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Friday, May 3, 2013

The 2013 IIHF World Championships

Today sees the first games in the 2013 IIHF World Championships, which will be shared, like last year, between Stockholm, Sweden and Helsinki, Finland, only with the Semifinals and Finals being held in Sweden this time.

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The opening games of the tournament feature France vs. Slovakia in Helsinki while the Czech Republic takes on Belarus in Stockholm.

This is the second year for the new format for the tournament, which features two larger groups of eight teams each, rather than the previous four groups of four teams. We actually preferred the previous format, as any upsets carried much more weight and allowed the lower ranked teams a greater opportunity to advance, as the Preliminary Round group schedule only consisted of three games, so a single win was usually enough to allow a team to advance to the Qualifying Round.

The current format sees eight teams playing a seven game round-robin schedule, so a single upset win is going to fade greatly in importance as six more games will remain on the schedule. While this format will ensure that the cream will rise to the top over the more than double the previous number of games, who doesn't love a good underdog story? To illustrate, in the two Preliminary Round groups last year, a minimum of four wins was needed to advance to the Playoff Round, really putting an emphasis on consistency.

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Norway's Patrick Thoresen finished second in scoringlast year, one point back of Evgeni Malkin who had the benefit of playing two additional games

This year's groups are Group H (for Helsinki), which has Russia, Finland, Slovakia, the United States, Germany, Latvia, France and Austria, while Group S (for Stockholm) consists of the Czech Republic, Sweden, Canada, Norway, Switzerland, Denmark, Belarus and Slovenia, with the top four in each group advancing to the Quarterfinals, which will be played within the group to save on travel costs, with 1 playing 4 and 2 playing 3 in a single elimination format. The winners will then all travel to Stockholm with the two Group S winners facing the two Group H survivors in the semifinals. The losers will then meet for the bronze medal with the winners facing off in the gold medal final.

The Relegation Round of the past has been done away with, as the two bottom teams in each group are simply relegated to Division I Group A for 2014, (although Belarus in Group S is exempt from relegation in 2013 thanks to their position as host of the 2014 World Championships) unlike in the past where the bottom team in each of the four groups were combined in a new group for the Relegation Round, where they would play a round-robin schedule of three games for their ultimate survival.

The old relegation format would often provide some dramatic struggles and a chance for the bottom feeders to actually win some games on the ice among more equal competition. While many did not pay attention to the Relegation Round, international hockey aficionados always appreciated the on ice battles with true pride on the line, something we are saddened to see fall by the wayside.

Last year's tournament was won by Russia, who have now won three of the past five gold medals following a drought which dated from 1994 through 2007. Slovakia was a surprise silver medalist last season, as they had finished no better than 10th for the previous four years! The Czech Republic won the bronze for the second consecutive year following a gold in 2010.

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The 2012 World Champions Russia

Russia will be tough to beat, as they will bring a roster that features Ilya Kovalchuk and Alexander Radulov at forward with NHLers Semyon Varlamov and Ilya Bryzgalov in goal. Canada brings a roster full of NHL talent, including Taylor Hall, Matt Duchene, Jordan Staal, Eric Staal, Claude Giroux, Jeff Skinner and the high scoring Steven Stamkos.

In Group H, look for Finland, Russia, the United States and Slovakia to advance, with Germany looking to capitalize if any of those four falter. Group S, Canada, the Czech Republic and Sweden all look to be locks to advance, with last year's surprising Norway looking to hold off Switzerland for the final playoff spot. The bad news for Sweden is that no host team has won the tournament for the past 26 years, dating back to the Soviet Union in 1986! Likely relegation candidates look to be Austria or France in Group H and Slovenia in Group S.

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Slovenia and Austria will be hoping to avoid relegation

In the US, the NBC Sports Network will broadcast all the Preliminary Round games of the United States and all of the playoff games through the end of the tournament for a total of 15 games beginning with the United States first game against Austria at 5:15 AM eastern on Saturday morning. Perhaps they will have some additional non-US games streamed live on NBC Sports Live Extra, but we have no way to confirm that and will certain tweet any information on our twitter feed if we find any additional information.

