Mongolian women enter stage
by Liz Montroy|16 MAR 2019
Some of the first female ice hockey players in Mongolia.
photo: MIHF
While Mongolia is one of the few IIHF members with no indoor ice rinks, the landlocked country has a rich hockey history.

Young and old alike have taken to freezing cold temperatures to play hockey in Mongolia since neighbouring Soviets introduced the sport to the country in the 1960s.

The country’s men’s team has seen significant progress over the last six years. Their bandy (a game similar to hockey) men’s team won bronze at the 2017 Bandy World Championship, and recent visits and support from the Canadian Embassy in Mongolia and Canadian coaches Nate and Boe Leslie of Leslie Global Sports has helped developmentally.

However, up until now, Mongolia has never had a women’s team.

“Hockey is not just only for men,” said coach and vice president Mergen Arslan. “I want to make sure [women] have a right to play the sport they want.”
During the last IIHF Survey of Players last summer only four female hockey players were registered by the Mongolian Ice Hockey Federation. This has changed for the new season. Mongolia now has enough players to field a team, even though it was not enough for field a team for the 2019 IIHF Ice Hockey Women’s Challenge Cup of Asia Division I, where it originally wanted to participate.

“But we have more female[s] skating... A lot of players do skating in the rink,” said Arslan. “In the different provinces and villages, there’s girls skating, female players skating, and we’ve provided them with hockey equipment and some of them have already started playing, so that’s really good news.”

The players are fairly young, with players ranging in ages from 13 to 29 and hailing from around the country. Arslan recently brought the team together in the capital city of Ulaanbaatar for a training camp, where several players from the national men’s team helped him coach.
Mergen Arslan with players of the newly built Mongolian women's national team.
photo: MIHF
While the outdoor rinks have some advantages in that they help make the sport more accessible – kids are allowed to skate and play for free for as long as they want, and whenever new outdoor rinks have been opened, they’ve drawn many newcomers – the need for cold weather means that the national teams only gets three to four months to practice.

“But they are all very excited and they all are working very hard to go to this tournament, very very hard,” said Arslan. Playing an event abroad would mean for many players the first time to leave the country and the first time to play at an indoor ice rink.

“The main purpose is to start having this women’s, female hockey going,” said Arslan, who knows that the competition may be tough.
We don’t care what medal, what position we get, it’s just important to make the first step.
Mergen Arslan
Coach and Vice President Mongolian Ice Hockey Federation
The team is focusing on basic skating, shooting and passing skills, and Arslan plans to implement simple, yet effective, game strategies.

“They’ve been working really hard and I can see that they love this sport,” he said. “They really like the sport.”
In Mongolia every ice hockey game is a winter classic.
photo: MIHF
Along with using the Women’s Challenge Cup of Asia to get the women’s program off the ground, Arslan, who recently celebrated back-to-back Challenge Cup of Asia gold with the men’s team, is hoping that this team will help build some momentum towards getting the country an indoor rink.

“When the girls are playing, a lot of parents get involved... When parents get involved, we have a chance to develop hockey and finally maybe have an indoor rink.”

In September of 2018, around the same time the women’s team was announced, it was announced that there are plans for the country to get its first indoor rink, something which Arslan has been appealing for several years.
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MGL 16 MAR 2019
Hockey is currently competing with more popular (and government-funded) sports in Mongolia like judo, wrestling and basketball. However, Arslan believes that hockey will gain more momentum and attention as the numbers of both male and female players continue to increase.

“[Compared to other sports] hockey in Mongolia is not very popular,” said Arslan, who uses a metaphor of a lighted candle to explain the situation.

“The lights on the candle are trying to go out. I’m trying to protect this light, to make sure that no one wants to turn it out... It’s been very hard to keep this candle light on in Mongolia. We will see what’s going to happen.”

UPDATE 26 March: The Mongolian women's national team had to withdraw its participation in the 2019 IIHF Ice Hockey Women's Challenge Cup of Asia Division I due to lack of players.

This story is published with the kind permission of Women's Hockey Life and the author Liz Montroy. Visit their website for stories on other participating countries.