The following article is an edited version of an excellent summary of the teams partipating in the 12 Nations Tmt. Aug. 22 to Sept. 3, 2011. Notice Canada`s loss to Sweden put them in third place. The results donot count and teams were trying new players but the tournament did give fans a sense of some of the changes and improvements in the game world wide.
USA leads way in Vierumäki
First two tournaments of Twelve Nations Series come to an end 05-09-11
The IIHF Twelve Nations Invitational Tournament Series started off with two tournaments in Vierumäki, Finland, and Courchevel, France.The IIHF-sanctioned event was created to give women’s national teams another chance to compete at the highest level before the 2012 World Championship, the Olympic Qualification next season and the Sochi Winter Games in two-and-a-half years.
The 12 participating teams were split between two tournaments and came with almost full rosters while also giving young players a chance to show their skills at this level.
IIHF.com rated the teams according to their results at both tournaments.
The United States won all five games at the 2011 World Championship, and the Americans continued their streak in Vierumäki where the top eight teams competed. The Americans have become the number-one nation in women’s hockey in recent years. Their streak of three straight worlds titles was only interrupted by losing the Olympic gold to host Canada in 2010.
Hilary Knight was the outstanding player and goal scoring leader in Vierumäki with ten goals, while Josephine Pucci, who played her first World Championship this year, had a strong performance with nine assists and was a +15 for the tournament.
Molly Schaus was the only of the 12 goalkeepers at the event who remained undefeated. She deflected all 62 shots and earned four shutouts.
Surprisingly it was not the Canadians, but the Swedes who had the second-best record at the Vierumäki tournament, thanks to their 6-4 victory against Canada.
Sweden has fallen behind Finland in the rivalry for European supremacy in the last few years. The Finnish women have won bronze medals in each Women’s World Championship since 2008 as well as in the Vancouver Olympics.
However, Sweden has proven to be the only European team that is able to stage a surprise against the North Americans. They defeated Canada not only in Vierumäki, but as well in a Four Nations Tournament in Lake Placid in 2008. And at the 2006 Olympics they staged the biggest surprise in women’s hockey ever, ousting the U.S. in the semi-finals.
Goalkeeper Kim Martin was the outstanding player in all these games and she was also the busiest netminder in Vierumäki. She played six full games these days and saved 93.72% of the 207 shots on her goal.
With Pernilla Winberg, Elin Holmlöv and Erika Holst, who played her 300th national team game, the Swedes had also some of the best European scorers.
Canada is preparing another attempt to claim the first worlds gold since 2007 on home ice in Winnipeg, and new coach Dan Church used this opportunity to test some of the players he knows from the women’s U18 national teams. Eleven players on the roster were 23 years of age or younger while 11 players have competed in the World Women’s last spring.
While some of the established players such as Caroline Ouellette and Meghan Agosta shone as the scoring leaders, it was rookie Jesse Scanzano who came third in scoring. The 22-year-old from Mercyhurst College had never played in an IIHF event before. Same can be said of Vicki Bendus, who scored five goals.
Canada also tested three rookie goalies with Christina Kessler (91.4%), Liz Knox (91.4%) and Geneviève Lacasse (77.8%).
The host nation Finland had to settle for fourth place in Vierumäki, which doesn’t mean their performance was bad. They lost 3-2 to Canada after a 2-1 lead and won one of the two tournament-closing games against archrival Sweden.
Finland showed depth in goaltending as all netminders had a save percentage of 92 per cent or more, but it had only a few players who created offensive trouble in front of the opponents’ net. Karoliina Rantamäki, who plays pro in Russia, once again led the way with six goals and five assists in eight games while Jenni Hiirikoski (1+7) was among the top-scoring defenders.
18-year-old forward Tanja Niskanen, who played her first World Women’s last spring, stepped up in Vierumäki notching eight points (4+4). Annina Rajahunta, Minnamari Tuominen and Susanna Tapani, who scored three goals each, are other players from the upcoming generation who succeeded.
