Date: February 18, 2017

Host Japan off to winning start at Asian Winter Games

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Japan’s Yurie Adachi, left, and Kazakhstan’s Galiya Nurgaliyeva,right,
battle for the puck during the women’s tournament round robin
ice hockey match at the Asian Winter Games at Tsukisamu Gymnasium
in Sapporo, northern Japan, Saturday, Feb. 18, 2017 (AP Photo/Eugene Hoshiko)

By The Associated Press

Japan overpowered defending champion Kazakhstan 6-0 in women’s ice hockey on Saturday, the first day of competition at the Asian Winter Games.

More than 2,000 athletes from 31 countries are competing in five sports, 11 disciplines and 64 events in Sapporo on Japan’s northern island of Hokkaido.

On Friday, the first contingent of North Korean athletes and officials arrived for the games, after receiving visas as an exception to Japan’s ongoing entry ban on North Korean citizens.

Fresh from qualifying for the 2018 Winter Olympics, Japan faced little resistance in its opening game. Ami Nakamura and captain Chiho Osawa scored two goals each.

South Korea destroyed Thailand 20-0, while China thrashed Hong Kong by the same score, in other games in the women’s ice hockey tournament.

Hong Kong trounced Singapore 12-1 in men’s ice hockey.

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

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

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

By Yoo Jee-ho – Yonhap News

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

By Today Online

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

RESULTS NEEDED

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

CHALLENGES

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

STAYING THE COURSE

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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