Category: Asia (page 1 of 15)

The Budding Winter Sports Scene of Pakistan

There is immense potential to develop winter sports in Pakistan and the 2020 season was just the tip of the iceberg, says organizers

By Sonia Ashraf – Redbull,com

Winter sports and adventure sports events have been happening for some time now, but it was from the beginning of this year that word really started spreading about all the activities that are actually happening in Pakistan.

The season started with a range of skiing and snowboarding competitions held at Malam Jabba and Naltar – the two main ski resorts of the country.

The Hindukush Snow Sports Festival held in Chitral, along with the Snow Marathon and a Winter Sports Gala held in Malam Jabba were received with a lot of positivity by the attendees and the residents of the areas. With such events attracting people from all over the world, it has done wonders for the tourism industry of the country.

We spoke to Air Commodore (Retd.) Shahid Nadeem, a prominent name in Pakistan’s winter sports who has been associated with such events and activities for the last 28 years; he is the former secretary of Winter Sports Federation and now Convener, Adventure Group National Tourism Coordination Board. “I’m making the calendar for 2021 where we intend to hold the national championships for the first time in curling, ice hockey and skating.

“We’ve had several festivals since the beginning of the year. There are certain events that are happening every year and some events happened for the first time this year – like the International Snowboarding Festival – and hopefully we will keep building on these. One of our events in January, the Winter Sports Circuit, had two coaches coming from abroad who even conducted classes for the local participants,” says Shahid.

Snow Marathon 2020

He shared that events this year had been very successful. An example was the Snow Marathon that happened at Malam Jabba in March – which was the first of its kind and attracted around 120 people.

The organizers put in immense effort in making this event a possibility and the participants had a wonderful experience. What is really encouraging to see is that from Chitral to Swat to GB, winter sports such as skiing, snowboarding and ice skating are getting popular in Pakistan’s northern regions.

In general, more people are joining these activities with the number of athletes increasing with every event.

For Pakistan, things are gradually building up for winter sports. Previously there was only one destination, Naltar, where some activities took place. Now, there are many locations that have started such events and many places that are being explored.

Malam Jabba’s comparatively close proximity to the capital and its geographical features make it ideal for winter sports events, which is why many training programs have kicked off there.

There are also areas such as Madak Lusht and many more in the works that have also started conducted events. Compared to last year, the amount of tourist that visited this time was double.

There are 8-10 winter sports clubs in Gilgit-Baltistan that allow for people to get plenty of opportunity to partake in winter sports activities. One can confidently say there’s a lot more to look forward to.

Malam Jabba & its geographical features make it ideal for winter sports

With the introduction of new sports such as ice hockey, curling, figure skating and winter action adventure sports people now have more options. Furthermore, it is becoming easier for people to enjoy these sports with much less expenditures, since all one needs is to rent shoes and they can enjoy for the whole day.

In winters, with lakes freezing over, outdoor ice rinks are affordable to make because of the temperature. However, the plan is to make such things accessible all year round.

Pakistan has some of the biggest glaciers outside the polar region and some of the highest mountains but there were no activities in these areas especially the Northern Pakistan as far as the winter season is concerned.

Initially the aim was to popularize winter tourism, through creating winter sports events in these areas. Now that it has been kicked off, there’s no stopping it. In fact, now, Shahid Nadeem even has plans for the summers.

“We’re working on indoor ice rinks – like the ones we have in cities – where we can hold different series of ice sports competitions during the summertime,” said Nadeem. “Our purpose is to facilitate the region and build the capacity for various events, which is eventually going to lead to an increase of tourism in these areas.”

These efforts to make winter sports accessible all year round and increasing the events will lead to an increase in tourism. “With several organizations such as Red Bull helping out, we can definitely hope for a lot more interesting events to take place in the future,” says Nadeem.

Coaching under the threat of COVID in Hong Kong

Ken Yee Coaches at the Kung Pow King Hockey School in Hong Kong

By Ken Yee – National Teams of Ice Hockey

Ken Yee was gracious enough to write to us about his experiences as a hockey coach in Hong Kong and dealing with the coronavirus.

