With just a handful of registered players and one single ice rink, Macau would have been hard-pressed to make a big splash in the first-ever IIHF Challenge Cup of Asia Division I tournament. But that is exactly what happened.Click here for scores, stats, and photos.
The team, which won just one game out of three in the preliminary round, found a spark in the semi-final against Singapore, winning 2-1 in a shootout to set up a championship matchup with the host nation Kyrgyzstan. Macau’s offensive engine revved up in a big way in the final, outlasting a four-goal second period from the Kyrgyz to win the championship 5-4.
Macau’s matchup against Kyrgyzstan in the preliminary round saw the host country come back from a 1-0 deficit to win 3-1. The championship game might have followed the same script if not for Macau’s goaltender Chu, who faced down an incredible 91 shots on goal from the Kyrgyz.
Both teams traded goals in the first and second periods, until late in the second when Kyrgyzstan jumped ahead 4-3 on a pair of scores from Kanaibek Omurbekov and captain Amanbek Esen Uulu. A goal from Macau forward Cho Nin Ho tied the game up again and closed a wild second frame that saw a total of seven goals scored.
Chu would shut the door on Kyrgyzstan the rest of the way, and forward Zihang Lin scored the go-ahead goal midway through the third period to win the tournament for the Macanese.
Omurbekov claimed the tournament scoring title with ten points, including eight goals, in five games. Two of the three Directorate Award winners were forward Kim Kei Mok and goaltender Te Lin Chu were selected as the two top players of the tournament at their positions (Daniel Chew of Singapore won Best Defenceman honours).
The Division I tournament was created in August 2013 as part of a restructuring effort for the Challenge Cup of Asia. The tournament took place in the Kyrgyz capital of Bishkek and included Kyrgyzstan, Singapore, and India. Macau, the winning team of the inaugural Division I Challenge Cup of Asia, will advance to the Top Division next year.
For Kyrgyzstan, a fledgling hockey nation, the tournament can be counted as a success despite the host team falling in a close final. This was the first major international ice hockey tournament that the nation hosted, and in the final game over 1,100 fans turned out to support the teams. Having only recently the IIHF in 2011 there is plenty of room and lots of opportunity for this Central Asian nation to continue developing its hockey program.