In Canada, TSN will show every Canadian and USA game as well as all the playoff games, 22 games in all. The first contest for Team Canada will be against Denmark at 10:15 AM EST on Saturday.

For highlights of each game, be sure to check out the YouTube Channel of the IIHF.

Additionally, fans can follow this tournament and more with the IIHF apps for both Apple and Android phones by following these links. Apple Android

Today's featured jersey is a 2012 Russia National Team Evgeni Malkin jersey. Malkin led the Russians to the gold medal by leading all scorers in goals with 11 and points with 19 in just 10 games played. Malkin earned Best Forward, Media All-Star Team and Most Valuable Player awards for his efforts.

Russia has been wearing this style jersey since the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver. Sharp-eyed readers will notice the subtle sublimated eagle designs printed on the arms below the stripes and perhaps even along the waist line. One feature of jerseys worn during the World Championships which set them instantly apart from those worn during the Olympics or World Juniors is the rectangular sponsorship patches worn on the upper arms.

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Russia 2012 jersey photo Russia2012Bjersey.jpg
photo courtesy of Classic Auctions

Today's video section is a teaser for the 2013 World Championships followed by a spotlight on the defending gold medalists from Russia.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

1966-67 Toronto Maple Leafs Dave Keon Jersey

On this date in 1967, the Toronto Maple Leafs defeated the Montreal Canadiens 3-1 to win the Stanley Cup in six games, bringing an end to The Original 6 Era.

The NHL began in 1917 with four member clubs, the Montreal Canadiens, Montreal Wanderers, Toronto Hockey Club and Ottawa Senators. The Wanderers would only last six games before a fire burned down the Montreal Arena, an event which would cause the financially struggling club to call it quits.

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The 1918 Montreal Arena fire

The Toronto franchise would be renamed the Arenas for 1918-19 and the St. Patricks in 1919-20, a season which would see the league expand to four clubs once again with the revival of the Quebec Bulldogs. That revival would last but one season before the club was relocated and became the Hamilton Tigers for the 1920-21 season.

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The Stanley Cup champion 1921-22 Toronto St. Patricks

The NHL would expand for the 1924-25 season to six clubs with the addition of the Montreal Maroons and the first club based in the United States, the Boston Bruins. If one were prone to split hairs, these six teams, the Bruins, Tigers, Canadiens, Maroons, Senators and St. Pats could be considered the true "Original 6".

The Hamilton franchise was dropped for 1925-26 and it's players transferred to a new club, the New York Americans. Additionally, a new franchise was granted to Pittsburgh, which was named the Pirates, bringing the league up to seven teams.

The following season was again one of change and expansion. A change in ownership in Toronto saw the St. Pats renamed the Maple Leafs mid-season and the Chicago Black Hawks arrived on the scene, along with the Detroit Cougars following the demise of the Western Hockey League. Those two clubs were stocked with the players from the Portland Rosebuds and Victoria Cougars. The New York Rangers, who would share Madison Square Garden with the Americans, were granted an expansion franchise as well. This brought the league now up to a full ten teams.

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The newly renamed 1927-28 Toronto Maple Leafs

In 1930-31, the Pirates relocated to Philadelphia and became the Quakers, who would last just one season before folding, leaving the NHL with 9 teams. This scenario would be repeated in 1934-35 when the once powerful Ottawa Senators would relocate and become the St. Louis Eagles, who would also fold after a single season, bringing the number of clubs down to 8.

Also in 1930-31 the Cougars would change their name to the Falcons for two seasons before adopting the name Red Wings in 1933-34.

At the end of the 1937-38 season, the Montreal Maroons would drop by the wayside, lowering the number of clubs down to 7, the lowest number since 1926. Those seven clubs would carry on through the 1941-42 season, when the New York Americans, despite still playing in Manhattan, changed their name to the Brooklyn Americans in an attempt to win more fans. When that failed to work, the Americans ceased operations, a move which officially began the "Original 6" era in 1942-43.

Those six clubs, the Bruins, Black Hawks, Red Wings, Canadiens, Rangers and Maple Leafs would continue on unchanged through the 1966-67 season, 25 seasons in all.

