Archive for 2014 OG Sochi

Olympic Blues Of Belarus


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The margin for error throughout the entire history of Olympic ice hockey has never been anything less than razor thin. And the enormus pressure traditionally accompanying the planet’s most high-profile international ice hockey tournament has always been palpable. All too often, it has been this lethal combination which has resulted in disaster for so many hopes and dreams of a number of different national teams over the years.

Aside from a fateful third period in the opening contest against upstart Slovenia, it is hard to be extremely critical of the BELARUS national team’s entire performance at the XXII Winter Olympic Games – Group F Qualfication Tournament in Vojens, Denmark. Indeed, experienced Belarus netminder VITALI KOVAL of Russian Kontinental Hockey League club Torpedo Nizhny Novgorod only faced five shots in the last twenty minutes against the surprising Slovenians at the sparsely-attended Syd Energi Arena. But the two goals surrendered (one via a penalty shot) with virtually no one present to bear witness in Vojens ultimately decided which of these two countries will be skating in Sochi next season with the whole world watching.

To cut the unfortunate Koval a little bit of slack, it should be recalled that Belarus blasted Slovenia 7-1 at the 2011 IIHF World Championships in Slovakia but the Olympic squad of new national team trainer ANDREI SKABELKA (which featured eleven of the very same players — including hat trick hero ANDREI MIKHALEV — who had hammered the Slovenians in Bratislava) did not come any where near close to flexing that same kind of offensive muscle against the improved Slovenians at the qualification tournament in Denmark.

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In a return meeting of the famous quarterfinal match from the 2002 Winter Olympic Games at Salt Lake City, youthful Belarus right wing SERGEI KOSTITSYN (74) of the Montreal Canadiens shields the puck from Sweden defenseman HENRIK TALLINDER (10) of the Buffalo Sabres during the 2010 Winter Olympic Games – Group C contest at Canada Hockey Place in Vancouver.
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Even before the National Hockey League’s well-documented “Lock-Out” situation was settled earlier this season, Belarus never really were counting on either MIKHAIL GRABOVSKI of the Toronto Maple Leafs, the 29-year-old center who just so happens to be the second leading scorer in the history of the national team (44 ga, 15 go, 37 pts) at major internatonal tournaments, or right wing SERGEI KOSTITSYN of the Nashville Predators. Skabelka’s charges might have done with the skill and experience of NHL veteran ANDREI KOSTITSYN, the 28-year-old who has skated for Belarus at six IIHF World Championships (27 ga, 7 go, 18 pts) in his career, for the Olympic qualification tournament in Denmark. On the eve of the competition in Vojens, however, the patient trainer Skabelka was finally forced to continue without the elder Kostitsyn brother after the Traktor Chelyabinsk right wing remained inexplicably absent from national team training camp.

Unlike the host nation Denmark, the Belarusians were also unable to secure the release of an American Hockey League player for the XXII Winter Olympic Games – Group F Qualfication Tournament in Vojens. The Tampa Bay Lightning were unwilling to part with undrafted prospect DMITRI KOROBOV, the 23-year-old defenseman who has spent the entire season with the Syracuse Crunch and is yet to make his NHL debut after inking a two-year, two-way contract last August. The former Dynamo Minsk rearguard has already appeared for Belarus at the annual IIHF World Championships on three occasions (16 ga, 2 go, 8 pts), including the last two events.

The Belarusian cause, it should be noted, could have also done with more from aging center ALEXEI KALYUZHNY of Russian KHL club Lokomotiv Yaroslavl. The 35-year-old veteran of three Winter Olympic Games (1998, 2002, 2010) is, in fact, the all-time leading scorer for Belaurs at major international tournaments (12 app, 74 ga, 20 go, 45 pts) and had done particularly well scoring (ten goals in seventeen games) on his last three appearances for the national side. Alas, Kalyuzhny was held off the scoresheet during the critical Olympic qualifier with the Slovenia at Vojens.

Seasoned right wing KONSTANTIN KOLTSOV of Russian KHL club Atlant Mytishchi Moscow, the two-time Olympic veteran who once was the first round pick (# 18 overall) of the Pittsburgh Penguins and has represented Belarus at nine major international tournaments (42 ga, 9 go, 18 pts) in his career, also did not do much to impress at Vojens.

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Belarus right wing ANDREI KOSTITSYN (23), the 28-year-old veteran who was the tenth overall player selected at the 2003 National Hockey League Draft and skated 398 NHL games (103 go, 222 pts) for the Montreal Canadiens and Nashville Predators before signing with Russian KHL club Traktor Chelyabinsk this past fall, missed the 2010 Winter Olympics in Canada as a result of a knee injury and will not be appearing at the 2014 Sochi Games, either.
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It was, of course, very sad that the national team of Belarus was forced to soldier on in Denmark without the services of its late captain RUSLAN SALEI, the three-time Olympian and long-time NHL defenseman who tragically lost his life when a plane carrying the entire Russian KHL squad of Lokomotiv Yaroslavl crashed in September of 2011; considering that Latvia, who lost Olympic veteran Karlis Skrastins in that terrible accident a few years ago, were capably skippered by the 40-year-old NHL veteran Sandis Ozolins at their Olympic qualification tournament in Riga, it is not unreasonable to think that Salei, a rugged defender who skated 916 NHL games (45 go, 204 pts) in his career and would still have only been 38 years of age in February of 2013, could have had a major impact on the blue line for the Belarusians in Vojens.

Ironically enough, the influential third period penalty shot that turned the tide at the Syd Energi Arena in favor of the Slovenians once and for all had been conceded by inexperienced defenseman ILYA KAZNADEI, the 23-year-old Metallurg Zhlobin defenseman who has never suited up for Belarus at a major international tournament.

“Of course we feel a little bit of pressure because everybody knows in our country the government, they spent alot of money for sport and, you know, they need the results,” confessed current Belarus captain VLADIMIR DENISOV of Dynamo Minsk, the 28-year-old defenseman who skated two years in the American Hockey League (128 ga, 7 go, 28 pts) for the Lake Erie Monsters and Hartford Wolf Pack and also had a season in the Swiss Nationalliga A with HC Ambri Piotta, as well, after the rebounding 6-0 triumph over Ukraine on the second day of the Olympic qualification tournament in Denmark.

Much to the chagrin of ALEXANDER LUKASHENKO, the demanding President of Belarus, the requisite results would not be forthcoming.

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Belarus right wing ALEXEI MIKHALEV (10) of Dynamo Minsk, the 34-year-old veteran who has skated at nine major international events (47 ga, 5 go, 9 pts) in his career, dumps Denmark left wing NICHLAS HARDT (44) of Finnish elite league club Jokerit Helsinki, the developing 24-year-old who has appeared at the past five IIHF World Championships (32 ga, 8 go, 11 pts), during the closing contest of the XXII Winter Olympic Games – Group F Qualification Tournament at the Syd Energi Arena in Vojens.
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In keeping with the overall theme of an Olympic debacle, the Disciplinary Committee of the International Ice Hockey Federation announced in early March that Belarus right wing ALEXEI MIKHALEV has been issued a provisional suspension after testing positive for a banned substance during the XXII Winter Olympic Games – Group F Qualification Tournament in Vojens, Denmark.

