Category: Asia (page 1 of 14)

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

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

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.


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

By Henrik Manninen –

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

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

Rosalyn de Castro is the youngest player on
the team.

By Cristina DC Pastor –

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.

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.

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:

The Presbyterian Roots of Ice Hockey in North Korea

American and Korean hockey teams meeting in Pyongyang, on the frozen Taedong River, in 1933.

American and Korean hockey teams meeting in Pyongyang, on the frozen
Taedong River, in 1933.

When Americans represented Pyongyang with pride.

For all the international attention that the 2018 Winter Olympics in PyeongChang are bringing to the Korean Peninsula’s fractious history, tense present, and uncertain future, there will likely be little talk about the era when a team of American high school students represented the (now North Korean) city of Pyongyang—in hockey. Today, North Korea has thoroughly erased positive depictions of Americans from its capital, but before World War II it hosted a strong American missionary presence, and was the site of a remarkable chapter in sports history.

The first documented ice hockey games in Korea occurred in 1928, when the Japanese Empire ruled Korea, which they called Chosun (1910–45). An organized national hockey league and a national championship followed a couple of years later. In the Chosun Hockey League, which included teams of all age groups, Americans from the missionary communities were instrumental in developing the game. The first national champion, in 1930, was Chosun Christian College in Seoul, a school founded in 1915 by American Presbyterian missionaries. In Pyongyang, the leading team was from Pyongyang Foreign School, the school that served the American community. Hockey was the school’s leading winter sport.

Hockey games in 1930s Korea were elemental, played on outdoor rinks on land and on Pyongyang’s frozen Taedong River. Bitter cold, rough natural ice, ankle-high improvised boards, and wind and snow were normal for the players, and spectators had to stand all game on the edge of the ice, and sometimes on it. Like pickup games on frozen ponds in Canada or Minnesota, the conditions of these early games challenged the dedication of players and spectators alike.

Players clearing snow from the Pyongyang Foreign School land ice rink, with the low boards visible behind them. Players clearing snow from the Pyongyang Foreign School land ice rink,
with the low boards visible behind them.

The most frequent opponent of Pyongyang Foreign School was the Kwangsung School, a local high school just outside of the front gate of the Pyongyang mission. The game results that have survived attest to early American superiority that narrowed rapidly as the Koreans learned the game. In 1933, Pyongyang Foreign School easily won the first game by a ridiculous 37–0, the second game by 16–2. The next year, Kwangsung lost 8–1 in the first game but played a close 2–0 in the next one.

The biggest game for the Foreign School each year was the match against Chosun Christian College, the best team in Korea. In 1933, following its success against the Kwangsung School, the Pyongyang Foreign School also soundly beat its American rival in Seoul, the Seoul Foreign School, 8–0. Their dominance came to an end against Chosun Christian College on the Taedong River. The older, bigger, more experienced Korean college players won 5–2.

In 1934, the Pyongyang school returned four of its six players from the previous year and added the brothers Samuel H. and Howard Moffett, sons of mission founder Reverend Samuel A. Moffett, who anchored the defense as the starting goaltender and left defenseman, respectively. Pyongyang Foreign School kept the play on Chosun Christian College’s side of the ice for most of the first two periods, but failed to score, and the match ended amid heavy snow, a scoreless tie. For the rest of the decade, however, the collection of high school students struggled to keep pace with Chosun Christian College. In 1936, the record states only that “though fighting a hard, and sometimes brilliant game,” Pyongyang Foreign School “succumbed to the superior weight and experience of the college men, and lost by a wide margin.”

The 1934 Pyongyang Foreign School hockey team. Goaltender Samuel Moffett is at center.The 1934 Pyongyang Foreign School hockey team. Goaltender
Samuel Moffett is at center.

World War II ended this founding era of hockey in Korea. Wartime austerity curtailed athletic competitions in Korea, and the Pyongyang Foreign School closed in 1940, after the U.S. Department of State warned of impending war with Japan. The sport was later revived and supported in North Korea by Chinese and Russian workers in the 1950s.

