ASTANA – Kazakhstan will host the Asian Winter Games in Astana and Almaty starting on January 28. It will be an interesting event for teams of all calibres.
The spotlight will surely be on host Kazakhstan who will be looking for revenge. In 2007 when the last Asian Winter Games took place in Changchun, China, the number 17 of the IIHF World Ranking lost the deciding game to Japan (21st), 3-2, and had to settle with silver.
This time the Kazakhs hope to impress the fans with gold when they play in the home arena of KHL team Barys Astana.
The format changed compared to the last event since the IIHF provided help in ranking Asian teams with the introduction of the annual Challenge Cup of Asia in 2008.
The separation of the men’s participants between the Top Division and the Premier Division should help avoiding embarrassing scores such as Kazakhstan’s 52-1 win over Thailand four years ago.
China, Chinese Taipei, Kazakhstan, Korea and Japan will play for the gold in the Top Division while the lower tier includes teams known from the Challenge Cup of Asia such as Kuwait, Malaysia, Mongolia, Thailand and the United Arab Emirates. India unfortunately had to cancel the trip.
But the event does not only include the IIHF’s bigger and smaller ice hockey associations, but also National Olympic Committees that send ice hockey teams to an international event for the first time ever with Bahrain and Kyrgyzstan scheduled to debut with their newly formed national teams.
Qatar, which hit the headlines when it was awarded the 2022 FIFA World Cup, also planned to send a team after concluding its first-ever ice hockey championship, but the plans were cancelled.
The established, smaller national teams from Asia and the many new faces will certainly bring in a special atmosphere.
The probably biggest motivation to perform well was given to the Malaysian team, in a letter from the country’s highest sports authority.
“Bring back a medal and we will build an Olympic-sized ice hockey arena,” Datuk Seri Ahmad Shabery Cheek, the Youth and Sports Minister of the country, issued in a statement published by state-run agency Bernama. “We are ready to help the sport and the ministry will do its part to help promote and develop the sport. It is not impossible to see the sport become a favourite among Malaysians one day.”
In the last Challenge Cup of Asia they came third, behind only the United Arab Emirates and Thailand. With a similar effort, they could win a bronze medal and having an international sized rink is essential for smaller countries to play competitive hockey and it is also a requirement to join the IIHF World Championship Program.
The Asian Winter Games also include a women’s ice hockey tournament that will be staged in the country’s old capital, Almaty. China, DPR Korea, Kazakhstan, Korea and Japan are scheduled to play for the medals in the women’s category.
NOTE: The schedule and scores will be published on IIHF.com under Championships/Asia.