Category: World Championships (Page 1 of 12)

Canada three-peats!

Team Canada players celebrate with their gold medals.

By  Andrew Podnieks – IIHF.com

Brianne Jenner scored both of Canada’s goals and Ann-Renee Desbiens saved the gold in the dying seconds, giving Canada their third straight major gold with a 2-1 victory over the United States. It comes after the 2021 Women’s Worlds last August and Olympic gold in Beijing this past February.

With Nicole Hensley on the bench for a sixth sttacker for the final two and a half minutes, the Americans did everything but tie the game.

Key to the victory was a series of three saves Desbiens made on Kendall Coyne Schofield with less than half a minute to go, with her pad and then her glove. How Coyne Schofield didn’t score, and how Desbiens made those saves, will go down in World Women’s Championship lore.

“I think as a group, we came out and found a different way to win the championship,” said Canadian captain Marie-Philip Poulin. “We’re all aware we weren’t producing the numbers at the Olympics, but tonight we did it by blocking shots, killing penalties, the power play. We had to find other ways to win, and Ann-Renee made a couple of saves to get the win.”

“I think our best two games were probably the last two games that we played,” Jenner added, “and that’s what you want to do in a tournament. It wasn’t smooth, it looked a lot different than our Olympics win and our last World Championship win, but I think we’re really reassured that even when things aren’t smooth, we can find different ways to win, and we battled it out tonight.”

The Americans had won all six previous games this year and scored a tournament-best 52 goals, but tonight they were stymied by a team defence Canada brought to the ice to stifle their high-flying offence. Canada lost the preliminary-round game between the nations decisively, 5-2, but coach Troy Ryan put together a game plan that kept top scorer Taylor Heise off the score sheet, prevented all-time scorer Hilary Knight from increasing her goals total, and nullified the U.S.’s defence from contributing to the offence.

“I loved the way we played,” said incoming American coach John Wroblewski. “I thought that we came out with a game plan that we executed. Each line was valuable ini trying to wear down a veteran team that was mobile. I thought we came out and did that as diligently as we possibly could. What happened tonight, giving them three power plays in a row, was very difficult, very unfortunate. Their goalie didn’t give up a lot in terms of second opportunities. We had some unbelievable chances, only her pad on the ice. We didn’t find a way to convert those. I thought our goaltender was outstanding. There were a couple of great shots by Jenner to maybe surprise her, and that was it.”

U.S. captain Kendall Coyne Schfield echose her coach’s words. “I think played a heck of a hockey game, and we ran out of time at the end. Sometimes it goes that way, but I thought we played a great game. Not the result we deserved. I believe we’re headed in the right direction. I thought we’ve played some of our best hockey in a long time this past week in Denmark. A lot to be proud of, a lot to learn, a lot to build on to move forward as a group.”

The game started as tentatively and nervously as any between these rivals. The first period was marked by a series of scrums in the corner, but as the referees shouted, “move it!” the players on both sides were hesitant to do anything that might produce and advantage for their opponent. 

Canada could have had a lead based on the fact that they had the only two power plays, but their play with the extra skater produced no decent scoring chances in those advantageous four minutes. On the other hand, the Americans might well have scored first because Canada was guilty of countless giveaways in their own end, one blind pass after another to the middle. 

But as the saying goes, the player who makes a bad giveaway is the best defender, trying to atone for an error. And so, despite the gifted passes, the U.S. produced few good chances of their own. In the end, the opening 20 minutes produced only seven shots, five to Canada.

By far, though, the best chance was one that didn’t count as a shot. Hilary Knight made a little pass to Alex Carpenter at the Canada blue line, and she moved in and fired a hard shot off the crossbar.

Both coaches let their troops loose in the second, producing the kind of hockey fans have grown accustomed to. Scrums were fewer, and Canada cleaned up its passing. In truth, Canada dominated the period and scored two of the three goals in an eventful 20 minutes.

Early on, Sarah Nurse showed a flash of speed to get around Megan Keller, but Hensley made the important save. Brianne Jenner, who had only one goal in six games coming in, then scored both goals for Canada in quick succession. The first came when she took a nice pass off the boards from Marie-Philip Poulin and tore down the left side past Lee Stecklein, firing a low shot from a bad angle that eluded the American goalie at 9:30. 

Just 84 seconds later, Jenner was at it again. She scored on the power play from virtually the same spot, except this was a bullet snap shot high over Hensley’s glove.

“I saw a lot of traffic, and I saw that part of the net open. It happened in a split second, it was just a quick reaction,” Jenner said of what turned out to be the gold-medal-winning goal.

Sarah Fillier had a monster chance to make it 3-0, but she was stoned by Hensley and took a slashing penalty on the goalie as she made the save. A 3-0 lead would have been huge, but instead it was 2-0 with a U.S. five-on-four.

Nothing came of that, but the Americans got another power play late in the period, and on this they capitalized. Amanda Kessel found Abby Roque to the back side of the play, and Roque snapped it in with just 21 seconds left in the period, sending the teams to the dressing room with a Canadian lead but some American confidence from the late goal.

The U.S. came out to start the third with nothing but pressure, determined to tie the game. They had a great chance when Lacey Eden had the empty net and Desbiens down, but she moved the puck from backhand to forehand, and Desbiens got a pad out to make the save of the tournament.

A little later, Jincy Dunne snapped one of the crossbar, and Canada was on its heels. Desbiens mishandled a simple puck, leaving Hilary Knight with an empty net, but the goalie made the save and tripped Knight in the process, drawing a penalty. Desbiens was sensational on the ensuing power play, making three key saves.

Canada hung on the rest of the way, and Desbiens saved the day at the end. Canada wins gold.

“It never gets old being able to stand on the blue line and sing your national anthem and have a gold medal wrapped around your neck,” Sarah Nurse said, “but I think today was really special just being able to have our family there. The last few years have been hard for a lot of people, and so the fact that our families can be here in Denmark, they’re coming on the ice and celebrating with us, it’s like the icing on top of the cake. We’re very very grateful.”

Czechia wins historic bronze

Czechia women win first medal at the worlds.

By  Andrew Podnieks – IIHF.com

Czechia was the more determined team, the more energetic, more emotional, and on this day more skilled team, defeating Switzerland 4-2 to win their first ever medal in Women’s World Championship play. Indeed, the Czechs have played in only six of 21 WW tournaments, never finishing higher than sixth.

They beat a Swiss team that has been plagued by injuries and absences, and today again coach Colin Muller was able to dress only 17 healthy players. The team simply couldn’t muster the offence, and while Czechia won the game because the scoreboard showed they had more goals, they really won with a masterful defensive performance, allowing the Swiss nearly nothing in front of goalie Klara Peslarova.

“In the third they, pushed us, and they should,” winning coach Carla MacLeod said of the Swiss. “They’re a great team and worked hard to even it up. But we’ve got great goaltending in our program, and that’s the foundation of building out. And our group didn’t waver. We understand who we are, what our game style is. I’m really proud of this group for staying the course throughout the tournament.”

Natalie Mlynkova had two goals for the victors and goalie Klara Peslarova stopped 18 of 20 shots for the win.

“They started the game better, and we only played 30 minutes,” offered losing captain Lara Stalder. “I thought the last 30 we finally woke up and played with the puck. Before, it was a big mess. It’s disappointment right now. I’m so proud of how the team battled when I was out, playing with basically three lines. With a full lineup, who knows, but there are a lot of what ifs.”

“I was just telling the girls we were at the first U18 championship in Calgary, and we got bronze and on the plane coming home we were saying it will probably never happen on the senior team. And now, 14 years later, it’s amazing. We’ve put in so much work, and this is the result. It’s finally paid off. It’s well deserved.”

