Unbowed by challenges

Unbowed by challenges
PHOTO: Singapore Ice Hockey Association

It is 11pm on Tuesday. Most will be preparing to go to bed. But for Singapore's national ice hockey men's team, training begins.

Even at such a late hour, there is no guarantee of a training venue reserved for them. In fact, these players have to ensure that the ice rink at JCube is not being used by both the public and the Singapore Ice Skating Association, before they can conduct their weekly one-hour ice training session.

To complement their sparse ice rink sessions, they do additional "dry-land" training to run through the drills.

Again, finding a conducive venue is proving just as difficult.

Said team captain Michael Loh, 40: "There is a big concrete open space with shelter in Jurong.

"We do not have to book it. We play at 8.30pm before ice training but it is quite dim as the people there do not turn on the lights."

Despite these hindrances, the 22-strong men's team are hardly dissuaded from pursuing this niche winter sport in tropical Singapore.

In fact, they have already brought honours for the Republic, finishing second in the International Ice Hockey Federation Challenge Cup of Asia in Kuwait in March.

It was by far their best showing since the sport took root in Singapore in 1988, when the Fuji Ice Palace ice-skating rink was set up in the former Rex Theatre in McKenzie Road.

In 1997, a local ice-hockey league started at the venue, consisting of six teams, but was shut down a year later due to high costs.

From then on, a small community of ice-hockey enthusiasts continued to play for recreation.

Assistant captain Eugene Ang, 27, started off with inline hockey before switching to ice hockey 10 years ago. He said: "I really enjoy the company, especially since the community is small and everyone knows one another.

"It is really the commitment to the team that keeps me going."

Most of his team-mates echoed his sentiments in staying the course as the sport tries to get a firmer footing here.

Nevertheless, sponsorship is difficult to come by.

Often, money comes from the players themselves.

Costs are not low. Rental of the JCube ice rink costs $562 an hour during off-peak sessions and $450 an hour after midnight.

Loh said: "When we run our annual tournament, we will sometimes try to help and sell beverages so that some money can be put into the national team fund to subsidise training or flight tickets (for competitions). Basically, everyone has to pay a certain sum to play."

Alphonsus Joseph, who is the Singapore Ice Hockey Association president and who also plays for the team, added: "We have been fortunate to get donations from a couple of people to bear part of the cost for some of the players, but definitely not for everything."

Despite all these challenges, things may be looking up for the sport, after ice hockey and ice skating were approved as official SEA Games sports last month.

This means that they may be included in the 2017 edition in Malaysia if they receive support from at least four countries.

Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand have expressed an interest in participating. Support could also come from the Philippines, Indonesia or even Cambodia.

Cambodia seem likely to participate as they have been recruiting players recently.

With a chance of growing the sport and achieving glory after years of hard work, the Singapore players are eager to put up a good showing at the 2017 Games.

Said 36-year-old goalkeeper Eugene Chin: "Since our standards are still quite far off from the Winter Olympics, the SEA Games will be the next best thing and a good stepping stone for us."

Joseph added: "We are aiming for at least a second place, if not first.

"We are one of the favourites to get a medal in the region."

chongcjy@sph.com.sg


This article was first published on July 31, 2015.
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