For over the past two years, I’ve been fortunate enough to earn a living as an ice hockey coach in my birthplace of Hong Kong. Like most Canadian kids, I grew up loving the game and played since childhood. But after spending virtually all my life in Toronto, I decided to take the leap and make the move while vacationing here in 2016. During that time, I met a good friend who is a former NCAA goaltender and hockey coach and he invited me to coach on ice. I was instantly hooked after the first my practice. There is just something special about hockey here for me that I can’t fully put into words. Hockey, the city, and finally the general experiences I had here were the catalysts to take the gamble and uproot my entire life. About a year after my visit, I quit my job, sold my car and rented out my apartment. I flew here on a one-way ticket from Toronto with my two cats, two large suitcases, two CCM twigs and a hockey bag. It was everything I had left as I embarked on my journey towards a new career and I’ve yet to regret a single moment of my new life in one of the most exciting cities in the world.

Most coaches are in this line of work because we have a passion for hockey. I absolutely love my job, but I’ll admit it’s not necessarily all fun and games. There is a bit of effort involved in coaching that parents and players may not be able to see. From the cerebral labour of practice planning, to the interpersonal and communicative work of dealing with real people -our players, and of course the physical toll it can take on our bodies, coaching can be a bit of a grind. Aside from this, there is also a certain precariousness looming over our livelihoods, for example, suffering an injury (or perhaps even a global pandemic).

Ken Yee and his students at Kung Pow King Hockey School

Now, most coaches in Hong Kong, including me, are not salaried workers. If we don’t work, we don’t get paid. Many of the coaches I know are employed at multiple hockey schools and may supplement their income with other work, such as a colleague who also works as a professional photographer. My income is derived from a whole host of coaching gigs I hold simultaneously, including on-ice coach for a hockey school, coach of a Hong Kong Women’s Ice Hockey League (HKWIHL) team, teaching inline skating at schools and finally running private training sessions. These different positions and gigs allow me to make the “okayest” of livings in one of the world’s most expensive cities.

Students take in every world that coaches are telling them

But just after January 2020 kicked, things started to take a downturn for me professionally. Due to the rising number of infections in the city, the Hong Kong Education Bureau suspended all schools and it is still in effect today indefinitely. The inline skating classes I taught at an international school have been wiped out for the entire school year. Next to be suspended was the HKWIHL season. It is the only women’s league in the city, allowing the HK Women’s National Ice Hockey Team to compete internationally. I miss my girls and we have a great squad whom I believe can take home a championship this year. I’m just hoping these girls will get the chance to compete and prove me right. Then in March, the government imposed a complete shut down of all sports and leisure facilities. This included places such as public parks and of course, ice rinks. I haven’t been on a pair of skates to coach or to play in since. The only thing that is keeping me from a complete lack of income are the private sessions I have, either in one-on-one or small group settings of four people or less. 

Student practice inline

Dealing with financial stress coupled with isolation and boredom has not been fun, but I am certain there are others out there dealing with the same -if not worse. Coaches working in all levels of hockey all around the world are going through similar experiences. Though indeed the past four months has been quite tough, I try to remind myself that no matter how long this pandemic may last, it is only temporary. Personally, I’m cautiously optimistic that life will return to normal here soon in Hong Kong. The good news is that there have been no new cases of location infection for the past couple of weeks in the city, offering a glimpse of light in all this. Sequestered in one of the epicenters of the SARS virus in 2003, Hong Kongers are more experienced in dealing with a pandemic and have arguably been more prepared than most during the current crisis. Nevertheless though, we are dealing with this pandemic on a global scale this time and we all need to do our parts in stopping the spread of this virus.

Hope to see everyone back on the ice soon and masks on people!

Stay strong let’s fight this thing together.

