a little bit higher and adjusting to fellow imports over here and the Italian players, there are some very good players that are over here. The increase in play and the increase in skill was a little bit of an adjustment, but being able to play on the big ice before I came over here was definitely an advantage.”

Asiago is one of three teams in the 13-team ICE league that are located in Italy. There is also a team in Hungary and another one in Slovenia while the other eight are in Austria.

As beautiful as the city of Asiago is, seemingly surrounded by mountains on every side, Finoro’s personal goals might take him away from there.

“The city, the team are absolutely amazing, but I do have higher aspirations for myself in order to move on and play at the highest league level possible,” he said. “Looking back at my rap sheet of hockey teams (junior B, major junior and university hockey before going overseas), I continuously improve over the years and find an opportunity in a higher league and I continuously move up and up and up. The ICE league is a very good league over in Europe and it’s a very tough league to get into, but with success will open doors for the top leagues in Europe. That’s including Switzerland, Sweden, Finland, Germany, (Czechia). My aspiration is to move up into those leagues and to play with the best players in the world.”

However, playing overseas means some sacrifices, especially in your personal life.

“I do want to come home and see family. Coming from a big Italian family, that is probably the hardest part of being over here – missing all the family get-togethers,”
Finoro said. “I am pursuing my dream and I would never take that away from myself, but that is definitely the hardest part – missing all the time and the memories with my family and my friends.”

Resilient Romania wins gold

By Henrik Manninen – IIHF.com

Romania has won the 2024 IIHF U20 World Championship Division II Group B in Belgrade, Serbia. Dropping just one point from five games seals the tournament top-seeds a straight return to Division IIA.
 
Despite going undefeated while scoring 25 goals and conceding just five in the process, this was far from a procession for the Romanians in Belgrade´s Pionir Ice Rink. But when the chips were down, they managed to roar back and grind out victories in impressive fashion against Serbia and Iceland.
 
Romania´s key win came in their opener versus next-door neighbours Serbia. Trailing 0-2 the Romanians left it late before prevailing 3-2 in a memorable shootout win.
 
Following a spirited start by Romania, the balance of the game tilted in the favour of the Serbs when Roland Ordog went to sit out a kneeing minor. The hosts’ top line needed just 20 seconds to capitalize as Petar Simic scored on a rebound from close range at 4:21.
 
Serbia doubled their lead five minutes later. Careless defensive build-up play by Romania saw Minja Ivanovic snap up the puck and race through on Romania´s net to zip a wrister that went in off the post.
 
The two neighbouring rivals’ most recent encounter on Serbian ice at this level was played back in 2016. Romania then took two points in a feisty overtime win in Novi Sad en route to gold.
 
Eight years on, Romania got back into the game at 37:34 thanks to a brilliant piece of individual skill. Selected as the tournament´s best forward, Csongor Antal won a battle with Filip Lazic in the neutral zone and got up to speed while marching through the Serbian rearguard to finish high past Filip Korenic.
 
Romania charged ahead searching for that equalizing goal as desperation crept in with time quickly running out. Netminder Nandor Biro had already been pulled twice from the Romanian cage before the third time became the charm.
 
Akos Nyisztor won the face-off to the right of Serbia´s net, Robert Gyorgy fired a wrister from the point deflecting into the path of Antal who netted his second of the night from the slot to tie the game with just 15 seconds to go.
 
Following a goal-less overtime penalty shots ensued. Matija Dinic scored Serbia´s lone penalty, while influential team captain Antal and Calin Lupascu both converted for the jubilant Romanians.
 
Buoyed by their morale-boosting start to the tournament, Romania once again had to dig deep to edge Iceland in the next game. Being a goal down Romania finally got their reward on a one-man advantage at 51:49 when Elod Kovacs tied the game. Benjamin Barabas then netted Romania´s 2-1 winner with 2:58 remaining.
 
The Romanians then found goals easier to come by. 12-1 versus Chinese Taipei was followed by a Nyisztor hat-trick as newly promoted Australia was downed 4-1. In their final game, the fifth-placed Belgians were blanked 4-0.
 
