Category: Asia (page 1 of 15)

Forget golf, ice hockey is the new sport of China’s richest

Alongside sports such as horseback riding, polo and golf, ice hockey is one of the most expensive sports to play.

By Lee Wing Sze – South China Morning Post

At the closing ceremony of the PyeongChang 2018 Winter Olympics in February this year, the whole world was watching as the Olympic flag was passed to delegates from China: Beijing is to host the next Winter Olympics, in 2022.

Preparations for the 2022 Winter Olympics have already begun. New competition venues and infrastructure are springing up in the capital city, Yangqing district and Zhangjiakou, and winter sports are expected to become a point of focus for the entire country.

Out of all the winter sports there are, ice hockey – a fast-paced and action-packed team game – has always been one of the most popular spectator sports. The thrilling team game has also become one of the coolest sports for millennial’s to participate in, especially for those from privileged backgrounds.

Alongside sports such as horseback riding, polo and golf, ice hockey is one of the most expensive sports to play. As a full contact sport, players are required to wear protective gear, such as helmets, mouthguards, shoulder pads, elbow pads, girdle, hockey gloves and shin guards. In addition, uniforms and equipment such as hockey jerseys, ice skates and hockey sticks have to be maintained. All this requires HK$4,000 to HK$9,000 a year.

Chinese ice hockey player Andong Song of the Madison Capitols skates
in the game against the Central Illinois Flying Aces in the USHL Fall Classic
in September, 2017 in Cranberry, Pennsylvania.

In China, ice hockey used to be popular only in northern cities such as Harbin and Qiqihar in snowy Heilongjiang province. Back in the early 2000s, there were fewer than 200 registered junior ice hockey players in Beijing. But ever since China was chosen, back in 2015, to host the 2022 Winter Olympics , the sport has been gaining popularity among children and adults in Beijing.

“There are now a few thousand youngsters playing ice hockey in Beijing. People think playing ice hockey is hip and cool, and there are an increasing number of people taking up the sport,” says Thomas Wu, vice-president of the International Ice Hockey Federation and honorary president of the Hong Kong Ice Hockey Association.

Kunlun Red Star’s Rudi Ying after the Chinese team’s 2016/2017
KHL match
against CSKA Moscow at the CSKA Ice Palace.

Ice hockey originated in Canada in the mid-1800s and spread to Europe in the early 1900s. While Canada, the United States, Finland, Russia, the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Sweden are still considered the Big Seven in today’s ice hockey world, Kazakhstan, Japan, Korea and China have become the top teams in Asia, followed by Hong Kong, United Arab Emirates, Mongolia, Chinese Taipei, Thailand and Singapore.

To improve their children’s skills, many Chinese parents hire instructors to give their children private lessons. Some even send their children to North America to receive better training so that they can go on to develop a career in ice hockey.

Having their children play ice hockey is a huge investment for parents. Typical examples are top-notch young Chinese players such as Song Andong – the first Chinese-born player drafted into the National Hockey League (NHL) in 2015 – and Rudi Ying, whose stories have inspired a lot of younger players in China.

Driven by his passion for the game, Song moved to Oakville, Toronto when he was 10, and trained under coaches in North America. Now the face of ice hockey in China, the 20-year-old is preparing to play at NCAA for Cornell University later this year. Ying, who moved to Chicago at the age of nine, returned to China in 2016, and is playing professionally in the Kontinental Hockey League in China. Both are former members of the China U18 national team and are expected to represent China in the 2022 Winter Olympics.

In Hong Kong, the sport is trying to expand its player base to children from local schools as well. Wu, who established Hong Kong Academy of Ice Hockey (HKAIH) in 2007 with the aim of promoting the sport in the city, says: “Before I got involved [in promoting ice hockey], players were mostly students from international schools, and about half of them were from families who came from major ice hockey nations, like the US, Canada, Sweden and Germany. When their parents moved to Hong Kong, they wanted their children to have the chance to play.”

The scene has been changing with the participation of more local
youngsters like Alex Wong Chin-ching.

The scene has been changing with the participation of more local youngsters like Alex Wong Chin-ching. The 17-year-old, one of 20 young players under the Five-year Enhancement Programme to prepare for the 2021 Asian Winter Games, learned to play ice hockey at age seven through HKAIH. “Ice hockey used to be a minor sport [here], but now it has become more popular, with more kids playing,” says the Po Leung Kuk No.1 W.H. Cheung College student.

“I watched my cousin play ice hockey when I was about four or five. I really wanted to try, but there were no channels for me to learn [through] back then, until HKAIH was set up,” says the forward of the Hong Kong U18 National Team.

Some, like Victor Yang Hou-yuan, a student from Harrow International School, switched to ice hockey from playing other winter sports.

