Category: Europe (page 1 of 7)

Britain’s Ice Hockey Icon Wonders, What If?

By 

The International Ice Hockey Federation Hall of Fame inducted a procession of hockey greats in May. The honorees included the former N.H.L. stars Joe Sakic, Teemu Selanne, Saku Koivu and Uwe Krupp as well as Angela Ruggiero, one of the most decorated players in women’s hockey.

But no one made as memorable an entrance as Tony Hand, who stepped toward the podium that night in Cologne, Germany, dressed in traditional Scottish Highland regalia — an argyle jacket, knee-high socks and a kilt.

Hand, who may be Britain’s lone hockey icon, received the Richard “Bibi” Torriani Award, which is given to players from lesser-known hockey nations.

But he might have become well known in North America if a 1980s tryout with the powerhouse Edmonton Oilers had panned out.

“I went and met the queen and had a chat, which was quite nice,” Hand, 50, said in a phone interview from Edinburgh, Scotland. “Even if you look at the career, over here I’ve been fortunate enough to have helped the sport any way I can. I have had a decent career and I’ve got a good family here and a lot of friends. So I’m not sitting back sulking. But it would have been nice to see what could have happened.”

Hand is an accomplished coach in the English Premier Ice Hockey League and with the national program, but his most impressive achievements came during an unrivaled 34-season playing career.

Growing up in Edinburgh, Hand headed to the local skating rink when he was 7 for peace and closure after the death of his father from a heart attack. Playing alongside his brothers, he was eventually discovered by a local team, the Murrayfield Racers, with whom he made his professional debut at 14.

By 17, Hand led the British Hockey League with 116 assists in 50 games to go with 99 goals. He surpassed the 100-goal mark in each of the next four seasons.

Those early years were the statistical high point of a pro career spanning more than three decades during which Hand collected 2,992 assists and 4,634 points, both British hockey records. Wayne Gretzky, the player to whom Hand is most frequently compared in Britain, established N.H.L. records considered unmatchable with 1,963 assists and 2,857 points.

“The goalies were bad; that’s what it was,” Hand said modestly when asked about his British hockey exploits.

Whatever the reason for his remarkable point totals, it was enough to gain the attention of the Oilers, who had built one of the great dynasties in league history when they selected Hand with the final pick in the 1986 draft, making him the first British player drafted by an N.H.L. team. By then, Hand had earned a tryout with Calgary, Edmonton’s biggest rival.

“Our league had a deal with Calgary — they would invite the young player of the year in Britain to the camp in Calgary,” Hand said. “It was a token gesture. I don’t think they realized there was a possible opportunity that one of the players could make the team.”

But his rights were officially owned by the Oilers, who had won consecutive Stanley Cups in 1984 and 1985, so Hand reported to Edmonton training camp in 1986. On a club that would win three more Cups in the next four seasons, Hand made an impression despite facing long odds to make the team.

“There was absolutely no question when he came over for that first training camp that he had enough hockey skill,” said Bill Tuele, the Oilers’ former director of public relations. “He had never been pushed to any great limit. He was a neat kid. He was a bit overwhelmed by the whole process. To be thrown into that caldron was almost an impossible task.”

With few roster spots available, Hand was sent to the Victoria Cougars of the Western Hockey League. After collecting 8 points in three games, a homesick Hand returned to Edinburgh to finish the season with the Racers.

He was invited back to Oilers camp the next season and was one of Edmonton’s final cuts. But Hand again decided to head home rather than report to Edmonton’s top developmental team in the American Hockey League.

He would not receive another invitation to an N.H.L. camp, instead flourishing in Britain and becoming the only hockey player to receive the prestigious Member of the British Empire award from Queen Elizabeth II.

His 82 points with the national team made him the country’s career leading scorer. After 14 seasons serving in a dual role as a player and coach with a number of British teams, Hand retired as a player in 2015 at age 47. He served as head coach of the Manchester Phoenix of the English Premier Ice Hockey League until the club ceased operations in January.

Now consisting of 12 teams, the league is entering what local officials believe could be a new golden age for the sport in Britain, with former N.H.L. players joining the league.

“In Tony’s day, he was the best player in the U.K. by far,” said Andy French, the general secretary of Ice Hockey U.K., the national governing body for the sport. “He was better than a lot of the imports. He had a vision that nobody else had. He’s now passing that quality that he had down through to the younger generation of players. I’m hoping that we can produce another Tony Hand.”

For all the success he enjoyed at home, Hand still, three decades later, sometimes thinks about his decision to leave Edmonton.

“It wasn’t like I was unambitious,” he said. “I just didn’t know. I had never been away. Obviously when you’re young you make these decisions, and I had never had a father figure to sort of guide me. I don’t sit and regret it. But did I make the right decision? Probably not.”

Since ending his playing career, Hand has contributed as a scout and coach to the British national team, which in April won the 1B division of the world championships to earn promotion to Division 1A, one level below the top tier.

Hand’s hope is that Britain’s accomplishments in international hockey can help him find the kind of opportunity in the N.H.L. he never quite pursued in an otherwise illustrious hockey career.

“I think I’ve got a lot to offer teams,” Hand said. “I’ve got a lot of experience. I’ve got a lot of knowledge. I haven’t really put my name out anywhere. I thought I would just wait and see what comes.”

Ice Hockey, Curling and Luge will be part of the Portuguese Winter Sports Federation.