Usually experts talk about the top-four nations in women’s hockey to draw the line, but Russia seems to be on the way to catch up with their European competitors. The team was still miles away from upsetting Canada (14-1) or the United States (12-0), but the Russians have become better within their continent. They overtook Switzerland this year to claim fifth place in the World Ranking and now they knock at the doors of their Northern European opponents.
At the 2011 IIHF World Women’s Championship, the Russians were close to defeating Finland for the bronze medals before eventually losing in overtime. In Vierumäki, Russia lost to Finland (2-1) and Sweden (4-3) by one goal as well.
The team still needs to improve in many aspects from goaltending to offence, but the Russian Ice Hockey Federation and the Sports Ministry earlier announced that more money will be invested to be more competitive in view of the Sochi Olympics. The Russian league has become one of the strongest in Europe and includes national team players from other countries, and the national team will also tour through North America to compete at a high level.
Slovakia has been the surprise team of the last three years. In 2009 the team qualified for the 2010 Olympics as well as for the 2011 World Women’s for the first time ever. Last spring in Zurich the team managed to maintain in the Top Division at the expense of Kazakhstan.
The main reason was the World Women’s MVP, goalkeeper Zuzana Tomcikova. She had another world-class performance at the Vierumäki event with a 96.2% save percentage she reached with no less than 152 saves in three games.
In the three games she played, Slovakia had the best scores. The Slovaks lost to Sweden (4-1) and Finland (2-0) by tight scores while winning their only game against Japan, 4-0, thanks to Tomcikova’s shutout with 35 shots.
Japan staged a comeback at the top level thanks to the 12 Nations Series, but it was a tough learning experience for the Asians as they lost all games. The team only scored two goals (by Kanae Aoki and Miho Shishiuchi) in five matches.
For many players it was a good chance to compete against the top nations. 14 players were below the age of 20, which shows the good work done in the youth system. Japan competed in the Top Division of the U18 Women’s World Championship in the last two years and those players hope to reach that level with the senior team soon. Maybe in next year’s Women’s World Championship Division I?
Switzerland looked like they took a step back for their usually solid performances. They were totally outplayed by the North Americans teams and Finland, though the Swiss misses had a stronger performance in a 4-2 loss to Sweden.
Same as for the other European teams, goaltending was a key for the Swiss. Florence Schelling had another strong tournament with a 91.3% save percentage while the other two netminders haven’t been at that level yet.Nicole Bullo, who can play both in defence and offence, attracted attention as well by scoring two of Switzerland’s three goals. The other key players, however, didn’t have their best tournament.
Germany will be back in the Top Division for the first time after four years, and the good news continued at the tournament in Courchevel, where the third tier out of the 12 teams played a four-team round-robin event.Germany started off well, defeating France (2-1) and the Czech Republic (4-1) before having a tight game for first place against Norway. Germany held a 3-1 lead early in the last period before Henriette Sletbakk tied it up with two goals within two-and-a-half minutes. Andrea Lanzl scored the game winner at 1:31 of the overtime period.
Norway finished the event in second place after the overtime loss to Germany. The Scandinavians had a strong offence with many different goal scorers at the event. They defeated the Czech Republic 5-3 and won against France 6-1. Norway hasn’t played with the elite nations since 1997, but will stage another attempt in next year’s Division I after winning silver last year, where they were just behind Germany as well.
11. Czech Republic
The Czech Republic is on a rise in women’s hockey when it comes to the U18 category where the team competes in the Top Division, but with the senior team the Czechs haven’t come that far yet.
In Courchevel they lost to Division IA nations Norway (5-3) and Germany (4-1) while having their only win against France in the last game, 2-1. Klara Chmelora scored a hat trick for the Czechs in their game against Norway.
The French were the outsiders at this tournament, but apart from the 6-1 loss to Norway, they did reasonably well. Against Germany and the Czechs the strategy worked out and the game remained open until the last second before France eventually lost both games with a 2-1 score.
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NOTE: The third tournament of the series will be played between with teams from the second and third tier of the 12 teams in Füssen, Germany, November 9-13.
