Category: Asia (Page 1 of 16)

The current status and the future of hockey in the Philippines

By Matt B Davis – Obstacle Racing Media

Description: What is the current state of Ice Hockey in the Philippines and what does the future hold for a country that many would not expect to be participating in a game which is mainly played in the countries that experience snowing for the better part of the year?

The Philippines would not feature among the nations where Ice Hockey is played. As a tropical country, Ice Hockey and skating to a large extent are the last games that one would expect to be popular. However, these games are now becoming mainstream, where they are also moving from recreational to competitive sports. With paypal betting sites  being popular in the Philippines, it is an excellent idea to familiarize yourself with some of the games that you can find on these sites.

With paypal being an international payment methods, betting enthusiast in the Philippines find it convenient to make deposits and withdraw their winnings.Ice Hockey is one of the games that are offered. Evelyn Balyton, our sport betting expert (You can view his profile here), gives an insight on this game, its prospects in the Philippines as well as what is happening in other regions especially in the countries where it is deep-rooted. This information is important as betting enthusiasts using online sports betting sites will get a direction on where to place their bets. Let us explore this interesting sport together.

For those who may be new to Ice hockey, this is a contact sport that is played on ice. The two teams in a game, each fielding six players, use sticks to shoot the ball aiming at the opponent’s net to score and gain points. The sport is fast-paced as well as physical. The players in the game include the goaltender whose responsibility is to stop the puck into his or her net, two defenders, and three forwards whose main task is to score against the opponents.

Ice hockey is most popular in countries that experience a long winter season and subsequent snowing. In Canada, it is one of the most popular sports, often regarded as a national activity. It is also a major sporting activity in Eastern Europe, United States, and Northern Europe. Canada is the current world champion having won most of the international tournaments. North America National Hockey league which includes teams from the United States and Canada is one of the highest men’s ice hockey professional leagues in the world. Kontinental Hockey League is equally a higher league drawing teams from Russia and the Eastern part of Europe.

World Ice Hockey giants

Internationally, hockey is governed by the International Ice Hockey Federation, the IIHF. The body is charged with the role of managing the sports, organizing major tournaments, and also maintenance of world rankings. Currently, the hockey federation has a membership of seventy-six countries including the Philippines. International competitions are dominated by six countries which are also known as the Big Six, they include Canada, Czech Republic, Finland, Russia, The United States, and Sweden.

Looking at the above list, one thing in common; they are all located in temperate regions. This is the area that experiences a long winter season and ice is a common feature. In these countries and others in the temperate regions, Ice Hockey is played outdoors in the natural setting. The situation is different in tropical countries where winter is nonexistent and in areas where it is experienced it is normally mild and for a short period. The Philippines, due to its location does not experience winter, so the sport is played in artificial settings, mostly indoors. Ice Hockey and skating have become big times recreational activities, especially among the youth in the urban areas.

Ice Hockey in the Philippines

Although it is not a big name in the world arena, the Philippines is among the countries that are members of the International Ice Hockey Federation, having been admitted as an associate member in 2016. The sport is governed by the local Federation of Ice Hockey League. Although the country has been a member of IIHF since 2016 the national men’s team has been participating in the international arena since 2014 when they made a debut.

The Philippines despite being disadvantaged in terms of the environment where the game can be played naturally has been a force to reckon with in the world of Ice Hockey. In 2017, the men’s national team won the gold medal in the South East Asian games, something that shocked the world. It is not only the men’s team that has been participating in the international arena, the women’s and junior’s side made a debut at this level in 2017.

Full membership in the IIHF

In 2020, the Philippines were granted full membership in IIHF. Admission to this level is associated with the hard work and dedication that the country has shown in the game. The team has been performing well in recent years especially in the South East Asia region where they have won several titles including the Bronze in 2018 and the gold medal in 2017. The popularity of the game is now at a higher level.

It is one of the major recreational activities among the youths in the urban area. Indoor skating venues are used as practicing grounds and some of them have produced players for the national team. Like basketball, the game is almost becoming a mainstream competition. The recent upgrading of the country into full membership at the IIHF is a big boost. Among the clubs to watch as the game moves to another level following the upgrading of the membership include:

  • Manilla Lighting
  • Manilla Bearcats
  • Philippines Eagles
  • Manilla Chiefs

These teams have been producing most of the players in the national team.

Currently ranked at position 65 in the IIHF rankings, the Philippines is a team to watch in the future. With no Ice Hockey natural environments it has managed to field a strong team in international tournaments. Their eyes are on the major international tournaments and with the determination, they have shown, this is coming soon. For the hockey betting enthusiasts, the Philippines is a country to watch, the odds are high that they will soon feature among the best in the region as well as in the international arena.

