Category: Europe (Page 1 of 9)

The ABC’s with Ukraine’s NHL – Bound Star Artur Cholach

Artur Cholach bound for the NHL

By Lee Reaney – Kyiv Post

In an exclusive interview with the Kyiv Post, Cholach talked about Arenas, Barrie (Canada), and Comebacks after leading the Ukrainian national team at last week’s IIHF World Junior Hockey Championships – Division 1B in Lithuania. 

It’s been a long time since Ukraine has seen such a promising hockey talent as Artur Cholach.

Drafted last summer by the NHL’s Vegas Golden Knight, the hulking 193 cm, 91 kg defenceman plies his trade for the Barrie Colts in one of the top junior leagues in the world – Canada’s Ontario Hockey League (OHL).

“This is a special moment that I’ve been dreaming about my whole career”, he told the Kyiv Post. “This means that I am moving in the right direction and that everything can be achieved if you stick with it and work hard.”

The last time a Ukrainian was drafted to the NHL? In 2007, when goaltender Sergei Gaiduchenko was drafted by the Florida Panthers, although he never played in North America. 

The last time a Ukrainian defenceman was drafted to the NHL? In 1998 – five years before Cholach was born – when Maxim Linnik was selected by the St. Louis Blues. He, too, did not play in the NHL.

Cholach’s chances at turning pro are looking up. 

After scoring two goals during Sokil Kyiv’s run to the finals last season, he was drafted third overall by the OHL’s Barrie Colts. Cholach starred for Ukraine’s national U20 team at last week’s Division 1A world junior championships, where he nearly cracked the Top 10 in scoring by registering 8 assists in 5 games.

Setting an Example
As the only player on the U20 national team currently playing in North America, things worked differently for Cholach in the run-up to the world junior tournament.

Firstly, he needed to come back from an early season concussion. Then, he needed permission from his local club – who he pointed out were enthusiastic about his participation. Finally, he needed to adapt to the time zone, new teammates, and a much larger ice surface.

“I am proud to be able to represent my country on the international stage“

he said. “Unfortunately, our national team is not experiencing the best of times. We need to move to the higher divisions. Still, it’s a great opportunity and learning experience when you play against other national teams.”

The team experienced a wild run at the championships, with promotion still on the table until late in the tournament.

Ukraine was the only team to top the first place France, who will be promoted to Division 1A next year. The game against France was itself a roller coaster, with Ukraine building a 5-1 first period lead only to find themselves forced to come back to tie the game late in the third period.

“It was a difficult game in terms of psychology”, Cholach said about the encounter. “Our team was bad at preventing goals. We lost the second period and had to start all over again in the third.”

Forward Maxsym Simchuk tied the game with 2:31 to go, with Artem Hrebenyk netting the overtime winner to cap one of the most memorable comebacks in Ukrainian hockey history.

“It was our game and we couldn’t lose”, said Cholach. “Everyone considers us outsiders at the championships, but we have proved the opposite – that we can and will beat the favourites and raise the level of our national team.”

Unfortunately, the team fell to a tough Slovenia team in the next game and finished the tournament in fourth place with 3 wins and 2 losses to secure yet another year at the Division 1B level.

Still, the future looks bright. 

Besides Cholach’s heroics on the blue line, the team was led by Danylo Korzhyletskyi, Simchuk, and Denys Honcharenko, who notched 37 points between them to finish 2nd, 3rd, and 4th, respectively, in the scoring race.

From Lviv to Canada
It has been a crazy journey for Cholach.

At first, he wanted to play football like every other boy in Ukraine. Being too young to play, his parents put him in hockey.

It’s a good thing they did. 

Cholach got his start with the Galician Lions youth team, which plays out of the tiny arena in Novoyavorivsk in Lviv Oblast. 

Recruited as a 15-year-old teen to play for Russia’s elite U16 Red Army team, he spent half a season there before getting promoted to its U18 squad.

He spent the next season playing AAA hockey in the USA, before coming back to Ukraine to star for Bila Tserkva Bilyy Bars and Sokil Kyiv. That’s when the Colts came calling.

“Artur is a great addition to our defensive core and Colts fans should be excited”, said Colts coach and GM Marty Williamson, who used the team’s only import pick on Cholach. “With Artur playing in the U.S. previously, his English is very good which helps with his adjustment to our team.”

From the tiny rink in Novoyavorivsk to the big lights of one of the world’s best leagues – the journey isn’t lost on Cholach.

“Arenas are good [in Canada] and have a lot of capacity”, said Cholach. “Probably the only comparable rink in Ukraine is Kyiv’s Palace of Sport. There are probably 10 such arenas in Barrie [ed. Population – 150,000) alone. Ukraine still has room to grow in this regard.”

You can catch Cholach starring for the Barrie Colts when his team plays the Kingston Frontenacs on Feb. 3, as the game will be broadcast nationally on Canada’s Game time is 19:30 ET (2:30 EET on Feb. 4).

National Team First Victim in Ukrainian Hockey’s Civil War

President Ukrainian National Olympic Committee Serhiy Bubka

By Lee Reaney – Kyiv Post

Shorthanded due to the ongoing civil war among Ukrainian domestic leagues, Ukraine’s national hockey team put on a brave face over the weekend even as it struggled to keep pace at the Christmas Cup – the latest in a series of Euro Hockey Challenge events ahead of next April’s world championships.

The previous Euro Hockey Challenge event, in Budapest, Hungary from November 12-13, ignited a civil war in Ukrainian hockey that continues to cut deep. 

On the eve of that tournament, Donbas Donetsk and HC Kramatorsk recalled some of their players in violation of national team commitments. The Ukrainian Hockey League (UHL) suspended the players from the domestic league. Donetsk and Kramatorsk continued to play the players, resulting in their expulsion from the league.

Like South Park’s Cartman, Donbas owner Boris Kolesnikov essentially told the UHL: “Screw you guys – I’m going home” and took his team, the teams of allied owners, his media partners, and corporate sponsors, and started his own league, the Ukrainian Hockey Super League. 

The Ukrainian Hockey Federation (UHF) recruited new teams to its rump UHL and recruited media partners and corporate sponsors of its own.