Curling geral

By National Teams of Ice Hockey

Ice Hockey, Curling and Luge will be part of the Federation of Winter Sports of Portugal (FDIP), said Lusa Pedro Farromba, president of FDIP.

Curling and Luge federations have already join, while Ice Hockey will happen at the congress meetings scheduled for May of next year, with Pedro Farromba added that he has only met a few days with the Ice Hockey representatives.

The goal, according to Pedro Farromba, is “to give a new Identity to the FDIP,  by adding new winter sports”,  Skiing and Snowboarding federations have been already welcomed.

Portugal already have an ice hockey team, a formation that on September 29th won it’s first international game by defeating Andorra. In the case of curling, there are players in the country who go to Spain to play.

Curling is practiced on an ice rink and the teams aim to get the stones thrown as close as possible to the target by rubbing the ice to try to defend it’s Territory. 

As for the luge, “there are no place for it to be practiced in Portugal because it is a sled that descends down a mountain in an icy circuit, but there is the possibility, as on the roller skies, of doing it without snow, and adapting.

When it comes to infrastructure, Pedro Farromba believes that if there are athletes and will there will be a number of users, the possibility of a ice rink is real. If there are enough athletes, there will be those who want to invest to do it. We have to make it happen and show people that Portugal have enough interest in winter sports.

The role of the FDIP, to be a leader in winter sports and encourage, motivate, through promotional programs that can create greater adherence to young people in Portugal.

The Russian Senior Women’s Team Snap Japan 26 Game Winning Streak

dyupinagoal-2

By Patrick Conway – Conway’s Russian Hockey Blog

The Russian senior women’s team was also at work this past week, preparing for their second annual trip to the United States to face clubs from the National Women’s Hockey League.  The final stage of that preparation was the visit of Team Japan to the Russian hockey base at Novogorsk for a pair of exhibition games yesterday and today.  The Japanese national team came into the series riding a 26-game winning streak in all competitions, so definitely a squad not to be taken too lightly, even as Team Russia looked ahead to the North American tour.

Team Japan served notice early in the first game, too, that they were to be reckoned with, as Akane Hosoyamada of the CWHL’s Calgary Inferno gave the visitors a 1-0 lead after 20 minutes.  Russian Head Coach Alexei Chistyakov’s players found the range thereafter, however; Yevgeniya Dyupina of Dynamo St. Petersburg tied the game seven minutes into the second period.  Then the big Tornado Moscow Oblast trio struck, as Yelena Dergachyova scored with assists to her club linemates Alevtina Shtaryova and Anna Shokhina, and Russia led 2-1 after two periods.  In the third, the Russians pulled away.  First it was another Tornado player, Lyudmila Belyakova, getting her name on the scoresheet, before Agidel Ufa defender Tatyana Shibanova rounded out the scoring in the final minute of what ended as a 4-1 Russian victory.  Shibanova’s Agidel team-mate, the formidable Olga Sosina, picked up assists on both the third-period goals, while Biryusa Krasnoyarsk’s Nadezhda Morozova earned the victory in goal.

Chistyakov opted to go with Valeriya Tarakanova of SKIF Nizhny Novgorod in net for today’s second meeting between the two teams, but the game’s opening act followed the same script.  Once again, Japan held a 1-0 first-intermission lead, this time thanks to Miho Shishiuchi.  And once again, Tornado’s big line came to the fore in the second period, as Shtaryova leveled matters with assists from Dergachyova and Shokhina.  This game, however, would go down to the wire.  With less than three minutes on the clock, Dyupina pounced on a mistake at the Japanese blueline, skated in alone on Nana Fujimoto, and scored what would turn out to be the game winner (see photo at the top of this post).  Tornado’s Nina Pirogova added a third into the empty net with just a few ticks left, and Russia came away with their second victory in two days, by a score of 3-1.

Team Russia sets off for the U.S. on Wednesday, and will open their series on Friday against the New York Riveters.  The full schedule is as follows:

  • Friday, October 13th: New York Riveters
  • Sunday, October 15th: Connecticut Whale
  • Tuesday, October 17th: Connecticut Whale
  • Wednesday, October 18th: Boston Pride
  • Saturday, October 21st: Boston Pride
  • Sunday, October 22nd: New York Riveters

Andorra slowly growing

By Martin Merk – IIHF.com

The 2017 Development Cup offered Andorra to form a national team for the first time and serve as host of an international ice hockey tournament. Although the host team lost the games against Morocco, Ireland and Portugal, it was a good experience for them. 

“It’s our first appearance in an international event. It was difficult against the opponents. We thought we could win against Portugal but we were not so good at converting the shots,” said Aleix Manosas, the local club’s President and Vicef President of the Andorran Ice Sports Federation who was in the net for his team. 

“It’s important for us to have some international exposure, to say we’re little hockey countries but we’re developing and we’re here.” 

Ice sports in Andorra are centred in the 2,000-soul village of Canillo in the northern part of the country in the Pyrenees. It is one of the major winter sport destinations in the country last but not least thanks to having the principality’s only ice rink, the Palau de Gel (“Ice Palace” in Catalan) that includes a full-size ice rink with 1,500 seats and an indoor swimming pool. 

The opening of the ice rink in 1987 was the start of ice hockey, ice skating and curling in the country. The only hockey club, Andorra Hoquei Gel, was founded in 1990. The Andorran Ice Sports Federation came into existence in 1992 and joined the IIHF in 1995. 