Why China’s Ice Hockey Team is So Bad

China’s men’s ice hockey team will be largely made up of players from the Kunlun Red Star team, which plays out of Beijing. But how will they fair against NHL superstars come the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing?

By Patrick Blennerhassett – South China Morning Post

China’s men’s ice hockey team, ranked 32nd in the world by the International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF), could find themselves as whipping boys in what will be a National Hockey League star-studded tournament come February at the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing.

How did we get here, with a team that has no business competing in this tournament? And why is China’s ice hockey team still so bad given it had as far back as 2015 to prepare for this eventuality after successfully lobbying the IIHF for a spot?

The IIHF bought into China’s push, as reported by China Sports Insider, because it has a “mandate to grow the game globally”, and China, the most populous country in the world with the second largest economy, catching hockey fever would be good for the sport.

When China was awarded the 2022 Winter Olympics eight years ago, it immediately set about pouring hundreds of millions of dollars into winter sports infrastructure and coaching with an eye on nabbing as many medals as possible on home soil. Reportedly, China has set a goal of having 300 million people actively participating in winter sports by 2022, which is part of a broader strategy by Xi Jinping to tackle the country’s growing obesity epidemic.

How badly will China’s men’s team do at the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing? Most KHL players never made the NHL

One of the initiatives was for China to have 800 ice rinks built by 2022, a number they have achieved as state news agency Xinhua reported. According to the IIHF, China has 537 indoor and 285 outdoor rinks for a total of 822. The ice hockey portion of Beijing 2022 will be held at the Wukesong Arena, which was originally built ahead of the 2008 Summer Olympics

However China’s men’s ice hockey team, which was drawn in a group with heavyweight contenders Canada, ranked first in the world, and the US (fourth), plus Germany (fifth) – has not seen its quality improve along with the rise in financial injections and government support. According to the IIHF there are only 537 men actively playing the game in the country, and 8,147 junior players. In comparison, Canada has 76,899 male and 429,173 junior players with a total of 2,860 indoor rinks and 5,000-plus outdoor rinks.

China will become the lowest-ranked team to ever qualify for the men’s ice hockey event at the Olympics, and games will be held on Olympic-sized ice, which tends to favour higher scoring games. The NHL will be sending its best players, which includes the top 10 points scorers for the 2020-21 regular season. This group features six Canadians (Connor McDavid, Brad Marchand, Mitch Marner, Nathan MacKinnon, Mark Scheifele and Sidney Crosby), two Americans (Auston Matthews and Patrick Kane) and one German (Leon Draisaitl). China will face all of these players in its first three group games.

Anytime China has been given a chance to show progress, it’s responded with abysmal appearances. In 2015, for the preliminary qualifications for the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, they participated in round robin play and lost to Serbia (ranked 29th), Spain (31st) and Iceland (35th) by a combined goal differential of minus-21.

At the 2019 World Championships, China competed in the second division, meaning they didn’t face any teams with anywhere near the skill level they will in Beijing, however they still went on to lose to Australia, Spain, Serbia and Croatia before defeating Belgium (ranked 36th) in the team’s final consolation match. Two years before that at the Asian winter games, against much more formidable opponents, China didn’t score a single goal in their three matches, losing to Japan 14-0, South Korea 10-0 and Kazakhstan 8-0.

Compounding all of this is the fact that China have not played an international game since 2019 due to the pandemic. NHL players, of which there will be an estimated 150 at the Olympics, will be in mid season form as the league is pausing its schedule for a month to accommodate the Games.

The IIHF looked into banning the men’s team from competing in the hope of avoiding an embarrassment for all involved at the Games. The IIHF reportedly pushed China to recruit and naturalize players, but few overseas Chinese players (most of whom are in Canada) were keen.

China Sports Insider also reported that China had been trying to recruit ethnically-Chinese North American players to play for Beijing-based Kunlun Red Star, who play in the Russian Kontinental Hockey League, however a falling-out between the Chinese Ice Hockey Association and that team made it difficult. This saw the CIHA essentially relieved of its duties, and the game’s overall management in the country taken over by the General Administration of Sports.

A China Daily article in August detailed a five-month training program the national team players were undertaking in Russia to get ready for the Games, but did little to detail how training in Russia among themselves would make them better players. The article stated the Chinese team will face a number of European national sides this December, but did not specify which nations.

“We have to be realistic,” said new head coach Ivan Zanatta, a former Italian national team manager and former KHL coach. “For me, the main objective is to gain the world’s respect. That’s a lot. It’s a huge challenge for China, but it’s a good challenge.”

Turns out Zanatta is part of a revolving door of coaches that previously included former NHL player Mark Dreyer, who was appointed nine months before Beijing 2022, but has since left the position for unknown reasons.

