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Women’s Hockey Wednesday: With Vanke gone, what’s next for Kunlun?

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The Vanke Rays are no more. News from the IIHF High Performance Camp and lots of signings in both the CWHL and NWHL.

Vanke Rays player Hou Yue (#19) and goalie Elaine Chuli (29) in their inaugural CWHL game, October 28, 2017 against the Toronto Furies.
Vanke Rays players Hou Yue (#19) and Elaine Chuli (29) in their inaugural CWHL game, October 28, 2017 against the Toronto Furies.
Chris Tanouye/Canadian Women’s Hockey League

Story of the Week

CWHL to Feature Six Teams in 2018-19 - Canadian Women's Hockey League

Melissa was the first to notice the post on the CWHL website, several minutes before the league sent out a tweet. Publicly, the news that the Vanke Rays would fold came as quite a surprise, although Emily Janiga reveals in her interview with Die by the Blade (in the NWHL section below) that she knew in June. This partially explains why only a few of the players designated as Sports Ambassadors have formally re-signed in China.

One interesting quote from the CWHL’s release was ”This past season was monumental with our expansion to China but with it came many learning moments”. Obviously the trials and tribulations of travelling to and from China for a few games are a legitimate concern. However, given that the initial announcement of a partnership with China only involved one team, with the possibility of another team in the future, and the way the Rays were added at the last-minute and, at least in the English media, almost surreptitiously, I almost think this quote translates to “We *told* them to start with just one team but they didn’t listen”.

Without a confirmed schedule, the actual benefits to the North American teams are hard to gauge. Each team only took one trip to China last season, playing four games over a week. Will the week be compressed into fewer days abroad, making it easier for players to request time off from their day jobs? Or will each visit last a week, but allow for more of a buffer for an adjustment to the jet lag before teams take the ice against Kunlun Red Star?

Another question for the league is how this will impact the number of games in the season. For 2017-18 the number of games per team went up from 24 to 28. Will we see fewer games? More games might also be an option — 28 games left the schedule a little unbalanced as some teams played certain opponents more than others. Per the press release, the CWHL schedule should be out in “the coming weeks” so we’ll just have to wait until then.

We have confirmation already from the Kunlun organization’s Chinese language site (thank you, Google translate) that KRS has signed five international skaters plus Noora Räty, their international goalie. Unless CWHL policies change they can only sign one more official international player. Any other non-citizen players will be players of Chinese heritage like recently pre-signed draft prospects Leah Lum and Kimberly Newell who are not (yet) Chinese citizens but also not considered international.

CWHL rosters are 25 players, IIHF national team rosters are 23, there are six international players on Red Star, plus at least four “heritage Chinese” players who can’t play for the national team yet due to IIHF rules and also lack of citizenship. Newell in particular will have trouble since she’s played for Canada internationally. So not everyone on the Chinese national team is going to be on Red Star.

Conversely, not all the Chinese players on Red Star and the Rays were on the national team last year. The Chinese national team took a total of 18 skaters and two goalies to Worlds this year. One of the players, Pi Yunlin, was not in the CWHL in the 2017-18 season - she was on the KRS team of younger players that has been playing in the JWHL in the US.

The biggest issue is with goalies. With Räty and Newell ready as the one-two combo in net, Team China starter Wang Yuqing isn’t likely to get even the 10 games she played last season. That’s not helpful for her development at all.

So, what’s going on? I got one hint from this news piece from the UBC Thunderbirds website. The Thunderbirds have played Team China and the Chinese CWHL teams in pre-season action before, and they’ll be playing Kunlun again this year. What’s significant is this quote:

For the second straight year, the T-Birds host Kunlun Red Star of the Canadian Women’s Hockey League while also hosting a brand new team from Shenzhen, China for a three-team showcase-style series starting August 18 at Father Bauer Arena.

Friend of the blog Kirsten Whelan did some further research and discovered that the new second team will be more focused on development and training for the 2019 Worlds and ultimately the 2020 Olympics, while the job of the Red Star team will be to win the Clarkson Cup. This was confirmed by an official release today on the Chinese language Kunlun website. (Note that Vanke continues to be a title sponsor for KRS, so in China at least, the names of the two teams seem to have been combined.)

As with the CWHL announcement the focus was on the strain of travel and how that impacted training for the Chinese players. All international and heritage players signed so far will play with Red Star. It will be very interesting to see which Chinese players are selected for Red Star and whether this will cut them off from a place on the national team. A total of nine Chinese players scored points during the 2017-18 regular season, suggesting that so far these are the stronger players from Team China. Where will they end up in 2018-19?

