Category: Asia (Page 2 of 12)

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

Veteran player retires from competition

Dunedin Thunder veteran Paris Heyd has retired from competitive ice hockey

By Adrian Seconi – Otago Daily Times

Long-serving Dunedin Thunder player Paris Heyd is retiring but is not about to skate off anywhere.

The 30-year-old will still be holed up at the Dunedin Ice Stadium — he manages the facility so he will never be very far from the ice.

But after 15 seasons in the New Zealand Ice Hockey League (NZIHL), it is time for him to do something different.

His decision to retire from competitive ice hockey has brought an end to the career of one of the greatest New Zealand players.

‘‘It is something I’ve thought about for a while,’’ he said.

‘‘It is just time to spend time doing other things.’’

Heyd played more than 30 games for his country and 203 NZIHL games between 2006 and 2021. He also spent a season playing in France and played division 1 for Harrington College in Canada in 2009-10.

The prolific points scorer was part of the Stampede squad which won the NZIHL title in 2006 and helped the Canterbury Red Devils win the 2009 crown.

Heyd joined the Thunder in 2010 and was named league MVP in 2011 and again in 2018.

He accumulated 174 goals and 189 assists but his enduring memories will not be how many goals he scored, but of watching the league grow from very humble beginnings.

‘‘Tom Wilson came back and played for the Thunder this year and the last time he played must have been about 2011 or 2012 or something.

‘‘It was interesting to hear what he said, because when you’re involved with it you don’t see the growth.

‘‘But he said the difference between the last time he played and now, in terms of the level of hockey and the following, you wouldn’t recognise it as being the same league.

‘‘It is nice to know that the sport has grown and that was always the purpose of that league.’’

Heyd has made a massive contribution in that sense and will continue to stay involved in the sport.

He helps run development camps through New Zealand Ice Hockey, coaches the under-18 men’s national team and plans to get more involved in coaching youth in Dunedin.

He will miss the action, though.

‘‘When you are in the moment and in the game, it can be all-consuming and you forget about everything else. You are just there with the other 19 players and you can go through so many highs and lows in those 60 minutes.

‘‘I think that is the part that you miss the most.’’

Halifax plumber carves his name in hockey history books as member of Iran’s national team

Nadim Muslemi was the lone player from outside Iran to suit up for the national team at the world amateur hockey championship.

Marty Klinkenberg – The Globe and Mail

Nadim Moslemi is a plumber in Halifax. He is also a centre, defenceman and right wing on Iran’s men’s national hockey team. His parents are Iranian but he is a Bluenoser, born and raised in Nova Scotia.

He has never set foot in Iran but that has not prevented him from playing hockey on its behalf. Over the past five years, the journey has taken him to Italy, Japan, Kazakhstan and just last week, the United Arab Emirates.

“I have immense pride in that,” Moslemi, 32, said this week between plumbing repair calls. “I’ll be honest, for me it is like a dream come true. And it’s all a fluke.”

He was the lone player from outside Iran to suit up for the national team at the world amateur hockey championship. Games were contested on the Olympic-sized rink inside the Dubai Mall.

With losses to the Emirates’ national team, a club from Russia and an all-star selects’ squad, the Iranian men failed to reach the playoff round. “That is not a surprise,” Moslemi said.

Skating and hockey were banned and facilities for them were closed down after the 1979 Iranian Revolution. There was not a single regulation-sized rink in the country until the Ice Box opened at the Iran Mall in Tehran two years ago.

At the same time, interest in hockey had begun to grow there from participation in inline skating. In 2016, the first tryout camp for Iran’s men’s national hockey team was staged in Asiago, Italy. Players of Iranian heritage who lived abroad were recruited with the hope of having the squad entered in the 2017 Asian Winter Games in Japan.

Even though he grew up in Canada, Moslemi never played hockey in his youth.

“My parents wouldn’t put me in it,” he said.

He watched games on Hockey Night in Canada and decided to try playing it for the first time at 18.

“That’s a really late age,” Moslemi said. “It took me about eight years to consider myself a good hockey player.”

Moslemi attended tryouts in Italy and a second camp in Kazakhstan and was selected for the Iranian team. He travelled to Sapporo for the Asian Winter Games the following year, but the Iranians were disqualified at the last minute because 13 players, Moslemi included, did not meet residency requirements. One ringer had recently played in the KHL.

“It was kind of disappointing,” Moslemi said. “Most everyone was similar to me: dual citizens with Iranian passports.”

Two years ago, the Iranian national team became a member of the International Ice Hockey Federation. It hopes to play in 2022 at the IIHF Division IV world championship in Kyrgyzstan.

Because he was born in Canada, Moslemi has to apply for a transfer from Hockey Canada to be able to play for another country.

The odds of that not happening are low. It is not as though he has the skills of Mika Zibanejad or anything. The New York Rangers star is of Iranian heritage but was born in Sweden. Hockey Canada is unlikely to stand in his path.

Earlier this month, Moslemi joined other members of the men’s national team in Dubai and skated in the world amateur tournament. More than 1,000 people gazed down at the action from three tiers of the shopping mall.

“It was a blast,” he said.

The Iranian women’s team beat a club from Russia and ended up winning a medal. All of its members were born in Iran.

“It has been a struggle to get where we are over these last six years,” Moslemi said.

For the time being, he is back home in Halifax.

“I’m back to normal life until the next one,” Moslemi said.

He will drop his wrench and don his hockey pads when Iran needs him.

“I know it sounds corny, but when your country comes calling, it is hard to say no,” Moslemi said. “It is kind of a privilege to be part of something this special. I feel fortunate to be able to say that I am a part of history.

“Every time you think you made it, you make it again.”

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.”

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