Back in 2014, according to The Economist, Xi told an interviewer in Sochi, Russia that ice hockey was his favourite winter sport to watch.

One wonders if he will able to sit through what will surely be four embarrassingly bad games, broadcast globally, for China’s ill-equipped men’s ice hockey team?

Why Hong Kong Ice Hockey Players Are feeling shut out

By

One of the first ice hockey games to take place in Hong Kong ended rather theatrically. In 1984, Swire Group opened a tiny rink at Taikoo Shing’s Cityplaza, and while it was an improvement on the old Lai Chi Kok Amusement Park ice rink, which had only metal handrails for boards, the new sheet of ice presented another challenge – it was right in the middle of a shopping mall.

During a heated game, an errant slapshot flew over the boards and smashed the window of a clothing store, sending screaming customers ducking for cover.

“I can neither confirm nor deny that it was me,” says Gary Lawrence, with a chuckle. “I think it was tipped, so I can’t take credit, or the blame for it.”

Lawrence, a former player with Yale University’s National Collegiate Athletic Association team, who was in town from New York on a business trip, soon moved to Hong Kong to help plant the seeds of ice hockey in the city, and make it a staple sport of the region. With an ample supply of expats from the game’s motherland of Canada and other ice hockey-playing nations, suffi­cient government coffers, and newer, better rinks being built, the sport seemed primed and ready to take off, just like Lawrence’s slapshot.

But it did not.

More than 35 years later, Keith Tsang Hing-yui, one of many promising young local players, quit Hong Kong’s national junior ice hockey team to take up lacrosse. He had not fallen out of love with the game, felt no pressure from his family, and it was not a matter of being able to afford the sometimes expensive equipment, which can run to thousands of dollars.

Players such as Tsang quitting the game has hung over the city’s ice hockey scene since he first laced up a pair of Bauer skates while still in junior school. And his reason for quitting, like so many other players, tells the story of a sport that had every opportunity to flourish but now finds itself as fragmented, disjointed and broken as ever – essentially, at war with itself. But why?

Soon after Beijing was named host of the 2022 Winter Olympics, in 2015, China set about pumping millions of dollars into winter sports infrastructure. One of the key investments was ice hockey rinks, with China aiming to have 800 built by this February in a bid to use the Olympics as a way to seed the game at home.

Troy Steenson (left) of the Hong Kong Tigers battles Zhang Dongdong of Beijing Peng Han at the Mega Ice 2009 Hockey 5s International A final in Hong Kong

North America’s National Hockey League (NHL) in turn set its sights on China, hosting its first game in Shanghai in 2017, and then another in Shenzhen in 2019, and will send its players to Beijing in 2022.

Ice hockey fever has hit the wider region too, with South Korea’s men’s national team now one of the top 20 in the world while Japanese-Canadian NHL star Nick Suzuki helped lead his Montreal Canadiens to the Stanley Cup Final this past season.

Dozens of North American prospects with Asian heritage are now standing at the threshold of the NHL, the sixth biggest sporting league in the world in terms of revenue, as the game begins to favour smaller, faster and more agile players such as Japanese-American Kailer Yamamoto, who plays for the Edmonton Oilers, and, of course, Suzuki, in Montreal.

While the popularity of ice hockey rises in a number of emerging markets across the planet, it has stagnated in Hong Kong, and the men’s team sits 48th in International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) rankings. This despite Hong Kong welcoming two new rinks in the past year, in Discovery Bay and at The Lohas, with an estimated 1,000 players, young and old, male and female, recreational and competitive, now making use of the city’s five full-size rinks.

And yet, Hong Kong has been passed by a number of similarly smaller countries and territories over the years, including the United Arab Emirates, Taiwan, Turkmenistan and even North Korea.

Local players point to an alleged lack of leadership within the Hong Kong Ice Hockey Association (HKIHA) as the main culprit behind this lack of progress.

An ongoing spat between community leaders and the HKIHA came to a head recently as the founder of Hong Kong’s largest ice hockey group sent a letter to government officials asking for change within the sport’s governing body.

China Hockey Group’s Gregory Smyth, who oversees an organisation that encompasses the most players, coaches, leagues and teams in the city, raised “a number of serious and interrelated issues with the HKIHA” in regards to a lack of transparency and professionalism. Smyth asked the Leisure and Cultural Services Department (LCSD) to help create an association that “leads with a strategic vision” and acts with “integrity and works with its members for the best of the sport”.

Gregory Smyth, director of the China Hockey Group

The LCSD responded to his letter, stating that it has “reminded the HKIHA to maintain [an] amicable relationship with their affiliated members and ice hockey associations. HKIHA has also been advised to offer their assistance to promote the sport of ice hockey. LCSD will continue to monitor the performance of HKIHA”.

