MANILA – Two decades ago, the closest thing to ice hockey the Philippines could relate to was a Disney movie.
“The Mighty Ducks,” which came out in 1992 and spawned 2 other sequels, is the story of a ragtag bunch of young players put together to form an unlikely winning team. Because of its theme, the trilogy tugged at the heartstrings of underdog-loving Pinoy moviegoers.
Who knew that some 20-plus years later art would imitate life in the form of the Philippine national hockey team with its own feel-good story.
“Before (hockey in the Philippines) used to be in the form of pick-up games. Then, it became a little bit more organized about 10 years ago when we have more formal practices, regular practices.
Two and a half years ago, we formed a federation,” said Francois Gautier, a Frenchman born and raised in the Philippines who currently serves as the general manager of sport’s national governing body, the Federation of Ice Hockey League.
The winter sport’s growth in this perpetually warm country can be traced back to the malls, particularly SM Megamall and SM Southmall, because of their ice-skating rinks.
From those simple beginnings, Gautier and his group have come a long way, their ascent in continental competition capped by a bronze medal at the Asian Winter Games in Sapporo, Japan in February, where the Filipinos finished with a 3-1 record.
Gautier’s team has amped up training as the Southeast Asian Games in Kuala Lumpur near. The Filipinos are favored to win the gold.
Given that the ability to maneuver effortlessly on frozen ground and perform in sub-zero temperature is a basic requirement, the assumption is that the team’s roster is made up of players recruited from the icier parts of the world.
But that’s not the case. The squad is composed mainly of homegrown Filipinos mixed with foreign-born Filipino players who have been living in the country for years.
“You have to be Filipino to be part of the national team, by international rules you’re not allowed to have foreign players. They need to come here to the Philippines, live and play here for minimum 2 years in order to be eligible,” Gautier said.
Gautier said the federation takes pride in having a winning team without getting foreign reinforcement. To date, the national hockey team has a record of 5-1 in international competition.
“It’s not in the best interest of the federation or hockey in the general in the country to import players. Kung maganda ang development program mo, bakit mo kailangang mag-import?” he said.
Unlike basketball or martial arts, hockey gear is expensive. Basic equipment that includes a helmet, a stick, a jersey and pants, shin guards, skates and various body pads cost up to P50,000. Rental fees for ice rinks can drive up the cost, too.
Gautier says the team has benefited from generous entities, from the government through the Philippine Sports Commission to private-sector help such as the SM group, that are either as passionate as the team about hockey or are just keen to see it succeed.
“There’s a lot of pride in that group. We don’t like to lose that’s for sure,” Gautier said. “Even if we do lose, we make sure we play our best that the country would be proud of us.”
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