Victory in Belgrade marks a winning start for Romania´s Swedish head coach Per Lundell. The win is hoped to herald a new dawn for Romania´s junior national team program which has been unable to keep up with the recent success of its men´s national team. Heading into this season, three levels of World Championship play separated Romania´s U20 national team from that of its men´s team competing in Division 1A.
 
Hosts finish second, Iceland writes history
 
Having recovered from their devastating opening-day shootout loss, Serbia took full points from their remaining four games to finish second in Marko Sretovic’s debut as head coach for the U20s. 17-year-old debutant netminder Korenic was selected as the tournament´s top netminder, stopping 97.22% of shots for a GAA of 0.71, while forward Ivanovic led the tournament in scoring with 10 (6+4) points. The duo are among the 15 members on Serbia´s U20 roster eligible to play at this level come next year.
 
Belgrade´s Pionir Ice Rink remains a happy hunting ground for Iceland. It was right here Iceland´s men´s team celebrated its greatest success winning bronze at the 2014 World Championship Division IIA. Ten years on, the Icelandic U20 crop coached by Vladimir Kolek enjoys its finest achievement to date in the Serbian capital. The youngest team of the tournament beat relegated Chinese Taipei 9-4 in their final game to win bronze. Arnar Helgi Kristjansson led Iceland in scoring with 9 (2+7) points and was also selected as the tournament´s best defender.

World hockey body reverses Israeli ban for upcoming tournament

Source: Jewish News Syndicate

The International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) on Wednesday rescinded its decision made last week to ban Israeli athletes from competing in an upcoming tournament in Sofia, Bulgaria, due to alleged safety concerns.

“Following recent exchanges and extensive discussions with all involved stakeholders, the IIHF has received from the Ministry of Youth and Sport in Bulgaria and the related Organizing Committee the required confirmation for the safety and security support needed to allow the Israeli National Team to take part in the 2024 IIHF Ice Hockey U20 World Championship Division III, Group A (WM20IIIA), which will take place in Sofia in the period of 22-29 January 2024,” the IIHF said in a statement posted to its website.

The Olympic Committee of Israel and the Ice Hockey Federation of Israel (IHFI) also received notifications of the reversal.

 The Olympic Committee of Israel and the Ice Hockey Federation of Israel (IHFI) also received notifications of the reversal.

The move came some eight hours before Israel’s appeal of the ban was set to be heard by the Court of Arbitration for Sport based in Lausanne, Switzerland.

Criticism mounted following the Jan. 10 announcement by the Zurich-based worldwide governing body for ice hockey to “restrict the Israeli National Team from participating in IIHF Championships until the safety and well-being of all participants (including Israeli participants) can be assured.”

The National Hockey League issued a statement that expressed “significant concerns” with the decision and said that it was seeking an explanation for the rationale behind it.

Mikhael Horowitz, an Israeli hockey player and CEO of the Ice Hockey Federation of Israel, told The Canadian Jewish News that the move was “discriminatory and against the Olympic Charter and it will not be accepted by Israel.”

Paul Shindman, who founded the Ice Hockey Federation of Israel in 1989, told The Canadian Jewish News that he was outraged by the decision.

“To punish Israeli hockey players after their country was brutally attacked by terrorists is unfair and unjust. Israel’s sportsmen and women deserve the support and embrace of their friends in the international hockey world, not to be excluded. It makes them victims twice over,” he said.

Another voice joining the chorus of criticism over the move was two-time Stanley Cup winner with the New Jersey Devils Bobby Holík, a Czech-American former NHLer who is the head coach of the Israeli men’s national hockey team.

“This hockey situation presents a great opportunity for the league [the NHL] to make a stand and somehow confront the IIHF,” Holík told the New York Post. “To me, this is an extension of the Boycott Divest Sanction (BDS). It’s like, ‘Hey, we don’t want to be uncomfortable, we’ll just keep the Jews out of it.’”

Holík continued, “This is just people finding ways to show their antisemitism. Nobody stands up. Nobody says anything. So they keep doing it. I could ask the NHL and people in hockey to make a stand for Israel, but nobody wants to go that way. The NHL works closely, I believe, with the IIHF on the Olympic Games and other things. I think they should somehow put a little heat on the IIHF.”

