Blogging away in Slovakia

Welcome to the IIHF Worlds 2011 blog. Throughout the championship you will be able to read about our impressions behind the ice in Bratislava and Kosice.

Learning experience at the media centre

Martin Merk / May 15 / Bratislava

An event such as the 2011 IIHF World Championship wouldn’t work without the hundreds of volunteers supporting the organizers and giving the event a face towards the visitors.

You can find them in many areas. Stewarts, drivers, people working in team services, hostesses, team hosts, cheerleaders, or the many persons in the yellow Raiffeisen volunteer shirts working at the media centre.

While volunteers mostly live in or around the city, there are also the ones who came from far away to be part of the World Championship.

One of them is Patryk Rokicki from Poland. He applied to work in the media centre not without reason. He does not only want to be part of the 2011 IIHF World Championship, but he also wants to learn from the IIHF’s flagship event for a good reason.

“As I’m the press officer of the Polish Ice Hockey Federation it’s a wonderful experience for me to work at the biggest ice hockey tournament,” Rokicki said.

Of course Poland has hosted international ice hockey events before for which he has had lots of contacts with IIHF persons, but the event in Slovakia is organized in other dimensions.

“In Poland we have smaller tournaments with six teams, so it’s good for me to learn how media operations work here,” he explained.

Volunteers often have to sacrifice vacation days to work for no incentives. It’s the feeling of being part of a great event, but also many interesting discussions with international people, meeting hockey personalities and gaining new friends abroad that makes up the volunteer experience. For many it’s a lifetime experience.

“I will take a lot of experience with me in how we co-operate with journalists, how it works with the mixed zone and press conferences here,” Rokicki said before the medal game in Bratislava.

He might be able to use this experience soon as Poland will host two tournaments of the IIHF World Championship program next year.

Hockey art in Bratislava

Martin Merk / May 12 / Bratislava

A successful World Championship in any sport needs various partners. The city itself can play a vital role in promoting such a special event – and Bratislava has certainly done a good job.

“In this city we are fired up for hockey” reads the slogan of the city on billboards that make it clear that an IIHF World Championship is going on here. Special public transportation maps provide help to fans at tram and bus stops.

The underpass at the tramway stop near the Orange Arena, Trnavske myto, features some fresh graffiti art with illustrations of the city, traffic and signs telling you how to get to the stairs. Check out the various hockey graffiti examples, and you’ll get to the right exit for the arena after a short walk.



Probably the most noticeable thing, however, is the 21 statues of hockey players in downtown Bratislava. Anybody can tell something special with hockey is going on here, whether you’re a knowledgeable hockey fan or you’re here for other reasons.

The statues were designed by several artists and in cooperation with the various national associations taking part in the IIHF World Championship. For example, on the Russian player in front of the Michalska Gate, you can read that the idea for the player came from Russian goalie legend and federation president Vladislav Tretyak. He selected the 1956 vintage jersey (with the CCCP letters replaced by Rossiya) that the Russians used for a game at the 2008 IIHF World Championship during the IIHF’s 100-year anniversary.



Continue your walk and you will see some other statues. For example, check out the French player at Hlavne Namestie with the Eiffel Tower painted on his back. And just a few steps away, you’ll find the yellow-blue Swedish statue. It’s situated beside Bratislava’s most unusual statue, the “Man at Work”, a plumber looking out from the street drain. And just beyond that, there’s a goldsmith. A good omen for the Swedes, perhaps?



The Canadian guy received a culturally fashionable spot in front of the Reduta concert hall used by the Slovak Philharmonic. He’s consequently one of the most photographed statues.



A stone’s throw away stands the American statue, right in front of the well-guarded U.S. embassy.

Follow the Danube River to view the Latvian, Czech and Slovenian statues. Then take the Germanic path below the mighty Novy Most bridge towards the middle of the Old Town with statues for Germany, Switzerland and Austria, plus Denmark in between. On the other side along the tramway tracks you’ll pass statues for Norway and Belarus, the latter dedicated to the 2014 Worlds in Minsk.

Walk to the north end of the old town along the wide Namestie Slovenskeho Narodneho Povstania and you’ll find Finland. A little bit further towards the new part of the city just before the President’s Palace, you’ll finally see the statue of the host nation, Slovakia. Could there be a better spot?



On top of the 16 national statues, there are four others that are not only dedicated to Slovak hockey personalities (Peter Bondra pictured below; Peter Stastny, Jan Filc, Miroslav Satan), but also designed by them.



In front of the Primate’s Palace, you’ll find another colourful statue dedicated to the most colourful part of any World Championship – the hockey fans.



If you want to follow the statues in and around the Old Town, just check the plate of the statues and follow the map and the arrows. Why not combine a walk through the picturesque Old Town of Bratislava with some hockey art?