The Czechs came out and proved the superior team, showing creativity in the offensive end and hemming the Swiss in on many occasions. They created turnovers and were had on the puck carrier, sending shots on net at every opportunity. The Swiss did a good job of blocking some of those, but Andrea Braendli was also forced to make several good saves along the way.

Czechia opened the scoring at 7:03 on the power play. Katerina Mrazova teed the puck up nicely at the point for Mlynkova, who let go a low, hard shot that found the back of the net.

The Swiss replied in kind four minutes later, however. Alina Marti let go a one-timer set up by Lara Christen, who was back in the lineup after leaving the semi-finals against Canada midway through with an injury and played a team high 26:33 today. Marti’s goal was the team’s first shot of the period, and it came at 11:19. 

Czechia found itself short-handed later in the period but did a good job of killing that off and generating a goal off that PK. Daniela Pejsova was serving the penalty, which expired just as her teammates gained possession deep in their end. Dominka Laskova fired a long pass to Pejsova as she came out of the penalty box, and she waltzed in on goal and scored on a nice deke. 

The Czechs put on a dominating performance in the middle period, scoring the only two goals and allowing a mere four, mostly peripheral shots. They made it 3-1 at 2:06 when a point shot hit a cluster of bodies in front and Vendula Pribylova was there to smack in the rebound.

Eight minutes later they added to their tally on a patient play from Mlynkova, who circled with the puck in the high slot before firing a shot through a screen that beat Branedli to the stick side.

The Swiss had a couple of early power plays in the third and capitalized on the second. Nicole Vallario snapped a shot through traffic at 9:11 to make it a 4-2 game, but just before she scored Braendli made a sensational toe save off Mlynkova, who had a short-handed breakaway.

The Swiss got stronger in the third, but Czechia hung on, playing solid defence, getting in the way of shots and passes, and using their emotion to keep their tempo. Muller pulled Braendli with two and a half minutes left, but nothing came of the extra skater. Switzerland goes home battered and bruised, and fourth, while Czechia celebrates an historic medal in their hockey program.

2022 Women’s Worlds preview

Czechia and host Denmark are two of the 10 countries competing at the 2022 IIHF Women’s World Championship, each bringing their own hopes and dreams.

By Lucas Aykroyd – IIHF.com

In 2022, international women’s hockey fans are blessed with a banquet of tournaments. It’s the first time the IIHF Ice Hockey Women’s World Championship has ever been held in an Olympic year, as the sport continues to grow with more than 40 countries in the IIHF Women’s World Ranking.

Excitingly, it’s also the first time the tournament has ever taken place in Denmark. Fans of the men’s IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship will recall the fantastic atmosphere when it debuted in the Nordic nation of 5.8 million in 2018. That year, the Danish hockey hotbed of Herning co-hosted with the capital city of Copenhagen. This year, it’s the turn of Frederikshavn, located on Jutland’s northeast coast, to welcome the world along with Herning.

So which of the 10 women’s national teams are set to shine most brightly in the 31 games staged between 25 August and 4 September? Let’s take a closer look. Teams are listed in alphabetical order in their preliminary round groups.

Group A (Herning)

Canada

“How do you stop Canada?” That’s the question every other Group A team is asking – along with Canada’s potential quarter-final opponents from Group B.

The Canadians come in as the reigning Olympic and Women’s Worlds champions. Since installing Troy Ryan as head coach, they have won 14 consecutive IIHF games, including 13 in regulation and the 3-2 gold-medal overtime win over the archrival Americans at the 2021 Women’s Worlds in Calgary. At the 2022 Olympics in Beijing, their goal difference (57-10) was even more devastating than in Calgary (34-7). Playing the proverbial 200-foot-game with speed, skill, and physicality, they are setting the standard in every department.

For another nation, the absence of forwards like 2018 Olympic and 2021 Women’s Worlds MVP Melodie Daoust, perennial all-star candidate Natalie Spooner, and three-time Olympic gold medalist Rebecca Johnston would be a crushing blow. Yet with captain Marie-Philip Poulin leading the way in superstar form at age 31, Canada is unlikely to suffer offensively. One of the few non-PWHPA players on the roster, 22-year-old Sarah Fillier (Princeton), is already being touted as the successor to “Pou.” And with Olympic scoring champ Sarah Nurse (5+13=18) and tournament MVP Brianne Jenner (9+5=14), they’ve got all the veteran savvy you could ask for.

Factor in arguably the world’s top current starting goalie in Ann-Renee Desbiens (1.80 GAA, 94.0 save percentage in Beijing) and hard-rock veteran defenders like Jocelyne Larocque and Renata Fast, and opponents should struggle almost as much to score on Canada as to keep pucks out of their own net. Claire Thompson had a spectacular Olympic debut with a single-tournament points record for blueliners (2+11=13), and her non-participation could mean a slight reduction of offence from the back end, but that’s about it. A little more sandpaper, a little less silk. It’s still gold or bust.

Finland

Pasi Mustonen, Finland’s head coach since 2015, handed over the reins to Juuso Toivola after one game at the 2022 Olympics due to a family health emergency. Well before that, Mustonen spoke repeatedly about how it had taken years to build the right blend of veteran experience and skill to produce the historic silver-medal Cinderella at the 2019 Women’s Worlds in Espoo.

Under Toivola, the Finns remain in a rebuilding phase, but are still the perennial third-place favourites. That’s where Suomi sits in the IIHF Women’s World Ranking. They claimed the bronze medal at the last Women’s Worlds and Olympics.

Secondary scoring is the primary concern. In both Calgary and Beijing, Finland’s top three scorers came from the top line of Petra Nieminen, Susanna Tapani, and Michelle Karvinen. To challenge the Canadians or Americans, especially 5-on-5, a real breakout tournament for 20-year-old attackers like perennial Naisten Liiga scoring leader Elisa Holopainen or Viivi Vainikka, a two-time SDHL champion with Lulea, would go a long way. The slippery Sanni Vanhanen, 17, is coming off a tournament all-star berth with the bronze Finnish squad at June’s U18 Women’s Worlds in Wisconsin.

Having the most individually decorated blueliner in IIHF women’s history in tireless captain Jenni Hiirikoski, 35, is an asset that speaks for itself. Nelli Laitinen, 20, took another big step forward in production as she led all Finnish rearguards in Olympic scoring (2+5=7). And Hiirikoski’s Lulea teammate Ronja Savolainen remains one of the biggest presences in European hockey. That said, the depth overall isn’t quite there compared to the North Americans.

However, with the skill and focus of starting netminder Anni Keisala – Best Goalie at the 2021 Women’s Worlds – between the pipes, the Finns should take anything other than another bronze as unacceptable.

Japan

In many respects, Japanese women’s hockey is cresting at the moment. Sixth-place finishes at both the 2021 Women’s Worlds and 2022 Olympics were high-water marks for the national team. Recently, Japan has defeated rivals like Czechia, Germany, and Sweden. With the Russians disqualified from international competition, the well-drilled Japanese under head coach Yuji Iizuka now get to apply their grit and skills in Group A. How will they fare?

Japan’s ability to deliver a full 60 minutes is never in doubt. However, this roster features some major changes from Beijing as we head into a new Olympic quad cycle.

Goaltender Nana Fujimoto, the backbone of the team whose top-level Women’s Worlds debut came in 2008, isn’t on this roster. That could place a big burden on 27-year-old Akane Konishi, who saw Olympic action in the 6-2 win over Denmark and 7-1 quarter-final loss to Finland. The soon-to-be Vanersborgs HC netminder had only ever appeared in one game at most in her prior IIHF competitions, dating back to the 2014 Olympics.

Long-time captain Chiho Osawa, 30, announced her retirement at the start of August. From Rui Ukita, a long-time offensive threat, to Hanae Kubo, the 39-year-old who is as close to Finland’s ageless wonder Riika Sallinen as Japan’s ever had, the forward group also lacks some key names. So it’s a chance for younger players to step up.

