Category: Uncategorized (Page 1 of 3)

A pretty, pretty big shame’: Germany’s Borzecki ready for World Juniors debut after spending last year’s tournament in quarantine

Jakub Borzecki joined EC Red Bull Salzburg of the ICEHL in the fall of 2021

Matthew Black – CTV News Edmonton

Last year’s World Juniors in Edmonton were supposed to be a special time for German hockey prospect Jakub Borzecki.

He made the squad as an 18-year-old, and was expected to play a key role, including on the power play, as part of a team considered to be his country’s best in years.

But, he never saw the ice.

Four days before Germany’s tournament opener on Christmas Day, and just one day after exiting his mandated travel quarantine, Borzecki learned he had tested positive for COVID-19.

“I was just really excited to actually fly out to Canada to play at the World Juniors,” he said.

”I was really looking forward to it.”

He was the last of nine German players to test positive for the coronavirus.

The outbreak forced the team back into isolation and left it with only 16 players, 14 of them skaters, for its first three games instead of the usual roster of 25.

“At first I didn’t quite realize it,” Borzecki said. “I felt great …I still did my workouts as planned. I didn’t feel anything.”

“It was a pretty, pretty big shame to not be able to get out.”


Borzecki spent most of his time alone in his hotel room less than a block away from Rogers Place where his teammates carried on without him .

He says he was initially able to gather for stretching exercises and video games with the eight others who had also tested positive.

“I was actually shocked that so many guys went missing because we expected everybody to be just fine. We tested so much in Germany.”

The players watched on television from their hotel as an outmanned Team Germany held its own in a tournament-opening 5-3 defeat to Finland before running out of gas a day later in a 16-2 defeat to the host Canadians.

“It was a big challenge for them and a lot of ice time but they really managed well.”

A 16-man German team scored a 4-3 overtime upset over Slovakia in its third game to keep its tournament hopes alive.

The squad was back to full strength, minus Borzecki, for its final opening round game, a 5-4 win over Switzerland.

“I was sweating in my room just watching the games, because it was really exciting to watch the guys play,” he said.

“I was really happy for them.”


The win over Switzerland earned Germany its first ever quarterfinal appearance at the World Juniors, and a matchup against a Russian team considered to be among the favourites to win the event.

Ahead of the game, someone on the team arranged to have Borzecki’s jersey hung on the glass behind the team’s bench during the game, much to his surprise. 

Germany forward Jakub Borzecki’s (20) jersey hangs on the bench after he has been unable to play in the tournament due to a COVID positive test, as the Germans take on Russia during first period IIHF World Junior Hockey Championship action in Edmonton on Saturday, January 2, 2021

“I just had my white jersey in my room, and suddenly my other jersey was hanging there,” he said. “Just had a big smile all over my face.”

“[I was] a little sad too of course, just seeing my jersey, but not being able to get out.” 

His teammates exceeded expectations again, but came up short in a narrow 2-1 defeat to Russia. 

The next day marked the end of what would be more than three weeks in quarantine, and he was able to board the team bus and fly back to Germany with his teammates. 

“The guys were just shocked to see me.”


Borzecki, now 19, is in his first year of senior pro hockey with EC Red Bull Salzburg of the ICE Hockey League. 

The power forward has recorded seven points, including two goals, in 25 games so far this season and will be part of Team Germany at this year’s World Juniors.

“I don’t take anything for granted,” he said of making his tournament debut. “It’s gonna be a big relief to finally be able to be there.”

A relief that will help bury thoughts of what might have been for him and his team last year.

“I think if everybody would have been there, we could have had a great chance to get even further,” he said.

“It was a nice hotel room at least.”

The traditional Catalonia-Basque ice hockey returns this Christmas

Four years after the last edition, the two powers of state ice hockey will meet again on December 28, 2021 on the ice rink of Puigcerdà

Source: Catalan Federation of Winter Sports

In a further sign of a return to normalcy prior to the pandemic, on the 28th of December the Puigcerdà ice rink will host a new clash between the Catalan and Basque ice hockey teams. A duel with a certain tradition behind it that had not taken place for four years The last edtion was in 2017, also in Puigcerdà, with a Catalan victory. 

With the organization of the Catalan Federation of Winter Sports (FCEH) and the support of local institutions and entities, the Christmas festivities will once again feature a two games between two friendly teams and with strong social and sporting roots in the state ice hockey.

And it is expected that many of the players who make up the staff of the men’s and women’s teams are from  CG Puigcerdà  and  FC Barcelona , in the case of Catalonia, and  CHH Txuri-Urdin , in the Basque Country.

Catalunya – Euskadi  Femení     14:00h

Catalunya – Euskadi   Masculí     20:00h 

Action from 2017 Catalonia and Basque Country

Both teams have a significant weight in Spanish ice hockey, where CG Puigcerdà, FC Barcelona and CHH Txuri-Urdin have dominated the state competitions in recent years. The League is a clear example of this, as you have to travel back to 2015-2016 season to find a champion who is not Catalan or Basque.

