Category: Asia (Page 1 of 12)

Hockey Philippines hails new coach

New Philippine ice hockey coach Juhani Ijäs at the SM Mall of Asia Ice Skating Rink on Monday, Oct. 3, 2022. PHOTO FROM HOCKEY PHILIPPINES INSTAGRAM

By Aric John Sy Cua – The Manila Times

Juhani Ijäs of Finland has been formally installed as head coach and program director of the Philippine ice hockey team.

The Finnish coach was introduced on Saturday on the Hockey Philippines Facebook page and was shown skating at the Mall of Asia ice rink in an Instagram post on Wednesday.

“We welcome Juhani Ijäs to Hockey Philippines,” the Instagram post read. “The Finnish national will take on his role as national head coach and program director of Hockey Philippines.”

“Juhani spent five successful years with the ice hockey program of Thailand and will now bring his vast experience to the Philippines,” Hockey Philippines added on its Instagram post.

Ijäs was previously the head coach of Thailand’s national team, which clinched the gold medal in the 2019 Southeast Asian Games held at the SM Mall of Asia ice skating rink. According to hockey statistics website Elite Prospects, he coached the Thais from 2017 to 2022 before being named to the Philippine national team.

The 37-year-old former ice hockey defenseman played in junior leagues in the United States, and professional leagues in Finland, the United Arab Emirates and Thailand.

He was also an assistant coach of the UAE’s national ice hockey team from 2011 to 2016.

Yuval Halpert: From Israel to McKendree, and Back

By: Dylan Powell – The McKendree Review

Yuval Halpert is a 21 year old freshman forward for the McKendree Men’s DI Hockey team. Recently, Halpert has taken on another position: forward on the Israeli national hockey team!

Yuval grew up just south of Tel Aviv, Israel. “I started playing inline hockey when I was 9 and moved to ice when I was 12. I fell in love with the game of hockey and traveled all over the world playing it” noted Halpert. He first made the Israeli National Team when he was 15, playing in the under 20 year-old class world championship, and since then participated in 9 world championships. Halpert also racked up 2 gold medals, and 1 silver, participating as captain of the under 18 year-old and under 20 year-old teams from 2018 to 2020. 

While he was off of the ice, he served in the Israeli military as a fitness instructor for combat soldiers, recently being released over Christmas break after three years of service. 

At McKendree, Yuval is an exercise science major and a sports psychologist, with a goal of becoming a physical therapist or an athletic trainer, working with athletes. He played Men’s DI hockey for the Bearcats this past season.

Currently, he is in Slovenia in training camp for the world championship in Croatia. Soon, the Israeli National Team will be playing against China, Croatia, the Netherlands, Spain, and Australia. “We have players coming from all around the world, in countries such as the USA, Canada, Israel, Ukraine, and Germany to be a part of the national team. During the season, we play in different places, but for two weeks a year, we are seeing each other and representing our country” said Halpert.

Speaking on his preparation for the tournament, Yuval mentioned the struggles of Covid and the amount of work the team has been putting in. “I’ve been waiting for this week and championship the entire year, especially after a 2 year break because of Covid. All of the guys that are here are guys I grew up with, and the only way I can see them is playing in the world championship, so it’s pretty fun being with all of them. I’ve been skating and working out every day for the past two months before the tournament, with some video sessions.” 

Given the amount of time that has passed since the last tournament, Halpert was relieved to get the call to return to the world stage, playing the game he grew up on with the teammates he has played with for several years. We wish Yuval the best this coming week in the world tournament!

Women pucksters rising the ranks

Team China captain Yu Baiwei lifts the trophy after winning the IIHF Women’s World Championship Division I Group B event in Katowice, Poland, last week.

By Sun Xiaochen – China Daily

Chinese national team builds on Beijing 2022 campaign with promotion to Group A of world championship

A new day is dawning for Chinese ice hockey, with the national women’s team’s promotion to the second tier of the world championship building on the momentum of the Beijing 2022 campaign.

The Chinese women won five straight games to emerge victorious last week at the International Ice Hockey Federation Women’s World Championship Division I Group B event in Katowice, Poland, thereby claiming a spot in the Group A tournament next year.

