ABU DHABI – The IIHF U18 Challenge Cup of Asia was held for the first time ever. And claiming gold medals was also a first for Thailand that won the event before the United Arab Emirates and Malaysia.
Together with India and Hong Kong, which travelled with a selection that participated out of competition, five teams took part in the tournament that was held in Abu Dhabi, the capital city of the United Arab Emirates.
“I am very happy for my players and I am very proud about the whole team,” Krisada Kasemsunt, the President of the Ice Hockey Association of Thailand, said after winning the 2012 IIHF U18 Challenge Cup of Asia.
Head coach Likit Neimwan added: “This was the first international tournament for the young players, wearing the national team jersey for the first time. We improved a lot during the week and this is also a big success for the Ice Hockey Association of Thailand. Everybody did a good job.”
The Thais won the deciding clash against the United Arab Emirates 5-2. It was a tight game with a 22-17 shots-on-goal advantage for the Emirati.
But the Thais were more efficient. Hideki Nagayama and Tarin Sisaengsuwanchai each netted a pair of goals after Captain Piyapong Krongsakunsuk had opened the scoring. Mohammed Al Dhaheri tied it up at one for the hosts while Nasser Al Blooshi scored the 3-2 goal.
Phongphan Krongsakunsuk impressed most offensively with 15 goals and seven assists for 22 points in three games thanks to the high scores in the other matches.
But when the best Thailand player of the tournament was given an award in the closing ceremony before more than 500 fans in Abu Dhabi, many spectators might have been surprised.
Wasunun Angkulpattanasuk, who had by far the best save percentage (90%) in the tournament saving 36 out of 40 shots, is a girl. Because Thailand wasn’t able to find a male junior for this position, they asked the IIHF and the other teams for their approval to register the 17-year-old girl. The tournament directorate gave green light before the event, but few people imagined that she would become a hero for Thailand.
“I have always played against the boys, so I wasn’t feeling nervous at all,” she told Emirati newspaper The National. “It was different because here I was playing against unknown opponents and at a higher level. But I always knew what to expect.”
Angkulpattanasuk was inspired by her older brother Pattarapol, a 20-year-old goalkeeper, who travelled to Abu Dhabi as a team official, and who says that not many boys want to be in the net, feeling that the goalkeeper position is less glamorous.
The other two teams in competition couldn’t keep up with Thailand and the Emirates, but had a close game that determined the third place when Malaysia defeated India 8-4.
The event in the United Arab Emirates was the first junior event in the Challenge Cup of Asia that started in 2008 to give the smaller Asian nations a tournament to develop. In 2010 the Women’s Challenge Cup of Asia was added. An U20 tournament will take place in the Korean capital of Seoul, 26-30 May.
“In the last Asian Strategic Planning Group Meeting (ASPG) the Asian countries decided to work with the IIHF Regulations and to follow them,” said IIHF Vice President Shoichi Tomita. “This brought with it the various categories (Men, Women, U20 and U18) for the tournaments, changes in the playing format and also the Player Eligibility rule. That’s why Hong Kong participated out of competition in Abu Dhabi.”
The tournament, which was organised by the UAE Ice Hockey Association with big enthusiasm and professionalism, was run similarly to the events in the IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship program. This was a big experience for all the teams.
An organised “Coaches Corner” beside the tournament brought also some ideas for the future. Tomita: “We will discuss everything during the next ASPG Meeting in May in Helsinki where we will do a first follow-up and prepare the next steps.”
This victory can be a boost for hockey in Thailand. With a new rink opened at the beginning of 2012, the association and the players will have more opportunities to develop the game.
“The last meetings we had were very positive,” said IIHF Asian Sport Development Manager Harald Springfeld, “and I am sure that the association can make big steps for their development in future.”
It doesn`t matter which nation it is, everybody will benefited from the U18 Challenge Cup of Asia. Also India, which discovered a new world in the international level or the players and team staff of Malaysia, which were working hard during the whole week, not to forget the game officials led by IIHF Referee Supervisor Thomas Schurr.
“It was a good week and a new experience for everybody,” Springfeld said. “We saw a lot and we have now a good impression in which areas we have to focus on in future. Especially in this week we saw that within our Asian hockey family. The commitment to develop is very strong.
“The teams with their players and team staff, the UAE Ice Hockey Association with their sponsors and all the volunteers in the background made the tournament successful. We can be very proud of it. It was the success of everybody involved.”
Compiled by IIHF Staff