The final three Olympic spots for men’s ice hockey at Beijing 2022 will go to Latvia, Denmark and Slovakia

By George Da Silva – National Teams Of Ice Hockey

Final Group D

Ondrej Nepela Arena in Bratislava played host to a ferocious match between Slovakia and Belarus that ended 2-1 for Slovakia. This secured Slovakia’s place in the men’s ice hockey competition in Beijing 2022.

Slovenia and Belarus entered the final period level after goals from Peter Cehlarik (SVK) and Yegor Sharangovich (BLR), both teams were well aware that a draw after regulation time would see Slovenia progress as group winners on 7 points, but Libor Hudacek’s goal late in the third period gave Slovakia a 2-1 victory and a trip to Bejing.

Final Group E

Denmark, Latvia, and Slovakia have won their respective Olympic qualifying tournaments and will participate in the men’s ice hockey competition at the Olympic Winter Games in Beijing in 2022.

All three nations finished in the top two in their respective IIHF qualification groups, adding to the already strong 12-team field at Beijing 2022, which also features top-8 teams and hosts China.

Having won both of their Group E games on home ice against Italy 6-0 and Hungary 9-0, Latvia entered the final game with a perfect record.

On the final day of their group, the Latvia played undefeated France, which was hoping to qualify for the Olympics for the first time since Salt Lake City in 2002.

At the 11-minute mark in the first period, Latvia strike  first when  Rihards Bukarts scored the first goal of the game.

Miks Indrasis notched Latvia’s the game winning goal in the third period. However, Stephane da Costa’s long-range effort brought France back into the contest for a frantic finish.

The Latvian penalty kill was strong for the last two minutes of the game as they hung on for a 2-1 win and a birth to the Winter Olympics, Beijing 2022.

Final Group F

A 2-0 win over Norway in Oslo gave Denmark its first appearance at the Olympic games has they topped Group F.

Both teams had undefeated records after beating Slovenia and the South Korea, goals from Frederik Storm and Nikolaj Ehlers booked Denmark’s passage to Beijing, they defeated their arch-rivals 2-0.

Winnipeg Jets forward Ehlers sealed victory for the Danes with just over Three minutes remaining, forcing Norway to pull their goaltender Adding another attacker to try and score a goal that did not materialize.

Thank you Riga, Hello Helsinki and Tampere

Kazakhstan beat host Latvia 3-2 following a seven-round penalty shootout on May 22

By Ilyas Omarov – Astana Times

The preliminary games of the 2021 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship has become one of the most sensational in the modern history of hockey. It was pleasant  that the national team of Kazakhstan became one of the success stories of the championships.

The Kazakhstan national ice hockey team finished the world championship in fifth place in Group B, one step away from the quarter finals. In seven games of the group stage, the national team of Kazakhstan won 4 games, of which two – in regular time and two more – in a shoot-out.

Kazakh players  set a record In the sixth game of the Ice Hockey World Championship, the national team of Kazakhstan defeated the Italian team with a crushing score of 11-3. This result was the largest victory at the world championship. The team scored recorded  the most points at this tournament than during the entire time of participation in the world elite championships since it’s Independence.

The Organizing Committee of the World Championship in Riga named forward Nikita Mikhailis, goalkeeper Nikita Boyarkin and defender Darren Dietz the best players in the national team of Kazakhstan

Previously, at the world championships, Kazakhstan won a maximum of one game. For the first time in its history, the team managed to record 10 tournament points (before, the group scored no more than two). For the first time, Kazakh team managed to beat the reigning world champions (Finland 2-1SO). For the first time, Kazakhstan won 11:3 This result is the biggest win in tournament history.

The list of records also includes the most  goals 22. Kazakhstan have never finish in fifth place in the modern format of the group stage.

This achievement can even be slightly compared when Kazakhstan national team went to the quarterfinals at the White Olympics in Nagano in 1998.

At the World Championships 2021, the national team of Kazakhstan for the first time in many years ceased to be a team, which continuously runs between the hockey elite and the first division.

In this regard, it is necessary to pay attention to the opinion of the legend of Finnish hockey player, and former professional ice hockey winger and a five-time Stanley Cup champion, who was named one of the 100 Greatest NHL Players in history, Jari Kurri, who noted before the World Championship that Kazakhstan is able to surprise at the World Championships.

Later some foreign experts noted that the team of Kazakhstan played over its head and played beyond its capabilities.

A pleasant discovery was the play of the national team goalkeeper Nikita Boyarkin, defender Ivan Stepanenko, Darren Dietz and Jesse Blacker played reliably in defense. Veteran Alexander Shin helped the team a lot. Nikita Mikhailis showed his finesse  and fast skating hockey. Team captain Roman Starchenko confirmed his reputation. Artem Likhotnikov’s goal became one of the top 10 in the championship.

Of course, it is necessary to note the great contribution of the coaching staff headed by Yuri Mikhailis.

Next year, the national team of Kazakhstan will again go to the World Ice Hockey Championship, which is planned to be held in Helsinki and Tampere.

