Gold is ours at Hockey 5’s in Hong Kong!
There are a variety of ice hockey tournaments annually in Asia but one of the most prestigious and largest is the “Hockey 5’s” in Hong Kong. 2017 marks the 10th anniversary since inception of this premier event, and it was hyped to be the best competition with 14 countries represented, more than 1,600 players, nearly 90 teams across 20 divisions. Singapore was represented by the well known “Singapore Ice Dragons” club, where fifteen boys and girls of different ages played for five teams across five divisions. CIS was proud to have two students – Joshua Chan and Nikita Garal, playing in the U14 division this year.
Saturday morning 6am. Profound sleeping time for almost all the kids on the planet, but not for the ice dragons, who were already out of their warm beds, warming up for their big day of Hockey competition. Finals for all age divisions were scheduled for the evening, but the road to the finals meant defeating a select group made up of star Philippines, Canadian, American and Finnish players aptly named the International All Stars.
A 9am start time could not come sooner as the team went about their pregame rituals. This team had already exceeded pre-tournament expectations by winning every game in the preliminary rounds, knew what was needed and had been chhallenged by coaches to improve every game. There was an unspoken confidence about this team - everyone knew what it would take to have success. They knew they’d have to give everything they had, and to fight for every centimeter of the ice. It had to be a whole team effort, a mixture of talent, resiliency and belief. Even before the drop of the puck for the first game, the coaches had a feeling that this was a special team. They were diligent in team meetings, disciplined in executing the gameplan and most importantly, they had an inherent belief that they could compete with anyone if they play for each other. It was going to be a great day for hockey!
The whole event was very difficult for all kids, especially for those who had to travel. The grueling schedule had our boys playing their first game at 11pm, following by the second game after midnight. This would be tiring enough, as the team had started their day at 4am to travel to Hong Kong, so it was a very full and tiring first day.
Skates were sharpened, helmets on, the boys listened for the last instructions from their coach, the captain shouted “one-two-three… Ice DRAGONS” and the game started. This was not just a start! It was the launch of a rocket as the puck and players moved across the ice at amazing speeds… ahead of a BOOM!!! Only 40 seconds into the game, and thanks to Nikita Garal, the Singapore Ice Dragons got off to a much needed 1-0 lead. It is a well known fact, that in any competition it’s very important to score first. This “breaking the ice” gives more confidence to the team which has just scored, and puts pressure on their competitor. And it worked! After another two minutes – another shot, and the score jumped to 2:0! Another two minutes – one more goal and Ice Dragons lead 3:0. Momentum and belief was built and by the end of first period, it was 5:0. Joshua Chan, who typically plays as a forward but accepted the role of solidifying the weaker defensive core, scored in the 2nd period. By the end of the 3rd and final period, the Ice Dragons had won with a resounding 9-2 victory but more importantly, a sense of belief.
After midnight (00.30 local time) our boys applied themselves in their second game, working hard and fighting for every puck unfazed by their Hong Kong opponents who were well rested. Josh and Nikita each scored a goal before the floodgates opened for another impressive 8:2 win. Step-by-step, Ice Dragons secured their place in the play-off games. With little reprieve from a short night of sleep, game #3 was on. Team play and belief continued to grow resulting in a 4:0 win, first place in their divisional pool and a place in the semi-finals. With the day off before the semi-finals, most of the players spent the day resting but Josh and Nikita logged into My.CIS to catch up on their their school work.
Saturday was semi-final day. This would be the most difficult day because the semi-final is an elimination game – if team loses it goes home, if wins the team lives on to play for the Gold medal later the same day. Surprisingly, our team faced the same team which was their rival in the very first game of the competition – the International North Stars, who had improved their game with a dominating quarterfinals win.
The stage was set for a great battle on the ice. The Ice Dragons did not disappoint. With the common theme of contributions from all players, it was CIS student Joshua Chan, who scored twice and was a defensive wall at his own end to help the team to a confident 7:1 victory. Onto the finals! The exhilaration was clear when I spoke with Nikita who proudly exclaimed “we are in the finals!” over the phone right after the game.
In the final later that day, the Singapore Ice Dragons played against the perennial champions the Hong Kong Selects. This was truly a “selected” team comprised of the best of the best, the top-ranked team who were undefeated in their pool. From experience the Ice Dragons knew that this team never loses, a belief held from first-hand previous encounters and inevitable defeats from previous tournaments.
The puck dropped to start the anticipated final between two stellar teams.
Closely contested, Singapore got off to a 1-0 lead before the Hong Kong tied it at one all. It was a truly tough game, of two teams, equally strong. With no other scoring during regulation time, the game went into overtime. Finally, as the game speed slowed due from tiredness that came from a hard-fought battle, the stress in the air raised because one goal would now decide the outcome. – Finally... the Singapore Ice Dragons scored a second goal and we’d won!!! Gold was ours! The trophy was ours! The victory was ours! You get some really mixed emotions when you see such strong boys crying tears of excitement and success, after working so hard towards victory! Congratulations.