NHL helps Malaysian leader build women’s hockey

By Jon Lane, October 12, 2018

Ee Laine Chee’s vision of the future is as clear as the beaches and eclectic mix of Malay, Chinese, Indian and European cultural influences in her homeland of Malaysia.

Chee is determined to grow women’s hockey in the lush Southeast Asia country. The image in her dream is a puck. Once launched by a slap shot, it will continue to gain momentum, growing ever bigger.

Chee’s latest and best shot is with the NHL, the host organization for the Global Sports Mentoring Program, a collaboration between the United States State Department, the University of Tennessee and espnW. Through Oct. 24, she will be based at the NHL offices in New York, where an action plan will be developed for implementation upon her return to Malaysia in late October.

Simply put, Chee thinks big. Her objective is to see Malaysia compete in the IIHF Women’s World Championship.

“That’s really the dream after my end goal,” said Chee, 35.

Why not Malaysia? And why not Chee as the one to spearhead those efforts on a grassroots level?

Growing up in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia’s capital city, Chee and other women from her generation were denied opportunities to train or play because of their gender. Today, the former goalie is a volunteer international sports programming consultant and former general secretary of the Malaysian Ice Hockey Federation (MIHF), devoted to creating a sustainable and successful women’s ice hockey program. She’s organized five international events in Malaysia, and has overseen more than 200 athletes and officials from South Korea, Ukraine, Malaysia, Thailand and Serbia under a training program supported by the Korean Olympic Committee.

But Chee wants more. New teams need to be formed and new players incorporated into existing ones. To support the effort, women need to be hired for roles in officiating, coaching and management. One of Chee’s goals is to create a hockey academy specifically for girls in conjunction with ice rinks to create a participation program at minimal cost.

“The initial feedback I’ve gotten is that they’d love to work on something like that,” Chee said of the NHL.

“What this little puck will do, it will feed itself. It just keeps going on when you have the girls’ hockey academy, and I would want to spread this to other ice rinks as well.

“With this little puck, it will just keep traveling. Whatever happens, it will keep growing. Hopefully not just in the capital city, where I’m based, but where there are ice rinks.”

During Chee’s tenure with MIHF, which began in 2008, Malaysia has finished first in three international tournaments, including the 2018 IIHF Challenge Cup of Asia Division 1. The federation has grown by nearly 500 percent in the past decade, with more than 300 players at the youth and senior levels, including 50 in the women’s program.

But with success comes greater challenges. Malaysia now competes against top-tier teams from Chinese Taipei, New Zealand and Thailand, which means more ice rinks need to be made available for training. There are two full-size rinks and three smaller ones in the country.

Since Chee was nominated for the mentoring program three months ago, she’s come up with women’s hockey programs she wants to run. During her time with the NHL, she has received perspective into how the youth hockey model works in the United States.

“That showed me that one direction we were really missing, which was basically grassroots development and simple hockey academy. That’s where I’m at now,” she said.

“What I want to do in Malaysia is a little bit of everything. Some of my players right now, they’re thinking about, maybe I’m good enough to go to school in the [U.S.] and play hockey. Previously that was never really an option. Another thing I would like to do is to help facilitate them so that they can explore their options. But right now, my focus, my energy, my time would be in grassroots development.”

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