Smyth, 53, a Canadian who has lived in Hong Kong and been part of the ice hockey scene since 1993, says this stock response is not enough, and that his “Time for Change Letter” is a culmination of years of frustration. He says he feels the HKIHA has hindered the game by taking an exclusive approach, an allegation supported by a number of key players past and present.

“There’s been no cooperation, they have no understanding of the game, there’s been no leadership from the association,” says Smyth. “They are hampering the development of ice hockey in Hong Kong.”

Smyth points to a YouTube video, since taken down, in which he contends HKIHA chairman Mike Kan Yeung-kit slandered him by comparing Smyth to former US president Donald Trump, and made a number of false accusations against him and the China Hockey Group (CHG).

“This is not appropriate behaviour for the sport’s highest official in Hong Kong,” Smyth wrote in his letter to the LCSD. “It reflects incredibly poorly on the HKIHA, LCSD, Hong Kong and the sport.”

HKIHA chairman Mike Kan

In response, the HKIHA stated that it would not comment on “any footage released by any individual person through his own private platform; even if that person holds any capacity in our association”.

Smyth’s letter to the LCSD also questioned whether the HKIHA understands its role as a “government funded national sporting body” and detailed grievances such as a lack of transparency in corporate governance and the plight of parents of ice hockey players who worry their children’s development is suffering due to a lack of cohesion within the hockey environment.

For example: there are no concrete player development strategies and there is no clear plan for recruiting coaches and training referees, which has created a sense of “confusion” and “misrepresentation” when it comes to how the sport should move forward.

According to Smyth’s letter, Kan has a conflict of interests when it comes to team selection for the various national programmes because he operates his own “Gold Club” leagues, and the perception is that players must play there if they want to represent Hong Kong internationally, which has created a “culture of intimidation” in which players fear getting on the wrong side of either Kan or the HKIHA, regardless of their level of play on the ice.

The HKIHA told Post Magazine in a written response that it did not understand the question relating to “conflict of interest on our selections of athletes for competitions” and “if anyone can raise these problems with us, we would like to listen, but those persons must produce concrete facts about what they refer to as conflict of interest, or the association cannot follow it up”.

Post Magazine requested an interview with Kan, but was told that “he is not in Hong Kong at the moment”.

HKIHA general secretary Annie Kwan Yuen-yee says that the association denies all the allegations outlined in this article, but admitted “there is always room for improvement”.

Lawrence, who still lives and works in Hong Kong and is a co-founder of the CHG, along with Smyth, has taken a back seat when it comes to the game.

Years of frustration and a lack of progress have left many, like Lawrence, simply too worn down to continue fighting what seems like an uphill battle against the HKIHA.

Having been part of the Hong Kong Typhoons Ice Hockey organisation, the city’s first youth programme, launched in 1992, Lawrence says he has witnessed disturbing behaviour over the years that shows a pattern in the way the HKIHA operates.

He claims that parents were told their children would never play for the national team unless they played exclusively under the HKIHA programmes, an allegation repeated by a number of other sources quoted in this article, including Smyth, players, coaches and managers who have no official ties to the CHG.

The HKIHA denied this allegation, stating players “have to join our feeder programme for training before being selected to represent Hong Kong. There are no other requirements. But joining the feeder programme will only give the player priority and not a must. We have never asked any player to play for our league before they can represent Hong Kong. They are free to play for any of the clubs”.

The CHG runs the only elite-level men’s league in the city, the China Ice Hockey League (CIHL), a full-contact league featuring the best players that played out of Mega Ice in Kowloon Bay but has moved to the Discovery Bay rink.

The CHG has been trying in vain since 2014 to have the league officially recognised by the HKIHA as Hong Kong’s accredited International Ice Hockey Federation league, which would allow teams to play in the World Championships, but Smyth says he has yet to receive a response.

With the vast majority of Hong Kong’s best players playing outside the HKIHA structure, there is an imbalance when it comes to finding the best talent to play for the city at an international level.

Two players, one a member of the men’s national team who spoke on condition of anonymity, and Tsang, agreed with the statement that players are bullied into playing under Kan’s “Gold League” and backed the assessment that the HKIHA operates in an exclusive, exclusionary manner. When Tsang was asked by Post Magazine about his thoughts on how the HKIHA is run and why he decided to quit the game to play lacrosse instead, he said the sentiment was crystal clear across the city’s ice hockey scene.

“Honestly, everyone knows they are poorly run,” says Tsang, outlining that the HKIHA is not living up to its role as a national sporting association. “There is no development at all.”

