Have ice, will travel
THE Winter Olympics may have just ended, but for a small group of Singaporeans, their ice hockey dream lives on.
Twenty players and two officials from the men's national ice hockey team are in Kyrgyzstan this week for the Challenge Cup of Asia, a four-team tournament that pits them against other developmental teams in the region. It is a long way from the pinnacle of the sport, but these guys are used to adversity.
With little or no funding for their sport here, most of the players are paying their own way. The trip to Kyrgyzstan will cost each of them around $2,000.
Just to get started in the sport, they needed to spend thousands of dollars on gear like hockey sticks and skates.
But it is still a small price to pay to indulge in their passion, said Mr Michael Loh Chee Seng, the team captain.
"I like the excitement and teamwork in ice hockey," said the 39-year-old air force specialist. "Because of the game's speed, we need to be very accurate in passing and supporting our team players."
The team was formed in 2008 and falls under the auspices of the Singapore Ice Hockey Association (Siha). The association is now headed by Mr Alphonsus Jude Joseph, 36, who also doubles as a coach-cum-player.
The perennial problem is ice time, he said.
At The Rink at JCube, Singapore's only Olympic-sized ice skating rink, they are allowed to train only during off-peak hours from 11pm to 1am. On occasion, they have to share their time with other athletes, such as speed skaters.
The other challenge is getting new players. With training sessions held so late at night, few parents are keen to let their kids try ice hockey.
Siha has since collaborated with The Rink and the Singapore Ice Skating Association to offer an ice skating programme called Learn to Skate. It is also training more coaches.
"The Winter Olympics is still a long way away," said Mr Joseph, who is eyeing the Asian Winter Games for now. He knows that, at least, he has players who put their love for the sport first.
"It's not easy and there's a lot of hard work involved," said national team forward Siah Ming Zhe. "But we really enjoy the sport and that's why we play on despite the difficulties."