“I started figure skating with my sister in Beijing,” says Yang, 17, who moved to Beijing with his family when he was seven. “I did that for a few months and I didn’t really like it. My skating coach’s brother was an ice hockey coach. One day after my skating lesson, there was an ice hockey practice session. I watched it and told my mother that I wanted to try. That’s how I got into ice hockey.”

Yang returned to Hong Kong when he was about 10 and kept playing. Yang represented the city at the 2017 IIHF Ice Hockey U18 World Championship held in Mexico City last year.

Former NHL player of New York Rangers, Barry Beck,who is now the general managing coach of HKAIH, thinks while giving the opportunity to everybody to skate is the way to continue developing the sport in Asia, he also hopes some of these young players will play professionally at the international level one day.

“You have to go overseas at some point to have the same level of skills,” he says. “It would be nice to see somebody becoming professional because that would open a lot of doors and really [push] the sport to the forefront, not just in Hong Kong but in China.”

International exposure benefits Kuwait

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By Henrik Manninen – IIHF.com

Having already crisscrossed through snow and sand, the humidity of Southeast Asia now awaits Kuwait in a milestone of a season.

Entering the final straight of a hectic second half of the 2017/18 season, sees the Gulf nation compete at the top division of the 2018 IIHF Ice Hockey Challenge Cup of Asia in Manila, Philippines. Contested between 3-8 April with Mongolia, Thailand, Singapore and hosts Philippines awaiting, the challenge comes in the wake of another significant first for Kuwait.

Barely a month has passed since taking the plunge and competing at the 2018 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship Division III Qualification. Debuting in wintry Sarajevo saw Kuwait suffer consecutive reversals against hosts Bosnia & Herzegovina, eventual runaway winner Turkmenistan before closing things off with a tight encounter against their regional rivals United Arab Emirates. Despite three straight defeats, it was to be one giant leap for Kuwaiti hockey.

“It was a big level, but it was a huge step for Kuwait to be there,” said Kuwait’s assistant coach Bojan Zidarevic on moving up to the World Championship qualification stage. “But for each game, we are learning more and our goal is set for the next Asian Winter Games. Last year it was held in Sapporo and now we have four years to prepare our young kids for that tournament,” he continued.

Zidarevic, a former World Championship player for Serbia, arrived in Kuwait three-and-a-half years ago. Apart from working with the senior national team, he is also developing teams from U15 to U10 level while also still playing for Kuwait Stars.

Being upended 1-44 against the might of Japan at the Asian Winter Games, Kuwait got a harsh introduction to international hockey back in January 1999. Followed by years of small but consistent steps forward, a considerable change took place when hosting the 2015 IIHF Ice Hockey Challenge Cup of Asia Division I. With hockey being showcased on in Kuwait City, three straight wins against India, Oman and Macau increased efforts almost overnight.

“Winning that tournament changed everything. We got good points from the IIHF and we started our development program,” said Zidarevic as Kuwait then continued their winning streak on home ice by retaining top spot at the 2017 IIHF Ice Hockey Challenge Cup of Asia Division I in Kuwait City.

“We now have 160 kids, starting from the age of four to 15 all fully equipped. We now hope our U20 national team will soon play in international tournaments and we also have our women’s national team who are looking to play at the Challenge Cup of Asia,” said Zidarevic on the burgeoning interest for hockey in a country with a population of just over four million.

With interest spreading down the ages, the most pressing challenge facing Kuwaiti hockey is now to try and channel the youth into an aging senior national team.

“I have played for 25 years and many of those as the goalie for the national team. I’ve had to operate my shoulder, twice I had surgery on my right knee, another one of the left knee, so my body is collapsing,” said Jasem Al Sarraf, who played through the pain barrier as the first-choice goaltender clocking up 154:43 minutes in three games at the recent World Championship Division III Qualification in Sarajevo.

“We are changing many things at the moment. I am 40 and we have another six to eight other players finishing this year as we are 40 or older. There is a new team coming from juniors, so this year is going to be tough for us as we are changing everything. We need to give the youth more experience and leave them on the right path,” he continued.

Well aware of his playing days now entering its twilight days, Al Sarraf will cherish many memories from a career encompassing quarter of a century. One such took place during Kuwait’s regular visits for training camps in Sweden, where the unexpected presence of his hero gave the whole Kuwait team a lift in their preparations ahead of the 2015 IIHF Challenge Cup of Asia.

“We met Nicklas Lidstrom twice that year when we were in Hallstahammar in Sweden. First, he came to see us as he had heard about us and wanted to show his support. The second time we played against a team of his son and he was happy to see us moving up a level since he first saw us,” said Al Sarraf who was touched by the humility shown by one of the all-time greats representing Sweden and Detroit Red Wings.

“It was just like a dream. You have watched NHL on television, you are a fan of Red Wings and then you get to meet him. He was very happy to see us, so it was great to know that we have him to support us,” said Al Sarraf.