Then came the battle for players – and public relations.

Sanctioning the Unsanctioned
The first front in this civil war was a legal one.

Donbas filed first, arguing that the UHF’s suspension of its players violated Ukraine’s Labour Code since the players were employees of the team and were being kept from working by the federation. 

The federation shot back, issuing a notice that any players participating in the Super League will face sanctions, saying in a statement

“I urge hockey players not to bury their careers and to decide – do you play for yourself, or do you play for us all?”

This has incensed Sergei Varlamov, a former NHLer and General Director of the Super League. In an open letter to Georgi Zubko, President of the UHF, he addresses players directly:

“I urge you to act exclusively within the framework of the Law and not carry out the criminal orders of leadership of the UHF … I ask you to inform me personally about all the facts of pressure on you, as on the bodies of sports justice. I guarantee the provision of legal assistance and protection to all victims of the UHF.”

As in any war, you need to align your allies.

So, to shore up legitimacy, the sides called in the big guns. 

Vying for Prominence
The next front to open was the battle for influence, or alliance-building.

The Super League drew the opening salvo by having Ukrainian National Olympic Committee President Sergei Bubka, also of Donetsk, drop the ceremonial puck at the Super League’s inaugural game. He sat for an interview with the Super League’s press service afterwards. 

“Today there should be as many clubs as possible to have greater competition”, Bubka told the Super League. “When there is competition, then the quality of our players will increase … Today we need to unite efforts, do what we can to have as many clubs as possible … throughout Ukraine. Then the championship will be more competitive, and the league will be stronger, so the quality of the game will increase.”

Bubka was traveling and not available for comment over the weekend, but his office referred the Kyiv Post to a statement that read:

“The NOC of Ukraine [hopes to] initiate a round table meeting to discuss the existing problems between the Hockey Federation of Ukraine and hockey clubs in order to establish a constructive dialogue and resolve issues”, adding that Bubka and Ukrainian Youth & Sports Minister Vadym Gutzeit hope to meet directly with the UHF.

Not to be outdone, the UHF brought in IIHF President Luc Tardiff, who also met with Bubka and Gutzeit.

“Of course, I am well aware of the situation in Ukrainian hockey … because the case in Ukraine is unprecedented,“

he said in a release that clearly sided with the federation.

“I can say that the UHF did absolutely right. The first rule that cannot be violated [is that] clubs must ensure the participation of players in international competitions. This is the rule on which the principle of holding all international competition is based … [violating this] key rule of world hockey can lead to anarchy.”

Money Matters
Of course, money makes the world of sports go ‘round.

One of the main disagreements that precipitated the current civil war was over league sponsorship and TV rights. 

Before the division of the Ukrainian Hockey League, games were played on Ukraine’s XSport, owned by Kolesnikov. 

After an audit, Zubko accused XSport of not only not paying the league for broadcast rights, but of actually receiving payment from the league to play the games on television.

Zubko also accused Kolesnkikov of tanking a sponsorship deal the league had made with sports betting site VBet that would have seen the UHL receive millions of UAH for broadcast rights. Donbas is sponsored by VBet rival Parimatch. 

The fragmentation into two leagues saw the rival betting companies back competing leagues – Vbet the UHL, Parimatch the Super League.

Likewise, the Super League is being broadcast by Kolesnikov’s XSport, while the UHL has worked with local broadcasters and streams games on YouTube. 

The Player Conundrum
The final front of this civil war is the battle for players.

After the initial split, both leagues scrambled to find additional teams – often with a side of nastiness.

After Bila Tserkva Bilyy Bars followed Donbas and HC Kramatorsk to the SuperLeague, many of its players and coaches stayed in the UHL to form Brovary Sports & Professional College (BSPC). 

Sokil Kyiv stayed loyal to the UHL, while the Super League had UkrDonInvest founder Vitaliy Kropachev found SK Sokil Kyiv to directly compete with the more well established Kyiv team. 

This has been a boon for Ukrainian players and those in the region at or near retirement.

Druzhkivka Altair, a team founded after the launch of the Super League, coaxed 41-year-old Denis Kochetkov out of his recent retirement to become their player-coach. 

Viktor Shakhvorostov, who played with Donbas in 2015-16, was coaxed to the Super League’s Sokil Kyiv from Russian second-tier team HC Rostov. In an exclusive interview with the Super League’s press service, he explained his reasons for returning.

“Family – plus they offered the best conditions”, he told the press service. “I thought [about it], weighed the pros and cons. It’s just that there were more advantages here [including family], so I made the decision.”

Still, even with the influx of hockey teams and players into the country, the ban on SuperLeague players from the national team can be felt. 

Christmas Cup
The first victim of this mess has been the Ukrainian national hockey team, which dropped all three matches at last weekend’s Christmas Cup in Poland.

Ukraine started the tournament well, pushing Hungary to overtime before a terrible giveaway in the extra frame saw the team fall 2-1 with just 8 seconds left in the game. 

It was another tight game against the favored French in game two, but some heroics in goal by Sergei Pisarenko meant the French required a diving goalmouth save in the game’s final moment to secure a 2-1 win. 

Ukraine was flat in the third game, and never looked to bother host Poland as they fell to 0-3 with a 4-1 loss.

The Christmas Cup is part of the Euro Hockey Challenge – a series of exhibition tournaments between similarly-ranked nations designed to give players national team experience ahead of the year-end IIHF tournaments. 

Ukraine hosts the next tournament, from February 10-12 at Kyiv’s Palace of Sport before travelling to Katowice, Poland to play in the 2022 IIHF World Hockey Championships Division 1B. Held from April 25 – May 1, Ukraine will play Estonia, Japan, Lithuania, Poland, and Serbia for the chance to be promoted to Division 1A.

Whether or not they will field a full team by then remains to be seen. 

Like all wars, a great deal of good will and diplomatic leadership will need to be seen before then.  

The Ukraine Ice Hockey Federation announces the restart and reboot of hockey in the country

New Logo of Ukraine Ice Hockey Federation

Source : Ukraine Ice Hockey Federation

The Hockey Federation of Ukraine presented a new program for the development of hockey in Ukraine until 2033 as part of an official presentation in Kyiv.

