By Kimberly Kwek – The Straits Times
Just hours after clinching a silver medal at the International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) Ice Hockey Under-20 Asia and Oceania Championship on Saturday (July 2), Singapore team captain Cael Chua was already thinking ahead to next year’s competition.
A 4-3 defeat by Thailand in the final saw them narrowly missing out on gold, and the national U-20 men’s team are plotting revenge as they target the title next year.
The 19-year-old said: “The team did well. Previously against Thailand, the scoreline was bad, maybe a difference of four to five goals. But from this, you can actually tell we’re improving and catching up with Thailand, who are one of the best in South-east Asia so next year we’ll try our best to get the gold medal.”
Competing at the Thailand International Ice Hockey Arena in Bangkok on Saturday, Singapore found themselves 2-0 up within the first six minutes thanks to goals from Benedict Qian and Joshua Chan, but the hosts drew level after two strikes by Thanachai Sakchaicharoenkul at the end of the opening period.
Thanachai put the Thais ahead in the 34th minute, but Singapore’s Lee Shaw Hsiang pulled one back to make it 3-3. A goal by Thailand’s Ramin Chan-Urai in the 55th minute then sealed the title for the home side.
Although this was the U-20 team’s first international competition, many of them have played together for some time and they also train with the national men’s team.
A number of players were also part of the national men’s ice hockey team who clinched a historic bronze medal at the Ice Hockey World Championship Division IV in March.
Chua, a Ngee Ann Polytechnic student, said: “Most of us train together for the men’s team, so we have this chemistry and we’re always supporting each other and boosting each other’s morale.”
Teammate Joshua Chan, who finished the campaign as the tournament’s top scorer with 16 goals and was named its Most Valuable Player, noted how the team had to overcome challenges such as not enjoying the squad depth that other nations had.
While teams like Thailand had 18 players and two goaltenders, Singapore had 15 players and two goaltenders, which meant they could not make as many substitutions.
The Anglo-Chinese School (International) student, 18, said: “There’s a lot of physical contact, which makes us prone to a lot of injuries so in the final game we were missing a few key players.
“We just tackled it as a team – we have to give credit to our parents and team staff who kept us going and encouraged us as well as take care of our injuries.”
Head coach Joewe Lam praised his charges for their fighting spirit, which they displayed throughout the tournament.
Their 2-1 victory over Malaysia in the quarter-finals was achieved in extra-time, while they scored three goals in the final 10 minutes of the semi-final match against United Arab Emirates to win 4-3 and book their spot in the final.
Lam said: “Thailand were the overwhelming favourites, but they gave them a hard fight which is what we wanted to see. The players trusted my plan and we planned according to the opponent’s forte and had to counter that. I’m overall very satisfied with their performance.
“We are definitely not intimidated (when coming up against stronger teams). They never back down and always go in with that never-say-die attitude… they want to prove that ice hockey is a sport that can excel in Singapore.”