Poynton and Hegde creating 'something positive' in Thailand

Coaches from Australia and Norway share their Para ice hockey experience and knowledge at the Skills Development Camp presented by Citi in Bangkok 28 Jul 2023
A man and a woman standing in front of a Welcome backdrop
Athletes and coaches are developing their skills under the guidance of coaches Espen Hegde from Norway (left) and Emma Poynton from Australia (right)
ⒸMike Onley/WPIH
By Filip Ozbolt | For World Para Ice Hockey

First day of the 2023 WPIH Skills Development Camp presented by Citi in Bangkok, Thailand, is in the books. Players and coaches from four nations (Thailand, Australia, South Korea and Japan) stepped on the ice in the Thailand International Ice Hockey Arena twice in the morning and early afternoon. Friday (28 July) was wrapped up with a team meeting focused on video analysis.

Athletes and coaches are developing their Para ice hockey skills under the supervision and guidance of coaches Emma Poynton from Australia and Espen Hegde from Norway. Both came to Bangkok with a vast international experience in Para ice hockey.

Building the network

Hegde kicked it off in the sport as a game official in 2007, but made the transition from the ice to the coach's bench and has been part of Norway's national team programme for the past 13 years.

On the other hand, Poynton was invited to the Women's Development Training Camp in 2017 in South Korea as a coach from Australia. As Poynton reckons: "Things tumbled down from there“, and she is part of the World Para Ice Hockey (WPIH) ever since, mostly as a Technical Delegate.

Hegde and Poynton are currently sharing their knowledge with more than 30 athletes and coaches in Bangkok at the first WPIH Skills Development Camp since 2021. To start with, they explained why events like the one in Bangkok are crucial for the sport.

"The importance of these kind of camps is in building the network. We hope that all the coaches and athletes will leave this week with a strong network in neighbouring nations to be able to work and develop together. We have athletes from multiple nations sitting, having dinner together and getting to know each other which is a fantastic thing,“ said Poynton.

Hegde added: "The players are so grateful for the opportunity they were given. That applies for the coaches and managers as well. Everyone attends the camp with a goal to create something positive and chips in to  make it a fun time on and off the ice.“

Poynton was part of the camp in 2021 as well when Ostrava, Czechia hosted the event after organizing the World Para Ice Hockey Championships A-Pool for the second time in a row. She was able to draw some parallels between Thailand and Czechia.

"It's quite an honour to be involved in the development of these players and it's a proud feeling when I compare this group to the athletes I started with in 2021. Most of them went to play the C-Pool Worlds," Poynton said. "I would say that it is a rewarding opportunity to work with all of these athletes as we are able to follow their progress. We make personal connections with athletes and their national teams as they develop and climb the rankings.“

Although development camps are all about the positives, there are still challenges that mainly coaches have to overcome in the preparation for an event like the one in Bangkok. 

"Not knowing what you're getting presented with is a delicate thing because there is not much research we can do. We are flying a little blind at the start, but I wouldn't even call it a challenge, that's part of the ride. No matter where they start, we hope that they will leave with some valuable lessons learned,“ said Hegde.

A memorable experience

The Norwegian coach had the honour of leading Team World at last year's Women's World Challenge in Green Bay, United States. He was faced with a similar situation there as he had to create a cohesive group out of athletes from different nations and backgrounds.
That experience enriched him in the preparation for the Skills Development Camp in Bangkok.

"We prepare practice sessions for a camp like this, but regardless if we hit bullseye or miss the target, we will learn and develop for future camps as well,“ said Hegde. „There are a lot of happy and positive faces, players who are here to have a good time and develop. I hope and expect it to continue being a great camp with lots of skating, learning and tired people at the end, but hopefully a memorable experience for everybody involved.“

Poynton and Hegde are facing athletes from four completely different Para ice hockey nations in Bangkok. Japan and South Korea had a lot of success in the sport in the past, while Thailand and Australia just recently emerged onto the world's stage.

"I believe, even though Japan and South Korea had a lot of great results, they can still learn a lot in this camp. They can broaden their horizons and learn from other cultures,“ explained Hegde and gave an insight on the main focus of the camp. "I am sharing my point of view on how Para ice hockey should be played, and that is based on everything I learned from coaches like Ken Babey and Morten Hoglund. The main focus is on basic skills like skating bilateral and mental preparation.“

WPIH brought the Skills Development Camp to the Asia-Oceania region for the first time. The event is special for Poynton who has been involved with a national federation from the region and since then has been invited to talk about the future of Para ice hockey in Asia and Oceania.

"it is definitely a growth region. We saw Thailand entering the C-Pool last year with the ambition to climb up. Australia will try to re-enter C-Pool this year and also climb up from there. In general, there is a growing population of Para ice hockey players in this region, but also national teams who want to step up. This camp will definitely inspire these nations to go home and recruit, develop and build programmes,“ she concluded.

The World Para Ice Hockey Skills Development Camp presented by Citi runs from 28 to 30 July in Bangkok, Thailand.