Interview via email with Cdn veteran Jayna Hefford playing at the 12 Nations by Elizabeth Etue.
EE: You have played 4 games so far, in three of them vs Swiss, Slovaks and Russians, Canada totally dominated. What happened in the game vs. USA August 28th given the 4 US goals scored in second period? (Final score 4-0)
JH: We had a tough loss to the US in our first game. They're PP was successful against us, and we weren't able to battle hard enough. They were the better team that day. We are still finding out our strengths as we have a relatively new group of players here. With limited practice time here, we are using the games to work on things and learn areas we can be better in. After making some game adjustments today, we were successful in getting a 4-3 shootout win in an exhibition game August 29th.
EE: What was the pace of the game like and intensity?
JH: The US team had a lot of jump in the first game. I believe they have been together for a while since they had a camp prior to coming here - and I think it showed. They had strong puck movement as well. We had to adjust to their speed, and were successful in matching (or exceeding) both their intensity and speed in the game today.
EE: Is Cdn coach juggling lines and who are you playing with and how has that been?
JH: We have had 10 forwards at this event, so it has been a lot of juggling of lines. It's always a challenge to gel quickly at an event like this and is a little more difficult without set lines. We have a lot of talented players though, so the skill level of the group is very high.
EE: Have you noticed any difference in the calibre of the other teams you have played Swiss, Russians and Slovaks.
JH: It's tough to point out players while only playing them once. Of the 3 teams, I think Slovakia gave us the best game. They were fairly aggressive and didn't back down. They played until the final buzzer, regardless of the score
EE: Is there any chance for players and coaches to connect with one another off ice in any way?
JH: There hasn't been a lot of time since we've been here. Any 'down' time we do have is spent resting or getting treatment. We often cross paths with the other teams at meals, but that's usually all the time we have.
EE: What else have you done over there that has been new for the team?
JH: We will have played 7 games in 8 days when we're done. The focus has been on the games and team tactical meetings.
EE: Danielle Goyette is an assistant coach; is this the first time you have played with her as a coach?
JH: Yes, this is the first time I have played for Danielle. She has been great. She has always had such a great 'head' for the game, and she is now doing a great job of passing it on and helping the players. She also knows how we are feeling and the challenges that players feel.
EE: You begin another season with CWHL (Cdn Wms Hky League); tell us about the players association?
JH: When we started the Players Association (myself and Caroline Ouellette), we wanted to create more unity among the players in the league. We wanted to ensure we were getting accurate information out to all the players, and ensure that our voice was being heard. We felt that uniting the players would help to hold everyone accountable and help the league grow. We have improved communication with the administration of the league and provided our feedback/suggestions for improving the league moving forward
EE: Is the plan to be like the NHLPA?
JH: I guess that is the idea. We are very far behind the NHLPA, but as the league grows and moves towards a 'professional' league we feel this united group will be even more important. It's crucial that the players stand together as we grow.
EE: Do players have to join? IF so are there dues or fees?
JH: As of last season, all players are a part of the group. We have elected team reps that sit on the board. There are no dues or fees at this point.
For scores and details on 12 Nations go to:
(Finnish veteran goalie Noora Raty gives readers an insider's view of a Finnish game day as well as a game vs. Russia at the 12 Nations Series and comments on two key players.)
As of August 29, Team Finland is 4-0 in tournament play, after defeating Russia 2-1 on Saturday, 27th of August. Team Finland has outscored its opponents 13-1 in four games, with Russia being the only team to score on the Finns.
Our Saturday day started with breakfast at 9am and it was followed by 30 min. pre game skate. Our team looked pretty good on the ice and everyone was expecting a solid game against Russia. After a light morning skate we had lunch at noon and then some free time until 3.15pm when we had our pre game meeting.
My pre game rituals are almost the same every time. I like to nap about an hour or so after lunch/ pre-game meal. When I wake up I usually go surfing online, listen to music, and drink a can of Diet Coke/ Pepsi. When I go to rink, I quickly change my clothes/ Then I might take some snacks and check that my sticks are in a good shape. Before team warm-up I like to go play soccer with my teammates and think about the upcoming game in my head a little bit. Some goalies have many rituals but I really only have one, I always do the same warm up.
