“We have a women’s ice hockey team?”

It’s a common comment made by Filipinos when they hear about the Philippines bagging a silver medal at the 2024 International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) Women’s Asia & Oceania Cup –  an international competition for countries developing the sport. 

For a tropical country currently suffering from a heat wave, it’s hard to imagine it has been breeding champions in winter sports. 

The country’s men’s ice hockey team was first formed by gathering local club members and foreign-based Filipino ice hockey players who unofficially represented the flag in regional tournaments.

The men’s team became a member of the IIHF in 2016. Last year, the team qualified for the world championships and is currently ranked world number 54.

The women’s team, however, has been carving its own path. Since its international debut in the 2017 Challenge Cup of Asia, the team, called the “Philippine Eagles”, has been building its squad of homegrown players.  

In the 2024 Women’s Asia & Oceania Cup’s silver medal-winning team, nine of the 20 team members were rookies. 

Members of the Philippines women's ice hockey team celebrate together on the ice after scoring a goal.

The Philippine Eagles celebrate after scoring against Kyrgyzstan in the opening game of the 2024 IIHF Women’s Asia & Oceania Cup.(Supplied: Hockey Philippines)

“That was actually the first time we competed again since 2019 because of the pandemic,” captain Danielle Imperial said.

“With the new girls coming in, I think they brought a lot of good energy to the team and I love their attitude and their character just showed with the way that they played.”

Though they fell to champion Iran 4-0 in the final, the silver medal is the country’s highest achievement in the competition. 

A female ice hockey player wearing a jersey that says 'hockey Philippines' and a helmet with mask smiles at the camera.

Team captain Danielle Imperial continues to compete for the national team while attending law school. (Supplied)

“Of course we wanted to win the gold, but Iran was just a very experienced team and that’s the kind of team that we want to be playing with,” Imperial said.

“But with how we played in this tournament, I feel like we’re on a very promising path.”

On the way to the world championships

With its success on the international stage, the Philippine Eagles are working towards qualifying for the world championships. 

The Philippines has already established a learn to skate program for ice hockey – an eligibility requirement to earn a world ranking. 

A female ice hockey player for the Philippines women's team is swinging her stick during a game.

Kathleen Tan is one of the rookies who scored for the Philippines in the 2024 IIHF Women’s Asia & Oceania Cup.(Supplied: Hockey Philippines)

The program is a game changer for the sport as veteran players like Imperial had to play with and against men when they were coming through the ranks.

“For girls, it might be intimidating since hockey comes off as a very physical sport like the way you see it on YouTube,” Imperial said.

“And if girls shy away from hockey, it’s because of that. But then I think once they watch women’s hockey that goes away, and many girls want to try hockey as much as boys.”

Though there’s progress in getting girls into ice hockey through the learn-to-skate programs, the next challenge they face is the access to the venue and equipment. 

Metro Manila, the capital of the Philippines, only has one skating rink, located in a shopping centre.

Ice hockey players can only get ice time after the mall closes at 9pm.

Since the country officially launched its men’s and women’s teams, the Philippines hasn’t been able to source ice hockey equipment for its teams locally, leading players to rely on international shipments. 

“The only thing that we’re having a problem with is when they enjoy the learn to skate and want to pursue ice hockey, we don’t have enough equipment for them to rent and try out,” veteran player Georgie Regencia said. 

A female ice hockey player wearing full uniform and helmet is skating during a game with stick in hand.

Georgie Regencia competes as a defender for the Philippine Eagles.(Supplied)

But the Philippines is one step away from becoming eligible for the World Championships as it will be kicking off its inaugural league, the Women’s Hockey Philippines League, in July. 

“So with this new women’s league, we’re hoping that it encourages girls to play the sport and draws someone in because we really do want to focus on growing our numbers and women’s hockey in the Philippines, have a bigger pool of players to develop and prepare for world championships – that’s the goal,” Imperial said.

Beatrice Go is a freelance journalist and researcher from the Philippines and the founder of Atleta Filipina, a startup for Filipino women in sports. 

She is a member of ABC International Development’s Women in News and Sport Initiative, funded by the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade through the Team Up program.