Despite now being on the verge of hanging up his skates at the national team level, Al Sarraf is set to continue playing in the domestic championship while sharing his know-how to the next generation of athletes. Relishing a challenge, Al Sarraf’s involvement will also include developing a wide range of winter sports such as speed- and figure skating, curling, and skiing, all eager to follow in the footsteps of the recent success of hockey.

“It is a country of sand and it is plus 50 degrees Celsius, but when it comes to hockey we have good management, a nice arena with two ice surfaces and players turning up for practice. In the end, our hard work will bring good results and I believe we have a good plan for the future,” said an optimistic Zidarevic.

Former Raider Ranson relishing Abu Dhabi trip

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By Ham & High

Jacob Ranson, 22, will be part of the Algerian team – Algiers Corsaires – that faces teams from Morocco, Tunisia, Egypt, Lebanon and the UAE at the event, due to be televised on the Abu Dhabi sports channel next month.

And the former Raiders forward, who has spent the last two seasons at Streatham, is excited by the opportunity as he looks to fulfil a dream of playing in multiple countries.

Ranson played in Canada for the Pursuit of Excellence Ice Hockey Academy and also spent a season playing for Mjolby IHC in Sweden.

He said: “I’m over the moon to have been given this opportunity to go play in Abu Dhabi and tick off another country that I’ve played in.

“I honestly can’t wait to get out there and enjoy the whole experience.”

The Corsaires will play four game in round robin tournament format.

And former Albany School pupil Ranson is hoping his side can do well and progress all the way to the final.

“The goal is always to go on the ice to win, so hopefully that’s what we can do, when we take to the ice,” he added.

“It would be an amazing feeling to win the whole thing and come back a champion.”

The fast-skating forward is also extremely excited to see the standard of hockey and see if there is anywhere he can help the Algerian promote the sport in their country.

“Former Lee Valley Lions player Karim Kerbouche, who is head of Algerian ice hockey, gave me the opportunity to come along and I want to not only enjoy the experience but help him promote the sport in his country,” added Ranson.

“He’s been working hard to build the sport up in his native country and it would be an amazing feeling to see it grow in the future.”

Ranson will be writing a blog while in Abu Dhabi and is also planning to take plenty of pictures and videos.

You will be able to follow his and the team’s progress in Abu Dhabi via his Twitter account @jacobranson27 and also on the Recorder website.

PH ice hockey team to compete in Challenge Cup of Asia

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By ABS-CBN News

The Philippine ice hockey team hopes to make the country proud when it competes in the 2018 Challenge Cup of Asia next week. 

The Philippines will host the Challenge Cup of Asia on April 3-8, with all games to be held at the SM Skating Rink at the Mall of Asia in Pasay City. 

 This is the first time that the country will sponsor the annual international ice hockey tournament that is sanctioned by the International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF). 

“We are very proud and excited to host, for the first time, the IIHF Challenge Cup of Asia which has been held in different countries since it was founded in 2008,” said Chris Sy, the president of the Federation of Ice Hockey Philippines. 

This also marks the first time that the Philippines will compete in the men’s top division of the annual tournament, along with some of the best ice hockey teams in the region. 

Riding the momentum of its gold-medal finish in the 2017 Southeast Asian Games, the Philippine ice hockey team is eyeing a podium finish in the five-nation tournament.

They play Thailand on April 3, Kuwait on April 5, Mongolia on April 6, and Singapore on April 8. All of the Philippine team’s games are scheduled at 7 p.m.

Other Challenge Cup of Asia games will feature Singapore vs Mongolia on April 3 (3:30 p.m.), Mongolia vs Kuwait on April 4 (7 p.m.), Thailand vs Singapore on April 5 (3:30 p.m.), Mongolia vs Thailand on April 7 (3:30 p.m.), Kuwait vs Singapore on April 7 (7 p.m.), and Kuwait vs Thailand on Aril 8 (3:30 p.m.).

During the Challenge Cup, the Olympic-size ice skating rink at the SM Skating Mall of Asia will be the battleground of the competing ice hockey teams. It is equipped with complete facilities such as a digital scoreboard, players’ boxes, scorekeeper and penalty boxes, locker rooms, and a 200-seater stands located around the rink.

Driven New Zealand women’s team comes to train in ‘hockey heaven’

The Globe and Mail

By J.P. Moczulski – The Globe and Mail

New Zealand’s national women’s hockey team wanted an experience that would challenge, prepare and inspire them before they compete in the world championship.

So the team members chose to spend 10 days in Toronto, training in a Canadian university arena, playing in a big Toronto tournament, shopping in Canadian equipment stores and attending every pro hockey game they could get into.

