When the search for a host for the inaugural IIHF Women’s Development Cup began, Kuwait eagerly put their name forward.
While Kuwait’s men’s national team has competed in three World Championship tournaments (2018, 2019, 2022), the women’s program has yet to reach that level, and the Women’s Development Cup presented itself as an opportunity for Kuwait to gain valuable competitive experience against national teams from other smaller women’s programs.
“The Kuwait Ice Hockey Federation, they’ve far exceeded expectations,” said Irish Ice Hockey Association President Aaron Guli, one of the architects of the Development Cup, which debuted with a men’s tournament in 2017. “It’s top to bottom first class. They’ve been a big driving force in getting the first Women’s Development Cup over the line.”
In 2019, the Kuwaiti women’s team made their international debut at the IIHF Ice Hockey Women’s Challenge Cup of Asia Division I tournament. It was not an easy introduction to international play (through three games, Kuwait surrendered 34 goals and scored zero), but it was an important first step for the young program.
One special occurrence of that event in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, was that Kuwait had five sisters on the roster including a triplet (see story).
Since then, Kuwait has been hungry for chances to develop their athletes and play against other countries. They have held training camps in Czechia and Slovenia, and participated in tournaments in Abu Dhabi and Bangkok. This August, three women’s teams – two from Kuwait and one from Bahrain – competed in the Kuwait Ice Hockey League Open Championship, a tournament developed to further the sport in the Gulf region.
“When we go to another tournament in another country, [the players] get more power from hockey,” said Kuwait women’s program team leader Laila Alkhbaz. “They know more players, they know other cultures. When they contact with other teams and other players in different countries, they get a new experience in hockey or also in their life.”
When the puck drops at the Kuwait Winter Games Club’s ice rink to start the inaugural IIHF Women’s Development Cup on 6 November, Kuwait will be joined by national teams from Andorra, Colombia, Ireland, Luxembourg and the United Arab Emirates.
“It is very honouring to be the host,” said Alkhbaz. “All the team members are very excited to be meeting players and teams from different countries. They are working very hard with preparations for the tournament. Our management are very excited and they are working very hard.”
Alkhbaz has been at the forefront of developing women’s hockey in Kuwait since the program was officially launched in 2017.
“Before we didn’t have a women’s team in Kuwait, only like a hobby. A few girls, they go to the ice rink and they play. Meshal [Alajmi] is the first coach to help the girls to make a hockey team, and this was in 2008. But they didn’t have the money, they didn’t have the equipment, they didn’t get the support from the government, so they cancelled it. After 2017, the Winter Games Club decided to make a women’s team and they collected the girls who know hockey, who played hockey before, and we made a team.”
In 2018, Alkhbaz attended the IIHF Women’s High Performance Camp (see story), taking part in the Leadership Development Program, while player Rawan Albahouh learned about growing the sport in the World Girls’ Ice Hockey Weekend segment.
“I learned that when you work hard, you get what you want,” said Alkhbaz. “I felt some difficulties there because it’s my first time to contact with the hockey society. I learned how to manage my team, how to be a good leader… Now I feel like hockey is a big part of my life.”
When not participating in tournaments or travelling to other countries for training camps, Kuwait’s female players compete in the Kuwait Women’s Ice Hockey League (KWIHL), which was formed in 2018. Now in its fifth season, the league consists of four teams – the Blue Waves, Gladiators, Diamonds and Wildcats – that play once a week from October to March or April.
The league was still in its infancy when Kuwait took to the ice at the 2019 IIHF Ice Hockey Women’s Challenge Cup of Asia Division I. Fast forward to today, and the players taking part in the Development Cup will come with several years of experience of league play.
Kuwait has made significant strides in just five years, launching a women’s national team program and a four-team women’s league, and participating in IIHF events. They will return to the Challenge Cup of Asia (now called the IIHF Ice Hockey Women’s Asia and Oceania Championship) for the 2023 edition in Bangkok in May as well. But first, Kuwait gets to cross another milestone off the list – hosting not just an IIHF women’s event, but the first ever Women’s Development Cup.
