Category: Asia (Page 1 of 16)

Growing the girls’ game in Indonesia

Indonesian female players of a mixed team at the 2019 South East Asia Youth Cup pose for a photo after the closing of the tournament

By Liz Montroy –

October of 2019 marked the second year in a row that World Girls Ice Hockey Weekend (WGIHW) celebrations were held at Indonesia’s Bintaro Xchange Ice Skating Rink. Young girls flocked to the rink to don skates and gear for the first time, accompanied by others already familiar with the sport who were eager to share their love of hockey with potential new players.

The WGIHW festivities have been highlights in the development of women’s ice hockey in Indonesia, a country that is still relatively new to the sport, having joined the IIHF in 2016. Driven largely by the efforts of coaches Ronald Wijaya and Andianto Hie, Indonesia got a boost in 2014 when Malaysian coach Gary Tan arrived to help build their development program.

“To coach the coaches,” Tan, who was the head coach of Indonesia’s men’s national team from 2016 to 2018, said of what his initial focus was when he first started working with the Indonesian Ice Hockey Federation. “That’s the most important thing, because the coaches are the ones who are going to develop the kids… At that time there weren’t many coaches, maybe three, but I think it has grown due to the nature of the sport right now. So most of the kids that I taught when I first started are coaching right now.”

While still a work in progress, the number of female players has seen some growth as well, in particular following the WGIHW events held in 2018 and 2019. The majority of Indonesia’s female players started out as figure skaters, transferring to ice hockey after seeing siblings or parents play the sport.

“At first I actually wanted [to play hockey], but my parents told me to do figure skating because there are more girls in figure skating,” said 15-year-old Qanita Feira Larasati.

Indonesia has a number of rising star players; 17-year-old Chiara Andini Salsabila, for example, was one of 44 female goaltenders who attended the 2019 IIHF Goaltending Development Camp in Slovakia. She regularly practises with expats and men’s teams.

“The commitment level from the girls, from what I’ve seen, is really incredible,” said Tan. “[In Indonesia, hockey is] a unique thing for a girl to participate in, and to have the passion and the drive to push themselves to improve is incredible.”

Despite sometimes having to travel long distances to get to the rink and struggling to overcome the stigma associated with girls playing hockey, Indonesia’s female players have developed an unbreakable love for the game and their teammates.

“Ice hockey is really fun, and the atmosphere and the people in the rink and the team – it’s really fun,” said 13-year-old defender Ghina Rameyza Salsabila. “It’s like my second or third home.”

Happy Indonesian players at the 2019 South East Asia Youth Cup

One thing Tan has encouraged the program to do since its inception is play in tournaments to gain game experience. Indonesia regularly sends mixed kids’ teams to tournaments around South East Asia, and while the first few were challenging, the teams have progressively seen improved performances and benefited from an increased following.

“I remember at the South East Asia Youth Cup, [when] we scored our first goal,” 15-year-old Farrah Zabreena Belle Synarso said as she recounted one of her fondest hockey memories. “Even though we lost [the game], we were so happy.”

Competing in tournaments has given Indonesia’s players something to aim for – a crucial element for improving player retention and giving aspiring athletes opportunities to achieve excellence. Many of Indonesia’s players have their sights set on moving up the podium at the South East Asia Youth Cup and improving upon their previous bronze medal finishes.

Meanwhile, the coaches are collaborating on delivering a development program that will see Indonesia climb the ranks in South East Asia and one day play in the both the men’s and women’s IIHF Ice Hockey Challenge Cup of Asia tournaments – and introducing more girls to the sport will be key to this.

“As [my dad] said to me, sports have no gender,” said Synarso. “So if you’re a girl and you want to play, than sure, why not?”

Ex-Philippine coach named ice hockey program director for Fil-Am talents

Jonathan De Castro (C) with Philippine national team players Paolo Spafford (L) and Gianpietro Iseppi

By Luisa Morales –

Former Philippine Ice Hockey National Team head coach Jonathan De Castro will be in charge of scouting Filipino-American talent in the sport.

This after De Castro was named program director for ice hockey of Fil-Am Nation Select earlier this week.

De Castro, who led the Philippines to a bronze medal finish in the Challenge Cup of Asia held in Manila in 2018, will oversee and cultivate Fil-Am ice hockey prospects.

Talents that De Castro will gather as program director can be tapped to beef up the Philippines’ growing competitiveness in ice hockey.

De Castro currently runs a training academy for goalies based in New York.

Ice hockey has been a growing program in the Philippines since the country joined the International Ice Hockey Federation back in 2016.

Since then, the team has enjoyed success in the region.