After doing home fans proud with its solid performances at Beijing 2022 in February, China is back in Group A-a second-tier event in the IIHF system-for the first time since 2011. Previously, China had been in the world championship’s top tournament, above the divisions from I-III, from 1992 until 2009, finishing fourth at the 1994 and 1997 top-tier worlds, as well as at the 1998 Winter Olympics in Nagano, Japan.

Team China’s impressive run in Poland, capped by a decisive 7-2 win over the host, has built upon the excitement generated during the Beijing Winter Olympics to draw more attention to the sport in a country where ice hockey’s popularity is taking off, especially at youth level.

Yu Baiwei, Team China’s captain and the oldest member of the squad, couldn’t contain her joy after sealing the long-awaited promotion.

“I don’t think I can put it into words. I am just so excited that we’ve made our way back toward the top. It’s a new beginning, and there will be more challenges ahead,” said the 33-year-old Yu, who has experienced plenty of ups and downs over the past 17 years with the squad.

Yu made her national team debut in 2005, when the women’s program began its decade-long struggle following its 1990s heyday.

The home Olympics came just in time with stronger State-funded support helping veterans like Yu return to the Olympic stage after the team’s last appearance at the 2010 Games in Vancouver, Canada.

“I think that playing in the Olympics after missing out on the Games for so long gave us so much confidence,” said Yu, who hails from traditional winter sports hotbed Heilongjiang province in Northeast China.

“We’ve shown what we learned and how we improved from the Olympics at the world championship. It boosted our faith that we can take another step further next year.”

Hot on the heels of the women’s event, China’s men’s squad will also fight for a promotion spot at the Division II Group A worlds, which begin on April 25 in Croatia.

Progression up the annual championship system toward the top divisions was set as a post-Beijing 2022 goal for China’s national ice hockey program leading up to the 2026 Winter Olympics in Italy.

China hopes to at least qualify its 17th-ranked women’s team as a top-division contender; at Beijing 2022, both the men and women qualified directly as host.

A naturalization policy which has added a competitive legion of North American-born players with Chinese heritage is expected to continue through the 2026 Games.

Almost half of the current women’s squad’s 24 members were born or developed their game in the US or Canada.

They were selected at tryout camps as early as 2017 to join the Chinese national program, which is jointly run by the Chinese Ice Hockey Association, KHL Russia-based partner club Kunlun Red Star and its women’s affiliate, the Vanke Rays.

After playing together in the Russian and Canadian professional leagues, China’s homegrown players and their more experienced overseas-born teammates at both KRS and the Vanke Rays have built a strong camaraderie on their mission to help grow the sport in China.

“Overall, I think we’re playing really well,” said Team China center Lin Qiqi, known as Leah Lum in her birth country, Canada.

“The coach has given us a lot of freedom to play how we’ve been playing all year and the team has a lot of chemistry,” said the University of Connecticut alumna whose grandparents were born in China.

Lin Qiqi and US-born Lin Ni, aka Rachel Llanes, both finished with seven goals and 15 points to lead both those categories at the Group B championship.

After playing on the Vanke Rays with their native Chinese teammates for several seasons, first in the Canadian women’s league and then the Russian system, the overseas-born players are proud to represent their ancestors’ nation on the ice.

“We’ve kind of been in and out of the lines in the four years but it’s been pretty solidified this past season. We know each other and how everyone plays, so it’s been really good,” said Lin Qiqi.

Malaysia national team skating on thin ice

Source: The Sun Daily

 It’s been a rough ride for the national men’s ice hockey team ahead of their debut at the 2022 IIHF (International Ice Hockey Federation) World Championship Division IV in Bishek, Kyrgyzstan, from March 3 to 9.

Not only the team has been hit hard by Covid-19, the virus has certainly taken a toll on their preparations especially the training sessions here, for the Kyrgyzstan’s outing.

Apart from the head coach, Gary Tan, who was appointed to helm the national team merely three weeks ago, five out of 20 players were tested positive for Covid-19.

“I couldn’t get much time to get to know my players as I was tested positive Covid-19 more than a week after I got appointed on Feb 6.