Donald Fehr visits Bratislava

Adam Steiss / May 12 / Bratislava

The opening day of the IIHF Congress included an address to the delegates from Donald Fehr, the newly minted executive of the National Hockey League’s Players’ Association. Fehr has previously served at the helm of the players’ association of Major League Baseball for over two decades, bringing a wealth of experience in managing professional level athletes’ unions.

In his address Fehr came out in support of the continued involvement of NHL players within international competitions, and pledged to build a “good, solid, professional working relationship with the IIHF”. Although he admitted that relative to baseball his experience with hockey is limited, during his time as NHLPA director he spoke about a strong and deep feeling that the players have for the sport of hockey, and his wish to honour those feeling with a commitment to promote the game internationally. All in all, it was a good start to what will hopefully continue to be a rewarding relationship with the NHL players and the IIHF.

Touched by Finland

Risto Pakarinen / May 12 / Bratislava

The Finnish national anthem has been played a few times in Bratislava during the tournament. Not counting the fans walking around and bursting into a song, Finland’s “Our Land” has been played exactly five times at the Orange Arena in Bratislava.

During the third time it was played, after Finland's win over Germany, I was standing behind the plexiglass in the corner where the Zambonis drive on and off the ice, in a crowd of people. To my left, there were two medical people, standing there like the rest of us, listening to the anthem.

Except that one of them was not only listening, but singing as well. Not loud, not belting it, but still singing, with his lips moving. I got curious and inched my way closer to him to see whether he was a fellow Finn. Not that all Finns always sing along the anthem at sports events.

(The way I approached the situation by trying to see his name on his accreditation, instead of just asking him, is proof that I am 100% Finnish).

The song ended, and my curiosity  - and my curious behavior - must have been obvious to the Slovak ambulance man, because he looked at me, smiled, and offered me an explanation to his singing the Finnish national anthem:

“Kimi Räikkönen,” he said.

The 2007 Formula One World Champion’s 18 Grand Prix wins were enough to teach him the song.

In the company of presidents

Martin Merk / May 11 / Bratislava

President Ivan Gasparovic of Slovakia received a delegation from the International Ice Hockey Federation on Wednesday at his residence, the Grassalkovich Palace, just outside the Old Town of Bratislava.

Gasparovic personally came to the 2006 IIHF Annual Congress in Riga, Latvia, to present Slovakia’s bid for the 2011 IIHF World Championship, and he was visibly happy to receive IIHF President René Fasel and his delegation five years later.

“We are very grateful that we received the opportunity to host the IIHF World Championship in Slovakia,” Gasparovic stated in his speech. “Of course we hoped that our national team would get as far as possible here, but sometimes the reality of sport can be cruel. However, the team will get more chances to bring back glory. I’m proud that we were able to prove our ability to host a World Championship at this level in Slovakia.”

Fasel gave Gasparovic a hockey sculpture from the well-known Spanish artist Rosa Serra as a present, and offered praise for the Slovaks as well.

“We are very satisfied with the organizers of the 2011 IIHF World Championship,” Fasel told Gasparovic. “They’re doing a terrific job. And we can’t forget the hundreds of volunteers who work day and night, or the fans. The atmosphere is great and there haven’t been any problems. Slovakia has a great fan culture and great people.”

Surprising statistics

Lucas Aykroyd / May 11 / Bratislava

At every IIHF World Championship, interesting statistical oddities and trends are sure to emerge, particularly since it’s a short tournament. Here are a few numbers that stood out prior to the start of quarter-final action on May 11.

Three out of the top 10 scorers are Norwegian, including Mathis Olimb (1-8-9), Anders Bastiansen (3-4-7), and Per-Age Skroder (3-4-7). That’s a ton of production for a nation that’s making just its second quarter-final appearance in World Championship history versus Finland on Thursday. (In 2008, Norway lost 8-2 to host Canada in the round of eight.)

The tournament's top two faceoff men are Slovakia's Pavol Demitra (35 wins on 50 attempts) and Jozef Stumpel (90 wins on 132 attempts). Despite their prowess at the dot, the 2011 host nation will finish tenth.

Sergei Zinoviev is Russia's leading goal-scorer (4) thus far, outpacing the likes of Alexander Radulov (2), Alexei Morozov (1), and Ilya Kovalchuk (0). Prior to this tournament, Zinoviev had scored a grand total of six goals in 30 World Championship games.

Despite failing to qualify for the quarter-finals, the Swiss own the tournament’s best penalty-killing percentage (96.3) and are third in overall goalie save percentage (96.3).

Belarus scored just three goals in its opening three games, but then exploded for 17 goals in three Relegation Round games to avoid being sent down.