Since then Andorra hasn’t hit the international spotlight that much. Senior and junior teams sometimes play games in their neighbourhood with cities with hockey clubs such as Puigcerda (48 km) and Barcelona (200 km) in Spain, or Font-Romeu (65 km) or Toulouse (170 km) in France in driving distance. And in 1997 Spain hosted the 1997 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship D-Pool in Canillo. 

“I remember Korea was here and now they earned promotion to the top division. I know we cannot play against Finland or Sweden like them but why not play in the lower divisions? We’ll fight for that. We are sure that the event is a sign that more people can try to play hockey like us and that more children will play the sport. Like that we can have a better team in the future,” said Manosas. 

According to him there are 90 ice hockey players in the country, about half are senior players and half are children including 12 girls. 

“Hockey in Andorra is played by only few people. Football and basketball are the sport played most often here. But in Canillo it’s a bit colder than in the rest in the country and we have an ice rink. We’ve been developing hockey since the early ‘90s and have been progressing step by step culminating with hosting the Development Cup,” he said. 

2017 was a milestone with having the first official national team. It was mostly composed of players from the local club but also included former players of the club who moved to France including defenceman Louison Courcol (Poitiers), forward Alex Palmitjavilla (Montpellier) and captain Ludovic Blasi (Font-Romeu), who all play in the French fourth-tier competition. 

“Most players are from Canillo, about 70 per cent, or from other towns in Andorra. We just had three players who played in France because they are students. In Andorra we don’t have a lot of universities so they have to go abroad. It’s good for us because they can see another style of hockey and coaching,” Manosas said about the situation in the high-altitude country of around 80,000 inhabitants. 

“Normally the players here play in two small tournaments with ten games and some players play with Font-Romeu in the south of France to have maybe two or four games more. We are trying to do some exhibition games but it’s not so easy to go outside because our budget is not high. And we try to find more players to play in a French competition.” 

For captain Blasi the event has been a great experience despite the losses. 

“We are a small country with a few hockey players in Andorra and those who went to play abroad play at amateur level. We try to play against better teams like at the Development Cup, which is a good way to progress and grow hockey in Andorra,” the captain said. “10 to 12 players from the team have never played according to IIHF rules and with body-checking before. They were adapting the game with more intensity and more shots. 

“It’s an honour to play for the country for the first time. Many play in the club in Andorra but it’s not the same as representing your country. We’ve been hoping for this since childhood.” 

Andorra has a senior and now a youth team to make progress with the youngest players. 

“We formed the under-10 team last year. They competed in two tournaments here and in Barcelona so they had 12 games. In the new season we want to take part in four tournaments so in the future we will hopefully have future champs,” Manosas said. 

A Female Hasek: Klára Peslarová, Team Czech Republic Goalie

Klára Peslarová

By Nathaniel Oliver – The Hockey Writers

The three highest save percentages of Dominik Hasek’s international career were .961, .924 and .923. Those numbers came in international tournaments like the Winter Olympics or World Championships when “The Dominator” played in at least four games of each tournament. In the process, Hasek won an Olympic gold and bronze, and a World Championship silver with three bronze. The Hockey Hall of Famer’s Olympic career save percentage is a staggering .946. As every hockey fan knows, very little ever got by Hasek.

The three highest save percentages (thus far) for fellow Czech goaltender Klára Peslarová in which she has played at least four tournament games have been .975, .954, and .951. Yeah, not much gets by her either.

And she is only a 20-year-old.

“My brother Jakub always said, ‘You are like “You are like  Dominik Hasek in a skirt’,” Peslarová shared.

Peslarová’s Youth Hockey and Where It Began

Like most elite hockey players, Peslarová began playing hockey at a very young age. Born November 23, 1996 in the Czech city of Ostrava she ended up finding inspiration as a goaltender from two remarkable Swedes instead of her fellow countryman, Hasek.

“I started playing when I was three,” Peslarová recalled. “My father was a coach and my brother played hockey too. Because my father was a coach to little children — four to six year olds — I was in the same group. The goalie was sick, so I wanted to try it. I stayed with my group as a goalie, and then the younger group as a forward. You know, you have to be a good skater.”

Around the world, numerous hockey leagues are beginning their 2017-18 seasons. Peslarová is now returning to play in the Czech Republic with a men’s team, HC RT TORAX Poruba after playing two seasons for SDE HF of the Svenska damhockeyligan (SDHL); the top women’s league in Sweden. The SDE HF hockey club is located in Stockholm. While she may be returning to her homeland, it would seem that Peslarová had developed a kinship toward the Scandinavian country long ago.

Henrik Lundqvist was always my hero,” she explained.

Separately, one of the other top female goaltenders in the world — who is also a Swede — helped provide tutelage and fostering to a young Peslarová: “I didn’t know too much about a women’s hockey league, but it was Kim Martin Hasson who helped the team in 2006 around the Olympic Games. This was the first time that I saw women’s hockey.”

Martin Hasson is a silver and bronze Olympic medalist for Sweden, and an NCAA champion from her time with the University of Minnesota Duluth. She is also the Athlete Ambassador to the Czech Republic, and worked with Peslarová at one of the IIHF’s high performance camps when the Czech was a youngster.

Beginning of Her Success at the International Level

Peslarová first got into international play for the Czech Republic during the 2013 IIHF Women’s U18 tournament held in Finland. She appeared in five of the Czech Republic’s six tournament games and posted an important win over Russia. Peslarová’s statistics from that showcase are a bit tough to swallow from sight alone, as her .880 save percentage is rather average while her 5.18 goals against average is cringe-worthy to look at.

