Ice hockey for Pinoys – why not

- Rey Gamboa - The Philippine Star

Who would have thought that Filipinos would go for ice hockey as a sport, or even be a fan of it, considering that we are in a tropical country?  But ice and snow have always fascinated us, precisely because we never had those and will never have them here at home. When SM brought ice skating to the Philippines, that was a feat, and an unimaginable one really, but ice skating caught on with the young people. Mothers brought their daughters to have formal lessons in figure skating and weekends would see families skating together at SM. We have even developed our own Filipino ice skating champion. 

That was the closest we came to ice hockey, the sport, until a small group boldly set out to promote ice hockey in the Philippines. Actually, the group is made up mostly of men and women whose young sons are into ice hockey, so one can imagine that the core group is dedicated and committed to the sport that their sons have chosen. Spearheading the group is Chris Sy, president of the Federation of Ice Hockey League in the Philippines (of Highlands Premium Steakhouse) whose son first tried out ice hockey in Canada and got hooked. He got together with other parents and formed a team of Filipino ice hockey players. His dedication has earned him the distinction of being regarded as the godfather of ice hockey in the country.

Even the young players themselves will tell you that ice hockey is an expensive sport. The gear and the practice sessions at the ice skating rink were big drains in the pocket, so Chris and some of the parents approached Hans Sy of SM to see what support they can get for their fledgling Philippine team. Hans readily agreed to support the team in their practices, and this was the biggest break that the team got. They were off to a good start, and since then they have formed a unified team that tirelessly practiced and joined foreign competitions in the Asian region. 

Early this week, Chris gave a warm send-off to the team at his Highlands Premium Steakhouse at the Estancia in Capitol Commons. They are off to Sapporo for the Winter Games, an event that happens only once every five years, and the team is proud to have qualified to join the prestigious event. They converged at the steakhouse to receive their individual kits, gear and official uniforms and even  their practice ice hockey shirts, thanks to sponsors like Nike, Flying V and others who believe in the Philippine team. Of course they also feasted on Highlands’ famous angus burgers. There is also a measure of support from the government for the team, and some kind-hearted individuals have also pitched in with their personal contributions. After all, the kids are playing for the country, hoping to bring home honors for the Philippines. 

The Philippine Ice Hockey Team has been practicing  hard since July of 2016, according to Daniel Brodan, head coach of the team. For more than seven months, they have been conducting drills and practicing at the SM ice skating rink, exposed to the ice about five times a week.  Steven Fuglister is the team captain, Paolo Spifford the goalie and Paul Sanchez is the center.  Paolo, the goalie, has been playing ice hockey for 15 years now but only came to the Philippines seven years ago. He has seen how ice hockey has grown as a sport in the country in the seven years he has been home and is proud to be part of the team.

In their division, Paolo said, there are roughly 12 teams competing, so the Sapporo Winter Games will certainly test the team’s mettle. Like Paolo, Paul, the center, has also been playing ice hockey for a long time and he believes that their biggest competition is themselves. He admits to having butterflies in his stomach at the prospect of meeting and playing against more experienced foreign teams, but he is determined to do his best. This is a team-oriented sport, and they are confident they have created team chemistry on the ice from the gruelling practice sessions they have had, spending six to eight hours a week on the ice for seven full months.

After Sapporo, there is barely enough time for the team to rest until practice sessions resume for more competitions abroad. There is a challenge cup that will be staged in Kuwait, and after that, there is the SEA Games in Malaysia which the team is particularly looking forward to.

The Sapporo Winter Games will be streamed live on the web, so the eager Philippine team is looking forward to the full support of their countrymen. Watch the games and cheer for them — the moral support would mean a lot for the Philippine Ice Hockey Team.

Mabuhay!!! Be proud to be a Filipino.

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