Kids playing on the ice hockey rink at Megabox in Hong Kong

Lawrence says this is a time when Hong Kong should be taking advantage of two new rinks, increased exposure for the game across Asia and more emphasis on the importance of physical activity for children in the city. But he says the opposite is happening: “There might have been a day when the sport was so insignificant here it didn’t matter, but the [Beijing Winter] Olympics are coming up and there are a lot more kids playing in China. And Hong Kong is going to get lost in the smoke if they don’t get more professionalism into their programmes.”

Grievances with the HKIHA run deep, touching every corner of the game, and dozens of people interviewed shared stories that paint a picture similar to that described in Smyth’s “Time for Change Letter”.

Keith Gee Kay Fong, CEO of Powerplay Sports & Entertain­ment, which runs the in-line league at Jordan YMCA, says the HKIHA does not represent the Hong Kong ice hockey community, and so clubs are left to their own devices when it comes to financing and promoting the game. He says this has been going on for years and is the reason the game has stagnated.

“It is ironic that several clubs have larger and a higher level of leagues and programmes despite the fact that the association has government funding,” says Fong, who has been deeply involved in the city’s hockey scene for more than two decades. “It’s just sad because ice hockey could be so much better in Hong Kong with the right leadership.”

According to the HKIHA’s website, the body is a “registered full member with the International Ice Hockey Federation and [an] associate member of [the] Sports Federation & Olympic Committee of Hong Kong, China”.

Established in 1980, it is responsible for the senior men’s national team, the women’s national team and the under-18 men’s team, however the vast majority of players play the game outside the HKIHA, something multiple sources say is not normal for a national sporting body.

Hong Kong has 10 registered ice hockey groups, but the two largest, comprising most of the players – the CHG and the Hong Kong Academy of Ice Hockey (HKAIH), along with the Hong Kong Amateur Hockey Club, which runs the Typhoons programme – do not have active HKIHA board representation. The HKIHA says it does not receive funding from the government with the intention of giving it to the clubs, and that anyone can run for election to the board.

Fong, like Lawrence and others, says attempts to get the government to help make the HKIHA more collaborative have fallen on deaf ears. Community members have tried to join the HKIHA in the hope of effecting change from within, but have been shut out from an organisation that is meant to be open, transparent and governed by rules and regulations that foster inclusivity.

Smyth’s letter was cc’d to the government’s Home Affairs Bureau, which oversees the LCSD, and to the Equal Opportunities Commission, asking for more clarity when it comes to the HKIHA board, voting membership and nominations, which are something of a mystery that the community feels should be clear, precise and easily explainable.

The HKIHA is set to hold an election next year, and Smyth said that the CHG “firmly believes that for ice hockey to succeed in Hong Kong, there must be changes to the HKIHA, namely through an open election in 2022 in order to be more representative of the sport in Hong Kong”.

The HKIHA responded: “We would like to reiterate that the association has been working directly with its members on a regular basis regarding our mission of promoting and developing ice hockey in Hong Kong; we also welcome all our members to provide valuable suggestions or recommendations on this mission for reference and discussions,” however, “we consider it inappropriate for us to disclose our discussions or disagreements with other persons or organisations regarding ice hockey development.”

Canadian John Laroche, who began playing ice hockey in Hong Kong in 1994 and took over the running of the Typhoons programme in 2006, sat on the board of the HKIHA from 2010 to 2014.

“The HKIHA has been poorly run since the 90s,” he says. “The problem is they have an autocratic leader who does things largely for his control of players and families, and does not open up to everybody to make the sport available.”

John Laroche, who runs the Typhoons programme and sat on the board of the HKIHA from 2010 to 2014, playing ice hockey in Hong Kong

In 2013, Laroche announced the launch of a Hong Kong National Youth Programme at the Typhoons annual general meeting, and invited Kan to attend. Kan stated to attendees, the families of children who played, that they would be able to represent Hong Kong, but, “we weren’t a week out of that meeting when the HKIHA announced that only kids who played for Mike Kan’s programmes would be able to play and wear those [Hong Kong national team] jerseys, and all of our coaches who were supposed to coach those teams were no longer invited”.

This meant that all the hard work Laroche had done to give children the opportunity to play internationally was for naught. Stuart Winchester, who was at the Typhoons meeting with Laroche in 2013 and corroborates his recollection of events, says this should set alarm bells ringing at the LCSD.

“It makes you wonder how the Hong Kong government is vetting everybody,” says Winchester, who now runs Dbees Ice Hockey, a youth development organisation. “[The HKIHA] is receiving money from the government and if anyone is vetting them they could see quite clearly that the job is not being done very well.”