Super-cool sightings

Lucas Aykroyd / May 9 / Bratislava

Every year at the IIHF World Championship, I see or meet hockey greats of the past, and sometimes it’s a little bit mind-blowing. Because these are the names I grew up with.

Say I’m in the tournament lounge eating dinner, turn my head, and spot Vladislav Tretiak. Yes, of course, it’s no surprise that he would be there as the president of the Russian Hockey Federation. But at the same time, I have to pinch myself when I remember that he was the goalie in the first big international hockey game I remember watching on TV – the 1981 Canada Cup final where the Soviets hammered Canada 8-1. Or that I lined up to get him to autograph my brand-new copy of Tretiak: The Legend at Hillside Mall in Victoria, Canada in 1987. He was just 35 then, having retired three years earlier.

Another time, I sit down at another table, and there’s IIHF Communications Director Szymon Szemberg with the head professional scout of the New York Rangers, Swedish hockey legend Anders Hedberg. All of a sudden, we’re chatting about Markus Näslund and Peter Forsberg teaming up to run MODO Örnsköldsvik and who’s most likely to get the coaching job with SKA St. Petersburg. How cool is that?

Today, I just glanced across the lounge, and there was somebody who looked awfully familiar. It took a moment for me to realize that it was Esa Tikkanen. (The one and only Esa Tikkanen whom Tuomo Ruutu name-dropped in his post-game comments after scoring a goal off his rear end against Slovakia.) I started reminiscing with my colleagues about how Tikkanen actually played for Finland at the first IIHF World Championship I ever covered in Russia back in 2000.

I often tell my fellow hockey journalists, if you ever get jaded about stuff like this, then you should be doing something else for a living.

Hockey culture at Hokejove v Bibiane

Lucas Aykroyd / May 7 / Bratislava

No matter where you wander in Bratislava during the 2011 IIHF World Championship, you're sure to get a good dose of hockey culture.

One example is the "Hokejove v Bibiane" exhibition taking place just steps away from St. Martin's Cathedral, the onetime coronation church for Hungarian kings. Bibiane is a 1987-founded institution that promotes art and culture for children, and it's gone full-out to celebrate the international hockey party in the Slovak capital. Pay the nominal admission fee and head up to the second floor to check out the exhibition, which is of interest to hockey fans of all ages.

Quirky sights abound. An oversized, smiling puck sleeping in a cradle painted with the Canadian flag represents the birth of hockey in Canada. A Bauer goalie glove sits on a table clutching apples, oranges, and bananas. In a corner, a vintage Armas TV set shows old, black-and-white World Championship clips, like Vaclav Nedomansky scoring on Vladislav Tretiak, or Alexander Maltsev faking out Jiri Holocek.

View enormous reproductions of Czechoslovakian stamps from past Worlds, or a wall-sized of the beaming 2002 champion Slovak squad. Spin a "wheel of fortune" to pick this year's winner -- I came up with Canada by a hair. Or grab a hockey stick and try to score on a wooden, Slovak jersey-wearing goalie with a soft ball.

The exhibition is open daily (10-18) except Monday. For more information, visit the web site at bibiana.sk.

School's Out in Kosice

Paul Romanuk / May 6 / Kosice

Today was the last day of high school in Kosice and, for many young adults, Graduation Day. I know this because, while I was having lunch down in the Old Town, there were dozens of people walking around in large groups, announcing their emancipation from the confines of school by yelling, laughing, blowing horns and, in some cases, carrying a giant board with head shots of all the graduates from their particular school (I can report that Slovak graduation photos appear to have the same composition as those from most other countries – highlighting various hair styles that will make them all cringe in 20 years - or, in my case, make them nostalgic about the fact they had hair 20 years ago).

It looked like a fun tradition. Some of the groups had a box or a hat, and they’d go up to people and ask for a few coins. I’m sure the spare coins went to some worthy charity… or perhaps to buy beer for the party later on.

Hockey fans sat around having their lunch, old people smiled and the kids looked like they were having a great day. Many of them were wearing Slovak hockey sweaters. But most were dressed up for the big occasion that it was.

The funniest thing I saw was when a bunch of (attractive) young girls went up to an old man sitting by himself at a table to ask for some coins. He came up with the coins – but, man, he took a loooonnnnngggg time. I would have done the same.

Cheese?

Risto Pakarinen / May 6 / Bratislava

All hockey fans like to look at all old team photos. You know how it is, the finger goes from face to face, while your brain tries to go from name to name, as you see the stars of the past, and their support cast of the past. You see the players’ young faces, the trainers' (decades later always) funny jackets, the hairdos, and the evolution of the goalie equipment.

Somewhere, there are kids who will look at the photos from this World Championship and find their heroes and idols in them.

