Category: Olympics (Page 1 of 16)

Countdown to Beijing 2022 Canada, Sweden favorites at Beijing 2022 men’s ick hockey – Czerkawski

Source: Xinhua

Canada and Sweden will be favorites to win the men’s ice hockey title at the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympic Games, and the COVID-19 pandemic restrictions could work in favor of less experienced teams, Polish legend, and former National Hockey League (NHL) player Mariusz Czerkawski said in an exclusive interview with Xinhua.

“Obviously, Canada, Sweden, and the team with Russian players will be very strong in any case. If the competition is played without NHL stars, the teams like Czech Republic, Finland, Germany, or Switzerland will have their chance to get to the final,” the Pole said.

Czerkawski is believed to be the greatest ice hockey player in Poland as the 48-year-old spent 12 seasons in the NHL. He made his debut in 1994 and played subsequently for several clubs, among others Boston Bruins, New York Islanders, and Edmonton Oilers. After a 30-goal plus season at the Islanders, the pole was named in the 2000 NHL All-Star Game.

Czerkawski played at the 1992 Winter Olympics in Albertville, France, the last Olympic tournament for Poland. The Polish team can still dream about Beijing after they surprisingly won the Olympic qualification’s preliminary phase. The Poles beat the Netherlands, Ukraine, and Kazakhstan.

“Polish team played very well. In the crucial game against Kazakhstan, they were effective on defense. The goalie, John Murray, delivered a great performance, while his teammates took over 50 shots to prove that they had an advantage. The team made a surprise as no one could have predicted that scenario. I regret we couldn’t continue the momentum as every competition was suspended due to the coronavirus outbreak,” he claimed.

In August, the side coached by Robert Kalaber will face Belarus, Slovakia, and Austria in Bratislava for the only ticket to Beijing.

“It’s a really tough group, and we aren’t favorites to secure the ticket for the Olympics. However, the team has already achieved a positive result,” Czerkawski added.

The Pole emphasized that the COVID-19 pandemic influences the discipline.

“We feel a lack of excitement without the fans on the stands as the supporters create a good atmosphere. It’s hard to find full motivation when you play behind closed doors. Like other disciplines, ice hockey became even more unpredictable due to the pandemic. The strong teams know how to play under pressure. It’s maybe a little easier for the less experienced sides to make a surprise when the matches are played in front of empty stands,” Czerkawski concluded.

Canada the team to beat as Olympic seedings announced

Sidney Crosby (center) of the Pittsburgh Penguins poses with teammates Mike Matheson (right) and Evgeni Malkin to honor Crosby for his 1,000th NHL appearance prior to their home game against the New York Islanders on Saturday. Crosby is expected to star for Team Canada at the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics.

By Murray Greig – China Daily

The International Ice Hockey Federation has announced its seedings for the 22 teams slated to play at the 2022 Beijing Olympics, and as expected Canada is ranked No 1 in the men’s tournament and No 2 in the women’s.

The men’s tournament will use the same format as the four previous Winter Olympics, with 12 teams split into three groups of four.

Team Canada will compete in Group A with the United States (seeded No 6), Germany (7) and host China (12). Group B will include Russia (2), Czech Republic (5), Switzerland (8) and qualifier 3 (11), while Group C consists of Finland (3), Sweden (4), qualifier 1 (9) and qualifier 2(10).

The qualifiers will be determined in the final pre-Olympic tournament, scheduled for Aug 26-29 in Latvia, Norway and Slovakia.

The women’s tournament at Beijing 2022 will be contested by a record 10 teams, in two tiered groups of five. The top five according to the 2020 IIHF world rankings-the US, Canada, Finland, Russia and Switzerland-will play in Group A, while Japan (6) will head Group B, along with three qualifiers from the final pre-Olympic tournament in November (seeds 7-9) and China (10). The top three finishers in Group B will compete in the playoff round.

With the exception of host China and perhaps one qualifier, all the men’s teams will include players from the National Hockey League.

That gives Canada a huge advantage, with the likes of superstar forwards Sidney Crosby (Pittsburgh Penguins), Connor McDavid (Edmonton Oilers) and Nathan MacKinnon (Colorado Avalanche) among their ranks, along with perennial All-Star goaltender Carey Price (Montreal Canadiens) and defensemen Cale Makar (Colorado), Shea Weber (Montreal) and Morgan Reilly (Toronto Maple Leafs).

The NHL did not allow its players to participate in the 2018 Pyeongchang Olympics, and the fact that Crosby, who will be 34 when the puck drops in Beijing, is probably the only member of the 2010 and 2014 gold-medal teams assured of a return trip in 2022, bears out general manager Doug Armstrong’s pledge that “youth will be served, for sure”.

“Team Canada will see something of the changing of the guard in 2022,” Armstrong said after being appointed GM last month. “We want to be fast, we want to use our skill and we want to use our depth to our advantage.

“The NHL is a quick league right now and I think that we have the players that can play the 200-foot (61-meter) game. We want to be a fast and difficult team to play against.”

