NOT HOT ENOUGH

Team strug­gling in build-up to Sea Games

New Straits Times - - Sport -

FARAH AZHARIE fara­hazharie@nst.com.my

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.

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