The new strategy is designed for 12 years old and up, the time during which a young sports fan grows into a professional hockey player. One of the ambitious tasks of the public organization is to represent the national team of Ukraine at the Winter Olympic Games in 2034, and for this it is necessary to prepare a powerful team that will be capable of fighting in 2033.

Children dream of playing ice hockey. You understand that in 2034 today’s children will play. It seems so far away, but in reality it is our immediate future. Our task is to ignite, to capture the imagination and of course, to develop a new method of training athletes. That get higher results “ , – the president of the Federation Georgi Zubko emphasized.

The Federation team has already done a tremendous job of researching the best models for hockey development in the world – from the US to Slovakia, enlisting the support of experts from Sweden, Finland and Canada and finding world-renowned partners who are ready to make every effort to develop hockey in Ukraine. 

The Federation plans to implement a state program to develop hockey infrastructure in Ukraine, which is already being considered by President  Volodymyr Zelensky  to increase the number of professional clubs from 8 to at least 16, improve the skills of Ukrainian coaches, support amateur hockey and create a hockey fan family for the Ukraine. 

A new information campaign of the Federation “Hockey starts with« “will start on August 20. Its goal is to light a fire in the hearts of hockey fans and make new fans fall in love with the fastest team sport in the world. 

So far, fans have been presented with an updated logo of the Federation – a trident with the silhouette of a hockey player. It should be an impetus for in-depth collaboration with new marketing partners and sponsors in the future. The plan is to actively work on further updating the identity of the public organization to make it modern and easy to remember and associate with hockey.

Ukraine Ice Hockey Federation began cooperation with Ice Hockey UK

Source: Ukraine  Ice Hockey Federation

The Hockey Federation of Ukraine has started cooperation with the Hockey Federation of Great Britain.

Thus, the Secretary General of the British organization Andy French will advise Ukrainian experts on working with national teams.

It should be noted that the national team of Great Britain actually managed to leave Division IV to the elite of world hockey in 4 years and stayed there at the end of the 2018/2019 season.

Reforms in the coaching staff of the national team contributed to the rise in the class. In particular, the British-Canadian team is currently working with the team. Britain’s Pete Russell has led the country’s national team since 2014, assisted by two Canadian experts – Corey Nilsson and Adam Kiefe. Nilsson joined the United Kingdom in 2013 and Kiffey in 2017. Both had experience working with clubs of the British elite hockey league.

The coaching staff of the British national team has developed a long-term strategy for working with the team, carried out partial naturalization, involving Canadian hockey players, and paid special attention to the development of the national championship with an emphasis on improving the playing qualities of British athletes

Estonia national team to participate in international tournament

Estonia national team head coach Jussi Tupamäki

Source: ERR

This weekend, the Estonian national ice hockey team will participate in an international tournament in Poland, where they will face off against four opponents.

The Estonian national team got together in Tallinn last took part in international competition a year and a half ago. World championship qualification tournaments were canceled both this year and the year prior due to the coronavirus pandemic and the team is using the opportunity to train and compete together.

“I started missing the national team a little myself. It is always good to see friends and play together, to represent the Estonian national team and in a tournament such as this upcoming one in Poland. I think we will get good experience,” national team forward Rasmus Kiik told ERR.

The Estonian national team is made up of multiple players who have performed in world championship competitions before, including goaltender Villem-Henrik Koitmaa. Most of the team is however made up of younger call-ups, still lacking much international experience.

Rooba’s overtime winner gives JYP tenth victory of season

“I think there are quite a few young players who are very thankful to even train with the men. Then they see what the level is and how much more they should put in to make the team in the future,” said national team head coach Jussi Tupamäki.

National team mainstays Robert Rooba, Kristjan Kombe and Robert Arrak will have to skip the current training camp and upcoming tournament. In addition to Poland, Estonia will face off against Latvia’s under-20s team, Lithuani and Croatia.

“I think the first game against Poland will be very hard. I know this already, but we all know it and it is a challenge,” Tupamäki said.

Rasmus Kiik added: “We cannot say we will go to win this tournament, but we will also not go to lose. We will give our best each game. The final games of the tournament will certainly be better. I think we will give our best and try to win a few. We’ll see what happens by the end of the tournament.”

Serbia: Culture shock, for better or for worse

Daniel Jacob, assistant coach with the Laval Rocket, and his ex-teammate Marko Kovacevic

Guillaume Lefrançois La Presse
Google translated.

As many young Quebecers are doing now, Daniel Jacob was watching the World Junior Championship during his Christmas break.

And like a tiny minority of these young people, the one who is now an assistant coach with the Laval Rocket was able to live his dream: he took part in the World Hockey Championship, not once, but twice.

Well… It was division (D2). and then (D1). At the senior level, not junior.

And he wasn’t playing for Canada, but rather for Serbia.

The Serbian experience has been fruitful on all fronts. He had a great hockey experience, he met his wife, Danica, and left there with a passport. Today, Daniel Jacob maintains very close ties with his former adopted country.

Carts and BMW

Professional hockey is generally played in areas where the standard of living is relatively high. Jacob, incidentally, played a season in Sweden after his four-year college career at McGill University.

Then, in 2006, he landed in Serbia, on the recommendation of another McGill player, Marko Kovacevic. His new home was in Novi Sad, the country’s second largest city. A pretty place, at first glance. “A mini-Prague! describes Jacob. There is a fortress, a magnificent church in the city center. There are Austro-Hungarian and Turkish influences. Small  cobblestone streets. Everything is beautiful ! “

But Serbia also comes in 38th place (out of 43 countries) in Europe for the Human Development Index of the UN, which measures the quality of life. Jacob quickly realized that he was setting foot in a society plagued by great social inequalities.

“I remember, we arrive at an intersection, in the light, there was a gypsy with his horse or his donkey, and right next to it, a BMW. It is a world of contrasts. It struck us, we are used to having a middle class. We quickly realized that we were making a good living in the country. “

Culture shock was as much daily as it was at the arena. Serbia is obviously not the birthplace of hockey. The most recent annual report of the International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) tells us that there are 4 ice rinks in the country and that there are a total of 714 players, for a country of 7.2 million inhabitants . By comparison, Canada has 7,800 rinks and 600,000 players, according to the same report.