Canada dominated the 2014 Sochi Games with a suffocating defensive performance on the larger international-size ice surface, but high-octane offense will be paramount on Beijing’s NHL-sized rink, led by players like McDavid, MacKinnon and Auston Matthews of the US, each of whom helped light up the 2016 World Cup as members of the 23-and-under Team North America.

“I think that the World Cup showed the excitement and the flair that Young Guns team put on the ice,” said Armstrong. “This group that we’re going to assemble is probably going to have a lot of faces that have never worn the Canadian jersey at this level of competition. It’s going to be fun.”

Meanwhile, the recent appointment of Harbin native Yu Baiwei as a playing assistant coach bodes well for China’s hopes of advancing out of Group B and possibly making the podium in the 2022 women’s tournament.

Yu, 32, is the highest-scoring defender in the history of the Chinese national team. She competed in the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver, where she was one of just three defenders on Team China to earn a point. She’s a veteran of a dozen IIHF tournaments and was named China’s top player at the 2014, 2017 and 2019 Division 1 Group B world championships.

Yu has also made her mark at the pro level, playing for Kunlun Red Star and the Shenzhen KRS Vanke Rays of the now-defunct Canadian Women’s Hockey League and the Edmonton Chimos of the Western Women’s Hockey League.

“In 2007, I was a young rookie,” Yu said in an interview with iihf.com. “Now I’m the oldest person on the team and am also working as an assistant coach.

“I’m appreciating more every single day I am training with this team. I want my athletes to figure out what their strengths and weaknesses are. Furthermore, I want to provide more individual thinking for my athletes as well. I am willing to let them explore their talent and potential within ice hockey. Most importantly, to enjoy the game and enjoy life.”

Richmond’s Julius Zhang eyeing Olympic battle, versus Canada

Richmond’s Julius Zhang, suited up for his native China

Alan Campbell – Richmond News

Three years ago, Julius (Dehan) Zhang would never have believed what was coming down the road in his fledgling professional hockey career.

If someone had even hinted to the Richmond Seafair Minor and Delta Hockey Academy product that he could potentially line up in the Olympic Games – suited for China, against Canada – he’d have thought you certifiable.

But that is exactly the prospect facing 21-year-old Zhang, a Richmondite in every sense of the word, who emigrated from China as a young child, before being selected at 18 for the Chinese national hockey program.

Since then, he’s been playing second tier club hockey in Russia for a Chinese-based team, until the pandemic halted most professional sports.



Zhang is now hoping to return to China in the new year to begin his home nation’s preparations for an Olympic games debut in Beijing in 2022, where they will face Germany, the U.S. and, of course, Canada.

“It’s crazy. In fact, the whole last three years has been crazy,” said Zhang from his parent’s home near Williams Road and Railway Avenue.

“It would be amazing (to face Canada). If you told me this five years ago…I would never have believed it in a million years.

“I’ve gotten lucky with all these opportunities. I have a Chinese passport, I’m only a permanent resident here.

“In order to play in the Olympics for China, you need a Chinese passport and China is one of the only countries that doesn’t allow dual citizenship. They’ve been trying to get players with Chinese-Canadian heritage to go over to play, to strengthen their program.

“There are some ex-NHL guys. But the problem is, they don’t have Chinese passports. They’re trying to get it so they can play in the Olympics.”

Zhang, who has turned out for the Chinese national U18, U20 and men’s teams, admitted his passport situation gives him a little shove up the ladder, but he’s more than ready to grab it.

As for his native nation’s actual chances competing against the powerhouses of hockey, Zhang said they’ve got a little more than a year to improve.

“As the host country, China received automatic qualification and they obviously want to do well,” said Zhang, who has been training every day since the pandemic and playing some hockey with other pros and university players.

“We’ve always had high level Russian or European coaches. There’s a lot of resources being poured into it. In China, hockey is still new but it’s growing rapidly.

“They have the resources at grass roots level and, of course, they have a huge population, so they will get better.

“I take a lot of pride in growing the game in China. I’m not quite a pioneer, but a role model. It’s a very proud country.

“But as far as I’m aware, I’m the only player on the team who grew up in Canada.”

While Training Continues, China’s Prized Women’s Hockey Players Are in Russia

China’s hockey governing body assigned the Shenzhen KRS Vanke Rays to manage the women’s national team a few years ago. KRS’s general manager attributed the current separation to the coronavirus pandemic limiting travel into China

By New York Times

With the 2022 Winter Games 15 months away, at a time teams would normally be paring their rosters, the North American imports aren’t in the Beijing training bubble.

The players most crucial to Chinese women’s ice hockey reside in a hotel about 70 miles south of Moscow. The quasi resort’s expansive grounds contain horses, stray cats and a speleochamber — a salt cave designed to improve breathing.

That these players are in Russia and not Beijing, 3,600 miles away, symbolizes how far China, whose women’s ice hockey team last qualified for the Olympics in 2010, has moved away from its grand plans in the sport.

“Not seeing it come to fruition and deviate is a disappointment,” said Maddie Woo, who was recruited to play in China and occasionally skated with China’s national team over the past three years. “There was so much potential. There still is. It’s just the time sensitivity of it now. It’s shocking.”