In its statement reversing its decision, the IIHF wished the Israeli national team success in the Bulgarian tournament, saying that it will “keep monitoring the situation and reviewing its upcoming Championships on a case-by-case basis. In close collaboration with our stakeholders and local authorities, we will strive to find the necessary conditions and support to allow the Israeli teams to participate. Further decisions will be taken and notified in February 2024.”

Israel barred from International Ice Hockey Federation events over security concerns

Source: The Times of Israel

The International Ice Hockey Federation has barred Israel from competing in its world championship events, citing security concerns, in a move Israel has vowed to dispute, decrying an “antisemitic” and “dangerous” decision.

The IIHF said in a statement issued Wednesday that its ruling council “has decided to restrict the Israeli National Team from participating in IIHF Championships until the safety and well-being of all participants (including Israeli participants) can be assured.”

The Israeli men’s national team was due to play a Division II-A world championship tournament in Serbia in April against teams including Australia and the United Arab Emirates. The Israel women’s national team was scheduled for a Division III-B world championship event in Estonia in March against opponents including Bosnia-Herzegovina and Indonesia.

The Israeli Ice Hockey Association announced in response that it will file a claim with the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) against the international hockey group over its “antisemitic decision to exclude Israel is an unusual and very serious step that does not meet any international sporting standard and stands in complete contradiction to Olympic values.”

The Israeli Ice Hockey Association said that “sources within the International Ice Hockey Federation suggest that the underlying cause of the decision appears to be the alleged capitulation of the Federation’s chairman, Luc Tardif, to political pressures, including influences from Russia.”

The IIHF said it “took this decision after careful consideration and based on a risk assessment, discussions with the participating countries and discussions with the hosts.”

The statement did not say if any other country had objected to playing against Israel and made no mention of the ongoing Israel-Hamas war in Gaza, triggered by the Palestinian terror group’s October 7 massacre in which some 3,000 Hamas-led terrorists breached the border, killing some 1,200 people, most of them civilians slaughtered in their homes and at a music festival. Another 240 people were taken hostage in Gaza.

Israel will remain excluded “for the time being,” the IIHF said.

The Israeli Ice Hockey Association said in its statement that the federation’s decision “provides support for terrorism and the massacre of children and older people who were in their beds, in their homes.”

Yael Arad, Chairman of the Olympic Committee of Israel, said in a statement that together with Gili Lustig, the CEO of the Olympic Committee, she has been involved in a number of conversations with the global hockey federation and “unfortunately, we are witnessing a precedent-setting and dangerous decision with a strong undercurrent of antisemitism, disguised under the pretext of athlete safety.”

“In a personal conversation I had with the president of the International Hockey Federation, I witnessed a disappointing lack of transparency and opacity driven by a hidden agenda that has no place in world sports. The International Olympic Committee is aware of the situation and supports that Israel will not be discriminated [against] in any competition whatsoever. We will not allow this to happen,” said Arad, an Olympic judoka champion.

In its reasoning, the IIHF has previously used similar language around safety and security to support its decision last year to suspend Russia and Belarus from competition following the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

The IIHF world championships are structured into a series of tiers and Israel’s national teams typically play in lower-division events with sparse crowds and little media exposure.

Slovakia denies plans of playing games against Russia

Finland’s Jani Nyman, right, and Slovakia’s Juraj Pekarčík, left, challenge for the puck during the in IIHF World Junior Championship ice hockey quarter final match between Slovakia and Finland at Froelundaborg in Gothenburg, Sweden, on January 2, 2024.

Source: The Slovakia Spectator

The Russian ice-hockey website Allhockey.ru wrote on Wednesday that the Slovak national hockey team wants to play a preliminary game, or more, against Russia ahead of the 2024 world championship.

The website didn’t say where this report came from. Instead, it went on to say that Russian Hockey Federation President Vladislav Tretiak supported the idea of ​​Slovakia playing against Russia. He himself had no information about Slovakia’s interest in preliminary games against Russia.

“Is it true the Slovak Hockey Federation wants to see matches between the national teams of Slovakia and Russia?” he asked. “We’ll be happy to host any federation that wants to play with the Russian national team.”