Stuart Winchester (centre), who runs Dbees Ice Hockey, with his two sons

Canadian Bruce Hicks, who has been in Hong Kong since 1984 and runs his own investment management company, was also a co-founder of the Typhoons organisation. He remembers, in the early 2000s, bringing every ice hockey club together to form an organisation in the hope of lobbying the HKIHA and the Sports Federation & Olympic Committee to unify the sport.

“We went to them and said either change the leadership and get people who represent us, or support us directly,” says Hicks. “At that point we were the ones, almost entirely, who were promoting and growing the game.”

Hicks says the move backfired, the HKIHA retaliating by becoming even more isolated from the ice hockey community. Favouritism for Kan and his inner circle became the name of the game and teams were chosen for all the wrong reasons when it came to selecting national players.

“Because of a lack of leadership from the organisa­tion that represents these thousands of people who play the sport, it’s become incredibly exclusive and a detriment,” he says.

Herbert Chow Siu-lung, who founded The Rink at Elements mall in West Kowloon in 2007, says the HKIHA approached him in the strangest of ways looking for ice time soon after he opened.

“I remember their approach was unconventional, them being the ice sports association, asking us to use the ice for free, and then we asked them what their programmes were like, but they were not willing to share their programmes with us.

“So I was just left with the impression that these people were using the name of the [HKIHA] to try to get free ice and not really share their vision in terms of how they wanted to develop ice hockey, so we didn’t pursue anything with them because we didn’t like the way we were approached.”

Chow says he had to ban an HKIHA coach from his rink because of his intimidating and bullying demeanour, stating that the person in question was the secretary of the HKIHA at the time, and a part-time coach at the rink.

“He used his position to block other ice hockey associations from joining the HKIHA and one of them was my client,” says Chow. “I told him I could not allow him to coach at my rink any more because of his unethical behaviour at the association.”

Multiple people interviewed agreed that a lack of ice surfaces in Hong Kong remains an issue, because it creates a squeeze for slots and keeps prices high. The HKIHA says this is its biggest issue, that it does not have a dedicated sheet of ice that is government-funded.

American Tom Barnes, who helped build Hong Kong’s ice hockey scene through local leagues and regional tournaments dating back to 1994, agrees. He started sports marketing company Asiasports in 1996 to operate such events. Barnes has since moved back to the US where he manages a number of leagues in St Louis, Missouri, which is known as a hockey hotbed.

“I think [Kan] needs help lobbying the local governments to build more facilities, similar to here in the US, where 75 per cent of the ice venues are operated through community Parks and Rec departments of local governments,” he says. “The greater St Louis metropolitan area is roughly three million people and we have 25 sheets of ice and nine roller hockey pads.”

Many organisations have tried to bring in outside coaching talent to help further the game in Hong Kong, but most do not stay for more than a few years. One of those was Simon Ferguson, who came from Canada in 2017 to work with the Typhoons and remained for two years. He says dealing with the HKIHA was frustrating.

“There was no real working with them,” says Ferguson, who is now a coach in Kelowna, British Columbia, Canada, another hockey hotbed. “We had to build our own shooting centre because we spent the first half of the year trying to utilise some of the assets they had, as they had a shooting centre and a skating treadmill, and we wanted to cooperate and work together. And they were not interested at all in having anyone run it.”

Ferguson adds that HKIHA representatives tried to pull children from the Typhoons organisation.

“The best way to describe it is that it’s very exclu­sive,” he says. “They would threaten kids who were six or eight years old that if they didn’t play on their teams they’d never play for the national team.”

Two members of Hong Kong’s ice hockey community with a direct link to the HKIHA, who spoke on condi­tion of anonymity, say that part of this exclusive nature relates to a reluctance to let expatriates into the association’s power structure.

“There’s definitely an unwillingness to be open to foreign influence,” says one. “There was definitely this sense of, ‘This is ours and you mind your own business.’”

Mike Lam, raised in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, founded Kung Pow Kings Hockey in 2014, and has also coached in Luxembourg. He says the HKIHA does not behave like a normal national sporting body.

“At the end of the day, the association’s job is to bring together the best players around the region,” says Lam, an ice hockey coach since 2007. “And it doesn’t matter if you’re rich or poor – if you’re good, you should be on that team, and you should represent Hong Kong, and I don’t know if that is happening.”

Mike Lam, who founded the youth hockey group Kung Pow Kings Hockey in 2014, in Mong Kok

The HKIHA says it does not want to be compared to other ice hockey associations because it is “very small” and attributes the fall in the international rankings to financial issues and a lack of funding from the government.

“This is mainly because our major Asian rivals such as Thailand [ranked 50th] and UAE [47th] are receiving support from their governments to provide full-time training for their players or bringing players from other countries while in Hong Kong we don’t have any full-time players.

“That’s why their rankings are improving. We have already done our best to promote the game in Hong Kong with 70 to 80 per cent of government subsidy going to the venue charges. Also, we lack sufficient players coming through the ranks.”