The IIHF Asia and Oceania Strategy Planning Group with delegates from the IIHF’s member national association in Asia and Oceania held a meeting in Abu Dhabi to prepare for the new international season but also to assess and accommodate the findings and the new Strategy Plan ICE26in the Asia and Oceania Region.
Due to stricter travel restrictions, many ice hockey tournaments have not been place for two seasons in Asia. The IIHF Asia and Oceania Ice Hockey Championship (formerly Challenge Cup of Asia) came back last summer with an U20 edition held in Thailand. Now two more tournaments have been announced.
The 2023 IIHF Ice Hockey U18 Asia and Oceania Championship is planned to be held between 26 February and 5 March 2023 (exact dates to be confirmed) in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia with Indonesia, India, Iran, Macau (China) (TBC), Mongolia, Singapore, Thailand, the United Arab Emirates and Uzbekistan. It will be the first IIHF tournament for Uzbekistan since becoming a member in in 2019. The 2023 IIHF Ice Hockey Women’s Asia and Oceania Championship will be held in Bangkok, Thailand with the initial dates 14-21 May 2023 with the participation of India, Iran, Kuwait, Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand and the United Arab Emirates. It will be the first participation in an IIHF tournament for the Iranian women’s national team.
The meeting was held with the members of the Asia and Oceania Strategy Planning Group (AOSPG) and in attendance of IIHF Senior Vice-President Petr Briza and IIHF Development Director Kalle Valiaho, who introduced and highlighted the importance of ICE26.
In a seasonal review and outlook, IIHF Regional Vice-President for Asia and Oceania, Aivaz Omorkanov, mentioned that the pandemic hit ice hockey in Asia very hard and it is one of the main priorities to come back stronger than ever before. Carefully selected programs with the main focus on development and sustainability alongside a good mix of events will become the key to success. Several workshops and in-depth discussion in regard to the IIHF’s key initiatives amongst the membership and with all IIHF representatives on-site where a focal point of this meeting. “We need to use every single opportunity in the Asia and Oceania region to ensure the growth and to unfold the potential. With the IIHF Asia and Oceania Office, which is now located in Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates and managed by IIHF Sport Development Manager for Asia and Oceania Harald Springfeld, we will lay down the foundation of future growth. The office will work very closely together with the IIHF Office and all 27 members of the Asia and Oceania Strategic Planning Group,” said IIHF Vice-President and Committee Chairman Aivaz Omorkanov. In the first quarter of 2023, the members of the Asia and Oceania Strategy Planning Group will regroup and kick off a new series of Learn to Play seminars and recruitment program initiatives with two seminars in the region. Following the meeting, an ice making seminar for the region has started in Abu Dhabi. Based on the further development and final version of ICE26, other initiatives will follow.
The meetings of the General Assembly of the Asia and Oceania Ice Hockey Federation began Friday evening in Abu Dhabi, with the participation of representatives of 27 countries.
The meeting presented the strategies of the International Ice Hockey Federation that will be implemented in Asia, and the Federation’s plan for the next four years (ice26), which aims to develop the game at the international level.
The first meeting focused on setting the main points to determine the needs of the Asian continent to develop the game of ice hockey from camps, tournaments or conferences.
During the meeting, Aivaz Umarukov, President of the Asia and Oceania Federation, Vice President of the International Ice Hockey Federation, reviewed the strategy and goals for the coming period, and the obligations of the countries of Asia and Oceania to ensure the progress of the development plan in the game of ice hockey for everyone.
The importance of these meetings highlights the fact that this Asian gathering was approved by the International Ice Hockey Federation last year, due to the steady increase of Asian members from 11 to 16 until reaching 27 members.
The International Federation aims to support the Asian system by unifying development efforts and setting strategies and plans.
Hamel Ahmed Al Qubaisi, Vice President of the Emirates Winter Sports Federation, said: “We are pleased that the Abu Dhabi Summit will be a new starting point for the game of ice hockey in Asia and Oceania, and the plans and strategies being discussed that contribute to concerted efforts to develop the game during the next four years. We welcome and support all efforts, We thank the International Ice Hockey Federation for its plans, initiatives and programs to develop the game in Asia.”