Forward Haruka Toko, 25, led the Olympic team in scoring (3+3=6) and is poised to make her SDHL debut with Linkopings HC in 2022-23. Akane Shiga, 21, has definite game-breaker potential. She led Japan with four goals at the last Women’s Worlds, including both markers when her team fell 10-2 to the Americans in the quarter-finals. She also had Japan’s lone goal in the Olympic quarter-final.

Meanwhile, the defence corps will lean on the experience and leadership of two-time Olympians like Shiga’s big sister, 23-year-old Aoi Shiga, and Akane Hosoyamada, who is 30. However, up and down the roster, there will be a learning curve for the many new faces, and for Japan to upset any of its Group A foes will be a big challenge.

Switzerland

In one respect, the Swiss women’s national team has a problem similar to that facing the Edmonton Oilers. Both teams have two elite, world-class forwards – Switzerland’s Alina Muller and Lara Stalder and Edmonton’s Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl – and then a fairly steep drop-off up front.

Producing offence has thus been a challenge for the Swiss. When Muller got knocked out of the 2021 Women’s Worlds with an injury after scoring Switzerland’s lone goal in a 3-1 opening loss to the Russians, Switzerland miraculously scraped out a fourth-place finish – despite totalling just five goals in the entire tournament. That reflects the value of Muller, a 24-year-old Patty Kazmaier Award finalist from Northeastern University, who helped Switzerland win an historic 2014 Olympic bronze medal at age 15. She has excelled with 10 points at both of the last two Winter Games. 

Another fourth-place finish followed in Beijing. Stalder – a 28-year-old sniper who has won three straight SDHL scoring titles with Brynas Gavle – got the winner when Switzerland shocked Finland 3-2 in the group, and then Muller led the way with a pair in the 4-2 quarter-final win over ROC.

Realistically, if these two aces aren’t going, the Swiss are going nowhere in Group A. Hopes are high for offensive support from Alini Marti, 18, entering her second Women’s Worlds as a Swiss champ with ZSC Lions Frauen and coming off seven points in seven games at June’s U18 Women’s Worlds in Wisconsin. If fellow forward Evelina Raselli, 30, can rediscover the touch that got her four points at the 2018 Olympics, that’d be a nice bonus.

On defence, Lara Christen, a 19-year-old ZSC Lions Frauen member who potted three points in Beijing, shows good promise. But in any scenario, starting goalie Andrea Braendli, 25, is likely to be extremely busy again. The long-time Ohio State star, who heads to Boston University next year, faced a tournament-high 242 shots in Beijing.

If Braendli isn’t lights-out, the Swiss could find themselves tangling with Japan to avoid fifth place in Group A rather than vying for another bronze medal. Their only other IIHF bronze came at the 2012 Women’s Worlds with the legendary Florence Schelling between the pipes.

United States

For the Americans, these Women’s Worlds in Denmark are an opportunity for a big reset. At this writing a year ago, the U.S. was still the reigning Olympic and world champion. That, of course, included a long COVID-19-imposed pause, given that the 2020 Women’s Worlds in Nova Scotia were cancelled and the 2021 sequel slated for that spring was postponed.

Regardless, it’s safe to say that the core leadership group with captain Kendall Coyne Schofield, all-time U.S. leading scorer Hilary Knight, and three-time Olympic defender Lee Stecklein didn’t expect to find themselves as clear silver-medal favourites in 2022.

Make no mistake: these are all great warriors, along with sniper Alex Carpenter and playmaker Amanda Kessel. But as they push or pass age 30, what they can provide is likely to stabilize at best or start to decline. For the U.S to grab its crown back from Canada, it’s essential for younger players to start driving the bus.

In Calgary and Beijing, former head coach Joel Johnson got criticism for limiting the minutes of budding stars like defenders Jincy Dunne (25) and Caroline Harvey (19) and forwards Grace Zumwinkle (23) and Abby Roque (24). Each has shown flashes of “best in the world” potential.

That trend appears likely to change under Johnson’s replacement, John Wroblewski. A newcomer to women’s hockey, he oversaw the 2001-born U.S. National Team Development Program class that featured NHL-bound uber-talents like Jack Hughes, Cole Caufield, and Trevor Zegras. Expect a return to the confident, creativity-driven style that propelled the Americans to five straight world titles and the 2018 Olympic gold medal between 2013 and 2019.

The goaltending trio of Nicole Hensley, Maddie Rooney, and Aerin Frankel gives Wroblewski plenty of strong options versus Canada and the Finns. But until proven otherwise, the Americans are 1B, not 1A, for now.

Group B (Frederikshavn)

Czechia

Under new head coach Carla MacLeod, the Czechs are looking to max out the potential they didn’t quite achieve under her predecessor Tomas Pacina. With back-to-back seventh-place results at the 2021 Women’s Worlds and 2022 Olympics, which marked their Winter Games debut, they fell short of their peak (sixth at the 2016 and 2019 Women’s Worlds).

Czechia is blessed with undeniable offensive skills. It ranges from the powerful shot of long-time captain Alena Mills to the playmaking of former SDHL MVP Katerina Mrazova to the slick dangles and snipes of Tereza Vanisova, a two-time Isobel Cup winner with the Boston Pride who led the 2022 Olympic team in scoring (2+4=6). When the Czechs play a strong puck possession game and trust their offensive instincts, they’re formidable. But they have shown vulnerability at inopportune times, like losing 3-2 to both Denmark and Japan (in a shootout) in Beijing.

MacLeod – a two-time Canadian Olympic gold medalist (2006, 2010) who also helped jumpstart Japan’s program in the 2010s and now coaches the University of Calgary – could help Czechia finally stage a quarter-final upset. The 40-year-old former defender brings a positive outlook and strong analytical and communication skills.

Much will hinge on whether star goalie Klara Peslarova is dialled in again. The 25-year-old Ostrava native (Brynas Gavle) was named a 2022 Olympic all-star (1.60 GAA, 94.4 save percentage), largely thanks to her superhuman quarter-final outing versus the Americans with 55 saves in a 4-1 defeat.

Denmark

Denmark’s primary goal is simple: avoid relegation. That’s about the worst thing that can happen for a host nation. At the men’s Worlds, it’s only happened once in the 21st century (Austria, 2005).

Happily, the Danish women’s confidence got a big boost in their Olympic debut. After going winless at the 2021 Women’s Worlds in their first appearance since 1992, they shocked Czechia 3-2 in Beijing. Silke Glud’s early third-period power play goal snapped the tie.

For new head coach Bjorn Edlund (ex-MODO Ornskoldsvik), the key players remain the same and are largely Sweden-based. Along with Glud (Malmo Redhawks), veteran captain Josefine Jakobsen (Djurgarden) and Josefine Hoegh Persson (Lulea) lead the attack, while Josephine Asperup (Malmo Redhawks) brings veteran know-how on the back end.

Goaltender Cassandra Repstock-Romme (Hvidovre IK) will be under siege again. But if the Danes can simply put on a good show or even nab a surprising quarter-final spot, it’ll be a huge selling point for women’s hockey in a country whose passion for the men’s game has grown recently with stars like Nikolaj Ehlers, Lars Eller, and Oliver Bjorkstrand.

Right now, the spotlight is deservedly on the female game, with more than 20 Danish journalists accredited to cover these Women’s Worlds alongside their international counterparts. May the excitement build on and off the ice as we get going in Herning and Frederikshavn!

Germany

Talk about a family feeling in the dressing room. As well as the veteran Eisenschmid sisters (Tanja on defence, Nicola at forward), the Germans will ice a pair of twins who’ll suit up for the University of Maine this fall after finishing 1-2 in club scoring for Mad Dogs Mannheim in the Frauen Bundesliga last year: Lilli and Luisa Welcke.

