By TRISTAN TOH
Photos by BEVERLLEY LIM
When a motley crew of expatriates introduced ice hockey to local shores some 15 years ago, little did they know their new tropical digs would stamp its mark on the world stage.
Fast forward to the present day and the Malaysia Invitational Ice Hockey Tournament has become one of the most anticipated events among the sporting faithful. The pride of six countries was on the line as 26 teams battled it out in the under-12, under-15, Women, Asian and International divisions.
Regional powerhouse Hong Kong saw its stranglehold on the competition weakened, clinching two titles compared to four last year. Lack of interest from members of the fairer sex once again deprived the Chinese territory of Women’s division gold, which went to Singapore Women Ice Hockey as it downed Bangkok Hecate 3-1.
Revenge was on the cards for the Malaysia Wildcats in a rematch of the 2012 Asian division final, which they had lost to a late Hong Kong Hitmen penalty. A clumsy attack early in the game left two Hitmen on the floor and only the keeper to beat for Wildcats captain Gary Tan.
The defending champions came close to levelling the score if not for the spectacular saves of Adrian Chow, forced to slog hard for a clean sheet in a one-sided first period. The Hitmen eventually found a chink in the armour, springing upon a stray pass within three minutes of the restart.
An excessive emphasis on offense proved to be the Hitmen’s downfall as Andy Chang broke away from a faceoff to find a clear path to goal, and the back of the net. Daniel Chew further piled on the misery for the visitors 25 seconds into the third period courtesy of a Chang assist.
The Hitmen reduced the deficit and stoked fears of a comeback, but a powerful strike by Chew four minutes from time ensured the Asian division trophy changed hands to its rightful owners.
The margin of victory was even narrower for KL Cobras 1 as they took on serial International division finalists Singapore Manimals. A Greg Blakney brace cancelled out goals by Rick Pucci and Maikel Kuijpers before Dave Glynn put the island republic’s best bet in the lead with a third period scorcher.
It did not take long for the Manimals to find themselves trailing their opponents again as Pucci and Kuijpers repeated their goal-scoring feats.
With a little over half a minute left on the clock, the Manimals substituted keeper Andreas Ebbe for an extra man in the frontlines, the gamble paying off in an equaliser.
Their joy was short-lived however, as Pucci sent the Manimals returning home empty-handed with a goal merely ten seconds later.
It was a story of heartbreak all too familiar to the Singapore Ice Dragons Red, who faced the might of the Hong Kong Academy of Ice Hockey (HKAIH) and its chief goal-getter Justin Cheng in the under-15 final. The division best defenseman was a thorn in the Ice Dragons’ side, putting three goals past the hapless David Bekesi.
Four down at the start of the second period, Ryutaro Sochi scored what seemed to be a consolation goal in the fifth minute. But a Cheng strike moments after gave the Ice Dragons second wind, with Sochi and Justin Heskamp shoring up goals to bring the two teams together on equal footing at six apiece.
Just when extra time was seven seconds within reach, Cheng brought his tally up to five goals.
HKAIH suffered a reversal of fortunes in the under-12 final in a match that saw half of the entire Hong Kong Ice Scrapers contingent getting their names on the scoresheet. Goals by Julian Mak, Michael Shum, Preston Kwok, Vinson Li as well as siblings Nicholas and Nolan Winchester all but confirmed defeat for former New York Rangers captain Barry Beck’s young side.