However, those numbers do not tell the entire story though. Keep in mind that Peslarová was only 16 at the time of this tournament. In a 10-0 drubbing by the United States in the semifinals she took on 42 shots of a total 76 that the U.S. peppered onto the Czech net that game, and still stopped 37 of them. Her other save totals in the tournament games were 11, 28, 26 and 30 respectively. Certainly a solid performance by a first year player on the national team.

The numbers that Peslarová was about to produce from here on out would seem otherworldly.

2014 Becomes Peslarová’s Coming-Out Party

The 2014 IIHF Women’s U18 tournament was held in Budapest, Hungary and would be the final U18 of Peslarová’s career. Seemingly, this tournament belonged to her. Through Peslarová’s remarkable play in net, the Czech Republic would win only their second medal in the tournament’s history, and their first since 2008 when the Women’s U18 was first brought about by the IIHF.

Peslarová was brilliant in net. She posted four wins to go with two losses, with one of the wins coming in a shootout over Finland in the Czech Republic’s first game of the tournament. She shut out Sweden in the quarterfinals of the tournament 3-0, and then did the same to Russia in the bronze medal game by a score of 1-0. In total, she played 345:00 of ice time, allowed a mere nine goals in six games, had a 1.57 goals against and a whopping .951 save percentage.

Klára Peslarová

Three times Klára Peslarová has been named Best Goaltender by the IIHF in
international competition

Peslarová’s greatest heroics came in the 3-1 semifinal loss to the United States. In the 2013 tournament, the Czech Republic had twice allowed 10 goals to the U.S. the two times the teams squared off. This time Peslarová was a wall that could also move and stand on its head. The U.S. put 61 shots on Peslarová and she steered aside 58 of them. In a most deserving performance, Peslarová would be named the Best Goaltender award recipient for the entire tournament.

When asked what that tournament and bronze medal mean to her today, Peslarová shared: “Certainly a lot. I like to always remember it. This was the last opportunity at the U18 level. Also, every award and medal means a lot for me.”

Continued Heroics Throughout 2014 and 2015

The IIHF decided to host a Women’s World Championships during an Olympic year for the first time in 2014. In order to continue the development of teams not participating in the Sochi Games, the IIHF continued to fund participation in the women’s tournament. The Czech Republic simply ran the table over the likes of Norway, France, Denmark, Austria and Slovakia at that year’s Division I Women’s Worlds. Peslarová had now graduated to the Czech women’s national team and once again shined brighter than the sun as their star goaltender.

Peslarová went a perfect 4-0 throughout the tournament as she helped vault the Czech Republic into the top division for women’s international play. The Czech Republic won all five of their games, and Peslarová was once again named the tournament’s Best Goaltender. In her four games she allowed only two goals and posted an almost unfathomable 0.50 goals against and a .975 save percentage.

There would be a near exact repeat performance by Peslarová in 2015 in France. The Czech Republic went a perfect 5-0 once more throughout the Division I tournament to again be promoted back into the top division. Peslarová allowed just two goals — one each to Latvia and Austria — and posted shutouts over France and Denmark. Once again she finished with a 0.50 for goals against as well as a .954 save percentage. For the third time in international play, Peslarová would be named Best Goaltender.

Looking back on the two successive tournaments, Peslarová recalled: “It is definitely an honor for me. I got a chance as a young goalie, I am glad I got this opportunity; and I did not disappoint the coachesEvery year I am doing my best. We have a lot of young goalies in Czech, and I know that everyone can get this chance.”

Peslarová’s League and Professional Play

Since those stellar performances, Peslarová has played in two other Women’s World Championships and one Olympic qualifier. She also ventured forth into professional play and into some of the premier women’s leagues in the world.  As mentioned earlier, Peslarová played the previous two years with SDE HF. She also briefly spent time with Biryusa Krasnoyarsk of the Russian Women’s Hockey League. Now she will be playing alongside men.  Peslarová explained the progression of the past few years and how it has taken place:

“In Russia I played for Biryusa Krasnoyarsk and in Sweden it was for SDE HF in Stockholm. In both it was the highest league. In Russia I was paid like a professional player. In Sweden I had to earn money by work, and in the evenings I had hockey. In Russia there is a limited number of foreigners that can play, but in Sweden it is an undetermined amount. That’s a reason why I liked Sweden more.  Right now I am working hard and preparing myself for the next Olympics.” She smiled, “Let’s see what happens.”

Intangibles of Peslarová’s Game

Dominik Hasek played professional hockey until he was 46 years old. Klára Peslarová will turn 21 at the end of next month.  Hasek didn’t play his best hockey until after he turned 30 and won Stanley Cups at the ages of 37 and 43. That being said, Peslarová has many, many more years of elite level hockey left to play.

The Czech Republic are not one of the eight teams participating at the upcoming 2018 PyeonChang Games in South Korea. Make no mistake, Peslarová will do everything in her power to get her country there in 2022. She possesses numerous intangibles that will help ensure that it happens.

“I think the best is that I’m positive in my mind. My brother thinks I am better in skating than catching the pucks,” Peslarová laughed. “So definitely my movement helps me. But the most important thing I have learned is cooperation with my teammates. Be part of the team, because when you are successful in collective sport you can be successful in private life too.”

