Focus on youth in ice hockey

Joaquin M. Henson - The Philippine Star

MANILA, Philippines – With ice hockey set to be introduced at the Southeast Asian (SEA) Games in Malaysia in 2017, Fil-French coach Francois Gautier said the other day he’s assembling a top-flight squad to represent the country in going for gold.

“Our focus is on youth, that’s where the future of ice hockey in the Philippines lies,” said the 32-year-old Gautier. “We’ve got over a year to scout for Filipino hockey players around the world. We know there are outstanding Filipino players in Iceland, Germany and Switzerland, among other countries. We’re reaching out to them. One of our prospects is Fil-Swiss Steven Fuglister. We’re also counting on Filipino talents like Brian Wong, Daniel and Danilo Pastrana, Julian Santiago, Carlo Garrucho, David Samson, Miguel Relampagos and two teenagers who play in our adult league, Gelo Tigaronita and Jan Aro Regencia.”

Guatier recently piloted the Philippines to the 13th annual BOCI-Prudential Asset Management Ice Hockey Tournament title in the premier Gold Cup division at the Mega Ice Center in Kowloon Bay, Hong Kong, with a squad whose average age was in the range of 30 to 35. The team was made up of Filipinos, Fil-foreigners and expatriates who live in Asia. The victory was a positive sign that the Philippines will be a gold medal contender at the SEA Games.

The tournament was played six-a-side including the goalkeeper with two periods of 20 minutes each. The Philippine squad was composed of Gautier, Carl Montano, Daniel Brodan, Gaelen Hallenbeck, Ryan Charland, Florian Pacquelin, Jorell Crisostomo, Tomas Koteles, Scott Young, Julius Santiago, Antton Nordberg, Pierre Navasero, Nico Cadiz, Paolo Spafford and L. R. Lansero. Young, 46, was the oldest and Crisostomo, 15, the youngest in the roster.

Nine teams participated in the competition – United Arab Emirates Storms, Japan Yokohama, Macau, Qatar Oryx, Taipei Sharks, Japan Mitsubishi, Mongolia Capitals, Hong Kong Giants and the Philippines. The teams were split into three groups. In the preliminaries, each team played the other two teams in a group once. The leaders of each group advanced into a playoff round then the top two placers faced off in the final.

The Philippines trounced Mongolia, 6-1, and the Giants, 7-0, in the preliminaries to top its group. In the playoffs, the Philippines downed the Storms, 4-1, but lost to Mitsubishi, 6-4. That set the stage for the final between the Philippines and Mitsubishi. The Philippines got back at Japan, 3-1, to claim the Gold Cup. Charland, a Canadian, was the tournament’s top scorer.

It was sweet vindication for the Philippines. Last July, Gautier led the national team to third place in the adult division of the annual Hong Kong Fives. Five players on that squad – Gautier, Santiago, Crisostomo, Montano and Spafford – saw action in the BOCI-Prudential tournament. In the Hong Kong Fives, the Philippines won four in a row then lost to the Tokyo Mavericks, 3-1, in the semifinals. A match in the Hong Fives was played in three periods of 12 minutes each.

Gautier said while he’s busy trying to assemble a pool for the SEA Games, the Federation of Ice Hockey Leagues (FIHL) is tying loose ends to secure certification as a national sports association from the POC and affiliation with the Finland-based International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF).  The SM Lifestyle Entertainment group is supporting the efforts to recognize the FIHL.

Gautier said ice hockey is a relatively expensive sport. “We play two days during the work week in the league and practice on weekends,” he said. “On the average, each player pays between P500 to P1,000 per game for the ice use. Our uniforms cost about P1,500 to P2,000 and a helmet between $50 to $250, depending on the quality. A stick is anywhere between $50 to $300. Pads are about $200 each and we’ve got shoulder, elbow, shin and all kinds of pads. A puck weighs 4 to 5 ounces and is made of rubber. We buy hundreds of pucks to keep in inventory and they’re about P4 to $5 each.”

Gautier said there is growing interest in the sport, thanks to the SM Group that makes available its rinks at the Mall of Asia and Southmall for hockey. “In the adult league, we’ve got four clubs with16 to 18 players each,” he said. “There are about 20 kids in the age range of 13 to 17 playing in the adult division. They’re starting young and they can only get better with experience.”

Gautier said the top ice hockey teams in Asia come from China, Japan and Hong Kong. In the SEA Games, expected to crowd the Philippines in the race for the gold medal are Singapore, Malaysia and Thailand. He said once the FIHL is recognized by the POC, it can apply for assistance from the PSC and speed up the training program for the SEA Games.












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