Month: February 2017 (page 3 of 5)

S. Korea notches historic victory over Thailand in Winter Asiad women’s hockey

Park Jong-ah of South Korea (C) scores against Thailand in the women’s hockey tournament at the Asian Winter Games at Tsukisamu Gymnasium
in Sapporo, Japan, on Feb. 18, 2017

By Yoo Jee-ho – Yonhap News

South Korea notched a historic women’s hockey victory with a 20-0 rout over Thailand at the Asian Winter Games here Saturday.

Captain Park Jong-ah scored South Korea’s first three goals as part of her five-goal game at Tsukisamu Gymnasium, giving the country its first-ever victory at the Asian Winter Games on its 16th try.

In the previous 15 games at four Asiads, South Korea had managed just four goals and conceded 242 goals.

Park, a top-line forward, nearly matched that previous goal total by herself in the first period. She scored a power-play goal just 3:36 into the first period and completed a natural hat trick at 8:20.

South Korea scored seven goals in the opening frame, with defenseman Park Chae-lin chipping in two goals and forwards Lee Eun-ji and Jo Su-sie getting one apiece.

Park added two more goals in the second period, with South Korea again scoring seven times. Eom Su-yeon also scored twice in the period, with Caroline Park, Han Soo-jin and Kim Hee-won chipping in a goal apiece.

It was much the same story in the third period. South Korea got three goals from three different players in the first three minutes of the final frame, as Kim Hee-won, Lee Yeon-jeong and Jung Si-yun got in on the act.

The Thai players could barely skate with the South Koreans, and recorded zero shot on goal in the opening 20 minutes, as the puck mostly stayed in the Thai zone. South Korea ended up outshooting Thailand 108-1.

In addition to her five goals, Park Jong-ah added two assists. Han scored one and set up four others in the blowout. Jo and Kim each scored twice, and 16 players recorded at least a point.

“It wasn’t just myself doing the work,” Park said afterward. “We were able to score these goals because we all worked hard together.”

   South Korea head coach Sarah Murray said it was “nice to get the nerves out of the way” and the victory was a good way to start the tournament.

“We had practice with pressure and practice the strategies and systems that we wanted to play,” she said. “It was good to get some extra practice on things we needed to work on.”

The Winter Asiad’s opening ceremony is Sunday, but the women’s hockey games began Saturday to accommodate the teams’ tight schedules. Six nations will each play five matches in a round robin format, with the top three teams taking home the medals next Saturday.

South Korea’s next game is against Japan on Monday, followed by Kazakhstan on Tuesday, China on Thursday and Hong Kong next Saturday.

Japan, which recently qualified for an Olympic spot, is the highest-ranked team here at No. 7, followed by China (No. 16), Kazakhstan (No. 18) and South Korea (No. 23). Hong Kong is 35th, but Thailand isn’t ranked.

Earlier Saturday, Japan shut out Kazakhstan 6-0, outshooting the opponent 58-3. Forward Ami Nakamura led the way with two goals.

Out from the cold, Singapore men’s ice hockey team target success in 2017

By Today Online

This year could be a pivotal one for the Singapore men’s ice hockey team.

The squad flew off to Sapporo, Japan, early Friday morning (Feb 17) to take part in the Asian Winter Games (AWG) for the first time in their history as part of Singapore’s largest-ever contingent (22).

It is also their first international tournament apart from the International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) Challenge Cup of Asia (CCOA), an annual developmental tournament established in 2008.

Both competitions will serve as preparation for August’s SEA Games in Kuala Lumpur, where winter sports will make its debut.

With the increased spotlight comes the opportunity to raise the sport’s profile, and Singapore Ice Hockey Federation (SIHF) president Alphonsus Joseph knows it.

“The SEA Games is the number one thing we are aiming for,” he told TODAY at Changi Airport prior to their departure. “Going for the AWG allows them to play at a high level and also to see teams like Japan and Korea, who are almost at world-class level. It will definitely be an eye-opener for most of the players.

“I think more people do know about ice hockey (now), but not many know there’s a national team or that there’s even an ice rink in Singapore.”

RESULTS NEEDED

Joseph, who became SIHA’s first local president when he took up the role in 2013, added that it is important for the team to show results in order to get more support.

“We first started the national team in 2008… and it’s always been self-funded,” said the 38-year-old, who works in the IT sector.  “We’ve been in talks with SNOC (Singapore National Olympic Council) and hopefully for the SEA Games, they will support us a bit.

“That’s a positive but again, we need to show them we can do something with the sport.”

Forward Ryan Tan, 18, added: “We didn’t really have good results in the past two years and hope to do better in upcoming tournaments; that will come with practice and getting more people in.”