The Asian Ice Hockey Federation will hold its regular meeting this year in Abu Dhabi, from October 21 to 23, with the participation of 27 countries, to discuss the agenda of the Asian sports season, including tournaments, camps and other sports events meeting with the requirements of the agenda of the Asian and international federations of the game, as well as discussing an overview of the main challenges facing the game and developing appropriate solutions and proposals.
A number of Arab countries that are members of the Asian Confederation will participate in the meeting, including the Sultanate of Oman, Kuwait, Qatar and Lebanon, in addition to the rest of Asia, notably Malaysia, Indonesia, the Philippines, Nepal and Thailand. Aivaz Umarukov, President of the Asian Hockey Federation, Harald Springfield, Director of the Asian Development Office and heads of participating delegations are scheduled to attend.
Hamel Ahmed Al Qubaisi, deputy chairman of the Winter Sports Federation, said the AFC’s choice of Abu Dhabi as the ideal place to hold the meeting did not come out of nowhere. Always a focal point and an attractive place for events, conferences and Asian and international sporting events.
Al Qubaisi added: The UAE is the first Arab country to obtain full membership of the International Ice Hockey Federation, and is therefore a pioneer in the game at regional and international level, improving its position to host the AFC meeting , is its active presence in international sports forums, whether in tournaments or meetings, and its ongoing initiatives To develop the game at Asian and international level.
Al Qubaisi added that the UAE’s sporting achievements in recent times, the most recent of which being winning the “level three” Ice Hockey World Cup last April, and the gold medal at the third Gulf Games in Kuwait ensure that it will always is in the spotlight.
Our national ice hockey team participates in the “Level Three” World Ice Hockey Championships annually, and every 4 years in the Asian Winter Games, in addition to the participation of our women’s national ice hockey team in the Asian Challenge Championship since 2013, as well as the participation of our national youth team under 20s at the annual Asian Challenge Championship.
As a young hockey player, Sam Uisprapassorn was always told that he’d make a great coach. For a player who dreamed of being in the National Hockey League, that’s the kind of backhanded compliment that wasn’t always great to hear.
But now that Uisprapassorn is the head coach of the Colombian national hockey team and associate head coach for Chapman Hockey as well as in an NHL mentorship program, the idea of becoming a great coach seems like something that was always meant to be.
Uisprapassorn, whose father is Thai and mother is Colombian, started playing hockey when he was 9 years old – just about the time that Wayne “The Great One” Gretzky came to play for the Los Angeles Kings and popularized the sport in Southern California.
As a student majoring inpublic relations and advertising, he joined the hockey team at Chapman, where hockey is a club sport and the team plays at the nearby Anaheim Ice.
“We were really underground,” says Uisprapassorn about his undergraduate team. “But we had this cool little group of guys, and we would set up these exhibition games against other universities.”
His coaching career kicked off shortly after graduation, when he was approached by a friend who needed help coaching a peewee hockey team. Once he started coaching youth hockey, it didn’t take long for Uisprapassorn to end up back at Chapman, this time as an associate coach for a renewed and increasingly competitive hockey team.
Uisprapassorn has a day job in the solar industry, plus a growing business manufacturing golf balls, so coaching hockey has always been a side gig, one that wouldn’t have gone any further than Chapman Hockeyif he hadn’t gotten curious about the world of international hockey. A little investigation led him to the Colombian national team, which had debuted in 2014.
Inspired by the connection with his family heritage, Uisprapassorn fired off an email, offering his help.
“It’s one of those emails that you send and you’re like, OK, I’ll never hear back from these people,” says Uisprapassorn.
But he did hear back. “They were getting ready to go to a tournament, and they called me maybe five weeks before and they’re, like, ‘Hi. We’re having a tournament and we need you to meet us in Mexico City,’” he says.
And so he went to Mexico City and, with Uisprapassorn as the new head coach, the Colombian team won the tournament.
“I knew I was going to have a mixed bag of players,” he says, just as he’d had working with the Chapman team. “I’m a keep-it-simple-stupid kind of person, and that’s how I approach coaching. Hockey is a simple game. You just put it in that net and keep it out of the one behind you. I took that approach with them, and lo and behold, we won. At that point, Mexico was ranked 33rd in the world, and we beat them in the championship game for our first Pan American Championship.”
