MALAYSIAN Women’s Ice Hockey celebrated a watershed moment after securing their first title as a team at this year’s IIHF Women’s Challenge Cup of Asia (CCOA).
It was also a case of third time lucky for the three-year-old Malaysian squad after less than stellar performances in the past two editions of the same tournament.
This time, the team displayed brilliance throughout the round robin CCOA tournament at the National Ice Skating Stadium in Petaling Jaya, defeating Philippines (3-1), India (5-0) and United Arab Emirates (5-3) in the Division One category to bag the gold medal.
With the result, the national women’s team will be promoted to the Top Division of the CCOA next year.
In the gold medal decider against UAE, the home team found themselves 1-0 down after Khulood Shugaa opened the scoring within two minutes of the first period.
The home team soon equalised through sixteen-year-old Nurul Aliya Versluis and both teams were neck and neck until the end of the first period.
UAE took the lead once again through Fatima Almazrouei’s goal but Malaysia’s perseverance paid off when Nur Iman Sofiah Nur Aziz found the net and skipper Nur Illina Mohd Rothi scored just moments later during a powerplay to close off the second period with the host leading 3-2.
The visitors were all out for gold in the third and final period. They played aggressively but the Malaysian side did not buckle under pressure and were able to capitalise on their speed during a counter attack, scoring once more through Nurul Aliya.
UAE scored another goal shortly to reduce the deficit to 3-4, and with just over 11 minutes of play left, it was do or die.
Players on the visiting team’s bench were worked up in hopes of another equaliser but Malaysia’s Inarah Sofiya Haniff sealed the deal for Malaysia when she found the net with four minutes and 40 seconds left on the clock.
Women’s national head coach Nikolas Sepponen was overjoyed when the final buzzer sounded.
“The win is a big stepping stone for us and hopefully will serve as an inspiration for other girls who are watching. We made it hard for ourselves in the first and second period by giving them too much space but at least we got some pucks in the net.”
Nikolas commended the rookies for stepping up this season and the seniors for showing them the way.
“The team is still a work in progress, but they are all growing. We look forward to more long-term development in women’s ice hockey in the coming years and getting more players committed to the development programme.
“We hope to give the national team more exposure to what it is like to be full-time athletes, as right now many of them are working and some are still students,” said Nikolas, who is also head of Women’s Development for the sport.
Skipper Nur Illina summed up her experience as “a victory that means so much for the national team and for me personally”.
“I really don’t know how to describe this feeling. It is incredible, especially on home soil in front of so many people.
“The team worked really hard for it. We went in wanting the gold, but started of jittery because we hadn’t been in this situation before.
“But everyone held on to their nerves and we didn’t take things for granted. They (UAE) were very physical, but the team took it well. Tempers flared of course, but we kept our focus on the game.”
Nur Illina, who is based in New Zealand, also plays for the Wolves in the Auckland Ice Hockey Association Senior Non Check league.
“I hope to see ice hockey promoted better here so more players will get attracted to join and hope that there will be a women’s division in the next SEA Games too.”