Today, the places where the Americans of Pyongyang Foreign School once played continue to be at the center of the city’s sports life (even if the school itself is now gone). The two largest athletic arenas in the country, Rungra-do May Day Stadium (capacity 114,000) and Kim Il Sung Stadium (capacity 50,000), are within sight of the location on the Taedong River where the school played in 1933. A large amusement park that opened on the island of Rungra-do in 2012, Rungra People’s Pleasure Ground, overlooks the exact spot. The site of Kwangsung School, on the other hand, is currently occupied by the Grand People’s Study House, the massive library that is the center for the study of North Korea’s juche ideology, and serves as the backdrop for military parades on Kim Il Sung Square.

A 1936 hockey game between Chosun Christian College (white) and Pyongyang Foreign School. A 1936 hockey game between Chosun Christian College (white) and
Pyongyang Foreign School.

To the south, Chosun Christian College lives on as Yonsei University, one of South Korea’s leading universities and still the country’s top hockey program. Yonsei regularly wins South Korea’s national championship and has produced most of the players in the country’s small professional league.

When the South Korea men’s team and the Unified Korea women’s team take to Olympic ice for the first time in PyeongChang, where they are playing as the host nation, it will be an achievement 90 years in the making, and one that Americans had a role in creating.

A Japanese Hockey Prodigy Eyes a Path to the N.H.L.

By Mike Ives – New York Times

At 14, Aito Iguchi is already an internet stickhandling sensation and a household name in Japanese youth hockey. The question wherever he plays is typically not whether, but when, he will stickhandle his way to a goal. But Iguchi wants more than goals.

“I want to set my sights on being a pro hockey player,” he said, quietly but firmly, after collecting three goals and three assists during an 8-5 win in Karuizawa, a town about an hour northwest by bullet train from his home in the Tokyo suburbs.

Top men’s hockey prospects from Japan primarily hope to play for the country’s top universities or club teams, veteran coaches say. Some have played in the now-defunct Japan Ice Hockey League or a newer outfit, the Asia League, whose eight teams are based in Japan, Russia and South Korea.

But today, more of Japan’s top teenage players are eyeing youth, collegiate and professional leagues in North America. That includes Iguchi, who already plays part of the year in British Columbia and said he hoped to return to Canada to play in the Greater Toronto Hockey League, a proving ground for N.H.L. prospects.

“There always have been players that went to Canada or America,” said Tak Mihara, the chief executive of Triple Alpha, a New York-based study abroad consultancy that acts as a family adviser for more than 20 of the 35 to 40 Japanese hockey players that Mihara said currently play in North American leagues. “But it’s definitely increasing.”

Ice hockey’s profile is rising in Asia with the Winter Olympics in South Korea next week and in China in 2022. Several Japanese women play at the sport’s highest professional level, including the goaltender Nana Fujimoto, a star of the national team who played last season for the New York Riveters of the National Women’s Hockey League. Several other Japanese players are on rosters in the Canadian Women’s Hockey League.

But even though Japanese-Canadian players, including the Hall of Famer Paul Kariya, have played in the N.H.L., players who grew up in Japan have struggled to break in. Yutaka Fukufuji, the only one who ever has, appeared in only four games for the Los Angeles Kings during the 2006-7 season.

Triple Alpha is a family adviser for several Japanese players who Mihara said aspire to change that paradigm. He said the standouts include two N.C.A.A. freshmen: Lake Superior State’s Yuki Miura and the University of New Hampshire’s Kohei Sato. Along with Lunasa Sano, a freshman on the Harvard women’s team, Mihara said, they are the first Japanese-born players to play N.C.A.A. Division I hockey.

Ikki Kogawa, 14, a former teammate of Iguchi’s, plays for the Toronto Marlboros of the Greater Toronto Hockey League. The team’s alumni include the N.H.L. stars Rick Nash, John Tavares and Connor McDavid.

Many of Japan’s top teenage players are from the northern island of Hokkaido and play for elite youth teams there. But Iguchi and Kogawa are two of five teenage players who grew up playing in Saitama, north of Tokyo, and now play for AAA youth teams in Canada and Russia.

“They’re not just going over there,” said Gord Graham, a high school English teacher from Toronto and a longtime coach for the Saitama Junior Warriors. “They’re going over there and dominating.”