There are only six arenas in all of New Zealand, and 250 registered female hockey players. It’s a country where rugby, cricket and soccer rule, and the word ‘hockey’ more commonly means field hockey. But yes, New Zealand has a national women’s ice-hockey team, better known there as the Ice Fernz.

This team of women, ranging in age from 16 to 27, doesn’t play in the same events as teams such as Canada, the United States and Finland, who just competed in the Pyeongchang Olympics. New Zealand plays a few levels down, and is heading to Valdemoro, Spain, to play in the Division II, Group B International Ice Hockey Federation’s women’s world championships.

Yet the passion these Ice Fernz exhibit for hockey is up there with any Olympic medalist. Every player on this 22-woman team spent 5,000 New Zealand dollars (about $4,700 Canadian) of her own money to get this intensive Canadian hockey experience and then go off to compete in Spain. It’s necessary for a squad that has such limited opportunities to train back home.

During this visit, they’ve held daily training sessions at York University, played exhibition games against local Toronto women’s teams and competed in one of the city’s largest female hockey showcases, the Leaside Wildcats March Break Madness Tournament. They watched the Toronto Maple Leafs and Marlies as well as the Calgary Inferno and Markham Thunder of the Canadian Women’s Hockey League. They visited the CN Tower and the Hockey Hall of Fame, and marvelled at the massive assortment of equipment at Pro Hockey Life.

“It’s like hockey heaven,” said Helen Murray, a 27-year-old neuroscientist who captains the Ice Fernz. “We don’t have enough competition back home.

“Coming over here to play teams who really challenge us is what we need before worlds. These teams are probably better than the ones we will play in Spain.”

The Ice Fernz competed in a women’s Senior A division at the Leaside tournament, but did not pick up a win against teams from Brampton and Durham.

Still, the New Zealand program has seen huge improvement since it formed in 2005.

It has benefited from a relationship forged over the past several years with the Leaside Girls Hockey Association, which has played host to 21 girls from New Zealand on hockey exchanges since 2012.

Those 21 girls have each come to Toronto for between six to eight weeks during a summer break from school (November to February) and are billeted by a Leaside family while they register and play a stint for a Leaside Wildcats team, an association of 1,600 players that touts itself as the world’s largest female hockey association. Nine members of this New Zealand team participated in that Leaside exchange at some point.

The idea to help other countries bolster their female hockey talent came to the Leaside association after the 2010 Vancouver Olympics when Canada and the United States outscored their opponents by a combined 88-4.

Jacques Rogge, the president of the International Olympic Committee, said at the time, “we cannot continue without improvement.”

“We wanted to do our part to help,” said Andrew Smyth, a board member for the Leaside Wildcats, who is himself a New Zealand ex-pat. “It’s a logical way to help other countries, by sharing the kind of hockey experience that our Canadian girls get here. If other Canadian girls hockey associations want to help another country, we’d love to share our playbook with them and show them how we’ve arranged it.”

In the most recent IIHF women’s rankings, New Zealand is No. 31. At the worlds, it will face nations including Spain, Iceland, Turkey, Romania and Taiwan. Yet, the players say like any other women’s hockey team in the world, they, too, were glued to the recent Olympic gold medal final where the United States beat Canada in a heart-stopping shootout.

“The goal some day is Olympic participation,” said the Ice Fernz general manager Jonathan Albright, a Montreal native who moved to New Zealand in 2002. “The skill level of this team has grown immensely.

“It’s hard to gauge our progress because other countries are getting better too. I know there’s not a lot of attention on teams outside of Canada and the U.S., but other nations are putting in a lot of effort and they’re definitely growing a lot.”

Last year, New Zealand earned a bronze medal at its DII, Group B world championships, and this year it is aiming for Gold.

“Every little girl that plays hockey dreams of the Olympics no matter where you live in the world,” Murray said. “If we win gold in our world championships, we would move up one more step. We’d still be a long way from competing in the top division with Canada and the U.S., but it would be a big step for us.”

Ramping up China’s puck luck

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By China Daily

Before the International Ice Hockey Federation considers offering China direct qualification to the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics tournament, the country first has to show it deserves it, a top IIHF official said in Beijing on Wednesday.

After watching host South Korea vie with world powers amid sensational support at last month’s Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, China’s hockey heavyweights are eager to see similar enthusiasm for the home team at the 2022 Beijing Games.

IIHF president Rene Fasel said in Pyeongchang the federation is exploring proposals to qualify both the Chinese men’s and women’s teams for the 2022 tournament as a way to popularize the sport in the world’s most populous country.

Thomas Wu, an IIHF vice-president, confirmed to China Daily that the proposal to qualify the Chinese teams will be officially decided either at the federation’s annual congress in May or at the semiannual congress in September.

A long-term commitment to transform the niche sport into a mainstream staple in the buildup to the 2022 Games and beyond is crucial to earn the nod from the world governing body, said Wu.