“The only thing I could do during my quarantine period was to coach them online instead of training physically on the ice ring…luckily, those who were tested positive are fine and can represent the country in Kyrgyzstan,” Gary told Bernama when contacted.

The hassle did not end there though.

After the tournament, which was supposed to be held in 2020, was delayed to this year, the 43-year-old coach lamented that the Movement Control Order which was enforced to contain the pandemic in the country before had restricted the squad’s preparation for the competition.

“While our players resumed their training last September, the other teams had prepared well for the tournament…some of them did not even go through lockdowns and train consistently as usual,” he added.

Apart from the head coach, Gary Tan, who was appointed to helm the national team merely three weeks ago, five out of 20 players were tested positive for Covid-19.

“I couldn’t get much time to get to know my players as I was tested positive Covid-19 more than a week after I got appointed on Feb 6.

“The only thing I could do during my quarantine period was to coach them online instead of training physically on the ice ring…luckily, those who were tested positive are fine and can represent the country in Kyrgyzstan,” Gary told Bernama when contacted.

The hassle did not end there though.

After the tournament, which was supposed to be held in 2020, was delayed to this year, the 43-year-old coach lamented that the Movement Control Order which was enforced to contain the pandemic in the country before had restricted the squad’s preparation for the competition.

“While our players resumed their training last September, the other teams had prepared well for the tournament…some of them did not even go through lockdowns and train consistently as usual,” he added.

“The preparations have been tough but kudos to my players as they have been working hard in training, be it online or physically,” he said.

Asked about his target, Gary pointed out that he’ll be elated if his team could register a win or two in the league-format tournament.

Not only that, Gary said he will ensure that Malaysia will give their opponents a run for their money in the competition which will be held at the Gorodskoi Katok rink in Bishek.

The Malaysian team, who will be flying off early tomorrow (March 1), will open their campaign against Kuwait on March 3, followed by hosts Kyrgyzstan (March 4), Singapore (March 7) and Iran (March 9).-

Singapore to make world championship debut in Division IV

By Laura Chia – The Straits Times

After winning a historic silver at the 2019 SEA Games in the Philippines, national men’s ice hockey captain Daniel Chew was keen to continue the team’s upward trajectory.

But the pandemic stalled their progress for nearly two years, with the team returning to the ice only late last year.

But things are starting to pick up again, as they will make their world championship debut next month.

World No. 55 Singapore will take on Iran (unranked), Kuwait (51st), Malaysia (53rd) and hosts Kyrgyzstan (52nd) at the March 3-9 Ice Hockey World Championship Division IV in Bishkek.

The tournament had been scheduled for 2020 and later 2021 but was cancelled because of the pandemic.

This event is the lowest tier of the International Ice Hockey Federation’s (IIHF) world championship competitions, with the teams typically split by world ranking. There is also a promotion and relegation system between the four divisions. The winners of Division IV will be promoted to Division IIIB.

Chew, who is self-employed, told The Straits Times it has been a long wait and he hopes the team can come home with a medal.

The 42-year-old, who has been with the team since 2008, said: “It’s a great step for us because it shows that a small country like us can play in the world championship and that’s quite an achievement.”

This will also be Singapore’s first time competing in an international competition. They usually play only in the IIHF Challenge Cup of Asia against other similarly lower-tier Asian teams.

Singapore Ice Hockey Association development director Joewe Lam is aiming for a podium finish for the team, but also wants the 20 players making the trip to learn from playing against higher-ranked opponents.

Lam, 33, said: “We can’t always be playing against teams in the region. We need to go out and play against better teams, learn how aggressive they are and how good they are, then apply it to our game.

“But although they haven’t been playing for a while, they have to stay positive and can’t be scared just because they’re playing better teams.

“Our team has a good mix of youth and experienced players so they balance each other out and they just have to play their game and see where it takes them.”

One of the players, Ryan Goh, felt this could be a big turning point for the sport.

The 18-year-old, who will be enlisting for national service after the tournament, said: “This will bolster our confidence as a team and help us take on bigger challenges. I’m excited but also nervous. We were a bit rusty when we returned to the ice but most of the team are quite fit and we got back our flow after a while.