On the same day, Slovakia’s hockey federation denied the information and called it fake news that ‘shocked’ the body.

On the same day, Slovakia’s hockey federation denied the information and called it fake news that ‘shocked’ the body.

We have not held any talks with the Russian Hockey Federation, nor do we have any plans to play preliminary games against the Russian hockey team,” the Slovak federation said in its statement.

Slovakia will play eight preliminary games. None of the games will be against Russia.

Banned Russians

The fake news about the Russia-Slovakia preliminary games also surprised former Russian ice-hockey legend Vyacheslav Fetisov.

“If the Slovak national team plays against us, they will also be suspended,” he told the Russian website.

Russian teams are not allowed to participate in the international hockey federation’s events due to Russia’s war in Ukraine.

Moreover, in November 2022, the International Ice-Hockey Federation sanctioned the Russian Ice Hockey Federation with a reprimand for violating the ethics code, after it failed to prevent signs showing support for promoting the war in Ukraine from appearing in arenas.

Slovakia as “unfriendly country”

Other former Russian players also welcomed the news about Slovakia’s reported interest in the games against Russia.

“I think they understand and realise the quality of our team and want to test their players against strong opponents! For them this is a good test. And for us it’s practice,” said the former coach of Russia’s national team, Vyacheslav Bykov.

But on Wednesday evening, the Russian Hockey Federation said that there would ‘definitely be no matches this season’. It added that ‘the dialogue will continue next season.’

Following the statement, Russian hockey coach Andrei Nazarov said about Slovakia’s refusal to play Russia that ‘Slovakia is now an unfriendly country for us.’

This year, the world championship will take place in the Czech Republic.

Lethal U.S. wins 6th gold

By Andrew Podnieks – IIHF.com

The United States made the most of their chances and skated to an almost flawless 6-2 victory over Sweden to capture their sixth all-time gold medal. They won their first in 2004 and most recent one in 2021, and have won those six in a 21-year span.

For Sweden, heartbreak on home ice. In this their seventh hosting of the tournament, they have yet to win gold.

The Americans won with penetrating counter-attacks and a lethal touch around the Sweden goal. They finished the tournament with seven wins in as many games, and time might show this to be one of the greatest American teams of all time.

“It’s awesome! It’s the best feeling in the world!” said forward Gabe Perreault, who had a goal and two assists for the victors. “They got that one at the end of the second, but we were still feeling confident. We didn’t change our game, and then we got one early in the third and kept going. We scored on our chances.”

“It’s a great feeling,” added goalie Trey Augustine. “We just stuck to our game plan, and things worked out for us. I think the turning point was early in the third when we got that goal from Buium. That settled us down. It was a great game for us. We wanted to make them make a perfect shot.”

“In the first two periods, we had them where we wanted,” offered Swedish defender Mattias Havelid. “In the third, they had a one-goal lead, but we felt good. Then they scored, and things didn’t go our way. When we play relaxed, we can beat pretty much any team. But when we took that double minor in the third, they got the momentum back, and it was pretty tough after that.”

The game started cautiously, but Sweden started to assert itself and had the puck in the U.S. end for several extended stretches, but they misfired too often and ended up not testing Augustine to any great degree. Their best player was Noah Ostlund, who had three terrific chances. But he fired high and wide on the first, didn’t get much wood on a backhand between his legs on the second, and was stopped by Augustine after a great move on the third.

At the other end, Quinn Finley split the defence and went in alone, but as Havelid tried to pokecheck him, Finley moved wide only to run out of room. The Americans struck for the opening goal at 16:56 on a great play by defender Will Smith. From the point, he took a slap-pass to Perreault to the side of the goal, and Perreault redirected the puck past the outstretched pad of the goalie, sending the small but loud contingent of American fans into a frenzy.

The Swedes got just the start they needed in the second, tying the game at 2:13 on a play we’ve seen before. Mattias Havelid took a simple point shot that was beautifully tipped in front by Otto Stenberg. The Swedes continued to press and had the better of play, but time after time they fired wide on a good scoring opportunity.