Singapore’s best-ever CCOA finish was silver in Division I in 2015, which earned them promotion to the top division last year. However, they lost all four games – including 7-1 to SEA Games favourites Thailand – and finished bottom in 2016. They will drop back to Division I this March.

The other three SEA Games nations are Malaysia, Indonesia and Philippines; the latter two are newly-formed.

Joseph, a former national player, noted the sport has come a long way from the early days where it was “just a bunch of people skating around”. There are currently around 200 local and 300 expatriate members and two annual leagues that run back-to-back, featuring close to 250 players.

CHALLENGES

But funding remains a critical obstacle. Hourly rental at The Rink at JCube, Singapore’s only Olympic-sized rink, can cost up to S$1,250. Each player pays around S$500 per month for training expense, on top of the S$2,500 to make the AWG.

Majority of the 18 other AWG nations have a full 23-man roster, but Singapore have only 18 as some could not afford the trip.

“We’ve been training since October, so that’s quite a lot of money for players to come out with, especially for some who are just starting a family or have other priorities,” said Joseph.

SNOC lends support in areas like logistics and sports science, and furnished the team with Team Singapore winter gear, but does not provide funding for the AWG as it is classified as a minor Games.

Ice-time is another issue, said captain Michael Loh. The rink is shared with the public, and the figure skating and speed skating national teams. The one-hour weekly training was increased to three or four weekly sessions in the last two months and these often take place at midnight, where cheaper slots are available.

“Sometimes we negotiate with the staff to give us five or 10 minutes more, and offer to close up for them,” said Loh, a 41-year-old property salesperson, who is one of the pioneering members of the team.

Tan, a Raffles Junior College student, added: “When you get home, you still need to do stretching; by the time I sleep, it’s around 2am or 3am,  and I have to get up at 6am for school. I try my best to stay awake in class, but it’s not easy. But it’s about time management and I feel I am coping well.”

STAYING THE COURSE

Assistant coach Sean Connors, who has been helping to coach the team for the past three years, is blown away by the commitment shown by his players.

“We always get 20, 25 guys out for practices and this is after a hard day… and having to get up early to go to work the next day,” said the 47-year-old physical education teacher. “You are never going to see this anywhere else in the world.”

The Canadian noted that the team has a strong defensive core but needs fresh blood to catch up with other teams in the region. Excluding 18-year-old duo Tan and Richard O’Brien, and 22-year-old Joshua Lee, the average age of the team is close to 34.

“Fitness has been a problem… especially where there’s a gruelling schedule,” he said. “By the time they get to the end of the week, they will be very, very tired.”

members of youth national side

There is hope, with a men’s youth national side started last year and due to take part in a tournament this September. A youth developmental programme is in place, while SIHA also hopes to convince schools to take up the sport.

Tan, who coaches the youth side, said: “When I started, I was the only local but now, we have a youth team… Three, four years from now, I think they will be much stronger after competing and building up together.”

Unranked in the world, Singapore lost 12-1 to Hong Kong (world No 44) in their AWG opener on Saturday (Feb 18). They are grouped with Chinese Taipei, Mongolia, Thailand and United Arab Emirates (46) in Division I, the middle of three divisions. Only top division teams (China, Japan, Kazakhstan, Korea) are eligible for medals.

The going has been tough for them and is not likely to get any easier, but the players still plough on despite the challenges.

“Everybody wants ice hockey to grow. Maybe not for our generation, but for the next generation,” Loh asserted. “We are very passionate about it and I think that’s the key factor that keeps us going.”

Japanese women all smiles ahead of Asian Winter Games hockey

Members of the Japan Women’s Ice Hockey team gather for practice at the Asian Winter Games

By Jim Armstrong – The Associated Press

The women’s ice hockey team from Japan is giving its fans plenty to smile about.

Fresh off qualifying for next year’s Olympics, the women’s national team, nicknamed “Smile Japan,” is aiming to keep the good times rolling at the Asian Winter Games, which begin this weekend in Sapporo.

Japan, the highest-ranked team in the tournament, gets its campaign underway on Saturday against Kazakhstan.

“We’re focused on winning the gold medal,” Japan captain Chiho Osawa said after a team practice on Friday. “We are not thinking about whether our opponents are ranked lower than us.”

Japan beat Austria 6-1, France 4-1 and Germany 3-1 in the final round of Olympic qualification last week to reach their third Winter Games following Nagano and Sochi.

While they lost all five games in Sochi, the team has shown much improvement and is hoping to contend for a medal in South Korea.

Eight teams will play in the women’s Olympic tournament in Pyeongchang. Canada and the United States are the overwhelming favourites for gold and silver, but at No. 7 in the International Ice Hockey Federation’s rankings, Japan could pull off a few surprises.