Hopefully, the performance of Kazakh hockey players on the Finnish ice will become even more successful in 2022.

NENT Group orders ice hockey legend Börje Salming biopic series

Actor Valter Skarsgård

By Davide Abbatescianni – Cineurope

NENT Group is ready to launch a new original production, a biopic series about Sweden’s greatest-ever ice hockey player, Börje Salming. The English-language show, created and directed by Amir Chamdin (the series Partisan), will star Valter Skarsgård (Don’t Click, Funhouse) in the leading role.

The series, penned by Martin Bengtsson, will follow Salming’s trailblazing journey from his humble roots north of the Arctic Circle to become an NHL legend. The first Swedish player inducted into the prestigious Hockey Hall of Fame, Börje Salming broke numerous records, captured the hearts of millions of fans and paved the way for countless Europeans to forge careers in the NHL, the world’s best ice hockey league. In detail, Salming played over 1,100 games for the Toronto Maple Leafs across 16 seasons (1973-1989), notching 148 goals and 620 assists, and in 2017 was named one of the 100 greatest NHL players in history.

Salming himself commented on the making of the show: “It’s flattering and exciting that my story will become a series. When we began discussing this project, I reflected over everything that’s happened in my life, from taking care of myself at a young age after my father passed away, to the journey from Kiruna to the NHL, and I realised there’s a lot of screen potential there. It will be really exciting to see the show when it’s ready.”

Speaking about his involvement in the series, Skarsgård said: “This is the scariest and coolest thing I’ve ever done. It’s fantastic to get to know Börje personally – he tells such amazing stories with complete humility. His attitude was always to do things his way and enjoy it, and I’ll try to bring the same approach to the task of playing him.” 

Finally, NENT Group’s Chief Content Officer Filippa Wallestam added: “Börje Salming’s sporting achievements rank with fellow Swedish superstars Björn Borg and Ronnie Peterson. Today, when 10% of NHL players come from Sweden, it’s easy to forget that Europeans were once thought too weak for this unforgiving competition. This is a story of remarkable talent, athleticism and perseverance that deserves an international streaming audience. On his 70th birthday, we hope this launch is a fitting homage to the man known simply as ‘The King’.”

Filming of the series will begin in 2022. The show, still untitled, is set to premiere exclusively on NENT Group’s Viaplay streaming service. Johanna Wennerberg of Warner Bros. International Television Production Sweden is producing.

When The Vikings pillaged on Southampton’s ice rink

By Maurice Keys – Daily Echo

Despite being one of the lesser well-known sports ice hockey has enjoyed a passionate following over a number of years, during which time the local teams have experienced a number of highs and lows.

The date of the origins of the game are unclear but it’s believed to have originated as a spin-off from hockey in Canada.

It was first seen by Europeans being played by native Mi’kmaq in Nova Scotia in the 17th century.

Early years of hockey in Canada

The early examples of the game were played with a stick and ball but over time the game developed.

It is understood that in 1860 a group from the Royal Canadian Rifles Regiment played a game in Kingston, Ontario using a ball that was partially sliced to give a flat side. The game was played on the frozen harbour.

Here in England a league was formed in 1903 and consisted of five teams that played at two ice rinks in London.

This influence increased the interest in ice hockey with the formation of the national ice hockey team. These teams enjoyed some amazing results culminating in winning a bronze medal at the 1924 Olympics in Chamonix and a gold medal at the 1936 winter Olympics in Garmish- Partenkirchen, Germany.

As the interest in skating and ice hockey developed Southampton opened an ice rink on the 18th July 1931. The first ice hockey match was to follow in November 1931 between Great Britain and Germany.

The original Ice rink in Southampton

That win at the Olympics made some impact locally for in 1936 Southampton tasted its first match by a team of its own.

The game was played by a local team against a team of London All-Stars with Southampton winning the game by 10 to 5.

The Southampton team became known as the Vikings in 1936 and this came about following the collapse of the French team named “Club Francais Volants”, from Paris, who played in a team strip with a large V on the front of their shirts. Unfortunately, due to financial difficulties, the club folded after only one season just as the French team had done.

The outbreak of the Second World War further hampered people’s enjoyments and the ice rink was also to suffer as a result.

In 1939 a local businessman Charles Knott purchased the ice rink with the intention of building a new team. That team was named the Southampton Imperials with the intention of playing in the London Provincial League.

Nicky Drew scores his first senior goal for Vikings 79-80 season

However, during one of the air raids, a parachute mine landed on the site promptly ending any prospect of sport being enjoyed at that location until after the war.

In 1952 a further attempt was made to resurrect the sport in the town and once again Charles Knott was instrumental in the construction of the new rink by obtaining an ice plant from the neighbouring Purley rink and a steel building structure from the Woolston Supermarine site.

A new team was arranged and play recommenced.

This new team initially achieved great success by winning the Southern Intermediate League at the first attempt. Alas, this success was short-lived and by 1964 the latest attempt to have an ice hockey team in the town was over.

Vikings League Winning side 83-84 season away at Peterborough

This however was not the end of the story for in 1976 a further attempt was made to create a team for the city.