The HKIHA reports receiving HK$3 million (US$386,000) from the LCSD, stating that most of the money goes to fees for ice time. Representatives of local ice hockey groups say they have never received financial support for their programmes, which are designed to help grow the game and foster the next generation of talent, and that with extra funding they could help increase the ice time available to players of all ages.

Smyth points to the Hong Kong Rugby Union (HKRU) as being a model the HKIHA could follow. The sport is not inherent to Asian culture but the men’s and women’s programmes are ranked highly while drawing from a relatively small population.

Smyth notes the HKRU regularly recruits talented players and coaches from abroad, helping them find jobs in the city to supplement salaries, while dedicating resources to growing the game at the grass-roots level in an inclusive manner. All of the HKRU’s national team players also play in a premier domestic league run by the union, and many help coach various youth programmes with their respective clubs.

Hong Kong’s IIHF representative is Thomas Jefferson Wu, who was elected to the council in 2012 as vice-president and serves as honorary president of the HKIHA.

Wu, who also runs the HKAIH, says a representative team must be a grass-roots initiative: “Successful hockey nationals have sustainable development programmes for domestic participants, as opposed to only targeting imported talent. Simply put, a national team has to be made up of nationals from that country or region, a foundation of the Olympic charter.”

Wu was also sent a copy of Smyth’s letter by the CHG, but did not respond to a request for comment by Post Magazine.

Thomas Wu, vice-president of the IIHF and honorary president of the HKIHA, at Kitec in Kowloon Bay in 2014

Thirty-one players with Asian and South Asian roots have played in the NHL since Larry Kwong became the first person of Asian descent to take a shift in 1948. Nine played at least one game in the 2020-21 season, and the NHL estimates there are an additional 14 players of Asian descent “in the pipeline” who could make their debut in the next few years.

The game is diversifying rapidly, with the emergence of players with multicultural backgrounds from across North America and Europe, from where the league primarily draws its talent.

New spots across the world are beginning to emerge and produce what could be a future generation of Asian talent. China now has a professional team, Beijing-based Kunlun Red Star, which has had dozens of players of Asian heritage on its roster, mostly Chinese-Canadians.

Hong Kong’s most famous ice hockey coach is former New York Rangers captain Barry Beck. The 64-year-old Canadian came to the city in 2007 and says that, sadly, the situation remains similar today.

“Things haven’t changed much over 14 years,” says Beck, formerly head coach of the HKAIH, one of Wu’s development leagues. “We don’t get a lot of support from the government and they don’t really see us as a sport yet.”

Beck, who played 615 games in the NHL and coached the Hong Kong men’s national team for three years, says ice hockey in Hong Kong is not living up to its potential. One of his big goals when he came to the city was to get a Hongkonger into the NHL, something that is yet to happen.

“This all comes from leadership and it’s been a confusing and muddled picture since I’ve been here,” says Beck. “I just think that the [HKIHA] are the leaders of hockey in Hong Kong, and we are all members of the association, everyone who plays hockey in Hong Kong. Are we getting the right leadership to take hockey where we want to, and will we ever be able to do that here?”

Hong Kong finds itself at a crossroads when it comes to its local sports scene, the city’s team having grabbed an unprecedented six medals (one gold, two silvers and three bronze) at the Tokyo Olympics, which was followed by a pledge from Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor that the government will inject HK$1.1 billion into five areas to boost sports across the city.

This Olympic fever is likely to be doused come February and Beijing 2022. Hong Kong is not expected to win any medals and may send just two athletes in one discipline. This stands in contrast with a number of Asian sporting bodies – Japan, South Korea and, of course, China – that will all look to build on their impressive medal hauls at the last Winter Olympics, in Pyeongchang, South Korea, in 2018.

The head referee for the CIHL is Canadian Chris Ivany, who has been in Hong Kong since 2011 and who also runs hockey podcast Across the Pond, He says the sport’s official body in the city should be an accurate reflection of the community, however, he is not sure that is the case. Ivany says this needs to start at the top, and work its way down, rather than the other way around.

“There are a lot of great people within the various hockey organisations here doing amazing things to grow the sport,” says Ivany. “I believe that bringing the leaders of these different organisations together and providing equal opportunity and representation on the HKIHA board of directors would go a long way in furthering the game.”

Hockey in Holon: Ice sport takes over Holy Land despite heat

Holon Vipers forward Yan Raskin protects the puck from Bat Yam Dolphins defenseman Jake Nowry

Ben Barch – The Jerusalem Post

Holon, and pretty much all of Israel, is very hot and humid in the summertime. Those are awful conditions for playing ice hockey. But at the Israel Elite Hockey League, Israel’s premier summer hockey league, it happens anyway.