“The rest of the teams will be in the same situation so the playing ground will be quite even and if we just do our best and play hard, I think we stand a fighting chance.”

Teammate Aaron Kok, who has been in the team since 2017, added that he hopes their stint will help fellow Singaporeans understand the sport better.

The 45-year-old, who works as a delivery man, said: “The sport is very interesting and fast-paced. We want to prove that even though we’re a small country, we do train hard and can make it to the world stage. Hopefully this attracts more people, especially the next generation, to learn the sport.”

To support the team’s trip, which is mainly self-funded by the players, visit this website.

The rise and demise of South Korea’s Olympic ice hockey dream

By Sunghee Hwang – Yahoo Sports

As 2018 hosts, South Korea dreamed of Olympic ice hockey glory, importing a star coach and roster of players. Four years later, not only did they fail to qualify for this week’s Beijing Games, most of their players quit the sport.

The team’s demise — hastened by the Covid-19 pandemic — is symbolic of how the Pyeongchang Games four years ago failed to spur much in the way of lasting interest in winter sports in South Korea and investment dried up.

The ice hockey minnows were granted an automatic berth for their home Olympics, leaving officials scrambling to assemble a competitive men’s team in a country with only a handful of professional players.

Their solution: give seven North American players new passports and places in the squad, hire an ex-National Hockey League (NHL) player as coach and pump money into training and facilities.

The team lost all of their three matches at the Olympics, but South Korea gradually climbed from 31st to 16th in the world rankings.

Then the pandemic hit, games were suspended and play in the regional league cancelled for two consecutive seasons, meaning little match time for players.

They ended up training in car parks.

“Olympics was great, the media coverage and everything was fantastic, the interest was climbing,” head coach Jim Paek, the first Korea-born NHL player to win the Stanley Cup, told AFP.

“Then boom. All these other obstacles happened,” said Paek, who remains the coach but saw the 2018 Olympic team gradually fall apart.

Six out of the seven naturalised players returned to North America, forced into early retirement when their contracts were not renewed after public interest and cash for the team dwindled.

They got married, they had babies, and they moved on, Paek said.

“They gotta continue their life,” he added. “They can’t just stay stagnant.”

The public — which enjoyed a brief obsession with ice hockey during the Pyeongchang Games, especially after the women united with North Korea to field a unified team — has also moved on.

– Training in car parks –

The only one of the 2018 imports to remain in South Korea is goalie Matt Dalton — now the sole Canadian-born player on the team.

Many of his former team-mates would have liked to stay, he said, but due to the problems caused by the pandemic and declining public interest in the sport, it “just didn’t work out”.

Because of Covid, players had little in the way of competitive action or opportunity to stay in game shape before the qualifiers for the Beijing Olympics.

South Korea’s virus measures also meant training facilities were shut down, forcing the players to practise in indoor car parks.

The team lost all three games in the final Olympic qualifying tournament, scoring three times while conceding 19 goals.

“When you go in with nothing, it’s pretty tough to come out with something,” Paek said.

– ‘Nothing to show for it’ –

South Korea bars dual citizenship but it revised immigration law ahead of the 2018 Olympics to allow “qualified” foreign nationals to hold multiple citizenships.

It wasn’t just for hockey: they imported 19 athletes ahead of the Games, out of 144 competing overall, for events including biathlon and luge.

At the time, local media questioned whether athletes would abandon their new passports and leave after the Games — a prediction that has largely come true.

In addition to the six departed ice hockey players, cross-country skier Magnus Kim, who is South Korean/Norwegian, switched his allegiance to Norway three months after the Pyeongchang Olympics.

“I didn’t think it was worth putting my future at stake to ski here,” he told Yonhap news agency.

Aggressive investments and imported athletes helped South Korea to avoid humiliation at the Pyeongchang Games — finishing in seventh place with 17 medals, including five gold.

But for the Beijing Games, which start on Friday, Korea has scaled back its ambitions, aiming for just two gold medals and a top-15 finish.

The government’s financial support for winter sports has fizzled out.