The Dynamo Minsk veteran was founded to have the stimulant “methylhexaneamine” in his sample submitted to IIHF officials at the conclusion of the Belarus v Ukraine match on February 8, 2013.

Mikhalev is now barred from all club and international competition until the IIHF Disciplinary Committee completes a standard review and issues a final decision on the player’s punishment.

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President Lukashenko – “Ashamed Of Belarusian Ice Hockey”


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“I am ashamed of the Belarusian ice hockey,” the country’s all-powerful head of state, PRESIDENT ALEXANDER LUKASHENKO, explained, as reported by the Belarusian Telegraph Agency and other outlets, during a recent visit to the Minsk Bakery in the wake of the recently-completed XXII Winter Olympic Games – Group F Qualification Tournament in Vojens, Denmark.

“The fact that the Belarusian ice hockey team failed to qualify for the (2014) Olympic Games is a shame. Dynamo Minsk is the country’s richest club, where players earn decent money. I am embarrassed not only to talk but even to hear how Dynamo Minsk play,” stated a deeply disappointed Lukashenko, the former Soviet Red Army officer and collective farm director who has held the highest political office in Belarus since 1994.

“Next week, I will have a meeting with the newly-appointed ‘troika’: Sport Minister, Aide to the President and First Vice President of the National Olympic Committee. I will ask them to give their assessment of the situation and what they have done to rectify it. The performance of the national ice hockey team was totally bad. We will deal with this issue soon. I am not going to leave it without attention. All have been warned,” promised Lukashenko, who, back in December of 1991, had been the only Deputy in the Supreme Council of the Republic of Belarus to vote against the Belavezha Accords that dissolved the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics.

“Some coaches get Br70 million per month, or more, and produce no results,” remarked an irritated Lukashenko, who also later added, “Apparently, our sports functionaries are either incapable or unwilling to do their job. We should thoroughly shake it up and revitalize it (the entire national sports industry).”

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Belarus center MIKHAIL GRABOVSKI (84) of the Toronto Maple Leafs, the skilled 29-year-old National Hockey League veteran who has now represented his country at seven major international tournaments (44 ga, 15 go, 37 pts) in his career to date, positions himself in front of Russia goaltender ILYA BRYZGALOV of the NHL’s Phoenix Coyotes during the tense 2009 IIHF World Championships quarterfinal contest at the PostFinance Arena in Bern, Switzerland, which the Russians ultimately won 4-3 on the strength of a third period goal by Atlanta Thrashers left wing Ilya Kovalchuk.
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If only for the time being, the jobs of national team trainer ANDREI SKABELKA and top assistant ALEXANDER ANDRIEVSKY, the former USSR national team forward who later skated one game in the National Hockey League for the Chiacgo Black Hawks and represented Belarus at both the 1998 and 2002 Winter Olympic Games, are secure. At least until the conclusion of the 2013 IIHF World Championships to be held in Scandinavia this spring, that is. This was confirmed by in a public statement made by EVGENY VORSIN, the head of the Belarusian Ice Hockey Federation, at a meeting of the BIHF executive committee on the heels of the Olympic debacle in Denmark.

The criticism from Lukashenko is not necessarily without any merit considering the results over the past decade or so. To review, Belarus pulled off one of the more spectacular upsets in the entire history of the Olympic ice hockey competition, itself, when Andrievsky and company shocked Sweden 4-3 at the quarterfinal stage of the 2002 Winter Olympic Games at Salt Lake City. But, with their elimination at Vojens, however, the Belarusians have now noticeably failed to qualify for two of the last three final Olympic tournaments.

Skabelka, the former CSKA Moscow prospect who later appeared at eight major international tournaments (45 ga, 6 go, 26 pts) including both the 1998 and 2002 Winter Olympic Games, is only the tenth different coach in the last thirteen years to be installed as the national team trainer of Belarus. Among those to have held the position in the recent past include two Canadian legionnaires who both had lenghty careers in the National Hockey League, goaltender GLEN HANLON as well as tough guy CURT FRASER. First-year Finnish import KARI HEIKKILA was fired last spring after steering Belarus to but a single victory (over fellow former Soviet republic Kazakhstan) in seven attempts at the 2012 IIHF World Championships in Scandinavia.

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With the national government having openly invested an enormous amount of money specifically with the aim of developing of domestic ice hockey in the last few years with eyes towards not only the Sochi Winter Olympics in Russia but the 2014 IIHF World Championships to be hosted by Belarus, as well, the fact that an authoritarian Lukashenko was ready to crack the whip could not have been any less startling.

“We lost to whom? Slovenia! They have 700 (senior) players across the entire country, there isn’t (even) a decent domestic championship. We lost against this reality. It is necessary to think and to find the answers to these questions,” growled a dissatisfied Lukashenko.

When asked about the financing of the national sports industry (i.e., the high levels of government spending), the President of Belarus stated that there are no valid reasons to alter the current policies already in place and that all matters with respect to results revolve around the distribution of funds, according to the Belarusian Telegraph Agency.

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Belarus right wing ALEXEI UGAROV (18) of Russian Kontinental Hockey League club Torpedo Nizhny Novgorod, the experienced 27-year-old veteran who has already represented his country at nine major international tournaments (55 ga, 12 go, 22 pts) including the 2010 Winter Olympic Games at Vancouver, battles in front of the net with Slovenia center JAN URBAS (26) of Swedish second division side HC Vaxjo Lakers.

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Huge Disappointment For Denmark At Home


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As was the case with the neighboring country to the south, the disappointing national team of DENMARK was unable to transform a top seed ranking and the accompanying home ice advantage into a valid ticket for the final tournament of the men’s ice hockey competition at the 2014 Winter Olympic Games to be held in Soschi, Russia.

Expectations for Olympic ice hockey qualification had soared to unprecedented heights in Denmark, particularly in light of the dramatic improvement demonstrated by the national team in the last decade or so. Indeed, the Danes have been ever present among the top sixteen nations in the top flight at the annual IIHF World Championships since its latest promotion coinciding with the 2003 edition staged in Finland. And the current Swedish coaching staff of trainer PER BACKSTROM and assistant TOMAS JONSSON, the retired defenseman who won two Stanley Cup titles with the New York Islanders as well as an Olympic gold medal with Tre Kronor in 1994, have been able to bring unprecedented results to the national team of Denmark since first combining forces a few years ago.

Denmark, it should be remembered, had enjoyed a tremendous run at the 2010 IIHF World Championships in Germany and posted victories over Finland, the United States and Slovakia (three of the four semi-finalists at the 2010 Winter Olympic Games in Vancouver just a few months earlier) on its way to attaining a first-ever berth in the IIHF WC quarterfinals.

The Danes, however, will be disheartened by the fact that Latvia, whom Backstrom & Jonsson’s charges have defeated twice at annual IIHF World Championships in the last two seasons, did manage to win its Olympic qualifying group at home in Riga and will be taking part in the 2014 Sochi Winter Games in Russia.

