How much is hockey becoming a truly international sport?
I came across a YouTube video from 2012 – before this blog was created – on the Anaheim Ducks hosting a clinic for a Mexican youth hockey team at the National Hockey League team’s California practice facility.
I don’t know if the Ducks have repeated this endeavor – I’m waiting to hear back from the team. Hello? But it wouldn’t surprise me if this one clinic helped spur more interest in hockey south of the border and benefit Mexico’s national hockey program.
In January, Mexico won the International Ice Hockey Federation’s Under-20 Division III world championship at a tournament in Mexico City.
Last July, the Dallas Stars invited three members of South Korea’s national hockey program to its development training camp in Texas. The Stars extended the invitation at the request of former NHLer Jim Paek, who’s looking to build a competitive South Korea hockey team for the 2018 Winter Olympics, which the country will host in Pyeongchang.
Four years later, it will be China’s turn. Beijing will host the 2022 Winter Games. And Andong Song, who became the first player born in China to be drafted by an NHL team when the New York Islanders took him in the 6th round with the 172nd overall pick of the 2015 draft, has become the young face of his country’s Winter Olympics effort.
Like South Korea, China is quickly trying to build a hockey team good enough to compete with Canada, the United States, Russia, and other major hockey powers at the Winter Games. Song, a defenseman who skated for Massachusetts’ Phillips Academy, this season, could be its captain.
India is trying to become more of a presence on the international hockey stage, too. Money is tight, equipment is scarce, and the talent pool is thin, but that’s not stopping a group of very determined women from dreaming of someday competing in the Olympics.
India’s women’s team played its first international match last month and got crushed by Singapore, 8-1 in the Challenge Cup of Asia. Still, India’s women’s team hopes to advance to next year’s Asian Winter Games. To do that, the team must leapfrog Singapore, Thailand and Chinese Taipaei.
Female or male, it’s not easy being a hockey player in India. For all our nostalgic talk of playing the game on frozen ponds and lakes in North America and Europe, it’s a way of life for most Indian players. Many of them come from Ladakh, near the Himalayas and can only play for two or three months when the ponds are frozen.
A country with more than 1.2 billion people has only 10 indoor ice rinks, according to the International Ice Hockey Federation. The cricket-mad nation has 1,104 hockey players – 315 men, 541 juniors and 248 women and girls.
Take some time and watch the excellent Al Jazeera English feature below on the fun and frustration of playing hockey in India.
The efforts by India, South Korea, China and Mexico prove that, when it comes to hockey, it’s truly a small world.