Already Peslarová is the most decorated and is decisively the best female goaltender in the hockey history of the Czech Republic. Asked if she wanted to continue playing until she is 46 like Hasek, Peslarová laughed and responded:

Jaromir Jagr can surpass Dominik Hasek – not me!”

At the very least, we know that there will be a solid number of more years to enjoy the play of Peslarová. When all is said and done, she may very well be forever known as “the female Hasek”. Perhaps someday there may even be a goaltender known as “the male Peslarová”.

Portugal goes on ice

By Martin Merk – IIHF.com

Bullfight arena, travel give new ice hockey exposure

Four teams played at the 2017 Development Cup. While players from three teams are regularly on ice, the Portuguese players that reached third place are mostly roller hockey players who dream of establishing ice hockey in the Southwest European country of over 10 million people. 

The Portuguese Ice Sports Federation (FPDG) joined the IIHF in 1999 when an ice rink was in operation in Viseu in the centre of the country. During the best days a three-team national championship was concluded. However, in 2006 the rink shut down for works in the shopping mall and when it reopened. The federation had plans to make it full size but the owners had different ideas. The ice rink shrank and was not suitable for hockey due to its position within a food court without protection. 

The next attempt to start ice hockey was a temporary ice rink that is installed during winter months in a bullfight arena in Elvas, a city of 24,000 people in the Alentejo region at the border to Spain. Games against a Czech team took place in 2015. 

“We have an ice rink for about a month and a half they install temporarily in the winter. And we go to Spain like to the Madrid region and to Granada. We want to establish good relationships with Spanish clubs and maybe one day be invited to play in sort of an Iberian league,” said Mauricio Xavier, one of the more mature players on the ice and the President of the Portuguese Ice Sports Federation. The rink in Elvas is 40 on 20 metres, not full size but they can play the games five-on-five and it’s the size of the roller hockey fields the players are used to. And it’s a two-hour journey from Lisbon – less than the four-and-a-half hours to the next rink in Spain or to Andorra for the recent event. 

“We had big help from the Czech ambassador in Lisbon, Stanislav Kazecky, who has helped us out for several years and had players from the Czech Republic coming to play against us and we also went to the Czech Republic to play against them outdoor.” 

Xavier was born in the Lisbon area where he spent most of his life but got infected with the ice hockey virus in Canada. When he was one-and-a-half years old the family escaped from the dictatorship in Portugal in those days and went to Canada. 

“I started to play when I was five years old. We moved back when I was 13 or 14 years old and I was without hockey until inline hockey showed up in the ‘90s,” he said. When the rink opened in Viseu, he was back on the ice for a few years until it shut down. 

Not only the temporary rink in Elvas brought changes into a positive direction for Portuguese ice hockey. 

“We’re in a good place because we will have changes in Portugal that were kind of imposed to us from the government, which is a good sign for us because we’ve never had government support before,” Xavier said. “The current Ice Sports Federation will be extinguished and ice sports moved into the Portuguese Winter Sports Federation.” 

What might cause political fights elsewhere seems to work smooth and peacefully in Portugal. 

“They have this status as a sporting utility entity and get support through government programs. This federation has the goal to bring sports to the Olympics.” 

While the Olympics are far for Portugal right now, the national team finished the 2017 Development Cup in third place, which was the first tournament the team played against other countries. Morocco with players from other countries and Ireland with regular ice experience across the border in Northern Ireland were too strong but the team had two wins against host Andorra. 

“The tournament has been a good experience. We won games here as a country not having a permanent ice rink, that’s something to be proud of. We want to get kids, male, females to get involved in the game but first we need the rink, government support and money,” said head coach Jim Aldred, a U.S. citizen. 

The Portuguese hoped to have an even stronger team than the roster limited to just 11 players. 

“We hoped to be as good as Morocco, we also have Portuguese players all around the world but John Tavares and Mike Ribeiro got missing somewhere,” Xavier said with a smile and added on a more serious note: “We wanted to develop players in Portugal. Everybody is Portuguese except for the coach, who is married to a Portuguese woman.” 

Another reason was that some players from Portugal or abroad didn’t come was money. 

“We want to develop ice hockey in Portugal but we have no ice rink and no money. Most of the people have to pay for their own so some people wanted to come but didn’t have the money,” said Aldred, who has started working for the Portuguese early this year including a tournament in Granada, Spain. 

“The players are coming along. It’s a process. They’re some older guys and some younger guys too. The biggest problem is not having an ice rink, they all have to play inline hockey. The closest rink for us is a four-and-a-half hour journey away in Madrid.” 

Three players joined the team from abroad. Christopher Leite once played games in the top French league for Anglet and Amiens, for whose fourth-tier team he was still active. Sylvain Rodrigues came also from France, from Evry, and one player is originally from the Portuguese Azores archipelago but used to play in the U.S. before returning to Portugal. 

One of the most notable players, however, was a local one: 20-year-old goaltender Ivan Silva. 

“I love inline hockey too but ice hockey is the best thing. It’s the second time I played hockey on a full-size ice rink,” said the goalie who was born in Spain but has lived in Lisbon since the age of one. 

“For a goalie the feeling in ice hockey, the sliding, is better. And it’s less hot,” he said. “It’s sad we don’t have an ice rink except for the winter season when there are tiny rinks in shopping malls and then I go there.” 