During the Original 6 era, Detroit won the Stanley Cup five times, Montreal ten times, including five in a row from 1956 to 1960, Toronto nine times and Chicago once while the Rangers failed to win the cup despite the one in six odds.

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The 1945 Toronto Maple Leafs with the "stovepipe" Stanley Cup

In 1966-67, the Black Hawks finished first with 94 points, easily distancing themselves from Montreal at 77, Toronto with 75 and the final playoff qualifier New York at 72. As was the practice back then, Chicago did not draw the fourth place Rangers, but the third placed Maple Leafs, who upset the Black Hawks 4 games to 2 with all four of their wins by two goals. Montreal advanced to the finals by sweeping the Rangers in four straight.

Montreal looked to have the upper hand after winning Game 1 at home easily by a score of 6-2, but Toronto immediately responded with a 3-0 shutout behind Johnny Bower in goal. A thrilling Game 3 in Toronto saw the Maple Leafs win 3-2 in overtime. Before Toronto could exploit their home advantage Montreal took their turn winning one on the road, again by a dominating 6-2 score.

Back in Montreal, Toronto disappointed the home fans by putting Montreal on the brink with an easy 4-1 with Terry Sawchuk in goal, who took over for Game 4 when Bower was knocked out of the series with an injury.

When Game 6 in Toronto went the way of the Maple Leafs 3-1, the Maple Leafs hoisted the Stanley Cup and the Original 6 era came to an end as the league would expand by no less than six teams for the 1967-68 season, with clubs in Los Angeles, Oakland, St. Louis, Minnesota, Philadelphia and a return to Pittsburgh.

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The 1966-67 Stanley Cup Champion Toronto Maple Leafs

Today's featured jersey is a 1966-67 Toronto Maple Leafs Dave Keon jersey. Keon led the Maple Leafs in scoring that season and was also named the winner of the Conn Smythe Trophy following their Stanley Cup victory.

This jersey style was introduced during the 1966-67 season in time for the Maple Leafs run to the Stanley Cup bearing a maple leaf which closely resembled that of the new Canadian flag introduced in 1965. This jersey would have a relatively brief lifespan, lasting through just the 1969-70 season but was revived by the Maple Leafs in 2011-12 as their new alternate jersey.

Keon played 15 seasons for the Maple Leafs, winning four Stanley Cups. He was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1986 and in 2016 was named as the greatest Toronto Maple Leaf in team history.

Toronto Maple Leafs 66-67 jersey
photo courtesy of Classic Auctions

Bonus jersey: Today's bonus jersey is a 1966-67 Toronto Maple Leafs Johnny Bower jersey. This white jersey was worn for the Maple Leafs home games at Maple Leaf Gardens. Bower played 12 seasons for the Maple Leafs, winning four Stanley Cups. He was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1976.

Toronto Maple Leafs 1966-67 F H jersey
Toronto Maple Leafs 1966-67 B H jersey

Extra bonus jersey: Today's extra bonus jersey is a 1966-67 Toronto Maple Leafs Tim Horton jersey. Horton played 20 seasons for the Maple Leafs, winning four Stanley Cups. He was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1977.

Toronto Maple Leafs 1966-67 F jersey
Toronto Maple Leafs 1966-67 B jersey

photos courtesy of Classic Auctions

Today's video selection is game footage of the Maple Leafs capturing the 1967 Stanley Cup, the final one of the Original 6 era.

Since 1967, the Maple Leafs have yet to win another cup, angering even their most ardent supporters.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

2013-14 Kontinental Hockey League Expansion

On Saturday the Kontinental Hockey League (KHL) announced it was expanding with the addition of a brand new club in Vladivostok, Russia followed by Monday's revelation that the 28th member of the league would be KHL Medveščak from Zagreb, Croatia.


While other cities and clubs have been seeking to join the KHL, such as so far unsuccessful efforts from Milan, Italy and Gdansk, Poland, the announcement of KHL Medveščak (with "KHL" standing for Klub hokeja na ledu) moving to the KHL for 2013-14 will make them the first Croatian team to join the KHL.

