What heat? Ice hockey thriving in Southeast Asia

by Robert Kennedy

Bangkok (dpa) - Thailand is known as the Land of Smiles, but for hockey-hungry expatriate players residing in Bangkok, that's only
until the puck drops.

While visitors to this Southeast Asian nation generally arrive for its sand and surf, if you dig deep enough, you'll find a close-knit
team of North Americans and Europeans who ignore the tropical heat to indulge in the fastest game on earth.

Every Sunday morning at 9 a.m., the Flying Farang ice hockey team congregates at a rink buried deep in a busy shopping center in Bangkok to lace up the blades in preparation for a handful of tournaments throughout Asia during the year.

The rough-and-tumble sport combining speed, skill, and power lures accountants, editors, and English teachers to the rink each week, from places as varied as Germany, Finland, even Ghana.

Hard-nosed player-coach Scott Murray from Canada is the brain behind the Farang bench. Resembling Paul Newman in his role as the ornery Reg Dunlop in 1977 film "Slapshot", Murray gets into his players' heads to produce winning hockey on the ice.

"Most of the guys have good fundamental hockey skills," says Murray, an editor for a local magazine. "I try to keep the guys'
tempers down and work on line combinations. It's more or less about creating team chemistry and team cohesion."

New York-raised Farang goaltender Jason Cotsmire began playing with the hockey team in 1995 when it first materialized.

"To still be able to play the sport you love, in a city where you never would have imagined it possible, is something to cherish," says
Cotsmire, a copywriter for an advertising agency in Bangkok.

For the eighth consecutive year, the Flying Farangs (farang meaning foreigner in Thai) will hold an international ice hockey tournament in Thailand with all proceeds destined for a children's charity.

Last year the tournament - held in Chiang Mai, Thailand, 850 kilometers north of Bangkok - raised 607,250 baht (13,931 U.S.
dollars) for Father Joe Maier's Human Development Centre. Father Joe has worked tirelessly for 30 years in Bangkok's slums, taking care of Thailand's poorest of the poor.

Chiang Mai's Bully Sky Ice arena will be the venue for this year's tournament from October 30 to November 2. It will feature 16
international teams in two divisions, including squads from Dubai, Los Angeles, Switzerland, and Finland, along with Asia's top
expatriate skaters.

The Flying Farangs - named after the National Hockey League powerhouse Montreal Canadiens who were dubbed the Flying Frenchmen back in the 1970s - have their sights set on a 2002 tournament victory after finishing second last year.

Ice hockey in this part of the world is spreading like wildfire. Besides Chiang Mai, tournaments are also held in Singapore, Kuala Lumpur and Dubai each year.

And for the first time in the Kingdom's history, Thailand will ice a national hockey team at the 2003 Asian Games in Japan.

"I've learned a lot about different hockey systems playing with the Flying Farangs," says sniper Vanchalerm Rattapong, the only Thai player on the team, and arguably the country's best. "I like the European hockey style. We (Thais) have small bodies, so we can't play the hard-hitting game like the North Americans do."

Vanchalerm, or Top to his teammates, says the Thais are working hard on the ice in order to be competitive at the Asian Games.

"The Thai players have gotten better," adds Murray. "To reach the next level, however, they need to employ a full-time foreign coach. This is what they did when they wanted to improve their boxing and football programs. But, unfortunately, they don't seem to want to shell out that kind of money for hockey."

After 10 years of steady development, ice hockey in Thailand suffered a major setback in 2000 after its premier rink, the Imperial
Samrong, closed because of financial difficulties. The Bangkok Hockey League followed the arena's demise, leaving Thai and expatriate enthusiasts to play on the much smaller and hotter ice at Imperial
Lat Phrao.

But true to the sport, a never-quit hockey mentality reigns in Bangkok, allowing hockey-starved players their weekly fix of sticks
and pucks, while supporting Bangkok's neediest each October.

"I enjoy the fact that through hockey we have been able to make a difference in society," says goalie Cotsmire. "Nothing beats being able to do some good for others while playing hockey."



For further info contact Father Joe or the HDC at:

3757/15 Sukhumvit Rd

Soi 40, Phra Khanong

Bangkok, Thailand 10110

Tel: (662) 392-7981, 381-1821 Fax: (662) 391-4968

E-mail: thague@mozart.inet.co.th


or visit Scott Murray's web page at http://www.scottmurray.com for more information.