Head coach Thomas Schadler needs this group to become a family quickly and bring a full defensive effort if Germany is to reverse its recent decline. It’s gone from a fourth-place Women’s Worlds peak in 2017 to a disappointing eighth place in 2021.

In Calgary, Katarina Jobst-Smith – born in North Vancouver like Connor Bedard – was a pillar on defence, averaging a team-high ice time of 23:31. Forward Nina Christof, still just 19, set the right tone in the opening 3-0 win over Hungary with a pair of goals.

The Germans aren’t close to challenging for a medal, as shown by a 7-0 quarter-final loss to Canada in which they were outshot 52-3. But returning to the quarter-finals is doable if they get decent goaltending and offence by committee.

Hungary

The Hungarians return for their second straight year in the elite division, and they’re keen to make more history. Hungary’s recipe for success remains similar to its 2021 debut in Calgary.

First, get quality netminding from starter Aniko Nemeth, who posted a 2.67 GAA and 87.9 save percentage last year. Second, ride the offensive contributions of dipsy-doodler Fanni Gasparics, who led the Magyars in Calgary (4+1=5), and her linemate Kinga Jokai-Szilagyi (1+3=4), plus Alexandra Huszak, a 27-year-old with a shoot-first mentality: she accumulated 101 goals in 125 games over four seasons in Russia. Third, get solid defending from veteran blueliners like Franciska Kiss-Simon and Sarah Knee and hope for the best.

New head coach Pat Cortina brings a remarkable breadth of experience. Since 2001, the 57-year-old Montreal native coached Italy, Germany, and Hungary at the men’s Worlds. The addition of Delaney Collins as an assistant coach further boosts Hungary’s hopes. Collins was an all-star defender for Canada at the 2007 Women’s Worlds in Winnipeg, where she won one of her three WW gold medals. The female hockey ambassador for the Nashville Predators also served as a head or assistant coach with three Canadian U18 Women’s Worlds teams.

The Hungarians have enough flair to give other Group B teams headaches and keep themselves afloat. Certainly, their 5-1 win in Calgary over 2022 host Denmark sent a strong message. But relegation is also a possibility for this group.

Sweden

Returning to the elite division of the Women’s Worlds is a relief for Sweden, last sighted here in 2019. However, a return to the glory days of the mid-2000s – including the surprise 2006 Olympic silver medal in Turin – is still a ways off. The Swedes qualified for Beijing, but started off with a tough 3-1 loss to Japan and exited with an 11-0 quarter-final shellacking against Canada.

For head coach Ulf Lundberg, getting big performances out of the University of Minnesota’s star goalie Emma Soderberg and incoming ace Josefine Bouveng – twice a 24-goal-scorer with Brynas Gavle – would make a big difference.

The blue line is anchored by Maja Nylen Persson, already a two-time Olympian at age 21. She had a career-best 47 points with Brynas last year. Another intriguing prodigy to watch is Mira Jungaker. Barely 17, she led HV71’s SDHL rearguards with 35 points in 2021-22 and is a real go-getter, as she showed with three points in three playoff games at June’s U18 Women’s Worlds.

With that said, the decision to exclude seasoned veterans like goalie Sara Grahn and forward Emma Nordin – Sweden’s Olympic flag-bearer at the Beijing opening ceremonies – may pay dividends in terms of giving youngsters valuable experience, but hurt in the immediate term.

The Swedes have a shot at a quarter-final berth. Yet they can’t take anything for granted, or they could find themselves staring down relegation again.

Querétaro will host the Under 20 World Championship

By Victor Terron – Noticias de Queretaro

Everything is ready for Querétaro to host the Under 20 Division III Ice Hockey World Championship from July 22 to 30, which will feature the participation of 8 countries that will compete for the crown at Lakeside Ice Park Juriquilla, unique in the country. with the official measurements of the National Hockey League (NHL).

In addition to Mexico, the host country, the nations that will meet at this World Championships are: Australia, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Chinese Taipei, Israel, Kyrgyzstan, South Africa and Turkey; highlighting that 4 athletes from Queretaro are summoned in the Mexican team: Emmanuel Santiago, Eduardo Valencia, Luis Valencia and Daniel Valencia.

“We are ready to give the best possible result in this World Cup, rest assured that we will give our best effort to raise the name of our country”, assured the young man from Queretaro, Emmanuel Santiago.

During the official presentation of the tournament, Edward Sánchez del Río, general director of the Institute of Sport and Recreation of the State of Querétaro, stated that being able to develop a competition of this level in the entity is due to the joint work with the private initiative.

“We recognize in an important way the people from Querétaro who will be participating, they are a reality of our current sport and an inspiration for several generations, when we have people from Querétaro as part of the teams, that enriches the events that take place in Querétaro”, he declared.

For her part, Aline Forat, general manager of Likeside Icepark Juriquilla, highlighted the benefits of practicing this sport, while inviting the general public to cheer on the National Team. Ticket sales will start on July 20 at the venue.

“Going up to Querétaro in sports is the best thing we can do, for the children, give them other options. Many children had a hard time during the pandemic and those who play hockey continued to skate in the street and now that they do it on ice, it changed their lives. I invite everyone  to come to the games and get to know the sport, you’re going to love it”.

Next Friday, July 22, the actions of this World Championships will start, the inauguration will take place at 8:00 p.m. and later the duel will take place between Mexico and Chinese Taipei, in the following days they will face Kyrgyzstan and Israel, respectively, in Group A activity; highlighting that the medal round will be played from Wednesday 27th.

Finland does it!

Finland’s Joel Armia scores the 3-1 goal in the gold medal game against Canada.

By Andrew Podnieks – IIHF.com

Sakari Manninen scored at 6:42 of the three-on-three unlimited overtime with a one-timer on a power play to give Finland a thrilling 4-3 win over Canada to win World Championship gold.

It’s the first medal on home ice in nine tries for Finland, and they join Sweden in 2006 as the only teams to win Olympic gold and World Championship gold in the same year. The double means that Valtteri Filppula becomes the first Finn to join the Triple Gold Club, the 30th member overall.

Finland scored three goals in the third period to erase a 1-0 Canada lead, but Canada responded with two late goals to send the game to overtime. 

This marks a continuation of the most successful period in international hockey history for Finland, which has now won gold or silver in the last four major events – gold at the 2019 Worlds, silver in 2021, gold at the Olympics three months ago, and now gold at the 2022 Worlds. Goalkeeper Jussi Olkinuora, tournament MVP here, and skaters Marko Anttila and Atte Ohtamaa have been on all four teams.

Canada has now won either gold or silver in six of the last seven World Championships (excepting 2018).

Max Comtois is the only returnee from last year’s gold-medal team, but Thomas Chabot and Pierre-Luc Dubois were part of Canada’s 2019 entry, which lost to the Finns in the gold-medal game. 

This was only the second World Championship game ever in Tampere between the two teams. The first was way back in 1965, a 4-0 Canada win when the tournament was strictly a round-robin event.

After Finland took a 3-1 lead with only six minutes to go, matters looked dire for Canada, but as they so often do, they fought back with two goals in the final two minutes.

It was clear from the outset what Canada’s plan was – dump the puck in and make the Finnish defenders chase it and work to get possession. Time and again, though, Canada roared in to get the puck, and although the period was scoreless the tempo and tone were dictated heavily by Canada’s pressure and willingness to use the body.

The home crowd chanted and clapped for their heroes time and again, but there wasn’t a lot to cheer for in the first 20 minutes. The few Finnish shots all had a familiar look to them – long range, right into the logo of Chris Dreidger, who swallowed every puck without giving up a rebound.

The best chance of the period came off pressure from Canada. Saku Maenalanen was slow with the puck inside his line, and he was checked by Matt Barzal, who got the puck to Josh Anderson, trailing the play. Anderson let go a quality shot from the slot, but Olkinuora got his right pad out to make the save.