Woo was one of several North Americans of Chinese descent who signed in 2017 with the newly formed Kunlun Red Star, a team now known as the Shenzhen KRS Vanke Rays. With China hosting the 2022 Winter Olympics, the Chinese Ice Hockey Association, the national governing body, assigned the club to manage the women’s national team.

KRS hired Woo and other players to be sport ambassadors, training and playing alongside less experienced Chinese nationals in hopes of elevating the homegrown players’ skills.

In a 2017 interview with The New York Times, Billy Ngokposited that players like Woo might become Chinese citizens, making them eligible for the Olympic team. For the 2018 Games in Pyeongchang, host South Korea deployed a similar tactic, although China has stricter passport policies.

Now, just 15 months before the opening ceremony — when teams begin paring their rosters — the North American imports would ideally be with the Chinese nationals in Beijing, where a training bubble has been set up by the hockey association.

Claire Liu, the general manager of KRS, attributed the separation to the coronavirus pandemic limiting travel into China. But current and former KRS players and coaches added that communication between them and the hockey association had diminished to sporadic messages passed along by a bilingual intermediary.

Rachel Llanes, a Filipino-American forward who also hopes to represent China, said she still trains as if she’s “on call” for the national team. For now, Llanes plays only for KRS in Russia’s Zhenskaya Hockey League with six North Americans of Chinese descent who harbor similar Olympic dreams. In the 2019-20 season, KRS won the league title, but this year the team has had 10 games rescheduled because of the pandemic.

Alexandra Vafina of KRS stick handling. “I hope to be at the Olympics, but I know it’s not guaranteed,” said Rachel Llanes, a Filipino-American player.

“I hope to be at the Olympics, but I know it’s not guaranteed,” Llanes said. “If you’re banking on it, I don’t recommend thinking that way. If we don’t get called, we’ll get four years of experience no one else can say they had.”

Since 2017, KRS has invested millions to create an environment uncommon in women’s hockey. Digit Murphy, an American who had coached in college and the professional ranks, was hired to lead the women’s program. She enticed recruits with a simple, yet novel, approach.

KRS not only pays livable salaries of about $70,000 per year, but provides amenities expected of a pro team like first-class airfare, an equipment manager and ice times when the sun is still shining.

That hasn’t been the case for North American women’s hockey, despite Canada and the United States reigning as the sport’s powerhouses (several United States national team alumnae have also been KRS sports ambassadors). Founded in 2015, the National Women’s Hockey League, which has six teams across North America, had a highest reported salary of $15,000 last season.

In October, Secret, the deodorant brand, contributed $1 million to the Professional Women’s Hockey Players Association, a rare instance in which a party proclaiming interest in elevating North American women’s hockey gave more than just crumbs.

“We’re pretty spoiled, I’m not going to lie,” said Llanes, who worked three jobs while playing in Boston for teams in North American leagues. “We don’t have to worry about anything. You’re hockey players.”

In 2017, KRS staff also ran junior national teams and two franchises in the now-defunct Canadian Women’s Hockey League.

Rob Morgan, who coached one of the Chinese teams in the C.W.H.L. and is now an adviser for KRS, said when he first met the Chinese national players, “we could see in their eyes they were just numb” from practicing four times per day.

The new staff incorporated shorter practices with weight lifting, nutrition lessons or meetings with a sports psychologist.

The Chinese players responded positively to the changes, Morgan said. Murphy said North American players teased Chinese players for hiding snacks in their bags — many were shocked they could freely leave their rooms to eat, instead of being limited to having meals at their training facility’s dining hall.

“The first year, in terms of helping the Chinese players, was probably the most collaborative and most effective,” said Melanie Jue, a Chinese-Canadian defenseman on KRS.

But toward the end of KRS’s first year, higher-ups within Chinese hockey began making unexpected alterations. The national hockey association changed leadership, and junior teams training in the U.S. were disbanded. Regional hockey organizations with political clout grumbled about the resources afforded to KRS.

Tang Liang and Qi Xueting, third from left and fourth from left, are among the Chinese nationals on the team. Since July, about 40 homegrown players have been in Beijing facing youth teams

Xu Guoqi, author of “Olympic Dreams: China and Sports, 1895-2008,” said sports rivalries among local governments in China were not uncommon.

“Backstabbing practices, or they try to lobby, always that’s a case,” Xu said, noting that the Chinese hockey association is essentially under the control of the Chinese government. “The reality is the party is in charge of everything.”

For the 2018-19 C.W.H.L. season, China supplied only one team, the Shenzhen KRS Vanke Rays. (The C.W.H.L. folded soon after and said the revenue from China had probably kept the league from ceasing operations earlier.)

In 2017, KRS also ran a men’s team with a similar mission to build Chinese hockey centered around foreign players and Chinese teenagers who previously trained in America.

In interviews with current and former KRS players and coaches, none said they knew where the partnership between their club and the C.I.H.A. currently stood. The Chinese nationals currently on KRS are mostly older players not expected to compete at the next Olympics.

Liu, the team’s general manager, said that the “relationship is still there” and that the roster composition was different because of the pandemic. The hockey association declined interview requests.

Because of the coronavirus pandemic, KRS relocated to Russia this season to reduce travel. The hockey association has reason to be cautious of bringing international players into its bubble. In March, two Chinese players training with a travel squad in the United States tested positive for the coronavirus shortly after returning to Beijing.