I was supposed to play against Russia (on August 27th) but I was injured (upper body) during our warm up so we decided with our doctor that it was better to rest as I was in a lot of pain. However, now I'm full of energy again and ready to face North Americans and Sweden! Last time when we faced Russia was in April 2010 in a bronze medal game at the World Championship. We took bronze medals home after beating them in overtime 3-2. We were 2-0 ahead after two periods but they battled back and tied the game in the third.
Today we had very similar game. Once again we had a slow start and Russia started the first period well. I don't know why we so often have a slow start, but that is something that we definitely have to improve. Despite their good start, Russia weren't able to get any quality scoring chances as we played very organized defence. As the first period progressed we got our legs moving and last 10 minutes were played mostly in their zone. However, neither team were able to score in the opening period. The second period was uneventful and it also ended 0-0. Unlike in the first 2 periods, the Finns started the third period very well. Karoliina Rantamaki put us ahead 1-0 in the beginning of the period. Later in the period Minttu Tuominen gave us 2-0 lead; it was a nice wrist shot between the points. About 3 minutes left in the third, Russia finally got on the board and scored their first goal. Only about a minute later they got a power play but weren't able to tie the game, thanks to our Ds and goalie, Anna Vanhatalo.
Consequently, we took a well-deserved 2-1 win. Both teams played hard and no physical contact was avoided. For example, Russian Tatiana Burina received 2+10 minutes for checking to the neck and head area. Luckily, no one was injured in this game.
We face Russia about 3-5 times in a year so both teams know each other very well. Usually they try to respond our style of playing with physical hockey, they are not scared to body check or slash. Russian players are smart and they have good hands. However, we have more speed than they do and we play better as a team. Against Russia we always try to pressure their D high and hard, and try not to give their players time to stick handle too much. In the offensive zone the Russians can do very tricky back door passes and that is something that I really hate as a goalie.
Some Russian players that stood out in this game were their Goaltender, Anna Prugova and forward Iya Gavrilova (see her profile in WINIH player section). Prugova is a solid young goaltender and it seems that team Russia finally has a goaltender than can win games for them. In recent years their biggest weakness has been goaltending but now it shouldn't be a problem anymore. Prugova is a very good size (175cm), she is fast and reads the game well. Also, I noticed that her positioning is good and her glove hand is lightning quick.
Gavrilova is their only player that isn't playing in Russia. Next year, she will play college hockey in Canada at University of Guelph while doing her master’s degree.
Last year she graduated from the University of Minnesota-Duluth. I've heard that in Russia she has been called Alexander Ovechkin of women's hockey so that tells a lot how good she is.
Almost all Russian players are professional hockey players so their job is what I would call a dream job. Most female players have to work besides playing and some players even have to pay for playing... yea even in Finland some players have to pay if they want to play.
I have always been a bit amazed of why Russia isn't any better in women’s hockey. I mean they are good but they could be much better. They don't have to work, they don't have many issues and they have good facilities. I guess, they are the only national team in women's hockey where the most of the players are professionals, but right now people can't see it on the ice. I believe some of them play hockey just because of money so they don't have as much passion as some other teams do.
For example, Finnish players don't get paid for playing but we train like a professional athletes and we are ready sacrifice everything (e.g friends & normal life) because we love the game of hockey. However, the 2014 Olympics will be in Russia and what I've heard their goal is to win a medal. As they are almost all professional athletes they have a clear advantage compared to Finland and Sweden so if their players are willing to work hard every day they definitely will be a medal candidate.
Here is a quick Q & A with Finnish Defence, Mira Jalosuo. She plays with me at the University of Minnesota Golden Gophers as well as my roommate and my best friend in the United States.
Q: How's your tournament been going?
A: Excellent, we have won all the games!
Q: What is your favorite team to play against, what about least?
A: I like playing against Canada and USA because those games are fast paced and you can't do many mistakes. Russia is my least favorite team to play against because you never know if they will play good or bad.