In the past two editions of the Southeast Asian Games, the Philippines got a gold and bronze medal finish in 2017 and 2019, respectively.

The ice hockey team was set to participate in Division IV of the IIHF World Championships in 2020 but the competition was cancelled due to the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

De Castro and Fil-Am Nation Select’s ice hockey program will be a shot in the arm for the growing interest and participation in ice hockey back in the Philippines.

Paek inspiring South Korea as coach of national team

By William Douglas –

Jim Paek had a special clause in his rookie contract with the Pittsburgh Penguins.

“My father convinced me to put in my first contract an education clause,” he said. “If things don’t work, out the team is responsible for four years of tuition and books.”

The backup plan wasn’t needed.

Paek made history as the first South Korea-born player in the NHL when the defenseman debuted against the New York Islanders at Nassau Coliseum on Oct. 13, 1990.

“I was a ninth-round pick (No. 170 in the 1985 NHL Draft), you don’t have nine rounds in the draft anymore,” he said. “So it was a long hard road for me to get to where I was able to play in the NHL and to play with great players.”

Paek played on the Penguins’ 1991 and 1992 Stanley Cup championship teams and scored his first NHL goal in Pittsburgh’s 8-0 win at the Minnesota North Stars that clinched the Cup in Game 6 of the 1991 Final.

The jersey he wore that game hangs in the Hockey is for Everyone display at the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto.

The jersey he wore that game hangs at the Hockey Hall of Fame

The 54-year-old continues to build his legacy as coach of South Korea’s men’s national team, which competed in the 2018 PyeongChang Olympics; it qualified for the first time under his tutelage.

“Jim Paek is a very, very impactful in terms of his presence and contribution to the game itself, not just in Korea but in general for the young kids,” said Alex Kim, a Korean-American former professional player who coaches the Anaheim Jr. Ducks 16 AAA program. He’s also a trainer who has worked with Dallas Stars forward Jason Robertson and his younger brother, Toronto Maple Leafs forward prospect Nicholas Robertson; each is Filipino-American. “He was a role model for me as a player and now as a coach. He’s a torch-bearer, if you will.”

Paek said he didn’t think about the significance of his accomplishments early in his NHL career; he was too busy in the moment playing. But he came to recognize his impact when members of the Korean community began telling him he was an inspiration.

“When those young kids say, ‘I’m Korean and playing hockey because of you,’ it’s just a fantastic feeling,” Paek said, “and it brings you back home, brings you back that you are Korean and what a great honor that is.”

Paek was born in Seoul, South Korea, on April 7, 1967, and his family moved to Canada about a year later. His parents, Bong-hyeon and Kyu Hui Paek, maintained their Korean heritage, speaking the language at home to their four children and serving dishes of their homeland.

The family also quickly embraced the ways of their new country. For Paek and his older brother, Phil, that meant playing hockey.

“If you wanted friends, it you wanted something to do, you’re playing hockey,” said Paek, who scored 34 points (five goals, 29 assists) in 217 NHL games for the Penguins, Los Angeles Kings and Ottawa Senators from 1990-95. “Saturday night was family night around the TV watching ‘Hockey Night in Canada.’ Hockey was a lifestyle and if you didn’t embrace that you’d be alone.”

inspiration to young Korean kids

Paek rose through the Toronto youth hockey system but didn’t dream about becoming an NHL player until he was drafted by Oshawa of the Ontario Hockey League.

“I’m thinking, ‘I might make it, I might make the ultimate goal here,'” he said. “So you push harder, you focus more, become uncomfortable more and get better every day.”

He found himself in new territory when the Penguins called his name in the 1985 draft. No one in his family had ever pursued an athletic career.

“My parents thought education was important,” he said. “I have an older sister who’s a doctor, brother who’s in pharmaceuticals, my younger sister is a lawyer. This was an opportunity to try something different and try to become a professional athlete. I convinced my parents, I convinced my family and they supported me 100 percent.”

Paek played three seasons for Muskegon of the International Hockey League before he made the Penguins roster out of training camp in 1990.

“He earned it,” said Phil Bourque, a Penguins radio color analyst and former teammate. “You can’t think of one thing and say, ‘Wow, Jimmy Paek is really good at this.’ He was just so steady and a great teammate who added some value to the chemistry of our team. … He wanted to win, he wanted to succeed so badly that he became a very important piece to our puzzle.”

Paek played in three regular-season games his rookie season, unable to crack a veteran defense corps that included Hockey Hall of Famers Paul Coffey and Larry Murphy.

Pittsburgh sent him to the Canada national team to get him ice time and recalled him as a “black ace,” a depth and practice player, on the Stanley Cup Playoffs roster.