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Denmark right wing JANNIK HANSEN (36) of the Vancouver Canucks, the former ninth round draft pick (2004, # 287 overall) who totaled 16 goals and 39 points after skating in all 82 games during the 2011/12 NHL regular season, plays the puck away from Norway center KRISTIAN FORSBERG (20) of Swedish Elitserien side Mo Do Ornskoldsvik during the 2012 IIHF World Championships – Group S contest at the Globe Arena in Stockholm, Sweden.
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Belarus had figured to be Denmark’s most formidable rival for the right to travel to Russia next year going into the XXII Winter Olympic Games – Group F Qualification Tournament in Vojens. But Slovenia stepped up a delivered a crushing blow to the host nation with a 2-1 victory on the second day of the competition. Clearly, the Danes could have done with some of its offensive talent skating in the National Hockey League at present :

DENMARK – major international experience
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(7) … 44 ga ….. 8 go … 17 pts … Frans NIELSEN, New York Islanders
(6) … 36 ga ….. 8 go … 20 pts … Peter REGIN, Ottawa Senators
(3) … 23 ga ….. 2 go ….. 4 pts … Philip LARSEN, Dallas Stars
(4) … 22 ga ….. 4 go ….. 8 pts … Jannik HANSEN, Vancouver Canucks
(3) … 20 ga ….. 5 go … 12 pts … Lars ELLER, Montreal Canadiens
(2) … 12 ga ….. 6 go ….. 8 pts … Mikkel BOEDKER, Phoenix Coyotes

(appearances at major international tournaments in parenthesis followed by total games, goals, points)

Considering the standout numbers posted for Finnish elite league club Lukko Rauma (29 ga, 21 go, 33 pts) during the Lock-Out as well as the increased offensive production for the Phoenix Coyotes (25 ga, 4 go, 16 pts) in the NHL this season, it is interesting to wonder what might have been if winger MIKKEL BOEDKER had suited up for Denmark at the Olympic tournament in Vojens … 23-year-old center LARS ELLER of the Montreal Canadiens is another young talent who has already displayed valuable goal-scoring ability for the national team of Denmark but was not able to participate in Vojens and, therefore, will not be making an appearance on ice hockey’s grandest international stage next year in Russia … Five of Denmark’s six players currently skating in the National Hockey League this season (with then-injured center PETER REGIN of the Ottawa Senators being the exception) appeared for the national team at the 2012 IIHF World Championships in Scandinavia last spring.

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Denmark center LARS ELLER (81) of the Montreal Canadiens, the first round selection (# 13 overall) of the St. Louis Blues at the 2007 National Hockey League Draft, skates away from Italy’s Canadian-born defenseman NICHOLAS PLASTINO (44) of Swedish second division club BIK Karlskoga during the 2012 IIHF World Championships – Group S contest at the Globe Arena in Stockholm.

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Surprising Slovenia Off To Sochi Olympic Games


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XXII Winter Olympic Games
Group F – Qualification Tournament
Vojens, Denmark
February 7-10, 2013

Slovenia 4 – Belarus 2 …………… 408 spectators
Denmark 2 – Ukraine 0 ………… 4,121 spectators
Belarus 6 – Ukraine 0 …………….. 631 spectators
Slovenia 2 – Denmark 1 ……….. 5,000 spectators
Slovenia 6 – Ukraine 1 ……………. 545 spectators
Belarus 3 – Denmark 2 …………. 3,988 spectators

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SLOVENIA …………….. 9 points … 12-4 goals for/against
Belarus ………………… 6 points … 11-6 goals for/against
Denmark ………………. 3 points ….. 5-5 goals for/against
Ukraine ………………… 0 points ….. 1-14 goals for/against

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Slovenia left wing TOMAZ RAZINGAR (9) of German 2.Bundesliga club EV Ravensburg Towerstars, the 33-year-old veteran who skated two seasons for the Peoria Rivermen in the East Coast Hockey League (103 ga, 12 go, 34 pts) over a decade ago, beats Belarus netminder VITALI KOVAL of Russian Kontinental Hockey League club Torpedo Nizhny Novgorod, the 32-year-old veteran who made two appearances for his country at the 2010 Winter Olympic Games in western Canada, to the stick side during the opening contest of the XXII Winter Olympic Games – Group F Qualification Tournament at the Syd Energi Arena in Vojens, Denmark.
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With three-quarters of its goals scored by players competing professionally for clubs in the neighboring country to the south, the surprisig national team of SLOVENIA booked its place in Sochi next year by winning all three of its contests at the XXII Winter Olympic Games – Group F Qualification Tournament in Vojens, Denmark.

In retrospect, it was the very first game of the Group F tournament at Vojens that proved to be most decisive. Just two minutes into the last period opposite a more experienced Belarussian side, the Slovenians snapped at 2-2 tie just two minutes into the final frame and then added an insurance marker with roughly ten minutes to play for a well-deserved victory against a Belarus squad which featured eleven holdovers from the team which skated at the 2010 Winter Olympic Games in Vancouver, Canada. In a defensive-oriented struggle which only witnessed a combined total of 39 shots on target generated by the two teams, goaltender ROBERT KRISTAN of Croatian club Medvescak Zagreb played a major role with 17 saves for Slovenia.

Belarus, it should be remembered, soundly defeated Slovenia 7-1 in the last meeting between the two at a major international tournament at the 2011 IIHF World Championshps only a couple of seasons ago. The Slovenians had arrived at the XXII Winter Olympic Games – Group F Qualification Tournament in Vojens seeded third, according to their # 18 ranking in the world as officially awarded for the calendar year 2012 by the International Ice Hockey Federation. The Belarusians, for its part, began Olympic qualifying play at the Syd Enegi Arena in Denmark rated number thirteen on the planet.

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Denmark netminder FREDERIK ANDERSEN of the American Hockey League’s reigning Calder Cup champion Norfolk Admirals and Slovenia’s two-goal hero DAVID RODMAN of German 2.Bundesliga club SC Bietigheim-Bissingen Steelers pose for the traditional photograph after being selected as “Best Players” of the XXII Winter Olympic Games – Group F Qualification Tournament contest at the sold-out Syd Energi Arena in Vojens, Denmark.
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Denmark, who entered the decisive competition ranked # 12 in the world by the IIHF, were hoping to parlay home ice advantage at Vojens into its first-ever appearance at the final tournament of the Winter Olympic Games but, in the end, were hampered by the inability to access a half dozen players currently skating with National Hockey League clubs.

The Danes were able to secure the services of talented young goaltender FREDERIK ANDERSEN, the third round (# 87 overall) pick of the Anaheim Ducks at the 2012 NHL Draft last summer, from the defending champion American Hockey League champion Norfolk Admirals. The 23-year-old previously with Swedish Elitserien side HC Vastra Frolunda Goteborg pitched a shutout in Denmark’s opening encounter with winless Ukraine but was beaten twice in his second start versus Slovenia. Both goals, it will be noted, were as a result of outstanding individual efforts by DAVID RODMAN of German second division club SC Bietigheim-Bissingen Steelers, the 29-year-old veteran right wing who spent two years with Val-d’Or Foreurs in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League coming up and has appeared for Slovenia at four major international tournaments (23 ga, 2 go, 6 pts) for Slovenia in his career.