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KHL Medveščak supporters

Founded in 1961, KHL Medveščak is by far the most popular and most successful club in Croatia. For their first 30 seasons the team competed in the Yugoslav Hockey League, playing their games outdoors until 1971 when they moved to an indoor rink. The team was a middle of the pack club for it's first two decades, which included a financial crisis in the mid 1980's.

In 1986, KHL Medveščak was sponsored by the Gortan Building company, which was owned by Zdenko Gradecki, who injected some much needed cash which allowed for better player recruitment, transforming the club. The Bears won Four consecutive Yugoslav Ice Hockey Cups from 1988 to 1991 and three consecutive league titles in 1989, 1990 and 1991, which led to a spot in the 1991 IIHF Champions Cup where they defeated teams from Italy, Austria and Hungary to advance to the second round.

When Yugoslavia dissolved in 1991, Medveščak lost all it's sponsors and their associated funding, which necessitated competing as an amateur club in the Croatian Ice Hockey League. They dominated the league through the 1990's and early 2000's before seeking a higher level of competition in 2007 when they joined the Slovenian Hockey League before changing leagues once again, this time to the Austrian Erste Bank Eishockey Liga in 2009-10. They competed in the Austrian league for four seasons until the announcement on Monday that they would be moving to the KHL as it's first Croatian club and will be the second-most western team in the league after the Czech club HC Lev in Prague.

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The 2009-10 KHL Medveščak squad during their first year in the Austrian Erste Bank Eishockey Liga

On the opposite end of the scale comes word that a new expansion franchise will also join the KHL for next season. This as yet unnamed team will be located in far eastern Russia in the port city of Vladivostok, which is a whopping 4,975 miles from Prague where HC Lev is located. Vladivostok is just 89 miles from the border with North Korea and actually closer to Vancouver (4,608 miles) than it is to Prague within the KHL!

The team is building a new 7,000 seat arena in time for the start of the 2013-14 season. Vladivostok is six time zones and 4,000 miles from the heart of the KHL in Moscow, 8 hours and 18 minutes flying time, but there is one other KHL team nearby, HC Amur 400 miles north in Khabarovsk, which is itself only 30 miles from the Chinese border.

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A map of Russia showing the Trans-Siberian Railway line from Moscow to Khabarovsk  and finally Vladivostok to the south - 4,000 miles by air

With that exception though, Vladivostok remains a far outpost across the vast expanse of Russia and presents challenges in time and travel, even when teams can play two opponents on one trip, as the next closest team to Vladivostok and Khabarovsk is HC Metallurg Novokuznetsk in central Russia, 2,137 miles west. If you thought the Dallas Stars and Minnesota Wild didn't like being in a division with no teams within their same time zone, or the Detroit Red Wings didn't like traveling to California, try crossing six time zones across Russia from Moscow to play two games.

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KHL President Alexander Medvedev announcing the new KHL club in Vladivostok

In order to ease the travel burden on the league members, the KHL, which will now have clubs in seven different countries, will reportedly be realigned into three divisions split between Eastern Europe, Western Russia and Siberia/Far East playing a schedule of 58 games, six more than last season. Even with new divisions and a matching schedule to ease the travel costs, the other seven teams slated to be in the "Pacific" division, such as Traktor Chelyabinsk 928 miles from Moscow must not be looking forward to spending their winters traipsing back and forth across Siberia all winter long.

 Vladivostok's new team will be run by it's president, former NHL star Alexander Mogilny, who originally from Khabarovsk and currently acting as an advisor to HC Amur.

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Alexander Mogilny while with the Buffalo Sabres

Today's featured jersey is a 2012-13 KHL Medveščak Dustin Jeffrey jersey from the Pittsburgh Penguins player who skated for KHL Medveščak during the early part of the season while the NHL players were locked out by their owners. Jeffrey played 20 games in Zagreb, scoring 11 goals and 23 points before returning to the NHL, where he played 24 games for the Penguins, scoring 6 points.