Canada opened the scoring early in the second on the game’s first power play. With Niklas Friman in the box for hooking, Canada moved the puck around nicely to set up Dylan Cozens with a one-timer. He made no mistake, slapping a cross-ice pass from Barzal high to the open side before Olkinuora could get over. 

The Finns earned a power play of their own later, and although they produced several good chances Dreidger was sensational in goal, kicking out one dangerous shot and smothering several other chances. Suomi had their best chance late in the period when Jere Sallinen hit the post.

After 40 minutes, tight defence, and one goal, no one could have envisioned a third period with five goals. Canada incurred not one, not two, but three overlapping penalties to start, and Finland cashed in big time. Mikael Granlund scored two goals in a span of 1:44, the first with a two-man advantage, and then one man, sending the crowd into a frenzy of delight. His first was a quick shot from the left side, and the second from the other side.

Making matters worse for Canada, Dreidger, who had played so well the last few games, injured himself trying to make the save on Granlund’s first shot. Matt Tomkins, who hadn’t played all tournament, was forced to come in. He surrendered the second power-play goal, a high shot over his glove.

The Finns went up 3-1 at 14:04 off a faceoff win. Joel Armia got to the puck first and wristed a quick shot through traffic that eluded Tomkins. And that seemed to be that. Two-goals lead, six minutes to play.

Canada had other ideas, though. They pressured Finland and got back in it when Zach Whitecloud drew Canada to within one with 2:12 remaining when he snapped a shot in. Tomkins came to the bench after the next faceoff, and Canada took possession immediately. After cycling and passing the puck superbly, Comtois tied the game at 18:36, silencing the crowd and sending the game to a fourth period, where Manninen made himself a part of IIHF World Championship history.

Media All-Star Team

Goalkeeper: FINLAND #45 OLKINUORA Jussi
Defender: FINLAND #4 LEHTONEN Mikko
Defender: USA #4 SETH Jones
Forward: CZECHIA #10 CERVENKA Roman
Forward: CANADA #80 DUBOIS Pierre-Luc
Forward: FINLAND #65 MANNINEN Sakari

Directorate Awards

Best Goalkeeper: FINLAND #45 OLKINUORA Jussi
Best Defender: FINLAND #4 LEHTONEN Mikko
Best Forward: CZECHIA #10 CERVENKA Roman

MVP

FINLAND #45 OLKINUORA Jussi

Czechs rally to thump U.S. for bronze

The Czech men’s national team celebrates after a come-from-behind win against the United States in the bronze medal game.

By Lucas Aykroyd – IIHF.com

The long wait is over. The Czechs exploded for six third-period goals in an 8-4 comeback win over the U.S. in the bronze medal game on Sunday afternoon. It’s Czechia’s first IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship medal since 2012’s bronze.

“It’s good for us, a bronze medal after 10 years,” said an ecstatic David Sklenicka. “It’s amazing for us, it’s unbelievable!”

Boston Bruins superstar David Pastrnak led the third-period rally with a hat trick and David Kampf scored twice. Captain Roman Cervenka got his fifth goal to extend his lead atop the tournament scoring race with 17 points. Jiri Cernoch and Jiri Smejkal also tallied for the Czechs, who trailed 2-0 and 3-1 in the first period.

The relief and happiness for Czech players, coaches, management, and fans is huge. The Central European nation’s 2012 bronze medal also came on Finnish ice in Helsinki. David Krejci, then 26, scored a first-period goal set up by Ales Hemsky that stood up as the winner as Czechia edged Finland 3-2.

“It’s going to be a big thing for [Czechia] and for the young kids who want to play hockey,” said Kari Jalonen, Czechia’s Finnish head coach. “These players are their idols and now they see them win this medal at a World Championship. Hopefully this will give a big push for the juniors too.”

With just seven games played, Pastrnak now shares the 2022 goals lead (seven) with Pierre-Luc Dubois ahead of the Finland-Canada gold medal game.

For the disappointed Americans, Karlson Kuhlman had a pair of first-period goals, and Adam Gaudette added his team-leading sixth goal.

The Americans earned four bronze medals at the last eight tournaments (2013, 2015, 2018, 2021), and have six in total since the IIHF instituted the playoff system in 1992. However, they have never played in the gold medal game, and last won the World Championship tournament in 1933.

It was a gritty effort, as the Americans again played with just four regular defencemen: captain Seth Jones, Nate Schmidt, Andrew Peeke, and Luke Hughes. The U.S. blue line has been decimated by injuries, COVID-19 issues, and departures due to family issues.

“I’m tired,” said Schmidt. “These last four days we were down to four defencemen, and it was tiring. We had a couple forwards come and help us out, which isn’t an easy thing to do, especially on the world stage with some of the best players in the world and playing a position you’re not used to. I don’t envy that position.”

“It was a learning experience,” added Sam Lafferty, who filled in on defence. “It felt pretty comfortable overall but the team needed me to play defence, so I was able to play D.”

Shots on goal favoured the Czechs 33-24.

Jalonen and U.S. coach David Quinn each started the NHL netminders that got them this far. However, Jalonen pulled Karel Vejmelka of the Arizona Coyotes after he let in three first-period goals on eight shots.

Substituting backup Marek Langhamer to start the second period paid off. Langhamer, who plays in Tampere for Ilves, looked comfortable and confident and was named the Czech Player of the Game, allowing just one goal on 16 shots.

Bruins netminder Jeremy Swayman, who backstopped the U.S. to within one goal of the final in the 4-3 semi-final loss to host Finland, recorded 25 saves.

This was the most goals ever scored by the Czechs versus the U.S. at the Worlds in the era of Czechia. Czechoslovakia beat the U.S. 11-2 in both 1981 and 1985.

“It got out of hand a little bit,” said Jones. “Going 3-2 into the third period, we were in a good spot. We’re not where we wanted to be. We gave up six goals in the third period. Obviously it happened against a high-score offence.”

The Americans opened the scoring at 9:33, profiting from a fortunate bounce. Off a faceoff in the Czech end, Andrew Peeke’s shot from the blue line deflected off the skate of defender Michael Kempny, enabling Kuhlman to put the puck into the open side.

At 12:14, Gaudette gave the U.S. a 2-0 lead on the power play. T.J. Tynan fed Matthew Boldy down low and he centred it to the Ottawa Senators forward, who fired it home. It was a mirror image of the late third-period goal Gaudette scored against Finland.

Swayman stopped Matej Blumel on a partial break with under seven minutes left in the first period. But the Czechs persevered and cut the gap to 2-1. Jakub Flek came out of the corner with the puck and fed Cernoch, who took the puck off his skate and fired it through Swayman’s five-hole despite being surrounded by three U.S. checkers.

Showing great anticipation, Kuhlman scored shorthanded with just 13 seconds left in the opening frame. The U.S. broke out of its zone, and after Kuhlman pivoted to send a backhanded pass to Sam Lafferty, he hustled to the net to convert a subsequent feed from Nate Schmidt.

Kuhlman, a fourth-year NHLer who was acquired by the Seattle Kraken off waivers from the Boston Bruins, isn’t known as a big scorer. The former University of Minnesota-Duluth captain had just two assists in his nine previous games in Finland. In 100 career NHL games, Kuhlman has nine goals and 14 assists. Unfortunately, his hot first period was as good as it got for America.

At 12:12 of the second period, the Czechs made it a one-goal game. Sklenicka’s release from the left point hit Peeke in front, and as the U.S. rearguard struggled to find the puck at his feet, Smejkal banged the rebound past a surprised Swayman.

“Thank God our goal came there,” said Smejkal. “That really helped us going into the third that we were down by just one goal.”

The third period was wild. Just 51 seconds in, the Czechs drew even at 3-3. Peeke tried to clear the puck out on the right wall, but it barely got over the blue line, where Tomas Hertl and the linesman stood. Herlt got the puck to Pastrnak and he swooped into the faceoff circle to score on a quick release, using Peeke as his decoy.