Graham said he and a fellow Saitama-based coach, the former Russian Olympian Vasily Pervukhin, began taking their players to overseas tournaments and exhibition games several years ago to expose them to a higher level of competition. He said that in Canada, the boys were pleasantly surprised by how much hockey pervades daily life — unlike in Japan, where it is overshadowed by judo, baseball and soccer.

“That kind of got the ball rolling and peaked their motivation to look above and beyond Japan to further their ice hockey aspirations,” Graham said.

Iguchi still lives in Japan, but he has played two seasons of spring AAA hockey with the Langley Rivermen, outside Vancouver, and he won or tied for the scoring titles at several elite youth tournaments in Canada and the United States. Graham said that Iguchi was comfortable playing against Canadian opponents, who tend to be far more physical than Japanese teams.

Iguchi is being wooed by several hockey academies in British Columbia and may try out for the Greater Toronto league, Graham said. By 2019, he would be draft-eligible for one of the three Canadian major junior leagues that are springboards to professional hockey.

His father, Kazuhito Iguchi, a civil engineer, said that cost was a consideration and that his son would also consider playing in Japan or the United States.

Mihara, who does not advise Iguchi on hockey matters, said that Canadian hockey academies typically cost the equivalent of at least $31,000 a year, and that Canadian boarding schools could cost nearly $43,000. “Even for a rich family, that’s still a lot of money,” he said.

Doug Christiansen, the director of player development and recruitment for the United States Hockey League, the top junior league in America, said Iguchi would be among the 200 elite youth players invited to a league showcase in April.

Unlike the Japanese women’s national team, the country’s men’s team did not quality for 2018 Winter Olympics. But with help from today’s top teenage prospects, Christiansen said he expected the men to be competitive in qualifying for the 2022 and 2026 Games — on par with countries like Austria, Denmark and France , which have each produced about a dozen N.H.L. players and been in the top division in the world rankings.

“They’re going to have some really, really strong teams,” he said.

During the recent game in Karuizawa, Iguchi, an elegant skater, seemed at turns to be taking it easy: stickhandling circles around his opponents with the puck, as a cat-owner might tease kittens with a ball of string, before picking his corners for shots.

Iguchi said later that when he was learning to play, he had been inspired by Pavel Datsyuk, a Russian stickhandling wizard and longtime Detroit Red Wings star, who now plays in the Kontinental Hockey League.

“He can deke and stickhandle like no one else,” Iguchi said.

Graham said that Iguchi’s own agility and stickhandling skills were remarkable for a player his age, but that a key question was whether he could continue to develop his already considerable speed.

“He’s one of the best 14-year-olds in the world,” he said. “But a 14- and 18-year-old are night and day.”

Iguchi already has an international following. His Instagram account has more than 18,000 followers, and he has appeared in YouTube videos that have collectively received millions of views. (His teammates nicknamed him “YouTuber.”)

But in person, Iguchi is unassuming and seems ambivalent about being the center of attention.

During an interview after his recent six-point game in Karuizawa, he politely fielded questions with the detachment of a teenager sitting through an algebra class or a dental appointment.

His gaze was drifting toward the ice.

“He’s just a kid being a kid,” Graham said. “And he loves hockey.”

UAE’s hijabi hockey player paves way for others in the region

UAE_Hijabi ice hockey player Fatima Al Ali

By Yasmin Helal – My Salaam

Even before the formation of ice hockey sports clubs in the UAE in the 1990’s, Fatima Al Ali had fostered a passion for the sport. She had watched the game in movies as a child, and when she turned 18 in 2008, she seized an opportunity to work with the UAE’s national men’s team as a photographer.

When the women’s team was formed in 2010, she was among the first to join, and today she is one of the few hijab-wearing hockey players in the world. “I’ve been playing hockey since May 2011, working hard to be the best I can be in the game, and after struggling I finally got into the second league,” Fatima told My Salaam.

She quickly became known for her talent in the game, winning first place in Hong Kong in 2013, Bangkok in 2014, and Kuala Lampur in 2015. She was also named Best Player of the UAE–Singapore game in 2017.