“You make the jump quickly. Ice hours were not a problem, since the sport is not very popular, he recalls. Culturally, it’s quite different. Practice at 8 a.m., it’s not a big deal if it starts at 8:25 a.m.! “

According to Daniel Jacob, this wobbly side also explains why foreign players are rare in Serbia. In Canada, we earned a decent average salary“ But in Serbia players have a second job. There are delays, the check does not come in on the scheduled day. Serbia isn’t all wrong, but there was no direct deposit, let’s say. It may be harder for those who play for the money. “

A program for young people

We understand quite quickly: Daniel Jacob was not playing “for the money”. His season in Sweden had left him unsatisfied, and he was looking for a real life experience by traveling to Serbia, in the company of his friend Marc-André Fournier, another McGill alumni.

“The deal breaker was that we were dealing with a program for young people. In Sweden, I found it redundant to just get up and go to the arena. I would have liked to get more involved. “

Jacob was therefore able to provide hockey equipment to young people across the country, sometimes through the Goals & Dreams program of the NHL and the Players’ Association, sometimes through an initiative of his alumni.

“We won 20 CCM Hockey Gear Carry Bags [via Goals & Dreams]. McGill sent us 10 bags of equipment. Even though it was used, it was super good quality, because a used skate here is still good there. We helped the young people in English, and they helped us in Serbian. “

U12 tournament in Bled, Slovenia

Because yes, Jacob learned Serbian there, which he still speaks today, for the simple reason that he met his wife there, that they have a house there and that they return there. every year to visit the family.

“I’m doing very, very well. On the other hand, there are verbs, that, I still have no understanding, so I make a lot of mistakes! It’s erratic, but I make myself understood. My son speaks it, and for us it’s important that he can communicate with his grandparents. My wife speaks to him in Serbian at home. “

Serbian passport

Which brings us back to the 2009 World Championship. In the eyes of the IIHF, for a player to be able to change his nationality, he must be a citizen of the country and must have played at least two seasons in a row in that country. (four seasons for players who have already represented another country on the international stage).

So Daniel Jacob fulfilled these conditions. “Otherwise, I’m sure they would have found a way!” he laughs. We had to go to Belgrade to present our case. Novi Sad was the host city of the tournament and the owner of our club looked after the national team. It was important to him. One hour before the unveiling of the training sessions, we came back from Belgrade with our passports! “

As we said, it was obviously not the highest level. But against China, North Korea, Iceland, Israel and Estonia, Serbia finished first in their group, securing promotion to the second division.

In 2010, the Serbs were therefore disembarked in Tilburg, Netherlands, in a group that includes the Netherlands, Ukraine, Japan, Lithuania and Austria. Unable to find the results from official sources, the IIHF archives being inaccessible. According to Wikipedia, however, Serbia lost their first game 13-0 against Austria. Really ?

” Yes sir ! We arrived there with a rounded chest. But Austria was serious, and the equipment manager ordered us roller hockey sticks! They had 70 flex It was like play with spaghetti!

But hey, Daniel Jacob has no bitterness when he recounts the event. Basically, it was precisely this rudimentary aspect that had attracted him to Serbia. And this is what allows him today to teach life lessons to his son, Teodor.

Teodor and Danica, last winter, in Novi Sad

My son went back over there during spring break, just before the pandemic, to visit his grandparents. There was a friendly tournament in Novi Sad. My son brought his skates and he was able to participate, but they loaned him the rest of the equipment. His first reaction when he saw the equipment: “Well, what is that?” It was a nice reality check for my son. I was glad he saw it. “


Hand: New Governing Body Is So Important For The Sport

Source: Ice Hockey UK

Ice Hockey UK’s National Development Head Coach Tony Hand MBE says establishment of a brand new governing body for the whole of the UK is so important to help move the sport forward.

The proposal has the support of the various governing bodies in the UK and now the EIHA members will vote on a unified approach at a virtual AGM on Saturday 12th December.

Hand said: “The sport of ice hockey in the UK has not had a co-ordinated approach for far too long now and I believe now is the time to change.

“We need a new model with new people developing new ideas to build on the success we’ve already had across the various organizations.

“It can’t happen with separate organizations making decisions that are not joined up but if everything is unified, I believe this great sport can make massive strides in the UK.

“Under the current board, ice hockey has come a long way. I think they have done a fantastic job and the sport is in the best place it has been for a long time.

“But we need to build on that now and the time is right for a new governing body to take us to a new level.”

The EIHA has produced a document for its members explaining the proposal to establish a new single governing body for the sport across the whole of the UK.

The document goes through the resolutions and explains what is being proposed, explains what would be different if a new governing body was established in the immediate future, in the short and medium term, as well as setting out the frequently asked questions and providing answers.

Click here to read the document.

Rick Fera: The quiet man who came alive on the ice pad

Rick Fera shadowed by his former Murrayfield Racers’ line-mate, Tony Hand

By Allen Crow – Fife Today

Rick Fera was one of the most prolific points scorers of ice hockey’s modern era.

A man of many clubs and few words, the enigmatic forward knew the route to goal better than most of his peers.

His time at Fife Flyers spanned just two seasons – one he loved, one which drove him to frustration and ended with a long suspension.

Fife Flyers imports Rick Fera and Steve Gatzos celebrate a goal, season 1990-91

It also contained one singular career highlight – his 1000th point as a pro hockey player.

The moment was captured by Bill Dickman, chief photographer of the Fife Free Press, who profiled him with his arms loft jumping for joy; a special, private moment for an intensely private man.

Fera’s UK career spanned 14 years and nine clubs, and he was the leading scorer at almost each and every one of them.

A native of Keswick, Ontario, he came to these shores from the OHL, and struck gold from the very start.

Rick Fera, Fife Flyers celebrates his 1000th career point in UK ice hockey

Fera joined Murrayfield Racers in 1985/86 where his partnership with Tony Hand was astounding – his 196 points haul just two ahead of his line mate.