“All the hard work everybody put in and the time and the blood, sweat and tears that were put in… there’s nothing to show for it anymore, really, except for memories,” said Paek.

“We are back to square one again it seems like.”

Ice sports event concludes in Hunza

By Jamil Nagri – Dawn

The first five-day national ice sports competitions concluded in Ghulkin village of the Upper Hunza area on Sunday.

The Altit SCARF team became the National Ice Hockey, 2022, champion defeating the Ghulkin Winter Club 2-0.

The SCARF won all its matches. It defeated the Ghulkin Winter Club 2-0, Yasin Janbaz 3-0 and GB Scouts 3-0.

The event was organised by the Ghulkin Winter Club in collaboration with the Pakistan Winter Sports Federation.

A total of 20 teams of men and women from Punjab, Sindh, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Azad Jammu and Kashmir, GB Scouts, PAF, Skardu, Yasin Ghizer, Khalti Ghizer, Nagar, Altit Hunza, Ghulkin Hunza, Karimabad Hunza and Chipurson Hunza participated in the ice skating, ice hockey, ice football and ice polo contests.

The concluding ceremony was attended by Force Commander of the Force Command Northern Areas Major-General Jawwad Ahmad, GB senior minister retired Colonel Ubaidullah Baig, chief secretary retired Captain Mohammad Asif, GB Winter Sports Federation president retired Colonel Amjad Wali, civil and military officials, and winter sports fans.

The five-day national ice sports competitions had started in Gulkin on Jan 18.

Handicraft and Food Street were set up during the festival, elders danced to traditional music.

Prizes, models and certificates were distributed on the occasion.

Three and a half years old Mahnoor from Hoper valley of Nagar district became the first girl to participate in the competitions. She got the silver medal in the ice skating competition.

Earlier, the week-long Karakoram Winterlude-4 competition concluded in the Altit area of Hunza.

The events of ice hockey, ice climbing, mountain cycling and other winter sports were part of it. The concluding ceremony was held in Altit of Hunza, where Force Commander of the Force Command Northern Areas Major-General Jawwad Ahmad was the chief guest.

Minister retired Colonel Ubaidullah Baig, government officials and a large number of people attended it.

Hirano aiming to become first Japan-born skater in NHL

By William Douglas – NHL.com

Yushiroh Hirano got an offer from the then-coach of Cincinnati of the ECHL that he couldn’t refuse.

“Matt Thomas called me and said, ‘I will let you score 35 goals if you come play for my team,'” Hirano said. “That’s when I decided to sign a contract with them.”

The 26-year-old forward from Tomakomai, Japan, appeared well on his way to that 35-goal mark, scoring 29 points (16 goals, 13 assists) in 25 games for Cincinnati before he signed a professional tryout agreement with Abbotsford, the Vancouver Canucks’ American Hockey League affiliate, on Jan. 5. Hirano made history Saturday when he became the first Japanese player born in the country to score in the AHL, on a one-timer 10 seconds into the first period against San Diego. He has scored two goals in six AHL games.

He led Cincinnati in goals, points and power-play goals (seven) and was the third-leading scorer in the ECHL before the call-up to Abbotsford. He was the ECHL Player of the Week for Dec. 6-12 after he scored 11 points (six goals, five assists) in four games.

“He has an NHL-caliber shot, hands down,” Cincinnati coach Jason Payne said. “With that shot, he just needs a split second to find that opening. And if he does, there’s a good chance that puck is going to find the back of the net and find it fast.”

Hirano is hoping to become the first Japan-born skater to play in the NHL and build on the legacy of players of Japanese heritage that includes 2017 Hockey Hall of Fame inductee Paul Kariya, Montreal Canadiens forward Nick Suzuki and Edmonton Oilers forward Kailer Yamamoto.

Yutaka Fukufuji, a goalie, became the first Japan-born player to appear in the NHL when he debuted with the Los Angeles Kings against the St. Louis Blues on Jan. 13, 2007.

It’s a quest that has taken Hirano from Japan to Sweden, then Youngstown, Ohio, in the United States Hockey League, and Wheeling, West Virginia, in the ECHL since 2012.

