Having just discovered this site, it is nice to see other international hockey nerds! The Asian Winter Games is a great way for Asian National teams to show themselves in a respectable manner before the IIHF World Championships, as the level of play across Asia varies vastly. Kazakhstan and Japan are the two favorites in the Mens Championship division (though I feel Kazakhstan should have an easy time being the only team to play in the premier World Championship pool in the last 5 years), though South Korea does benefit from playing Japan and Kazakhstan. The weakest teams do get some benefit from playing teams, but the talent level drops out considerably after the first three of five teams.
While that level of the tournament is easily watchable, I could care less about it. The Premier Division is where it is at. Created this year to prevent (bolded because this point will be revisited stay tuned!) lopsided scores such as Kazakhstan's 52-1 thrashing of Thailand 4 years ago, the event features Ice Hockey powerhouses such as The United Arab Emirates, Thailand, Malaysia, Kuwait (with recent IOC suspensions!), Mongolia, and two entirely new national teams of Bahrain and Kyrgyzstan. I know you are wondering how the UAE and Bahrain have Ice Hockey teams when they are in the desert, but let me remind you oil money can provide anything. Even Qatar was supposed to debut at this tournament, but they could not attend, like India.
The reason this tournament is "where it is at" because it gives young, emerging hockey nations a chance to play at a fair level, and could even have some nice rewards for some teams back home. Like Malaysia for example:
The probably biggest motivation to perform well was given to the Malaysian team, in a letter from the country’s highest sports authority.
“Bring back a medal and we will build an Olympic-sized ice hockey arena,” Datuk Seri Ahmad Shabery Cheek, the Youth and Sports Minister of the country, issued in a statement published by state-run agency Bernama. “We are ready to help the sport and the ministry will do its part to help promote and develop the sport. It is not impossible to see the sport become a favourite among Malaysians one day.”
-Taken from The IIHF Website
Malaysia headed into the tournament as the favorite to take the Bronze Medal behind UAE and Thailand, but after 5 days of play Malaysia is tied for fourth with Mongolia. Kyrgyzstan has taken this tournament by surprise and ruthlessly dominated everyone they faced so far! Through five games they have scored 80 goals (an amazing 16 goals per game, wasn't this division created to prevent these types of scoring feats from happening?) and given up 19. Their Goals Against should be much lower, but Bahrain (who had scored 1 goal through four games) exploded for 10 goals in their match against the mighty Kyrgyz (who managed to score 15, in a highly defensive affair)! Thailand and UAE are currently tied for second with two games to play, and all four teams (Thailand, UAE, Malaysia, and Mongolia) all have an opportunity for a medal. What does this mean for each team, we'll find out after the jump.Thailand (currently in second after 4 games by goal differential) has games against Mongolia and UAE left. Mongolia has wins again Bahrain (so does everyone else except Kuwait) and Kuwait (Who doesn't have a win, but barely lost to Mongolia 3-2), so that looks like it will be an easy win for Thailand. That will give them 4 wins with a match with UAE to end the tournament. We'll see the implications of that match, when we get to UAE.
Mongolia (currently in 4th after 4 games based on goal differential) has games against Thailand and more importantly Malaysia. Mongolia needs to win both of these games if they want to win a medal, as UAE is strong, and so is Thailand. Mongolia looks to be out of the medal position, but winning one of these games will be a HUGE advancement for this country, because no one expected Kyrgyzstan to be this strong.
Malaysia (currently in 5th after 4 games based on goal differential) has games against United Arab Emirates and Mongolia to finish out their tournament. Now the game against UAE is possibly the biggest game of the tournament in terms of implications. Malaysia needs a medal to get their Olympic size rink (which just happens to be a component for a country to begin participating the IIHF World Championships, and with the next Challenge Cup of Asia in doubt) as well as more support from their government for Ice Hockey. If they don't beat UAE, then they can only end up with 3 wins (by beating Mongolia) tops, while both UAE and and Thailand will have 4 wins causing Malaysia to miss out on a medal. Which leads us to...
United Arab Emirates (currently in 3rd after 4 games based on goal differential) has games against Malaysia and Thailand. I just discussed how important the game against Malaysia is for both teams, but if UAE loses that game, they will be died with Malaysia with 3 wins with a game to play. This makes the game with Thailand that important, as Malaysia will have an easier game against Mongolia. Obviously, Mongolia can throw a wrench into everything, but having their own "miracle on ice" against Thailand, but we're assuming that, it won't happen. UAE can finish anywhere from second (Thailand loses their next two games) to fifth (they lose both their games, Mongolia beats Thailand, and the UAE loses both games by large amounts.)
Pretty much any spot from 2nd to 5th is up for grabs (as Kyrgyzstan has only lowly Kuwait left), and it will have big implications for each nation. UAE's program debuted at the 2009 Challenge cup of Asia and looks strong, Thailand is having a great tournament, Mongolia could be a dark horse, and Malaysia wants a new rink! For those of you who cannot locate any of these countries on a map, don't worry! I'm confident a Junior "C" Canadian team could beat them, but that's not the point. The point is to enjoy the future, now, and these budding hockey nations just show how our favorite sport has spread to every corner of the globe. Now we get to watch it grow. Should be a helluva two days starting February 4th!
EDIT: After the results of today, Kyrgyzstan clinched goal with a win over Kuwait, and Thailand and UAE beat Mongolia and Malaysia respectively 7-1. Thus tomorrows game of UAE-Thailand is for the silver and bronze medals, and the Malaysia-Mongolia match is for 4th place. Looks like Malaysia will not be getting and indoor Olympic sized rink. It a shame. What a strange tournament!