The following season their telepathy took them to an even higher plane as Fera plundered 242 points and Hand 216.

It was the first of several phenomenal partnerships Fera struck up as he roamed, almost nomadically, around the UK hockey circuit.

At Trafford he bagged 229 points, and found a perfect foil in Sylvain Naud, while Basingstoke Beavers saw him team up with two greats, Kevin Conway and Mario Belanger. Fera’s 181 points just pipped Conway on 171 and Belanger on 167.

They were streaks ahead of the rest of the team – Basingstoke’s next highest points scorer was defenceman, and future Flyer, Russ Parent on 74.

At Fife, Fera’s speed and skill were perfectly complemented by French Canadian, Luc Beausoleil – 153 and 124 points respectively – as they spearheaded the team coached by Rab Petrie in 1989/90.

Fera returned, excited at the prospect of lining up with new signing Hilton Ruggles, a sniper of a forward who made his name with Whitley Warriors, but the club opted for a massive U-turn in mid-summer.

Out went Ruggles even before setting foot in Fife, and in came two Czechs Jaromir Korotvicka and Lubos Oslizo. The switch to European hockey didn’t work and was quickly jettisoned.

In came former NHLer Steve Gatzos, long past his peak, and the partnership with Fera misfired completely.

New coach, the no nonsense Mike Fedorko, split them up, and dumped Fera in the third line, playing relatively inexperienced young local Brits up ahead of the Canadian.

When the player was injured he found himself de-registered to make way for Darcy Cahill – a player with a big reputation who didn’t live up to the billing.

Isolated, Fera kept his counsel as results tanked, and the team hit rock bottom. Fedorko, Cahill and company all departed.

But his nadir came in January when a season soaked in utter frustration finally exploded when Fera – one one of the mildest mannered guys on the circuit – exploded.

He was thrown out of a game against Durham. Hustled to the sin bin, he threw a chair at Wasps’ player, Ian Cooper.

A brief moment of mayhem resulted in a ban for the rest of the league league campaign.

The following season he headed south to Trafford where his wandering journey around British ice hockey continued.

Three decades on, his remarkable scoring feats still stand the test of time – a true reflection on a player blessed with skill, pace and a deadly finish.

2020 NHL Draft prospects signal new era in hockey for Germany

By Mike G. Morreale

Stuetzle among potential first-round picks showcasing country’s commitment to player development.

Tim Stuetzle could become the highest-selected NHL Draft pick born and trained in Germany in the same year Leon Draisaitl became the first Germany-born player to lead the NHL in points. And that possibility is perhaps the strongest evidence yet that German hockey is on the rise.

Stuetzle and other prospects for the 2020 NHL Draft on Oct. 6-7 are the latest exceptionally skilled hockey players to be coming out of the country, six years after an overhaul to its development model instituted by the German Hockey Association (GHA).

NHL scouts and general managers have taken notice.

“It’s excellent to see,” Dallas Stars director of amateur scouting Joe McDonnell said. “For us scouts, a lot of times when you go into Europe, you’re strictly looking at a Sweden, Finland-type trip and now we add another country to the list, so hopefully they can keep producing.

“This year’s crop is excellent because you could have three first-rounders from Germany. Anytime you can grow the game, in any country, it’s awesome, and this year had been exceptional for Germany.”

Goran Stubb, the NHL director of European scouting, said he is glad to see hockey gaining traction in Germany.

“A young talented kid in Germany plays soccer, and if he doesn’t play soccer, he plays handball, and then comes hockey,” Stubb said. “But hockey seems to be on the rise in Germany. Their senior team went to the final in the [2018 PyeongChang Olympics] and was close to beating the Olympic Athletes from Russia (a 4-3 overtime loss in the gold medal game).

“Now we have a junior level. Dominik Bokk was drafted in the first round in 2018 (No. 25 by the St. Louis Blues) and last year it was [Moritz] Seider (No. 6 by the Detroit Red Wings). Now comes Stuetzle, [John-Jason] Peterka and [Lukas] Reichel … three guys who I think could be first-rounders.”

Stuetzle (6-foot-1, 187 pounds), a left wing playing for Adler Mannheim of Deutsche Eishockey Liga, Germany’s top professional men’s league, is No. 1 in NHL Central Scouting’s final ranking of International skaters eligible for the 2020 draft, which will be held virtually.

It’s the highest ranking given by Central Scouting on its international list to a player born and trained in Germany, and experts say he could be chosen as high as No. 2. Alexis Lafreniere, a left wing from Rimouski of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, is widely projected to be the No. 1 pick.

“Stuetzle is definitely the best German forward prospect since Draisaitl,” said Thomas Roost, a regional scout in Switzerland and Germany for NHL Central Scouting, “and to be honest, Stuetzle is by far the faster, quicker, more mobile and more stylish skater than Draisaitl at the same age. Stuetzle creates ‘oohs’ and ‘ahs’ in the stands.”

Draisaitl, who was No. 4 on NHL Central Scouting’s final list of North American skaters in 2014 because he played for Prince Albert of the Western Hockey League that season, was chosen No. 3 by the Edmonton Oilers in the 2014 NHL Draft.

“My goal is to be drafted as high as possible,” Stuetzle said. “My goal is to get chosen under the first three picks.”

German gems

The NHL Draft has been held 57 times, with five players born and trained in Germany having been selected in the first round, but never more than one in any year: forwards Draisaitl, Marco Sturm (No. 21, San Jose Sharks, 1996), Marcel Goc (No. 20, Sharks, 2001) and Bokk, and defenseman Seider. Forward Dany Heatley, the No. 1 pick by the Atlanta Thrashers in the 2000 NHL Draft, was born in Germany but moved to Canada at a young age.

Scouts expect there could be as many as three among the top 31 picks in the 2020 draft.

In addition to Stuetzle, Peterka, a right wing for EHC Munich (DEL), and left wing Reichel of Eisbaren Berlin (DEL) are also on the scouting radar. Peterka is No. 7 in NHL Central Scouting’s final ranking of International skaters; Reichel is No. 11.

All three represented Germany at the 2020 IIHF World Junior Championship.

