The Indian national hockey team has been competing internationally since 2009. Yes, that’s right, India has a national hockey team. It has only won one game in that time (2012 vs. Macau). Nevertheless, Ladakh (“land of high passes”) is home to pond hockey like the game has never seen before – 9,800 feet up in the skies of Northern India (Denver’s highest point is approximately 5,690 feet).
Players wear donated hand-me-down equipment provided by friends and The Hockey Foundation. They aren’t great skaters but, frankly, I think even Crosby would be somewhat useless skating at 3,000 meters. India has few rinks, which means that those who desire to learn and practice must do so on frozen ponds. The “rinks” that they do have don’t have boards, just a “border” that runs a few inches high. It certainly makes changing on the fly a lot easier but not having boards drastically changes the game. It means no high dump ins, no hard checks along the perimeter, and no chipping it off the boards to exit the zone. It’s a different kind of hockey, but make no mistake, it is hockey.
If you want to see young men who play the game because they love it, go to Ladakh. They are coached by Adam Sherlip, a 31 year-old New Yorker who previously coached China’s youth team. He started as a volunteer coach and now runs The Hockey Foundation. The mantra of The Hockey Foundation is “to share happiness and change lives, one puck at a time.” Money is always an issue for Team India and there is little support from the state because the team hasn’t exactly proven it’s worth yet. It’s one of those self-fulfilling cycles: How can the team get better without money? Why are we going to give you money lose games? Their story is the perfect example of how “the best players in the world”, in fact, should be qualified as “the best players in the world who have had the opportunity to excel.” Pursuing hockey as a career isn’t exactly viable for anyone but even less so for the men of Ladakh. They do the best they can but it is clear that they are fighting an uphill battle for true recognition in the hockey world.
In October 2015, the team managed to make its way all the way from Ladakh to Brampton, Ontario to play a friendly against the Beast of the ECHL. There were rumours about a Vancouver friendly this year but we will have to wait and see if that happens.
I first learned about the Indian National Hockey team a couple of years ago and their story seems to be getting more and more press. So if you are ever looking for a cool hockey vacation, you might want to consider Ladakh, India. Otherwise, you can learn more about them here in The Indian Express and in this 30 minute short doc put together by Al Jazeera English:
With the fear that pond hockey is a dying game in Canada because of (1) climate change and (2) the increasing standardization and specialization of youth sports, perhaps the NHL’s next real maestro might be from Ladakh…
Check out Part II of this post about India’s National Women’s team.