Once again success followed with the team winning the league in the 1983/1984 season. The Vikings would again be avidly watched until the closure of the ice rink in 1988.

British-era Ice Skating Rink in Indian ‘Hill Station’ Turns 100

By Uttaran Dasgupta and Anindita Ghoshi – Tennessee Tribune

High up in the Indian Himalayas is Shimla — a scenic colonial town established by the British in 1864 as their summer capital. With cool weather throughout the year and icy temperatures in winter, Shimla was the perfect place for the British to set up an ice skating rink in 1920.

This winter marks its 100th year.

“When we were young, we used to sling our skates around our shoulders and walk from the Mall Road to the rink feeling like the cat’s whiskers all the way,” said 81-year-old Y.P. Gupta, an erstwhile architect of the Public Works Department who still indulges in his passion for skating now and then. “At that time it was a matter of pride to be an ice-skater. Now it has changed; youngsters still come but not like before.”

Gupta is one of the oldest skaters at the skating rink and is eagerly looking forward to this year’s skating season.

“For me, the passion to skate remains the same,” says Gupta. “I still wake up early during the skating season and never miss an early morning session at the rink.”

According to a book, “Simla-the Summer Capital of British India” written by Shimla-based historian and writer Raaja Bhasin, the rink was originally a tennis court. Shimla was called ‘Simla’ in colonial times.

Bhasin has written several books covering British rule in Himachal Pradesh, the state where Shimla is situated.

In his book, Bhasin writes, “during the month of November in 1920 a Britisher, Mr Blessington saw drops of frozen water from a tap in the vicinity of the tennis court. People who lived around the area also complained about frozen water pipes, which led to a shortage of water supply during the winters. Mr. Blessington took this opportunity and converted the tennis court into a ground filled with water, which froze over-night under the clear sky. This marked the establishment of Shimla’s ice skating rink (sic).”

The book mentions that the ice skating rink is unique since it is functional only when it freezes naturally during winter, which makes it one of a kind.

“Most other ice skating rinks in the south Asian region are not natural. They remain functional all year because an optimum temperature is artificially maintained for skating,” said Bhasin to Zenger News.

The open-air Shimla ice skating rink remains frozen naturally because of its location in a sun-less spot, which records freezing temperature in winter.

The night before a skating session, a staff member of the skating rink sprays water across the open field, which sets into ice. With repeated sprays of water, the ice sheet grows thicker. After about five sprays, the ice layer is about 15 centimeters thick and ready for skaters.

An undated photo of the Simla Ice Skating Club

Today, the ice skating rink is a matter of great pride for Shimla residents, however, there was a time when it was out of bounds for non-Europeans.

“The club that ran the rink originally had 30 members, and all of them were Europeans. Indians during the British rule were not allowed to become a part of the club,” Bhasin writes in his book.

Bhavneesh Banga, the current secretary of Simla Ice Skating Club said that the facilities in the rink are old, but they have been working on the new remodeling plan that includes expansion of the original field and a covered rink. The plan also includes the installation of better field lights and seating.

The ice skating rink in Shimla received funding from the Indian Government in 2019 for expansion and remodeling, to bring it up to international standards. But due to the pandemic, much of the funding has been withdrawn for the time being.

“The work on the expansion was in progress till March but because of the lockdown we had to put it on hold.”

The administration hopes to host national ice-skating and ice hockey championships after the remodeling. The events were earlier hosted in an artificial skating rink in Gurugram near Delhi.

“At present, the rink in Shimla lacks the infrastructure to host big events” says Banga.

A morning ice skating session in progress at the rink in 2019.

The ice skating season generally starts by the end of November or in the first week of December. But this year the administration has decided not to hold any major events due to the pandemic. Generally, at the beginning of the skating season, the club arranges an intra-state ice skating championship. On Christmas day, a fancy dress event is held for kids.

“This year, there will be regular skating sessions with all safety precautions but a limit has been put on the number of people for each session,” says Banga.

Before the pandemic, whenever the club hosted any events, a crowd of 10,000 people would attend it, including the participants. This year only 200 people will be allowed to come for every skating sessions and no special events will be hosted.

In recent years, it has been a struggle to maintain the Shimla ice skating rink because of global warming and increasing temperatures.

Winters in Shimla aren’t as cold as they used to be. A study by Centre for Science and Environment showed that the temperatures in India have increased by more than 34.7 degrees Fahrenheit (1.5 °C) since the beginning of the 20th century.

“We have struggled a lot due to climate change in the last couple of years. The ice on the field takes much longer to form and sometimes we have to call off skating sessions if the temperature doesn’t drop enough for the ice to become firm” says Banga.

Banga mentions that the remodeling plan will convert the open rink into a closed one since they will build a shelter around the skating field which will help maintain the temperature inside the rink.

The rink would be converted into a semi-artificial rink since they are hoping to run it all year long using the temperature control systems, which will be installed once the remodeling is complete.

