NOT HOT ENOUGH
Team struggling in build-up to Sea Games
FARAH AZHARIE firstname.lastname@example.org
ASKING a gold medal from the Malaysian ice hockey team in their Sea Games debut is a tall order, however, it is not impossible.
Malaysia Ice Hockey Federation (MIHF) vice president and team manager, Hisham Yahaya, said the federation have put a target of winning a medal, but did not specify which shade.
“Having said that, for Malaysia, getting gold is tough but not impossible.”
Considering that ice hockey is a high intensity game, MIHF’s main concerns are the injuries that the players may incur that could contribute to their performance.
Nonetheless, the Malaysian ice hockey team should be praised for their ambition despite a less than fiery start to their season which saw the national team only winning once (against Indonesia 13-2) of three Division Two matches at the Asian Winter Games in Sapporo, Japan, last February.
Next, the team stumbled at the International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) Challenge Cup of Asia in March where they lost all four games to finish last in a fiveteam contest.
Malaysia lost to Sea Games contenders Thailand (1-15) and Singapore (4-5) as well as to United Arab Emirates (3-10) and Mongolia (5-10).
The team also struggled in pregames, managing to get only one win out of six matches against a club from Taiwan.
But the pre-games had given the head coach, Hungarian Kristof Kovago, a clear indication of the combination of line-ups and strategic changes that work in Malaysia’s favour.
Strategy wise, the Sea Games squad will also need to step up their game as the team will have to adapt from the standard 30minute game format to a full onehour match.
However, the change in format should not pose a problem as Kovago has been preparing the team for the shortcomings that may happen during the Sea Games as they brace for challenges from Thailand and the Philippines.
“Both Thailand and the Philippines have fast and experienced players who have competed overseas such as in Canada, the United States and Sweden.
“As such, they have an upper edge when they play against some younger and less experienced players.
“Kovago has some strategic plans to overcome this and we hope our players are able to play to instructions in order to match more experienced players from these two countries.”
Despite the challenges from the two neighbouring countries, Hisham wants the boys to perform to the best of their abilities as a positive result would open doors for ice hockey in Malaysia, especially when achieving success in front of the home crowd.
“The Sea Games has been our top priority in getting future government support for the sport as well as generating interest amongst parents to get their children to pick up the game of ice hockey.”
For the record, the team have recorded a best finishing of silver at the 2016 IIHF Challenge Cup of Asia in Kyrgyzstan, losing to the host nation by three-point.
Despite ice sports’ lack of infrastructure in Malaysia, ice hockey has produced a positive result with possibilities of more in the future as Hisham stated his wish-list.
“First, is having a dedicated ice rink (by the government) whereby it can be used entirely for development of winter sports (ice hockey, speed skating and figure skating) in the country.
“With this dedicated ice rink, the federation can organise more hockey schools and camps, and not having to train late night and at times, past midnight.”
Hisham also wants the MIHF to organise a professional Asean league with sponsors from local clubs as well as professional clubs in the region.
“We also hope for support from the government in terms of funding for potential young players to further their studies in Canada, the US or Europe while playing and competing in overseas clubs.
“We have players with good potential within the ages of 12-18. We won several international competitions in the under-16 age group.”
As the Malaysian ice hockey team take to the Malaysia Ice Skating Stadium (MYNISS), Empire City, Damansara on August 20-24, they are expecting a warm reception from fans as they strive to capture Malaysia’s first ever gold in this sport at the Sea Games.
The Malaysian team have a pep talk before taking on the opposition during the IIHF Ice Hockey Challenge Cup of Asia in March.
A Malaysian player gets past an opponent in one of the warm-up matches in preparation for the Sea Games later this month.