HONG KONG, China – The hockey seasons comes to its highlights. The IIHF World Championship begins in two days in Canada and the NHL playoffs are running. After Canada’s U18 gold some days ago and the promotion of Austria and Hungary to the 2009 World Championship, after one and 70 years respectively, eyes of the hockey world are on Canada. All eyes? Not exactly.
For the first time, the IIHF Challenge Cup of Asia was played last weekend in the Chinese metropolis Hong Kong. Hockey in Asia is of course not completely new and has been played in several countries for decades. Japan, for instance, debuted in the World Championship in 1930 but hasn’t been lucky in the last two years to get back to the top pool of the World Championship – as well as Kazakhstan. China and both Korean countries have been participating in the World Championship program for years, Mongolia joined one year ago. And not to forget Division II country Israel, whose clubs, however, participate in European club competitions and whose sport federations are usually rather Europe-orientated than to the neighbouring countries. But those seven countries are not the end of the road.
The are smaller member associations from Asia within the IIHF which haven’t competed at the World Championship yet (except Hong Kong for one year) or whose hockey program has just started. The IIHF Challenge Cup of Asia gave them the opportunity to face each other on and behind the ice, to exchange experience as the “big nations” are used to it on a less regional level.
Hong Kong and Macao, two former colonies which joined China some years ago, Chinese Taipei, Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand took part in the single round-robin tournament in Hong Kong.
And the lucky winner was… Chinese Taipei. The Taiwanese lost to hosts Hong Kong, 1-2, but won the other games against Macao (9-0), Malaysia (5-2), Singapore (3-1) and Thailand (3-1). Despite of the relative inexperience in international games, most games were quite tight and it was a neck and neck race until it was clear that the trophy would go to Chinese Taipei. The Taiwanese came to win and were one of the favourites. Their game against hosts Hong Kong was even broadcast by the most popular TV station of the city.
Malaysia had to be content with silver after the defeat in the most important game against the Taiwanese but the Malaysians were, despite of that, quite happy and celebrated the second place like a big win.
Probably it won’t be the last Challenge of Asia as some associations have already shown interest to host the 2009 tournament. The show can go on in the Far East.
Final ranking: 1. Chinese Taipei 12, 2. Malaysia 10, 3. Hong Kong 9, 4. Thailand 7, 5. Singapore 6, 6. Macao 0.