25th anniversary of the first professional match in Mexico

By Vitaly Nesterov – National Teams of Ice Hockey

Exactly 25 years ago, on December 1, 1995, the first professional ice hockey game was played in Mexico. The Toreros from the Mexican capital hosted the Eugene Snowcats from the North American League. Prior to this match, the Mexican team played only two games, both against the same “Snowcats”, and both ended in defeat with a score of 9: 6 and 8: 4, respectively. The matches took place in Oregon However at home, the Toreros were able to dominate the Snowcats and won with a score of 7: 2 scoreline.

Then the Torero played another game against Eugene, which ended with their third defeat, and after a few days the Snowcats ceased to exist.

About two weeks after the team disbanded, the league itself also died, having played only 8 matches in total, but there are rumors that those two matches between the Mexicans and the Snowcats were the only official ones, and the rest of the matches were no longer counted in the NAL, but the league itself was formed and disbanded for money laundering purposes.

The league featured five teams the Eugene Snowcats, Las Vegas Ice Dice, Los Angeles Bandits, Mexico City Toreros and Vancouver Venom. Only foreigners played for the Mexican team that was made of North American Players and Russians, including the Russian Oleg Zak, who went straight from Petrozavodsk, Russia to Mexico. Oleg Zak would become the coach of Turkish national hockey team a few years later.

Their first goal was scored by the Slovak Igor Majesky assisted by Larry Bernard. The goalie was James Jensen and some of the forwards included Dusty Mclellan and Peter Cox. But the most well known player on the Mexican team was undoubtedly defenseman Link Gaetz who was selected 40th overall by the Minnesota North Stars in 1988.

Hockey of the future?

By Jamie Lew – The Media HQ

Hockey has always been a game of innovation. From the first indoor skating rinks to the origins of the goalie mask, including the first carbon fiber sticks, hockey has always improved thanks to advancement. Even now, hockey is looking for innovations by multiplying the possible sites for the Winter Classic and by working on advanced monitoring data in partnership with sports betting agencies.

But some innovations go beyond improving the existing sport. Today we’re going to paint a picture of what could be the next big step in the world of hockey. In fact, it’s a whole new approach to the sport itself, known simply as TriHockey.

What is TriHockey?

Imagine that the air hockey table you played with as a child came to life. Imagine that the puck on a hockey rink has no friction and that there were three teams and three nets instead of two. Now imagine a game played on inline skates, with players wearing futuristic Tron uniforms. If you can imagine it all, you have imagined TriHockey.

How it works? It all starts with the creation of a life-size air hockey surface. Technological advances have enabled Mark Sendo, the founder and CEO of TriHockey, and his team to create an entire playing surface designed like an air hockey table. For this reason, the puck does not feel any traction when it slides on the ice.

Three teams of four (a goalkeeper, a defender and two forwards) will compete on this rink in a one-on-one hockey game. They will play on a 120-foot diameter ice rink lined with 12-foot-tall inverted half-pipes, giving TriHockey a unique speed and intensity. Do you think it’s a vision for the future? Sendo explained to hockey writers that it had been one of his dreams for a very long time.

TriHockey is actually an evolution of my initial idea that I envisioned about 22 years ago, of a human-sized field hockey rink. In early 2019, my team and I proposed a circular ice rink concept, with 3 teams, 3 goalkeeper nets and 1 puck played on an air rink. We then worked with brilliant engineers to design and test the entire rink.

Mark Sendo, founder and CEO of TriHockey

The Sendo team is impressive, growing from an army of an army in January 2019 to more than 20 volunteers, mostly unpaid, attached to their common vision. Most recently, TriHockey brought in Ken Hershman, the former president of HBO Sports, to join him as president of the future TriHockey Pro League.

Advantages of TriHockey

Although TriHockey may seem like a distant reality, the team hopes to debut at the Disney Wide World of Sports Complex later this year. Hoping for an initial league of six professional teams (reminiscent of the NHL Six), TriHockey may be more accessible than it seems at first glance – especially for local communities.

The prohibitive costs of local ice hockey are no longer a secret. In fact, they have become a major concern for many members of the hockey community. But Sendo believes TriHockey is addressing these issues directly and will allow more children to learn to love the sport.

“To refrigerate an ice rink (standard ice hockey), it’s about $ 40,000 a month,” Sendo told us. “For our skating rinks, it costs $ 20 an hour, and when you don’t play, you turn off the switch. The playing time will cost much less.”

In addition to the lower cost of TriHockey, the pace and accessibility will also be increased.

“Air hockey is such a fast sport,” said Sendo. “There will be little change, if any, in the speed of play. In fact, we think TriHockey could be slightly faster. The advantage is that children can play with sneakers and our pros will use inline skates. “

The future is now

TriHockey may be the hockey of the future. But his future is much closer than we think. They hope to get an opportunity with Disney, although that date has not yet been set. Hockey writers contacted a Disney representative for comment, but were told that company policy prohibits commenting on potential partnerships until contracts are finalized.