“We switched the lines a little bit,” Hertl said. “Me and Pasta, we played together a couple of times in summer hockey, so we found some chemistry and scored some goals. I know he’s one of the best goal-scorers in the NHL, so I just tried to find him and he can did the rest. It worked out and I’m just happy we won.”

At 2:29, Cervenka gave Czechia its first lead of the game. Off a draw in the U.S. end, Krejci won it back to the Czech captain and he zipped it past Swayman’s glove before the netminder could budge.

“After the second period we said in the locker room that we have 20 minutes and we have to put it all in,” Cervenka said. “We scored in the beginning of the third and one goal came after another. We controlled the game and were better and faster and we made it.”

Truly, smelling blood, the Czechs kept coming. They got the U.S. goalie moving side to side, and Michal Jordan found Pastrnak right in front for the 5-3 marker.

With 5:18 left in the third period, Swayman stretched out to stop Smejkal’s backhand deke on a shorthanded breakaway, but couldn’t prevent Kampf from gobbling up the rebound for Czechia’s sixth goal.

Kampf put the icing on the cake with an empty-netter at 18:08 as the Czechs rejoiced. Bordeleau spoiled Langhamer’s unblemished performance 33 seconds later, but it hardly mattered.

“We were close to closing the tournament out in the right way and 20 minutes is what did us in,” Schmidt said.

At 19:23, Pastrnak, set up by Hertl, completed his hat trick with a wicked power play one-timer, and ball caps were tossed on the ice. At the final buzzer, Jalonen’s team flocked together behind the net to hop up and down with glee.

Jalonen received a big round of applause from the Finnish fans as he received his bronze medal from IIHF President Luc Tardif. Jalonen coached Finland to the silver medal at the 2016 Worlds in Moscow.

The Czechs have not won the gold medal since shocking a stacked Russian roster 2-1 in Cologne in 2010. So they’ll now put gold on their must-do list when they take part in the 2023 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship (Tampere and Riga).

“I hope this can help us a lot for next season, and we can come back and earn the gold medal next year,” said Sklenicka.

Icelandic women win thriller

The Icelandic players celebrate with their gold medals and trophy after winning the 2022 IIHF Ice Hockey Women’s World Championship Division II Group B in a nailbiter of a game against Australia.

By Henrik Manninen – IIHF.com

Iceland kept a cool head to win gold by the tiniest of margins at the 2022 IIHF Ice Hockey Women´s World Championship Division II Group B in Zagreb, Croatia.

Team captain Silvia Bjorgvinsdottir led by example by scoring the shootout winner to give Iceland a 2-1 victory over Australia. Her coolly dispatched backhand high past Australia’s netminder Olivia Last seals top spot for the Scandinavians. The Icelandic team captain was the sole skater to convert in a nailbiter of a shootout contest lasting six rounds.

“We have been working so hard for the past three or four years for this moment. I am so proud of all the girls on the team, and I think that we deserved it this year,” said the 22-year-old following an afternoon of high drama inside Zagreb’s Velesajam Ice Rink.

A vital cog in the Icelanders’ memorable promotion success was also netminder Birta Helgudottir, who kept all of Australia’s half-a-dozen penalty shots out of her net. Helgudottir and Silvia Bjorgvinsdottir were selected as the tournament’s best goalkeeper and forward respectively by the Directorate.

“It was a very important win for us in a game where the difference between the teams was small in details but huge by going up a division. Everyone contributed as we rolled four lines for most of the game so for me the win came from a team effort,” said Iceland head coach Jon Gislason.

“Our focus was to grow fast as the tournament went on and save the best for last and that worked out for us this time. I felt we improved our puck game throughout the tournament and we had to work hard for any possession against a strong forechecking Australian team that I feel belongs in the group above. But I think we do as well and ahead of next year with good preparation I believe we can play good games and compete for a win against any team in Division IIA,” he said.

The win sees Iceland promote to skate at the 2023 IIHF Ice Hockey Women’s World Championship Division II Group A. It also marks the highest overall position Iceland’s women’s national team has been at since entering World Championship play in 2005.

“Huge compliments to our girls who have worked very hard for this for many years and also to all our former players who have made this all possible. Our new generation of players are bringing new skills to our program while our veteran players guide them well and share their experience to take this team to new levels,” said Gislason, who as a player himself was an influential member of the Icelandic men’s national team, who back then punched well above their weight.

In Zagreb, Iceland had gotten the tournament underway by scoring double-digits in a 10-1 win against South Africa. A tougher nut to crack came against eventual bronze-medallists Turkey in game two as Sunna Bjorgvinsdottir scored the winner early in the third period in a 3-2 victory. An 11-1 blowout against Croatia then set them up in a winner-takes-it-all game for gold against Australia on the final day.

In a see-saw battle in Velesajam Ice rink, Australia started the brightest, but as the period wore on Iceland worked themselves into the game, winning the shots 10-6 during a goalless first frame.

Iceland’s men’s national team won gold as recently as last month at the 2022 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship Division II Group B. Now eager to emulate their success, the women’s team came one step closer during the second period against Australia.

Despite being outshot the Scandinavians broke the deadlock with 2:23 left of the second period. From her position along the boards Silvia Bjorgvinsdottir picked out Teresa Snorradottir whose shot from the point was saved by Last before Sunna Bjorgvinsdottir reacted quickest on the rebound to score Iceland’s opener.

Australia’s men’s team had withdrawn from World Championship play contested last month at this very same venue. With the women’s team now being able to return to the world stage as first team from Down Under in two years, the “Mighty Jills” were eager to make up for lost time.

They were level at 7:31 of the third peirod. Iceland’s Sunna Bjorgvinsdottir failed to control the puck in her defensive zone, it was snapped up by the lighting quick Kristelle van der Wolf. From her position in the slot between the two face-off circles, she unleashed a wrister between the pads of Helgudottir to tie things up.

With the game appearing now appearing to tilt over into Australia’s favour, 60 minutes of regular time were unable to separate the two evenly matched teams. With overtime and three-on-three taking over, it appeared to suit the pacy Australians better. They outshot Iceland 7-2 but failed to find a way to get the puck behind Helgudottir in the Icelandic net.

“I felt our speed and skating ability was a little bit better than theirs. However, they were able to skate with us during that time and outmuscle us during the 3-on-3. Even though we had a lot of the play at their end, we had a few high scoring chances but we were just unable to put the puck into the back of the net,” said Australia’s head coach Stuart Philps.

Throughout the tournament, Last of Finland’s RoKi Rovaniemi played 125 minutes and conceded just one goal for Australia. She shared goaltending duties with 33-year-old Tina Girdler of the Sydney Sirens, who did not concede a single goal in 120 minutes of play. Rylie Ellis also stood out for Australia being voted the best defender by the Directorate. Going forward they found the net with ease scoring 38 goals while conceding only twice in four games.

“A shootout is not a good way to win or lose a tournament. But that’s the way it is, which we have to accept. The performance of the Australian team has been outstanding. For a team brought together with short notice and to only concede one goal in regulation time in the entire tournament is a credit to our players and goaltenders,” said Philps.

Perfect finish for Slovenia

By Martin Merk – IIHF.com

Slovenia beat Korea 4-1 in its last game of the 2022 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship Division I Group A on home ice for a perfect finish in Ljubljana that ended with the gold medals for the Slovenes.

Slovenia ends the tournament with a 4-0 record. The Slovenes won all games with a clear margin of three or more goals except the first one, a 4-2 win against Lithuania where they also held a four-goal lead until five minutes before the final buzzer.

Slovenia outshot the Koreans 29-13 although the margin came from the first period when Slovenia had five power plays while the teams had equal numbers of shots on goal in each of the other periods.

