Ice ice baby!
By NINA TI
Ice hockey players in Malaysia are used to seeing a range of frozen expressions – and it has nothing to do with the cold.
Khoo Seng Chee, a defender with the national ice hockey team laughingly admits to receiving a fair share of puzzled reactions for his pursuit.
“People are surprised when they first hear that we play hockey on ice,” Khoo says with a grin, adding that many Malaysians find the idea of winter sports in a warm country simply bizarre.
He continues, “They can’t believe their ears when we tell them that there is even a national team!”
This disbelief lingers for a long time, and for other reasons as well. Spectators watching a league outing at the local rink are often psyched out by both the grace of movement and brutality of impact in the game.
Ice hockey is a serious contact team sport involving skaters in full protective gear, and those who watch a game are in awe for more than just the fact that it is played on a cold, slippery surface.
Take no prisoners
Khoo is an accomplished athlete who has represented Malaysia twice at the Asian Winter Games, donning the national colours for the Olympic Council of Asia event in Changchun, China in 2007 and in Almaty, Kazakhstan in 2011.
On the ice, this strapping 29-year-old is known for his elite-level playing abilities and astonishing top speed.
He raves, “I have been a member of the national team for the last eight years and it has been a dream come true… an experience that I never thought possible in my life.”
Khoo, who has been playing since the age of 12, recounts how his parents play a huge part in sustaining his passion for ice hockey.
“They have always given me their unwavering support. When I first started, my mother would generously buy me all the equipment I needed to play without questioning,” he shares.
Khoo continues to enjoy his family’s loyal support, and shares his successes with them, although he admits they are not completely overjoyed when he comes home with injuries and bruises.
In addition to the Asian Winter Games, Khoo’s international career includes participating in six Challenge Cups of Asia, where he helped his team capture podium placings in a grueling tour that has included India, Hong Kong and Abu Dhabi.
As a high-level athlete who is used to the rigours of competition, he finds the intensity and speed of the game exhilarating.
“Ice hockey is one of the fastest team sports in the world. Because it is also a contact sport where high-speed collisions are common, those who excel in ice hockey appreciate the fact that it is both very physical and adrenaline-driven,” enthuses Khoo, when asked to define his zeal for the rough game.
An obsession begins
Khoo admits being born into a typical old school Chinese family where studies mattered a lot.
“I had very few toys growing up. Sports were the only thing my mother allowed me to do in my free time. While the emphasis was on studies, she also made sure that I played all kinds of sports, including ice hockey,” discloses Khoo, who holds a bachelors degree in management and finance.
When asked why he would choose ice hockey at a time when it was virtually unknown in the region, he admits that he was inspired by the movie The Mighty Ducks (1992).
“The movie really sparked my interest! After watching it, five of my friends and I got together to play for a team called the Bloodhounds. We first started with roller hockey in our housing area park, and later pursued our training in the Arena Sports Center opposite Assunta Hospital in Petaling Jaya.
“And when Sunway Pyramid was built back in 1997, we successfully transitioned our hobby to ice hockey,” explains the energetic Khoo, who till this day continues to train at the Pyramid Ice rink for at least nine months in a year.
Pyramid Ice is the sole training venue at the moment, and provides a limited number of hours per week to the ice hockey federation for team training and development programmes for juniors.
The journey thus far
Khoo admits being frustrated by the slow development of ice hockey as a credible sport in Malaysia. One of the biggest challenges for the national team is the lack of infrastructure, namely not having access to a dedicated ice rink for practices, or even one that is Olympic-sized.
Ice hockey fans will also be shocked to learn that Khoo’s team, the ROCKTAPE Wildcats, is self-funded and self-coached despite producing such brilliant results in international competitions.
So what keeps him fully committed to the sport?
Khoo, a young man who plans to marry soon declares:
“The passion, love and friends in the sport keep me going. Ice hockey has been a part of me and my life for many years, and my ultimate motivation is to win gold medals for my country and make Malaysia proud.”
Earlier this year, Khoo was elected as assistant captain of the team – a coveted position that has proven both his prowess at running a power play and being a leader that could inspire others.
“Someday when I am unable to play for the national team, I would probably be coaching as I want to help the development of the sport and raise the awareness of ice hockey in the community,” he declares, explaining his long-term goals.
Asked if he has any advice for our young, emerging leaders who may be interested in pursuing a career in sports, he responds: “My advice to everyone, and especially the children who are still developing their skills, is to enjoy what you’re doing. Always appreciate the fun in training even when you are pushing yourself to the limit.”
He concludes this interview by saying:
“Be honest with yourself, and know clearly what it takes to be a champion, because champions do not sit around and wait. They take the lead and do what it takes to win.”