The Americans were utterly brilliant on the counter-attack, springing a man as soon as they got possession in their own end. Will Smith created a partial breakaway through speed and hard work, but he shot wide. But on another counter, Isaac Howard corralled a clearing along the boards when a Swedish defender had turned the wrong way. Howard went in alone and slid the puck between Havelid’s pads at 9:24 to restore the Americans’ lead.

Worse for the home fans, the U.S. double their lead five minutes later. Howard came out from behind the goal and faked a pass in front, putting the puck on goal instead. It went off the goalie’s back skate and in, silencing the crowd and giving the visitors a 3-1 lead.

Sweden got a desperately needed goal before the end of the period, though. Working the power play, Jonathan Lekkerimaki blasted a high point shot past Augustine with only 5.2 seconds left on the clock, a motivating goal if ever there was one.

But the Americans responded just 1:19 into the third after Sweden iced the puck unnecessarily. The U.S. won the ensuing faceoff back to the point, and Zeev Buium wired a shot that Havelid probably should have stopped. 4-2 U.S..

Making matters worse, Ostlund took a double minor for high sticking midway through the period, and although the Swedish penalty killers were flawless, it killed four more minutes off the clock for the U.S. Soon after he came out, Ostlund hit the post, and then he was beaten in his own end to the puck by Ryan Leonard, who converted the play with a nice shot at 16:12, more or less sealing the victory.

Rutger McGroarty sealed the win with an empty netter at 16:50.

Remarkable comeback gives Czechs bronze

By Andrew Podnieks – IIHF.com

Czechia overcame a 5-2 Finland lead and scored the only five goals of the third period to defeat Finland 8-5 and win the bronze medal, their second medal in as many years.

Tomas Hamara scored the winner at 18:19 off a faceoff win just 15 seconds after they had tied the score with the extra attacker. They then added two empty netters. It was a shocking collapse from Finland which looked dominant in the last half of the second period.

“I don’t think I’ve ever been in a game like this,” Hamara said, medal around his neck. “It was pretty crazy. To be honest, I was really down when they scored the fifth goal because it was my fault, a big mistake. But my teammates helped me a lot. They were cheering on the bench to pick me up. I knew I had to do something special, so I’m so glad I scored that goal, and so happy that we won. It means so much for us.”

That wild third period produced two records. The Czechs scored four goals in a span of just 50 seconds, obliterating the previous record of 68 seconds set by Canada in 1983. They also scored two goals in two seconds, both empty netters. The previous record was six seconds, set three times.

It was a game that featured two teams with very different records in bronze-medal games. The Finns had won five of seven games for third place while Czechia had won just one of seven. The pattern proved the opposite today.

“Our coaches did a great job preparing us,” Hamara added. “Even right after the game yesterday they were telling us we have no time to be sad or disappointed. Just focus on tomorrow because it’s a game for the bronze medal.”

Ondrej Becher had a hat trick and two assists while Jiri Kulich had two goals and two assists. Hamara had a goal and two helpers.

Finland got the early jump on the medals with two goals just 90 seconds apart. The first came at 6:13 when Rasmus Kumpulainen moved into the slot and fired a shot past the weak glove of Michael Hrabal, who has given up many a goal to the trapper side.

The Finns made it 2-0 off a turnover behind the Czechia net. Jani Nyman had a good look at the goal before shooting, netting his second goal of the tournament. After Hrabal surrendered this goal coach Patrik Augusta made a change, putting in Jakub Vondras, who was seeing his first action of the tournament. 

The Czechs got back into the game on a late power play. Just seven seconds after Emil Pieniniemi was whistled for tripping, Matyas Melovsky made a perfect cross-ice pass back to door to captain Kulich, and his one-timer found the short side at 16:16.

As so often happens in the bronze game, a relatively tame opening period gave way to a wide-open second, and today that meant an explosion of goals, including three in just 34 seconds. The fun began on a Czech power play when Jakub Stancl’s shot from the middle of the ice slithered through the pads of Miklas Kokko, tying the game at 8:37.

But while that goal was being announced Finland struck twice on two similar plays. First Jani Nyman beat his man along the boards and fed Konsta Helenius with a nice pass to the back side, which he converted at 8:52. Then, 19 seconds later, Lenni Hameenaho took a similar pass from the other side from Oiva Keskinen and wired it in to give the Finns a 4-2 lead.