To date KRS has signed four heritage players for 2018 — Lum, Newell, Rose Alleva (formerly of Vanke) and Maddie Woo. Could the plan be to sign more heritage players to Kunlun while they wait for paperwork that might allow them to play on Team China? There was tension with the CWHLPA over the heritage players last year - it’ll be interesting to see if that’s been smoothed over or if we’re in for another Twitter campaign.

Continuing to have two teams in Shenzhen would likely alleviate one other negative from the CWHL contraction - the number of CWHL games in China will go down to at most 15 from a total of 23 last season. I would expect that the two teams will play some exhibition games at home, which should help keep the interest of the Chinese hockey fans.

Will this affect how much money the KRS organization contributes to the CWHL as a whole? Possibly but I suspect not. The initial agreement was five years and for one team with possibly another one later on. While it’s possible the amount of money contributed changed once the Rays became part of the equation, and it’s true that the C might not have a lot of leverage here, I think their wording in the announcement would be a lot less positive if the league was taking a financial hit.

The question we’re likely to get an answer to sooner than later is “what happens to the other international players?” Zoe Hickel has signed with the Inferno, Brooke Webster has signed with the Thunder, Ashleigh Brykaliuk is assistant coaching at UMD and Emily Janiga signed with the NWHL’s Buffalo Beauts on Monday. That leaves Elaine Chuli, Shiann Darkangelo, Taylor Marchin and Kelli Stack as players whose fate we don’t yet have confirmed.

It might interest Furies fans to know that Chuli is on record in the Sudbury Star article below as intending to play in the C this year. She’s an Ontario-based goalie who put in a strong performance as Vanke’s starter last season. I’m just saying.

CWHL

2018 CWHL Draft: Toronto Furies and Markham Thunder defence prospects - Pension Plan Puppets
In Part Two of our draft scouting series, we turn to the blueline.

CWHL News: Markham Thunder sign free agent Brooke Webster - Pension Plan Puppets
The former Vanke Rays forward joins the Thunder for the 2018-19 season.

Les Canadiennes acquire Olympians Jill Saulnier and Genevieve Lacasse - Eyes On The Prize
The two Olympians were acquired from the Calgary Inferno

Geneviève Lacasse et Jillian Saulnier s’en vont chez les Canadiennes - TVA Sports
Les Canadiennes de Montréal ont acquis jeudi la gardienne de but Geneviève Lacasse et l’attaquante Jillian Saulnier de l’Inferno de Calgary.

Chuli relishes CWHL experience | Simcoe Reformer
Elaine Chuli is part of a very exclusive club.

Kunlun Red Star Pre-Signs Chinese Canadian Kimberly Newell - Kunlun Red Stars
Former Princeton Tiger goaltender Kimberly Newell will join Kunlun Red Star this coming fall being formally announced as a 2018 CWHL Draft pre-signing.

Richmond hockey standout being groomed for 2022 Winter Olympics
Coming off an outstanding four-year run playing at the NCAA Division One level, Leah Lum is taking her career to the Canadian Women’s Hockey League as a member of the Shenzhen-based Kunlun Red Star.

Where will Sarah Nurse play as a pro? - The Ice Garden
The young Olympian reflects on her first Winter Games, future professional career

Goalie weathers new Air Force career > Robins Air Force Base > Article Display
Rackleff started her Air Force career in April. Prior, she studied chemical engineering at Rochester Institute of Technology, New York, where she played ice hockey. Rochester recruited her to their NCAA Division 1 women’s hockey team from a junior league,

International

Pelissou pursues dream | Sudbury Star
Laurentian University graduate Marie-Pierre Pelissou won top defender honours at an international tournament this spring. She’s attempting to make the French national team.

Hockey Canada announces leadership changes, restructuring of National Teams department
Gina Kingsbury (Rouyn-Noranda, Que.) will lead the women’s program as director, national teams – women’s.

Hockey Canada to host pair of three-game, Canada-U.S. series
Canada’s National Women’s Development Team and Canada’s National Women’s Under-18 Team will host the United States for a pair of three-game series, set for Aug. 13-19 at the Markin MacPhail Centre at WinSport’s Canada Olympic Park in Calgary.

Halifax committee approves $300K in funding for 2020 IIHF World Women’s hockey tournament bid | The Star
Hockey Nova Scotia is submitting a bid for the tournament this week. Halifax would co-host with Truro and Colchester in spring 2020.

