By Tan Ming Wai – The Star Online
Ice hockey will be making its debut at the Aug 19-31 Kuala Lumpur SEA Games, but hosts Malaysia are unlikely to contend for the gold.
The national team have failed to shine in their first two assignments of the year, including the International Ice Hockey Federation’s (IIHF) Challenge Cup of Asia (CCOA) in Bangkok last week.
Malaysia lost all their four games to finish last in the five-team competition.
They were handed a 1-15 thrashing by SEA Games favourites Thailand and lost 4-5 to neighbours Singapore. The other two defeats were 3-10 to the United Arab Emirates and 5-10 to Mongolia.
The national team, coached by Hungarian Kristof Kovago, also took part in the Asian Winter Games in Sapporo, Japan, in February.
They only managed one win out of their three Division II matches — 13-2 against Indonesia — en route to finishing 15th overall.
Team manager Hisham Yahya admitted that it would be a tall order for Malaysia to win the SEA Games based on the team’s recent performances.
“We were without the services of our key players like captain Ban Kim Loke, vice-captain Khoo Seng Chee and Reezman Isa due to work commitments and injuries. But that’s not an excuse,” said Hisham, who is also the vice-president of the Malaysia Ice Hockey Federation (MIHF).
“With barely five months to go before the Games, there’s no way we can catch up with Thailand.
They are a class above the rest in South-East Asia. The best we can aim for is a silver and we’ve to battle it out with Singapore and the Philippines,” he added.
In the run-up to the Games, the MIHF will send the team for centralised training in Harbin, China, in July.
“Our team are severely lacking exposure. We have to get it elsewhere by playing friendly matches against professional clubs abroad.
“We opt for China as they are one of Asia’s big four in ice hockey. It’s cheaper too compared to South Korea and Japan,” said Hisham.