“The IIHF’s goal is to promote the sport globally and China has huge potential in the game,” Wu said on Wednesday.

“We’d love to see the Chinese teams at the 2022 tournament, but we also have to make sure the world-class quality of the Olympic competition won’t be compromised, which is always the priority.

“The gap between Team China and the world hockey powers is still quite big, so the most urgent need for China is to improve the competitiveness of its program as fast as possible,” said Wu, an entrepreneur and avid ice hockey promoter in Hong Kong.

“The South Korean team (although qualified as the host) proved itself by advancing to the world’s top grouping and we hope the Chinese team can rise dramatically as well by 2022,” he added.

Bolstered by one American and six Canadian players naturalized without Korean ancestry, South Korea placed second at last year’s IIHF Division 1 Group A world championships, the second-tier world title tournament.

South Korea’s dual citizenship policy opened the door to recruit foreign talent for the Pyeongchang Games, with the only stipulations being acquisition of a Korean passport and playing in the country two years before the Olympics.

The Chinese Ice Hockey Association has a more localized method of drafting players with Chinese ancestry through overseas tryouts.

Foreign-born players first have to be from families with Chinese roots and then must have at least two consecutive seasons representing a Chinese team after changing citizenship in order to be eligible to represent the country.

“From the IIHF’s point of view, this is better because the players have a bond with the country they represent,” said Wu.

“For China, we know we have a lot of work to do in a short time. But we also want to insist that our team is a Chinese team.

“It’s respectable. It’s something that will be supported by the international hockey family. We want to build hockey in China-not just do well in 2022, but as a longer-term project.”

Currently, Shanghai-based Kunlun Red Star plays in the professional Russia-based Kontinental Hockey League while its female affiliate plays in the seven-team Canadian Women’s Hockey League.

Other Chinese teams are playing in minor and junior leagues in Russia, and individual players are competing for college and university teams in Canada and the United States.

Organized by Beijing Municipal Sports Bureau and Beijing Hockey Association, the capital’s current youth league has attracted a record 2,554 children on 162 teams.

“We’ve seen many positive signs that the game is growing in popularity and public recognition in recent years,” said CIHA president Cao Weidong.

“Hopefully to qualify for and perform decently at the Beijing Olympics in 2022 will galvanize the momentum for sustainable development.”

New Zealand’s Under-18s look to defend their Challenge Cup title

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By Logan Swinkels – Puck Yeah

This morning New Zealand’s Under-18 women’s hockey team will be boarding a plane to Kuala Lumpur to compete at the 2018 IIHF Challenge Cup of Asia. For some, like rookie Jessie Parker, this will be their first overseas tournament.

The Auckland-based defender was initially named as a reserve when the squad was announced in September last year, and at the time, Parker said she was “screaming for a solid five minutes.” That elation went further after finding out a week later that she would now be making the journey to Malaysia alongside her teammates when another had to unfortunately drop out. “It was out of this world, I’ve never felt happier in my life, it was amazing,” Parker exclaimed upon hearing the good news.

Over the past week, the Under-18s have been together completing a rigorous training camp in Auckland under the guidance of head coach Angelique Mawson. There the team focussed on improving breakouts from their own zone and regrouping to attack.

From following the recent women’s tournament at the PyeongChang Winter Olympics, Parker found herself more inspired to compete in Kuala Lumpur as she watched the likes of Team Canada and Team USA putting into practice those very same drills. “To be able to see the drills that we’re doing applied at such a high level is really cool…they were playing really well, the speed and accuracy, it was really easy to see when they applied their drills to the game,” said Parker.

During training camp, the New Zealanders were also put through their paces with fitness testing on a hot, humid Auckland day – that’s only a sample of the intense heat that will likely greet the team in Malaysia. With temperatures in Kuala Lumpur set to reach over 30 degrees celsius this week it’s just as well ice hockey is played inside a freezing barn, rather than being exposed to the elements like their field hockey counterparts would be.

As far as team strengths go, Parker believes it’s their ability to defend well and keep the puck in the offensive zone. Other teams will find it hard to score if New Zealand manage to control the play so effectively, as was the case at the 2017 Challenge Cup where the team scored 57 goals while only allowing nine in return.

Last night the team named Laney Keenan as captain, with Jana Kivell and Rina Watt serving as alternates.

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Last year for the first time in the ten-year history of the Challenge Cup of Asia tournament, New Zealand sent a team over where they would go undefeated with a 6-0 record, including a 4-3 upset win over host nation Thailand, to claim the gold medal.

The Challenge Cup was created by the IIHF to give Asian countries that either play in the lowest division or are not part of the World Championship program the opportunity to complete and develop hockey in those regions.