Hirano (6-foot, 216 pounds) also attended development camp with the San Jose Sharks in 2016 and Chicago Blackhawks in 2015. He said he feels age and experience is getting him closer to his goal.

“I have learned how important it is to showcase my best attributes as a player, recognizing my weaknesses via feedback from the coaches, and learned what the differences are between drafted players and myself,” Hirano said in written responses to questions. “I know I’ve gotten closer to the best league in the world. However, I understand that it is not an easy task to crack an NHL lineup, so my focus now has been showcasing what I can do and put up numbers in the AHL.”

Producing offense never has been a problem for Hirano. He has scored 121 points (48 goals, 73 assists) in 144 ECHL games with Wheeling and Cincinnati, and scored 46 points (24 goals, 22 assists) in 54 games for Youngstown of the USHL in 2015-16.

He played one game for Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, the Pittsburgh Penguins’ AHL affiliate, in 2018-19, and became the first Asia-born player to score a point (an assist) in AHL history.

Hirano has played for Japan in International Ice Hockey Federation world championship and junior world championship tournaments. He scored eight points (six goals, two assists) in five games as captain for Japan’s at the IIHF 2015 World Junior Championship Division I, Group B tournament, and scored three goals in five games for Japan at the 2015 IIHF World Championship Division I, Group A tournament.

He said he’s using his time in the North American minor leagues to work on his defense and reading plays.

“One thing I’ve noticed and learned in the last few years in the ECHL is that how one mistake can change the scenario of the game,” he said. “In the AHL, it is evident that there are less mistakes on the ice all around.”

The son of a former national team player for Japan, Hirano wasn’t widely known at first in North America, largely because his country isn’t a hockey power. Its men’s national team is ranked 25th by the IIHF and its women’s team is ranked sixth in the world.

“Hockey in Japan is not nearly as popular as it is in North America,” he said, “and there are definitely areas of the sport we all want to see improve. But I think we are doing our best to make the change and make hockey one of the major sports in Japan.”

Hirano said he hopes to be part of that change by reaching the NHL.

“Absolutely,” he said. “I’m thinking about that every day.”

Kuwait National Ice Hockey Team awaits ‘time to shine’

Kuwait Men’s National Team

By Ben Garcia – Kuwait Times

The Kuwait National Ice Hockey Team Federation is currently busy preparing for its national team to participate in the upcoming 3rd GCC Games set to be held in Kuwait on January 9-19, 2022. “We want to win. That’s our objective,” started Khaled Mubarak Al-Mutairi, the Vice Chairman of the Board of Kuwait Winter Games Club, which manages the Kuwait National Ice Hockey (KNIH) men’s and women’s teams.

The teams are participating in a three-week camp in Turkey starting today for some “rigid training” in preparation for the tournament, Mutairi said. Kuwait looks at the GCC Games as an opportunity to showcase its skills not only in hockey, but other games to be featured in the regional tournament.

Kuwait’s national women’s hockey team

KNIH has been an associate member of the International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF), an international organization for ice hockey and in-line hockey based in Zurich, Switzerland, and has 81 member countries. But Mutairi admits that winter games are not very common among Kuwaitis. Yet, he says national players can compete on a high level through practice and perseverance, fueled by the love of the game.

“Even countries with ice or snow have to practice and train on the man-made-installed facilities. Trainings and the actual games are not normally done in the wild or snow mountains, so this means that we can learn how to play too,” Mutairi argued. “Whether you live in a sandy desert in the Middle East or a European country with snow, training and the formal games are usually held in installed facilities, so it can easily be learned if your heart is into it,” he added.

Mutairi further spoke about how the Kuwait National Ice Hockey team was conceived from scratch. “I remember visiting the Ice Skating Rink in 1987 and I saw a group of Canadian and US players taking part in a hockey game. Many of us were naïve to this sport, but eventually our interest grew, and I encouraged many of my friends to join and play hockey,” he said. “We started with nothing, and our club here started with nothing too; but we are determined to learn. Eventually we applied for government recognition – we developed a club and we were able to go through the tedious process of accreditation,” he added.