After winning six international championships with the Colombian team, Uisprapassorn started to get noticed and recognized by people in the NHL. He was nominated to participate in the NHLCA BIPOC Coaches Program, an initiative that supports Black, indigenous and coaches of color in hockey, and this summer he was invited to participate as a guest coach at the Anaheim Ducks development camp.
“A year ago, if you had interviewed me, I would have told you I coach a team that’s so close to me and my heritage, and I coach at my alma mater. What else could you want? I always used to say, short of the [Los Angeles] Kings calling, I have my ideal job as a coach,” says Uisprapassorn.
Now, though, he’s willing to do whatever it takes to get a shot at coaching in the NHL.
“Hockey made me the person that I am today,” he says. “I’m not a natural athlete. I had to work really hard to be a good skater. It’s not like I put on skates and I was whizzing down the ice like some kids can do.”
But persistence is one of his main character traits, he says, whether it’s getting into Chapman, getting ahead in his career or, now, pursuing success as a hockey coach.
“In May I went to the coaches association. I said, ‘Look, I want to find a way, a path to possibly working in hockey as a coach on some sort of level,’” he says. “I basically used the line, ‘I’ll pour coffee in LA or Anaheim.’ I just want to get some experience under my belt at a higher level. I just want to help out, contribute, learn.”
As the 2022-23 NHL season kicks off this month, Uisprapassorn will be getting the experience he craves, under the mentorship of Dallas Eakins, head coach of the Anaheim Ducks. No matter how well the team does this season, you can bet he’ll be shooting for the net.
Andorra applies to be a full member of the International Ice Hockey Federation. The inclusion would allow Andorra to compete in IIHF World Championships to be contested in the last division, and to have financial and technical support to promote the Ice Hockey in the country. The president of the Ice Sports Federation, Josep Garcia, recently returned from the IIHF congress in Turkey with hopes of meeting the this goal.
He assures that one of the most conflicting points has been the number of senior players in the Principality . “There is a certain criteria that we did not fulfill, such as the fact that we had to have 60 senior players. Then they always play the card of the volume of players based on the population of the country and they already see that we have a ratio similar to other countries or even better and they have shown us that they will be flexible on this point and that we will be allow to be full members in the year 2024”.
The Andorran Ice Sports Federation currently has close to 150 members, 42 of whom are seniors. Having its own league and a arena with Olympic sizes ice and plexiglass are other requirements demanded by the IIHF. Garcia confirms that Font-romeu and Puigcerdà will be alternative Arenas when the Palau de Gel works begin, in the spring, as they have been informed.
The Andorran Ice Sports Federation is working with its Spanish counterpart to create a second division league with six teams: 1 Andorra team, 4 Spanish teams and 1 Portuguese team.
Juhani Ijäs of Finland has been formally installed as head coach and program director of the Philippine ice hockey team.
The Finnish coach was introduced on Saturday on the Hockey Philippines Facebook page and was shown skating at the Mall of Asia ice rink in an Instagram post on Wednesday.
“We welcome Juhani Ijäs to Hockey Philippines,” the Instagram post read. “The Finnish national will take on his role as national head coach and program director of Hockey Philippines.”
“Juhani spent five successful years with the ice hockey program of Thailand and will now bring his vast experience to the Philippines,” Hockey Philippines added on its Instagram post.
Ijäs was previously the head coach of Thailand’s national team, which clinched the gold medal in the 2019 Southeast Asian Games held at the SM Mall of Asia ice skating rink. According to hockey statistics website Elite Prospects, he coached the Thais from 2017 to 2022 before being named to the Philippine national team.
The 37-year-old former ice hockey defenseman played in junior leagues in the United States, and professional leagues in Finland, the United Arab Emirates and Thailand.
He was also an assistant coach of the UAE’s national ice hockey team from 2011 to 2016.
Growing up in Canada I was a huge hockey fan, but it wasn't until the 1972 summit series and the 1976 Canada Cup that I became a big fan of international hockey. The best players in world all playing on a sheet of ice.
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