Tuesday, April 30, 2013

2012-13 NHL Top 20 Selling Jerseys

The NHL has released it's list of Top 20 best selling jerseys on Shop.NHL.com for the just concluded season. This list is interesting in that it is not skewed by special jerseys created for the Winter Classic, which was not held this year due to the lockout.

The Winter Classic jerseys last year helped place Claude Giroux of the Philadelphia Flyers and Ryan Callahan of the New York Rangers in the top two, as well as the Rangers Henrik Lundqvist (#5) and Brad Richards (#15), the Flyers Jaromir Jagr (#10), Daniel Briere (#11) and James van Riemsdyk (#19) in the Top 20. This year? Just two Rangers made the Top 20, new arrival Rick Nash at #4 and Callahan at #8. Giroux slid to #7, the only Flyer to appear on this year's list.

Topping the list this year was Jonathan Toews of the Chicago Blackhawks, with teammates Patrick Kane (#5), Marian Hossa (#6) and Patrick Sharp (#16) leading the strong sales of Blackhawks gear.

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Toews and Kane lead the Blackhawks on the ice and at the cash registers

The Detroit Red Wings star Pavel Datsyuk came in second this year and most certainly would have been #1 had the Winter Classic been played. Bet the farm on him topping this list next season when the rescheduled event takes place at the Big House in Michigan - unless the Maple Leafs fans push one of their players Winter Classic throwbacks to the top.

Superstar Sidney Crosby of the Pittsburgh Penguins came in at #3 with teammate (no, not Evgeni Malkin) James Neal ranking 9th.

Minnesota Wild fans went wild over their new savior Zach Parise, launching him into the top ten at #10, followed by Datsyuk's teammate Henrik Zetterberg at #11. The Toronto Maple Leafs Joffrey Lupul was #12. We find Lupul to be quite a surprise, as he missed the majority of the season, Phil Kessel led the team in scoring and last year's #19 van Riemsdyk was playing his first season in Toronto and finished third in team scoring. Even the breakout year for Nazem Kadri or goaltender James Reimer would have made more sense to us than Lupul.

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Joffrey Lupul - The most surprising name on the list?

Russian Ilya Kovalchuk of the New Jersey Devils at #13 before the Boston Bruins took over nearly the remainder of the list, with Brad Marchand at #14, Tyler Seguin #15, Patrice Bergeron #18 and Zdeno Chara at #20 all making the Top 20 for the Bruins.

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More Bruins than you can shake a stick at,
Bergeron, Marchand, Seguin and Chara

The New York Islanders John Tavares made the list at #17, which just had to be the Islanders home and road jerseys and hopefully not their dreadful black alternate disasters. It would be interesting in a few cases to see a breakdown of percentage styles a particular player sold, such as Tavares as well as Parise's red, green and white options, especially since Minnesota is coming out with a new road sweater next season, perhaps due to lagging sales of their now 12 year old white design.

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Likely the worst selling jersey among the Top 20 players,
Tavares wearing the Islanders dreadful alternate

Ahead of Chara, was an annual member of the list, Alexander Ovechkin of the Washington Capitals, whose numbers were certainly down to his early season struggles as well as the fact the Capitals have been using the same home and road jerseys since 2007 and their throwback alternate was purchased in droves in 2011 when it debuted at that season's Winter Classic, meaning many people in the market for an Ovechkin jersey have no new options to pick from.

The odd part, as pointed out by Greg Wyshynski on the Puck Daddy blog, not a single Los Angeles Kings player from the Stanley Cup champions made the list. Perhaps it's just too warm in Los Angeles to be wearing a hockey jersey comfortably? Strange indeed. The other missing entity? Goaltenders. Not a single one makes the list, which did include a defenseman in Chara.