National team
After the liberation in 1991, Mutairi, along with Fhaid Hamad Al-Ajmi, the current Board Chairman of the Kuwait Winter Games Club, created a small hockey team and they started trainings and workshops to form a national team for Kuwait. “It was small group then, but the interest of Kuwaitis has sprung up from then onwards until we finally got the nod of the government,” Mutairi remembered.

“When we were invited in Scotland for a hockey tournament in 1993, we joined without hesitation; we went there, 23 of us without any support from the government. Then several tournaments followed after that,” he reminisced. As years went by, those who were part of the team became trainers and referees. “They are still with us, and we keep them because of their experience which they can share to our new members,” he said.

Ajmi admitted meanwhile that getting recognition from the government was not an easy task. “I thought it was easy at first, but it took us years to comply with government requirements. At first, we were told to get real ice hockey training, then we were told to learn how to run and manage a team. After that, they told us to get stronger support from people and fans in order to move forward. It took us two years to comply with those requirements, but we managed it anyways,” he explained.

“In 1997, we were invited by China to join in the tournament. We lost as expected because we have no support from the government, but we were happy representing our flag in an international arena,” Ajmi noted. “That game attended in China paved way for the government to do something for the ice hockey team in Kuwait. It was 1998 when the Kuwait Olympic Committee noticed us and so they started giving us some sort of budget. They had given us a chance to form a committee until we were finally and officially recognized by the Public Authority for Youth and Sports in 2013,” he said.

Kuwait’s ice hockey teams did most of their home trainings at the Ice Skating Rink at Al-Soor Street. But when the rink was demolished in 2018, they went ‘homeless’ temporarily. In the absence of the standard-size training grounds, the club had to send their players outside the country for practice. In 2019, the government allowed the construction of its new training ground for the ice hockey team. It was built at the Bayan district known now as the Kuwait Winter Games Club.

“With the government’s recognition, we were able to get the proper funding for the construction of the new ice skating rink, as well as the funding needed for our players and members,” Ajmi said. He also thanked “all the people who were instrumental for the success of the club and the creation of this federation.” The ice skating rink at the Kuwait Winter Games Club is open to public every Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday (10am to 10pm), but closes for the rest of the week for the Kuwait National Team trainings.

A big task’: China Olympic men’s hockey team faces questions

For the first time since the NHL began sending players to the Olympics in 1998, there is concern the host country might not be able to score, much less win a game, at the world’s biggest sporting event.

China’s men’s team is ranked 32nd in the world and is in a group with the United States and Canada, two of the medal favorites among the 12 teams going to the Winter Games in February. A team made up of likely Chinese national team players has struggled against other competition so far, raising fears it will be blown out of its own buildings on home ice in Beijing.

This has all led to what new International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) president Luc Tardif called a “test” next week near Moscow, and it is certainly unusual: China will play two games as Beijing-based KHL team Kunlun Red Star against Russian opponents. IIHF and Chinese hockey officials will be watching closely, in person and online, and hoping the team isn’t going to be embarrassed against NHL competition in February.

“The team we will have in front of us, in two games, we will just to see the score and the way the game was playing, we will quickly know if they’ve got the level or not,” Tardif told The Associated Press in a recent interview. “It will be not only the score but the way the game was played.”

It’s unclear how — or who — will grade this test. The IIHF said last week it will not remove China from the tournament — it does not have the unilateral authority to do that — and it would be up to the Chinese government to pull the plug.

That would be a humiliating step: A host country’s team has never been withdrawn from the modern-day Olympics for solely performance-related reasons, according to Olympic historian Bill Mallon.

There is good reason it is even being contemplated: Kunlun, which has been used as something of a proxy for the Chinese national team to get experience in a professional league, has lost 20 of its 26 KHL games this season and been outscored 96-57 in the process.

Tardif said there are no such concerns about China’s women’s team, which is ranked 20th and in an Olympic group with less daunting competition.

The disappointing performance by the Chinese men’s team so far is not for lack of effort, though clearly the work didn’t bear fruit. The Chinese Ice Hockey Association failed in its attempt to develop a homegrown roster over the past few years, so the team’s top players are North American — some with family ties to the country and others who have been naturalized after joining Kunlun and earning international approval to play for China.

