Posts Tagged ‘Kazakhstan’


The groups for the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics ice hockey tournament have been set after the final qualification rounds came to a close. Where the pre-qualification tournaments may not make big headlines in the main hockey media, there was one storyline that I followed quite closely (well through social media and radio). The story being the one of Team GB.

British ice hockey may not be that highly regarded in the grand scheme of things, or the international hockey pecking order, but what surprised me was that Team GB made it to the final Olympic qualification tournament. Currently GB is ranked 21st by the IIHF and went on to play against teams like Latvia, France and Kazakhstan, all of which have experience from the highest tiers of international hockey within the IIHF. In fact, all of the nations in Team GB’s group featured in last year’s World Championships in Helsinki and Stockholm.

I think this is a good juncture to make a confession: I didn’t think that Team GB would make it. However, the achievement of the team should not be disregarded or mocked. Given the infrastructure for the game in the UK, where rinks seem to be closing quicker than they are built (specially in the South), or are in dire need of renovation, Team GB pulled of a minor miracle by making it to the final qualification round.

What the team who went to Latvia have achieved, is a foundation that the powers that be should start building upon. Team GB may not feature in the highest tier of the World Championship stage, nor will we see them in the 2014 winter Olympics. However, what the success of the team shows is that the fan base is there and now it is time to build. What the UK should focus on in an ideal world right now is to invest more into the sport and adapt a junior system that is being used by some of the top countries in the world. I’m a big believer that the future of the game of hockey is in junior development and now if ever, it’s time to strike while the iron is hot.

The process won’t be easy, but done right, I can see that Team GB has a legitimate chance for the 2018 Winter Olympics. However, having been around the game here for a couple of years, I sadly doubt that it will happen due to the way things are ran and the fact that hockey is a sport that hardly receives any funding. Sure there  recently was a funding of £100k, but more is needed. £100,000 will not build a programme that would nurture the game here.

I know this opens up a debate that hockey is a minority sport and that the £100,000 is a good enough investment and why should ice hockey be invested in. Well, even though a minority sport, it was good to hear the game being called on the radio and actually hear fans chanting “Let’s go GB”. The fan support is there and my Twitter stream was filled with tweets from the games. Team GB’s games were picked up by ESPN here in the UK, a great feat for the sport. I’ve thought this for the longest time, but the local leagues (Elite League and Premier League) should be shown on free-view TV. Having them shown and (what I find) often buried on Sky sports 2 is doing the sport no favours here. But as with many other things, money talks. I would be as bold as to hazard a guess that apart from the people who follow ice hockey actually know that the sport is shown on Sky Sports 2, or that the NHL is on Premier Sport.

 

EDIT: This was something that Graham Goodman said on Facebook and I totally agree with him. British players should cast their eyes to European leagues as well and seek contracts outside of the confines of GB. There were a couple of players who did not ply their trade in the British leagues and ultimately the international experience from different leagues (and potentially better leagues) will make the standard of the national team better. Many of the teams GB played against had A LOT of players on the roster that played in countries other than their own.

While Team GB may have lost all of its games in the tournament, it is nothing to be laughed at. Though any self-respecting hockey player will tell you that the losses sting and they suck, but in the grand scheme of things, this team that went so far, have the potential to be regarded as pioneers for the game here. They have laid a foundation on which to build the sport on and the powers that be now need to strike while the iron is hot or the achievement by these guys will have been for nothing.

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The ticket price debacle goes on and I fear that it is going to be the thing that is most remembered from the 2012 World Championships. Yesterday, the Finnish organisers said that they are not going to be lowering the ticket prices to the games following Sweden’s announcement of 70% slash in prices.

 

The organisers are saying that there have been plenty of tickets sold and even went as far as to claim that the Finland vs Belarus game was sold out. However, the prices continue to be a thorn in the fans’ side. Some tried to stage a protest against the prices in the France vs Kazakhstan game. However, from the opening game between France and USA the organisers had barred the display of banners that were larger than 1mx1m, though if the rule applies to all banners displayed, shouldn’t the organisers ban the display of national flags in the stands as those are bigger than 1mX1m. There was one banner displayed in the Hartwall Arena saying “Kale Hinnat Alas, Kale on varas” loosely translated to Kale, lower the prices, Kale you’re a thief. The banner was visible for five seconds before a group of security officers descended on the group displaying the banner and “kindly” asked for the group to vacate the premises.

 

Though the group was later allowed back into the stands sans banner, it still says a lot about the way that the organisers are treating the fans. As you can see from the picture below, the group of guys is clearly happy about the prices and of the treatment they have received in the  games (Picture courtesy of Esko Seppanen: https://twitter.com/#!/EskoSeppanen) . Image

 

The organisers clearly have a stand of “No opinion will be listened to unless it is the approved one by the organisers”. I know that may not necessarily be the case, but that’s what it looks like to me as a spectator and lover of hockey.

 

In my humble opinion, the games have turned into a joke. Not because of the hockey but because of the fact that the games are played to half empty arenas and the organisers have adopted a “we will not negotiate with terrorists” policy. I guess if the organisers lower the prices it is them admitting that they got it horribly, HORRIBLY wrong.

 

If Rene Fasel, the guy at the top of the IIHF admits that the ticket prices and the debacle around them is not good advertisement to hockey or to the tournament, there should be alarm bells ringing at the organisers’ office. Oh I forgot, there has been alarm bells ringing and they have admitted that they’ll take these games on board and rectify things for next time. Why next time? Why not now? Is it that bad to slash the prices to games so that there would actually be FANS in the stands cheering the games? 

It is ironic that the France vs Kazakhstan game has attracted more or less the same audience as the USA vs Canada game from yesterday and that it is LOUDER in the arena than it was during Finland vs Belarus or USA vs Canada.

 

In either case, I think Finland and the Finnish Ice Hockey Association will have to wash its face for many months after the games. I’d like to see what some of the stars who are playing in the games think about playing to an empty arena. I know Pavel Datsyuk didn’t seem too happy about the attendance figures in Stockholm and I guess playing to a dead crowd is difficult for the NHL guys who are used to playing to a sold out crowd for the entire season.

 

For the sake of hockey, I hope that the attendance will get better and that there is going to be cheering at the games. However, something makes me think that this is not going to be the case.