Draisaitl won the Art Ross Trophy this season, leading the NHL with 110 points (43 goals, 67 assists). He’s also a finalist for the Hart Trophy, awarded to the most valuable player.

Of defensemen born and trained in Germany, Seider became the highest selected when the Red Wings chose him No. 6 in the 2019 draft. He was NHL Central Scouting’s highest-ranking such player (No. 6 in 2019) on its International list prior to Stuetzle.

“Young guys aren’t just benchwarmers anymore (in the DEL), they’re actually part of the team and earning the coach’s trust,” Seider said. “A few rule changes have also helped out those younger German players who happen to be draft eligible.”

A change in philosophy in Germany’s development model and within the DEL has helped foster the growth of more young local players and sparked the turnaround of hockey in the country.

Changing of the guard

The overhaul to the development model instituted by the GHA in 2014 went a long way in helping teenage players realize their full potential.

GHA president and IIHF council member Franz Reindl said he felt radical changes were necessary after Germany failed to qualify for the 2014 Sochi Olympics and dropped to No. 13 in the IIHF world rankings.

“Youth work and what the clubs are doing with their junior teams was essential for young players to grow,” said Germany-born goalie Philipp Grubauer of the Colorado Avalanche, who was selected by the Washington Capitals in the fourth round (No. 112) of the 2010 NHL Draft. “I can’t tell a detail [as to] what makes a guy become an NHL player. It was a team effort.”

Reindl helped institute a long-term sports concept called Powerplay 26 to help change the hockey landscape in Germany for the better.

“We introduced a completely new development system, changed competition rules and league structures in youth hockey, and we changed our coaching education system,” GHA manager Michael Pfuhl said. “We really had to make some fundamental changes.”

The changes were made with three primary goals:

1. Short term: Concentration on sports activities and an increase in grassroots programs to allow more young players on the ice while increasing efficiency within the youth development levels.

2. Midterm: Rebuilding of the federation structure and financial consolidation by taking a lead role in the German sports system.

3. Long term: Realizing the opportunity to win medals in the 2026 Milano Cortina Olympics and 2030 Olympics.

To achieve these goals, the association realigned its coaching education program to focus more on player development than on wins and losses.

The DEL also introduced an under-23 rule prior to the 2019-20 season that enabled each of the 14 clubs to add two skaters per game (19 total) so long as those players are under the age of 23 prior to Dec. 31. The two players must be eligible to play for the German national team, meaning they had to be Germany-trained skaters and not imports.

“The rule provides extra spots for young German-trained players on the DEL rosters and therefore is helpful for the development of younger players, such as Seider, Stuetzle, Peterka and Reichel,” Pfuhl said.

The adjustment was made to ensure young Germany-born players were given a chance to showcase their ability in their own country and continue to develop in the country’s top division.

“I know the country has been working on ways to get more young players in their league instead of older guys from other countries taking up lots of ice time, and that looks like it’s paying off this and last season, for sure,” Red Wings director of European scouting Hakan Andersson said. “I think if young hockey players see that there’s a chance to play on the big senior team, that’s a big boost for many of them and could maybe even be a boost to get more young hockey players starting in Germany.”

A five-star system was also assigned to the Germany youth hockey programs. One star is awarded to a youth club team each time it fulfills certain criteria in each of the five difference categories, according to Pfuhl. The more stars a team earns, the more financial support it is given from a special development fund.

The categories include recruitment and learn-to-play, basic skills development, competitive hockey for under-16 teams, competitive hockey for under-20 teams, and hockey environment.

The new development model has given even more reason for young local players to grow and mature within the German leagues up through their draft-eligible season.

“German hockey has made big changes in the last couple of years and more young players are in our top league, which wasn’t the case back in the day,” Seider said. “We’re already seeing the big achievements, winning the silver medal at the 2018 [PyeongChang] Olympics and the promotion of the Under-20 team to the [2020 World Junior Championship].”

Germany has improved its IIHF world hockey ranking each year since 2014 and is No. 7.

“We now have more skilled players thanks to the new programs,” Pfuhl said. “We have more highly educated, full-time coaches working daily with the young talents. Guys like Uwe Krupp, Jochen Hecht, Marco Sturm and Leon Draisaitl are role models for more young players. They see the chance to make it into the NHL if they work hard. Though hockey is not the No. 1 sport in Germany, Leon is pretty popular because of his scoring records in the NHL.”

Calgary Flames forward Tobias Rieder, who was born and trained in Germany before being selected by the Oilers in the fourth round (No. 114) of the 2011 NHL Draft, said, “There are so many people involved. It also helped when (current Los Angeles Kings assistant coach) Marco Sturm took over as national coach (in 2015). You could feel that it was getting better and running in the right direction. It’s good to see that more and more players are coming over to North America and [making] it over here. It’s all on the right track.”

Stuetzle said having the opportunity to mature and develop in his country made all the difference in the world.

“Playing with men and training with men all the time was a big part of my life and they helped me out a lot,” the 18-year-old said. “They wanted to make me better and I’m so thankful to my teammates. I was able to learn a lot from the veterans; it was a great season for me.”

Bokk said giving young Germany-born players an opportunity to compete in the DEL makes a huge difference.

“If you’re young and you play on the pro team and you’re playing against men, that’s probably the best that can happen for you,” said the 20-year-old forward prospect, now in the Carolina Hurricanes organization. “It’s pro hockey. It’s a different world than playing junior hockey in Germany. I didn’t get that chance and went to Sweden, played a couple of months and then got an opportunity to play on the pro team there. That helped so much as a player.

“Germany right now is doing a great job playing their young guys and we have a lot of great young players who can play in the DEL, and I think that’s what makes German hockey much better.”

The Mannheim machine

Jan-Axel Alavaara became general manager of Adler Mannheim in 2017-18. Mannheim won a DEL championship with Seider last season and had a 34-12-6 record with Stuetzle before this season was canceled because of the coronavirus.

Alavaara was an amateur scout with the Buffalo Sabres (2016-18) for two seasons before getting his opportunity with Mannheim, so he knows the caliber of player NHL clubs crave.