“I’m skating around as a ‘black ace,’ a ninth defenseman and (coach) Bob Johnson comes up to me and says, ‘Keep smilin’, Jim, keep working hard, you never know what’s going to happen.'”

Johnson proved prescient. Three Penguins defensemen — including Coffey — were injured and Paek was thrust into action in the Patrick Division Final against the Washington Capitals.

“Johnson’s words were great advice and it sure paid off,” Paek said. “I played in the (Stanley Cup) Final and I got a goal. You couldn’t write that story any better.”

Paek is name is engraved on the cup twice.

Paek won the Cup again with the Penguins in 1992, this time with four assists in 19 playoff games.

For the next chapter, he hopes to get his men’s national team into the 2022 Beijing Olympics. They are scheduled to play in a qualifying tournament Aug. 26-29.

Paek’s longer-range goal is returning to North America to coach in the NHL. He was an assistant for Grand Rapids, the Detroit Red Wings American Hockey League affiliate, for nine seasons before joining the South Korea program in 2014.

“As a coach, I want to coach at the highest level,” he said. “Hopefully, one day a general manager will give me an opportunity to coach a team in the NHL.”

Gettin’ their kicks with sticks

The hardy students at Shaolin Tagou Martial Arts School in Dengfeng, Henan province have been honing their hockey skills since 2019. Combined with their kungfu training and academic studies, the kids practice roller hockey on a daily basis, with plans afoot to introduce them to action on the ice.

By Shi Futian – China Daily Global

As a novice of the sport, China’s ice hockey talent pool is still relatively thin. However, with the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics around the corner and the country’s ice and snow sports industry on the rise, more and more youngsters are picking up sticks to enjoy one of the world’s toughest team sports.

Among the unlikeliest of newcomers to the sport are students at Shaolin Tagou Martial Arts School in Dengfeng, Henan province. In 2019, around 1,000 students signed up for the school’s newly formed hockey club. Ranging in age from 6 to 15 years old, the club encompasses seven squads in total.

But with no ice to practice on, players perfect their skills on roller skates, making for a diverse daily routine of academic studies, kungfu lessons and roller hockey.

“All the students have been through tough kungfu training since they were little kids. They have great physical strength, coordination and flexibility compared with everyday school kids,” Zhang Shanghang, the school’s ice hockey youth training director told Xinhua.

“They are perfect for the sport. Some of them can learn how to skate with all the equipment in just three days. And now we are planning to let them move on to the next step of training-on ice.”

Pulling on a Team China jersey to represent their nation at the Winter Olympics is the ultimate dream for all the youngsters.

“My favorite player now is Zuo Tianyou of the Beijing College of Sports team. He has great dribbling skills,” said Huang Yuxuan, who watches ice hockey in his dormitory after training.

According to the International Ice Hockey Federation, China now has 537 male and 822 female ice hockey players, along with 8,147 juniors. The numbers are still low compared with the sport’s traditional powerhouses. Canada and the United States, for example, boast hockey populations of over 600,000 and 550,000 respectively.

Attracting more people onto the ice and developing the sport from grassroots level are seen as key to the sport’s future in China.

“We should fully take advantage of the Beijing Winter Olympics and facilitate the growth of Chinese ice hockey,” Hu Jiang, the coach of the Qiqihaer city ice hockey team in Heilongjiang province, told in March.

“Compared with the ice hockey powerhouses of the world, China’s ice hockey development is still at a very early stage, and there is huge room for improvement,” Hu added.

“Building a professional league and developing the sport in schools and universities are vital for the sport’s development in China.

“We should attract more people to participate in the sport and the winter sports sector in general. We should let it grow from grassroots level to lay a solid foundation. We should also promote ice hockey culture among sports lovers.”


Outdoor rinks being built in Pakistan in spirit of NHL Green initiative

By William Douglas –

As part of the NHL Green initiative celebrating Green Month in April, will feature stories on how the NHL is looking to grow and protect the game of hockey and its communities for generations to come. Today, how hockey is being used as a tool to combat climate change in Pakistan.

Diplomats from Canada working in Pakistan are using hockey as a way to teach the impact of climate change.

The Canadian High Commission has partnered with winter sports organizations in northern Pakistan’s mountainous region, where outdoor rinks have been built as part of an effort to promote winter tourism.

High Commissioner Wendy Gilmour also saw the rinks as an opportunity to grow hockey among Pakistan-born youth and use the sport as a tool to show the effects of climate change.

