CHIANGRAI TIMES – Wasunun Angkulpattanasuk almost did not get to play in the Under 18 Challenge Cup of Asia ice hockey championship.
But she did and she was the best goalkeeper in the tournament.
The 17 year old turned in stellar performances for Thailand, allowing only four goals while her team scored 47 in three matches against Malaysia, the UAE and India.
She became the team’s goalie when they were unable to recruit a boy to play the position.
“It may surprise many, but we couldn’t find a goalkeeper for this age-group championship,” said Likit Neimwan, the Thailand coach.
“We have even had to travel without a back-up goalkeeper.”
When the team arrived in Abu Dhabi for the tournament, Angkulpattanasuk’s eligibility to play in a boys’ championship required the approval of organisers and officials of the IIHF, the world governing body.
“Thailand had arrived with one goalkeeper and that was this girl, and certainly they would have been severely handicapped to play without a goalkeeper,” said Aref Al Jachi, a member of the organising committee.
“We, as the organising committee and with the consent of the IIHF and the rest of the participating teams, decided to allow her to play considering the goalkeeper is the only player who will not come into physical contact with other players.”
Neimwan, who is also the captain of Thailand’s senior national team, said he was happy to have her on the squad.
“In my opinion, if the girls are as good as the boys, then they should be given the opportunity to play,” he said. “And given the opportunity, she did a great job for us. She was outstanding throughout the competition, particularly in the crucial match against the UAE.”
She saved 15 out of 17 shots in that game. The 5-2 win, followed by a 23-1 triumph over India, gave Thailand an unassailable lead in the five-team competition.
Angkulpattanasuk, popularly known as “Poppy”, said her ambition is to represent her country in the senior competitions.
“I have always played against the boys so I wasn’t feeling nervy at all,” she said.
“It was different because here I was playing against unknown opponents and at a higher level. But I always knew what to expect.
“After the success we have had as a team, my ambition is to work harder to raise my level to play at the senior level.
“My dream would be to play in the world championship, but I can’t say for sure if it would be with the women’s or men’s team.”
Angkulpattanasuk was inspired by her older brother Pattarapol, who is also a goalkeeper.
“She used to watch me play at first and when she took to the sport she wanted to play as a goalkeeper,” Pattarapol, 20, who accompanied the team as an official, said.
“In Thailand, not many boys want to play as goalkeepers.
“They feel it is less exciting and less glamorous.
“My sister, however, took a liking for goalkeeping, and it was also easier for me to teach her what I already knew.
“She has been playing for about four years and was very excited when she got selected for the national age-group team.”
UAE SETS SIGHTS ON SECOND
With Thailand already the champions of the inaugural IIHF Under 18 Challenge Cup of Asia, the UAE will be trying to finish second when they meet Malaysia in tonight’s final game at the Abu Dhabi Ice Rink.
Matti Fagerstrom, the UAE coach, is hoping his side can complete their first international campaign on a high note against a side beaten 19-1 by Thailand earlier in the competition.
“We can’t become the champions, but to finish second best would be our next objective,” he said.
“We are aware Malaysia were beaten by Thailand by a big margin, but these results don’t matter to us. We must go out there and play at our best as always and win this game convincingly.”
The UAE recorded their biggest win when they outclassed India 31-1, but lost 5-2 against Thailand 5-2.
“For all teams, this first championship has been a wonderful opportunity to play against each other and gain international experience at a young age,” Fagerstrom said.
“For the Emirati players, this was their first against teams from outside [the country] and I think they have done pretty well. Of course they have to improve in all areas but this will come as they gain experience.”
The UAE juniors have been playing for only a year in the newly established Under 20 Emirates Hockey League, which is still at the halfway stage since the season started in January.
Thailand will play an unofficial game tonight against Hong Kong, who were disqualified from the tournament for fielding ineligible players.