The team plays a high-tempo style, taking advantage of its speed and fitness against larger players from North America and Europe.

Part of the relaxed atmosphere on the team is due to the influence of 46-year-old coach Takeshi Yamanaka, a former member of Japan’s national team that played in Nagano under Canadian coach Dave King.

Yamanaka was quick to put all the credit on his players after they secured a berth in the Pyeongchang Games.

“It’s an honour to coach such a dedicated group,” Yamanaka said.

The team is led by 34-year-old forward Hanae Kubo, who had a tournament-leading five goals and one assist in the Olympic qualifiers, including a hat trick in the 6-1 rout of Austria.

A native of Tomakomai, Hokkaido, Kubo has 32 goals and 62 points in 63 games since her first call-up to the national team way back in 1999.

Kubo remembers the disappointment of Sochi and is determined to do better next year in South Korea.

“We weren’t able to play up to our potential in Sochi,” Kudo said. “The only place to make up for that is at the Olympics.”

In the net, 27-year-old Nana Fujimoto has been solid, allowing only three goals in the Group D qualifying tournament.

Fujimoto spent a year playing for the New York Riveters of the National Women’s Hockey League and looks up to Canadian goaltender Shannon Szabados.

While far from being a major sport in Japan, hockey is popular on the northernmost island of Hokkaido where the climate is more suited to winter sports.

With any luck, their style of play will lead to success in Pyeongchang and a boost in the popularity of the sport in Japan.

Nervous’ S. Korean women’s hockey team gets in 1st practice at Winter Asiad site

By Yoo Jee-ho – Yonhap News Agency

In prepping for the Asian Winter Games, South Korean women’s hockey players practiced before empty seats at Tsukisamu Gymnasium in Sapporo, Japan, on Wednesday, and with plenty of butterflies in their stomachs.

American-born coach Sarah Murray worked the 20-player team through a 75-minute practice session at the arena, which will host the women’s hockey tournament at the eighth Winter Asiad. The opening ceremony is Sunday, but women’s hockey will commence on Saturday with all six nations in action.

South Korea will face Thailand, Hong Kong, Kazakhstan, China and Japan in a round-robin play, with the top three teams taking home the medals. South Korea is trying to win its first Winter Asiad medal in women’s hockey.

Murray’s team has been in Japan for two weeks. South Korea played Germany and Austria, and a local women’s team earlier this month in another town in Hokkaido, and then got their first look at Tsukisamu Gymnasium Wednesday.

Murray ran the players through some five-on-five and one-on-one situations, and also some drills on special teams and breakaways.

“The girls are a little bit nervous because there’s the big snow sculpture of the squirrel (the event’s mascot) and the logos outside,” Murray told Yonhap News Agency after practice. “They’re starting to feel ‘good nervous.’ This is something we’ve been working toward since I arrived here (in 2014). This is one year before the Olympics (in South Korea’s PyeongChang). This is a really good test for us.”

   South Korea has come a long way to even have medal aspirations at the Asian Games. Last year, South Korea finished second at the 2016 International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) Women’s World Championship Division II Group A, its highest position ever at an IIHF championship.

As significant as it will be to win a medal here, Murray said the Olympics in 2018 will mean even more to her team. And there’s nothing like putting some of her young players through trial by fire this month.

“We have three players that have never played at world championships before because they were under age when I first came here,” Murray said in reference to three of eight teenagers on the team who were just 13 in 2014. “This will be their first international tournament. They’re very excited to have this opportunity.”

Dalton brings Olympic hope to Korea

Matt Dalton, Candian-born Korean ice hockey goaltender, played a big role in winning its friendly matches against Japan and Denmark on Saturday.
The team aims for gold at the 2018 Asian Winter Games.

By Park Rin – Korea JoongAng Daily

With the addition of Canadian-born Korean ice hockey goaltender Matt Dalton, the Korean men’s ice hockey team dreams of a “miracle on ice” at the 2018 PyeonChang Winter Olympics.

The team came a long way as they once lost to Japan 25-0 in 1982, and lost all five matches at the 2014 Division I Men’s Ice Hockey Championships. At the time, the goaltender was pointed out as Korea’s weakness.

“The role of the goaltender accounts for more than 60 percent of the game in ice hockey,” Kim Jung-min, head of the publicity department for the Korea Ice Hockey Association, said. “Just like how a pitcher’s scoreless innings can lead to a win in baseball, goaltenders can lead the team to an unexpected win in ice hockey.”

Over the past few years, the Korean men’s ice hockey team showed significant improvements with the addition of Dalton.