Kids wearing Facemasks on the ice due to COVID-19

Kung Pow King Hockey School

J&K Ice Hockey Association formed

By State Times News

The Ice Hockey Association for Jammu and Kashmir was formed on Thursday in the presence of President Dr S.M Bali and Secretary General Harjinder Singh of Ice Hockey Association of India at Circuit house, Sonwar, here.

During the meeting, the members laid the emphasis on the promotion of winter sports especially Ice Hockey in Jammu and Kashmir.

The general body also confirmed the elected members of the new unit with Dr S.M Bali as President and Ajaz Rasool Mir as General Secretary of Ice Hockey Association for Jammu and Kashmir.
The house authorised the Dr Bali to nominate rest of the office bearers and executive committee members with in a week’s time.

It was unanimously decided to host the 10th IHAI National Championship for Men at the Ice Hockey Rink in Gulmarg. Dr Bali along with Harjinder Singh, Ajaz Rasool Mir and Waseem Raja Khan visited the Rink at Gulmarg for an on the spot assessment of the facility to host the sport at National level. IHAI also decided to conduct UT level coaching camp for boys and girls prior to the national championship at Gulmarg.
Harjinder also shared the past success of Indian National Team of Ice Hockey with the house.
He stated that Indian men’s team got a silver medal in the IIHF Challenge Cup of Asia (Div -1) at Kuwait in 2017 and women’s team won a bronze in the IIHF Challenge Cup of Asia ( Div-1) at Abu Dhabi in 2019.
With the focus of the Government of India on winter sports through 1st Khelo India Winter Games Meet recently held at Gulmarg, Singh laid emphasis on competent management for developing the sport and felt that the new body will deliver to their expectations.

The 10th Nationals at Gulmarg in 2021 would give right impetus to develop this Winter Olympic Sport in the region and also give a spurt to Sports tourism in the Region, he said.
He thanked Kiren Rijiju, Minister of State for Youth Affairs and Sports, for initiating Khelo India Winter Games.

Ice Hockey Association of India is a full member of International Ice Hockey Federation and also Indian Olympic Association.


Cooperation Offer with Japan for Ice Hockey Development in Nepal

By Nepal Flash

Nepal Ice Hockey Association has proposed cooperation with Japan for the development of ice hockey  in Nepal. The general secretary of the association Ganesh Rimal proposed this before the Japan Ice Hockey Association in connection with his visit to Japan. Cooperation between Nepal-Japan Ice Hockey Association was discussed with Kumiharu Kitagawa, Chairman of the International Committee of the Ice Hockey Association, Marita of the International Committee and officials of the Japan Ice Hockey Association.

On that occasion the importance of development of ice hockey game and training of Nepali players was given importance. Assistance for the construction of Ice Rink in Nepal and official visit of Nepal and Japan to officials and players of the two countries was discussed, according to Nepal Ice Hockey Association.

During the discussion, the Chairman of the International Committee of the Japan Ice Hockey Association said that the Japan Ice Hockey Association is ready to provide all kinds of assistance for the development of ice hockey in Nepal. Speaking on the occasion, Secretary General of the Nepal Ice Hockey Association, Rimal, said that Nepal has a natural rhythm for the Ice Hockey game and that its development can be expanded to support tourism.

Secretary General Rimal is on a trip to Japan.

Kyrgyzstan’s first female team shatters stereotypes

By Reuters

A group of girls from a remote village in Kyrgyzstan have come together to form the central Asian country’s first all-female ice hockey team — Shapak.

Based in the northern village of Otradnoe, 400km (249 miles) east of the capital Bishkek, the team of some 15 schoolgirls began training three years ago on a plot of farmland belonging to their coach with whatever equipment they could muster.

“In the winter, I create an ice rink. This is already the sixth year I’ve done it, I use my allotment all year round,” the team’s coach Salamat Abdyrakhmanov told Reuters TV.

News of the team reached as far as Switzerland and they soon had professional hockey pads thanks to donations from the Kyrgyz community living there.

With no other female teams to play against, Shapak honed their skills against male teams and the injuries suffered by some of the players left parents concerned.