Every team gets photographed in the tournament, and while we all appreciate having the photo, putting it all together is a lot more challenging that you might think. What’s there to it, right? The guys come out, they wear their sweaters, sit on a bench, smile, and skate off. Easy enough.

And yet, in every tournament things happen that make the IIHF photographers sweat and worry. Maybe a coach decides to cancel a practice to give his players a day off. He just doesn’t know or remember that it was the day the photographers would come to take the team photo. The day after is a game day, and the team is off-limits. And so on.

But, the IIHF photographers, Matthew Manor and Jukka Rautio, and the photo editors, Steve Poirier and Matthew Murnaghan, always get it done in the end, with a smile on their faces. And the faces of the players.

"It’s interesting to see how different teams do it in different ways," says Manor.

"Some teams place their players by seniority, so that the rookies are in the back row, and the most senior players in front. Some teams want to have the executives in the front row, others would never let them there so they stand in the middle," he adds.

Manor likes to put the benches on the blueline and then shoot with the arena as a background.

"That’s where we have the biggest clean ice surface, and it looks great in the photo. And the dark arena in the background looks really good," he says.

Like so:

Reliving the 2000 final

Lucas Aykroyd / May 5 / Bratislava

The biggest game ever between the Czech Republic and Slovakia, whose rivalry will be renewed on Friday, was the gold medal clash in Russia in 2000. Not only did this mark the first and only time the two nations have ever met for gold at this tournament, but it also yielded the first full-length gold medal game recap ever published on the official IIHF web site.

Ready to take a trip down memory lane?

Czechs win gold with 5-3 triumph over Slovakia

In life, the rule is: Big brother shows no mercy to little brother.

The rule held true as the Czech Republic defeated Slovakia 5-3 to win the gold medal at the 2000 IIHF World Championships Sunday evening at St. Petersburg's Ice Palace.

A late third period rally by the Slovaks made it exciting, but it was Robert Reichel who came up with a timely goal to kill their momentum, similar to his feat against Canada in Friday's semi-finals.

This was the second consecutive gold medal for the Czechs, who beat Finland in last year's final in Norway. Slovakia claimed its first-ever World Championships medal with the silver.

Michal Sykora, Tomas Vlasak, Martin Prochazka and Jan Tomajko had the other goals for the Czech Republic. Martin Strbak, Miroslav Hlinka and Miroslav Satan replied for Slovakia.

Final shots on goal favored Slovakia 33-15, but the Czechs were simply better at capitalizing on their opportunities and Slovak netminder Jan Lasak didn't have a banner day.

The Slovaks pressed hard during their first man advantage of the game with Petr Buzek off for cross-checking at 1:40, but couldn't solve Cechmanek.

Sykora opened the scoring for the Czech Republic on a blast from the right side at 6:04, taking a pass from Martin Prochazka and teeing it up.

Buzek took a second minor for roughing, but made it pay when he came out of the box and fed Tomas Vlasak, who deked Slovak defenseman Peter Podhradsky and then Lasak on the backhand for a beautiful 2-0 goal at 9:34.

It was 3-0 when the Czechs completed a nice passing play down low at 12:25, Martin Prochazka doing the honors from Reichel and Vlasak.

In the second period, the Czechs sat back and defended their lead, allowing the Slovaks to get in but not score despite peppering Cechmanek.

Slovakia cut the deficit to 3-1 when Martin Strbak scored on a blast from the point at 7:43 with 10 seconds left in a high-sticking minor to Frantisek Kucera.

The Slovaks got a huge opportunity to tie the game when Sykora got minors for roughing and cross-checking on Miroslav Satan and Buzek took a 10-minute misconduct at 11:01.

On the ensuing four-minute man advantage, the Czechs kept their opponents to the outside. The best chance for Slovakia came when Satan sent Lubos Bartecko in one-on-one with Cechmanek, who foiled him with a pokecheck.

The Czechs produced the eventual winner at 3:35 of the third period, when Jan Tomajko's close-in shot, set up by Jiri Dopita, flipped over Lasak's shoulder and into the net, making it 4-1.

A goal by Miroslav Hlinka at 15:22 brought some energy to the crowd cheering for the underdog Slovaks, as he finished off a wraparound attempt that had failed the first time.

At 17:38, Satan took a beautiful cross-crease pass from Handzus in the right faceoff circle and tumbled to the ice while rocketing a shot past a helpless Cechmanek.

At 18:27, the Slovaks came oh-so-close to tying the game as they piled into Cechmanek on a three-man rush, but the puck didn't cross the line.

Thirty-one seconds later, Robert Reichel sealed his former compatriots' fate with a close-in goal set up by Vaclav Prospal from the corner, as the Slovak defense got caught up ice and couldn't prevent the play.

