AS ice hockey prepares to make it’s Sea Games debut in Kuala Lumpur this August, team manager and programme director Nor Hisham Yahaya shares the sport’s plans with Timesport.
Question: Can you explain on your job scope as programme director and team manager for the national ice hockey team?
Answer: As programme director, I look into the preparation of athletes leading up to the 2017 KL Games. At the moment, we are rolling up the Kita Juara programme. As you know, this was launched in 2015 and for ice hockey, we have broken it into three phases.
Right now, we are already in our final phase. My job as programme director is also broken up into three categories. Firstly, I have to look into suitable training programmes for our athletes.
Secondly I must then source for these programmes and plan them out well.
Lastly is funding. Right now, since we are under the Kita Juara programme, we get some funding from the National Sports Council (NSC) but it is not sufficient.
I must say that ice hockey is somewhat an expensive sport, and most of our athletes are not full time professionals. For now, we get them to chip in a little for ice time and also our overseas training stints and tournaments. This pretty much sums up what I do as programme director and team manager.
Q: How long have you been involved with ice hockey?
A: I first got involved about six to seven years ago, because of my son who was interested to play ice hockey. From then on, I started organising programmes for kids. I used to take them for ice hockey camps around Asia to countries like Taiwan, Hong Kong and Singapore.
From then on, I got myself involved with the adults. The most important thing right now is to expose our players to body-checking. Ice hockey is a body-checking sport, but because we do not have an ice ring big enough here, we have not been able to expose our players to this style of playing through our federation.
This is why, we have been going overseas or trying to bring foreign teams to play here.
Q: How many teams do we have at the moment?
A: Currently, we run a league with three divisions. Division one (six teams) comprises of expatriates who make up 70 per cent of the players, division two (five teams) where it’s a mix of both men and women and division three (three teams) where it’s for juniors who are Under-15.
As for our national team, we have got the men’s and women’s teams. The federation (Malaysia Ice Hockey Federation) are now forming a youth team, and in September we will for the first time host the Southeast Asia Youth Cup, where the same five teams (Thailand, Indonesia, Philippines, Singapore and Malaysia) who will compete at the Sea Games, will also be competing in.
Q: What drove the idea to bring ice hockey (winter sport) into the Sea Games?
A: We used to think that winter sports is only limited to cold climate countries, but not anymore. We have seen Jamaica compete in the winter Olympics and few other tropical countries have followed in their footstep. As for ice hockey, it is usually played indoors, so tropical countries can also play certain sports because all you need is an indoor ice ring.
The only drawback here is that the general public may not be as exposed to winter sports as compared to people who live in cold climate countries. Elsewhere people pick up skating because they get to skate on frozen ponds and rivers during winter, we can’t, so we don’t see many people who are interested in winter sports.
Q: Having just returned from the Asian Winter Games in Sapporo, Japan, what is the target at the Sea Games?
A: Okay, so based on the tournaments that we have recently played in and also on the five teams that will compete here, we are targeting a top two finish. Gold is not impossible but Thailand are a very strong team and clear favourites to win.
Q: So far, what kind of training have the team gone through in preparation for the KL Games?
A: Since last year, we have played about 25 matches including the Challenge Cup of Asia (CCOA) in Kygryzstan. However, based on statistics, we need to play at least 40 to 50 matches because ice hockey is a team sport and we want the team to gel really well if we want to achieve our target at the Sea Games.
Currently we are still short of matches. Our plan is to take the team to China in June where we are expected to play at least 12 matches against local clubs and then come back to Kuala Lumpur where we will have a trial event in July, where we will play another six matches against a Taiwan team.
We are also working out plans to play with some of the expatriates here, but the only concern is injury. They are not keen on body-checking as they are not professionals and they can’t afford to get injured as they have other jobs.
Q: Finally, what’s in for ice hockey after this?
A: My target is to see Malaysia compete in the World Championships one day because it is not impossible. About 10 years ago Mongolia were nowhere but they have come a long way and are now competing in the World Championships.
I am confident that with our head coach Kristof Kovago, we will be able to achieve that dream. First thing is to get more people interested in the sport.
Since the Sea Games is the main focus this year, we would like to achieve that top two finish first. We are also already thinking ahead for the next Sea Games in the Philippines, so hopefully we will also have our women’s team ready then.