They added another on the power play five minutes later, a highlight-reel goal, to be sure. Hameenaho flew down the right side, beat Hamara with a gorgeous move, and backhanded the puck to the far side. Top-3 goal of the tournament.

Czechia, however, gave themselves a ray of hope with a short-handed goal in the final minute. Becher kept a tricky pass onside and went in alone, beating Kokko with a shot to the blocker side to make it 5-3.

“It was a huge goal for us, short-handed,” Hamara noted. “It makes such a big difference coming into the third being down two goals instead of three.”

Indeed, early in the third, they made life a little awkward for Finland, scoring on another power play at 4:41 to make it a one-goal game again. Kulich, with another brilliant one-timer, was the scorer.

That awkwardness became something worse for Finland–a tie game–late in the third with Vondras on the bench for a sixth attacker. Becher poppped home a loose puck at 18:04 to make it a 5-5 game. That comfortable 5-2 lead for Suomi was a thing of the distant past now.

And 15 seconds later, the game was decided when Hamara snapped a long shot in after a faceoff win. The Czechs added two empty netters to claim their second medal in as many years, and a stunned Finland skated off the ice finishing in fourth place.

Kazakh Coach Joins International Ice Hockey Federation’s Committee

By Aiman Nakispekova – The Astana Times

Victoriya Sazonova, the General Manager of the women’s national teams, has become a member of the international committee for the development of women’s hockey of the International Ice Hockey Federation, reported the federation’s press service on Dec.29. 

Sazonova will represent Kazakhstan globally, marking the first time an Asian representative has joined this committee.

“I feel a tremendous responsibility for the honor bestowed upon me. I want to represent Kazakh hockey and do it with dignity,” said Sazonova. 

Having dedicated about 20 years to her hockey career as a player for the national team, Sazonova concluded her playing career in 2013. In 2022, she led the women’s junior team at the World Championship and later served as the coach for the women’s national team at the 2023 World Championship. 

Since 2022, she has been taking the position of General Manager for the women’s national teams and director of women’s hockey development at the Kazakhstan Ice Hockey Federation.

 

Gen playing for Aussies in world championship

Forward Daniel O’Handley is playing for Australia at the IIHF Division II U20 men’s world championships.

Source : Cochrane Now

Cochrane Generals forward Daniel O’Handley heads out Thursday to join his teammates on Australia’s men’s U20 team to prepare for the IIHF Division II world championships in Belgrade, Serbia.

The 18-year forward journeyed from Adelaide, the capital of South Australia, to join the Gens this season, along with his older brother Morris, who plays defence. He’s no stranger to representing his country in international competition, playing in the U18 IIHF Div. 2 world championship last spring.

“It’s a great opportunity,” says O’Handley, “To represent my country is always a great honour and I look forward to it.”

The team will be training for about 10 days in Milan, Italy before heading to Belgrade, where the the world championship opens on Jan. 14.

He says the training will help the team gel before the tournament gets underway. He did play with a few of them at last spring’s world championship.

The O’Handley brothers signed with the Gens this fall. Before arriving here, they last played with the Adelaide Adrenaline in the Australian Ice Hockey League (AIHL). 

O’Handley says it’s something like a semi-pro league, with the top players in the country. No one gets paid, but many advance to Australia’s national teams.

He says there comes a point that if you want to get better at the sport, you have to leave Australia. 

“In the summer, there’s not much ice at all. so if you want to keep working on your game, you have to go somewhere else, which is kind of where I’m at right now.”

He says the Canadian game is faster and you have to work harder if you want to succeed.

“There’s so much more competition to make teams, so I think they compete at a much higher level, and it’s a lot more physical. I’ve noticed in Australia you can get away with a lot of stuff because the guys aren’t really playing physically, but here you’ve got to be a bit more switched on because guys are looking to throw body checks and stuff when they can.”

Gens head coach Kurtis Jones says O’Handley’s game has continued to improve since the beginning of the season.

“He’s an impact player, and he’s been playing very well for the last couple of months,” says Jones. “He’s starting to bring his game and feel a little bit more comfortable with us and the terminology and what kind of coach I am. Our goal is to help him succeed.”

