All systems go for ice hockey championships

Face off... The International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) world championships take place at GrandWest until Sunday April 22. The action features three matches a day.

Six nations – hosts South Africa, Hong Kong, Bulgaria, Georgia, Turkey, and the Chinese Taipei will battle for glory at the six-day affair which ends on Sunday April 22.

Chairman and president of the Western Province Ice Hockey Association, Jason Cerff said the organising committee is looking forward to the tournament.

“Ice hockey is a growing sport. Obviously hosting this tournament in Cape Town and in South Africa it can at least bring a lot of awareness to the sport, and hopefully further growth,” he said.

“It is a high impact game. It is the fastest game on legs if you want to call it that and we’re looking forward to a great tournament,” said Cerff.

Speaking at a welcoming event ahead of the competition, MEC of Cultural Affairs and Sport in the province, Anroux Marais said she hopes spectators will come out in numbers to support Team SA.

“We’re here to welcome our team. It’s exciting and we invite everyone to come and see how it is.

“These guys worked for the opportunity to be a part of this team. As you can see at the Commonwealth Games with how our teams are doing, they unite us all.”

National coach Johan Sundin said he was happy with the team’s preparations and the development of the young players.

“I am very satisfied with the last camp that we had.

“I’m from Sweden. When I got here I was impressed. You have a lot of good youngsters and the association and the coaches have done a great job.”

He said the next step for the sport to grow is for the country to have more ice hockey facilities to allow for more training opportunities.

“Here a player gets maybe one hour or maybe two hours of practise a week. I don’t know any other sport that practises once a week so that is something to work on.

“But they have done a great job. What I like is the passion I’ve seen in the players.

“They can go up and start an ice session at 6am and leave at 4pm.

“We have six players from last year’s team and the rest are all young up-and-coming players. This team is a lot younger than last year’s team, so something good is going to happen in the next five years.”

Although the competition is bound to be tough, SA captain, André Marais is confident of his side’s chances.

“I’m feeling good. We’ve had good preparations. We’ve gone through a lot of details and new things we’re working on. We’ve made some adjustments along the way and the guys responded well.”

Although not much is known about the sport in South Africa, Marais said the game has been played here since 1932, thanks to involvement of foreign coaches and a lot of players.

“There have been ups and downs along the way. Obviously, facilities are always the thing that drives the sport, so we don’t have a huge amounts of ice roots and that leads to a couple of challenges.

“But over the last 10 years I think we’ve made a lot of strides. We certainly got a lot of things right,” he said.

“We also shouldn’t forget the history of the game and the guys that have played, some legends of the game that are still around and playing their part. They are an important part of where we are today.

“We play every evening at 8pm. We are the home team so we get the rub of the greens straight away. Coach has been working on some things to try and help.

“I have a dual role with the association, running the development of the youth.”