Last April, Korea earned its first win against Japan in 34 years at the 2016 Division I Men’s World Ice Hockey Championships. Recently, the 23rd-ranked team in the world swept Japan 3-0 at the Euro Ice Hockey Challenge, a friendly match between four countries, in Goyang, Gyeonggi on Saturday. With the win, Korea’s record against Japan improved to 2 wins, 1 tie and 19 losses.

“I feel good that we won against our historical rival, Japan,” Dalton said after their match against Japan.

Not only that, Korea won against the 13th-ranked team, Denmark, 4-2 during Saturday’s friendly match.

Dalton was granted Korean citizenship in March 2016 under a special naturalization law. During his college career, Dalton was a goaltender for Bemidji State University, where he helped the team advance to semi final of the NCAA Division I men’s ice hockey championship and in 2009, he signed as a free agent by the Boston Bruins of the National Hockey League (NHL), but never made an appearance.

After he played in the Kontinental Hockey League (KHL) for three years, he then played for Anyang Halla of the Asia League Ice Hockey.

In ice hockey, when a player shoots a puck to the net, the speed of the puck is about 170 kilometers per hour (106 miles per hour). The goaltenders have to block about 30-50 of those shots per game.

“Playing baseball in high school helped a lot with catching pucks,” Dalton said. Although he no longer plays baseball, Dalton enjoys watching baseball as he is a fan of the Doosan Bears of the Korea Baseball League.

Dalton played a big role throughout the season helping Anyang Halla lead the league as he recorded 1.68 goals against average with 0.938 save percentage in 40 games.

Dalton is aiming for gold at the 2018 Asian Winter Games starting on Feb. 18 in Sapporo, Japan.

The team is scheduled to play against Kazakhstan, the 16th-ranked team, on Feb. 22, Japan on Feb. 24 and China on Feb. 26. Korea will have to overcome Kazakhstan to have a chance at winning a gold medal.

At the Olympics, Dalton will have to face Canada, the best hockey team in the world as well as his home country. Star players such as Jonathan Toews of Chicago Blackhawks of the NHL are part of the Canadian men’s ice hockey team.

“I’ll try my hardest in helping the Korean team, my second homeland, at the Olympics,” Dalton said.

Olympic hockey teams will look to amateurs, Europe if the NHL backs out

https://www.theglobeandmail.com/resizer/2L5k5EuwQvBEC-pZjlWNz2kHi_w=/620x0/filters:quality(80)/arc-anglerfish-tgam-prod-tgam.s3.amazonaws.com/public/B52YSBCYJJFLTGKGZFOHEAO2JA

By Stephen Whyno –The Associated Press

If the NHL doesn’t send its players to the 2018 Winter Olympics, the hockey tournament in Pyeongchang, South Korea will look familiar.

It will look a lot like the Olympics in Lillehammer, Norway in 1994, Albertville, France in 1992 and Calgary in 1988.

Maybe even a little like 1980 in Lake Placid, N.Y., site of the “Miracle On Ice.”

With a year before the opening ceremony, the league, players union, International Ice Hockey Federation and International Olympic Committee still don’t have an agreement to send NHL players to their sixth consecutive Olympics. There is still time – an agreement last time around came in July before the 2014 Games in Sochi, Russia – but everyone is forming a Plan B just in case.

Russia might have Alex Ovechkin if he makes good on his intention to go no matter what. But the United States, Canada and other countries are preparing for life without the best players in the world.

If the likes of Patrick Kane, Jonathan Quick, Jack Eichel and Ryan Suter aren’t available, USA Hockey will look mostly to the college ranks. If Hockey Canada can’t take Sidney Crosby, Jonathan Toews, Drew Doughty or Carey Price, it will try to defend the gold medal with a mix of European-based professionals, North American minor leaguers and players from the Canadian junior leagues and NCAA.

“It’s a big world, and we’ve got to make sure that we’re ready to go,” Hockey Canada president Tom Renney said. “Should the NHL choose not to go, we’ll make sure we’re ready, willing and able a year from now.”

The United States has a fresh set of heroes after shootout star Troy Terry, defenceman Charlie McAvoy and goaltender Tyler Parsons won world-junior gold last month. Mix them with top college players such as Notre Dame’s Anders Bjork and Wisconsin’s Trent Frederic and ex-NHLers Keith Aucoin and Nathan Gerbe who are playing in Europe, and the Americans will have plenty of youth and experience.

Dave Starman, a former coach in the minors and now an analyst for CBS Sports, said USA Hockey’s priority should be scoring, scoring and more scoring.

“You can’t win unless you can score,” Starman said. “It’s got to have a ton of speed, it’s got to have a really high skill level, it’s got to have defencemen who can get in the play. You need a little bit of dog on bone in your lineup, but I don’t think you can sacrifice skill guys for toughness.”