In 2017 there were seven teams in a single division, but now with Chinese Taipei sending their own under-18 team this year, the tournament has been split into two divisions. New Zealand make up the top division with Singapore, Thailand, and Chinese Taipei. While the lower division comprises of India, the Philippines, Malaysia, and United Arab Emirates.

Once again, Thailand will likely be New Zealand’s biggest challenge at the tournament. But it may be a tougher ask this time around with the Kiwis playing back-to-back games – less than 24 hours before that penultimate matchup they will face Chinese Taipei.

Heather McAslan, Parker’s roommate during training camp, added “We played Thailand last year and the game was only won by one goal, so they’re pretty good…and we’re not really sure how the other (countries) play, so you’ve got to get there and figure out how they play before you can figure out how you play them.”

The fact that these girls are taking on the senior national sides of other countries is also not lost on them. “It’s quite nerve-racking,” McAslan concluded before Parker interjects with a low-key “We’ve got this.”

With the tournament taking place in March, for these young athletes it occurs during the first term of the school year. To make up for the time lost in the classroom, schools supply the team with “massive” folders of homework so they don’t fall behind their classmates. On top of that, some of the girls have to complete internal exams much earlier than their peers, in McAslan’s case it’s four weeks, while others play catch up on assignments and sit exams when they get back.

Being her first international hockey tournament, Parker is looking forward to the learning experience that comes with that and is earnest about her own performance expectations. “As a rookie I’m probably not going to be doing that great, but I’m just going to be giving it absolutely everything I’ve got and I’m sure the rest of the girls are in that same mindset too,” Parker stated.

But her biggest highlight could be putting on that black jersey representing New Zealand. “It means everything in the world to me. I’ve been imagining just putting on this amazing jersey with my name on the back for months and months. I’m so excited, I’m so pumped to be representing my country in such an awesome sport.”

Combining that confidence in her team with a tireless dedication to the cause, it’s hard to argue with the rookie on New Zealand’s chances of returning home with another gold medal around their necks.

Two generations – Arabs united in passion for hockey

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By Henrik Manninen – IIHF.com

Almost 28 years separate teammates Omar Al Shamsi and Obaid Almehairbi. Together they aim for future prosperity for hockey in the United Arab Emirates.

With five previous World Championship appearances, the United Arab Emirates performance at the 2018 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship Division III Qualification in Sarajevo left them wanting for more.

Blanked in their opener against debutants and eventual runaway winners Turkmenistan 4-0, the Arab nation was tied with Bosnia & Herzegovina halfway through the game before succumbing to a 6-1 loss. They left it late to get back to winning ways to claim third place against Kuwait in a 4-2 win before quickly packing their trunks and heading back home.

While 44-year-old Omar Al Shamsi had a goal and an assist against its Arab rivals Kuwait was a scant consolation, this game also marked a milestone in the ascending career of 16-year-old Obaid Almehairbi, who racked up his first win at World Championship level while being on school holidays.

“I didn’t really get too much playing time, but I am lucky to be here with the team. The game at this level is far more aggressive than what we have back home, so it is a huge difference to play here,” said Almehairbi, who picked up the game at the age of five and made his debut for the Emirates at the 2017 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship Division III in Sofia, Bulgaria, aged just 15.

During the Division III qualifiers played in Sarajevo between 25-28 February, Almehairbi was the youngest player on the team. Accompanied by fellow millennials, defenceman Abdullah Yahya and backup netminder Abdulrahman Alhosani, they were all ears to learn from their teammates who put United Arab Emirates on the international hockey map.

“The older players tell me about the mistakes I make but also how to learn from them. They are far better than me and I know that I have lots of things to improve in my game such as skating, dribbling and stickhandling,” said Almehairbi, who represents the Abu Dhabi ISC.

Hockey has made fine strides in United Arab Emirates since its trailblazing days in the early 1990s. For Al Shamsi it all started in Al Ain, the second-largest city in the Emirate of Abu Dhabi. Like most other teenagers in the city at that time he was playing football, but soon made an unorthodox switch together with a group of friends in the oasis city 160 kilometres east of the capital Abu Dhabi.

“We used to go to the ice rink for normal public skating. The Canadians and other foreigners soon invited us to play hockey with them and we got addicted to it. I changed from football to ice hockey and I love this game,” he said.

Al Shamsi eventually got rewarded at the international stage for his hard work. Winning gold at the 2009 IIHF Ice Hockey Challenge Cup of Asia on home ice in Abu Dhabi paved the way for him as a 36-year-old to debut at the 2010 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championships Division III in Luxembourg.

“From the old generation, it is now only myself and captain Juma Al Dhaheri left. Then we have the second generation of around two or three players and then the rest of them are the young ones. For five or six of them playing in Sarajevo has been their first international tournament in ice hockey,” said Al Shamsi, who turned 44 at the turn of the year.

