In Marican the men's hockey team trusts
The New Paper continues the countdown to the 29th SEA Games in Kuala Lumpur with a look at the old and new faces in various sports. Today, we feature hockey players ENRICO MARICAN and JASPAL SINGH. National hockey players hoping to exceed expectations again, after being lifted by home support two years ago
Enrico Marican will turn 26 in two months' time.
But the national hockey captain is considered an old head, having been with the national team for over a decade.
He has chalked up plenty of experience since making his international bow as a 15-year-old in 2007, and has travelled to South Korea, China and Oman representing the nation at Olympic qualifiers, the Asian Games and Junior World Cup.
But he counts the 2015 SEA Games in the humble settings of Sengkang Hockey Stadium, as one of the sweetest experiences.
Talking to The New Paper before a recent training session, Enrico's eyes lit up when he recalled the final against Malaysia, which was played in front of a jam-packed crowd at the 3,200-capacity venue.
As his eyes scoured the Sengkang Hockey Stadium, "Rico", as he is called by teammates, said: "I've always dreamed of playing in front of a crowd like that, but I never imagined it would happen.
"When I saw our home crowd in 2015, it just gave me a different kind of motivation."
Indeed, it was this fire that inspired Enrico to almost single-handedly help Singapore claw back from 2-0 down to draw 2-2 and take the tie to penalty strokes.
When I saw our home crowd in 2015, it just gave me a different kind of motivation. National hockey captain Enrico Marican, on the full house at the Sengkang Hockey Stadium for the 2015 SEA Games final against Malaysia
Twice in the dying moments of the match, he tore the Malaysian defence to shreds and set up teammates to score.
And while Singapore had to settle for silver after losing on the lottery of penalties, Enrico's display earned him and his teammates a lot of plaudits.
When it matters the most... Rico is always there to help us pick up the pieces. National hockey defender Jaspal Singh, on his captain Enrico Marican
Malaysia are expected to retain the gold in Kuala Lumpur - in June, they became the first Asian side to qualify for next year's World Cup - but Enrico and Co are hoping to put up another spirited fight.
As preparation, the squad have travelled across the Causeway frequently in recent months for friendlies with state clubs and selection sides.
With a little luck and Enrico's influence, the team could just run Malaysia close again.
Defender Jaspal Singh, 22, hailed his skipper, saying: "What he has that a lot of us don't is vision, and the confidence to try stuff.
"He can pull off moments of brilliance, and that was evident at the 2015 SEA Games final - both our goals were created by Rico.
"We have a lot of vocal people in the team, people who will take the initiative and step up to help lead the team.
"But when it matters most - and especially when the odds are stacked against us - Rico is always there to help us pick up the pieces."
Indeed, Enrico has become a talisman for the national hockey team.
He experienced his first SEA Games as a 16-year-old, travelling to Korat, Thailand, in 2007.
Two years later, he starred for Singapore in the Junior World Cup - an Under-21 competition - which Singapore co-hosted with Malaysia.
Singh was in secondary school then, watching eagerly in the stands.
In contrast to Enrico, who was fast-tracked to the senior team, Singh is a self-confessed "late bloomer".
He was called up to the Under-16 squad but tore his hamstring, which sidelined him for a period.
Later, he was called up to the U-18 squad for a tournament, but soon turned his attention to his A-level examinations, before enlisting for national service.
He made the step-up to the senior national team only in January 2015, for the Singapore leg of the World Hockey League, five months before the SEA Games.
The Singapore Management University undergraduate admits juggling his studies and internship with the demands of national team training is tough.
But the partisan support on that balmy night in Sengkang always reminds him that the struggle is worth it.
"Usually, we get 20 people watching our games, so that was pretty cool," said Singh, with a chuckle.
"Most of us had never played in front of a crowd that large or noisy, and it was really amazing to see such a huge turnout.
"Things like that... make you want to sacrifice more."
Enrico hopes local hockey can kick on and hit new heights.
"Seeing the crowd in 2015 gave me the belief there's a lot of potential in the sport, and that hockey in Singapore can go another level," he said.
"In the coming years, I hope Singapore go up the ranks, and beat teams like Thailand and Myanmar more consistently, while closing the gap on Malaysia.
"In the future, I hope we can see players go full-time and turn professional... that would be the best step to take if we really want to do well."
National Hockey Stadium, Bukit Jalil
Men's: Akash Prebhash Chandra, Dineshraj Naidu, Enrico Marican, Hazmi Ibrahim, Jaspal Singh Grewal, Gary Lee, Farhan Kamsani, Sabri Yuhari, Aidil Ibrahim, Fazly Abdul Rahman, Fazri Jailani, Hafiz Abdul Rased, Nur Ashriq Ferdaus, Silas Abdul Razak, Tan Yi Ru, Norman Teo, Ian Vanderput, Wee Wei Xuan
Women's: Ivy Chan, Cheryll Chia, Chua Xinni, Felissa Lai, Leck Yuan Jie, Hajaratih Johana, Ho Puay Ling, Jerelee Ong Yan Ting, Laura Tan, Nicole Kwek, Nur Atiqah Abdullah, Nur Syaheeza Jefri, Nurul Sofia Atikah, Syasya Rifqah, Tam Wan Ting Liu Yutong, Tiffany Ong, Toh Li Min
PERFORMANCE AT 2015 SEA GAMES
One silver (men's), one bronze (women's)