“I was against it at the beginning, only recently I forbade her from playing,” Aynura Zhasyrkeeva, the mother of one of the players, said.

A puck hit her in the eye and she received a concussion, but she’s better now. Now she’s come to play again.”

Having shattered gender stereotypes in the country where the sport is dominated by men, the female team is now a firm fixture in local leagues.

“My classmate, the coach’s daughter, suggested I come and try to play,” goalkeeper Zarina Karabaeva said.

“I tried going in goal and because I was good at it and they made me goalkeeper … it never even occurred to me that I would ever play hockey.”

(Writing by Shrivathsa Sridhar in Bengaluru; Editing by Peter Rutherford)

From the Himalayas to the world

Dorjay Dolma took part in the 2019 IIHF Women’s Goaltending Development Camp in Slovakia

By Martin Merk –

We are in the middle of a short ice hockey season for India where the sport is mostly played at the foot of the Himalayas in Leh in the Ladakh region.

India’s hockey heartland is located in one of the most northern territories of the country where mountain ranges separate India from Tibet, China, while New Delhi is located 500 kilometres to the south.

The story of the local hockey community has created many stories that even led Canadian Hall of Famer Hayley Wickenheiser to travel there and bring equipment. Our first story on the Indian women dates back to 2012 with the header “Confidence through hockey”.

“There are many mountains in my region. It is very beautiful and mostly people depend on farming. In the city there are also government jobs,” said one of the Indian women’s national team players, Dorjay Dolma.

The parents of the 26-year-old work in farming too and even the sport of ice hockey is connected to it. The water reservoir that is used to irrigate the fields during warmer periods becomes a pond in the winter. With temperatures of currently between -22°C and -7°C (-7 to +19°F), it’s hockey time!

The hockey season runs from mid-December until mid-February, otherwise the players have no ice.

Dolma has been the second goaltender of the women’s national team and as such had a prolonged season because the team plays internationally each spring in the IIHF Ice Hockey Women’s Challenge Cup of Asia, a program designed for Asian nations whose hockey programs are developing and not big enough yet to participate in the World Championship tournaments. Although several Asian countries have made the move to the World Championship program in recent years after getting their international ice time on the continent.

“We play in winters in Leh and afterwards we go to the tournaments. Sometimes we go to the host country one week earlier to practise there,” she said. There the players have to cope with a different environment.

Ice hockey started first with the army located in the region in the ‘70s. In the first attempts of the men’s team in IIHF play about a decade ago they had to learn playing with boards when they didn’t have any in India where they played for the national championship on natural ice but in front of thousands of spectators at tribunes.

Meanwhile the first boards have been installed at one rink in Leh. The hockey rink gets some upgrading each year. Still, for the Indian women it means going from frozen ponds to ice rinks in shopping mall in places with hot climate such as Abu Dhabi, Bangkok, Kuala Lumpur or this year in Manila in the Philippines.

It also means having to save many pucks for the Indian goaltenders against opposition that can play the sport all year.

“Sometimes it looks very difficult to save the pucks but I want to do it and make it easier to me,” Dolma explained.

Having Wickenheiser visiting her and her colleagues and going to Wickenheiser’s festival in Canada was a big moment for her.

“She came to Ladakh to see us through the Ladakh Women’s Ice Hockey Foundation where we give coaching to young girls. She saw our documentary on YouTube and came to Ladakh, brought us some equipment and hosted us in Canada for 20 days. It was the best place I have ever been to play hockey,” she said.

Dorjay Dolma during off-ice training at the 2019 IIHF Women’s Goaltending Development Camp

Dolma studied at SECMOL (Students’ Educational and Cultural Movement of Ladakh) where ice skating and ice hockey are part of the program in the winter season.

“We learn lot of things. We learn English, about the world, farming, everything. In winter we make our own rink with the teachers. We flood it with water and after one week we play hockey at the rink. The school is a very supportive institute,” Dolma said.