Jones says they will lose him from the roster for the better part of January, but they’ll be watching and cheering him on at the Worlds.

“It will be a good experience for him and hopefully he’ll learn lots there and maybe bring some of that back to share with our coaching staff.”

O’Handley says he feels at home with the Gens.

“The guys are great, the staff is great. With the Gens, you do plenty in the community. At Christmas, we were helping families and we do lots of other stuff, so I’ve got to know a lot of people in the community. It’s been really good.”

He says the Gens got off to a strong start this season but recently has run into trouble against some of the top teams in the league due to injuries.

“I think when we have our full lineup, we’re pretty good. We’re all on the same page now so I think after Christmas everyone will be back and we’ll be ready to go.”

His brother Morris is one of the players who has been sidelined with an injury and has only recently returned to the ice. Morris has twice appeared with Australia’s U20 team at the world championship.

O’Handley has been playing since he was five and was introduced to the sport at a young age by his father Ryan, who played hockey growing up here before going on to play and coach at a high level in Australia.

“He got me on skates and then I kind of fell in love with it.”

At 6’1″, 201 lbs., O’Handley has appeared in 19 games with the Gens, with two goals, seven assists, and 20 penalty minutes.

Japan’s Akane Shiga making North American debut with PWHL Ottawa

Shiga scores against Finland goalkeeper Anni Keisala during a women’s quarterfinal hockey game at the 2022 Olympics

By Celeste Decaire – CBC News

Ottawa’s Professional Women’s Hockey League (PWHL) team has both the new league’s youngest player and its only Japanese player in the same pair of skates.

Akane Shiga, 22, is poised to make her North American pro debut Tuesday night at a sold-out TD Place arena against Montreal.

“I’m still learning English and there’s a long way to go, but just with help from everyone else and the teammates being very thoughtful of the language barriers … I think the communication part has been better than I expected,” she said through translator Madoka Suzuki

According to head coach Carla MacLeod, the language barrier has hardly been a setback.

“[At the] end of the day, the language that we speak is hockey,” MacLeod said, adding that Shiga speaks it very well. 

The defender converted to forward and made her senior national team debut in the 2019 world championship. She then played in the 2022 Olympics, where her team won its group and suffered its only regulation loss in the quarterfinal.

Japan beat Czechia 3-2 in group play that tournament and MacLeod was behind the Czech bench as head coach.

“Obviously she’s an elite athlete within the sport, so it’s easy enough to sort of teach her the hockey side [as she’s] very visual. You can use video, you can draw, you can demo,” MacLeod said. 

Ottawa’s bench boss was also an assistant for the Japanese team at the Sochi Olympics in 2014. Spending a few years in the country, she picked up some words that she uses to give feedback to Shiga. 

“I can randomly speak some Japanese to Akane and she just shakes her head and smiles because she knows I’m just being kind of a dork, but [I’m] trying to be inclusive that way too.” 

All in all, it’s Shiga’s skill that makes her stand out. She started playing hockey at the age of six. 

“I started playing hockey outside, just kind of like pond hockey style, and then just kept playing. I had ambitions to play overseas eventually,” Shiga said.

“So when the opportunity came to try out for Ottawa, it was a no-brainer.”

The hockey competition in North America is much stiffer than in Japan, making Shiga’s leap to the PWHL that much more remarkable.

“I just think that the dream is now available to all of us,” MacLeod said. “It doesn’t matter if you’re a boy or a girl. It doesn’t matter if you’re from Canada, US or Japan or [Czechia] or Germany or Hungary. You have opportunities in our game.”

Shiga made the team out of training camp and has been noted as one of the players to watch for this season. She said her family and friends will be cheering her on, but mostly from a distance.

Here in Ottawa, her nationality is getting recognition from the Ambassador of Japan to Canada.

“A woman, just on her own coming to Ottawa, becoming the big player? She can change the world,”  said Yamanouchi Kanji.

“I think that is a great source for younger generations and also a symbol of the friendship between Canada and Japan — friendship on ice.”

His advice for Shiga this season is simple.

“No matter what they say, just be yourself. Have confidence and do your best.”

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