At the closing ceremony the Slovenian team got the gold medals awarded and Hungary took silver. The top-two teams earned promotion to the top division for next year. Lithuania didn’t play today and was awarded the bronze medals yesterday.

The game came after a media conference where the ice hockey associations from Slovenia and Hungary announced to bid together to host the top-level 2023 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship in Budapest and Ljubljana (see here) to replace the original host St. Petersburg, Russia. It would be a bonus for the two countries few days after having earned promotion to the top level.

“It’s sometimes tough for focus when the games doesn’t change the standings but we started off well, had chances to score goals,” said Ziga Jeglic.

“It’s fun to be back in the top division. I hope we can stay this time and I really hope that it’s going to work out with Hungary to host. It would be great for hockey around this area. It’s important to develop hockey not just in the top hockey nations and not to have it there every time. It would mean a lot for us and we would have the support from our fans.”

Jeglic led the tournament in scoring with seven points (3+4), same as his teammate Jan Urbas (0+7). He was selected as best forward by the tournament directorate and as MVP in the media vote.

“I have to thank first my team and then my linemates Jan [Urbas] and Miha [Verlic]. For sure I couldn’t do that without them,” Jeglic said.

Slovenia and Korea entered the game knowing in advance that they would finish the tournament in first and fourth place respectively. Despite that 4,000 fans came to almost fill the arena for a farewell of the tournament and to see the medal ceremony with gold for Slovenia.

For the Slovenes it was also a chance to avenge the 5-3 loss in the teams’ last Division I encounter three years ago.

“It’s great to win this kind of tournaments in front of the own fans with such a great atmosphere,” said captain Mitja Robar.

“We were a strong team, individually and as a team. We achieved all these good results thanks to our team spirit. We are like a family, a closely tied group. That’s our advantage. When we needed we just changed up a gear and dominated.”

Favorites on paper by the teams’ performances earlier this week the Slovenes lived up to the expectations. Also thanks to its many power plays – Korea took five minor penalties – the Slovenes outshot Korea 18-2 in the opening frame.

With a slapshot from the blue line Robar opened the scoring for Slovenia at 5:54 with the second power play.

The Slovenes also capitalized on the next man advantage with Sangwook Kim in the penalty box. At 11:26 Sabolic’s shot from the right face-off dot bounced from the right goal post to Korea goalie Matt Dalton and from there into the net.

The Koreans played more disciplined in a second period that allowed them to create chances and find back into the game. Shots were 7-7 but the only goal was scored by Slovenia at equal strength.

At 15:35 Sabolic finished a breakout with his second goal after a centering pass from Rok Ticar.

Ticar himself was in charge of Slovenia’s fourth marker just after a successful penalty kill. He intercepted a pass from Korean defender Heedoo Nam in the Korean zone and beat Dalton one-on-one.

“The game didn’t make a difference but we’re all professional. We won the game, that’s what we wanted,” said Urbas.

“Next year it’s definitely going to be a challenge. You always dream to play against the best and that’s going to happen next year. We’re excited about it,” he said. And the Ljubljana native hopes it could happen in his hometown with the bid. “It would be awesome to play in Ljubljana. I hope it happens.”

With 4:37 left on the game clock it was time for the Korean goal song. After Hyeongcheol Song saw his shot from the right side deflected, Jong Min Lee was well positioned to capitalize on the rebound and make it a 4-1 game.

For Korea the game and the tournament didn’t go as well as hoped. With little game experience at home due to tougher Covid-19 rules in the Far East than in Europe and the integration of new and younger players the tournament was a learning experience for the team. Thanks to a 4-1 win against Romania on Thursday the Koreans stay in this group.

“It was a good experience for us. We will try next year to get promoted,” said Sanghoon Shin.

Final Ranking

  1. Slovenia 12 (promoted)
  2. Hungary 9 (promoted)
  3. Lithuania 6
  4. Korea 3
  5. Romania 0 (relegated)

Gold for Poland

Poland’s Arkadiusz Kostek celebrates the opening goal as Poland defeats Japan in the Division IB championship decider in Tychy.

By Any Potts – IIHF.com

Arkadiusz Kostek was Poland’s unlikely gamewinner as the host nation took gold in Division IB. The 27-year-old defenceman is very much a stay-at-home type – until the 26th minute of today’s game. That’s when he grabbed his first ever World Championship goal, breaking the deadlock and setting Poland on course for a hard-fought 2-0 victory over Japan. Alan Lyszczarczyk added a clincher 96 seconds from the end.

Goaltender John Murray, so impressive throughout the tournament, also had another great game. He made 21 saves for his second shut-out of the championship, none bigger than his stop to deny Makuru Furuhashi a tying goal late in the third period. Murray finished with an impressive 97.78% save ratio but head Robert Kalaber would not be drawn into singling out individuals.

“We don’t have any one hero,” he said. “We have a team of heroes.”

The result secures a return Division IA for the Poles, who were relegated in 2018. Prior to the tournament, head coach Kalaber told journalists that he believed IA was Poland’s natural level and now he has led his team back there.

Japan wins silver, its fourth medal in a row at this level, but a return to the second tier of global hockey remains elusive. Head coach Rick Carriere, who was the Oilers’ director of player development before taking the Japanese job last season, was disappointed with the outcome but encouraged by what he saw in Tychy.

“Games like this are what makes our program better,” he said. “You don’t always get this playing at some other events.

“But playing in a final against a good team like Poland, we learned some lessons and we’re going to get better from it.”

Poland had Aron Chmielewski in its line-up for the first time in this tournament. The forward slotted straight into the first line alongside Lyszczarczyk and Filip Komorski. All three are signed to Ocelari Trinec in Czechia, but while the latter have been available throughout the World Championship after ending the season on loan at farm club Frydek-Mystek, Chmielewski is part of the Ocelari first team that won the Czech championship on Thursday.

“I’m so happy,” Chmielewski said as his second championship party in four days got started. “I didn’t have much time to party with my friends in Trinec before coming here, but now it feels so good.

“The national team had to wait four years for this because of Covid. I’m so happy to be here and to be a part of it.”

In the first period, though, Chmielewski and his teammates found it hard to get much of a result from the Japanese defence. With a typically hard-skating performance, Japan limited Poland’s opportunities and that top line managed just one shot on goal in an opening stanza shaded by the visitor.

At the other end, helped by two power plays, Japan was more threatening. Early in the game, John Murray made a good stop from Yushiroh Hirano and Shigeki Hitosato fired a dangerous shot into the side of the net. Later in the frame, Hitosato was even closer when he forced a sliding pad save out of Murray on the second Japanese power play of the afternoon.

“I was worried before this game,” admitted head coach Kalaber. “When we played exhibition games with Japan, they were very strong. I expected them to be our closest rivals here.

“But I want to talk about our heroes. The way we sacrificed ourselves on defence. The way we stayed solid and organised. That was the key to this victory.”

If the weight of expectation hampered Poland in the first period, the host nation stepped things up after the intermission. Early on, Chmielewski set up Lyszczarczyk for a shot off the crossbar and Japan struggled to clear its lines for long spells. That pressure paid off: five minutes into the middle frame, Lyszczarczyk played the puck out from behind the net, Mateusz Bryk’s point shot was padded away and fellow defenceman Arkadiusz Kostek put in the rebound. Normally, the 27-year-old blue liner would have no business trying to emulate a centre; gold-medal showdowns, though, are a bit different and Kostek could hardly have picked a better moment to open his international account.

Poland hoped to extend its lead on a power play midway through the session, but instead Japan almost grabbed a short-handed goal when Makuru Fukuhashi jumped on a loose puck and engaged the turbos to sprint down the ice and shoot from the top of the circle. Murray made the stop, but in the subsequent puck battle Poland took a penalty.