Her main topics were economics, English, Indian history and political science. After graduating she started working at a hotel last year. She came to ice hockey without previous knowledge about the sport and one of her four younger sisters plays the sport as well. In her free time she likes hang around with her friends in the village and make jokes.

“My parents don’t know how to play hockey. I showed them pictures on the phone,” said Dolma, who was also part of the IIHF Women’s Goaltending Development Camp last year in Slovakia.

“It was my first time in Europe. It was a very nice and beautiful place. My grandfather, my parents and the Ice Hockey Association of India supported me to go there,” she said.

“It was a really good camp for me. I have never had the chance before. I learned more about body movement, how to slide, to track the puck. Their teaching technique was very unique for me,” she said. And although she says she was hesitant because she’s shy, she had the chance to be on the ice with former goaltenders from the Olympic Winter Games helping the young goaltenders.

“We are all dreaming that we will one day participate in the Winter Olympics,” she said.

It’s still a long way for India to get there but soon after the ice season in Leh is over, the Indian women’s national team will travel to the 2020 IIHF Ice Hockey Challenge Cup of Asia in Manila where they are seeded in the Division I tournament with the United Arab Emirates and Kuwait.

Hockey federations of Turkmenistan and Russia have signed another Memorandum of cooperation


The hockey federations of Turkmenistan and Russia have signed a Memorandum of Cooperation. The document was signed in Moscow by the chairman of the Turkmenistan Ice Hockey Federation Jora Hudayberdiyev and the head of the Russian Ice Hockey Federation Vladislav Tretiak.

The document includes many points, including the provision of Turkmenistan with highly qualified mentors to train leading hockey players who are part of the national team for the 2020 IIHF World Championship Division III (Group A), which will be held in April 2020 in Luxembourg. 

In 2018, the Turkmenistan Ice Hockey Federation has already signed a cooperation document with the Russian Federation, and in 2019 signed the corresponding Memorandum with the Republic of Belarus. At present, two more documents are being prepared on a bilateral exchange of experience between Turkmenistan and the Ice Hockey Federations of Latvia and Ukraine, which are very interested in issues of joint sports cooperation.

The Turkmenistan national hockey team will be led by 55-year-old famous Russian Sergei Nemchinov is completing a training camp in Minsk, Belarus in preparation for the 2020 IIHF World Championship Division III A, which will be held from April 19 to April 25, 2020 in Luxembourg.  

Thailand triumphs in SEA Games

The Thai players celebrate a goal against Singapore at the 2019 Southeast Asian Games

By Andy Potts –

Thailand produced a flawless week of hockey as it powered to gold in the Southeast Asian Games in the Philippines. The Thais won all six of their games with an aggregate score of 75-3, sweeping all before them in this five-team tournament.

After cruising through the group stage, Thailand did not allow a goal in the playoffs, hammering Malaysia 15-0 before defeating surprise package Singapore 8-0 in the gold medal game. The Philippines, defending champion in this tournament, claimed bronze with a 17-1 success against Malaysia on Sunday afternoon at Mall of Asia rink in Pasay in the Manila region. The fifth team in the competition, Indonesia, failed to advance from the group after losing all four of its games. Despite that, goalie Sangga Putra had the second best save ratio in the competition after stopping 146 shots in the four games he started.

Mission: accomplished

Last time at the SEA Games, Thailand lost out in the final against a Philippines team taking its first steps on the international stage after becoming an IIHF affiliate in 2016. This time around, revenge was in the air. 

“We worked really hard since the last SEA Games to turn that loss into a win,” said defenceman Ken Kindborn, the leading scoring in this year’s tournament. “So right now I’m very proud and very happy, but also really humble.”

In 2019, teamwork made all the difference. “We really stuck to what we have to do as a team,” Kindborn added. “Everyone knows their role and everyone bought into it 100%. We had the right chemistry in everything, from how we eat, what we do off the ice, on the ice, how we warm up, even how we spend our time off.

“Everything has been amazing for the four months that we’ve been preparing for this.”