Since July, about 40 Chinese homegrown players have been in Beijing, playing against youth teams and practicing multiple times a day when most of the women’s hockey world was on pause.

That won’t necessarily create an advantage at the Olympic tournament, though. China ranks 19th in the world, but has an automatic bid as the host.

“If they really want a great showing in 2022, based on what I’ve seen, it needs to include Chinese North Americans,” said Bob Deraney, who coached KRS in 2018.

Deraney and Morgan added that they expected the North American contingent to eventually get called up, and Liu believed it was still a possibility, although another hurdle remained. Since China does not recognize dual nationality, Canadians and Americans would have to surrender their passports.

There are political ramifications to representing China, which has been roundly criticized for human rights abuses and holds a souring reputation in the West.

Rose Alleva, a forward from Minnesota who played one year with KRS, said giving up her American passport was “a deal breaker” and decided not to continue with the program.

“It’s definitely something you have to grapple with,” said Woo, who left KRS to begin her career in biomedical engineering. “You can’t be ignorant to the idea someone will hand you a Chinese passport and everything will be fine, and you’ll still be Canadian or American.”

Xu said there could be one workaround if players got passports from Taiwan or Hong Kong. When the former N.B.A. player Jeremy Lin obtained his Taiwanese passport last year, he became an eligibledomestic athlete for China under new rules instituted by the Chinese government, allowing him to play in the Chinese Basketball Association.

Whether or not the imports play for China in 2022, there have been potent takeaways.

China once built rinks in a decommissioned war bunker, but now state-of-the-art sheets are popping up throughout the mainland. According to the International Ice Hockey Federation, there are 822 rinks in China.

Leah Lum, a Chinese-Canadian forward, noted that when KRS runs youth clinics around the country, there’s an indescribable pride in seeing Chinese children engaged in her sport.

Playing hockey in China has also allowed Lum and her teammates to connect with their families’ heritage in ways that were impossible before.

“It’s a dream to be able to come here and focus on hockey,” Lum said. “Experiencing our culture and ancestry — China, that’s who I am.”

NHL, PA commit to Olympics

By Matin Merk – IIHF.com

The National Hockey League (NHL) and the National Hockey League Players’ Association (NHLPA) have ratified the Return to Play Plan and a four-year extension to the Collective Bargaining Agreement until the 2025/2026 season including a commitment to join for the Olympic Winter Games in Beijing 2022 and Milan 2026 following internal voting.

The CBA Article 24 was amended to include new subsection 24.10 including:

The NHL and the NHLPA commit to participate in the 2022 and 2026 Winter Olympics, subject to negotiation of terms acceptable to each of the NHL, NHLPA, and IIHF (and/or IOC).

Beijing 2022 would mark the sixth time the NHL pauses to join the biggest spotlight of winter sports after Nagano 1998, Salt Lake City 2002, Turin 2006, Vancouver 2010 and Sochi 2014.

The Beijing 2022 Olympics will include the top-8 teams in the world, host China and three qualifiers to be determined according to the following groups in the men’s ice hockey tournament:

Beijing 2022 Olympics will include the top-8 teams in the world, host China and three qualifiers

The three qualifiers will be determined in the Final Olympic Qualification in August 2021. The dates would make it possible to have NHL players be added to the teams for these qualification tournaments.

Final Olympic Qualification in August 2021

The news of the ratification of the CBA extension and the Return to Play agreement was welcomed by IIHF President René Fasel.

“This is great news for hockey,” said Fasel. “I want to congratulate Gary Bettman, Don Fehr, the players, owners, and everyone involved for their work in forging a new CBA and ensuring that the world’s top league will return to the ice soon and will continue to grow strong well into the future.”

“I am also very pleased to see that the players and owners have agreed to work towards bringing best-on-best ice hockey back to the Olympic Games, starting in Beijing 2022. After the conclusion of the NHL playoffs, we look forward to renewing our discussions with the NHL, the NHLPA, the IOC, BOCOG, and our Member National Associations, and together ensure that we can provide the very best platform for our game in Beijing and beyond.”

Fasel added that there were still a few hurdles to overcome before NHL participation could be fully confirmed.

“There are still some challenges left to address, including technical and practical discussions with all key stakeholders, before we can 100% confirm that we will have NHL players back on the ice at the Olympics. But this is a very positive and necessary step forward.”

U.S., Canada in same group for 2022 Olympic men’s hockey tournament

By Yahoo Sports

The U.S. and Canada drew the same Olympic men’s hockey group for the first time since 2010, guaranteeing the North American rivals will face each other at the 2022 Beijing Winter Games.

The International Ice Hockey Federation announced the Olympic seedings and groups Friday, using the world rankings. There was no change in the men’s top 12 from 2019 to 2020, given the world championship tournament, scheduled for May, was canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The 2022 Olympic men’s hockey groups:

Group A: Canada (1), USA (6), Germany (7), China (12)
Group B: Russia (2), Czech Republic (5), Switzerland (8), Qualifier 3 (11)
Group C: Finland (3), Sweden (4), Qualifier 1 (9), Qualifier 2 (10)

The Olympic tournament format will remain the same. The group winners, plus the highest-ranked group runner-up, advance directly to the quarterfinals. The other eight teams go to a playoff round to determine the other four quarterfinalists.