“Seider opened up the doors last season, for sure,” Alavaara said. “Now, it’s Stuetzle and the other guys showing that they’re able to play, and people in this country want to see the young kids who play with a passion and a drive and who are not afraid to play hockey.”

Mannheim coach Pavel Goss has been with the team the past two seasons. He told The Dispatch podcast that it wouldn’t surprise him to see Stuetzle in the NHL within two years.

“I think his hockey IQ and his quickness are impressive,” Goss said. “How quick he can beat the defensemen, accelerate and create the chances for his teammates. He can improve his quick shot, but he’s only 18 and there’s a lot of potential in Tim. He’s going to be a great player.”

Seider was named rookie of the year in the DEL in 2018-19 despite being limited to 29 games because of a shoulder injury. He had five assists in 14 playoff games to help Mannheim win the DEL championship.

“For a lot of young players like myself, Seider was the go-to guy,” Stuetzle said. “He showed everybody that you can develop a lot even if you stay in Germany.”

Seider had six assists in seven games for Germany in the 2020 World Junior Championship and didn’t look out of place his first season in North America with Grand Rapids of the American Hockey League, scoring 22 points (two goals, 20 assists) in 49 games.

“I was really high on [Seider] prior to the 2019 draft,” Andersson said. “I liked his hands, skating, poise and size, but a big thing also was his personality. He’s a human being that is above your average player … he’s caring, outgoing and confident.”

Stuetzle was named rookie of the year in the DEL this season after scoring 34 points (seven goals, 27 assists) in 41 games. He also finished second in scoring among players 18 or younger with five points (two goals, three assists) in eight games for Mannheim in the Champions Hockey League, a 32-team European hockey tournament that ended in February.

“The way our organization operates, it’s almost similar to if you saw how Sweden or Finland build their teams,” Alavaara said. “We have a full staff that includes skill coaches, off-ice coaches, performance coaches. They all take care of these young kids, work with them on a daily basis from video to mental toughness.

“I think Germany was behind everyone else maybe five to 10 years ago, but there are a lot of Canadians, Swedes, Finns, Czechs, and coaches from other countries outside Germany now working in the DEL, so we’re making all the right steps.”

Alavaara said the GHA has taken a little bit from every country in helping shape and develop the young players back home.

“I think coaches and managers are starting to talk way more with each other to help each other, too,” Alavaara said. “To me, it seemed the teams were smaller and on their own island before, but that’s not the case anymore. Everyone is working together to make sure our players have everything available to them.”

The next one: Stuetzle

Stuetzle is quick to deflect any comparisons to Draisaitl.

“I think it’s great [to hear the comparisons], but I’m another player, another guy,” Stuetzle said. “I want to be my own, but it’s a very big honor and nice to be considered in that category.”

Draisaitl had six points (two goals, four assists) in 37 games for the Oilers in 2014-15 before being returned to the WHL.

“I think every player is a little bit different,” Draisaitl said. “[Stuetzle] might come in and be ready, play big minutes and be ready to make an impact and contribute to that team. In my case, that wasn’t really the case. I don’t think I was ready at the time. But those … games still helped me so much. It taught me so much about how to play the game the right way, how the game is being played in the NHL.”

Roost said Stuetzle and Draisaitl are different types of players.

“Draisaitl is stronger on the puck, in the corners and along the walls, while Stuetzle is speed, finesse and creating options in the offensive zone,” Roost said. “Draisaitl is sometimes like a freight train. Nothing can stop him. Stuetzle is more like a sports car. Stylish but probably a bit more vulnerable.”

Stuetzle had 132 shots on goal and a plus-4 rating averaging 16:06 in ice time in 41 games with Mannheim this season. His averages of 0.65 assists per game and 0.82 points per game are the highest by an under-18 player in the history of the DEL.

Alavaara said he was lucky to be able to watch Stuetzle every day in practice.

“He has all the tools, just as Seider had, but at a different position,” Alavaara said. “He has elite quickness and hockey sense to make those quick decisions. He’ll do everything it will take to get to the next level as soon as possible because he has good character, competes really hard and can skate so well.”

In addition to Stuetzle, Peterka and Reichel might also be among the top 31 picks.

“The most impressive things about Peterka and Reichel was their development during this season,” Roost said. “At the beginning, I ranked Peterka in the middle of the draft and Reichel as a late-rounder, to be honest.

“Now it looks as if both of them could become late-first or early-second-round picks if everything moves in their directions during the draft.”

Peterka (5-11, 192) scored 11 points (seven goals, four assists) and had 62 shots on goal averaging 11:50 in ice time in 42 games for Munich (DEL). He scored six points (four goals, two assists) in seven games for Germany at the 2020 World Championship.

Reichel (6-foot, 170) scored 24 points (12 goals, 12 assists) and had 70 shots on goal averaging 12:58 in ice time in 42 games for Berlin (DEL). The nephew of former NHL forward Robert Reichel scored five points (three goals, two assists) in seven games for his country at the 2020 World Championship.

“I know J-J Peterka from Munich, where I joined for summer training last year,” said Buffalo Sabres forward Dominik Kahun, who was born in the Czech Republic but was raised and trained in Germany. “You can see what he can do. He is a top performer that plays well. The German hockey in the NHL is improving. Especially with Leon playing how he did, that’s great advertising for German ice hockey. The Germans are making an impact. Earlier there were not so many Germans in the NHL, so nobody talked about German ice hockey that much. But I think that we’re on the right track.”

Craig Button, resident director of scouting and NHL analyst for TSN and a former NHL general manager, said it’s great to see a soccer-loving country such as Germany producing so many productive hockey players.

“Tim Stuetzle, in my view, is an elite player in every sense of the word,” Button said. “But now you add Reichel and Peterka, Seider being drafted last year and Draisaitl’s a 50-goal scorer … I think you try to grow the sport to gain traction for other kids to take up the sport. I think it can be analogous to what we see in the southern United States.

“If (Toronto Maple Leafs center) Auston Matthews doesn’t pick up hockey in Scottsdale, Arizona, we’re robbed of Auston Matthews. We’re seeing more nontraditional markets producing players, and we can look at Germany. I think it speaks to the reach of hockey. You get good athletes playing and [creating] interest, you’re going to get good hockey players, and I think that’s wonderful.”