Gold medal dominance

The gold medal game went according to the form book. Thailand was dominant from the start and opened the scoring on five minutes through Papan Thannakroekkiat. But Singapore stood up well in the face of the onslaught and even withstood a 5-on-3 power play for the Thais midway through the frame. It wasn’t until the last minute of the period that the resistance faded as goals from Kindborn and Tewin Chartsuwan opened a 3-0 lead.

After that the contest was effectively over. Thailand kept the scoreboard ticking over regularly as Singapore found it hard to generate much offence. The shot count read 55-6 after 60 minutes of often one-sided play. Fittingly, Kindborn scored the eighth and final goal, taking him to 5 (2+3) points for the game and cementing his position as the tournament’s leading scorer with 28 (10+18). Swedish-born and with three seasons of experience in division two with Ulricehamns IF, the 24-year-old is a big player on the team. His play for Thailand’s second goal in the final highlighted his contribution. Collecting the puck at the point, he shaped to shoot before spotting the opportunity to advance into a more dangerous position. With the Singapore defence unsure what to expect, Kingborn cruised into position between the hashmarks before wiring a wrister into the net.

However, this is not a team built solely on players who learned their hockey abroad. Local talents like Thannakroekkiat, 24, and 18-year-old forward Phanaruj Suwachirat also had a big impact at this tournament. The former topped the scoring from the blue line with 10 (6+4) points, the latter had 14 (8+6).

This was Thailand’s second tournament of the season. Last month the kingdom came close to progressing through the opening phase of Olympic Qualifying but lost out to Chinese Taipei in the last 70 seconds of the decisive group game in Hainan, China. And, under the guidance of Finnish head coach Juhani Ijas, also noted for his work in developing the national program in the UAE before moving to Thailand in 2016, the team will contest its second world championship campaign later in the season. After a Division III qualifying campaign last term, Thailand goes to South Africa in April for the Division IIIB tournament with Kingborn hoping for more progress.

“Our goal is to move up from that stage,” he added. “We want to advance Thai hockey now. We’re on the right path, we just need to make those next steps and that’s what we’re going for. 

“It’s going to be really tough but that’s a good challenge for us. We’ve put in all this work and now it’s going to be tested over there.”

Singapore’s Cinderella run

Despite coming up short in the final, this was a great tournament for Singapore. Before the event, most expected the host nation and Thailand to dominate the conversation about the gold medal, but Singapore had other ideas. In the group phase, it pushed the Philippines all the way, eventually losing 3-5 to two goals in the last minute of a gripping encounter. 

Then, in Saturday’s semi-final, Singapore got its revenge in similarly dramatic fashion. The host nation blew a 2-0 lead and when Christopher Wong put Singapore 3-2 up in the 49th minute, the shock was very much on. EJ Sebug thought he had saved the game for the defending champion when he made it 3-3 with 60 seconds left in regulation, but this time the last-gasp winner came at the other end. James Kodrowski scored for Singapore with 21 seconds on the clock to seal the country’s first ever victory over the Philippines and guarantee the team a medal. “Nobody was expecting us to win and we knew that we had nothing to lose,” defenceman Ang Yu Jin told the Philippine Daily Inquirer.

Singapore’s roster is a mixture of local youth and expatriate experience. Kodrowski, who potted that semi-final winner, is a 40-year-old born in the USA. He played in the NCAA at the turn of the century and, since moving to Asia, has become a key figure on the national team. He scored heavily at last season’s Challenge Cup of Asia and was his country’s leading scorer here. Head coach Robert Martini, 31, also brings NCAA experience after captaining the University of Niagara’s team in 2011/12. The Ontario native has been coaching in Singapore since 2014/15. Among the locals, veteran defenceman Chew Wee, 40, has been on the national team since 2012/13 and plays a key role in nurturing the next generation of Singaporean talent.