Q: What is your favorite thing to do when you don't play hockey?
A: Hanging out with friends.
Q: Favorite movie and TV-show?
A: Movie: Bridesmaids. TV-show: Salatut Elamat (Finnish soup opera).
Q: What are your strengths and weaknesses on the ice?
A: Strengths: Size and shot. Weaknesses: Flexibility...
Q: What is your major and what would be your dream job?
A: My major is chemistry and my dream job would be to work for CIA.
Q: Why hockey?
A: Because it's a team sport and it's very challenging. I like that everyday I'll learn something new.
Q: Do you know what WINIH is?
A: Yes I know, it's a blog that you are writing.. a place where you can post your blogs...
Noora Raty is back from the hospital after injuring her collarbone. Here is her report on the game vs Slovakia
Slovakia was unable to stop the Finns
On August 25th, Team Finland faced Slovakia; it was another good win for us. Last time we faced them was an exhibition game in 2010 just before the Olympics. It was first time in history when Finland and Slovakia faced each other in women's hockey and Finland won that game 4-1. The game was mostly played in their zone and we could have easily scored more than 10 goals but thanks to their awesome goaltender, Zuzana Tomcikova, we were able to score just 4 goals. I bet Slovakia would have never qualified to the Olympics without Tomcikova. They were so far behind in every aspect of the game. However, they aren't the same team anymore. It is awesome to see how much they have developed in last couple of years. For example, at the Olympics they lost to Canada 18-0 and Tomcikova was in the net. Here they lost to Canada “only” 11-0 and their backup goalie played.
We played Japan twice before Slovakia and in both games we started a bit slow so today we wanted to start fast. We came out flying and controlled the 1st period but we weren't able to score. The main reason for our lack of scoring was, once again, Tomcikova, who was their player of the game. But all the time we knew that if we just keep executing our game plan, we would get rewarded sooner or later. Consequently, we scored the first goal early in the second period. The goal was scored by Nina Makinen, who is one of the youngsters on our team.
Later in the period, our great Captain, Karoliina Rantamaki scored a beauty on a breakaway, which gave us 2-0 lead. We offered some hope to Slovakia by taking a couple unnecessary penalties, but thanks to a good penalty kill, they weren't able to capitalize on any chances.
The third period was pretty uneventful; we dominated, but didn't get any quality scoring chances. We took the 2-0 win but we weren't very satisfied with the outcome. I think everyone on our team knows that we have to play much better if we want to challenge North Americans in this tournament. Our team definitely has lots of talent and potential, but it just hasn't come out yet.
However, two players that stood out on our team today were Karoliina Rantamaki and Annina Rajahuhta. They both are good and fast skaters so Slovakian players had hard time trying to stop them. I also admire how they never take a shift off; every time they step on the ice, they work as hard as they can and never give up. Lastly, I cannot forget our awesome goaltending! Meeri Raisanen and Susanna Airaksinen split the game and combined an impressive shutout, good job ladies!
Slovakia doesn't have as much speed or talent as other teams have in this tournament so they have to play very physical hockey. They couldn't skate with us so their strategy was to play physical and smart D zone. In my mind, they succeeded pretty well; they didn't give us many quality scoring chances and they protected their net well. Also, referee, Anu Hirvonen, let both teams to play very hard and didn't whistle unnecessary penalties. I like refs that let players play physical and I'm actually in favor of body checking. I think if body checking was allowed in women's hockey, there would be fewer concussions as players would be more aware in the corners and close to boards. I read some article on ESPN.com which said that there's more concussions in women's college hockey than in any other sport, and I don't doubt it at all.
I took this photo after our pre game meeting. Our coach had listed some key words for this tournament. Peli=game, luonne=character, luistelu=skating, ihminen=human, harjoittelija/ urheilija= athlete, pelaaja (peli)=player (game), and if all these words become real we will win and succeed!
Noora's blog will return once she is back from hospital and injury assessed.She got hit on the collarbone with a puck. No details yet.