Just a day ago, the 2014 Winter Olympic Games in Sochi came to a close. As always, the worlds greatest stars from around the world took to the ice, hoping to snag the coveted gold medal in front of the entire world.
You undoubtedly knew about the Olympics, but have you ever heard of the Challenge Cup Of Asia? Likely not, but regardless of where you’re from, it’s good to know what type of impact the tournament is having in developing hockey. With very limited Asian participation in World Championship events, the IIHF created a tournament back in 2008 in hopes of improving hockey throughout the continent. The tournament continues to grow each year, with the 2014 edition having a total of ten competitors in two separate divisions in hopes of claiming a gold of their own.
One of the teams competing in the Division I tournament in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan over the next week is Singapore. The country, led by American head coach Sam Goodwin, has an all time record of 5-8-3 in international competition. In the most recent CCOA, Singapore went on to record the biggest victory in their history, a 13-4 smashing of India, en route to a fourth place finish in Group B.
Recently, I got into contact with Alphonsus Jude Joseph, one of the players that will compete for Singapore again in 2014.
Q1) Introduce yourself for those who don’t know you.
I’m Alphonsus Jude Joseph, President of the Singapore Ice Hockey Association
Q2) How did you become involved in the sport of hockey?
I started playing 18 years ago when my brother who had a friend playing ice hockey asked us to go down to the rink to take a look at the sport. We tried it out and got hooked ever since.
Q3) Little is known in North America about hockey in Singapore, can you tell us what the current state of Singaporean hockey is and something about its history?
There has been ice hockey in Singapore since the 80s but nothing organized, just a bunch of guys renting ice and playing pick up hockey. It was only until 2000 that an ice hockey association was formed and and organized league was organized with 120 players. It grew to about 200 players by end 2008 but then ice hockey took a big hit when the only rink that was big enough for us to play ice hockey in closed down in Oct 2008. From Oct 2008 till April 2012, ice hockey couldn’t be played in Singapore and the more hardcore players made quarterly trips up to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia (about a 5 hour drive) to play ice hockey. In April 2012, the Singapore Sports Council opened Singapore’s first Olympic sized ice rink and hockey started up again with a fury. with 16 teams and almost 300 players playing in the inaugural Ice Hockey league at the new rink.
Q4) How popular is ice hockey in Singapore?
Ice Hockey is still considered a niche sport in Singapore with only about 120 Singaporeans playing. We have about 500 members with the remaining 380 members being made up for players from all over the world who work and live in Singapore.
Q5) Where do players in Singapore develop their skills?
We have just completed our first ever IIHF approved coaching program (15th and 16th Feb) and are about to start a Learn to Play program to introduce hockey to more locals for greater participation.
Q6) The Challenge Cup Of Asia has given countries that don’t get much of a chance to compete in international competition the opportunity to develop. Do you agree?
Yes, I do agree, many countries in Asia are still developing in the sport of Ice Hockey and have a long way to go to even reach the lowest World Championship division standards, but it does give us an opportunity to compete with each other and encourages co-operation between fellow developing countries.
Q7) Despite having a record of 1-3 during the 2013 Challenge Cup of Asia, your team managed to record the biggest victory in Singaporean hockey history with a 13-4 victory over India. How was the experience at the tournament last year?
Last year was our first time back in the CCOA after a 2 year break (due to the lack of a training facility) and it showed. The rest of the countries have been training consistently throughout the years and we could see a marked improvement from all the countries. We have a lot of catching up to do. India has a tough time with training as they only have an outdoor training facility that freezes over for 3 months of the year up in the northern mountains of India so its real tough for them to play against teams that have proper training facilities.
Q8) Do you think your participation at the CCOA will help spur a future opportunity to compete at the World Championship level?
The goal of the IIHF in organizing the CCOA is so that all the countries participating in the CCOA will one day be able to join the World Championships. The IIHF is a great help to all our Asian developing countries as they provide us with assistance in Coaching, Game Officiating and player development.
Q9) Has the Singaporean Hockey Federation been in contact to bring over North American players/coaches in an attempt to help develop the program there?
We have almost 200 North American players in our Association playing recreational hockey, some of which play at a pretty high level. However, all our current coaches are volunteers as we do not have the funds to hire a full time coach to develop programs.
Q10) What are your expectations for hockey in Singaporean in the upcoming Challenge Cup, and where do you see hockey in Singapore in five years?
We are still rebuilding our team and have many older players right now on the team. We are aiming for a 2nd place spot as we have no idea on the level of the Kyrgyzstan team as it’s their first time playing in a CCOA. We are concentrating our efforts to developing a new generation of players and having the Learn to Play program as our main focus for the coming years in order to bring in a new generation of players, something which is lacking at the moment. Partially due to the 4 year break where there was no ice hockey in Singapore.
For more information on hockey in Singapore, check out their website here.
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