Stuetzle said he is hoping lessons learned leading up to his NHL Draft-eligible season will benefit him as they have other Germany-born players.

“I think we have great young players who want to work out, get better every day, be the best, and I think that’s the reason Germany is producing good players right now,” Stuetzle said. “It would be a great feeling to be drafted as high as possible. Leon is doing a great job [in the NHL].

“I’m just honored to play such a big role in the draft and looking forward to it and playing in the NHL.”

Tim Stuetzle Leads German Hockey’s Next N.H.L. Influx

Tim Stuetzle, left, has been ranked as the top European skater by N.H.L. Central Scouting

By The New York Times

With his strong skating and sharp stickhandling skills, Tim Stuetzle, an 18-year-old German forward, has drawn comparisons to Patrick Kane.

“Tim has this incredible imagination when he’s on the ice,” said Craig Button, the director of scouting for the Canadian sports network TSN. “Great creativity, and he combines it with this, kind of, boldness.

“He doesn’t just play with a great determination and great skill level, he plays with this panache. It says, ‘Stop me, I dare you.’ Not a lot of players have that.”

Stuetzle earned rookie of the year honors in the top German men’s league last season, playing on the top line for Adler Mannheim. One of his linemates and mentors was the former N.H.L. player Ben Smith, who won a Stanley Cup alongside Kane with the Chicago Blackhawks in 2013.

“So many guys from my team always said Patrick Kane to me, so that’s been a lot of fun for me,” Stuetzle said. “For me, it’s always tough to compare because I think others should make an opinion on that. But for sure, it’s a big honor for me.

“I still think I’m very far away from him and there’s a lot of things that I need to improve to get on his level. I still have a lot of time because I’m very young.”

Stuetzle has been ranked as the top European skater by N.H.L. Central Scouting. And he could surpass Leon Draisaitl, whom the Edmonton Oilers selected third over all in 2014, as the highest-drafted German-developed player in league history.

“I think it would be unreal for German hockey if you have that kind of first-rounder,” Stuetzle said. “But in the end, what’s most important for me is to play a long career and win something. I’m there to win and I hope to have a long career and a healthy career. That’s the most important for me, but, for sure, right now I’m hoping to get drafted as high as possible and, yeah, maybe higher, or the same, as Leon.”

Before Draisaitl’s selection, only two other German players had ever been drafted in the first round. Marco Sturm, now an assistant coach with the Los Angeles Kings, went 21st over all in 1996. Forward Marcel Goc was selected 20th in 2001. Dany Heatley, a forward selected second over all in 2000, was born in Germany but grew up in Canada and represented it in international competition. All told, only six German-born skaters and two goalies suited up in the N.H.L. last season. But those numbers are expected to grow quickly, with Stuetzle at the fore.

Alexis Lafreniere is the consensus top prospect for the 2020 N.H.L. draft, which is tentatively scheduled for Oct. 9 and 10. But Stuetzle has been placed second on a number of expert rankings, including Button’s.

“I really do believe that he is one of the very few players in his draft that’s capable of coming into the N.H.L., if there’s a 2020-21 season, coming in and being a contributor,” Button said. “Not a player that dons a uniform, but a contributor to the team that drafts him. I think he’s that good.”

Stuetzle should be an easy fit on most N.H.L. rosters, as he can play all three forward positions.

“I have no problem with each position, but I think I can be a very, very good centerman if I get stronger in a couple of years, because I love having the puck in the middle and making plays,” he said. “I plan, long term, on the center position. But last season went very good on the wing as well.”

Marco Sturm, middle, was drafted in the first round in 1996 and coached his native Germany to a silver medal at the 2018 Olympics

Germany’s hockey program has been on the rise in recent years. Most notably: With no active N.H.L. players permitted to participate at the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea, Sturm coached the German team to an unexpected silver medal. And Draisaitl followed his first 50-goal season in 2018-19 by capturing the Art Ross Trophy as the N.H.L.’s leading points scorer in the pandemic-shortened 2019-20 regular season. With 110 points in 71 games, he finished 13 points ahead of his closest challenger, his teammate Connor McDavid.

In the last two years, two more Germans have been drafted in the first round. Forward Dominik Bokk was chosen 25th by the St. Louis Blues in 2018, and the Detroit Red Wings took defenseman Moritz Seider at No. 6 in 2019.

This year, more than one German could be selected in the first round for the first time. Wingers John-Jason Peterka and Lukas Reichel are ranked seventh and 11th on N.H.L. Central Scouting’s European skater list. Button ranks Reichel as the 33rd-best overall prospect and Peterka 42nd.

“J.J. is probably what I would call a little bit more of a two-way player,” Button said. “Coaches will be comfortable with him being out on the ice because he is so smart. And Lukas is, I think, a little bit more tilted toward being a playmaking-type forward rather than a goal-scoring winger, but it’s an area that he can develop.

“When you’re talking about potential first-round picks, I think Tim, obviously. But J.J. and Lukas certainly can be.”

Germany’s rise in hockey has come partly with the help of a program called Powerplay 26.

After a lifetime in hockey, including winning a bronze medal as a player at the 1976 Winter Olympics, Franz Reindl took over as the German Ice Hockey Federation’s president in 2014 and helped create the program. Powerplay 26 is a comprehensive plan for improvement at all levels, bringing more youth players to the game and supporting them more effectively, with a goal of consistently competing for medals at all levels by 2026.

Since Powerplay 26 began in 2014, the German senior men’s team has climbed from 13th to seventh in the world rankings. The under-20 team earned promotion to the top level in December 2018, and the under-18 squad followed suit four months later. Over the same time, the women’s program slipped slightly, from seventh to eighth.

“Our level is Switzerland, Slovakia,” Reindl said. “The big nations, they are ahead of us. Canada, Sweden, Russia, Finland, Czechs and U.S.A. are the top six. But to be seven — it’s amazing in these last years, going from 13 to seven in the international world. But now it’s even harder to stay there, and to maybe make the next step.”

Sustaining that success, said Stefan Schaidnagel, sporting director for the German federation, is a matter of consistently having positive results.

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