A RECORD 30 teams competed in the just concluded MHC-Milo-NSC Junior Hockey League, and Tenaga Nasional are already planning to add two more next season.
JHL, since its inception in 1995 by the then National Sports Council director general Datuk Mazlan Ahmad and the late secretary of the now defunct Malaysian Hockey Confederation S. Satgunam, is the most successful junior development programme in the country.
There were only 11 teams in 1995, and it has seen tremendous growth with clubs clamouring to prepare teams and scouting for next season players in mid-season itself.
Thunderbolts, a product of Tenaga Nasional, fielded two teams this season and both entered the semi-finals of the Milo Cup. SSTMI Thunderbolts became the double champions for the fourth consecutive season, while their sister club SSP-MSP Thunderbolts finished fourth.
Former national skipper and now in charge of the Thunderbolts development programmes, Nor Saiful Zaini is planning to field two more Thunderbolts next season.
"You can see the progress made by both the Thunderbolts and we are in the midst of planning for two more for the next season because there are so many good players out there who are in need of support to shine," said Nor Saiful.
The other successful club is UniKL Young Guns, who have a sound development programme but have been unlucky at the final hurdle for five seasons.
UniKL ropes in national players and coaches every weekend to train, at least a hundred youth below 16, every weekend at the National Stadium in Bukit Jalil under collaboration with the Malaysian Hockey Confederation (MHC).
No fees are charged, and everyone is welcome to attend. There is even a goalkeepers' clinic conducted by national goalkeepers coach M. Nadarajan, who uses the latest techniques to teach children as young as 12.
Formed in 2010, UniKL have surprisingly played in six JHL finals todate because of the tiring efforts of a group of dedicated coaches and support staff led by their general manager Amir Azhar Ibrahim.
Petaling Jaya City Council (PJCC) are another solid example of dedicated coaches like Azlan Saufi Ahmad and and team manager Zainal Abidin who keep pushing their players to new levels, but were unlucky to finish third in League and Milo Cup.
The JHL will not be complete without the mention of Olak-PKT, a team which has only missed one season because they lacked financial support, but team manager Joseph de Silva passed the hat around and found a loyal supporter in PKT Logistics Group Sdn Bhd.
The funding force behind Olak is PKT CEO Datuk Michael B.Y. Tio: "With his support we have managed to secure some good players this season, but have bigger plans for next year as PKT also provides study scholarships for our players," said De Silva who is planning to rope in players from Division Two outfits Nur-Insafi PHA and Tunku Besar Secondary School, for next season.
The man who started the JHL Datuk Mazlan is proud that his legacy is now the talk of town: ""I think JHL is continuously serving it's purpose. One simple reason is that it attracts more teams. It's very encouraging to see junior teams, states, and schools expose their players at this platform."
"Competition, not just training, is an important ingredient in development. Fortunately JHL has very loyal sponsors who believe in youth. It made aspirations possible.
MILO have been the title sponsor of the JHL since its inception, and their commitment towards the tournament has increased over the years with significant funding made available not only for the JHL but also other age group tournaments such as the National Under-14 and Under-16 for boys' and girls'.
"JHL is an important component in grassroot development. There are always new faces who shine every season, and it offers a chance to Primary School children to watch competitive matches and aspire a bigger group to take up the sport," said Ng Ping Loong, Sports Sponsorship Manager of Nestle Products.
From the organisational aspects MHC did a great job as the JHL ran without hitches.
"We are grateful to the Technical Committee led by Jusvir Singh and Secretariat managed by Hashim Yusof for managing the tournament well," said MHC Competitions Committee Chairman M. Gobinathan.