Monday, March 24, 2014

Victory in the desert

ABU DHABI – The 2014 IIHF Challenge Cup of Asia ended with a victory by the smallest but decidedly toughest competing association, as Chinese Taipei, sparked by the dynamic scoring duo of Lifeng Lu and To Weng, won the tournament with a perfect record.

Click here for scores, stats, and photos
The victory in the round-robin tournament marks the second straight Challenge Cup of Asia championship won by Taipei, and third overall passing the United Arab Emirates.

The United Arab Emirates, who played well and won tough games against Thailand (5-4 in overtime) and Mongolia (3-1 to claim second place), met Taipei on 20 March. After scoring the opening goal courtesy of Suhail Al Mehairi on the power play, the Emirati were unable to sustain any offensive pressure and gave up three straight goals to Chinese Taipei, ultimately losing 5-2.

Chinese Taipei’s offence was humming throughout the tournament, driven by an strong performance from Lu and Weng, who together combined for an impressive 23 goals in five games. Lu won the 2014 scoring title with eleven goals and eleven assists for 22 points, while Weng placed second with 17 points (12+5).

Weng and defenceman Yeng-Li Sheng earned Directorate awards for Top Forward and Top Defenceman respectively. Veteran Emirati goalie Khaled Al Suwaidi registered a 90.91 save percentage and was selected as the tournament’s top goaltender. Thailand iced a younger squad than in past years but played very well starting with a 2-1 shootout victory over Hong Kong that helped it to place fourth overall.

Mongolia opened the Challenge Cup with a tough 10-3 loss to Taipei but recovered with wins over Hong Kong, Kuwait, and Thailand before narrowly missing out on a second place finish after a 3-1 loss to UAE in the final game.

Kuwait went winless in the tournament and will be relegated to the Division I group for next year, as Macau moves up to take its place in 2015.

During the Challenge Cup a special meeting with all the IIHF Gulf Countries was held with IIHF Vice President Thomas J. Wu and Harry Springfeld.

“There is a lot of potential in the Gulf region and we will do our best to work with all Gulf Countries together and to find out synergies for further development,” said Wu. “Everybody wants to develop which is very positive. At the same time we need also a new and creative way of thinking to accommodate the demand and further development initiatives in the Gulf Region as well as in whole Asia.”

“There is development noticeable and we see more and more competitive games as well as improvement on player development which is positive," said IIHF Asian Project Manager Harald Springfeld.

"However the Challenge Cup of Asia tournaments are only the showcase for our hockey on an international platform, while behind the scenes we’re working with each association individually and according the IIHF Asian Office National Association Assistance Program on their domestic development areas such as coaching and officiating, to create a sustainable future for hockey in Asia.”


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