No problem there for Canada, which has plenty of big, tough skill players and hasn’t waited for the IIHF to set any 2018 parameters as it prepares its contingency plan. Canada’s team for the December Spengler Cup in Switzerland could serve as a blueprint: minor leaguers Cory Conacher and Zach Fucale and European-based recent NHL players Daniel Paille and Nick Spaling.

While IIHF president René Fasel would like a final decision sooner rather than later to plan for South Korea, Renney said Hockey Canada could put a team together quickly. Like USA Hockey, Canada can pull from its national junior team but has more veteran talent in Europe and the American Hockey League to choose from. Former NHL goaltender Ben Scrivens in Russia’s KHL is an option, for example, as is journeyman Michael Leighton, who is in the Carolina Hurricanes’ system.

Though Leighton firmly believes NHL players will go, the 35-year-old said he would “train as hard as I possibly can to get that job” if they don’t. AHL president and chief executive officer David Andrews expects his league to be open to allowing players to go to the Olympics as long as NHL teams give individual minor-league players permission.

“I think it’ll be an interesting question, though, for a lot of general managers because the player that is going to be asked for is going to be probably their No. 1 player outside the NHL club,” Andrews said. “They kind of face that question of, ‘Do we want our No. 1 call-up to be in South Korea for two or three weeks?’” Some NHL owners might even give their elite players permission to go, and Ted Leonsis of the Washington Capitals has said repeatedly he’d let Ovechkin, Swede Nicklas Backstrom and Canadian Braden Holtby represent their countries, though Holtby said he would never leave the Capitals midseason. The IIHF might set roster parameters to prevent NHL players from participating, too.

“We want to have that opportunity,” two-time U.S. Olympian Justin Faulk said. “If that’s taken from us and we don’t have that right anymore, at least it gives other guys an opportunity.”

Hall of Fame defenceman Mark Howe would be fine with that. After winning a silver medal playing for the United States in 1972, he supports amateurs because he feels the 1980 “Miracle On Ice” victory over the Soviet Union had a greater impact on the sport than professionals playing in the Olympics.

“Probably the greatest victory I think I’ve ever seen in hockey was when the 1980 team beat the Russians,” Howe said. “There was some guys on that team that never had a chance to play in the NHL or impact the NHL. That was their two weeks of fame. A guy like Mike Eruzione, Jimmy Craig – they’re phenomenal stories.”

True, but 1998 and 2002 U.S. Olympian John LeClair is worried about a talent disparity next winter if Russia put Ovechkin and dominant KHL players Pavel Datsyuk and Ilya Kovalchuk against American college kids.

“You get different variations of who’s playing and who’s not,” LeClair said. “You’re getting back to what it used to be where Russia had all their pros. You want everybody on an even [playing] field.”

From sand beach to frozen lake, meet the guys of the Cayman Islands pond hockey team

The Cayman Breakaway team practices in Tampa, Fla., for its 13th straight appearance at the World Pond Hockey Championship starting later this
week in Plaster Rock, N.B.

By Curtis Rush – Toronto Star

GEORGE TOWN, CAYMAN ISLANDS—After trading long Canadian winters for the perpetual summer of this luxurious Caribbean tax haven, Bill Messer was content to enjoy the soft sands and warm waters of island living. The only thing he really missed was hockey.

So in 2003, when he saw a television report about the nascent World Pond Hockey Championship, he began plotting a strategy to get a team from his adopted home ready to play in his native country, Canada.

The initial response to his inquiry, however, felt like a cold slap in the face.

The tournament organizer, Danny Braun, warned Messer in an email that it was frigid up in Canada and that hockey was a very fast, very rough game.

As he read the email, Messer said, he realized that he had not made it clear to Braun that he was Canadian.

“He thinks I’m Caymanian,” Messer said, laughing as he relived the moment inside a restaurant across from Grand Cayman’s famous Seven Mile Beach.

Braun remembers his initial reaction well.

“I had a bit of a chuckle thinking this was going to be like the movie Cool Runnings, about the Jamaican bobsled team,” he said in a telephone interview.

 Once Messer clarified that he had once played Senior A hockey in Saskatchewan, Braun opened the door for the Cayman Islands to become the first team from the Caribbean to enter the pond hockey tournament, held annually in Plaster Rock, N.B., a village of a little more than 1,000 residents about 40 kilometres east of the border with Maine.

What began in 2002 as a way for Braun to raise money for a new recreation centre in his community has grown into a sprawling international event. Twenty games will go on at once on Roulston Lake, with the scaled-down teams playing on scaled-down rinks.

