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Bizarre Coaching Tactics at the Asian Winter Games

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On Monday, January 31, Kyrgyz players defeated Mongolian team with the score 13:3. The first two periods went with notable advantages of Kyrgyzstan team and ended with the total score 11:1. The score of the third twenty-minute was 2:2. For the most part it happened due to the decision of Kyrgyzstan coach to replace the goalkeeper with the sixth skater, which was a good opportunity for Altanbayan Altamklumaga to deliver a puck into the opponent’s gate.

- taken from Astana/Almaty 2011 Website

The brief article from the main website makes it sound worse than it was, as according to the game sheet, Kyrgyzstan only pulled their goalie with 25 seconds left to play, and the article even credited the wrong Mongolian player with the goal (which occured just seven seconds later).  In a throwaway situation, the Kyrgyz coach decided to pull his goalie to see how his players would play with six skaters, even though the score was already 13-2 at the time.  

Still, it's not something you see everyday.  It's hard to know what to make of this Kyrgyzstan team, who had never played in international competition before and are now blitzing the competition in the Premier Division of the 2011 Asian Winter Games.  Their scorelines have been incredibly impressive, defeating the United Arab Emirates 14-0.  The Emirati may not seem to exude hockey greatness, but at this level, they actually are the team to beat.  So when the team puts up a result like that, I guess the coach decides to work in some practice scenarios in game situations to try and find ways to improve his team.

It's not unfathomable that Kyrgyz players have existed with a decent level of talent, being that the country shares a border with a strong hockey nation in Kazakhstan, and was part of the USSR.  It is also known there was hockey played in Kyrgyzstan during some of the USSR days, although not a lot remains on the historical record.  

This could be an instance where the differing rules for player eligibility between the International Olympic Committee and the International Ice Hockey Federation has helped Kyrgyzstan field a more competitive team than they would be able to at a World Championship, but right now all appears to be legit.  A quick look through the Kyrgyz roster will see a lot of Russian or Kazakh names, which doesn't mean they're ringers, it just shows a high proportion of the team could be made up of members of minority groups within the country (Russians make up 7.8% of Kyrgyzstan's citizens in 2009, Kazakhs less than 1%).  

So Kyrgyzstan is making a huge debut on the international hockey scene, and if the team receives some government support (not a given due to the nation being relatively unstable, with civil uprisings in the south of the country last spring), we could see them as regulars in the World Championship program, starting at a level not too distant from China and North Korea, in the 4th to 6th range amongst Asian nations.

The rest of the group has gone to form a bit, although Kuwait has been in three competitive games, all losses, which might be a bit of a surprise.  Kuwait appears to be gaining on the competition, putting up a very respectable showing in a 5-3 loss to Thailand, another of the favourites of the group.  Although the game's tightness might be attributed a bit to score effects, which is rarely seen at this level of hockey.  Check out this shot chart, which is extremely well done for a low level international game (way better than you'll see at any IIHF run event).

The top group just got started today with South Korea beating Taiwan 22-0, and Japan beating China 7-1.  No doubt that Taiwan is out of their league in the top division, while Kyrgyzstan is probably better suited for that level of competition.  The Kazakh men will make their debut tomorrow against China.

In the women's tournament, Kazakhstan edged Japan in a shootout earlier today 3-2.  The win puts the hosts in first, and means they can win gold with a win over China on Thursday.