Walk into Ice Peaks in Holon for a game and you’ll find players with tzitzit flying, skating around, playing against their Israeli peers or even foreign professionals.

“You get the North American experience right here [in Israel],” Jerusalem Capitals captain Itzik Levy said. “They are hard games, especially in this league with guys from North America and Europe. It’s really a fun experience. It’s fast-paced, it’s a smaller rink, so you’re getting to see a lot of action, it’s nonstop movement. I think you’ll get a kick out of it. The level of hockey is actually really high considering the imports and the Israeli mix.”

Unfortunately, the quality of play is far from that of North America’s National Hockey League or Europe and Asia’s Kontinental Hockey League. You just can’t compare Israeli players to NHL stars like Sidney Crosby, Connor McDavid or Alex Ovechkin. As the rink is smaller than NHL rinks, they play four on four (as opposed to the traditional five on five) with modified rules.

But he’s right that it’s a fun experience. The league currently plays all of its games at Ice Peaks, which is akin to a local rink in a small town in North America. Before the league’s playoff games, people were enjoying an open skating session when the rink manager announced that there would be a hockey game right after. Many people stayed and enjoyed it.

There were about 100 people in attendance for the playoff games on June 26. There were parents with their kids, relatives of players, and even adults who stuck around for the spectacle. The small arena got pretty loud after goals.

“It’s very interesting and crazy,” Tal, who was watching his first live hockey game, said. “It’s not the sport I see every day. I think it could be popular, but we don’t see it enough on TV.” He said that if Israeli TV broadcasted the league, he’d watch. 

If you know about the league, getting in or watching games is very easy. Tickets were free this season, but might cost as much as NIS 20 next summer. The games are also broadcast live on the Israel National Hockey Society YouTube channel. But there’s not much national publicity about the league.

“I think the greatest message that this league is sending to these guys that are not Israeli or not Jewish is what Israel is really about,” Levy said. “It’s a democracy, it’s free life, it’s being able to live your dream, live your life and go all out. I think we gain big fans of Israel, and I think they’re going to spread the message and hopefully more players will come next year.”

THE CULTURAL osmosis works both ways. For those Israelis who were exposed to the game and were able to crack the IEHL, the league serves as an incredible development tool.

“Bringing in these players from the US, Canada, Germany, France and Russia helps raise the level of the Israeli guys even further,” Brunengraber said. “That, in turn, helps the Israeli national league and helps the national team program by having our summer league serve as an incubator to really help those guys gain experience beyond just skating and stick-handling, but learning how to ‘think’ the game with guys from traditional hockey markets.”

It’s important to note that this league, like the Israel National Hockey Society, functions outside of the jurisdiction of the Ice Hockey Federation of Israel (IHFI), the governing body of ice hockey in Israel. However, some players compete in both the IEHL and the IHFI’s main league, which consists mostly of Israelis.

Israel became a member of the International Ice Hockey Federation, the worldwide governing body of the sport, in 1991. The national team won gold at the Division II Group B World Championships in 2019. They were promoted to Division II Group A, but the last two tournaments were canceled due to COVID-19 restrictions. They still have a long way to climb before reaching the Top Division.

 But there is tremendous potential to grow the game in Israel. The country has a sizable population of olim from hockey-loving countries. Those who built connections to teams back home have to wake up in the middle of the night to watch them live. Having a local league could help these olim develop a deeper love of their country.

The Israelis who were at Ice Peaks and experienced the atmosphere of a hockey game firsthand could also support a quality league.

Still, there are plenty of hurdles the league needs to jump to come close to their European or American counterparts. Having the European influence on the team could provide insight into what they could do better.

“The training facilities [could be better], the rink here is good but you have no fixed locker rooms, you have really small ice, the ice quality is nowhere near Germany or Europe, the professionality of the people – they show up five minutes before practice – you’d never see that in Europe,” Fischbacher, who normally plays minor league hockey in Germany, said.

He also said Israel needs to build more rinks, preferably in the Tel Aviv area. Additionally, they need to hire more coaches, get young people on the ice and provide summer training.

“There’s a lot of things to do here, but maybe that’s a good start,” he said. “It’s really important. They have to do it or there’s no future, to be honest.”

The 2021 season ended on July 31 with HC Tel Aviv taking home gold. The Holon Vipers won silver and the Jerusalem Capitals won bronze. The league has multiple sponsorship deals and is already gearing up for the Summer 2022 season.

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 – IIHF.com

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 – Philstar.com

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 – NHL.com

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 Chinanews.com 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 – NHL.com

As part of the NHL Green initiative celebrating Green Month in April, NHL.com 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 – IIHF.com

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.

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