“The interesting thing about this part of the world is the Himalayan mountains are the major water source for billions of people here,” Gilmour said. “The snowpack is very important there, and the snowpack is growing in some areas and diminishing in others. The glaciers in northern Pakistan, and it’s one of the most glaciated regions on Earth, are surging in some areas, which is really unprecedented. … Because of these changing water patterns, it renders the communities in their path very vulnerable.”

Irfan Karim, president of the Altit Hunza Town Management Society, said the program is helping people in the region understand “what is the value of snow, what is the value of ice.”

“Because of the snow, winter sports, people are getting the idea of how to protect the ice, glaciers and snow,” he said.

The hockey program has generated enthusiasm in areas like Gilgit-Baltistan, a region administered by Pakistan as an administrative territory, with communities offering up land for rinks to be built.

“We see this is a really good way to have responsible tourism start in the winter around winter sport (and) that they need to do it in a way that’s environmentally friendly,” said Jenilee Ward, the high commission’s counselor and head of political and public affairs, “because tourists want to come to places that are clean and taken care of.

“The communities themselves are telling others about the need to pick up trash, start waste management systems and have the whole community involved. It’s a great and growing community initiative.”

Ice hockey In Gilgit-Baltistan region, Pakistan

Gilmour said the program also has been successful in encouraging girls to play hockey and join teams.

“It really took some effort in some of these communities to convince the parents that it was appropriate for the girls to come out,” she said.

Kahkashan Ali, captain of the region’s Booni girls’ hockey team, said girls were drawn to the sport because “it was really different for us, a new game for us.”

Girls from Booni hockey team playing ice hockey on the frozen lake

Ward said program participants were so enthused, they’ve started to form ice hockey clubs and are teaching the game to kids in their neighborhoods and surrounding communities.

“We have the young girls from the teams who are teaching other girls from across the area as well,” Ward said. “It’s a really natural organic thread across the country.”

First Iranian champions

The first Iranian men’s and women’s ice hockey championships in history were played in Tehran in March 2021

By Martin Merk –

Recently Mika Zibanejad, the Swedish NHLer of Iranian roots, made headlines with two six-point games in the NHL. At the same time the country of his roots itself is starting to gain ground in ice hockey.

Iran, which has joined the International Ice Hockey Federation as a member in 2019, has made another step forward in the coolest game on earth by hosting the first men’s and women’s ice hockey championships in Tehran.

The country aimed to start ice hockey during the past few years but was restricted to small sized ice rinks in Tehran, Mashhad and on Kish Island. But in 2019 the opening of the first full-size ice rink, the IceBox located at the Iran Mall in the capital of Tehran, made it possible to bring the game to another level.

The ice is there as are the players. Iran has been playing inline hockey for decades and is a giant in the sport in Asia. That’s why it hasn’t been a big issue for the Iran Skating Federation and the Iran Ice Hockey Association to find players with experience on rollerblades to take on hockey on the ice and enjoy the new experience.

The championships took place this month on the 60-on-30-metres ice sheet at IceBox, which also offers 450 seats and a standing area for 2,500 fans around the rink.

It’s not an easy time to start the first championship with the COVID-19 pandemic but after PCR tests of all team members and safety measures at the rink it started with the four-team men’s championship that ended in a tight gold medal game that Online Tire won 2-1 against IceBox.

The first Iranian champions in men’s ice hockey, Online Tire Tehran

After the first champions crowned, the women took the ice with the three teams playing a round-robin event. The name of the champion was the same as Online Tire shut out its opponents and won the championship ahead of M.R. Farmanie and IceBox.

The first Iranian champions in women’s ice hockey, Online Tire Tehran

While there could be only one champion in each category, the big winner was ice hockey in the country as the players got the chance to play each other on the big ice and 20 reporters covered the tournaments. The men’s final was broadcast live by a national sports channel and you can watch it in full here.

The next ambition will be to go international as the Iranians plan to join the IIHF Ice Hockey Challenge Cup of Asia program once it resumes after the pandemic.

Hockey night in New Zealand. A.J. Spiller growing the Canadian game in Southern Hemisphere

William Levien, Johann Kwok, A.J. Spiller, Mason Beetham, Corey Marsh

By: Mike Sawatzky – Winnipeg Free Press

On the surface, it seems like an unlikely career path.

Seven years ago, A.J. Spiller moved from Canada to New Zealand to play fastball during the sub-tropical summer. He repeated the trip the next year and again the year after that. But at some point, those trips to the Southern Hemisphere became something more than fufilling his sense of adventure.

Spiller fell in love — he and partner Monique Whareumu met that first summer — and he ended up staying to play and manage grassroots hockey in New Zealand’s biggest city — Auckland.