The U.S. lost in the quarterfinals to the Czech Republic at the 2018 Olympics, where there was no NHL participation for the first time since 1994. It last earned a medal in 2010, taking silver behind Canada. Its last gold was the Miracle on Ice in 1980.

NHL commissioner Gary Bettman repeated in the last two years that he doubts the league takes a midseason break for the 2022 Winter Games, even with a more favorable host market for hockey growth in China than in South Korea in 2018.

“There is no news to report,” Bettman said in November after meetings with the IIHF. “I don’t want to sound like a broken record on the subject, but I think going to the Olympics is a challenge for us. I know the players love representing their countries. I know that the players like going. I know that the players that don’t go like having a break in the middle of the season. But from our standpoint, we have found going to the Olympics to be incredibly disruptive to our season.

“For us, at best, it’s a mixed bag. And, again, it has some pretty material downsides in terms of what happens to our season.”

In the women’s tournament, the U.S. and Canada drew the same group for a third straight Olympics. That was a formality, given the women’s group structure places the world’s top five nations in the same group. Beijing will be the first Olympics with 10 women’s teams, up from eight in 2018.

In the past, the top two teams from the top-ranked group advanced directly to the semifinals, and the bottom two into the playoff round.

The Olympic women’s hockey groups:

Group A: USA (1), Canada (2), Finland (3), Russia (4), Switzerland (5)
Group B: Japan (6), Qualifier 1 (7), Qualifier 2 (8), Qualifier 3 (9), China (10)

IIHF World Rankings

Six international stars who should be in the Hockey Hall of Fame

Anatoli Firsov

By James Benesh – Hockey News

The 2018 and 2019 Hall of Fame inductions of 1970s international superstars Alexander Yakushev and Vaclav Nedomansky – and especially the 2016 induction of Sergei Makarov, arguably the world’s most talented player in the early 1980s after Wayne Gretzky – were received warmly by historians and international fans. There is a renewed sense of optimism that a few more previously overlooked international greats will get their due in the coming years.
If you’re looking for the best international players of all-time who didn’t play in the NHL during their prime, look no further than the 30-year period from 1960 to 1990. That’s because since 1990, most of the best European players at any given time have been in the NHL – and no all-time greats have built a Hall of Fame resume outside of the world’s top league. Before 1960, though there was a burgeoning international scene, the caliber of play was not up to NHL standards. Too many nations’ hockey programs were in their infancies, so pioneers such as Vsevolod Bobrov, Vladamir Zabrodsky and Josef Malecek were not close to the world’s best players and miss this list as a result. The six players below, however, have resumes that can stand up to the Hall of Fame standard and thus deserve serious consideration.

All of these international greats had extensive careers in their home country, but their most important work was done in international tournaments. Most fans consider the Canada Cups, World Cups and 1998 through 2014 Olympics to be the only “best-on-best” tournaments, and technically that’s true, but before the top European players arrived in the NHL, any major tournament was still best-on-best to them, save for a few Swedes and Finns already in the NHL – only Canada and the U.S. weren’t sending their best. (For the purposes of this story, the World Championship, Olympics, Summit Series and Canada Cups are considered major tournaments.)

Anatoli Firsov
(USSR, 1958-74)
A phenom and a favorite of legendary coach Anatoly Tarasov thanks to his dedication to training, Firsov almost has too many accomplishments to name. He was a six-time Soviet league all-star, three-time MVP (the award only existed in the second half of his career), voted top forward in three major tournaments, led four tournaments in scoring and finished with 117 points in 67 international games. Seth Martin, a star goalie for Canada in the 1960s, said no other Soviet player could compare with Firsov. Indeed, it was the Soviets’ 1960s dominance that fueled Canada’s complaints of, “but those aren’t our best players, let’s see them go against our pros” which led to the 1972 Summit Series, and Firsov was the key to that dominance. (He didn’t play in 1972 in protest of Tarasov’s ouster as coach of the national team). Firsov was a versatile forward who could play the wing and center, and he was not deficient in any area: he was both the fastest skater and fastest thinker on the ice, he could score as well as set up teammates, he played a powerful game down low, was responsible defensively, killed penalties and could hold his own physically. Describing his playing style, he once said, “If the opponents treated me fairly, I never touched them. But if they played dirty, I always kept my stick on the level of their teeth,” while making a cross-checking motion.

Boris Mikhailov

Boris Mikhailov
(USSR, 1962-81)
No Soviet star has epitomized the “Canadian” style of play like Mikhailov. The Swedish newspaper Aftonbladet described him as “tough, mean, speedy, probably not flashy, but without doubt the sweet dream of any coach.” Mikhailov, who captained the Soviets, was physical, had boundless energy, and could be downright dirty – he had famous battles with Canadian players over the years. Tarasov recounted a World Championship in the 1970s: “Mikhailov really went after the Canadians the way they went after our players and beat them all over the rink…Canadians became much less aggressive every time he was on the ice.” Even though he was seen as the lesser-skilled grunt of his line with Vladimir Petrov and Valeri Kharlamov, Mikhailov was loaded with high-end skill.