Here is the full Top 20 in order from the NHL:
1. Chicago Blackhawks center Jonathan Toews 
2. Detroit Red Wings center Pavel Datsyuk 
3. Pittsburgh Penguins center Sidney Crosby 
4. New York Rangers left wing Rick Nash 
5. Chicago Blackhawks right wing Patrick Kane 
6. Chicago Blackhawks right wing Marian Hossa 
7. Philadelphia Flyers right wing Claude Giroux 
8. New York Rangers right wing Ryan Callahan 
9. Pittsburgh Penguins left wing James Neal 
10. Minnesota Wild left wing Zach Parise 
11. Detroit Red Wings left wing Henrik Zetterberg 
12. Toronto Maple Leafs left wing Joffrey Lupul 
13. New Jersey Devils right wing Ilya Kovalchuk 
14. Boston Bruins left wing Brad Marchand 
15. Boston Bruins center Tyler Seguin 
16. Chicago Blackhawks left wing Patrick Sharp 
17. New York Islanders center John Tavares 
18. Boston Bruins center Patrice Bergeron 
19. Washington Capitals left wing Alex Ovechkin 
20. Boston Bruins defenseman Zdeno Chara
Today's featured jersey is a 2012-13 Chicago Blackhawks Jonathan Toews jersey, the #1 selling jersey in the NHL this season. This basic jersey style is now a true Original 6 classic, dating back to 1955. It has certainly undergone some tweaks over the years, such as the change to two color numbers and the addition of names on the back, but when Reebok was hell bent on doing away with horizontal striping when their new Edge jerseys arrived on the scene in 2007, Chicago, along with Detroit, Montreal, the Rangers and New Jersey stood their ground and made Reebok create their classic styles in the new "system", retaining one of the most popular jerseys in the league, which often tops Best Jersey lists online.

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Chicago Blackhawks 12-13 jersey photo ChicagoBlackhawks12-13Bjersey.png

Monday, April 29, 2013

IIHF International Hockey Roundup

With the conclusion of the 2013 IIHF Division II Group B tournament over the weekend, a busy schedule of men's IIHF World Championships over the last two weeks has concluded.

Play began in multiple competitions on April 14th in a variety of locations across three continents. The lowest rung on the IIHF ladder, Division III, was held in Cape Town, South Africa and was contested by Greece (ranked 44th in the IIHF World Rankings), Ireland (42), Luxembourg (43), North Korea (45), South Africa (41) and the United Arab Emirates (47). In the end,  the tournament came down to a deciding, winner-take-all contest between the host South Africans and the North Koreans, which was won by South Africa 4-1. Thanks to their flawless 5-0 record, South Africa, who outscored their competition 39-8, have earned promotion to Division II Group B for 2014.

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North Korea defending against South Africa
in a meeting only possible in the world of sport

This year's Division II Group B was held in Izmit, Turkey and consisted of Bulgaria (33), China (38), Israel (40), Mexico (34), New Zealand (37) and, of course, Turkey (39). New Zealand started out strong winning two games before losing to Israel 3-2 and finished the tournament at 4-1. Top ranked Bulgaria frankly fell flat on their faces, finishing last with a 0-4-1 record and finding themselves relegated to Division III for 2014.

On the other end of the scale was Israel, the lowest ranked of the six teams going into the tournament. They opened with a 6-3 win over China, beat Turkey 5-3, New Zealand 3-2 before hammering Bulgaria 13-2. They were defeated by Mexico in their final game which left them tied with New Zealand at 12 points in the standings, but Israel were named winners of the tournament thanks to their earlier win over New Zealand to earn the promotion to Division II Group A for 2014 in a result few must have seen coming.

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Israel surprized those in attendance by winning promotion
over five higher ranked squads

Division II Group A was held in Zagreb, Croatia with yet another eclectic group, consisting of Australia (32), Belgium (36), Croatia (30), Spain (29), Iceland (35) and Serbia (31). Belgium started out strong with 3 wins before losing their last two, while Croatia took full advantage and romped away to an easy championship, winning all five of their games with a 27-8 margin on scoring to defeat Belgium 15-9 in the standings to earn the promotion to Division I Group B for 2014. Serbia's two wins over Australia and Spain doomed winless Spain to relegation to Division II Group B for next year.