More than 100 teams will take part this year, and although Puerto Rico and Bermuda have sent teams in the past, the Cayman Breakaway are the region’s experienced hands at on-ice international relations.

When the puck drops Thursday, it will be the team’s 13th straight appearance in the event. The seemingly unlikely hockey outfit has been among the top 32 playoff teams on three occasions and has a winning record overall. Throughout the years, the Breakaway have become media darlings, and the gifts they bring from home — chiefly rum and rum cake — have made them popular with the other teams that venture to Plaster Rock.

In 2003, Messer faced long odds. The founder of an asset-management firm, Messer, now 55, had to find teammates. And ice. There was — and still is — no ice rink on Grand Cayman.

Over rum and cokes, Messer first recruited his friend Norm Klein, 53, a lawyer who had played peewee hockey with the NHL Hall of Famer Ron Francis in Sault Ste. Marie, Ont.

The two then created a short list to fill out the roster.

“When we first put this together, one of the criteria we had was that we had to be Cayman based,” Messer said. “Otherwise, it would be bogus.”

Some potential players were too old; some were too fat. Another was ruled out because his wife would not let him go.

“It’s not about ability, it’s about commitment,” Klein said. “Got a wife? Kids? That might be a problem. You’re 2,000 miles away. Are you prepared to commit to this?”

Commitment was necessary from the very beginning. Hurricane Ivan struck Grand Cayman in September 2004, flooding the island, submerging homes and knocking out power.

“Both Bill and I were unable to live in our houses while they were rebuilt for the next six to 12 months,” Klein said.

Klein tried in-line skating to keep his legs in shape, but it was not the same. The team needed to find ice, and needed it fast.

Among the original recruits was Joe Stasiuk, 57, from Toronto, a consultant to the energy and aluminum industries who played some Junior B hockey with Wayne Gretzky. He was put in charge of finding the ice, an undertaking that meant looking 1,000 kilometres to the north in Florida.

The stars suddenly aligned. A lockout that wiped out the 2004-05 NHL season left behind a thirst for hockey.

“We came in at the right time for a novelty story,” Messer said.

Soon, the team got Cayman Airways on board as a sponsor. The airline promised to fly the players, at no cost, to the Tampa Bay Lightning’s practice site to train for six weekends leading up to the tournament.

The first time they showed up at the practice site, they were met with laughter. They were given unfavourable practice times — 11 p.m. or 6 a.m. — but that was just another obstacle to overcome.

There were more hardships ahead. Throughout the years, two players who are no longer with the team went through divorces. Messer’s wife, Eleanor, died of cancer in 2015.

And then there is the march of time and the pull of gravity. Overweight and showing their age, team members have instituted yearly weigh-ins to hold one another to account. Their preparation is based on the fear of embarrassing themselves on the ice, though that is rare.

Indeed, it is the opposition that is sometimes embarrassed, as a young squad from the Netherlands found out firsthand one year in a loss to the Cayman Breakaway.

“They were just beside themselves,” Klein recalled. “How do you play the Cayman Islands and lose? And we had years on these guys. Only later did they find out that we were from Ontario, Manitoba or Saskatchewan. That made them feel better.”

By 2006, the Breakaway were a feel-good story in a sport still recovering from the NHL lockout. The team donated a jersey for display in the Hockey Hall of Fame, and players attended the ceremony in Toronto.

They see their quasi-celebrity status as a chance to build up the sport in the Cayman Islands, where NHL games are regularly shown in sports bars and roller-hockey and ball-hockey programs have been in place since the 1980s.

“We’re trying to promote the game,” Klein said. “This is not just a bunch of old guys living their dream.”

Christine Maltman, Klein’s wife, successfully pitched a fundraising idea, incorporating a weekend hockey camp, to the Lightning. Three dozen youngsters from the Cayman Islands took the ice in 2011 with former NHL players Dave Andreychuk and Brian Bradley. They were also treated to a postgame meet-and-greet with the Lightning’s captain at the time, Vinny Lecavalier.

While hockey has been making inroads in warmer climes — Auston Matthews, picked first overall in the 2016 draft by the Toronto Maple Leafs, grew up in Arizona — no one is expecting a star to come directly out of the Cayman Islands anytime soon.

But that does not mean that potential NHL talent cannot start out in the islands.

One current team member, Darren Lawrence, a partner at an accounting firm chartered in New Brunswick and a former Junior B player who spent time on a line with Joe Thornton of the San Jose Sharks, moved his family back to Canada so his son Josh, then 6, could trade roller hockey for the real thing after showing professional potential.

“We wanted to move back before he would start to miss out on the key development ages for hockey,” Lawrence said.

Josh, 15, is now attracting the attention of coaches and scouts while playing at a hockey academy at South Kent School in Connecticut. He is considering how best to further his career and is projected to be a future NHL draft pick.