Cheered on by a capacity crowd on its home soil, a disappointed Denmark did fire 38 shots on the Slovenian goal at the electrified Syd Energi Arena but, much to the chagrin of its colorful supporters, were repeatedly turned away by the in-form Kristan.

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Slovenia center ROK TICAR (24) of Deutsche Eishockey Liga leaders Koelner Haie, the emerging 23-year-old who scored three goals in five games at the 2011 IIHF World Championships held in Slovakia, is confronted by a trio of Ukrainian defenders during the lopsided contest on the final day of the XXII Winter Olympic Games – Group F Qualification Tournament at the Syd Energi Arena in Vojens, Denmark.
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Slovenia gleefully completed its historic sweep at the Vojens Arena with an easy 6-1 triumph over hapless Ukraine and, thus, rendered the remaining Belarus versus Denmark match to follow meaningless. ROBERT SABOLIC, the 24-year-old right wing who transferred from Slovakian elite league outfit HK SKP Poprad to German D.E.L. club ERC Ingolstadt a week or so prior to the start of the Olympic qualification tournament in Denmark, tallied twice for Slovenia against the Ukranians while Rodman tacked on his group-leading fourth goal. The surging Slovenians also received strikes from center ROK TICAR of German table-toppers Koelner Haie as well as fellow pivot JAN URBAS, the 24-year-old from Swedish Elitserien side HC Vaxjo Lakers who also scored an important goal in the Belarus contest.

Rodman finished as the Group F scoring leader with six points while Sabolic, who totaled three goals altogether in Vojens, Ticar and Urbas all registered four points for Slovenia during the successful Olympic qualifying run in Denmark; ZIGA JELIC, the 24-year-old left wing from Swedish second division side SK Sodertalje also contributed four points to the Slovenian cause.

The triumph also represents a spectacular achievement for Slovenia trainer MATJAZ KOPITAR, who, undoubtedly, excitedly anticipates adding his son now skating in the NHL, star center ANZE KOPITAR of the reigning Stanley Cup champion Los Angeles Kings, to the national team roster for the 2014 Winter Olympic Games in Russia next year.

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No Trouble For Experienced Latvia In Riga


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Latvia captain SANDIS OZOLINS (8), the 40-year-old veteran defenseman who previously contested 875 games (167 go, 564 pts) in the National Hockey League and celebrated the Stanley Cup title with Colorado Avalanche in 1996, threatens the Great Britain goal during the XXII Winter Olympic Games – Group E qualfication clash at the Arena Riga in the Baltic region.
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Unlike the other two countries that hosted qualification tournaments in February of 2013 for the XXII Winter Olympic Games to be held in Russia next season, the national team of LATVIA were not really affected at all by the resolution of the so-called “Lock-Out” situation in the National Hockey League just after the New Year. The Germans, to review, had to skate at Bietigheim-Bissingen minus the services of seven current NHL players while the Danes soldiered on at Vojens unable to utilize six NHL regulars. Now under the direction of Canadian trainer TED NOLAN, himself a former NHL forward who later became the head coach of both the Buffalo Sabres and New York Islanders, the Latvians had no such selection troubles for their Olympic Qualification Tournament in Riga .

This because KASPAR DAUGAVINS, the 24-year-old Ottawa Senators winger who skated in all seven games (1 go, 1 as) for Latvia at the 2012 IIHF World Championships in Scandinavia last spring, is the only Latvian performer in the entire 30-team NHL this term.

The wiley Nolan, who took over behind the bench for the national team of Latvia at the start of last season after replacing former Boston Bruins farmhand OLEGS ZNAROKS, loaded up his squad for the qualification tournament at the Arena Riga with fourteen veterans who had already appeared at the 2010 Winter Olympic Games held in the western Canadian city of Vancouver. Furthermore, defenseman SANDIS OZOLINS of Russian Kontinental Hockey League club Atlant Mytischy Moscow, the highly experienced 40-year-old who skated for Latvia in the final tournaments of both the 2002 and 2006 Winter Olympic Games, was coaxed out of international retirement. 37-year-old right wing ALEKSANDRS NIZVIJS of Czech side HC Lev Sparta Praha, the three-time Olympian who happens to be the all-time leading scorer for Latvia at major international tournaments (16 appearances, 92 games, 17 goals, 49 points), was also recalled to the national team for the vital Olympic qualification tournament by the calculating Nolan.

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Latvia defenseman OSKARS BARTULIS (37), the 26-year-old rearguard who just spent the previous five seasons in the Philadelphia Flyers organziation before signing with Ukrainian side HC Donbass Donetsk this past summer, cuts the puck back against Great Britain’s legionnaire blueliner BEN O’CONNOR (17) of Kazakhstan club Artan Kokshetau during the XXII Winter Olympic Games – Group E Qualification Tournament contest at the Arena Riga.
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Not including the captain Ozolins, five of the six defensemen selected by Nolan for the Olympic qualification tournament in Riga were returning veterans of the 2010 Vancouver Games. Three of those five defenders — GEORGIJS PUJACS of Russian KHL club Avangard Omsk along with the Dynamo Riga pair of KRISJANIS REDLIHS and ARVIDS REKIS — are two-time Olympians, in fact, having also manned the blue line for Latvia at the 2006 Turin Games in the Italian Alps. The one Olympic newcomer at the back, 24-year-old ARTURS KULDA of Russian club Sibir Novosibirsk, appeared for Latvia at the annual IIHF World Championships in both 2010 as well as 2011 before skating in nine NHL games (0 go, 0 pts, +3 def rating) for the Winnipeg Jets last season.

Nolan also wisely persisted with EDGARS MASALSKIS, the experienced national team veteran currently in Russia with first-year KHL club HC Yugra Khanty-Mansiysk, between the pipes for the Olympic qualificaton tournament at the Arena Riga. The 32-year-old shot-stopper, who has already been a member of all three Latvian squads to have appeared at the Winter Olympic Games (2002, 2006 and 2010) in history, has played in 40 of Latvia’s last 42 games at all major international tournaments beginning with the 2007 IIHF World Championships staged in the Russian capital city of Moscow. Masalskis rewarded the Canadian trainer’s faith with solid, if unspectacular, play for host Latvia (3 ga, 2.28 avg, .895 svpct) throughout the Olympic qualification tournament in Riga.

Latvia, in part confirmed by the 3-2 triumph over Kazakhstan during the Olympic qualfication tournament in Riga, have easily been the most successful of all the former Soviet Socialist Republics not named Russia at major international ice hockey tournaments since the collapse of the old U.S.S.R. in 1991. The Latvians, to review, have never been relegated from the top flight of the annual IIHF World Championships since returning after a complicated absence of fifty-eight years in 1997. And, although it was Belarus that shocked the heavily-favored Swedes in the quarterfinals of the 2002 Salt Lake City Games, it is Latvia who will be making a fourth consecutive appearance in front of the world at the final tournament of the Olympic ice hockey competition next year in Sochi, Russia.