Fatima’s passion for ice hockey may seem unusual for an Emirati, but she is hardly alone. The sport’s growth in the Emirates owes much to a prominent fan, HH Sheikh Falah bin Zayed Al Nahyan, a member of the Abu Dhabi ruling family. Sheikh Falah was among the first to play and endorse the game in the country, leading Russian ice hockey icon Maxim Petrov to describe him as “the father of ice hockey in the United Arab Emirates.”

Sheikh Falah’s passion has paid off. Defying all odds, the Emirate’s ice hockey men’s team has won eight medals so far, including three gold and five silver. A game played in Toronto in November 2005 between Emiratis and some of the sport’s greatest heroes welcomed the UAE into the global community of ice hockey.

“Days after the game, Sheikh Falah’s jersey was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame, marking the first time a UAE national team jersey had been accepted by the sport’s most prestigious institution,” Petrov said.

For her part, Fatima still works as a photographer, practicing only during her spare time. A lack of financial support makes a full-time career in ice hockey impractical. “We play hockey as a hobby, not even part-time, and we do not have full support. We only get ice time twice a week,” she said.

To compensate for this, she officiates and coaches to get more involved in the game. “I’ve been coaching kids for three years now to teach them the game and pass on my passion.”

Despite the lack of support, Fatima is making waves. Earlier this year, she made an impression on Peter Bondra, an ambassador of the Washington Capitals, the Washington-based professional ice hockey team, during his trip to the UAE. He recorded her stick-handling techniques in a video and posted it on Twitter, and the tweet went viral, with more than 460,000 views and thousands of shares and likes.

Bondra subsequently invited her to Washington for the Hockey Is for Everyone campaign (which aims to drive positive social change and foster more inclusive communities) as the Washington Capitals’ guest of honor.

“Fatima Al Ali is an example of what Emirati women who play hockey have achieved,” the Washington Capitals’ player Alexander Volchkov said. “The UAE women’s national ice hockey team, which has competed in both domestic and international tournaments, is a great example of how women have taken advantage of the chance to play hockey.”

When Fatima thinks of the future, all her dreams involve ice hockey and sports. She hopes to win the Asia Cup and participate in the Asian Winter Games as a player, but she also wants to reach higher levels as an officiate at the World Championship and eventually move on to the Olympics.

And once she retires, she would like to coach her own team. “I hope I can inspire others to follow their dreams and work hard to make them come true, because nothing is impossible. Hopefully, my story will encourage more women to explore hockey in the region.”

As winter peaks, ice hockey gets a boost in Ladakh

As winter peaks, ice hockey gets a boost in Ladakh

By Tribune India

Although ice hockey is less known in other parts of the country, it has become the most sought after sport in Ladakh.

In international events, most of the members of national teams are now being dominated by players of Ladakh. Both men and women teams of ice hockey were formed with players from the region.

The men’s team started to represent the country in international events in 2008 and the women’s team in 2016.

The national women’s ice hockey team created history at the Ice Hockey Women’s Challenge Cup of Asia, held in Bangkok, Thailand, by recording its first international win by defeating Philippines and Malaysia. With this, India finished at the fourth position in the tournament. Ladakh Winter Sports Club general Secretary None P Wangchuk said for the first time, U-20 boys had represented the country in Malaysia last year.

He said in addition to the regular tournaments, a state-level championship sponsored by the J&K State Sports Council was going to be held during this winter sports season. Considering the high potential due to the natural weather of Ladakh, ice hockey has started to get attention of elders as well.

To meet the demand, special coaching is being provided to children and it is the only sport in Ladakh for which coaching at such a large scale is available.

Noor Jahan, general secretary of the Ladakh Women Foundation, said free coaching in remote areas was a part of ice hockey promotion for which money was raised through crowd-funding.

She said in all, 108 girls from different areas of the district took part in a 10-day basic coaching programme in ice hockey. Meanwhile, the winter sports season in Ladakh, during which a series of events in the fields of ice hockey, ice skating, speed skating and figure skating are held, also began recently. The events are being organized by the Ladakh Winter Sports Club.

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