“He is trying to decide if the Quebec Major Junior League or the NCAA is the right way to go for him,” Lawrence said.

Though Lawrence still plays with the Breakaway despite his return to Canada, the rest of the team has stayed put with members having spent more than 20 years in the Cayman Islands.

“This is home,” said Klein, who has a teenage daughter and son.

But for one week a year, home is a sheet of Canadian ice under their feet. With a splash of rum.

For more info click here: World Pond Hockey Championships

Cool Runnings too? Tropical Indonesia makes ice hockey bid

Indonesia’s ice hockey team listens to their coach Gary Tan at a skating rink in South Tangerang.

By Channel News Asia

SOUTH TANGERANG, Indonesia: They come from a tropical country better known for palm-fringed beaches and big-wave surfing than winter sports.

But Indonesia’s plucky ice hockey team hopes to defy the odds when they skate into a major international tournament for the first time at the Asian Winter Games in Sapporo next week.

The players are part of the first contingent of Indonesian athletes ever to participate in the games, with the Southeast Asian nation also sending figure skaters and short-track speed skaters to compete in Japan.

For the part-timers in Indonesia’s ice hockey team – whose story has echoes of the Jamaican bobsledders of the 1988 Winter Olympics, whose story was turned into the hit comedy movie “Cool Runnings” – it will be their toughest challenge yet.

“This is the first time ever they’ve played in a real, international competition,” said coach Gary Tan, after a vigorous training session at one of the country’s three rinks, on the outskirts of Jakarta.

“It’s going to be a very tough task – but it’s not going to be impossible.”

Tan, a Malaysian who has been drafted to get the team into shape before the tournament, shouted orders at the players dressed in red and yellow outfits as they skated at high speed, practising tackles and trying to smash the puck into the net.

They huddled on the ice at the end of the session, as Tan gave them pointers.

PUCKED FROM OBSCURITY

The rough and tumble of ice hockey is a change for many of the players who are not paid to be on the national team and must earn their living in day jobs ranging from office workers to start-up entrepreneurs.

Indonesia are sending a 23-man squad – 20 players and three goalkeepers – to the Games, many of whom have played in club tournaments abroad.

But they will face more experienced opponents in their group at the Games, which will welcome some 2,300 athletes and supporters from more than 30 countries between February 19-26, including Iran, Malaysia and Macau.

“Obviously we are the underdogs,” conceded team member Felix Utama, a 26-year-old whose day job is in the IT industry.

Even getting a hockey team together to practise regularly is a challenge in Jakarta, a chaotic, sprawling metropolis whose sprawl takes in some 28 million people.

The players need to travel up to two hours through the city’s notorious gridlock to get to the rink in South Tangerang, a commuter city outside the capital. Most only make it to half of the practice sessions.

Ice hockey is an unlikely sport for anyone to play in the sprawling archipelago, which lies in the tropics and where the mercury rarely drops below 25 Celsius (77 Fahrenheit).

OLYMPIC DREAMS

Tan said a major challenge for promoting ice hockey in Indonesia was that the sport was not ingrained in the national culture like it is in colder countries.

“The biggest thing is the mindset, the culture,” he said.

“If you are brought up in a hockey culture, a winter country, then it is completely different because everybody eats and sleeps hockey.”

Nevertheless, the fast-paced sport has won a small but dedicated following as a more exciting alternative to disciplines where the country has traditionally done well internationally, such as badminton and weightlifting.

Tan hopes the upcoming tournament can prepare the players for a more modest goal: the smaller Southeast Asian Games in Malaysia in August.

But the Indonesian government is more ambitious, and envisages one day sending an ice hockey team to the Olympics.

“If they perform very well, probably we would like to take part in the next Winter Olympic Games,” said sports ministry spokesman Gatot Dewa Broto.

And while the chances of a giant-killing seem remote, Indonesia’s players believe they have a chance of pulling off a surprise in Japan.

“We are going to show you what we’ve got,” said assistant coach Andianto Hie, 30, in a message to those who may doubt his team’s ability.

Macau epitomizes ice hockey spirit at Sapporo 2017

By Olympic Council of Asia

Macau, China, February 13, 2017: One of the big success stories of the Sapporo 2017 Asian Winter Games – even before they have started – is the growth of ice hockey around the continent. The eighth edition of the AWG – under the supervision of the Olympic Council of Asia – will run from February 19-26 in Sapporo, Japan, and the five sports include ice hockey for men and women.

The men’s event has attracted 19 teams, forcing organisers to create three separate competitions graded by ability, while six women’s teams will play a round-robin format. The total of 25 teams is 9 more than organising committee SAWGOC had been expecting at the start of preparations, and reflects the popularity of the sport in countries across the continent without ice and snow.

