Ice, ice, baby
The Manila Hawks is ready to heat up the ice and show what they’re made of...
When Michael Christian Martinez represented the country — and played really well — in the recently concluded Sochi Winter Olympics in Russia, everybody suddenly turned their heads to admire the talented Olympian. Martinez was the first Filipino to compete in the figure skating event of the Olympics.
Today, his fame is undeniable and many have promised to support him in his quest to win an Olympic gold.
Another sport played on ice is hoping to get the same recognition Martinez is getting for figure skating — ice hockey. This sport is still in the shadows of more popular team sports like basketball, volleyball, and football. But the national team, the Manila Hawks, is slowly carving its way to get the interest of Filipino sports fans. Today, ice hockey is slowly picking up as younger Filipinos are getting their ice skates on and trying out the sport.
“If you look at the game today (the Manila Ice Hockey League men’s championship), you see the fans watching. A lot of people are getting interested in the game, they just have to come here and know how to get involved, if they really want to get involved,” shares Manila Hawks head coach Carl Montano. “Especially now that there’s a men’s league, more kids come to watch, play hockey, and support the leagues. For my team, we practice five times a week, so on average we get 20 players. A lot of interest from the kids, it’s just that we need to grow it wider.”
THEIR HOME COURT
Like figure skating, ice hockey was introduced in the country when malls started to build their own ice skating rinks. Soon enough, figure skating and ice hockey turned from recreational to competitive sports.
“Over 20 years, it started just recreational and then it started picking up and now we have a men’s league. I’m trying to start a youth league, too,” says the Filipino-Canadian Montano.
The recently concluded men’s league has a total of four teams. When the national team was established seven years ago, they were already competing in international competitions. Montano started coaching the team four years ago. He has seen the interest in the sport grow through the years.
This coming April 28 to May 11, Manila Hawks will compete in the Hong Kong Hockey 5’s international tournament. This sporting event showcases the best recreational ice hockey teams in the world.
“We won during my first time in joining a tournament, for the Men’s Asian B Tournament with the Manila Predators. After that, the highest we finished is second, for the kids. The peewees finished third,” he says.
Montano, an ice hockey player in Canada, came here for a vacation four years ago. He was then introduced to the Philippine team and he came back a month later to coach them.
The Manila Hawks is divided into five teams: the squirts, peewees, bantams, men, and women. The squirts are players aged 10 years old and below; peewees, 12 and under; bantam, 16 and under; and men and women, 16 and over.
Compared to other teams in Asia like Japan, Thailand, and Taiwan, the Manila Hawks is still a young team that needs improvement, especially because the members are supporting themselves. They don’t get support from the government.
“The more we improve, the more teams outside the country improve, too. What I noticed every year is that the teams get better and better. We have to step up our game just to compete with them. In order for us to win, we’ve got to train hard and work hard. My philosophy, you outwork the other team, you come out on top. It doesn’t matter who it is,” Montano says.
THE ‘MIGHTY DUCKS’ INFLUENCE
For children who grew up in the 90s, the ice hockey-based Hollywood film “Mighty Ducks” is a classic victorious underdog sports movie that was well-loved during its time. And for some of the young players of the Manila Hawks, it was this movie that got them to play the sport.
“I started when I was 10 years old. I started playing hockey because I thought it was pretty cool and not your typical sport in the Philippines because we’re a tropical country. I watched the movie, ‘Mighty Ducks’ and it inspired me to play the sport. My sister used to play figure skating, so I kind of got into ice hockey,” shares Danilo Pastrana, 16.
The movie also influenced 15-year-old BJ Imperial, an incoming third year high school student at the Ateneo de Manila University.
“I started street hockey when I was four because I watched the movie ‘Mighty Ducks.’ But then, I started ice hockey in 2011. When I watched the movie, the sport looked fun and when I played it at first I had a lot of fun so I continued playing,” Imperial recalls.
Jorell Crisostomo began playing hockey when his sisters started to train for figure skating. His dad enrolled him in 2009 and from then on, he got hooked on the sport.
“My dad enrolled me in a one-on-one lesson with hockey coaches. I had a lot of fun so I continued playing. I like the intensity and the teamwork. Because it’s a lot of fun being with friends, you can play with them,” says the 13-year-old Crisostomo.
Ice hockey is an expensive sport. Those interested in pursuing the sport have to invest a lot of money for gears, training, rink rental, and even competition fees. Like figure skating, the athletes of the Manila Hawks have to get from their own pocket to support their passion.
“Right now we are funded basically by the parents. We pay for the rink time, we pay for our gear, we pay for competition fees. We’re basically funding ourselves right now. We have a couple of sponsors but from the government’s sports organization, no,” Coach Montano says.
Imperial adds, “We don’t get much support from the government because ice hockey is not seen as a very big sport yet and it doesn’t have many fans or supporters.
However, those interested in the sport don’t have to do a lot to start playing.
“Anybody can come here. If you want to try it out, it’s only P100 to P200 to rent the gear. You can try it on the ice and if you like it, you keep practicing,” Montano shares. “For beginners, you need P20,000-P25,000 to get everything from head to toe – skates, hockey stick, and all the protective gear. Then it’s P500 per ice time. It’s kind of steep, but for beginners it’s okay. If you get more advanced and you play on a higher level, then the gears get more expensive.”
He says it’s the passion of the kids that keeps the sport alive in the Philippines. He sees a lot of potential in the country despite losing some of the previous players who have gone to play ice hockey in the US.
“Right now, it’s just the passion of the kids. That passion makes them come back. The more they see themselves growing, the more they see themselves becoming better. That gives them the drive to go farther,” Monanto says.
With the kids, it’s not always about the competition but it’s about having fun.
“My parents are okay with it since they love seeing the kids have fun. But it’s hard for those who’s having a hard time because it’s a really expensive sport,” Pastrana adds.
The ultimate goal of the team is to compete in the Olympics. Like any other team, they are hoping to play with the best in the world like the powerhouses of Canada and the US.
“That’s the goal. Right now, we have to get the International Ice Hockey Federation accreditation so we can join tournaments, and then the Olympics. Once we get the national team in that level, we can compete with the top countries in the world,” Montano shares.
He believes that ice hockey has a future in the Philippines. Like basketball, it’s an intense sport that Filipinos will love. However, they need support from fans and the government to be able to continue.
“It’s a fast and intense game just like basketball that’s why ice hockey has a future here. But it’s an expensive sport that’s why not everybody is picking up. If we get sponsors from outside sources and sport committees, hockey can grow. There were already four or five players that have gone to play hockey in the States. We have a few more up-and-coming kids who have the chance to go as well. There is skill level here to compete with the big countries, it’s just that we need more players to play,” Montano says.
It also takes commitment on the part of the player, he has to commit to really improve and get better in the sport.
“For younger people who want to play hockey, they should know that hockey is not going to be an easy sport. They have to commit a lot of their time to train so they will get better. They have to dedicate themselves because it’s a really difficult sport. If they want to get better, they should show their commitment,” Imperial says.
The sport may be very physical (physical contact is less in games involving younger players) but it’s all in good fun.
“As long as they keep pushing forward and working hard then everything should fall into place. They practice hard, train hard, and they play hard. They should have fun, that’s the whole point of the game,” Montano ends.