When a silver is worth its weight in gold
Self-funded ice hockey youth team go from training in carparks to winning a historic medal in South-east Asian tourney
They faced a lack of funding and facilities, with some of their training sessions taking place in carparks.
But the Singapore Under-16 boys' ice hockey team did not let the difficulties stand in their way of doing the country proud at last week's South-east Asia Youth Cup in Bangkok, where they won a historic silver medal.
Despite having only 12 players - one of the thinnest squads at the five-team competition - they finished second only to hosts Thailand, who retained the gold medal after cruising to victory in all their matches.
Over the week-long tournament, the Republic's boys defeated Indonesia 6-1, Malaysia 4-2, lost 7-1 to Thailand, before securing the silver medal with an 8-4 victory over the Philippines.
Said Singapore coach Joewe Lam: "We are delighted that the year-long preparation, hard work and sacrifice by the entire national youth team have paid off. Most of all, we're proud to have achieved our goal and brought home a medal for Singapore."
It is the first medal won by a Singaporean youth team in ice hockey. In the process, they improved on their fourth placing at last year's inaugural competition in Kuala Lumpur, where Malaysia and Indonesia took second and third place respectively.
The result was all the more sweeter, considering the hurdles that they've had to overcome.
A lack of funding meant that the costs - rental of the JCube ice rink for training, purchase of equipment or travelling for overseas tournament- were borne by the boys' parents and coaches.
Expenses for one player can easily come up to more than $5,000 a year.
To reduce rental expenses, some training sessions took place in sheltered car parks or open spaces, with rollerblades substituting the ice skates. The team had requested to use school facilities, but were rejected.
To help defray the team's expenses, the Singapore Ice Hockey Association started a crowd-funding campaign with the aim of raising $30,000.
To get more affordable rates for training sessions at the JCube ice rink, the team trained late at night, with sessions often stretching past midnight.
Not surprisingly, the squad were hit by a few withdrawals due to the late hours and with the school examination period looming.
But as the obstacles mounted, the group got closer, with some of the boys' parents volunteering to help the team in various capacities.
One of them - Alvin Chan, 48, gained great satisfaction watching his son Joshua, 15, grow through the sport.
Said the paediatric occupational therapist, who volunteered to be the team's assistant coach: "The journey to this silver medal performance has been both arduous and gratifying.
"As an assistant coach, I'm proud as our kids learnt the virtues of commitment, sacrifice, sportsmanship, humility, resilience, effort, trust and belief."
Another parent, Joanna Siow, 44, backed her son Ian, 15, to take part in the tournament, despite his N-level examinations being barely a week away.
Said the purchase and transport manager: "We understand that Ian's GCE N-level exams next week are important. However, we play as a team and should support one another... Just like going for war, we should not let go of our team."
The immense pride of representing the country was keenly felt by the players, said Markus Lee, 13.
The Anglo-Chinese School (Independent) student said: "I feel a great sense of achievement... I'm very grateful to be part of this closely knit team of players, coaches, team managers as well as parents, who have stood selflessly with us.
"We have trained in parking lots, in open areas and at the ice rink even till midnight. I realise now that it's all worth it.
"When we hear the national anthem before each game, there's that sense of belonging and pride in each and everyone of us, and it makes me feel so fortunate to get the chance to represent my country in the sport that I love."
Looking forward, coach Lam, who is also director of the national men's ice hockey team, is aiming to expand the talent pool.
He said: "Our eyes are now set for next year as we need to recruit new members.
"We hope that more young Singaporeans will be spurred to pick up ice hockey with more schools offering the sport under their co-curricular activities (CCA).
"Thanks to Hwa Chong International's introduction of the sport under its CCA, we have one new addition to the national youth team this year."