The tropical South East Asia region, for example, will be sending teams from Thailand, Singapore, Philippines, Malaysia and Indonesia, while the desert lands of Gulf states United Arab Emirates, Qatar,  and Independent Olympic Athletes, representing the suspended Kuwait Olympic Committee, will also take part.

Another of the lesser lights in the men’s draw is Macau, the former Portuguese enclave which is now a Special Administrative Region of China and one of the OCA’s 45 affiliated National Olympic Committees. Famous for its shimmering casinos and stretch limos transporting the high-rollers around town, Macau has another side to it – the more traditional, noisy and narrow streets of the older parts of the hilly city.

It is in an area such as this that the Future Bright Amusement Park is located, with a McDonald’s to one side and a roadside temple with burning, fragrant incense coils to the other. A few paces up the road there is a small park where the older Chinese sit in the winter sunshine with their cage birds and the younger Chinese with their cellphones.

On an ice rink measuring 19 metres x 28 metres – about one third the size of an Olympic standard rink – half a dozen youths skate away the afternoon as red lanterns and Chinese New Year “God of Fortune” decorations dangle from the ceiling. The scene will change in the evening, however, when Macau’s men’s ice hockey team will fill the arena for a final local practice after recent training sessions over the border in Shenzhen, southern China.

“We have been preparing for the Sapporo Asian Winter Games for a few months already,” says Winston Chan, the team manager and President of the Macau Ice Sports Federation. “For the last month we have been going over to Shenzhen every Friday, Saturday and Sunday to practise on a regular ice rink.

The players are very happy and excited to be going to Sapporo, and they have been following their own individual fitness programmes off the ice.” The 22-strong squad includes architects, firemen, policemen, students and, inevitably, casino workers, and Macau will play Malaysia, Turkmenistan, Indonesia and Iran in Group B of the 9-team Men’s Division II, the lowest grade of the competition.

“We want to be in the top two of our group so we can challenge for a prize,” added team manager Chan. According to team official John Ng, who is Secretary General of the Macau Ice Sports Federation, there are around 120 ice hockey players in Macau, comprised of almost 40 senior players, 60 children and 12-15 female players.

“We are trying to get enough players to make a women’s team, but at the moment we can enter only the men’s competition at the Asian Winter Games,” he said. “This will be our second time at the Asian Winter Games after playing at Changchun, China, in 2007.”

Regarding the growth of ice hockey around the continent, team manager Chan credits the International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) for a well-funded development program, along with the number of recreational ice rinks springing up in shopping malls. “There are two new ice rinks in Singapore, one in the Philippines, three in Malaysia…all standard size,” he said.

“Since 2009, the IIHF has been developing the sport in Asia and hosting seminars in Finland and in Harbin, China for the coaches to learn and go back and teach the kids. The Asian countries are growing now in ice hockey and developing at a good rate.” An entry of 26 teams for the Sapporo 2017 Asian Winter Games is proof of this.

Three Euro Ice Hockey Challenge events

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By IIHF.com

The Euro Ice Hockey Challenge consisting of lower-seeded top-division teams as well as Division I nations organized three tournaments during the February international break.

Austria won its tournament in the new arena in Graz on home ice. Raphael Herburger scored the 2-1 overtime winner against Slovakia’s B-team to open the tournament before beating eventual runner-up Norway 2-1 in overtime as well. Lukas Haudum tied the game for Austria with 4:46 left in regulation time and Manual Ganahl scored the game-winner in a shootout. The Austrians sealed the tournament win after beating France 3-1 on the last day. Both goalies played outstanding with Bernhard Starkbaum having a 95.6 save percentage in two games and Lukas Herzog reaching 97.0 in his game.

Korea hosted its EIHC tournament in Goyang in the Seoul region where it hosted a Division I tournament three years ago. It was a tight race with Denmark, Hungary and Korea each winning two games and earning six points while Japan was winless. The Danes started with a 4-2 loss to host Korea in front of a full house with 2,207 fans but bounced back with wins against Japan (6-1) and Hungary (5-1). Denmark needed to beat Hungary with a margin of at least three goals to win the tournament on the last day and did so. Julian Jacobsen scored the 4-1 goal on a two-man advantage in the third period that won his team the tournament, the fifth goal went into the empty net.

The event in Poland included two countries that were promoted to the 2017 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship one year ago in the same city, Katowice. Slovenia did its job right winning all three games against Poland, Italy and Ukraine with 16-5 goals. Jan Urbas was most successful with four goals and nine points followed by his teammate Miha Verlic scored three goals and notched five points.

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