Leading scorers Spencer Foo and Brandon Yip and top defenseman Ryan Sproul are Canadian and starting goaltender Jeremy Smith is American, though there is still some uncertainty about who will go to Beijing. The IIHF would not confirm which players on Kunlun’s roster were eligible.

Stocking Olympic rosters with international players is not uncommon, certainly not since the host country started getting an automatic berth in the hockey tournament in 2006. Italy that year had nine Canadians and two Americans, and South Korea in 2018 had six Canadians and one American. Neither team won a game.

Yip, by far the most accomplished player for China with 174 games of NHL experience, hopes playing together for several years and employing a tight defensive scheme can help his team hang with Canada, the U.S. and Germany in a difficult Olympic group.

“Obviously when you look at our teams on paper, it’s a big discrepancy,” said Yip, a 36-year-old from British Columbia who has played for Kunlun since 2017. “We obviously know what we’re up against. They’re the best players in the world, so we’ve got a big task in front of us.”

How big a task?

Longmou Li, a longtime Chinese broadcaster who is VP of communications for Kunlun, figures the U.S. and Canada will shut out China, maybe 8-0 or 10-0, and added the focus is on the third game against Germany. Asked what would be considered success, Li said: “Score one goal and better performance. Not a disaster.”

China has endured painful sporting losses before, namely in soccer when it did not qualify for the 2010 World Cup and sacked its manager after going winless on home soil at the 2008 Olympics. Susan Brownell, a professor at the University of Missouri-St. Louis and expert on Chinese sports, believes a poor result this time could cause an inspection of hockey from the head government level.

“If I was a hockey administrator, I’d be shaking in my boots,” said Brownell, who considers the failure of China’s hockey academy program a big reason for the current conundrum. “The criticism really is that you invest all this money and you can’t produce results.”

Much like in other sports, China brought in international coaches to help: Stanley Cup winner Mike Keenan was fired after just 36 games behind the bench with Kunlun in 2017, and the team has gone through Bobby Carpenter, Curt Fraser and Alexei Kovalev before landing on Italian-Canadian Ivano Zanatta for the Olympic job.

“Usually resources and money is not a question in China,” said Li Li Ji, a Chinese national and professor of kinesiology who brings Chinese athletes and coaches to study at the University of Minnesota. “If they want to build something, they seem to be willing to put an unlimited amount of money in.”

Time was not on China’s side. Li pointed out that it took Switzerland decades to reach the top level of international hockey, and China only put efforts into high gear after being awarded the 2022 Olympics in the summer of 2015.

The result could be similar to men’s basketball, in which China lost 108–57 in the ’88 Games to a U.S. team made up of college all-stars. Still, it sparked the nation’s appreciation of that sport’s best and the NBA-stacked Dream Team steamrolled the competition four years later with the world watching in admiration.

“It’s going to be six dream teams — hockey teams — that play in Olympics in front of China fans,” Li said. “If Team China can be host and nobody care about the score, everybody (is) going to know hockey is (the) best game in the world and they’re going to be letting the kids play and they’re going to pay the money to watch the games. This is best for the hockey.”

Still, there are potentially unwelcome optics that come with the likelihood of China getting blown out of its sparkling arena by Canada and the U.S. while relations between those nations are colder than ice. And there’s the possible blowback of home fans taking issue with a Chinese team full of foreigners.

Brownell, an American who represented Beijing University in collegiate track and field in the 1980s, said Chinese people will take it as an honor if foreigners perform well. If they don’t, it could become a source of parody.

As one of those players who chose to play for China, Yip is trying to see the big picture. Beyond a few anticipated losses in February, he wants to set the stage for a brighter future.

“If I’m sitting on the couch 20 years from now and I flip on the TV and you see a Chinese national player getting drafted in the first round or the Chinese men’s hockey team in the Olympics again, and they interview one of those players: ‘Why did you get into hockey?’ And they said, ‘I watched the Chinese national team in Beijing in 2022 and that inspired me’ — that would be really what success is determined by this whole experience,” Yip said.

‘A big task’: China Olympic men’s hockey team faces questions originally appeared on NBCSports.com

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