Philippines on ice
The one thing D had meant to do but didn’t before leaving the States was to sharpen his skates. Ice hockey is likely not the first sport that springs to mind when one thinks of the Philippines. In fact, the country’s national hockey team only participated in its first official international tournament two years ago. The team finished third in the second division at the 2017 Southeast Asia Games and remains unranked by the IIHF. Once D found out there was a hockey scene in Manila, he endeavored to get on a team before arriving in the Philippines.
A colleague from the Foreign Service who had played in Singapore raved about the Southeast Asia hockey circuit and convinced D to pick up hockey again during our year in DC. Last fall was the first time D had touched a hockey stick in fifteen years, and even though the league was for beginner players, it was more organized than the hockey D had played in his youth (some roller hockey in high school and intramurals in college, all of it of the pick-up variety). In the spring D joined a second league, which had quite a few players who skated faster than D could imagine moving, and which proved to be excellent preparation for Philippine hockey.
The league in Manila is small – only four teams – but one of those teams is comprised of the national team’s 15-man roster, and there are other national team players sprinkled throughout the other teams. D missed his team’s opener – a 12-4 drubbing delivered by the national team the night D’s plane touched down in the Philippines – but even against a lesser skilled opponent D felt like he barely belonged on the ice his first game here. The jet lag certainly didn’t help, and neither did the dull blades, which D resolved to address before his second game.
As expected, this proved to be far from straightforward. To the best of our knowledge there is only one ice rink in Manila, located inside the Mall of Asia. There are skates for rent at the mall, but no skate sharpener. The ice is not of the highest quality, as might be expected, and if there’s a blackout and the back-up generator fails, the ice has to be remade. The ventilation is also questionable. That first game the arena fogged over and the visibility grew so low in the third period that the referees stopped the game and asked all of the players to do laps to help disperse the fog. To D’s great surprise, this worked like a charm, and the game restarted after a few minutes.
After the game, D asked one of his teammates, who connected him to one of the league organizers, who in turn recommended that D reach out to another player who owns a small skate sharpener. Supposedly there is an automated sharpener somewhere in this city, but D could not confirm where it was located, who was in charge of it, or whether it was even operational. Luckily, after what felt like a bit of a wild goose chase and a drive across town, D got his blades sharpened and, with the jet lag gone, found his legs in game two, even scoring a goal in his team’s 12-10 loss. Next week D’s team plays the national team again, providing a fresh opportunity for self-doubt and renewed motivation to get better.