Through the final minute, the Czechs kept their composure to salt away the victory.

At the end, composure was thrown out the window as the Czechs flocked together in the corner, sticks and gloves hurled away, celebrating their victory.

Reichel, as Czech captain, accepted the championship trophy on behalf of his team. IIHF President Rene' Fasel hung silver medals around Slovak necks and adorned the Czechs with gold.

Both teams skated around the rink and saluted the cheering spectators. The Player of the Game for the Czech Republic was Vlasak, while Bartecko was chosen for Slovakia.

Lucas Aykroyd

And here are some post-game quotes we got in 2000 from Slovak players who are actually available for tomorrow's game too.

Miroslav Satan, Slovakia:
"I think we have to look at the overall picture. When you look at that and the history of our hockey team, starting off in the C Pool in 1993-94, overall I think it's a great success for Slovak hockey. In the future, we're going to have more."

Michal Handzus, Slovakia: "Right now, I feel disappointed about the results. I'll be disappointed for one or two days. After that, I can be proud for this team because we were down 4-1 with five minutes left and we still were fighting. It's unbelievable, the character we showed. We never gave up. We played great hockey. We just couldn't tie it because the Czech team has a great goalie."

Jan Lasak, Slovakia:
"It was very tough, because I lost the game like a regular game in the season. My life is about hockey, so it was the biggest game of my life and I lost it. My job is in the crease. I have to stop every puck and win the game. You may get this chance just once in your life, so you have to use the chance. We didn't."

Lubos Bartecko, Slovakia: "It was a great game and a great two weeks for us. It's an honor to be in the finals, but the best team won. We did our best but we couldn't handle it in the end. We tried hard to get the gold, but the silver is a great achievement for us."

Food, glorious food

Paul Romanuk / May 5 / Kosice

I always found the food at sports events in North America to be, for the most part, pretty similar. I moved to Europe about five years ago and, because of my work, probably spend more time than most at hockey rinks and outdoor stadiums. I love seeing the different varieties of sports food. You get your usual popcorn; burgers, dogs... but you also get some decent regional surprises.

Here in Kosice I’ve run across something I’ve never seen at a hockey rink before, and, boys and girls and foodies, it is a winner – chicken legs. Not chicken wings or chicken filet on a roll. Those I’ve seen before. On offer here at the Steel Arena is a lovely “drumstick”, roasted, spiced lightly and served on its own. So simple, yet so good. My compliments to the chef.

It’ll be on my menu when I open a stadium... as will a couple of other selections:

From England - you get a chicken, beef or lamb pie... sometimes good, sometimes shockingly bad (like other food in England... but I digress). The good ones are good. Nice flaky crust, warm, but not mouth scalding, filling. A pie and a pint is a half-time tradition at any English football match.

From the Spengler Cup in Switzerland – you get these beautiful Weisswürste mit Brezel (white sausages with pretzel)... the sausage steamed first and then finished on the grill and served with mustard and a nice, proper, baked soft pretzel (not like the cardboard pretzel imitations you get in some North American arenas).

(If you’re wondering, Germany has the best pretzels. By far.)

1986... a long time ago

Lucas Aykroyd / May 4 / Bratislava

No home team has won the IIHF World Championship since the Soviet Union claimed gold in Moscow on April 28, 1986 after a 3-2 win over Sweden.

To put that in perspective, what else was going on that day?

The Chernobyl nuclear disaster was two days old.

Future Czech NHL players David Krejci and Roman Polak were born.

Wayne Gretzky's Edmonton Oilers evened their seven-game series with Calgary at three games apiece with a 5-2 win, but would be eliminated on Steve Smith's own goal two days later.

Prince was ruling the pop charts with his new single, "Kiss."

The World's Fair in Vancouver, Canada was four days away from opening.

Wow.

Let's hope we finally get to see another home team win this tournament before Krejci has grandchildren.

Running on the road

Paul Romanuk / May 3 / Kosice

One of the joys of the job I’ve been lucky enough to do over the years has been the chance to see dozens, maybe hundreds of places I’d otherwise never get to. No offence intended, but why would I ever go to Gavle, Sweden or Ostrava, Czech Republic or Red Deer, Canada if not for a hockey tournament? And, one of the things I have enjoyed doing in all of those cities is putting on my shoes and going for a run. Even in the big cities, you see parts of the city that you never would otherwise. You can cover a lot of ground, maybe get lost a few times, and see neighbourhoods and houses and parks and places off the normal tourist path.

Some of my favourites over the years:

-Gavle, Sweden on Christmas Eve… running around the deserted streets of this lovely little city and seeing those Swedish candles all burning in the windows of the houses. It was so peaceful and beautiful.

-Bern, Switzerland in the early morning… running along the fast-flowing River Aare towards and through the zoo and seeing the animals getting fed their breakfast.

