Mega rink heralds start of new ice age
There was one complication with playing on an international-sized rink. The Cathay Pacific Flyers hadn't yet held a five-on-five practice.
'We're usually three-on-three [not counting the goalies] so we haven't had a practice yet,' Bob Gates said. 'That's a bit of a problem. I probably haven't played five-on-five hockey since I came to Hong Kong 14 years ago.'
However, with the opening of Megaice, at the Megabox in Kowloon Bay, players like Gates will get plenty of time to play the sport as he first learned it, starting with this week's World Ice Hockey Fives, a recreational tournament featuring 1,100 players in 60 teams from 15 countries.
'It's the first time it's five-on-five,' tournament director Keith Fong said. 'Every other year it's been four-on-four.'
Despite the change in the number of players on the ice, the organisers decided to retain the original name. Now in its 13th year, the tournament first started as a four-team tournament at Taikoo Shing. It eventually outgrew its roots and in 2001 was moved to Malaysia because Hong Kong did not have the facilities to accommodate the growing number of teams. With the opening of Megaice, organisers were able to move it back to Hong Kong.
However, the rink is already at capacity. Games have been scheduled from 6am until 2am and yesterday, there were an additional 15 games scheduled for the Olympic-sized rink at the Macau Dome.
'We needed to get Macau,' said former NHL player David Saunders, the majority owner of Asiasports, the tournament's organising company. 'Otherwise, the tournament would be running 24 hours and we can't do that. The rink needs time to recover.'
The rink was completed only two weeks ago and won't open to the public until next Monday, the day after the tournament finishes. Megaice is Hong Kong's only international-sized rink and the HK$25 million facility is majority owned by Kerry Properties Limited, with Saunders having a minority stake.
The venue is multi-purpose and can be used for anything from basketball games to concerts. Saunders said he would like to find a way to stage NHL exhibition games there and further expand the tournament.
'I keep saying a 100-team tournament, just for the sake of throwing out a number, but we'd have to get a second venue first,' Saunders said. 'For the NHL teams, we want to be on their Asian tour.'
Anaheim Ducks' defenceman Chris Pronger was to be the Hockey Fives guest of honour, but commitments to the Ducks most likely mean he will be unable to attend this weekend.
Centre of attention
With the opening of Megaice, the World Ice Hockey Fives is back in Hong Kong
The number of players expected to take part in this week's tournament 1,100