Being able to play in Andorra was a wonderful experience for him as he said. And with many Portuguese living in the country nestled in the Pyrenees between France and Spain, they had some local support. 

“We saw we have a lot to learn and to practise. There were players here who play at a much higher level. It was great to be here. 

“We met many Portuguese here especially in a restaurant. They made us feel like at home. They supported us well. 

“My dream for the future is to have an ice rink in Portugal, in Lisbon, to play and practise, and to have teams and get kids to play the sport from the childhood age. It would be nice to be able in a World Championship tournament one day.” 

President Xavier hopes that the ice rink situation will change and is optimistic after the recent political change for ice sports that it will happen and give new opportunities to develop ice hockey. 

“In Portugal we have a football mentality first. It’s easier to build and maintain a football pitch than an ice rink but I still believe that Lisbon with a population of two million people deserves an ice rink. They deny many sports to the people. It’s the only big capital in Europe that has never had an ice rink. We never showed the Portuguese people what ice hockey, figure skating or speed skating is. We have speed skaters on wheels who are world champions and would like to go on ice, every speed skater elsewhere has an inline and an ice season. And it’s similar for us in hockey,” Xavier said. 

“Lisbon wants to be capital of sports in 2021 but doesn’t have an ice rink and at least five sports are neglected. But we’re in a transitory phase and I believe we’ll have an ice rink in one or two years.” 

Hungary celebrates 90 years of ice hockey in the country

By Szabolcs Zavodszky – IIHF.com

The Hungarian Ice Hockey Federation celebrated the sport of ice hockey with a star-studded gala event that consisted something for everyone. 

The Hungarian Ice Hockey Federation celebrated 90 years of ice hockey with an event that had a kids’ ice hockey tournament, a women’s game that pitted the national teams of Hungary against Poland. There was an “old boys” game that had the 2008 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship’s Hungarian team that won promotion to the top division against the Finnish “Golden Lions”, that was largely made up of players from the 1995 World Champions. The final game was the Hungarian men’s team playing Poland. 

The guest of honour was Vladislav Tretiak. “The Hungarian Ice Hockey Federation has done great work,” Tretiak said. “The fans are great and we are all familiar with the work that Dr. Zsuzsanna Kolbenheyer has done.” Tretiak and Kolbenheyer know each other very well since both are IIHF Council members. 

The women’s team set the tone for the celebration as they defeated Poland 8-1 thanks to Alexandra Huszak’s hat trick. The game was tied early but Hungary pulled away in the second half of the game. 

For many fans the biggest treat of the gala event was seeing players such as Balazs Kangyal, Levente Szuper and Krisztian Palkovics go up against Jere Lehtinen, Niko Kapanen and Reijo Ruotsalainen. This might not have had the same pace if it was played 10 or 20 years ago but it was still exciting for both the players and the fans. Hungary had a 2-0 lead after the first period and were up 5-1 at one point before Finland came back, but Hungary hung on for the 6-5 win. 

Former Hungarian head coach Pat Cortina had a blast coaching his former players again. “It is always special to be back and it feels better the older I get. There are great people here and the team is a group of unbelievable guys. It was a great atmosphere and everyone had fun,” the Canadian said. 

Jere Lehtinen has become familiar with Hungarian hockey the last few seasons as the GM of the Finnish national team. “For me it was great because I had a chance to see the Hungarian fans again who were the talk of the World Championships in Russia two seasons ago. Actually Finland played in Hungary last year, so this is the third year that I have had a chance to see these great fans,” he said. 

Lehtinen was the leading scorer for Finland with two goals and an assist. “It was fun but we had a long trip here and our legs were still heavy at the start. It was a good team, both teams had a lot of fun, Hungary still had a lot of players who I think could still play. We are pleased that the Hungarian Ice Hockey Federation invited us to play in this game and we are happy that the fans enjoyed themselves.” 

Gergely Majoross and Csaba Kovacs finished with two goals and an assist each as well. “This was an extremely great experience to be back on the ice with these guys playing against the opponents that we played and in this arena, it could not be much better than this. I am not in match form but maybe I did have a bit of an advantage because of my young age,” said Kovacs and thanked the Golden Lions for coming to Budapest. “There were legends playing on both sides who I have tremendous respect for. We saw these guys play on TV and we would like to thank them for coming here and playing against them.” 

The gala came to an end with the Hungarian men’s national team taking on Poland. Both teams named new head coaches who were making their coaching debuts with their teams that will battle for promotion to the top division next April at the 2018 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship Division I Group A in Budapest. The visiting team Poland had Ted Nolan with Jarmo Tolvanen behind the bench for Hungary. 

After a scoreless first period the floodgates opened up in the second period in great delight for the fans. Hungary jumped out to a 4-0 lead thanks to a pair of goals from Brance Orban with Poland ending the shutout that David Duschek had going in the final minute of the second period. The final score was 5-1. 

“We want to thank everyone that came out to the Laszlo Papp Sportarena. I am sure the highlight was the chance to see the ‘Sapporo Heroes’ back on the ice. It was great to see the stands full with fans who created a great atmosphere in the arena,” said Gergo Nagy after the game. 

Tolvanen was also happy with the result of the game: “This is the time where we can get to know each other. It was a good performance and a good team effort. We had four solid units. It was great effort for the home fans.” 

Hungary has had an extraordinary 90 years of ice hockey with ups and downs and will hopefully see new highlights during the next 90 years. 