-Davos, Switzerland during Spengler Cup… one of the most beautiful runs in the world… along the Landwasser River, past cows and horses wearing jingle bells and under gigantic blue skies and snow-capped mountains.

-Helsinki, Finland… I’ve been here a lot in both spring (for WM) and in the winter (for WM20)… there is an area that is MASSIVE (the Kaivopuisto) that has great paths and scenery, including some of the most beautiful homes in the country that you can run past.

Here is Kosice, you have to run through some tired old neighbourhoods for about 10 minutes, but then you hit the payoff – a great path that goes along the Hornad River for miles and miles.

Beats the hotel treadmill any day and, hey, I feel less guilty when I sit down for a couple of post-game beers.

It's never too late

Lucas Aykroyd / May 3 / Bratislava

Usually, if you haven't made your World Championship debut by the time you hit age 30, it's just not going to happen. That holds true whether you're playing for a lower-echelon national team that needs every talented player it can find, or a perennial contender boasting enough depth that it wouldn't need to call on a 30-plus first-timer anyway.

Jyrki Välivaara is a notable exception to the rule at this year's tournament. The 34-year-old Finnish blueliner from JYP Jyvaskyla recorded a personal high for points in the SM-Liiga this season (28), which undoubtedly helped coach Jukka Jalonen decide to add him to the roster as a rookie.

Välivaara has won two Finnish league championships and represented his country at four Euro Hockey Tours.

Now he's really hit the big time.

Age-wise, it's not quite up there with New York Rangers coach and GM Lester Patrick making his NHL debut as a goalie on an emergency basis in the 1928 Stanley Cup finals at 44.

But it's still impressive. And encouraging for all the other long-time veterans who still dream of donning their national team uniform and playing against the world's top 16 hockey countries.

Big dreams and Little M

Risto Pakarinen / May 3 / Bratislava

Imagine being 14 years old, and seeing your team beat their absolutely biggest rival in what is the absolutely biggest series of your lifetime. And imagine also that in that series, you see “the greatest player to every lace ‘em up” score what you, almost 40 years later, call “the biggest goal in international hockey ever”:

No matter how old you live to be, you will always carry that 14-year-old you inside you.

For Szymon Szemberg, the IIHF Communications Director, that series was the 1972 Summit Series, the player was Pete “Little M” Mahovlich, and the goal was the 3-1 goal of the Game 2, which he scored shorthanded. He faked a shot, skated around Yevgeni Paladiev, a Soviet defenceman, practically throwing him aside, and when alone against Vladislav Tretyak, Mahovlich faked a forehand shot, went to the backhand, and with a move that reminds the younger fans of Peter Forsberg’s move in Lillehammer 1994, tucked the puck into the net.

The grace, the courage, and the speed.

To see a big man move like that is amazing.

I know it because I saw how Szemberg took off when he saw “Little M” in the next table in the IIHF VIP tent. First he took a couple of quick steps, tiptoed around a waitress and an NHL scout, and then faked going left, but actually going right – to block the exit when Mahovlich was about to leave.

This time, it was Mahovlich who didn’t have a chance, even if he, too - like Tretyak in 1972 - surely thought that he "played that shot perfectly”.

Mahovlich and the 14-year-old Szymon Szemberg stood at a table a short while and talked hockey, and the fact that on his office wall, Szemberg has a huge framed picture of Mahovlich’s goal in Game 2 of the 1972 Summit Series. Then Mahovlich lifted his bag onto the table, and pulled out an envelope. And from the envelope, he pulled out a photo depicting himself with the Stanley Cup in 1971. His first of four Stanley Cups.

In the photo, Mahovlich looks like the happiest man in the world.

So does Szemberg in this one.

Photo by Matthew Manor/HHOF-IIHF Images

Reception at Primate's Palace

Martin Merk / May 2 / Bratislava

The happiness and excitement about having the IIHF World Championship in Bratislava can be felt throughout the whole city. Mayor Milan Ftacnik certainly echoes those feelings when talking about the event that’s brought many of the world’s best hockey players to Bratislava.

“The time of national independence in 1993, which saw the creation of the Slovak national team, was the start of a new era,” Ftacnik said, speaking during a May 2 reception at the historic Primate’s Palace for guests from the various participating national teams and the International Ice Hockey Federation. “We had to start at the bottom, and we fought our way up to the top 16 nations where we belong. And now we are very excited to host the World Championship here.”

The Slovak capital has a rich history due to its proximity to Austria, Hungary and the Czech Republic. It was, of course, part of Czechoslovakia until 1992. Some of that history is attributable to the various people that conquered, or tried to conquer, the area of what is now Bratislava.