With a playing career approaching its twilight years, Al Shamsi is also playing an integral role in nurturing the next generation. Back in Al Ain, home of home of 767,000 people, he is working as both team- and activity manager for his hometown club.

“Most of our domestic players come from Al Ain. In Abu Dhabi there are more foreign players playing hockey, so our focus in Al Ain is to build up the new generation. At the moment we have for instance around 30-35 players in the under-9 and in the next category U12 between 40 and 45 players,” said Al Shamsi, who also acknowledges the challenge to close the gap between certain age groups.

“From the ages 16 to 20 we are suffering. Also, some of our players go studying abroad while others go to the military service. In Sarajevo we missed many players, but I hope they will be with us next year,” he continued.

With the World Championship Division III Qualification being their sole IIHF tournament this season, the United Arab Emirates have of late also been on the lookout for other international competitions to bolster its hockey program. One such example has seen them take part at the President’s Cup Tournament which in early January saw Al Shamsi play in Minsk, Belarus.

“It is the fourth time I took part in it and for us it is a very good tournament. It is a really high level of hockey and a good opportunity for us to learn from them. There are a lot of ex-professional players and it can help us to improve the level of hockey,” said Al Shamsi.

Another addition to that there will also be a regional tournament held in Abu Dhabi next month. With the hosts welcoming club teams from Algeria, Egypt, Kuwait, Oman and possibly Qatar, it is hoped to help develop the game in the region while offering valuable competitive action for up-and-coming players. One of those being 16-year-old Almehairbi, whom Al Shamsi have high hopes for ahead of the future.

“He is good and he has the passion, so he will be one of the best in the team,” said Al Shamsi.

Passion for action on ice rink

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By Reem Daayysi – GDN Online

Bahrain’s third National Ice Hockey League is underway as the Riffa Maple Leafs prepare to take on the Isa Town Oilers on Tuesday (February 27) at 9pm followed by a clash between the Muharraq Predators and the Manama Capitals at 10pm at the Funland Ice Rink in Manama.

The league, sponsored by DHL in its third edition, started in 2013 and consists of four teams of Bahraini and non-Bahraini ice hockey players all vying for the league’s trophy, which continues until mid-April.

Although the Kingdom’s temperatures may reach boiling points during the summer, the group of 30 dedicated men still put on their heavy gear every week, grab their sticks and get onto the Ice rink united by their love for the contact sport.

“I was always passionate about Ice Hockey since I was a child whenever I watched it on television because I felt it combines three sports into one, it had football, sliding and also fighting,” said 40 year-old Bahrain Sharks Ice Hockey Team founder and manager Tamer Fakhro.

He was speaking to the GDN on the side-lines of a training session as he sharpened the steel blade on his ice skates.

“When I was five years old I thought it would be impossible to play Ice Hockey in Bahrain and it felt like such a far dream to reach in the back of my head,” he said.

Mr Fakhro has been playing ice hockey since 1993, and even though he took a break for five years during his college education in Cairo, his passion for the sport never stopped.

Although the sport was mostly practiced by expatriates at the time, Mr Fakhro dedicated himself over the years and achieved captaincy in 2009.

“I couldn’t believe it when former captain Andre Cote passed the captaincy down to me because he must have seen something in me that I didn’t know was there,” he added.

Mr Fakhro received three Most Valuable Player (MVP) awards during his hockey career, and has competed, along with his team, in several regional competitions where they were named champions in a few.

One of the first regional games the team played took place in Kuwait in 2010, where a random act of kindness carried out by Mr Fakhro further fuelled his passion and dedication to the sport.

“The game was the perfect opportunity for exposure, as members from the International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) were in the audience.”

“This was our chance to show them that there is a team playing the sport in Bahrain, even though we just got together as a team a month ago and did not have the appropriate training facilities,” he added.

Despite Mr Fakhro’s initial hesitation about participating in the game, the team got into their cars and drove to Kuwait to play the match.

During the game, the Kuwaiti team captain was injured in the third period and as the captain of the Bahrain team Mr Fakhro aided him in getting off the ice and onto the bench for treatment.

That sparked a positive response from the Kuwaiti audience who unusually started to cheer on the Bahraini team members.

“We were shocked because Kuwaiti audience naturally never cheer for anyone but Kuwait.”

“The reason I am still playing the sport today is because I want to promote the Bahraini sportsmanship culture and morals.”

Mr Fakhro praised and thanked the efforts of DHL Bahrain and DHL Express Middle East and North Africa chief executive officer Nour Suliman for his support and partnership with the Bahrain Sharks and Bahrain Ice Hockey League.

Bahrain Sharks goal keeper, 26 year-old Abdullah Al Hassan, has spent 12 years in the sport, however he originally started playing outfield before he discovered being a keeper was his passion.

“I was the third backup keeper for the team back in 2010 when we participated in a tournament in Qatar,” he said.