Duhatschek: Q&A with Hayley Wickenheiser, the most interesting person in hockey – The Athletic
Wickenheiser also has a direct and pointed message about the future of women’s professional hockey – and what needs to happen to take the game to greater heights.

Women’s hockey summit
Delegates talk growth, 10 teams for Beijing

Women’s camp opens
High-performance and development programs

Olympic dreams in stripes
From Abu Dhabi to Mexico, players try as refs

Macedonian pioneer
Pizevska doesn’t want to be the lone player

Kiss behind the bench
Hungarian player Andrea Kiss works on coaching career

Kuwaiti women enter stage
New women’s hockey nations in development programs

“I learn a lot”
Moeka Tsutsumi about camp, WW18 in Japan

Spotlight year
Czech forward Kaltounkova impressed at U18

Following footsteps
Back pair Aho, Gianola comes from hockey families

NWHL

2018 NWHL Free Agency Tracker - The Ice Garden
Your convenient one-stop shop for all the NWHL signing news. Highlights: the Connecticut Whale re-sign a few and go international with others. Emily Janiga returns to the NWHL.

Whitecaps pick U star Ronda (Curtin) Engelhardt as co-coach - StarTribune.com
Ronda (Curtin) Engelhardt will coach the NWHL team along with Jack Brodt. Robb Stauber, head coach of the gold-medal winning U.S. women’s team, “decided not to take the job.”

Why are big names signing with the Buffalo Beauts? It’s all about professionalism – The Buffalo News
But that feeling of being treated like a professional, that’s not a small thing.

Can the Riveters rebuild the best offense in the league? - The Ice Garden
The Riveters have four forwards signed and a few more who we expect to return, but what does the offense look like right now?

Whale bucking the trend by bringing in international talent - The Ice Garden
Are we seeing the first signs of a resurgence of international talent in the NWHL?

International star Emily Janiga returns to the Buffalo Beauts - Die By The Blade
Champion brings worldly experience to new look Beauts

Elmira - Hughson Signs Pro Contract With NWHL’s Connecticut Whale
The National Women’s Hockey League (NWHL) announced today that 2018 CCM/American Hockey Coaches Association (AHCA) First Team All-American and the inaugural United Collegiate Hockey Conference (UCHC) Player of the Year, Sarah Hughson ‘18, has inked a contract with the Connecticut Whale.

Swedish Olympian Michelle Löwenhielm joins Connecticut Whale - The Ice Garden
History all around as Löwenhielm becomes the first Swede to play in the NWHL.

NCAA

Minnesota's Lindsay Agnew to Join BC Women's Hockey - The Heights
On Wednesday, Boston College women's hockey head coach Katie Crowley announced that Minnesota forward Lindsay Agnew will join the Eagles in 2018-19.

Scott McDonald stepping down as RIT women's hockey coach
Scott McDonald coached the Tigers for 12 years and is the school's all-time victory leader.

Clarkson adds pair of star transfers - The Ice Garden
The rich get richer as the reigning champs add a Frozen Four goalie and a former ECAC Player of the Year.

The IX: Hockey Friday with Erica Ayala, July 13, 2018
Interview with new Minnesota Duluth Assistant Coach Ashleigh Brykaliuk

USports

University of Windsor announces new women’s hockey coach | Windsor Star
Deanna Iwanicka brings championship-calibre success as a coach and a player to her new job as the first full-time head coach of women’s hockey at the University of Windsor.

European club hockey

EWHL (Europe) Former UMaine women’s ice hockey player signs with Austrian team — University of Maine Black Bear Sports — Bangor Daily News — BDN Maine
Emilie Brigham was the Black Bear’s leading scorer her sophomore season..

SDHL (Sweden) Marion Allemoz klar för MODO Hockey - MODO Hockey
The French National Team player leaves Les Canadiennes for Sweden.

Isabel Waidacher will continue her career in Sweden - swisshockeynews.ch
Yet another Swiss player will move to Sweden for the upcoming season: Isabel Waidacher has agreed to terms with Djurgården Hockey Dam.

SWHL (Switzerland) Phoebe Staenz returns to Switzerland, joins the Ladies Lugano - swisshockeynews.ch
The HC Ladies Lugano have announced four arrivals for the new season, among them Phoebe Staenz, who returns to Switzerland after five years abroad.

Men’s hockey

Kendall Coyne the lone woman playing in the Chicago Pro Hockey League: ‘They view me as a hockey player’ - Chicago Tribune
Kendall Coyne, a Palos Heights native and Sandburg High graduate, will make her debut in the new Chicago Pro Hockey League on Wednesday.