And there is genuine potential among the country’s youngsters. Christopher Wong is still only 17 but has played in two CCOA events and got his first international goal here in Pasay. Bryan Lee, aged 16, was the leading scorer at last season’s CCOA and contributed 3+1 this time around. And newcomer Ethan Redden, 18, was born in Singapore but has North American experience with Nicholls School in the CISAA. His debut tournament yielded 8 (6+2) points.

Host nation takes bronze

The Philippines came into the tournament as defending champion and, with home ice advantage, was expected to be a strong contender again. However, it found life tougher than expected in the group phase, struggling to beat Singapore before losing 1-10 to Thailand and taking second place in the five-team round robin. Then came that semi-final surprise from Singapore, sending the Eagles to the bronze medal game against Malaysia. The team’s leading player, Swiss-born Steven Fuglister, admitted after the game that the Filipinos needed to be more clinical with their chances, and they certainly learned that lesson ahead of the medal game. Fuglister scored four, matched by Kenneth Stern, as Sunday’s bronze medal game ended in a 17-1 victory over Malaysia.

Fuglister, 33, is eligible to play thanks to his Filipino mother. Born in Kloten, Switzerland, he and his brother Jeffrey learned their hockey with their hometown team. Jeffrey went on to play for Switzerland at the World Juniors in 2010, while Steven spent several seasons in the top Swiss amateur league with Bulach and Winterthur before taking up a job offer in the Philippines and resuming his hockey career with the Manila Griffins and later the national team. He finished the tournament with 21 (12+9) points. Carl Montano was the leading local-born player, second in the team’s scoring with 14 (3+11). The roster also featured three teenage prospects, with 19-year-old Aro Regencia already getting game time on the first line alongside Fuglister.

Plaudits for the host

bronze medal for the Philippines in the hockey tournament helped the country to top the overall medal-table in this Olympic-style multi-sport event. And success in competition was matched by a positive response to the organization of the Games.

Kindborn summed up the efforts of the host nation: “It’s been a great tournament and the hosting has been excellent. It all worked perfectly, the hotel, the transportation. The Philippines did a really good job as host.”

The Comeback Kid: How Sam Bengzon found his way back to the hockey rink

Sam Bengzon of the Philippine men’s ice hockey team


All the ice around him was not enough to stop hockey forward Samuel James Bengzon from heating up the SM Mall of Asia skating rink, in what would be one of the best moments of his 2019 Southeast Asian (SEA) Games run.

With less than six minutes left in the game and a Singapore goal tying it up at 2-2 just a minute ago, he found the barely open ice and went for the kill, hitting his first international competition goal to a wild response from the crowd.

“When I scored that goal, I went straight to where my family was,” he said, recounting how he skated to the glass barricade to share his triumph with his loved ones and fans.

From his composure at that moment, one could not tell that the 30-year-old was not even sure he would be in this arena this year. Go further back to two years ago, and he was not even a hockey player. 

A young start

Bengzon first found his spot on the ice when he was 10. At the time, he and his cousins were more interested in figure skating. This was until an old coach approached him and asked if he wanted to try something else.

“I already saw Mighty Ducks and I was a big fan of the movie,” he said of the 1992 Disney hockey film. “Then a few months after, I tried hockey, fell in love with it, and kept playing.”

His Disney fantasy soon became a reality when Bengzon started competing in hockey meets until high school, also becoming a varsity baseball player in the process. But just before college, he felt he wanted to have a normal balance of schoolwork and social life, which led him to leave behind his childhood sport.

Instead of picking up his club for training nights like most of his contemporaries, Bengzon spent a decade away from the puck, building a family of his own and getting into the poultry and CrossFit training businesses. Incidentally, being a fitness coach kept him ready to go back into the rink anytime, as it honed his discipline and maintained his athletic form.

“In Crossfit, everything is about trying to learn. It teaches you discipline and knowing yourself,” he said. “So I think it really helps with the hockey aspect; I know myself and I know what I need to work on.”

The comeback

What ultimately got him back in the fray was his being a dad. Last year, he and his wife were deciding which sport their four-year-old son should play. They settled on ice hockey. 