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Latvia Will Play Olympic Hockey In Russia


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From left to right, the flags of GREAT BRITAIN, KAZAKHSTAN, FRANCE and home favorite LATVIA hang down from the rafters alongside the International Ice Hockey Federation banner during the dramatic final XXII Winter Olympic Games – Group E qualfication contest between the French and the tournament host at the jampacked Arena Riga.
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XXII Winter Olympic Games
Group E – Qualification Tournament
Riga, Latvia
February 7-10, 2013

Kazakhstan 3 – France 2 …………….. 825 spectators
Latvia 6 – Great Britain 2 ………….. 5,058 spectators
France 4 – Great Britain 2 …………… 922 spectators
Latvia 3 – Kazakhstan 2 ………….. 10,025 spectators
Kazakhstan 6 – Great Britain 0 ……… 875 spectators
France 3 – Latvia 2 … (ot) ……….. 10,190 spectators

final standings
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LATVIA ……………. 7 points … 11-6 goals for/against
Kazakhstan ……….. 6 points … 11-5 goals for/against
France …………….. 5 points ….. 9-7 goals for/against
Great Britain ………. 0 points …. 4-16 goals for/against

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France’s versatile defenseman YOHAN AUVITU (18) of Finnish elite league side JYP Jyvaskyla and Kazakhstan goaltender VITALI KOLESNIK (20) of Russian Kontinental Hockey League club Lokomotiv Yaroslavl pose for the traditional post-game photograph after being selected as “Best Players” for their respective teams after the Kazakhs nipped the French 3-2 in the opening match of the XXII Winter Olympic Games – Group E Qualficiation Tournament at the Arena Riga in Latvia.
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FRANCE shot themselves in the foot by losing 3-2 to KAZAKHSTAN on the opening day of the XXII Winter Olympic Games – Group E Qualification Tournament at the Arena Riga in the Baltic region. Despite piling up a 38-19 advantage in the shots-on-goal department, the French were consistently unable to get past goaltender VITALI KOLESNIK, the 33-year-old veteran who made eight appearances (3.24 avg, .888 save pct) for the Colorado Avalanche during the 2005/06 National Hockey League campaign. France, in direct contrast, received a rather sub-par performance in between the pipes from its NHL veteran, CRISTOBAL HUET of Swiss Nationalliga B side HC Lausanne, the experienced 37-year-old veteran who previously appeared in 48 NHL games (2.50 avg, .895 save pct) during the 2009/10 season for the Stanley Cup champion Chicago Black Hawks.

France would come to regret this result tremendously, as it, ultimately, relegated trainer DAVE HENDERSON’s side to the role of spoiler for its third and final Olympic qualification contest against tournament host Latvia.

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Latvia center GINTS MEIJA (87) of Kontinental Hockey League club Dynamo Riga fails to re-direct the puck deflect as Kazakhstan starting goaltender VITALI KOLESNIK (20) of Russian KHL side Toropedo Yaroslavl, the veteran of the 2006 Winter Olympic Games in Turin, Italy, who made four appearances for the Kazakhs (5.18 avg, .895 save pct) at the 2012 IIHF World Championships in Scandinavia last spring, makes his one and only save of the critical Olympic qualification match with the host nation at the Arena Riga but the former Colorado Avalanche netminder’s fortunes are about to take a dramatic turn for the worse in only a matter of mere moments …
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Latvia right wing JURIS STALS (60) of Slovakian side HK SKP Poprad, the very well-traveled 30-year-old who was the ninth round selection (# 269 overall) of the New York Rangers at the 2001 National Hockey League Draft and spent four seasons skating professionally in North America but never advanced higher than the American Hockey League, sweeps a backhand shot past Kazakhstan defenseman VIKTOR ALEXANDROV (23) of Barys Astana and opens the scoring less than two minutes into the pressure-packed Olympic qualification contest between the two former states of the dissolved Union of Soviet Socialist Republics at the Arena Riga.
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Kazakhstan, meanwhile, could not maintain momentum in its next match and fell behind quickly to the Latvians when Kolesnik conceded two goals with less than three full minutes having run off the clock. Kazakhstan trainer VLADIMIR KRIKUNOV, the former U.S.S.R. national team defenseman who participated at the inaugural Canada Cup tournament in 1976 and later served as the head coach of Belarus at the 2002 Winter Olympic Games in the United States, immediately dispatched aging backup VITALI YEREMEYEV, the 37-year-old veteran who appeared in four NHL games (4.53 avg, .846 save pct) for the New York Rangers during the 2000/01 season, from the bench to stop the bleeding (and 30 of 31 shots put on target by Latvia). But a strike just forty seconds into the third period from right wing LAURIS DARZINS of Russian club Ak Bars Kazan, the 27-year-old who scored a goal in all three of Latvia’s Olympic qualifying contests at the Arena Riga, proved to spell Kazakhstan’s doom.

The French might have still provided the Kazakhs with a ticket to the final tournament at the 2014 Winter Olympic Games in Sochi and tallied two unanswered goals against the Latvians in the first period of the last qualifying match at the Arena Riga. The home side under the direction of Canadian trainer TED NOLAN, however, only needed a draw by the end of regulation in order to book its place in Russia next year. Perhaps settled by Latvia’s circumstances, Darzins scored with roughly five minutes to play in the second period and NHL veteran MARTINS KARSUMS of Dynamo Riga netted just twelve seconds into the final frame.

Henderson’s team would, in fact, eventually score again — but not until after regulation time (and French hopes of a first appearance at the final Olympic tournament in over a decade) had already expired.

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Latvia right wing MARTINS KARSUMS (15) of Dynamo Riga, the former Boston Bruins’ second round draft choice (2004, # 64 overall) who managed to score exactly one goal in 24 career National Hockey League appearances for the Bs and Tampa Bay Lightning before departing for the Baltic region in January of 2010, celebrates the strike against France at the Arena Riga that will soon punch the host side’s ticket to the final tournament of the men’s ice hockey competition at the 2014 Winter Olympic Games in Sochi, Russia.

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German NHL Professionals Frustrated By Olympic Elimination


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Highly-experienecd defenseman UDO KIESSLIG (4), who still easily holds the domestic record having skated in 320 international matches over the course of his long and distinguished career, became the first ice hockey player in history to ever skate at the Winter Olympics on five different occasions when appearing for a reunified GERMANY at the Albertville Games in 1992.
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GERMANY’s failure to qualify for the men’s ice hockey tournament at the XXII Winter Olympic Games to be held in Soschi, Russia, next year means that the two most accomplished German players in the National Hockey League at present will, in all likelihood, never have the chance to equal one of the most noteworthy records in the country’s national team history.