“When I moved here (permanently) I played one more season and then I started to play hockey and then I kind of chose hockey over fastball after that,” says Spiller, previously a third baseman for the Portage Phillies and a defenceman for the MJHL’s Terriers from 2003 to 2008.

“I enjoyed it a lot. It was just when it got into playing both — I did that for one year — and it was too much to play both hockey and fastball and I went back to university, too. So there was a lot on the go and I kind of decided to pick one over the other.”

Spiller’s academic work dovetailed nicely into his professional life. He enrolled at the University of Auckland to pursue a bachelor of commerce degree in management and marketing, completing it in 2019.

During that time, the 33-year-old interned with the Auckland Ice Hockey Association before taking over as the organization’s general manager 18 months ago. The job with AIHA, which has 800 members including 700 players, requires a healthy amount of multi-tasking. It’s something he may have developed an instinct for since playing for his dad, Blake, the longtime GM and head coach of the Terriers.

“I tie skates, fill water bottles and I kind of run the business side of Auckland Ice Hockey Association and I coach as well,” says A.J.

One of Spiller’s main tasks is to grow the game in a country, which joined the IIHF in 1977 but has just seven indoor rinks, two outdoor rinks and 1,700 players draw from a population of approximately 4.9 million residents.

“We’re definitely trying to grow the game,” he says. “Our big focus right now is on the grassroots and making it you know, as as fun and as accessible as we can for kids. Because that’s really the lifeblood of the sport. If we don’t have a good grassroots program, and nothing else is going to come out of it.”

Competing for attention with the country’s national sport, rugby, hasn’t been easy. Hockey’s March to November season also goes head to head with rugby’s premier team, the All Blacks.

A.J. Spiller at practice with youth player in Auckland, N.Z.

“It’s a little bit of a tough sell in that we play at the same time as rugby does as well — we’re both winter sports,” says Spiller. “Obviously, rugby is gonna draw a lot of people there but we are kind of similar sports. So we try to use that as well.

“We actually had two kids last year, their dad was a video coach for the All Blacks… and the both of them came to play ice hockey. And he came to check it out because he was a rugby guy and he just wanted to make sure that it was good. And he really enjoyed it.”

The country’s top men’s league, the New Zealand Ice Hockey League, has a number of import players making it possible to raise the calibre of play. Spiller took last season off to concentrate on his duties but he’ll return to the ice this year in the NZIHL, which he says is similar in calibre to the senior South Eastern Manitoba Hockey League.

New Zealand sent men’s and women’s teams to the most recent world championships, competing at Division 2, Group B level. But Spiller says the gap in skill level between import players and the bottom of NZIHL rosters is substantial.

“That’s kind of what we’re focused on right now is how can we make that bottom end a little bit better?” says Spiller. “And how can we give more Kiwi players a better chance to play in that league. I’m also coaching the under-18 national team here as well. That’s kind of in line with that, too, is how can we get more of these players playing and playing significant roles so that our national teams get better?”

On a brighter note, New Zealand’s success in limiting the impact of COVID-19 has allowed sports to continue. In 2020, the hockey season had a few stops and starts before eventually finishing as scheduled.

In 2021, it’s been mostly business as usual. Masks are still required on public transit in Auckland and airplanes but grocery shopping, for instance, can go on without masks, providing you adhere to social distancing guidelines.

“As far as the response to COVID, to keep it out and to manage it for the last little while has been pretty impressive when you look at the rest of the world,” says Spiller.

Living without snow or the deep freeze of his home province is nice, too. Auckland enjoyed 17C Wednesday and rarely goes below 8C during the cooler months of April to September.

“I like Canada and I like the winter but I kind of enjoy it here as well,” says Spiller. “It wasn’t a hard sell to come here.”

Puck dreams: Iran’s women hockey stars plan to make their mark on ice

Maral Rasekhi was a key figure in Iran’s 2018 success in South Korea

By Mohammad Hashemi – Middle East Eye

The national inline hockey squad defied expectations with a bronze medal at the 2018 Asian Roller Sports Championship in South Korea. Now they want to replicate that success in ice hockey.

On a chilly day in early January, two dozen female ice hockey players train at Iran’s only standard-sized ice rink, in Tehran’s northwestern outskirts.

A team of judges, including assistant coach Azam Sanaei, watch attentively as players perform on the rink, competing for a spot in the first Iranian women’s national ice hockey squad.

The hopefuls are in their twenties and thirties and count among their number some of the country’s best athletes on ice.

Nevertheless, the standards they must meet are stringent, with physical fitness tests designed to filter out all but the elite.