According to Mr Al Hassan, he was only 14 years-old when he attended this tournament and his purpose was to just watch and learn, never to participate.

However, during the first period the team’s first keeper was injured, followed by the second keeper conceding an injury in the second period.

This left the team no option but to resort to the young inexperienced goal keeper, Mr Al Hassan, who rose to the challenge.

“I could not believe it when we won first place after I subbed in for the original goal keepers and finished the remaining five games of the tournament,” he said.

“That tournament was one of my most memorable and interesting experiences in the game since I started playing, especially since I was only 14 and the team relied on me,” he added.

Fellow Bahrain Sharks goal keeper, 32 year-old Rashid Al Mutlaq, has also been goal keeper for the past 12 years.

According to Mr Al Mutlaq, onlookers usually assume that the goal keeper has the easiest job on the ice rink as he appears to just stand idly covering the goal.

“Our position is the toughest because we are constantly bending our knees at an inward angle and our gear is heavier than that of the rest of the players,” he said.

He stated that the gear weighs approximately seven to eight kilograms by the end of the game due to water absorption from sliding on the ice.

“We hope to create an official national team for the sport which allows us to compete internationally and win championships in Bahrain’s name,” he added.

The 4-a-side games are currently played on the ice rink in Funland, which is 15m x 30m, as opposed to official ice hockey rinks of 30m x 60m used for 6-a-side games.

The players hope that proper facilities can be introduced in Bahrain in the near future, especially since there is an increased interest in the sport especially among Bahraini youth and women.

Last week’s games saw Muharraq Predators grab a 10 goal win against Isa Town Oilers who scored eight goals, while the Riffa Maple Leafs locked in a four goal lead against Manama Capitals beating them 12 to eight.

Fil-Am teen is first import on PH nat’l women’s ice hockey team

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Rosalyn de Castro is the youngest player on
the team.

By Cristina DC Pastor – Inquirer.net

A teen from Rockaway Beach, Queens, is now the starting goalie for the Philippines Women’s National Ice Hockey team, which is working toward competing in the Winter Olympics 2022 and 2026.

Rosalyn de Castro, 15, is the first Filipino American and imported player to be on the team. She brought home the gold with her team last May from the Hong Kong Hockey 5s tourney, and was named Most Valuable Player of the tournament. She is the youngest member of her team with everyone being at least at least four years older.

“It is a huge undertaking and an honor to be a Filipino American representing the Philippines and New York,” said Rosalyn in an email interview with The FilAm. “Fortunately, I have an extremely supportive team that has welcomed me with open arms, which has helped me adjust really well.”

A sophomore at Bridgeway Academy in Pennsylvania, Rosalyn is in the online school’s Elite Athlete program.

As a young girl, Rosalyn has shown how competitive she could be at hockey and that this talented player can accomplish more given the right training and environment. Five years ago, she led her hockey team to the championship of the Hudson Valley Hockey League. She was the captain — and goalie — of the all-boys NYC Skyliners.

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The NYC Skyliners’ goalie is a girl!

In an essay she wrote when she was 10, Rosalyn expressed how she would like to be a professional athlete and hoped to be in the Olympics one day.

“Right now, I am the only girl on my hockey team, and I am a goalie,” she wrote. “I am at the rink almost every day working hard to get better — sometimes rising even as early as 5:30 in the morning. I am usually one of the only Filipino or Asian who plays hockey, and I’m a girl…It’s funny because when I am playing a game, no one on the other team notices. But after we change and they see me carrying my gear, I usually hear the other boys say, ‘Dad, Dad… Their goalie is a girl!!!’ It just makes me giggle but proud that I can do it.”

On March 1, 2018, Rosalyn will move to the Philippines to fulfill the residency requirements of the International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) and Team Pilipinas. She will stay there for two years.

“I went to the Philippines in May of 2017 to train with the national team. I came back to the U.S. soon after to continue training,” she said.

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Members of the Philippine Women’s Hockey team in Hong Kong.

In 2016, Team Pilipinas was recognized by the IIHF, the governing body for Olympic Hockey, and is on track to participate in the Olympics of 2022 and 2026.

As Rosalyn begins her official training with the team in March, her presence becomes a historical milestone for the team. As a visible women’s goalie, her participation calls attention to the sport of hockey in the Philippines and how it has come a long way from recreational to competitive sport.

“Rosalyn is determined to do well,” said her mother, Janice, a pastry chef who runs her own bake shop called Jae NYC Eats in Chinatown.

Rosalyn is excited to return to Manila to continue with her training and to rekindle the friendships she’s made with Filipino kids.

“I’ve been able to make many friends from both the men’s and women’s national teams, along with their families,” she said.

For more on her story, please go to: https://www.gofundme.com/RosTeamPilipinas

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