Whether the debut arrives in August or takes a little longer, Sendo and his team are ready. While franchise costs are expensive, set at $ 5 million, they already have 7-10 potential franchise owners interested in investing if the sport is successful at Disney. They intend to build with a top-down approach, focusing on building interest in particular communities like any other professional league. More than 2,200 subscribers on their Facebook page are already monitoring the sport and trying to help it develop.

Fast and exciting ice-free hockey may seem impossible. But, again, there was a time when the idea of ​​building a Las Vegas hockey franchise would have been laughable. Hockey has always thrived on transformation. And in TriHockey, he could envision his future.

College men’s hockey: UMD players recall being back in the USSR

Minnesota Duluth hockey coach Mike Sertich huddles with his players during a break in a game the Bulldogs played in December 1984 in the Soviet Union, becoming the first collegiate team in any sport to go behind the Iron Curtain.

By: Rick Weegman Pine Journal

Minnesota Duluth’s men’s hockey team concluded a historic trip behind the Iron Curtain 35 years ago
A strip search. Live bears on skates. Stolen towels. KGB officers knocking on hotel room doors. Brushing one’s teeth with vodka.

Oh yeah, a couple of hockey games, too.

Memories abound about the Minnesota Duluth men’s hockey team’s visit to the Soviet Union, which concluded 35 years ago today. That historic December 1984 visit to Moscow and Leningrad was the first time a collegiate team in any sport traveled behind the Iron Curtain.

“That 1984-85 team, I think, was the best team that ever played at UMD,” said All-American forward Bill Watson, who scored 210 career points in three seasons with the Bulldogs. “But that trip that we made was different. Nothing ever went smoothly on that trip.

“Once we got there, it was like going to a different world.”

Some of the memories from that trip remain hidden from public consumption.

“There were a lot of (memorable moments),” Jim Toninato, a UMD forward from 1982-86, said with a laugh. “But I’d say about 90 percent of them I can’t tell you.”

And despite the best efforts of those involved, televising the games live back to Duluth — the impetus for the trip in the first place — never happened.

Here’s a look back at that experience, from the sometimes fuzzy perspective of those who were there:

Plan takes shape

Bob Rich, owner of NBC affiliate KBJR-TV, first approached then-UMD athletic director Ralph Romano with the idea of playing in the Communist bloc.

After Romano died during the 1983-84 season, Rich, who had made two previous trips to the USSR, continued discussions with his replacement, Bruce McLeod, and with the Russian Embassy in Washington, D.C., and the Sports Ministry in Moscow.

“He was always a giant promoter of Duluth,” said Jim Rich, Bob’s son and one half of the announcing team for UMD games on KBJR. “He started the Christmas City of the North Parade and was all about civic pride. One way to promote Duluth was to promote the university, so we started televising UMD games every Friday and Saturday.”

UMD played in its first NCAA championship game at the end of the 1983-84 season, losing to Bowling Green State in four overtimes, and would return to the Frozen Four after the 1984-85 season.

So Bob Rich pounced on an idea to capitalize on the increased interest in UMD hockey.

“He put together a package to bring fans and sponsors to Russia and came up with the idea to have these games there,” Jim Rich said. “It was his vision to give UMD as high of a profile as possible and he thought this was a good way to do it.”

KBJR paid all the expenses for sending UMD’s official party of 29 members — approximately $58,000 — in addition to paying for four satellite links and for an NBC director and producer to fly in from London.

It was the height of the Cold War between the United States and the USSR, just four years after the Americans’ “Miracle on Ice” victory over the Soviets at the 1980 Winter Olympics in Lake Placid, N.Y., and the subsequent U.S. pullout from the Summer Games in Moscow.

In order to prepare them for their visit, UMD chemistry professor Ron Caple, who would serve as the team’s unofficial translator, held a couple classes to teach the basics of the Russians’ language and customs.

UMD played a series against Northeastern in Boston before departing for overseas. The Bulldogs lost 4-0 in the series finale.

“It was probably our worst game that we played all year,” assistant coach Jim Knapp said. “Everyone was thinking about going to the Soviet Union.”

The entourage, which included fans and parents of players, flew to New York’s John F. Kennedy Airport and then took a DC-10 overnight to Helsinki, Finland. By late that Sunday evening, everyone had checked into the Hotel Cosmos in Moscow.

Moscow memories

Moscow was an immediate culture shock.

“The people and the buildings, and what it was like living in that culture,” Bemidji-born Toninato said of the difference between Moscow and home. “For naive college kids, it was an incredible experience.”

Sumptuous breakfasts, lunches and dinners were provided and a strict schedule for sightseeing opportunities was adhered to.

“They showed us what they wanted to show us. Very, very structured,” Toninato said. “We did get out a few times and walk around the city a little bit and check out the culture.

“It seemed dark, like there wasn’t a lot of color. They had guards with machine guards on every corner, that was a little weird.”

Head coach Mike Sertich said the group was chaperoned closely throughout their stay in Moscow.

“There were armed service people all over the place,” Sertich recalled by phone Friday from a fish house on Lake of the Woods. “I remember being chastised by one of them because I was chewing tobacco and I spit. He came over and read me the riot act in Russian.”