“We’ve never seen everyone so filled with passion and enthusiasm during training before,” says Sanaei, 31, who also serves as the captain of the team. On offer is a spot in the squad that will compete in the International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) Challenge Cup of Asia, which was scheduled to be held in the Philippines in May but has been postponed indefinitely because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Onlookers watch on as hopefuls shuttle up and down the 60-metre-long rink, trying to make the required six lengths within a standard time, some crashing into the billboards enclosing the rink in exhaustion. Teammates on the sides shout and bang their hockey sticks on the ice in support.

The squad will eventually be made up of 20 players, of whom six have already been chosen. In competitive matches, six players from the team take to the rink, including a goaltender, two defensive players and three forwards.

Members of the Iranian women’s ice hockey team pose with hopefuls trying to make the cut

For those who make the cut, the struggle has just begun. For all their efforts on the ice, women’s ice hockey remains a sport that has yet to make an impact among everyday Iranians and sponsors, whether the state or private backers, are in short supply.

Iran only joined the International Ice Hockey Federation as an associate member in 2019, more than a century after the sporting body was established, and only after the opening of Tehran’s privately owned ice rink.

According to the IIHF, there are 103 female ice hockey players in Iran, just slightly more than the 100 male players on its books.

Transitioning from inline hockey

Many on the women’s team first cut their teeth in Iran’s inline hockey scene, including their captain Sanaei, who transitioned to ice hockey after starting in competitive inline hockey in 2005. She says that despite this change in environment, the team is showing glimmers of hope on ice.

“The pace of improvement in our training is very promising in light of the fact that ice hockey is totally new to us,” says Sanaei, who is also studying for an MBA at Tehran University.

Inline hockey, unlike ice hockey, is played on hard surfaces instead of an ice rink, and ice skates are replaced by inline skates. The two sports are otherwise similar, with minor differences in regulations.

The players come from across Iran and have different class backgrounds, but most face a shared struggle in trying to win recognition from their families and wider society.

A case in point is 26-year-old Negar Arjmand, who joined Iran’s women inline hockey national team in 2015, later participating in tournaments in South Korea and Italy as a defensive player.

A physical education graduate, Arjmand teaches skating to make ends meet and fund her hockey career. She has even set her eyes on emulating her hero, Russian NHL star Alexander Ovechkin, by attracting the attention of foreign clubs.

Negar Arjmand’s family initially had reservations about her choice of sport but have since come around to the idea

Arjmand’s parents, both accomplished artists, suffer from polio, and her father especially was opposed to her choice of sport. He saw little in the way of financial remuneration and, perhaps due to his own physical condition, feared hockey would result in permanent injury for his daughter. There was also the issue of marriage and the concern that the sport would distract Arjmand from starting a family.

It was her performances, and a third-place finish in inline hockey at the 2018 Asian Games in South Korea in particular, that calmed the tensions and earned her family’s approval, as well that of the rest of the country, eventually.

“My parents were not in favour of this sport. Still, they didn’t want to prevent me from pursuing my interests,” Arjmand says.

“I think in their heart they saw me as an active person who could do extraordinary things. I believe that gave me the strength to continue.”

Asian Roller Championships

Maral Rasekhi, the team’s most senior player, says the team’s performances in South Korea in 2018 were a turning point.

The team went in as rank underdogs, but came out with a reputation as giant-killers, ending the tournament with a bronze medal.

Iran’s third-place finish at the 2018 Asian Roller Championships included a 4-2 upset win over hosts South Korea

“Our third game was against South Korea, the host nation, and a team we thought were invincible,” Rasekhi says. “They had come to the rink with the sole purpose of thrashing us but we beat them four goals to two.”

She calls the moment “an extraordinary feat that became an over-the-moon moment”.

Rasekhi began skating at the age of seven and overcame personal tragedy in the form of her father’s death when she was 10 to become a professional inline hockey player aged 19, making history as the first Iranian woman to play for a foreign club, in Hong Kong.

She credits her mother’s and sister’s support for her success, as well as the mentorship of Kaveh Sedghi, the head coach of both the male and female national inline hockey teams – someone the players credit with doing more for the sport in Iran than any other person.

The culmination of those efforts was the 2018 Asian Games, where as well as the women’s bronze medal, the Iranian men’s team took home the gold.

‘National pride’

The response in Iran on the team’s return following the performance was modest. Heads only began to turn after the release of a documentary two years later about the squad’s exploits in South Korea by filmmaker Sam Kalantari, called No Place for Angels.

Following the release, Iran’s female hockey stars became a source of pride for the country, drawing celebrity endorsements, including from actors such as Niki Karimi, Roya Nonahali and Behnaz Jafari, in addition to exuberant local media coverage.