At 30 and 31 years of age, respectively, and both being blueliners to begin with, it had previously been entirely not unreasonable to envision Buffalo Sabres’ $ 40.0 million dollar defenseman CHRISTIAN EHRHOFF as well as Boston Bruins’ Stanley Cup-winning rearguard DENNIS SEIDENBERG skating at the final tournaments of both the 2014 and the 2018 Winter Olympic Games.

But, alas, the national team of neighboring Austria had a little something to say about that. And so it would seem that vaunted German mark of appearing in the ice hockey competition at five different Winter Olympic Games (’76, ’80, ’84, ’88 and ’92), which was first established by the legendary UDO KIESSLING, will remain unmatched. A rugged defender who also had a good measure of offensive skill, Kisseling is also remembered as the first German-trained player ever to skate in the NHL when suiting up for the Minnesota North Stars at the tail of end of the 1981/82 campaign.

Six-time Finnish Olympic center RAIMO HELMINEN, who also spent time in the NHL with the Minnesota North Stars in addition to service for both the New York Rangers and New York Islanders, broke the existing record first set by Kiessling when performing at the Salt Lake City Winter Games in 2002.

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Germany assistant captain and defenseman DENNIS SEIDENBERG (84) of the Florida Panthers sweeps the puck away from Sweden left wing FREDRIK MODIN (33) of the Columbus Blue Jackets during the Group C preliminary round contest of the 2010 Winter Olympic Games watched by 16,996 onlookers at the Canada Hockey Place in Vancouver.
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“I would have gladly participated in the Olympic Games for the fourth time,” Seidenberg told the German press agency DPA very shortly after Germany did not defeat arch-rival Austria in the final contest of the XXII Winter Olympic Games – Group D Qualification Tournament at the TransEge Arena in Bietigheim-Bissingen.

“So now our sport has lost lots of advertising,” noted Seidenberg, a three-time Olympian who, as a professional player in North America, won the American Hockey League’s prize possession, the Calder Cup, with the Philadlephia Phantoms in 2004 in addition to the National Hockey League’s top prize as a member of the Boston Bruins in 2011.

By not qualifying for the XXII Winter Olympic Games in Russia, of course, the German national team will not be able to generate any revenues from advertising arrangements and so forth. Aside from the disastrous financial losses, current German national team players will not be able to glean any valuable experience at the Soschi Games in 2014, either. And, the priceless opportunity to impress and inspire young German players and, perhaps most importantly, encourage the introduction of new players to the sport will also be missed out on next season.

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Germany defenseman CHRISTIAN EHRHOFF (10) of the hometown Vancouver Canucks has a swat at the puck ahead of Canada center JONATHAN TOEWS (16) of the Chicago Black Hawks, the former University of North Dakota star who went on to win the Conn Smythe Trophy as the Most Valuable Player of the 2010 Stanley Cup Playoffs, during the lopsided quarterfinal match of the 2010 Winter Olympic Games watched by the crowd of 17,723 spectators at Canada Hockey Place in Vancouver.
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Immediately after watching the decisive Olympic qualification contest from Bietigheim-Bissingen via live stream in North America, the disappointed Ehrhoff told DPA that the result from the TransEge Arena has caused great damage to the image of German ice hockey “because the Olympics are the biggest stage on which you present yourself.”

A genuine catastrophe for Germany, indeed.

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Road To Russia … Germany 3 – Austria 2 (ot)


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2 x 24 = Austria defenseman FLORIAN IBERER (left) of AC Klagenfurt and Germany right wing ANDRE RANKEL of Eisbaeren Berlin chase after a loose puck in the corner as netminder BERNHARD STARKBAUM (29) of Swedish elite league side Mo Do Ornskoldsvik keeps a sharp on events during the tense and dramatic final contest of the XXII Winter Olympic Games – Group D Qualification Tournament at the sold-out TransEge Arena in Bietigheim-Bissingen.
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After falling behind twice in a border clash it could not afford to lose in regulation time, the visitors rallied to equalize with roughly seven and a half minutes to play before repelling a few final assaults as a determined AUSTRIA held GERMANY at the end of three periods and, in the process, picked up the valuable point it needed to win the XXII Winter Olympic Games – Group D Qualification Tournament in Bietigheim-Bissingen.

The result means that there will be no team from Germany skating in the men’s ice hockey tournament since the 1948 Winter Olympic Games were hosted by St. Moritz in Switzerland. Indeed, by losing the decisive qualification match at home to the neighboring arch-rivals from Austria, the Germans saw their impressive record of 16 consecutive appearances at the premier competition of the Winter Olympics abruptly snapped. But, after outshooting both Italy (36-20) and Austria (35-19) by substantial margins in regulation time, Germany have only themselves to blame for the history-making failure.

Austria, meanwhile, justifiably celebrated what surely must rank as the most spectacular and significant triumph for the national ice hockey team ever. In fact, the Austrian newspapers proudly compared this magnificent victory at Bietigheim-Bissingen to the national soccer team’s famous 3-2 win over West Germany at the 1978 FIFA World Cup final tournament held in Argentina. Even national hero HANS KRANKL, the retired star striker who had scored two goals for the Austrians in the memorable triumph over the defending World Cup champions in South America, publically commented on what was hailed as the “EISHOCKEY CORDOBA”.

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Germany defenseman BENEDIKT KOHL (34) of Wolfsburg Grizzly Adams redirects the puck past Austria netminder BERNHARD STARKBAUM of Swedish Elitserien side Mo Do Ornskoldsvik to score the first goal of the decisive XXII Winter Olympic Games – Group D Qualification Tournament contest at the TransEge Arena in Bietigheim-Bissingen.
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After applying twice as much pressure as their guests in the first period, Germany finally broke a scoreless deadlock with 1:19 to play until the first intermission. With veteran Austria defenseman ROBERT LUKAS of of EHC Black Wings Linz sitting in the penalty box for holding, Wolfsburg Grizzly Adams defenseman BENEDIKT KOHL snuck down low to the side of the net and skillfully redirected the straightaway point shot of Eisbaeren Berlin blueliner CONSTANTIN BRAUN for his very first goal in the national team colors. Germany might have doubled its advantage before the end of the period, but legionnaire ALEXANDER BARTA of Swedish elite league club BK Rogle Angelholm was stopped on the breakaway by Austria goaltender BERNHARD STARKBAUM, the 26-year-old who also plays in Sweden’s Elitserien with Mo Do Ornskoldsvik.

Aided by still three more power play opportunities, the Germans stepped up their attack in the second period only to be turned constantly away by the strong work of Starkbaum and the veteran Austria defensive corps. Even more to the dismay of the decidedly partisan crowd at the sold-out TransEge Arena in Bietigheim-Bissingen, the visitors hauled themselves level in the middle session, as well. 33-year-old veteran defenseman ANDRE LAKOS, the former third round choice (# 95 overall) of the New Jersey Devils at the 1999 National Hockey League Draft who spent three seasons in the American Hockey League skating for the Albany River Rats, picked up a puck off the boards and blasted home from long range at the right point.

