The sound of pucks echoing off the boards can be heard even before entering the inner sanctum of the arena. Once inside, the unmistakable smell of a hockey rink – that mix of rubber, cold ice and sweat – inundates the senses. A zamboni is parked in the corner waiting to clean the ice surface after the fifteen or so players finish their two-hour practice and head off to work.
These players are gearing up for the international division of the Chinese Ice Hockey League (CIHL) season opener at the Taipei Arena this Sunday afternoon at 2pm with the Bears taking on the Sharks. Those who can't make it out for the afternoon game can catch the division triple-header the same day when the Sharks take the ice against the Lions at 7:20pm. The second game features the Tigers against the Raptors at 8:40pm, with the final game beginning at 10pm with the Rhinos playing the Wolves.
The regular season runs until May, 2007, with games being played every second Sunday at the Taipei Arena.
In addition to the season opener, some of the players on the ice are getting ready for a competition being held in Thailand on October 25 – one of only two competitions that take the team outside of Taiwan every year. The Taipei Typhoon – as they are called when representing Taiwan internationally – will be competing against eleven other teams in the international division.
“The Fins are the team to beat, and most of their players are based in Singapore,” said Dave Campbell, a member of the squad heading off to Thailand and one of the promoters for the CIHL. But Campbell says that the Typhoon is sending their strongest team ever so they expect to return with gold.
He added that victory in Thailand would mean that the Chinese Taipei Ice Hockey Federation (CTIHF) – the organization responsible for organized hockey in Taiwan – would cover their registration fee. A victory in Thailand also raises the possibility of permanent ice time for free every Wednesday morning at the Taipei Arena, a luxury they enjoy only when there is an upcoming tournament.
With only two ice facilities in Taiwan – a rink in Syijhih and two at the Taipei Arena – ice time is at a premium. And though both the rinks at the Taipei Arena are Olympic-sized, only one consistently has ice.
“The larger of the two [spaces] are usually reserved for concerts and other large venues,” says Eddy Chang (張信一), rink manager at the Taipei Arena and the man behind the league's local – or Asian – division.
The 2006-2007 season for the international division begins Sunday at 2pm when the Bears take on the Sharks at the Taipei Arena. Three games will follow what is sure to be an exciting opening match.
The CIHL had its beginning in 1998 in Taichung. At the time, there was only one division with the majority of players come from western countries. But that season only lasted one year and the rink eventually closed. After a four-season hiatus, the league got back up and running in 2004 with a local and international division.
The local division, which last year had five teams and is made up of predominately Taiwanese players, is classified as amateur, though it does have some strong talent. The international division, which last year had six teams and is about 80 percent foreigners, is a beer league that has many players at the semi-professional level. The break down for this year is six and seven teams, respectively.