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Kyrgyzstan puts hopes on hockey at Asian Winter Games
International competition a first for the hockey team
By Maksat Osmonoliyev
BISHKEK — Eight-year-old Barot Firdausiyev hovered over the boards at the Bishkek ice rink. “Puck! Puck!” he yelled.
He was watching the Kyrgyz hockey team train before it left for Astana January 25 to take part in the Asian Winter Games that run January 30 to February 6.
“My mom promised to send me to a (hockey) club if I get an A in math,” he said. “When I grow up, I am going to be a hockey player, too.”
In the meantime, Barot will root for the national team on television. Everyone is talking about Kyrgyz hockey this year. Kyrgyz director Erkin Ryspayev in 2009 did a film – Our NHL – which the KinoAziada cinema will screen February 1-3.
Games will be team's first international competition
The Asian Winter Games in Kazakhstan will be the first time the Kyrgyz hockey team competes internationally. Ice hockey is one of four sports Kyrgyzstan will participate in, along with the biathlon, skiing and ski-orienteering. About 60 Kyrgyz athletes will compete, compared to 13 in the last games in 2007 in Changchun, China.
The hockey players stayed home for as long as they could in order to work out some last-minute details, Baigazy Kendzhebayev, deputy director of the State Physical Culture and Sports Agency, said.
“We are very proud of them, and we wish them luck, even if we are anxious,” he said. “This year, Kyrgyzstan is betting on them.”
Kyrgyzstan formed the ice hockey team – which contains mostly Bishkek and Naryn residents – less than a year ago, after the country’s first ice rink opened.
“I believe in my guys. They are ready for the Asian Winter Games,” head coach Sergei Shavernov said.
Team worked hard during training
“They trained themselves and practised and worked themselves into the ground,” Shavernov said. “We don’t have any international stars. They are all our own talent.”
The team was offered the chance to compete in the highest competition division, but opted to play in the second division because of its inexperience, he said. Despite that inexperience, he is optimistic.
“This is the first time the Kyrgyz team is participating in such games. Not even a year has passed since the team was formed,” Shavernov said. “(But) our only plan is to take first place, and I think that our team is up to the job.”
Winning is important because hockey is not yet popular in Kyrgyzstan, Salovat Sultanbek, one of the team’s younger players, said. Part of that is because playing hockey is expensive.
“Skates cost US $200-400, and this is not counting the rest of the gear,” Shavernov said.
“(But) if we win, we will raise our country’s interest in hockey and maybe we will someday become a hockey power,” Sultanbek said.