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There are some highly attractive jerseys in the lower ranks of international hockey and Belgium vs. Croatia is a perfect example of that

Donetsk, Ukraine was the site of the Division I Group B tournament among Estonia (26), Lithuania (25), the Netherlands (24), Poland (23), Romania (27) and favorites and hosts Ukraine (20). It came down to a tough battle between Ukraine, Poland and The Netherlands, who fell behind with an overtime loss to Ukraine and a defeat by Poland to finish with 10 points. Poland and Ukraine then met on the final day of competition with Poland leading with 12 points to Ukraine's 11, thanks to dropping a point in their overtime win against the Netherlands.

In a dramatic contest with promotion on the line, Poland broke out on top 2-0 after one period only to see Ukraine roar back with four goals in the span of 13 minutes, three in the second period and one during the first 35 seconds of the third period to take a 4-2 lead. While Poland closed to within 4-3 with a goal with 7:44 remaining, they could not find the equalizer as the Ukrainians held on to win the tournament and the promotion to Division I Group A in their quest to return to the Top Division for the first time since 2007. Estonia were decisively relegated to Division II Group A for 2014 thanks to their 12-3 loss to Lithuania in their game among the two previously winless teams.

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Ukraine held off Poland to earn promotion to Division I Group A

 Division I Group A was was contested in Budapest, Hungary among a widely ranging group consisting of Great Britain (21), Hungary (19), Italy (16), Japan (22), Kazakhstan (17) and South Korea (28), an unusually large spread of 12 spots in the rankings among just six teams. The Koreans accounted well for themselves despite their low world ranking, picking up their first valuable point with a shootout win over Hungary and then came from 1-0 down after one period to defeat Great Britain 4-1, sending the Brits down to Division II Group B for 2014 thanks to their 0-5 record.

Japan's quest to earn one of the two promotion spots on offer took a beating with losses to Kazakhstan and Italy in their first two games. Host Hungary defeated Great Britain in their opener, but regretted the two points they relinquished to South Korea in their shootout loss. They rebounded nicely with a win over the Kazakhs, but a regulation loss to Italy cost them points yet again.

Going into the final day, Italy stood on top with a 4-0 record and 12 points, Kazakhstan second at 3-1 and 9 points and Hungary third at 2-1-1 with 7 points and hope of promotion still alive if they could win in regulation and a loss by Kazakhstan, even in overtime, as Hungary held the tiebreaker thanks to their earlier win over the Kazakhs.

It was not to be however, as Kazakhstan scored a goal in each period on their way to not only a shutout of Italy, but the gold medal as well, thanks to their 3-0 victory, which rendered the results of the final game between Japan and Hungary meaningless. Kazakhstan is therefore promoted to the Top Division and the 2014 IIHF World Championship, to be held in Minsk, Belarus. They will be joined by Italy, whose 4-1 record for 12 points matched Kazakhstan to secure the second promotion spot available in Division I Group A thanks to the format of the Top Division relegating two nations each year, rather than one as the lower divisions do.

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Kazakhstan takes the gold over Italy, but both are promoted
to next year's World Championships at the expense of Hungary

The two teams who will replace Kazakhstan and Italy in Division I Group A will be determined beginning this coming Friday in Stockholm, Sweden and Helsinki, Finland when 16 teams face off in two groups from May 3rd to the 19th at the 2013 IIHF World Championships.

Today's featured jersey is a Nike 2004 Kazakhstan National Team Roman Kozlov jersey as worn in the 2004 World Championships featuring a pair of our custom made Zepter sponsorship patches on the sleeves. Kazakhstan did end up in the relegation round after three preliminary round losses, but successfully defended their place by winning the group with victories over France and Japan along with tying Ukraine.

Kozlov competed for Kazakhstan on seven different occasions, including the European Junior Championships in 1999, the World Juniors in 2001 and the World Championships every year from 2001 to 2005 with a record of 27 games, 3 goals and 6 assists for 9 points and has spent his professional career in the Vysshaya Liga, the second level of Russian hockey.

In hockey, the Kazakhstan National Team made their World Championships debut in 1993 in "Pool C", the third level at the time, finishing 3rd. They have made a steady climb from their early days, and in 1996 they won "Pool C", earning promotion to the "Pool B". Seven years later, Kazakhstan won the Division 1, Group A (the equivalent to the old "Pool B") in 2003, earning a place in the Top Level for 2004.