Who would have guessed that Bratislava (or Pozsony, in Hungarian) became Hungary’s capital for more than three centuries when the Turks conquered Budapest? Or that the city became Hungary’s coronation town and the seat of kings and bishops in the Habsburg Monarchy?

This might help to explain the beauty of the compact and well-preserved old town on the banks of the Danube River.

Later in its history, Bratislava became better known under its German name, Pressburg, during the Austrian-Hungarian Monarchy. The Peace of Pressburg treaty between Austria and France to end the Napoleonic Wars was signed in the Primate’s Palace, where the Mayor and his staff had lots of stories to tell about the history of this fantastic building with its gorgeously decorated rooms.

Just like Ftacnik, IIHF President René Fasel was full of praise when he and the Mayor exchanged presents.

“I don’t know who came up with the slogan ‘Slovak Republic – Hockey Republic’, but I really like it,” said Fasel. “You can feel that the IIHF World Championship is taking place here and that the people in Slovakia love hockey.”

Living it up at the media centre

Lucas Aykroyd / May 2 / Bratislava

During the IIHF World Championship, journalists spend as much or even more time in the media centre as they do in the actual rink or their hotel rooms.

This year, our professional home away from home at Bratislava’s Orange Arena is particularly spectacular.

As usual, there’s an array of flat-screen TV’s so that we can watch the out-of-town action or even what’s going on right here, in case we have to leave the rink early.

But Bratislava takes it a step further. Not only have the local organizers installed one of the biggest, best, crispest centre-ice Jumbotrons in recent memory, but they’ve also gone to extra lengths for us writers. High up on one wall of the media centre is an enormous screen that wouldn’t be out of place in New York City’s Times Square. (If the people in the Big Apple craved highlights of Austria-Norway, that is.)

And clearly, the goal this year was to make journalists feel they’re really “in the game”. The media centre is in a converted practice rink – and they left most of the rink boards in. The media centre info desk is inside a player’s bench. So far, no bodychecking incidents between writers have occurred. But it’s early days yet, and wait till there’s a controversial disallowed goal in, say, the Canada-Slovakia semi-final. (Just stay away from the head hits, ladies and gentlemen of the press. This is the IIHF.)

Beyond the work tables, arrayed in a striking star formation that radiates out from “centre ice”, lots of diversions await journalists.

Skoda, the official sponsor since the beginning of time or thereabouts, has a nice booth with free miniature Skoda Octavia cars, pens, international newspapers, and coffee – staffed by volunteers who speak impeccable English. You can play table hockey, book a Skoda test drive, or enter a Skoda-themed photography contest.

There’s a wonderful wall of cartoons depicting international hockey heroes from Phil Esposito to Borje Salming to Alexander Maltsev. Another displays colourful hockey-related clippings from Slovak newspapers.

You can also chow down on sandwiches and frankfurters at Bistro Goooly, named after the tournament’s hockey-playing mascot.

Our IIHF.com team spends most of our time inside our Web Editors Office, where we are aiming to set a new world record for the consumption of Mattoni bottled water as we crank out our articles.

May Day in IIHF history

Lucas Aykroyd / May 1 / Bratislava

For some, May Day (May 1) is all about celebrating the organized labour movement. Other see the holiday as harkening back to ancient pagan rites, which nowadays could incite anything from flower baskets to heavy drinking. But for international hockey fans, May Day is usually about hockey. Especially as every year since 1987 (and frequently in the ten years preceding), the IIHF World Championship has overlapped with that date.

Besides the birth of notable IIHF competitors like American forward David Backes, Canadian women’s forward Jennifer Botterill, and Chinese women’s goalie Hong Guo (AKA “The Great Wall of China”), what else has been newsworthy and notable on May 1? Here are a few examples.

1983 - West Germany beat East Germany 7-3 in relegation round action in Munich, West Germany. It was the last time the two halves of the divided Germany would face each other at an IIHF World Championship.

1985 – Canada beat the Soviet Union 3-1 on the strength of two Mario Lemieux goals in Prague, Czechoslovakia. It was the first Canadian World Championship victory over the Soviets dating back to the 1961 tournament, when the Trail Smoke Eaters became the last Canadian amateur team to win gold.

1985 – En route to an 11-2 romp over the United States, Czechoslovakian forwards Jiri Lala and Vladimir Ruzicka set a record for the fastest two goals from the start of a period at the World Championship. Lala scored at 0:09, and Ruzicka added another at 0:19.

1987 – In a game versus Czechoslovakia at the ‘87 tournament in Vienna, Austria, Canadian captain Mike Foligno set a tournament record for the most penalties taken by an individual in one period (five). The total included three minors, a misconduct, and a game misconduct after a dispute over a call with referee Nikolai Morozov.