Kalantari follows the players and their coaching staff, including their much-loved French coach Marina Fagoaga Jalinier, as they attempt to raise enough money to get to the tournament, and their eventual run to the semi-finals.

Captain Azam Sanaei says: “The main message of this documentary for women is to not give up hope in the face of obstacles.”

Azam Sanaei briefs players trying to join the Iranian women’s hockey team in September 2020

In one scene, Sanaei talks about how hockey has become a symbol of independence for the women on the squad.

“From early childhood, it was really important for me that no one would tell me that I could not do something because I was a girl,” she says.

“I don’t need somebody to stand behind me to be successful. Instead, I believe not only in not relying on anybody else but also in lending my support to other people, allowing them to rely on me.”

Continuing struggle

Neither the film nor the team’s performance in 2018 changed the fact that major obstacles remain when it comes to women’s participation in sport in Iran.

Of 153 countries on the Global Gender Gap Index for 2020, Iran ranks 148th. The state has barred female spectators from watching live sports in stadiums for around four decades, competitors must cover their hair during sporting events even outside of Iran and TV channels do not broadcast sports featuring female participants. Additionally, issues such as women riding bicycles continue to court controversy, and athletes are among other personalities defecting from the country over its dress requirements, as well as other policies.

Nevertheless, Sanaei is keen to caution against painting a bleak picture of the situation when it comes to hockey.

“I believe our problems have nothing to do with our gender, at least in our field of sport. Others in different countries might have the same problems,” she says.

“In my opinion, if we are determined to reach our goals we could remove any barrier. Where there’s a will, there’s a way.” 

Neither can responsibility for all the obstacles Iran’s athletes face be placed at the feet of the Iranian authorities.

Sanctions reinstated on Iran by the Trump administration have led to a devaluation of the Iranian rial against foreign currencies, such as the dollar and euro, meaning the price of hockey equipment, made up mostly of foreign brands, has risen drastically.

Azam Sanaei is optimistic about the future of women’s hockey in Iran

For example, a single ice hockey stick may cost up to $350 (about 77m rials) – the equivalent of two months’ salary for an ordinary Iranian. Around three years ago, the price was 15m rials. Hockey skates can sell for anything between $500 and $1,200 a pair.

The financial situation also means that what funding authorities may have provided is being diverted towards more pressing needs.

In the past year, the Covid-19 pandemic has also created physical barriers, which have made it difficult for the team to practice – leaving coach Fagoaga, who is currently in France, to relay long-distance orders to Sanaei.

All of that does little to dull Sanaei’s or her teammates’ optimism for the future of hockey in Iran.

“I think today there are roughly between 300 and 400 people who play hockey in Iran and I believe this field, especially ice hockey, will have a very bright future for women,” Sanaei says.

Local ice hockey team dreams big in NW China

Source: Xinhuanet

With his eyelashes covered by white frost in the frigid cold, Tangerjak shouted with joy after he drove the puck from the circle and hit it into the opponent’s goal.

This is a common winter scene for Tangerjak, a 15-year-old student who lives in Fuyun, a county known for its extreme cold in northwest China’s Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region.

Tangerjak was introduced to ice hockey in 2014 and has practiced regularly ever since. He is part of the only ice hockey team in Fuyun, which temperatures can plunge as low as -51.5 degrees Celsius.

“I just love this game. It’s so cool and much fun,” Tangerjak said.

Back in 2013, the residents in Fuyun, which has a total population of 24,000, barely even knew about ice hockey.

But everything changed when Zhou Xiaofeng, a PE teacher at a local school and a former speed skater, decided to form a local team.

Yet introducing an unfamiliar sport was by no means an easy job. Knowing little about it, Zhou had to watch videos online to teach herself the rules and skills, then promote the sport among local primary and middle school students.

Tangerjak’s passion was ignited the moment he heard of Zhou’s initiative, and he instantly decided to become an ice hockey player. He was not the only one who was inspired. More than 30 children aged between seven and 16 applied for the team.

At the very beginning, neither an ice rink nor sticks were available. The team had to practise on a speed skating track until the end of 2013, when a project funded the team with equipment, including protective gear, ice hockey sticks, and skates.

Wearing brand-new gear, during training sessions Tangerjak and his teammates would intentionally fall to see whether the protective equipment really worked.

In addition, thanks to the project, Zhou was able to improve herself through a professional training program held in northeast China’s Qiqihar, some 4,000 kilometers away from Fuyun.

“It was not easy for me,” she said. “But all the efforts paid off when I saw the smiles on the children’s faces.”

As Beijing 2022 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games approach, winter sports are gaining greater popularity with the upgrading of facilities in Altay Prefecture, where Fuyun county is located.