Germany goaltender ROB ZEPP of Eisbaeren Berlin, a surprise starter in the opinion of some for this most imperative match with neighboring Austria, was not screened and appeared to have good look at the shot from Lakos but was effectively beaten to the short side; Adler Mannheim netminder DENNIS ENDRAS, the 27-year-old who appeared in 18 games for Deutschland at the last three annual IIHF World Championships, was not selected by first-year national team trainer PAT CORTINA in the wake of the unexpected overtime loss to Italy a couple of days earlier.

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Austria defenseman ANDRE LAKOS (64), the well-traveled veteran of the Swedish and Russian elite leagues who appeared in 27 Deutsche Eishockey Liga contests (2 go, 14 pts) for German club Koelner Haie before transferring to UPC Vienna Capitals in late January of 2012, receives congratulations after scoring a massive second period goal during the pivotal XXII Winter Olympic Games – Group D Qualification Tournament contest at the jampacked TransEge Arena in Bietigheim-Bissingen.
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Almost seven minutes into the third period, the Germans regained the lead after Austria captain THOMAS KOCH of AC Klagenfurt was sent off for holding. Skating with the puck behind the net, Barta made a brilliant play to spot the goaltender Starkbaum moving and find Germany captain MICHAEL WOLF of Iserlohn Roosters with a clever pass. Wolf’s sharp-angle shot bounced in off Starkbaum and seemed to give the home side a great lift, as did yet another to holding penalty shortly thereafter.

But Germany never did cash in on the holding penalty issued to Austria defenseman MARTIN SCHUMNIG, also of AC Klagenfurt, and Cortina’s charges would come to regret that soon enough.

This particularly after Austria veteran left wing MARKUS PEINTNER of SV Villach charged into the offensive zone and wristed a shot from the left faceoff circle that, once again, beat the German goaltender Zepp to the short side. Aware of the situation coming into the final Olympic qualifying match at the TransEge Arena, the Austrians were immediately overcome with joy but, realizing that a good seven and half minutes remained to be contested, quickly regained their composure. The presence of four veteran international defenseman who had been on the last Austrian team to have appeared at the Winter Olympic Games must have helped greatly in settling the younger players down for the stretch run at Bietigheim-Bissingen.

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Disappointed German defenders reflect upon very recent events as Austria’s colorful right wing MARKUS PEINTNER (34) of VSV Villach wheels away after scoring the equalizing goal that will ultimately earn die Oesterreicher a ticket to Sochi, Russia, during the third period of the critical XXII Winter Olympic Games – Group D Qualification Tournament D contest at the sold-out TransEge Arena in Bietigheim-Bissingen.
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XXII Winter Olympic Games
Qualification Tournament, Group D
Bietigheim-Bissingen, Germany

GERMANY 3 – AUSTRIA 2 (ot)
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18:41 … GER – Kohl (Braun, Ma. Mueller) – ppg
penalties – Ma. Mueller GER (tripping) 3:24, Lukas AUT (holding) 16:46, Braun GER (tripping) 20:00
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31:46 … AUT – Lakos (T. Raffl, Welser)
penalties – Hundertpfund AUT (holding) 26:47, Rotter AUT (interference) 31:58, AUT bench (too many men) 38:07
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46:54 … GER – M. Wolf (Barta, Gogulla) 46:54 – ppg
52:22 … AUT – Peintner (Oberkofler, Trattnig)
penalties – Koch AUT (holding) 46:31, Schumnig AUT (holding) 47:34
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62:34 … GER – Reimer (Braun) – ppg
penalties – M. Iberer AUT double-minor (high sticking) 60:24

Shots-on-goal
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GERMANY …….. 38 = 10 + 14 + 11 + 3
AUSTRIA ……….. 19 = 5 + 9 + 5 + 0

“Best Players”
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GERMANY …… Michael WOLF – (Iserlohn Roosters)
AUSTRIA …….. Bernhard STARKBAUM – (Mo Do Ornskoldsvik / Sweden)

GERMANY : Zepp – Baxmann, Braun ; Goc, Mo. Mueller ; Kohl, Petermann ; Ebner – Gogulla, Barta, M. Wolf ; Ma. Mueller, Hospelt, Rankel ; Kink, Schuetz, Reimer ; Flaake, Festerling, D. Wolf ; Pietta

AUSTRIA : Starkbaum – Trattnig, A. Lakos ; Unterluggauer, F. Iberer ; Altmann, Schumnig ; Lukas – M. Raffl, Koch, Baumgartner ; T. Raffl, Schuller, Welser ; Rotter, Oberkofler, Peintner ; M. Iberer, Hundertpfund, Ulmer

Attendance – 4,517

Referees – Tom LAAKSONEN (Finland), Vladimir SINDLER (Czech Republic)

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Austria vs Germany In NHL / AHL


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Germany’s offensive-minded defenseman CHRISTIAN EHRHOFF (10) of the Buffalo Sabres had already appeared in more than 550 National Hockey League contests before joining the Krefeld Pinguine (32 ga, 8 go, 26 pts) of the Deutsche Eishockey Liga early this past September.
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As the “Lock-Out” situation in the National Hockey League dragged on after Christmas, it was beginning to look more and more likely that the NHL players for both AUSTRIA and neighboring arch-rival GERMANY might, indeed, be able to participate at the upcoming qualfication tournament for the right to appear at the men’s ice hockey tournament of the XXII Winter Olympic Games to be held next year in Soschi, Russia. Shortly after the New Year arrived, however, the labor strife was finally resolved and all the NHL players biding their time in both the Deutsche Eishockey Liga as well as the Erste Bank Eishockey Liga immediately returned to North America. It is interesting to note that, by the time of the actual Olympic qualification tournament in Bietigheim-Bissingen, the Austrian star left wing THOMAS VANEK of the Buffalo Sabres had already established himself as the leading scorer in all the National Hockey League for this strike-shortened 2013 season.

The Buffalo Sabres, in addition to the ever-dangerous Vanek, have three German national team skaters on the roster this term. Altogether, seven players were on National Hockey League rosters when the XXII Winter Olympics Games – Group D Qualification Tournament first dropped the puck in early February. Additionally, four other Germans are in the developmental American Hockey League and were unavailable to Germany’s Canadian trainer PAT CORTINA for national team duty in Bietigheim-Bissingen :

35 … ctr …. Jochen HECHT …………… BUFFALO SABRES
31 … def … Dennis SEIDENBERG …… BOSTON BRUINS
30 … def … Christian EHRHOFF …….. BUFFALO SABRES
29 … ctr …. Marcel GOC ……………… FLORIDA PANTHERS
28 … def … Alexander SULZER ……… BUFFALO SABRES
27 … gk …. Thomas GREISS ………… SAN JOSE SHARKS
24 … def … Korbinian HOLZER ……… TORONTO MAPLE LEAFS

26 … def … Justin KRUEGER ………… Charlotte Checkers (AHL)
21 … gk ….. Philipp GRUBAUER …….. Hershey Bears (AHL)
20 … rw ….. Tom KUEHNHACKL …….. Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Penguins (AHL)
20 … ctr ….. Marcel NOEBELS ……….. Adriondack Phantoms (AHL)

Ehrhoff, Hecht and Seidenberg have all appeared at the Winter Olympic Games on three occasions each while Goc, Gress and Sulzer are all two-time Olympic performers. Holzer was a member of the German contingent that did not fare so well at the last Winter Olympic Games host by the western Canadian city of Vancouver in 2010. Krueger, the former Cornell University rearguard who is the son of Edmonton Oilers head coach RALPH KRUEGER, has skated with the German national team at the last three annual IIHF World Championships (23 ga, 1 go 3 pts).

