How Philippines won the SEA Games ice hockey gold

It can be pretty lonely being a hockey fan in Southeast Asia, says Amanda Eber.

I mean, ice hockey. Sometimes I daydream about being somewhere further north of the equator where I wouldn’t have to qualify it all the time. To my great surprise, that day might actually be nearer than I thought.

Ice hockey made its debut in this year’s recently concluded SEA Games, with Philippines taking home the gold medal in one of the tournament’s most tightly contested games, beating out Thailand 5–4 in the penultimate round robin game.

The contest in numbers

With 108 goals scored in just 10 games, there was a whole lot of offense and … not a lot of defense in this year’s competition, to say the least. Might want to pour one out for those goalies too.

  1. Out of the ten round robin games played in this year’s SEA games, a whopping six of them had ten or more goals scored in the course of the match.
  2. Three of the matches had the losing team be completely shut out, including an Indonesia side that faced an unenviable 12–0 defeat. Twice.
  3. Only one game (Malaysia vs Philippines) headed into overtime. Each team had scored seven goals apiece.
  4. Only one game (guess which!) was decided in a shootout.

Unfortunately, none of the matches found their way onto the tournament organisers’ live streams. The only record of these games live on in the memories and social media of the 18,500 fans that showed up to watch them, and in the meticulously detailed game summaries compiled by the International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF).

Thanks to the IIHF’s efforts, we might be able to piece together a picture of what transpired in the SEA Games’ first ever ice hockey competition. And what better place to start than in the title deciding match between Philippines and Thailand?

Shots on goal

26:44. That seems pretty lopsided, you might think. Football fans might be marveling at how it is possible to achieve these shot attempt numbers in the first place.

It looks like one team dominated the ice, you might also think. More shots, more goals? Surely the team with more shots must have won the match and the medal!

The truth is, Philippines had 26 shots to Thailand’s 44. A truly noble effort by the Philippines goaltender Gianpietro Iseppi, who withstood that barrage of frozen rubber and came away with a 0.909 save percentage. That might not win you a Vezina, but it sure can win you a SEA Games gold medal.

Goalkeeper in…

On the other hand you have Thailand’s starting goalkeeper, who was pulled from the game after letting in 3 goals in the first 14 minutes.

Yes, football fans — this is a thing that happens regularly in hockey. If your goalkeeper is doing badly, take him out! Replace him with your other guy. Substitute your players as many times as you want.

And that drink for the goalies I said to pour a few paragraphs ago? This one’s for you, Prawes Kaewjeen.

The sin bin

High sticks! Abuse of officials! Looks like Thailand’s tempers were flaring after Kaewjeen was pulled.

It can’t have been a good feeling for them to have taken two penalties so early on in the game, and for Philippines to have converted on them both. But abusing the referee is hardly the solution.

…Goalkeeper out

Philippines was leading by an impressive 4–0 before Thailand managed to get 3 goals back. it was 4–3, and then 5–3. And then 5–4! After scoring their fourth goal, Thailand pulled their goalkeeper — again! Did they take Pattarapol Ungkulpattanasuk off to put Kaewjeen back on?

Of course not. They went with no goalie at all.

(Cue the gasps of disbelief from the football fans.)

But this is an actual thing that happens all the time in hockey. You can only have 6 players on the ice at any one time. So what’s a coach to do to boost offense when their team is a goal down with seconds left to go on the clock?

Yup. Take your goalie out and put another skater in.

The only puzzling thing here is why Thailand’s coaching staff waited until there were only 36 seconds left to go on the clock to do it. The team should have been on fire after scoring to make it 5–4 with 4 minutes to go. Why not press the attack immediately to try and get another goal?

The answer is probably lost to the brand new rafters of Malaysia’s Empire City Ice Arena for all time. In any case, this looked like a fantastic gold medal game and a pretty exciting tournament all around. It’s delightful that ice hockey is starting to make its mark in Southeast Asia, and one can only hope for the sport to catch on in the region.