Running rings around rivals on ice
We're barely halfway through 2011, but it has already proven an important year for local youth ice hockey.
The Hong Kong Ice Hockey Association has officially set up a U16 ice-hockey team for the city.
Last January it also organised the 2011 Hong Kong U16 Invitational Tournament, the first-ever such event in the world governed by the International Ice Hockey Federation. Hong Kong's U16 team came second.
Meanwhile, this year's Mega Ice Hockey 5's youth division also has a record-breaking number of participating teams.
The sport has clearly seen its popularity rise among students. A watershed moment for ice hockey in Hong Kong came during the last week of April. Hong Kong's national team won the 2011 Challenge Cup of Asia, held between April 25 and 30, in Kuwait City.
Some talented juniors were given a chance to showcase their skills alongside older players.
Young Post met two of those young players: Steven Lai Yuk-yin and Adrian Yuen Hei-chit.
Steven is a Form Five student at HKICC Lee Shau Kee School Of Creativity. Just 17, Steven also took part in the event last year.
'Last year we were not even able to advance from the group stage,' the forward said. 'This year we won the title by winning all our matches. It's been an amazing journey for us.'
Not that it was smooth sailing. 'Last year I often got knocked off my feet by opponents, who were stronger and faster than me. This year I had better control and stood my ground,' he said.
Adrian strengthens the ranks of the team's defences. The 18-year-old Form Seven student from Diocesan Boys' School had just finished his A-level exam before his departure for Kuwait. 'I spent more time on the bench [than on the ice] as this was my first tournament. Even so, it was an intense experience for me,' Adrian said.
During one match, he recalled, 'We were losing 0-3 against Thailand, but turned things around to win 7-5. I learned a lot from our seniors about how to persist and come from behind.'
Adrian says that, with his exams now out of the way, he's focusing all his energy on hockey again.
Ng Ka-kin, the national team's head coach, is impressed by both teenagers' performance.
'I can see the improvement in these two players,' he said. 'Adrian has gained stability and Steven is also doing well, although at times he needs to be reminded to keep it up.'
Ng said now is the right time to enrol more local children and teenagers in the sport.
'We need to give our juniors more chances to play at large scale competitions like the Challenge Cup,' he added. 'It takes a long time to train an ice hockey player, especially in defence and goal. They are always required to play under pressure as the puck travels fast, and opponents can come charging in from any angle.'
The coach said the junior team may join the IIHF World U18 Championship next year to gain more experience.
'For the National Winter Games we will be needing some young new players,' he said.
Ng stressed that the sport needs more support in Hong Kong. He urged the government to build more ice rinks that fit the international standard for ice hockey games. At present, only MegaIce in Kowloon Bay fulfils the requirement.