Sertich didn’t get thrown in the gulag or threatened with a trip to Siberia, “but I probably got pretty close to it because I spit on the Motherland.”

The first day’s schedule included a tour of the famed Red Square.

“My roommate and I, (goaltender) Rick Kosti, both slept in and missed it.” said defenseman Norm Maciver, who scored 191 career points with the Bulldogs before playing 12 seasons in the NHL. “We were so jet-lagged that we missed the first day’s tour.”

When told of that, Sertich countered with a rebuttal: “They were not jet-lagged; they were other-lagged.”

Perhaps that had to do with the abundance of vodka in Moscow.

“It seemed like the only thing we had to drink was Pepsi or vodka. And it was warm Pepsi,” Maciver said.

Water, apparently, was a scarce commodity.

“We’d brush our teeth in vodka,” forward Skeeter Moore remembered. “Typically you don’t swallow your toothpaste, right? But we were college kids brushing our teeth with vodka so what the hell.”

Plans change

Day 2 of the trip began with a number of alterations to the schedule.

According to a diary kept by equipment manager Rick Menz, a 1 p.m. practice was canceled and then rescheduled for 4:30 only to be canceled again. A 9 p.m. game against Moskvich, a Russian auto factory-sponsored elite team, was changed to 4:30 p.m. against a Moscow Sports Institute team at a rink similar to West Duluth’s Peterson Arena, with no fan seating. UMD lost 8-5.

That was the game KBJR had planned to televise live back to Duluth.

“At the last minute the plug got pulled — literally,” said Jim Rich, who left Duluth in 1991 and is currently the sports director at Fox 9 in the Twin Cities.

“The night before the game we were at a dinner and somebody came up to my father and said they needed to speak,” Rich recalled. “They walked away and they told him that night that the game the next day was off and there would be no television.

“They negotiated through the night and told Coach Sertich what was going to happen. We ended up playing a different Soviet team in what was basically a practice rink. We filmed that with one camera and did the play-by-play with Steve Jezierski and myself.”

During UMD’s pregame warmups, Jezierski remembers being told in no uncertain terms to tell the team to leave the ice immediately.

“Jimmy and I were in the press box and (the Soviets) asked us to make an announcement over the PA system for UMD to get off the ice, that their time was up,” Jezierski said. “Both Jim and I looked at each other like, ‘I’m not telling Sertie that it’s time to get off the ice.’ But they were persistent.

“I don’t do very good dialects but I did my best Russian-English imitation and said, ‘Pleez-a ged-da off-a-da ice’ trying to make Sertie think it was them making the announcement and not me.”

KBJR still filmed the game with one camera in hopes of showing it on a delayed basis once back home, but for Rich and Jezierski the rest of the trip turned into a vacation.

“It was as if the rules changed when we got out there,” Jezierski said. “Basically we were tourists, there was nothing work-related whatsoever.”

‘Trouble finds trouble’

Though memories are a bit hazy and a need to protect the not-so-innocent still persists 35 years later, there’s little doubt the Bulldogs pushed the envelope in creating an international incident.

The first such scene came as the team was preparing to leave Moscow for a 70-minute Aeroflot flight to Leningrad.

Watson roomed with Jay Jackson, the Maroon Loon mascot, who stuffed towels into his luggage as souvenirs.

“He thought he was going to be funny and tried to sneak towels out of the hotel in Moscow,” Watson said. “They searched every one of our bags and I nearly lost my suitcase, which was so dear to me that I gave it the nickname of ‘Boxcar Willie.’ I was very angry with the Maroon Loon after that and I may have done things to his outfit that I can’t really speak about.”

Toilet paper and towels were treated like Faberge eggs.

“The two things they kept track of was toilet paper — that was more like newspaper-sandpaper — and the towels,” Moore related. “(Jackson) was my roommate in college and I remember him saying later, ‘I didn’t try to steal them, I just needed a couple extra and if someone else needed one I would help out.’ ”

Watson doesn’t buy that excuse to this day.

“They counted the potatoes they gave you, the bread they gave you. Of course they’re going to count the towels at this nice hotel,” he said. “We didn’t even get to the bus and they were on (Jackson) like white on rice. And I almost lost my legendary suitcase.”

That wasn’t the only trouble team members got into.

At the posh Moscow hotel, Watson received a call from AD McLeod to come down three floors to retrieve two teammates who had stumbled into his room after playing floor hockey in the hall. Watson wouldn’t reveal any names, but left a hint.

“All I can tell you there was a Hall of Famer and another one of my classmates who had a wonderful time playing floor hockey in the hallway,” he chuckled.

Brett Hull, whose father, Bobby, was highly revered by the Soviets, is the only member of that UMD team to later earn a spot in the Hockey Hall of Fame.

Moore was at the heart of another controversy, too.

The Duluthian brought along a number of items such as jeans, gum and cassette tapes in order to trade with the locals. Moore schemed to put a UMD jersey on one of the traders to allow him access to the hotel in Moscow.

“I tried to get to be buddy-buddy with some of the Russians and snuck them in,” Moore acknowledged. “I was trying to do some trading of some of our stuff that we brought over.”

