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Warm weather teams face a rough time in Asian ice hockey

Warm weather teams face a rough time in Asian ice hockey

One of the team's best players is 49, and the squad has to practice at midnight on a half-size ice rink.
Welcome the world of former Canada winger David Saunders, coach of the Hong Kong men's ice hockey team.
Two games into the ice hockey tournament at the Asian Winter Games and his team is 0-2 with 18 goals against and three for _ sums that reflect the shortage of good skaters and the lack of decent ice rinks in the warmer Asian destinations where hockey is definitely an imported game.
"The dearth of facilities is holding things back. We play late on a Saturday night in a half size rink, and the pool of players to pick from is very small," said Saunders of his team made up of teachers, policemen and businessmen.
They range in age from 19 to 49-year-old Samuel Wong, the captain and goaltender who has played well here despite losing 7-3 to Malaysia. He was rested to give the team's other two goaltenders experience in the 11-0 loss to South Korea, where Hong Kong was out-shot 34-2.
"Even at that age, he is one of our best players. It gives new meaning to the word veteran," said Saunders, who played professionally in the NHL with the Vancouver Canucks in 1987-88, worked on Wall Street and set up an emerging markets trading desk in Hong Kong.
While there, he became an investor in a company building Hong Kong's first full-size hockey rink, which opens this summer. That led local sports officials to ask him to coach the team.
Like Saunders, Thailand's American coach Michael Rolanti also has to deal with a lack of players and ice time.
"We only have about 40 guys in the whole country to pick from," said Rolanti, who played university hockey for Rennselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, New York, and coached high school hockey in the Boston area.
The warm weather also creates problems for Thailand's two ice rinks, where the ice does not get as hard as it does in Changchun, an industrial city in China's frigid northeast that is playing host to the Winter Games.
"The players don't know how to skate on hard ice, which requires more bending at the knee to make cuts," or turns, said Rolanti, who was managing a chain of English schools in Bangkok when he was asked to help coach the national team.
Thailand lost 0-4 to the United Arab Emirates in its first game and can expect a thrashing in the next game against tournament favorites Kazakhstan, which beat the UAE 38-0.
Besides Kazakhstan, the other favorite in the tournament is Japan, which beat North Korea 6-1 in its opening game. The final of the ice hockey tournament is on Feb. 3.
Other warm-weather spots in the tournament include Kuwait and Macau, with Kuwait winning the opening game between the two 15-2.
Jan Brychta, a 27-year-old Czech who coaches the Kuwait team, said there are only about 30 players in the country and just one rink.
"They don't have a league. They travel to tournaments and occasionally play a team of Canadians who work in Kuwait," said Brychta, who was picked as Kuwait coach after answering an advertisement on the Internet.


Updated : 2021-01-26 14:53 GMT+08:00