The support from all sides has injected new momentum into the ice hockey team. Over the past seven years, three professional coaches have volunteered training, and a proper outdoor rink was built in 2018.

Tangerjak dreams of playing for his country one day in the future. “I want to watch the ice hockey matches when the Winter Olympic Games open next year in Beijing,” said Tangerjak. “Hopefully, I can become a world-class player in future.” Enditem

Ice hockey scene in Hong Kong worries that kids are suffering without sport – ‘The cure can’t be worse than the disease’

Daryl Wong, Gregory Smyth and Keith Fong say the government needs to take into account the negative impact of not being able to play sports

By Patrick Blennerhassett – South China Morning Post

The Hong Kong government’s restrictions in fighting the coronavirus might now be doing more harm than good, says the co-founder and director of the China Hockey Group, Gregory Smyth.

The city’s hockey scene, which includes ice, inline and ball, has more than 1,200 regular participants, and the majority are kids. Smyth said children should be out playing sports right now, not sitting at home.

Smyth’s CHG runs the Junior Tigers, which has hundreds of youth players who have endured three ice rink shutdowns and  more than 140 days without the ability to play.  He said CHG will survive thanks to strong shareholders, but he feels the physical and mental toll may bring the largest cost.

“The big impact is on the parents and the kids,” said Smyth, who launched an elite men’s ice hockey tournament in the mid-1990s in his first official foray into the sport in Hong Kong. “The kids aren’t getting enough exercise. They’re getting depressed, they’re online all the time, they’re on devices and parents have to look after these kids if they’re not in school. It has a pretty negative impact.”

Smyth said he understands the need to fight the pandemic, but feels as if the government’s restrictions have gone too far.

“The cure can’t be worse than the disease,” he said. “We’re in a situation now where some of the regulations are worse than the cure.”

Smyth said ice hockey, which has roots in Hong Kong dating back three decades, also stands on the precipice of exploding. Two new ice rinks were to open just before the pandemic swept in early last year – a sheet in Discovery Bay and one at The Lohas, a new development in Siu Chik Sha.

This would bring the city’s total to five ice rinks, and allow for a massive expansion in terms of players, coaches and jobs. Each rink also hosts daily public skating and figure skating, helping bring in revenue given ice rinks are expensive to run and maintain.

“The sport is ready to boom and the next generation is there,” said Smyth. “This isn’t an expat sport. Our Junior Tigers programme is probably 80 per cent Chinese, so we’ve been able to introduce the sport quite well and grow it locally. We have a number of parents that have gone to school overseas and experienced it and then come back and have their kids play here.”

Hong Kong’s sport and recreation community finds itself suffering through blanket restrictions that have lumped outdoor sports with indoor sports. Smyth said one of the oddest things is the CHG runs games and practices out of Mega Ice, which is located within the Mega Box shopping complex in Kowloon Bay.

Ice hockey has been a mainstay at Mega Box for decades now

“The mall is open and full of people all the time, but the rink is closed. Figure that one out.”

Hong Kong’s fourth wave has now dragged on for months, and sports venues and gyms have been locked down since early December with no end in sight. Reports are the government isn’t considering lifting any current restrictions until well after the Lunar New Year, which runs from February 12-15.

Keith Fong, CEO of Powerplay Sports & Entertainment, which runs the inline league at the Jordan YMCA, and who has been involved in the city’s overall hockey scene for more than 20 years, said there is also an issue when it comes to Hong Kong’s geography.

Ice hockey’s hot beds lie in countries like Canada, the US and all over Scandinavia and Russia, where kids have massive green spaces and outdoor options to fill in the void of not being able to play. Hong Kong, although littered with country parks and hiking trails, pales in comparison, and also has some of the most cramped living spaces in the developed world.

“It’s different than say, in North America, where you might at least have a backyard,” said Fong, who was the coach of the National Hong Kong Inline Hockey team that competed in the 2018 Asian Roller Games in South Korea.

“But you know we’re cooped up here in four or five hundred square feet apartments, if that. So that’s where I come from when I look at this and its impact. There are no real alternatives for these kids right now.”

The closures have invariably hit the hockey scene’s coaches, which includes Daryl Wong. He works as an after school activity service provider, running inline lessons as well as ball hockey. He said he has received two government relief grants, one for HK$7,500 and another for $5,000, but they have done little to help his financial situation.

“It’s been quite frustrating to not be able to put effort into the career I chose to do. I have had to scale down,” said Wong, who is also an inline goaltender.

Wong said he worries the government may not fully understand how much people love the games they play and rely on it for their livelihood and happiness.

“You would think the government would understand how integral sport is to people’s lives at this point,” he said.

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