By Martin Merk –

For the first time in this format an IIHF Ice Hockey U20 Challenge Cup of Asia was held and the winner is… Malaysia! The Southeast Asian nation won the tournament at its new home, the Malaysia National Ice Skating Stadium that opened earlier this year as the first full-size ice rink of the country just outside of the capital of Kuala Lumpur.

It was the first time an U20 Challenge Cup of Asia was held for countries that don’t participate in the IIHF Ice Hockey U20 World Championship program. The tournament was one of several that will be hosted in Kuala Lumpur after the inauguration with 2017 Southeast Asian Games four months ago. The 2018 IIHF Ice Hockey Challenge Cup of Asia Division I on the men’s side and the two IIHF Ice Hockey Women’s Challenge Cup of Asia divisions will be hosted at the same venue in March.

Malaysia’s win came as a surprise considering that in senior hockey the country is ranked behind several of the participating nations. But the Malays allowed just seven goals in four games and scored 36. Eventually no opponent came closer than a five-goal margin against the hosts.

The biggest win came on the opening day with a 11-0 crushing of neighbouring country Philippines where the first goal was scored after just 31 seconds and the Malays got a 3-0 lead after just over three minutes of play.

Against India the hosts had a tougher fight in the beginning. The Indians managed to tie the score three times in the first half of the game before Malaysia eventually skated to a 12-4 victory.

The third game was the deciding one as both Malaysia and Kyrgyzstan started with a 2-0 record. Kyrgyzstan had beaten the Philippines (12-4) and the United Arab Emirates (10-2) before the Saturday night game with the hosts and Zhanbolot Tagayev opened the scoring after 54 seconds to give the Kyrgyz the lead. It was the only time during the tournament the Malays were behind. However, Nurul Nizam Deen Versluis tied it up just two minutes later and Mohammad Hariz Mohammad Oryza Ananda followed up with two more goals en route to a 6-1 win.

On Sunday 826 fans saw Malaysia also win its last game, 7-2 against the United Arab Emirates, to celebrate the tournament win on home ice with a clean streak. Kyrgyzstan also won its last game, 13-2 against India, and had to settle for second place.

The United Arab Emirates, the top-seeded among these nations in men’s senior hockey, recovered and finished in third place thanks to its wins against India (6-0) and the Philippines (8-4). The Philippines beat winless India 11-5 in its last game to earn three points.

Host Malaysia led the scoring stats with three players. Mohammad Hariz Mohammad Oryza Ananda was the scoring leader and MVP with 11 goals and 7 assists followed by Nurul Nizam Deen Versluis (7+10) and Chee Ming Bryan Lim (6+7), the team captain who was named Best Forward.

“Our team is strong because we all have faith in each other including our coaches and team managers. Every single one of us is attached by this unbreakable bond that we would normally call it brotherhood. Every individual in our team made sacrifices in their own personal life to contribute to the family and that only grew our trusts towards each other even stronger. If one of us has trouble, all of us as a team will help out,” the captain described the reason behind Malaysia’s success.

Philippines defenceman Benjamin Jorge Imperial was the best non-Malay scorer with six goals and four assists and was named Best Defenceman of the tournament. Andrei Trishkin (Kyrgyzstan), Mohamed Al Mehairbi (UAE), Ersultan Mirbed Uulu (Kyrgyzstan) and Islambek Abdyrayev (Kyrgyzstan) followed with nine points. Tsewang Dorjay was India’s dominating player upfront with six goals and eight points.

Abdulrahman Al Hosani from the United Arab Emirates was named Best Goaltender. The Emirati were second-best in goaltending efficiency behind Malaysia in the team stats. Al Hosani had a save percentage of 84.43. That statistic was led by Malaysia’s Shahrul Ilyas Abdul Shukor with 97.56.

The event was the last IIHF tournament before the beginning of the holiday season. The 2018 IIHF World Junior Championship in Buffalo, USA, begins on 26th December.