Jiri Holocek

Jiri Holecek
(CSSR, 1961-81)
They called him ‘Kouzelnik,’ meaning “magician.” Many believe Holecek, not Vladislav Tretiak, is the greatest European goalie of all-time. The evidence in favor: Holecek was named the best goaltender or all-star six times at major tournaments, all of which Tretiak was also competing in. That’s the same number of similar honors won by Tretiak, and Holecek did this with a much less dominant team in front of him. This is not to say the Czechoslovaks were unsuccessful, though – they won three World Championship gold medals with Holecek, plus a silver and bronze at the Olympics. For his part, Holecek agrees with his supporters, feigning no modesty. He called Tretiak “average” and said he’d only be about fifth-best in the Czech league. After watching Canada’s Martin during the ’60s, Holecek adopted the spread kneeling position and achieved great success with it. The 1970s Soviets were his favorite opponents because of how technical and tricky they were. He loved to watch their plays develop and predict who they’d eventually pass to for the finishing move – his mobility served him very well against this style of play.

Valeri Vasiliev

Valeri Vasiliev
(USSR, 1966-84)
Before the emergence of Slava Fetisov, Vasiliev was the Soviet Union’s top defenseman, and it wasn’t close. He was a Soviet league all-star eight times in nine seasons from 1973 to 1981, winning top defenseman five times in that span. During that same period, he was also named to five World Championship all-star teams and was named best defenseman three times. Although he posted respectable offensive stats, it was defensively and physically where he shone. Firsthand accounts from his time are rife with descriptions of his punishing physical play and smart technical defense. The excellent international chronicle, Kings of the Ice, details it well: “Strongman Vasiliev eventually transformed into a refined technician. He was able to determine quite well when to get physical with his adversary and when to concentrate more on the puck, when to forecheck aggressively and perhaps even con his rival into skating alongside him for a while until the right time came to smash him into the boards and when to recognize an opportunity to steal the puck using nothing but his stick…he truly enjoyed making his opponents feel like rabbits facing a boa constrictor.”

Aleksandr Maltsev

Aleksandr Maltsev
(USSR, 1967-84)
Maltsev, a tiny finesse center who could also play either wing, was a fixture on Dynamo in the Soviet league from 1967 to 1984, finishing top-six in scoring five times, with one scoring title, seven all-star teams and one MVP award (he was a five-time finalist). He was even more impressive internationally, where he led three major tournaments in scoring and finished third in points three other times. He totalled 198 points in 150 international games and was named to a remarkable six all-star teams. He was somewhat of a free spirit – not a big fan of strict on-ice systems, he preferred creativity and unpredictability. Maltsev was not a big publicity seeker either, and his name quickly faded once he retired, but his talent and accomplishments are worthy of the game’s highest honor.

Vladimir Martinec

Vladimir Martinec
(CSSR, 1967-85)
Although a pure winger and not a center, you could say he was the Czechoslovaks’ answer to Maltsev: a small finesse player, born in the same year, with similar domestic achievements: seven times top-six in CSSR league scoring, one scoring title and four MVP awards. Internationally, it was difficult for any non-Soviet to rack up massive point totals and achievements, but he still managed to lead one tournament in scoring, finishing top-six four times in all. Martinec scored 133 points in 117 international games, making four tournament all-star teams. Known as ‘The Fox,’ Martinec’s calling cards were creativity and resiliency. As Jyrki Laelma recounts in his 1979 book, Winter Sports Heroes, “Martinec’s significance is demonstrated by the fact that every time the Soviets had difficulties with Czechoslovakia, he has been the man who has been taken out first. In 1973, Vasiliev hit him in the neck with his stick and he was carried off on a stretcher; in 1974, Gennady Tsygankov cross-checked Martinec in the face; in 1975, Vladimir Petrov butt-ended him in the mouth. After that, (Czechoslovakia coach) Jan Starsi had had enough: ‘The Soviets always talk about how cleanly they play compared to the professionals. But I would like to know why Martinec always ends up in a hospital when CSSR is leading a game versus the Soviets.’ ”

2022 Olympic Ice Hockey Qualification Round 3 Round-up

Poland earned a dramatic victory over hosts Kazakhstan to advance to the final round of Beijing 2022 ice hockey qualification

The final match of the International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) Olympic pre-qualification round three Group H event was a head-to-head battle to decide which team progressed.

It followed both Kazakhstan and Poland having won their early matches against the Netherlands and Ukraine at the Barys Arena.

Kazakhstan were stunned in the seventh minute of the match when Bartosz Ciura gave Poland a 1-0 lead.

Martin Przygodzki doubled Poland’s advantage early in the second period, but two strikes from Dustin Boyd in a five-minute period saw Kazakhstan hit back to level the match.

Poland regained the lead early in the final period when Maciej Urbanowicz found the net.

Kazakhstan were unable to muster a response in the closing minutes, as Poland secured the 3-2 win to top the group and reach the final round of Beijing 2022 qualification.

