Date: February 14, 2017

Cool Runnings too? Tropical Indonesia makes ice hockey bid

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Indonesia’s ice hockey team listens to their coach Gary Tan at a skating
rink in South Tangerang. (Photo: AFP/Goh Chai Hin)

By Channel News Asia

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

PUCKED FROM OBSCURITY

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

OLYMPIC DREAMS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Macau epitomizes ice hockey spirit at Sapporo 2017

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By Olympic Council of Asia

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Three Euro Ice Hockey Challenge events

By IIHF.com

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

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

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

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

Russia sweeps in Sweden

By IIHF.com

In the Euro Hockey Tour Russia succeeded by winning all three games of the Sweden Hockey Games and winning the Euro Hockey Tour before the last tournament in the Czech Republic.

The Russians played their first game on home ice in St. Petersburg beating Finland 2-1 before heading to Gothenburg where they won 4-2 against host Sweden and with the same score against the Czechs to claim first place.

The other teams had one win against each other with the Czechs claiming second place after improving their head-to-head goal difference following a 7-1 win against Finland. Sweden finished in third place.

Kirill Kaprizov, who captained his country to World Junior bronze recently, was Russia’s scoring leader with three goals and four points followed by Anatoli Golyshev.

Russia sent men’s teams to two tournaments. While the national selection succeeded in Gothenburg, the B-team, labelled as “Olympic selection”, participated in the Slovakia Cup where it finished in third place. Host Slovakia beat the Russians 6-2 in the semi-final of the opening day after Switzerland had edged Belarus 4-2 in the earlier game.

Total EHT 2016/17

Russia 24 Pts
Czech Republic 12 Pts
Sweden 9 Pts
Finland 9 PTS