Sunday, 18 December 2016

The Rundown - Week 11

In continuing with the weekly tradition of posting The Rundown, this week's article jumps off the coasts of North America for a look around the international game. While Canada and the US battled this week in Plymouth, Michigan in their annual December series, there's a ton of great hockey and fantastic stories coming out of hockey markets where one may not think women's hockey has a foothold. While this series focuses on Canada West women's hockey during the season, the break gives me a chance to really focus on some great people and players elsewhere on this blue marble in space. The best part is that CIS-trained women are making an impact on the international scene as much as they are here at home! Here are some of those stories!

France Soldiers On

For a country who has never played in an women's hockey event at the Winter Olympics, France is making short work of its opponents in this opportunity. After handing China a 3-0 loss and downing Italy 3-1 in their opening games at Aren'Ice in Cergy-Pontoise, the Frenchwomen hammered Latvia 8-1 this past weekend to advance to the final stage of qualifications to take place at Hakucho Oji Ice Arena in Tomakomai in Japan from February 9-12.

The win, witnessed by 928 fans in the arena, was paced by a pair of goals and an assist from the University of Montreal's Emmanuelle Passard. The 24 year-old credited her move to the RSEQ of the CIS as a reason for her game improving. Passard is now one tournament away from appearing as a member of Team France in the PyeongChang 2018 Olympics.

"We are very happy and joyful. We came here to win first place and now we're there. Our physical play really made a difference," Passard told Martin Merk of "We know that in the next round the opponents will be tougher but everything is open and I think we will be able to challenge these teams. The games will be faster, the players will be more skilled and the goalies will be better. We need a strong team play and to play solid defensively because there we will pay immediately for every mistake."

Goals for France came from Soline Fohrer, Passard, Chloe Aurard, Passard again, Lara Escudero, Betty Jouanny, Fohrer again, and Marion Allemoz of Les Canadiennes of the CWHL. It was the fifth-straight victory for the Frenchwomen over Latvia since a 3-2 loss at the 2004 IIHF Ice Hockey Women's World Championship Division I tournament. In Japan, the Frenchwomen will play in a pool against Japan, Germany and Austria with a berth in the 2018 Olympics on the line! Vive la France!

Norway Moves On

Another team moved onto the final qualification stage as Norway used a 4-0 win over Hungary, a 5-0 win over Kazakhstan, and a 6-2 drubbing of Slovakia to claim a spot in the final qualification tournament being held at the Sport-und Kongresszentrum in Arosa, Switzerland on February 9-12. Like France, Norway's women's hockey team has never played in the Olympics, and they seem focused as they gear up for a trip to Switzerland.

"Our girls stayed confident all the time, we had a few penalty kills too many, but everyone worked together and stayed positive and that's what I expect from them," Norway head coach Laura Rollins told Henrik Manninen of

UBC's Mathea Fischer played a big role for the Norwegians as the 19 year-old had two goals and an assist against the Slovaks to book her team's trip to Switzerland. Helene Martinsen, 16 year-old Millie Sirum, Lene Tendenes, and Silje Holos were the other goal scorers for Norway. Fischer's efforts in the three-game tournament saw her lead the event in scoring with three goals and three assists, lead in goals and tie for the lead in assists, and saw her go 34/52 at the face-off dot for a 65.38% winning percentage. The UBC Thunderbirds star had herself a heckuva tournament!

Family Affair

Two years ago, Latvia set an IIHF record when two sets of mothers and daughters suited up for a World Championship when mother Inese Geca-Miljone and daughter Līga Miljone (easily recognizable with her white gloves and skates!) joined another mother Aija Apsite and her daughter Agnese Apsite as the first mother-daughter combos to play on the same team! Inese moved into an assistant coaching role with the team at this past tournament, but the Apsites added another player to the Latvian ranks when goaltender Kristiana suited up in this tournament, making the the Apsites the first mother-and-two-daughters to play in an IIHF competition game!

Aija, a defenceman, is 42 years young. Eldest daughter Agnese is 18 years-old and younger daughter Kristiana is 16 years-old. While Aija might be nearing the end of her career, her two daughters will press on and carry the proud Apsite name forward as they look to write new history for the Latvian national team! And maybe, just maybe, we'll see the Apsite sisters in the Olympics in the future!

Game One To The North

Canada and the US are battling in their annual December series once more, and the first game of the two-game set went last night in Plymouth, Michigan. Canada, on the strength of a Rebecca Johnston hat trick, took Game One by a 5-3 score.

It was a rather uncharacteristic game for the Americans as passing seemed off and they were unable to generate a lot of quality chances on Shannon Szabados who took over in net after Ann-Renee Desbiens was injured in the early minutes of the game. However, the Americans were not ones to waste opportunities as they built a 3-1 lead five minutes into the second period. The comeback was led by Jill Saulnier and Johnston before Natalie Spooner put the red-and-white out in front with 18 minutes to play. Johnston's empty-netter would seal the deal.

I was especially impressed with the play of Halli Krzyzaniak on Saturday night. The Manitoba-born defenceman was a steady pillar on the blue line, and she was directly involved on Johnston's first goal as she sent a pass up the boards from behind her own net to Johnston who converted the feed. The 21 year-old looks like she's going to be a mainstay on the Canadian blue line for years to come, and her maturity and steadying influence as a veteran player at her age have to make Canadian fans proud!

Next Weekend

As you may be aware, next Sunday is Christmas Day. The Rundown will take a break in celebration of the holiday. If you're still looking for a few last-minute gift ideas, I implore you to buy tickets to a CIS women's hockey game. The action is incredible, the women are outstanding athletes, and the cost is minimal. Players such as Charline Labonté, Hayley Wickenheiser, Iya Gavrilova, and Mélodie Daoust all spent time at CIS schools before jumping to the CWHL and to their respective national teams. This is where you'll see great international stars such as Mathea Fischer, Sasha Vafina, and Venla Hovi for a fraction of the cost you'd be charged to see them with their national teams at the Olympics.

Do yourself a favor: buy a CIS women's hockey ticket. You won't regret it!

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

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