Ukraine finished the group stage on a high by beating the Netherlands 3-0 to place third in the standings.

Britain and Hungary met in a decisive match in Group J in Nottingham with the winner also taking their place in the final round of Olympic qualifying.

Hungary took the lead early in the second period through Bence Stipsicz before Csanad Erdely doubled their lead later in the period.

Early in the third period, Britain gave themselves hope when Matthew Myers reduced the arrears to make it 2-1.

Five minutes later Janos Hari restored the Hungarians two goal lead before Istvan Sofron made it 4-1 and sealed Hungary’s place in the final qualifying round.

Estonia and Romania have already been eliminated, but completed their Group J campaign by playing each other in a dead rubber which the Romanians won 7-3.

Hosts Slovenia and Japan also met in a crunch Group G qualifier in Jesenice with Slovenia running out 6-2 winners in an entertaining affair.

Shogo Nakajima gave Japan the lead in the first period before Jan Urbas levelled for Slovenia in the second period to make it 1-1.

The hosts got off to a flying start early in period three with two goals in two minutes from Ken Ograjensek and Robert Sabolic making it 3-1.

Goals flew in during the final five minutes as Slovenia initially made it 4-1 through Rok Ticar before Nakajima scored his second of the game a minute later to give Japan hope at 4-2.

Ticar scored his second of the game 30 seconds later to make it five before Miha Zajc rounded off a convincing final quarter for the hosts to make the final score 6-2.

Miklos Rajna was the star in net with a 47-plus save performance.  Hungary defeat Great Britain 4-1 to secure a place in the Final Olympic Qualification.

Poland, Hungary and Slovenia will now progress to the final qualifier.

Each of the top teams from the final three qualifying groups will go forward to the Beijing Olympics.

Hosts China are already assured of a place and will be joined by the top eight teams in the world rankings following last year’s World Championships.

They are, in order, Canada, Russia, Finland, Sweden, Czech Republic, United States, Germany and Switzerland.

Croatia’s revenge

The Croatian players celebrate the game-winning goal against Serbia with 2:25 left in the game

By Martin Merk – IIHF.com

Croatia beat Serbia 2-1 on home ice in Sisak thanks to a late goal from Luka Mikulic. With the victory the Croats won the 2019 Olympic Qualification Preliminary Round 2 Group M and advance to the third round.

“The goal was but a moment in the game. It’s a nice feeling. It was a tough game but we were better,” said Mikulic, who scored three goals in the tournament.

It was a game full of scoring chances and power plays in which Croatia outshot the Serbs 31-29. Vilim Rosandic was another key player for Croatia with 28 saves and a tournament-leading 95.35% save percentage.

Croatia vs. Serbia was the anticipated deciding game for the tournament win. The two neighbouring countries faced little resistance against Bulgaria and Turkey in their first two games and knew which game mattered the most for the tournament win.

Tournament win, neighbours, mixed history, and a lot of known faces since the best Croatian and Serbian clubs play in the same league. There was certainly no extra motivation needed for the players. Croatia historically had the upper hand in these clashes and is ranked one place better in the IIHF Men’s World Ranking, however, Serbia won its only official men’s national team game against Croatia just last April when it hosted the 2019 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship Division II Group A on home ice in Belgrade.

The Serbs earned the tournament win and promotion back then. The Croats perfectly avenged that loss by winning on home ice and advancing in the Olympic Qualification campaign.

Serbian repeat or Croatian revenge – both teams were looking to deliver the answer early on and had their scoring chances. It was the Croats who delivered first and last.

Tadija Miric brought the puck into the Serbian zone, dropped it to Ivo Kaleb who sent it towards the net from a sharp angle. There Miric was on the spot to open the scoring at 6:09 of the opening frame.

The Serbs were not without scoring opportunities either and opportunities knocked in the 10th minute when both Miric and Fran Srketic were in the penalty box. However, the Croats were well organized and killed that penalty without dangerous moments.

Otherwise the Croatian hosts were mostly in charge of the first period and gave Serbian goalie Arsenije Rankovic hard work.

The Serbs increased their forechecking in the second period and had two power plays but the Croats continued to defend well. Eventually their work and patience paid off with 48 seconds left in the period. In a face-off at lightning speed by Serbia’s first line, Srdijan Subotic won the puck battle in the neutral zone, passed to his right winger Mirko Dumic at the blue line who fed a breaking away Nemanja Vucurevic, who tied the game at one to the joy of the small contingent of Serbian supporters among the 989 fans at the arena in Sisak.

Serbia started with an advantage in the third frame. After Stjepan Cizmadija was sent to the sin bin for a late hit, he was soon joined by a teammate due to a penalty for too many players on the ice. The Serbs took their time-out for the 56 seconds of 5-on-3, however, the Croats also killed that penalty. After a tripping call against Mikulic, Mirko Dumic had the next opportunity for Serbia with a penalty shot but his attempt went wide.

The Croats were the next to have a two-man advantage in the eighth minute but also the Serbs did a good job killing penalties. With five minutes left in regulation time the Croats again had the chance to play more than one-and-a-half minute 5-on-3 but also these penalties remain unused.