During the brief Japanese power play that followed, Yusuke Kon had a decent look but the defenceman could not get the puck out of his skates and Hitosato’s follow-up shot lacked punch. Almost immediately, Patryk Wadja jumped out of the box and straight onto an odd man rush but the defenceman could not get clear of the Japanese defence and the chance was lost.

In the third period, Poland looked to protect its advantage. Mindful of the danger of Japan’s pacy forward line, the Poles opted for a ‘safety first’ approach and, for long periods, there were few chances at either end.
There were still some anxious moments, though, none more so than Furuhashi’s 54th minute breakaway. The speedy forward came out of the penalty box and straight onto a stretch pass that left the Polish defence floundering in his wake. Murray, once again, saved his team and that stop was greeted with a cheer as loud as any goal in this arena.

“He’s just a wall,” Chmielewski said of his netminder. “He’s like 70%, 80% of this team and we’re delighted to have him with us. We have a great goalie.”

But the final cheer was for Lyszczarczyk’s goal. Japan will lament a treacherous bounce off an official’s skate the presented the Polish forward with the chance to seal the deal, but few in the Tychy crowd will worry about that as the celebrations of a home gold got started in earnest.

China marching to gold

The Chinese players celebrate with their gold medals after winning all games in Zagreb.

By  Henrik Manninen – IIHF.com

Two-and-a-half months after skating at the 2022 Olympic Winter Games, the Chinese men’s national team stormed through the 2022 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship Division II Group A in emphatic style and same as the women’s team recently earns promotion this spring.

The Chinese men will play in the Division I next year for the first time since 2007 when China hosted in Qiqihar.

Sweeping the field with a perfect record of four straight wins and a goal difference of 28-4, China skated in a class of their own. The gold medals were secured after just three games courtesy of a 5-1 win against hosts and bronze winners Croatia on Friday night.

With an entire roster skating for Kunlun Red Star of the KHL, China had earlier in the tournaments rolled past Israel 14-1, beaten their closest rivals, the Netherlands, 5-1 before dispatching the youngest team of the tournament, Spain, 4-1 in their final game.

“We were expected to win and we won, so that is important,” said China´s head coach Ivano Zanatta. “This is the first step of our heritage group of players participating at the World Championship. They showed the qualities that we need. Patience, determination, the right attitude, commitment, and that’s what’s important. I am really happy for Team China.”

The Netherlands defeated Croatia 6-2 in the closing game of the tournament to get their hands on the silver. At the opposite end of the table, promoted Israel lost all four games to finish bottom to drop down to Division IIB. Australia, bronze winners at its most recent World Championship appearance in 2019 was unable to compete due to Covid concerns and travel restrictions.

23-year-old Fu Shuai of China and Nick Verschuren of the Netherlands both tallied 4+6 in four games to top the scoring charts. China’s Fu Jiang also collected 10 points, with three goals and seven assists in just three games. The directorate awards went to Vilim Rosandic, Croatia (best goalkeeper), Jordy Verkiel, Netherlands (best defender) and Fu Jiang, China (best forward).

Structural damage caused by an earthquake in 2020 on Zagreb’s main rink Dom Sportova saw the tournament being relocated across River Sava. It was inside the spartan surroundings of Zagreb’s Velesajam Ice Rink that a new chapter of China’s World Championship history would be written.

Blueliner Kelin Zhou and forward Shen Jialei replaced Dannisi Auxibofu and Rudy Ying from China’s Olympic roster in Beijing. Another notable omission was netminder Jieruimi Shimisi. Ouban Yongli, who was in the net during five Olympic periods, took over as the first-choice goalie. Playing full minutes in Zagreb, the 22-year-old recorded a save percentage of 95.60 and a GAA of 1.00.

Backup goalie Han Pengfei remained as one of only three players who skated for China at their most recent World Championship in Belgrade in 2019. Back then China had avoided relegation by a whisker. Three years on, this new-look China team was in a class of its own up at the top.

China’s key game in the Croatian capital came in their second game against the Netherlands. Their most recent meeting at this level in 2018 had seen Netherlands blank China 7-0. With the Dutch now being underdogs, they fearlessly set out facing China in a fast-paced first frame.

Outshooting their European opponents 15-4 in the first frame, China struck first blood with 2:17 left of the period. Jian An picked up the puck in his defensive zone rounded his own net, fed Jieke Kailiaosi with a pass his father, the former NHL great Chris Chelios, would have been proud of. Jian An collected it at full speed to burst through a Dutch rearguard caught off-guard to clinically dispatch low to get China off the mark.

Ten seconds before the end of the first period, China scored again. Ruian Sipulaoer bounced a cross ice pass to Taile Wang who brought it down with his hand, picked out Jialei Shen in front of the Dutch net who outmuscled Verkiel before scoring on his rebound to double China´s lead behind 25-year-old netminder Ruud Leeuwesteijn.

Diego Hofland, making his first World Championship at the age of 31, clanged one off the post for the Netherlands only 90 seconds into the middle frame. But once again it was China being clinical in front of the net as the period wore on. They were three goals up at 5:02 of the middle frame. Jieke Kailiaosi fired a wrister and on the rebound from Leeuwesteijn, 37-year-old veteran Jinguang Ye grabbed the puck, turned around past Ties van Soest of the Dutch defence to dispatch home China’s third.

Skating with an all-Dutch born roster, the Netherlands had arrived to Zagreb with ten debutants at this level. One of those, 23-year-old blueliner Noah Muller, instigated the move offering the men in orange and white a lifeline late in the second period. Behind China’s net, he picked out Verschuren in the slot who showed great composure burying it top shelf at 16:17.

The lively Taile Wang capped a fine afternoon for China at 6:36 of the third frame. He got his third point of the afternoon as he raced past Mike Collard to score at the back door from a pass by Ruian Sipulaoer. Firmly in control of the proceedings, China closed the scoring with 2:56 left to play. Fu Jiang lobbed a backhand pass out of his defensive zone over three Dutch players and onto the path of Fui Shuai who from the face off circle to the right of Leuwesteijn finished high to close the scoring at 5-1.

“This would be the first game at this level I’ve experienced with this kind of tempo, so it was a pretty good hockey game for Division IIA,” said the Dutch head coach Doug Mason, who first coached the Netherlands back in 1993 and experienced a game or two at this level.

“Our players weren’t afraid at all, they wanted to put pressure on China whenever they had the opportunity to and wanted to try things. China’s second one was a cheesy goal. The fifth one too, but our goalie made some really good stops so they could have had other goals. The bottom line regardless of the score, is that I am very happy that our guys went out to play.”

Equally content with his performance and relishing every moment in Zagreb was China’s Zheng Enlai.

“It’s my second time representing China. The Olympics was my first. This setup at this tournament is not quite on the same level as the Olympics, but once you are out on the ice and representing your country it’s just an awesome experience,” he said.

Born in British Columbia, the 25-year-old is one of the so-called heritage players on China’s roster who has returned to his roots to bring the promise of a new dawn for Chinese hockey.

“It is awesome not just for myself but also for my family and my grandparents,” he said. “I still have a lot of family in China. They even tried to call me just a few seconds ago. They are really happy for me and I am happy that I have the option to do this.”

Throughout the history of international hockey, national team programs have been looking at various ways to speed up their progress. The Netherlands during the 1970s and Croatia from the last decade are just two examples. But despite the superiority of the Chinese team in Zagreb, head coach Zanatta dismisses any claim that China would now frantically start climbing up the divisions. Next up they will skate at the 2023 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship Division I Group B.

“I’ve been through this with Italy, both as a player and as a manager and it’s very difficult. This is one level and it’s still a battle as you saw against Spain and the next level is even more difficult,” Zanatta said.

“I think we are taking steps in the right direction. But you need a lot of patience in hockey. It’s a sport that requires time. You aren’t wearing shoes you are wearing skates, so people forget about the dynamics. But China has great infrastructure and obviously, they are going to have to continue working with the youth and kids and I think it looks good.”

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