After two years of avoiding relegation, they were relegated in 2006 back to Division 1, and finished first in Division 1, Group A early in 2009, earning a promotion back to the Top Division, which began a series of promotions and relegations which has seen them alternate from the Top Division and Division I ever since and they will be hoping to avoid the drop again in 2014.

Kazakhstan has competed at the 1998 and 2006 Winter Olympics, finishing in 8th place in 1998. They did not qualify for the upcoming 2014 games in Russia, finishing second out of four in their qualifying group behind Latvia. They also did not qualify in 1994, 2002 and 2010.

Nikolai Antropov became the first ever Kazakh player drafted by the NHL when he was picked in the first round by the Toronto Maple Leafs in 1998.

The other notable Kazakh in the NHL is San Jose Sharks goaltender Evgeni Nabokov, although he is a Russian citizen and currently chooses to play for Russia in international competitions, he did play for Kazakhstan in the 1994 World Championships.

The best known club hockey team of the seven in Kazakhstan is Barys, based in the capital city of Astana, which competes in the primarily Russian Kontinential Hockey League (KHL). They played in the Kazakhstani Championship until 2007, spent the 2007-08 season in the Supreme League prior to gaining acceptance into the KHL.

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Sunday, April 28, 2013

2013 IIHF U18 World Championships

The 2013 IIHF Under 18 World Championships conclude today in Sochi Russia. The tournament, being held at the venue which will host the 2014 Olympics, began back on April 18th with two groups of five teams each. In Group A, Russia went a perfect 4-0, trailed by Finland at 3-1. The defending champion United States failed to impress with a 2-2 record, losing their opening game to Russia 4-3 and later to Finland 2-1. Still, it was enough to advance to the playoffs along with the Czech Republic, who defeated the overmatched Latvians to avoid the Relegation Round.

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Over in Group B, Canada (4-0) cruised home in first over Sweden (3-1), while Switzerland (2-2) took the third spot ahead of Germany (1-3) while Slovakia went winless at 0-4.

The Relegation Round saw Slovakia maintain their place in the Top Division with a 5-2 win in Game 1 followed by a 3-2 win in Game 2. Latvia is therefore relegated to Division I Group A for 2014 and their place will be taken by Denmark next year.

In the playoffs, Finland took care of Switzerland 7-4 in the first game of the Quarterfinals, the United States advanced with a dominant 4-0 win over Sweden, Russia dispatched Germany 8-4 and Canada blitzed the Czech Republic 6-0.

In yesterday's Semifinals, Canada defeated Finland 3-1 to return to the gold medal game for the first time since 2008. The first period passed scoreless before Canada scored first at 3:53 of the second to take a lead they would never relinquish. They would extend their lead to 2-0 when they scored 11 seconds into a power play just a minute after their first goal. Finland kept it close with their only goal at 7:13 of the third period. The final was in doubt until the final minute when the Canadians sealed the victory with an empty net goal with 38 seconds remaining.

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Zach Nastasiuk pressures Finland

The second semifinal between hosts Russia and the United States saw the Americans lead 1-0 after one following their power play goal at 16:09. Russia controlled the second period scoring with a pair of goals, the first on a power play, to lead 2-1 after two despite being outshot 28-19 to that point. The United States tied the game at 4:04 but with 3:19 remaining, the Russians regained the lead at 3-2.

It would take the US 1:15 to respond with the equalizer and regulation ended with the game deadlocked at 3-3. A spirited overtime saw both goalies stand their ground, turing away 12 combined shots and the United States even having to kill off a hooking penalty.

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John Hayden looking to get one past the Russian defense

The game moved to a shootout and the United States prevailed with two goals to Russia's none, sending the Americans into today's gold medal game against Canada. The United States has won the last four gold medals and will be hoping to with their 8th overall since the formation of the U18 tournament in 1999. Canada has two titles, those coming in 2003 and 2008.

The Bronze medal game between Russia and Finland is up first at 8 AM eastern followed by the gold medal final between the United States and Canada at 12 noon eastern.

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