The Fighting Irish

By Martin Merk – IIHF.com

Ireland had a short history of World Championship play at the lower levels between 2004 and 2013. While the shutdown of the Republic of Ireland’s last rink caused a meltdown for Irish ice hockey, enthusiasts fight to keep the Irish ice hockey family alive. 

“A few years after the closing of the rink nothing was really happening. Since the current executive board took over four-and-a-half years ago we started building up with youth hockey. The last two years we have been successful with senior hockey too,” said Aaron Guli, the President of the Irish Ice Hockey Association, who also serves as both player (although a soon-to-be-retired one as he added) and team manager for the men’s national team that currently plays at the 2017 Development Cup, an initiative of smaller IIHF members that established a tournament among themselves. 

“The level starts to pick up. We started with four teams, now we have 11 teams in the Cross-Border Cup,” he said. In that competition seven teams play from the Republic of Ireland and four from Northern Ireland (UK) with all games being played in the Belfast area in Northern Ireland. 

In Andorra the men’s national team plays for international honours for the first time in four years. While the other countries come from warmer places, Ireland geographically doesn’t exactly look like an exotic place for ice sports. The capital of Dublin is at a similar latitude like hockey places such as Astana, Berlin, Edmonton, Minsk, Saskatoon, Sheffield or Ufa. And then there were players of Irish heritage in the NHL. And in the state of Indiana, USA, the University of Notre Dame’s sports teams are nicknamed the “Fighting Irish”, including their NCAA ice hockey team. 

However, opposed to all these places the Republic of Ireland just has lacked an ice rink for the past seven years. And that’s obviously a major problem to keep the sport striving. 

“Mismanagement with too many owners led to the closure in 2010. The arena is not used anymore but the boards and the Zamboni are still there. There’s a business plan ready to meet for a possible re-opening,” he said about the former ice rink in Dunedin. 

The first games in Ireland were played in the ‘80s and the Irish Ice Hockey Association joined the IIHF in 1996. The country got a permanent full-size rink in 2006 with the Dundalk Ice Dome that also hosted the 2007 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship Division III. A sell-out crowd of 1,522 saw how Ireland beat Luxemburg 4-3 in shootout to earn promotion to the Division II level for one year. In 2010 the Irish earned promotion again a few weeks before the rink halfway between the country’s capital of Dublin and the Northern Irish capital of Belfast shut its doors. 

The national team couldn’t keep momentum and hasn’t played in the World Championship program since 2013. Once there were 1,100 players in the Republic of Ireland. Without an ice rink many quit the sport or turned to inline hockey. According to Guli 400 players are still active and play ice hockey in exile in the Belfast area. Belfast is a little less than two hours away by car from the Irish capital of Dublin and about one hour from the former hockey town of Dundalk. 

“We started a recreational league, now the national team players get 15 games a season,” Guli said. 

Most players come from the Republic of Ireland while goaltender Chris Devine is from Northern Ireland, Ian Courtney plays in London, England, 2000-born Thomas Carpenter for Swiss fourth-tier team HC Chateau d’Oex and Declan Weir for German minor-league team EA Schongau. Two players (Paul Cummins, Niall McEvoy) played for the senior national team in IIHF play and Vytautas Lukosevicius, who emigrated to Ireland in 2007, represented his native country Lithuania at Division I level until 2004. 

To get back to former heights, the IIHA is not only in discussion with the Dundalk ice rink owners but also for a new rink in the country’s capital. 

“We are talking with potential investors for a rink in Dublin. We met with them and with Sport Ireland. The investors are looking for 2,500 seats to put in a professional team,” Guli said. Professional team, that would ideally mean one playing in the top British contest, the Elite Ice Hockey League. And a possible derby with the Northern Irish neighbours. “The Belfast Giants would love it!” Guli said. 

Until then the Irish try to grow the program with playing in exile. 

“We keep the kids going so that there’s a clear pathway now. That’s why we pushed with the Development Cup that we have a senior national team going for them to look up to,” Guli said. 

The Irish had a rough start against Morocco, 10-2, but then beat both Portugal (9-4) and Andorra (5-3) on Saturday to set up a final against Morocco. The level was quite different. As Guli said, the game against Morocco was the first one with body-checking for some of the players in several years. 

“We battled hard. Unfortunately we were on the wrong side of the score line. All three lines gave it a 110 per cent. I couldn’t ask for more,” Nigel Smeaton, the Cyprus-born Irish head coach who currently lives and plays in Dubai, said after the game. 

For Smeaton development is the key. “We have young players. This squad will eventually feed the senior World Championship squad in the future,” Smeaton said. 

After the two wins against the southern European competitors, the Irish hope for revenge on Sunday in the final against Morocco. Portugal and Andorra will play for third place. 

Portugal Wins First Ever Ice Hockey Game

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By Steve Ellis – Eurohockey.com

The 2017 Development Cup saw Portugal win their first ever ice hockey game against another international team, beating Andorra in their debut 3-2 on Friday in Andorra.

It was a big game for Portugal, who were trailing 2-1 after two periods of play. Ludovic Blasi Gazeres scored the first ever goal for Andorra in international play, with Christian Moreno Escriva getting credit for the assist.

Andorra would score a second goal on the power play. This time, Louison Courcol would score his first in international play, doubling up their lead at 2-0.

But the game was all Portugal from there on out. In the second  Christopher Leite scored the first goal for Portugal in international play when he scored off of a Kevin Hortinha pass on the power play, cutting Andorra’s lead in half.