That led to supposed KGB guards knocking on the door and removing the outsiders.

When asked if it was his room that the KGB approached, Watson, tongue firmly planted in cheek, denied any knowledge.

“I still think that state departments or governments of countries can come back at you for things like that,” he said. “I don’t have any recollections of that. Zero.”

Sertich says he took his chaperoning responsibilities seriously, but there was only so much oversight he could do in a foreign setting.

“Some of those guys got into it pretty good,” he said. “Nobody got arrested but I don’t know if they would have known the difference. Kids have a funny way of finding their way where they shouldn’t be. Kids are kids, it doesn’t matter if they are from Moscow or Duluth. Trouble finds trouble sometimes.”

Next stop: Leningrad

The Bulldogs spent their third day in Leningrad, now St. Petersburg, a more westernized city of 4.9 million located between Estonia and Finland on the Baltic Sea coast.

The team attended the Moscow Circus on Ice, where the star attraction was live bears on skates, and later saw a ballet and toured the Winter Palace Museum, where paintings of Rembrandt, Picasso and many others were housed.

“It was quite a bonding experience for all the guys, being over in a foreign country and having to be together,” Toninato said.

But again, things did not go as planned with UMD’s scheduled game. The Bulldogs were supposed to play a Red Army junior team, but the rag-tag outfit that took the ice did not resemble the squad UMD had signed up to play. The Bulldogs won 9-0, according to Menz’s diary entry.

“It seemed like we were playing the equivalent of a beer-league team,” said Maciver, who is in his eighth season as a Chicago Blackhawks assistant general manager. “These guys had different colored helmets on and their sticks looked like they had been used for a year.”

The rink itself was substandard as well. Plexiglas was replaced by a barb-wire mesh that surrounded the boards.

In between periods, UMD was served tea in a scene that definitely was not standard at the DECC.

“We didn’t have any locker rooms and we’d sit outside the rink and these older ladies would come and pour coffee or tea between periods for us,” Moore said. “That was an eye-opener, just bizarre to have them pouring tea.”

At least it wasn’t vodka.

That beverage may have played a role, however, during other incidents in Leningrad.

“Coach Sertich was a little more relaxed than he normally was (in Leningrad) and allowed us to enjoy ourselves,” Watson explained.

Jezierski recalls one potential problem being avoided at a bar in the city.

“It was filled with prostitutes,” he said. “I remember (Knapp) had to rescue backup goalie Ben Duffy because he got backed into a corner with three or four of them. Leningrad was completely different than Moscow.”

Sertich said a couple players went missing one night in Leningrad making deals with black marketeers. Moore, one of those involved, ended up meeting up with traders at an off-limits house.

“I was always trying to get one of those Russian fur hats, and I finally got one,” Moore said. “I remember walking out of there thinking, ‘Maybe this isn’t so smart.’ ”

Sertich later found out about the incident.

“I know Skeeter got to some places that he shouldn’t have been,” the coach said.

Luckily, no players caused an international embarrassment.

“One of the guys almost did, but you can’t print that one,” Maciver said. “Those couple of days, the guys had a little bit of fun. Perhaps too much fun.”

Departure difficulties

The team left Leningrad bound for Helsinki one week after first departing Boston.

Surprise, surprise, all did not go smoothly.

Going through customs at the airport was an ordeal, especially for the U.S. natives, as Soviet officials confiscated whatever they wanted.

“As a Canadian, I flew through customs,” said Watson, a Manitoba native. “It was the Americans who took about 4-1/2 hours to get through customs. I’ll never forget that, it was hilarious.”

Knapp, the team’s assistant, wasn’t laughing.

“They took me in the back room and they took my suitcase apart,” he recalled. “They cut the seams of my suitcase and literally strip-searched me. I’m going, ‘What is going on?’ What (Sertich) found out is that it is normal practice on the Soviet team that the assistant coaches are KGB agents.”

Sertich said the customs officials were in for a hearty laugh if they thought Knapp was an undercover agent.

“The Russian hockey teams when they would come over to North America, the assistant coaches were KGB so they went through (Knapp) pretty good,” Sertich said. “It was pretty humorous actually. We gave him a ton of BS. If anybody looked non-CIA, it was Jim Knapp.”

Included among the confiscations was approximately half of the videotape shot of UMD’s first game, meaning KBJR needed to improvise what it aired when everyone returned.

“When we were leaving the country through outbound customs, they kept half the tapes because they wanted to know what was on them,” Jim Rich said. “They took half the game and said they would send it to us. We’re still waiting for them to mail us that tape.”

Once through customs, the UMD entourage flew Finn Air to Helsinki and then back across the Atlantic to New York via Montreal.

The trip ended with a charter flight to Duluth, arriving before 11 p.m., leaving players time to wear their newly acquired babushka hats into the Warehouse bar in Canal Park.

No word on whether vodka was on the menu that night.

Minnesota Duluth players face off against a team from the Soviet Union during the team’s trip to Moscow and Leningrad in December 1984.

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