102,250,133 people, 7,107 islands, 4 ice rinks and 1 growing passion for ice hockey. Welcome to the Philippines. Yes that’s right, this tropical island nation has hockey players. Again, not of the field variety but of the slippery icy kind. As a Filipino-Canadian living in a hockey loving country and born in a city often referred to as Winter-peg, that blew my mind.
Here’s another unexpected fun fact… the men’s national team won Bronze in the recently concluded 2017 Asian Winter Games held in Sapporo, Japan. Hopefully fun amounts of beer were consumed to celebrate.
The first ice skating rink opened in the the Philippines in 1992 at the SM Megamall in Manila. Now there are 4 rinks that can be utilized however only the rink in the SM Mall of Asia in Pasay City is Olympic-sized. Due to the fact that the rink prioritizes public use of its facilities during the day, players practice early in the morning and play games late in the evening. Back in these early days, pick-up games were the norm. An organized league did not materialize until 2008. The Manila Ice Hockey League is a 4 team league that is now entering its 10th season. Hockey has been played for over 20 years in the Philippines. Let that sink in!
Fast-forward to 2015; the Federation of Ice Hockey League was created to govern ice hockey in the Philippines. In May of last year, the FIHL was formally recognized by the International Ice Hockey Federation as a member thus officially ushering the Philippines into the international hockey scene. Team Pilipinas lost its first game at the 2017 Asian Winter Games 10-5 against Kyrgyzstan, bounced back to thrash Qatar 14-2 and won its final Group game 8-3 against Kuwait.
To earn their 3rd place finish in Division II, Team Pilipinas dominated Macau 9-2. The team is comprised of many true local Filipinos and some Filipino-Foreigners from Canada, the United States and Switzerland, notably Carl Montano, Paolo Spafford and Captain Steven Füglister. Next up for Team Pilipinas is the IIHF Challenge Cup of Asia Division I Tournament next month in Thailand. We congratulate them on their recent Bronze medal win and wish them the best of luck in April! Support the team and follow them on Instagram at @hockeyphilippines and Facebook at www.facebook.com/HockeyPhilippines. It’s great to know that the FIHL’s focus is on a long term plan for youth and development to ensure “…a strong core of players that can play at the senior international level in the future,” according to Team Pilipinas General Manager/Player Francois Gautier. Sounds like a familiar plan doesn’t it Jets fans?