1991 - Israel and Turkey were admitted as IIHF members during the 91st IIHF Annual Congress at the World Championship in Turku, Finland.

2000 – Tore Vikingstad’s third-period goal lifted Norway to its first-ever win over Canada, a 4-3 decision in St. Petersburg, Russia. The other major upset of the day saw the United States beating stacked host Russia 3-0 with a Robert Esche shutout.

Boards need an upgrade

Andrew Podnieks / May 1 / Kosice

 

The many traditions in hockey are vital to its continued life in sports culture. Elements like the black puck, the size of the nets, the red markings on the ice, should never change. Other things should.

 

In the old days, there was no scoreboard above centre ice. Then came the simple clock, a fancier clock, a TV, a giant screen with live action and replays. But the boards, apart from going from wood to plastic on the bottom and fencing to Plexiglas on the top, have never changed.

 

But as Robert Zimmerman once sang, the times they are a-changing, and it’s high time the boards stepped in tune.

 

Why is there a lip on the top of the boards? Why can’t the glass and boards be flush (or, at least, flusher)? Injuries from heads and faces landing on this dangerous corner have been many. Design-wise, this gap has nothing to do with the necessities of the game. The dasher is in no rule book and is not a tradition, per se.

 

It has always been there because the glass must slide into the top of the dasher midway so there is a brace, but in this day and age surely someone can design the plastic boards in such a way that the glass can come down behind the ice-side of the boards almost flush, reducing injuries, and a million crazy bounces.

 

Remember in the old days officials used to grab the top of the glass and jump up onto that gap to get out of the way? That’s gone now that the glass is uniformly too high all the way around. Refs have to be more dog than cat in getting out of the way nowadays. And speaking of the low glass, who didn’t get on tippy-toes as a kid and reach a program and pen over the top of the short glass for players to sign during warmup in the old days? Also gone.

 

If boards can go from wood to plastic, and if glass can go from low to high, then someone in the hockey world can find a way to eliminate that dangerous gap where the two meet.

A lunch gone wrong

Paul Romanuk / April 30 / Kosice

The Kosice city burghers have set up the old town nicely for the World Championship. No cars, lots of bars and street food and a big stage for musical performances. My colleague, Andrew Podnieks, and I headed down there the other night and I took a solo journey down for lunch one day as well.

I learned a few things: the old church that stands out above everything else (St. Elisabeth Cathedral) dates from the 14th century, and you can head up into the tower for a great view of the city during opening hours. I’ll be coming back to take a look around inside when I get some spare time. There are also a couple of great museums close by, although I’m thinking they’ll have to wait for a return visit one day.

The other things I found out were less pleasant. First of all, I have definitely realized that men in their 40s are apparently covered in some type of invisible paint when it comes to women in their 20s.

There I was, feeling pretty good with my designer shades on, having lunch and taking in the scenery. A group of well-dressed twenty-somethings out enjoying the nice weather took a table right beside mine. Despite a couple of friendly glances… nothing. Not a smile. Not a grin. Not even a “look-at-the-nice-older-tourist-man-enjoying-his-lunch” kind of smile.

Then, even worse, I found out, after a five-minute conversation with a couple of Norwegian team members back at our hotel, that I still had a good part of my lunch sandwich smeared across my chin. My Norsk isn’t so good, but I would guess when they switched back from English as I was leaving the elevator that they were saying something along the lines of: “What’s with the guy who has a chicken sandwich decorating his chin?”

Maybe that explains why that table of women couldn’t look at me.

That’s it. Lunch at the hotel, in front of a mirror, for the rest of the tournament.

Kosice’s most famous athlete

Andrew Podnieks / April 29 / Kosice

Ladislav Nagy, Robert Petrovicky, Marek Svatos, and Ladislav Trojak are all famous hockey players who were born in the working-class town of Kosice. But they are likely not the best-known athletes from here. Indeed, one would never have guessed who that might be.

Hint one. Think tennis.

Hint two. Think women.

Hint three. Think…Switzerland.

Yes, the “Swiss Miss” was not always Swiss. Martina Hingis was born in Kosice on September 30, 1980, to parents who were both outstanding tennis players. Her mother, Melanie Molitorova, was ranked as high as tenth in Czechoslovakia, and her father, Karoly Hingis, made it as high as 19th in the country.

The parents divorced when little Martina was six, and Melanie took her daughter to Switzerland in 1987. Karoly remained in Kosice and trained players. By this time, though, her course had been known and designed. Martina first started playing tennis at age two and entered her first tournament two years later. The rest, as they say, is history.

Martina won five Grand Slam titles, retired because of bad feet (the Peter Forsberg of tennis, you might say), came out of retirement (Forsberg again) and retired after failing a drug test (definitely not Forsberg).

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