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Buffalo Sabres’ Austria international THOMAS VANEK (26), the lethal left wing who won an NCAA title at the University of Minnesota before twice topping the 40-goal plateau in the National Hockey League, backhands the puck past the Boston Bruins’ Finnish goaltender TUUKA RASK (40) during the recent NHL contest that saw Vanek register five points in a single game for the second time this strike-shortened season already.
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Three NHL skaters, two of whom have each notched at least 30 goals in a single season at some point in their respective careers already, were unavailable to Austria national team trainer EMMANUEL VIVEIROS for the decisive Olympic qualification tournament in neighboring Germany :

29 … lw …. Thomas VANEK ……….. BUFFALO SABRES
25 … lw …. Michael GRABNER ……. NEW YORK ISLANDERS
25 … rw …. Andreas NOEDL ………. CAROLINA HURRICANES

31 … def … Thomas POCK ………… Lake Erie Monsters (AHL)

The one Austrian player currently skating in the American Hockey League is veteran THOMAS POCK, the former University of Massachusetts – Amherst defenseman who skated 118 NHL games (8 go, 17 pts) for the New York Rangers and New York Islanders before spending time in both Switzerland as well as Sweden. The experienced 31-year-old was a member of the last Austrian national team that appeared at the Winter Olympics having skated four games (0 go, 0 pts) at the 2002 Salt Lake City Games held in the western part of the United States. Overall, Pock has represented Austria at five major international tournaments (25 ga, 2 go, 4 pts) thus far in his career.

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Austria left wing MICHAEL GRABNER (17), the 25-year-old who totaled 20 goals and 32 points in 78 NHL games for the New York Islanders last season, was the only National Hockey League player on the squad of national team trainer Emmanuel Viveiros at last spring’s 2012 IIHF World Championships – Division 1 Group A tournament hosted by Ljubljana, Slovenia.

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Road To Russia … Italy 4 – Holland 1


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Holland’s versatile winger JORDY VAN OORSCHOT (14) of HYS Den Haag shadows Italy right wing DIEGO KOSTNER (16) of Swiss elite league side HC Lugano, the emerging 20-year-old who has already scored six goals in the Nationalliga A this season after managing just two all of last term, during the XXII Winter Olympic Games – Group D Qualification Tournament contest at the TransEge Arena in the southwestern German city of Bietigheim-Bissingen.
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A pair of lightning strikes just 13 seconds apart at the start of the second period and another strong performance from the starting goaltender carried already-eliminated ITALY to a 4-1 victory over winless HOLLAND on the final day of competition at the XXII Winter Olympic Games – Group D Qualificaton Tournament in Bietigheim-Bissingen, Germany.

The Italians skated to the lead less than five and a half minutes into the contest thanks to the marksmanship of native Canadian PAT IANNONE of HC Val Pusteria Wolves, the 31-year-old left wing who has spent his entire professional career in Serie A after concluding his junior days with the Regina Pats of the Western Hockey League; the real damage was done when the two native Canadians VINCE ROCCO of HC Alleghe, the 25-year-old right wing who led Italy with three goals at this Olympic qualifying tournament, and ROB SIRIANNI of HC Valpellice quickly scored goals to leave the Netherlands trailing 3-0 just 1:07 into the second period.

Holland did have their best period of the entire Olympic qualfication tournament at the EgeTrans Arena in the middle frame of the match against the Italians. In a period that concluded without the benefit of even a single power play, the lightweight Dutch still managed to generate an impressive 17 shots on target and pulled a goal back through defenseman BJORN WILLEMSE of Tilburg Trappers. Holland might have had a few more, too, if not for the fine work of Italy goaltender DANIEL BELLISSIMO of Swedish elite league side IK Timra.

Bellissimo, the 28-year-old native of Toronto who tended the nets for Western Michigan University before heading across the Atlantic Ocean to sign with HC Asiago in the summer of 2007, made 31 saves for the Italians in his second start of this tournament in Bietigheim-Bissingen while Rocco, the 25-year-old native Canadian who skated seven games (4 go, 9 pts) for the Reading Royals in the East Coast Hockey League after completing his career at the University of Niagara in the spring of 2009, finished off the Nethlerlands by adding his second goal of the game into an empty net with a little over a minute remaining.

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Italy’s native Canadian goaltender DANIEL BELLISSIMO of Swedish Elitserien club IK Timra and Holland winger MITCH BRUIJSTEN of Eaters Geleen, the 23-year-old rookie in his first season of professional hockey after three campaigns of NCAA college hockey with the University of Alaska – Anchorage, focus on the airborne puck in front of the net during the XXII Winter Olympic Games – Group D Qualification Tournament contest at the TransEge Arena in Bietigheim-Bissingen, Germany.
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XXII Winter Olympic Games
Qualification Tournament, Group D
Bietigheim-Bissingen, Germany

ITALY 4 – HOLLAND 1
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05:16 … ITA – Iannone (Iori, Hofer)
penalties – di Casmirro ITA (14:34)
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20:54 … ITA – Rocco (de Marchi, Plastino)
21:07 … ITA – Sirriani (Scandella, Borgatello)
35:07 … HOL – Willemse (Demelinne, Smid) – ppg
penalties – van Oorschot HOL (hooking) 22:57
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58:52 … ITA – Rocco (Hofer, Insam) – eng
penalties – Iori ITA (interference) 52:00, de Marchi ITA (interference) 53:06, de Jong HOL (tripping) 54:24, Plastino ITA (hooking) 56:15

Shots-on-goal
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ITALY ………… 40 = 13 + 17 + 10
HOLLAND ……… 32 = 7 + 17 + 8

“Best Players”
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ITALY ………… Christain BORGATELLO – (HC Bolzano Foxes)
HOLLAND ……… JORDY VAN OORSCHOT – (HYS Den Haag)

ITALY : Bellissimo – Borgatello, Johnson ; Plastino, de Marchi ; Hofer, Willeit ; Helfer – Scandella, di Casmirro, Sirriani ; Rocco, Insam, Gander ; Iori, Scelfo, Iannone ; Fontanive, Kostner

HOLLAND : Meierdres – van de Heuvel, de Jong ; Smid, Willemse ; Overweg, van de Velden – Joly, Demmeline, M. Bruijsten ; Wurm, Kars, Postma ; van Oorschot, Bastings, Hagemeijer ; Houkes, Dijkstra, van Hulten

Attendance – 4,517

Referees – Eduards OVINS (Latvia), Alexei RAVODIN (Russia)

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