The teams defended their nets heroicly when they were a man short, it was the more simple situations with open space that created goals. With 2:25 left Croatia’s Mikulic and Dominic Rene Canic attacked along the right board. Mikulic passed Canic, got the puck back close to the crease and slid the puck past Rankovic.

Like the four previous times, Croatia will play in the second-last round of the Olympic Qualification also for Beijing 2022.

Their venue will be known once the other groups are over and will depend on the three qualifiers for the next round and the position in the 2019 IIHF Men’s World Ranking. Possible options are traveling next door to Jesenice, Slovenia, in February or the group in Nur-Sultan, Kazakhstan. More will be announced later on IIHF.com

Romania progress in Olympic Qualification

Romania celebrates after steamrolling past Iceland 10-1 at Olympic Qualification Group K on home ice in Brasov to move into the next round in Nottingham, Great Britain

By Henrik Manninen – IIHF.com

A trip to Great Britain awaits Romania after blowing away their opponents during the 2019 Men’s Olympic Qualification Preliminary Round 2 Group K playing on home ice in Brasov.

They sealed their progress to the next round after crushing Iceland 10-1 in the showdown for top-spot in the group K. With its head coach and half of the roster from Corona Brasov, the Romanian national team celebrated their victory in front of 1,200 at Olympic Ice Hall in Brasov on Sunday night. With three straight wins, 43 goals scored and only three conceded, progress was never in doubt.

Romania will next compete at the 2019 Men’s Olympic Qualification Preliminary Round 3 Group J in Nottingham, Great Britain. Played between 6-9 February 2020, they will take on hosts Great Britain, Hungary and Estonia.

“We are very excited. We are always really nice to play against much better teams than yourself. I am really looking forward to it because I am pretty sure it will be a big arena and a lot of fans, British fans are also really loud, so it will be a really nice experience. It´s also a really good way to prepare for the World Championships,” said Romania´s captain Roberto Gliga.

Eight different scorers with four goals scored in power play sealed a convincing victory against Iceland in Group K. Tournament top-scorer Balazs Peter tallied 2+3. Zsombor Molnar had two goals and an assist, while blueliner Attila Goga and forward Csanad Fodor both got a goal and two assists each.

During the 2017 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship Division II Group A in Romania´s Galati, Iceland had blanked Romania in a shock 2-0 victory. Kristjan Kristinsson was one of Iceland´s scorers during that memorable win. Two and half years later, he once again faced Romania who since moved up to another level and is now in Division IA while Iceland play in Division IIB

“It was hard, really hard tonight. They are used to play a lot of games. We in Iceland play a 16-game league, so the stamina is different. Romania was really strong on the puck. They were just really good,” said Kristinsson.

Despite having scoring 33 goals against Israel and Kyrgyzstan during Olympic Qualification in Brasov, the Romanian team had been slow in getting into gear during their two previous games. Against Iceland, they had to wait until 11:11 before they got their opener. Former forward turned defenceman, Pavlo Borysenko unleashed a wrister from the blueline right at Iceland´s bench which found its way past a screened Dennis Hedstrom in the Iceland net.

Iceland´s Bjarki Johannesson was serving a two-minute minor when less than four minutes left of the frame Anton Butochnov poached in front of the net from a Fodor feed. Peter tapped home 3-0 and soon after scored his second of the evening 23 seconds before the buzzer for the first intermission. Gliga cheekily tapped the puck forward when winning the draw and hit a pass across the crease to Peter for slot home Romania´s fourth unanswered strike.

Iceland who during yesterday´s day off had paid a visit to Dracula´s castle in nearby Bran, showed little bite during the middle frame as Romania steamed ahead.

Molnar added Romania´s fifth at 22:55 before Romania converted on three straight powerplay goals. At 29:04 Goga lifted in 6-0 from the slot after Hedstrom had made the initial save. Romania´s seventh came just over two minutes later. Goalie Patrik Polc got an assist, as he picked out Peter waiting on the offensive blueline who fed the puck to Molnar who converted. Yevhen Yemelianenko then boomed home a one-timer from the top slot for number eight at 37:33.

Heading into the third period, Romania continued to win their battles and kept pressing Iceland in their own zone. Eduard Casaneanu and Balazs Gajdo both had attempts in the slot before Fodor fired home 9-0 at 45:53. Fodor then weighed up his options behind Hedstrom´s net, picked out an onrushing Vitali Kirichenko who hit home via the post for double digits at 51:16.

Iceland netted a late consolation when Kristinsson won a battle along the boards with Yemelianenko as Egill Birgisson ruined Polc´s shutout bid with 2:45 left of the game.

With an intensive league schedule ahead, Romania now keep fingers crossed that their current crop of players will stay injury-free ahead of the next round of Olympic Qualifiers. In Nottingham they also hope to be boosted by Daniel Tranca who missed the Iceland game due to illness as well as Tamas Reszegh and Szilard Rokaly, a duo who played a key role when Romania won gold at the 2019 World Championship Division IB.

For Iceland, their young team will leave Romania richer in experience as a big season continues for Icelandic hockey with both the 2020 Men´s World Championship Division IIB and the 2020 Women´s World Championship Division IIB being hosted in Iceland later on this season.

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