Bengzon eventually realized that the best way to get their child interested in the game was for him to have a role model to look up to. Wanting to play again either way and with the support of his wife and kid, he took a jersey and went back to the rink.

“Most of the time, [my son] would beg to watch us practice. He loves skating, he loves the ice,” he said. “My wife, she knows not to wake me up after a night of hockey, so she brings the kids out of the room just so I don’t wake up.”

It was never going to be easy coming back from a ten-year hiatus, but Bengzon caught up with invaluable help from his teammates, who were kind enough to spend extra sessions outside of their weekly routine training him on the ice. He regained his form just in time for this year’s IIHF Challenge Cup of Asia, helping his team lead group A of the preliminary round and finish silver against the once 45th-ranked team in the world, Mongolia.

“It’s really nice to have Sam as part of our team, because ever since I was really young, he’s actually the one I look up to in the ice. The guy’s my idol,” said defenseman LR Lancero. Bengzon, during his first hockey run, was there when Lancero took his first step on the rink at three years old. 

He added: “He’s a guy that I trust and depend on, not just him but all of my teammates, because it’s really good to have someone behind your back to support you.” 

Now in the thick of his first SEA Games stint and with two international goals in winning games, Bengzon’s focus is to keep at it as his team faces powerhouse Thailand — which has not allowed a single goal from opposing teams.

What gives them confidence, he said, is a home court advantage like nothing any of them had seen.

“Thank you for all your support so far, the Facebook messages, the reposts. After the first win, I spent an hour before going to sleep just thanking everyone,” Bengzon said. “It really helped. Every small message like, ‘good job,’ we remember it.”

‘We’re going to build something great’: Katie Weatherston named head coach of Lebanese women’s hockey team

Thunder Bay’s Katie Weatherston, seen here celebrating her gold medal win with Team Canada at the 2006 Winter Olympics, has been named head coach of the Lebanese national women’s hockey team.

By CBC News

Thunder Bay’s Katie Weatherston is on the hunt for another gold medal.

But this time, she’ll be behind the bench instead of on the ice.

Weatherston, an Olympic champion and former professional hockey player, has signed as the head coach of the Lebanese women’s hockey team.

“We’re going to build something great,” Weatherston told CBC’s Superior Morning on Monday. “I’m super excited to be a part of it, and never would I [have] thought my hockey career would have led me here.”

Weatherston — who was part of the Canadian women’s hockey team that won gold at the 2006 Winter Olympics — was contacted by the Lebanese Ice Hockey Federation (LIHF) about the coaching job, and her hiring was made official earlier this month.

The LIHF is a relatively-new organization, Weatherston said, and is currently based in Montreal.

“A lot of [the players] have dual citizenship, so they’re Canadian and Lebanese,” she said. “Obviously, here, our program is stronger. They’ve been playing hockey a lot longer.”

“But we’re hoping to change that, and … develop hockey in Lebanon and bring some excitement to the country. They’re already really excited and supporting us.”

Lebanon itself, in fact, doesn’t have a rink yet, but Weatherston said that will be coming soon.

“By the sounds of it, they’re eager to build an arena,” she said. “Then, we can start developing local players as well, and get women involved in ice hockey there.”

Further, the LIHF was formally accepted into the International Ice Hockey Federation in September, clearing the way for Lebanese teams to compete at international events and tournaments.

The women’s team, Weatherston said, launched about a year ago, and the team will hold a training camp in Toronto in December.

“Most of the girls are on board,” she said. “We’re dealing with busy kids, too, that are in university hockey, they’re playing midget AA, so we’re trying to make that team a little bit more competitive.”

“We’re also putting a call out to Lebanese-Canadians, Lebanese-Americans, hockey players worldwide, we’re looking for them,” she said. “So, recruiting is a huge part right now, because we do not have a lot of players in our player pool.”

Weatherston said the goal is for the women’s team to start competing internationally in 2021.

“Obviously, I would love to go to the World Championships, or eventually the Olympics, but we have a lot of work to do before we get to that level,” she said.

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