TAIPEI, Taiwan — The skating was slow, the body checks soft and the slapshots lacked zing.
But it was still hockey they were playing this week in Taiwan, as nine of the world's least likely national teams - think Kuwait for example, or Hong Kong - faced off in a tournament that brought the quintessential winter game to this tropical Asian island.
Critics might question the value of the Challenge Cup of Asia, but any cynicism ignores the enthusiasm of the players, all but a handful being the products of homegrown Asian ice hockey programs.
Many, such as 30-year-old Malaysian forward Gary Tan, got their starts playing the inline, or iceless version of the game, and then switched over to the real thing when indoor rinks were constructed in their countries. In Tan's case, that was in 1998.
"I think my love for the sport has always been there," he said.
Thailand's Dechbadin Jittranont, also 30, said that hockey attracted him because the cold of his Bangkok rink seemed so refreshing after the heat of the city's streets.
"I love hockey and I'm very happy to be at this tournament," he said. "I need to show people that Thai hockey is the best."
Gotta start somewhere. Even a country like the US used to lose to Canada by 10 goals only 30 years ago. Today, they're pretty much even.
Looks like a decent crowd enjoying the action. Good family fun :)