BUDAPEST – In late April during the IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship period a new event emerged in Budapest as the Hungarian Ice Hockey Federation for the first time organized a European U16 women’s tournament.
The idea came up about one year ago when women’s hockey representatives convened at the 2016 IIHF Women’s High-Performance Camp at the Sport Institute of Finland in Vierumaki and thought that such a tournament would be a good idea for the development of women’s hockey.
“Last year we had the Yearly Training Plan session in Vierumaki during the High-Performance Camp and with the countries we came to the conclusion that it could help the women’s program to do something together. There have been for a couple of years many countries in Europe who had an U16 or U15 women’s national team program. That’s why we had the feeling it could help our girls and see more perspectives for the future with the senior and U18 women’s teams to have such a tournament,” said IIHF Council member Zsuzsanna Kolbenheyer, who is also one of the two chairwomen of the IIHF Women’s Committee.
“Some of the representatives also were at the 2016 Youth Olympic Games in Lillehammer and saw the U16 tournament and the girls there were so much better than four years earlier at the Youth Olympics in Innsbruck simply because they worked more together with the U16 teams. Some countries also had exhibition games in that category.”
After the discussions the representatives from several countries went home to discuss it within their national association and during the 2016 IIHF Semi-Annual Congress last autumn the idea was brought on paper.
“The countries signed an agreement to organize a tournament that shouldn’t cost too much. Many teams came by bus and the Hungarian Ice Hockey Federation offered to organize the tournament and keep the accommodation costs for the teams low,” Kolbenheyer said.
“To start with eight teams was a good number to make a tournament during a few days. There may be other countries like Sweden, France and Norway who have U16 teams and could fit into such an event. In the future other countries like Denmark and Poland could progress and be interested in the future as well.”
The first edition began with eight nations who committed to come and were split into two groups. After three days of group-stage play the tournament ended with placement games. Finland took the bronze medal after blanking Germany 3-0 and Russia beat the Czech Republic 2-1 in the final.
“They had a really good defence, and I think the key element for breaking it was our physical play. We had great offensive forecheck and we played hard throughout the game. The tournament was a great opportunity for us, it was a good idea,” said Russia’s head coach Yevgeni Bobariko, adding that it was a challenge for the young girls to play four games in as many days.
Yelizaveta Shkalyova opened the scoring for Russia with 57 seconds left in the first period and at 6:03 of the middle frame she set up 14-year-old Vita Ponyatovskaya for the 2-0 goal. The Czechs came back with a Barbora Machalova power-play goal but Anna Alpatova had a strong day in the Russian net with 26 saves to help her team win the first edition.
“The tournament was at a good level, especially Russia, the Czech Republic and Finland played at a top level. We played all games for 60 minutes but there were no blowouts as it might have happened in the past. The Czechs surprised me even though they’ve built a strong women’s program already for a couple of years. They overtook Finland in the group to play in the final,” said Kolbenheyer, who played for the Hungarian women’s national team for many years. “All teams were very happy with the tournament. We had a lot of positive feedback on-site and e-mails after the event.”
The event was also discussed with Canada and the United States but since having an U16 women’s program at national level is more of a European thing, the event was launched as a European competition. After the first event with eight teams it could grow to something bigger.
“In the IIHF Women’s Committee we work on making it a tournament that is part of the IIHF umbrella without causing a financial burden. It’s not about creating a new World Championship category in the near future and we don’t need additional money from the IIHF for it but if it became an official IIHF event it could help to make it a good platform for the programs. It would be easier for the women’s program managers to say it’s an IIHF event to get support within their federation,” Kolbenheyer said.
“The event also helps develop female on-ice officials since it’s difficult for them to get high-level games in women’s hockey. The referees and linesmen were very happy to get that many games and to have the chance to use the four-man officiating system.”
The international women’s hockey family will soon discuss with the countries and potential other nations about the second edition of the European U16 women’s hockey tournament for next year. The Finnish Ice Hockey Association showed interest in organizing the tournament according to similar conditions in Vierumaki. The dates and the venue will be discussed when the IIHF member nations meet at the next congress in autumn.
MARTIN MERK Group A:
Switzerland-Czech Republic 0-5
Czech Republic-Finland 1-0
Slovakia-Czech Republic 0-6
Standings: 1. Czech Republic 9, 2. Finland 6, 3. Switzerland 3, 4. Slovakia 0. Group B:
Standings: 1. Russia 9, 2. Germany 6, 3. Hungary 3, 4. Austria 0. Placement Games
Final: Russia-Czech Republic 2-1
Bronze medal game: Finland-Germany 3-0
5th place: Switzerland-Hungary 2-1
7th place: Austria-Slovakia 2-1