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In the ice rink: Lighting the lamp with hockey in the Philippines

As hockey continues to gain a footing in the Philippines, several groups and individuals are willing to spearhead the sport’s growth.

Hockey—with its physically demanding nature, ice skating rinks, and constantly changing equipment—is more than meets the eye. In the increasingly hot climate of a developing country where athletic interests mainly revolve around basketball and volleyball, these very factors also make the sport less sustainable.

Despite this, the winter sport has found its footing in the Philippines. Overcoming the lack of resources, Hockey Philippines proudly represents the country as its national hockey team. They focus on creating a name for the team across the region, even winning the gold in the 2017 Southeast Asian (SEA) Games, while training in their home turf: the SM Mall of Asia Ice Skating Rink.

While the sport is still considered niche locally, its global fan base has grown thanks to social media.

From the grassroots

TikTok personalities, Hockey Guys’ Austin Friesen of the University of Wisconsin-Superior Men’s Hockey team and Colton Bates of the Southern Professional Hockey League’s Birmingham Bulls both share how hockey is almost a staple sport for those growing up in Canada, “That’s what everyone would do, where [we] grew up in Manitoba.” They began playing hockey at the early age of three and fell in love with the sport instantly. “The life lessons [you learn] and the people you meet through competing with your teammates and coaches for years is honestly one of the most valuable and special things about the sport,” they reminisced, circling back to how they continuously stay motivated after years on the ice.

Friesen and Bates explain how colder countries are able to begin training at the grassroots level and grow up around the sport. Over time, training intensifies when one has serious intentions to dive into playing hockey at collegiate and professional levels. The focus of their regimen also varies, “It depends on the year [we] had [on the ice and during games]…Some years it’s more on weight training, and other years you try to get on the ice more in the summer.” If they fell short in a specific area of their game, these hockey players would give that more attention during their training days and the offseason.

The pair further share that they prefer training with their teams, as training alone finds them getting complacent in contrast to when they train as a group.  “It helps having people push you and be with you for [training],” they express, citing that such an atmosphere also improves their conditioning.

An expensive game

In the Philippines, hockey is even more inaccessible because of several different factors, including rising exchange rates. With most equipment being imported, Executive Vice President of Hockey Philippines François Gautier along with Hockey Philippines team members Aro Regencia and Miguel Serrano affirm how costly the sport has become over time. According to Gautier, “The sport itself is expensive not only here, but everywhere in the world. On average, if you’re starting [with] a full set of gear, [it] would cost you around USD1,000 to USD1,500—that would be low to mid-range. Sticks are USD300 each. Helmets alone, for a goalie, are USD800 to USD1,000 for top ends.”

The constantly increasing prices for equipment and ice time become difficult for the players as well. “The number of resources that is needed for an individual to keep on playing the sport is no joke…[It used to be] P500 per person to rent the ice, but now it’s P750 each [due to the] pandemic,” Regencia states, emphasizing that they need to constantly pay for their own ice time to be able to practice as a team and to pay a separate rate for individual lessons.

“Times have changed and it’s definitely more expensive now than it used to be. Depending on the player and what you do for training and what resources you have, [it] would drastically change for each individual,” Friesen and Bates state, looking back on their many years of having to constantly replace and upgrade equipment. While hockey players in colder regions have easier access to resources, it does not exempt them from the rising prices of uniforms, hockey sticks, and ice skates.

And while these players do not normally have to pay their own fees for large-scale competitions like the Asian Winter Games and Southeast Asian (SEA) Games, Serrano mentions that they do have to shell out their own money for smaller competitions—covering flight tickets, hotel accommodations, and food. This, in turn, creates a financial struggle that hockey players must face, and leaves many questioning how they stay motivated to represent the flag despite the costs they shoulder amid a lack of support.

Passion amid uncertainty

Aside from the financial implications that are required to completely master the sport, there are different challenges that contribute to establishing hockey’s grassroots in the Philippines. The Philippine Hockey League was established just recently in 2018—right before the 2019 SEA Games. With this development, the local competitive hockey scene shifted their approach to the sport. When asked about the effects of this development, Serrano exclaims that there was “definitely” a change in their training dynamics.

“The training now is much more structured and organized. The management became stricter with our uniforms, call times, and nutrition,” Serrano posits.

Despite hockey receiving much more exposure due to its inclusion in SEA Games, Regencia admits that there is still “a lack of support” and that the progress seems to have “no consistency into providing resources and exposure” in contrast to the nation’s trendsetting sports such as basketball and volleyball.

Given these difficulties, local hockey players like Regencia and Serrano still find ways to stay passionate about the sport. Serrano describes representing the country as a “feeling like no other”. Regencia, on the other hand, believes that he has a “sole purpose of representing the country” as a player and youth assistant coach—hoping to inspire the younger generations to spearhead hockey’s growth in the Philippines.

Building hope

Hockey still has a ways to go before reaching mainstream attention in the Philippines. Regencia believes that Filipinos “will get curious and start to want to try ice hockey”, perhaps through broadcasting the National Hockey League from North America.

Unfortunately, interest alone will not be enough, as Serrano believes that “the sport itself should be more accessible and affordable to the people,” which could be done if the community can find ways to create a demand for more skating rinks open to the public. In relation to generating interest and accessibility among the youth, a competitive amateur scene can surely boost the sport’s trajectory.

Gautier acknowledges that generally, college sports in the Philippines are “huge”, which is why he wishes that De La Salle University—a prominent UAAP-participating school—would form a hockey team, “It would be great to see the Green Archers on ice. I actually even have a uniform in mind right now. Why not?  Like I said, I have a program ready to be presented to the deans.” Although having a collegiate tournament is “far fetched”, Serrano believes that this could be possible if a strong support group made up of the government and schools can form a program for young and dedicated athletes.

Hockey may not be taking up headlines in the country’s sporting world today, but it is certain that the passionate groups and individuals behind the scenes are more than capable enough of breaking the ice.

By Miguel Robles

By Lauren Sason

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