Sylvain Rodrigues, a player playing in France, would tie the game up at two apiece in the third, giving Portugal more life. late in the game, Portugal would score another one when Matthew de Melo scored the winning goal on the first penalty shot to take the lead late, giving the visiting squad their first ever victory in an international tournament.

Exotic gathering in Andorra

By Martin Merk – IIHF.com

Andorra hasn’t been your usual place for international ice hockey tournaments. But at the 2017 Development Cup you don’t have your usual national teams either as Andorra, Ireland, Morocco and Portugal will play a four-team tournament between what one could call exotic ice hockey countries. 

The teams, and others that discussed a participation, come from countries that are not part of the IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship program. In that program national teams are expected to have a background of competitive ice hockey at home to enable them to play competitive games in their World Championship division. The IIHF Statutes & Bylaws require minimum participation standards in terms of having a big enough pool of players domestically, a development program, a national championship of a certain size and having at least one permanent international-size ice rink in its territory to be able to play the ice hockey according to the official rules. 

One of the initiators is Aaron Guli, the President of the Irish Ice Hockey Association. 

“About two years ago I came up with the concept of doing something for non-competing IIHF countries. I contacted these countries and Morocco was one of the first to get back to me. At the 2016 IIHF Annual Congress in Moscow I met the other countries face to face and Aleix Manosas from Andorra got involved straight away. We were looking originally at a location in Germany and then Aleix said they had an Olympic-size rink and organized for us to use that location,” Guli said about how the vision became reality. 

“We spoke to some other countries but finances played a big part why they couldn’t come. But we have an interest from other countries like Greece, Armenia, Argentina and Brazil.” 

Other smaller European hockey countries with a smaller program that are currently not part of the World Championship program include Bosnia & Herzegovina, FYR Macedonia, Liechtenstein and Moldova. 

Andorra was the natural choice as a host since it’s the only of the four participating countries with an international-size ice rink, the 1,500-seat Palau de Gel with a 60-on-30-metre ice sheet located in Canillo in the north of the small country nestled in the Pyrenees between France and Spain. 

In fact, the Palau de Gel (“Ice Palace” in Catalan) once hosted an IIHF event, the 1997 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship D-Pool. However, Andorra was not a participant and Spain the home team in the event won by Croatia. 

“We were talking with other non-full members of the IIHF at the Congress and the idea of such a tournament was born. I met a lot of hockey lovers and people who wanted to do new things. Two of them were Aaron Guli from Ireland and Adil El Farj from Morocco. In the beginning of 2017 the conversations between Morocco, Ireland and Andorra restarted. The Andorran Ice Sport Federation wants to develop ice hockey and I thought that this could be a good opportunity,” said Aleix Manosas, the President of the country’s only ice hockey club Andorra Hoquei Gel and Vice President of the Andorran Ice Sports Federation. 

“With the help of the federation, the ice rink management and the Town Hall, we had the agreement to host this international tournament for the first time. Andorra is a little but multicultural place. There are a lot of different communities, and the Portuguese are one of the biggest. Andorra has good relations with Portugal and we thought that could be nice to invite them too. Their answer was positive very soon so we were four teams. Once this process has begun, some other countries started to follow us and probably the next Development Cup edition is going to be formed by three or four more nations. 

“Andorra is very proud to host this first ever Development Cup and we are sure that it will help to make grow ice hockey in all the countries participating. For the first time, Andorra has a national team, and the local media has their eyes on us. This last weekend of September is going to be very important for the four countries and we will compete and, for sure, enjoy the Cup.” 

Like the hosts the other nations have small programs, but no full-size ice rink or even no rink at all in their country but hope to raise awareness and experience by participating in the tournament. And they hope to make this premiere an event played and organized annually between national ice hockey associations like other events in the calendar at higher levels such as the Euro Hockey Tour or the Euro Ice Hockey Challenge. 

“To really help kickstart our programs we need an event like this, something for our players, particularly our younger player. Being able via our website and social media to show our national team is playing at an international event gives a large amount of interest in the country and I think it will help our countries and sport authorities to take notice that we will take our sport,” said Guli, who will also put on his skates to represent Ireland. 

On Friday and Saturday the four teams will have a dense schedule with six round-robin games followed by the medal games on Sunday. Playing the event in fewer days than usual in international hockey will save the teams with limited funding some costs. 

According to Guli the teams will try “as best as we possibly can” to stick to IIHF eligibility rules when it comes to players with two citizenships but also allow few exceptions since some of the countries have a tough time assembling enough players. 

“For example I have a player born and raised in Lithuania [IIHF linesman Vytautas Lukosevicius] but he officially transferred to Ireland seven years ago and is married to an Irish woman and is in the process of getting the passport. He wouldn’t be eligible yet but we allow a few exceptions of that nature. There may be some foreign-born players at other teams too but once the countries have a rink there will be a stronger base for more players,” Guli explained. 

And who’s the favourite to win the tournament? The teams are cautious on that question. 

“Andorra has a good team and wants to win this Cup. It’s going to be hard, but not impossible. In a few days we will know the final scores,” said Manosas. 

“My personal feeling is that anyone can win. Nobody of us particularly knows the level of the other teams. I think we’ll have a very strong chance, I feel confident about our team but I’ve never seen any of the other teams play,” Guli added. 

The organizers will post live scores and delayed game videos on their Facebook page.

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