For myself, I visited the team at the hotel that afternoon, in a suit I had scrambled to buy the day before. I bought the suit for a variety of reasons. The day of purchase, I got a last minute invite to an uber fancy wedding at the Taj Palace in New Delhi of the same family I didn’t know whose sangeet - a pre-wedding party - I attended a few days earlier at a beautiful farm house (which is the equivalent of an estate in the U.S.). For the tournament itself, I assumed there would be a few occasions to wear the suit, if I didn’t wear it behind the bench - something I was debating about in my mind, as the team had never seen me in the suit.
When I was packing before departure in New York, I consciously decided to leave my suit and dress shoes behind, as my suitcase was already tightly packed, and I was traveling with extra hockey equipment. As it is, I’m historically an over packer, but in this case, I had to cut back on everything because I was packing for two seasons: freezing and scorching. That forced me to frantically buy a full suit outfit (suit, 2 shirts, 2 ties, socks, belt, shoes), on a budget trip…not the happiest day. At home, I have a half dozen suits, more belts and shoes than I know what to do with, and plenty of socks. If only I had brought 1-2 sets, things would’ve been a whole lot more convenient.
Anyway, I greeted the team at their hotel, in full business dress, because the day before departure for the UAE we had a press conference and photo session planned for that afternoon. They were accustomed to seeing me in 4-5 layers of shirts/coats, 2-3 layers of pantaloons, a wool cap with utterly pointless tassels, and a scruffy tri-color beard (black, white, orange…it drives me insane…now that I think about it though, it’s 2 of the 3 colors of the Indian flag…if only my black hair was green!),. Now I showed up (relatively) clean shaven, with gel in my hair (I put gel in my hair once in Ladakh), and in a business suit. This was their first sign that they weren’t in Kansas anymore, and I wouldn’t let up.
The team received their black and red colored (the alternate universe colors of India) track suits with India Ice Hockey on the backs, as well as their plain green and plain orange jerseys, with “INDIA” on the front and their jersey number on the back. My first issue with these jerseys was that even though I spoke to the printer face-to-face regarding what he was to do with the jerseys, I got back three green “13” jerseys, and my XL/XXL jerseys meant to go to the goalies, had an “A” printed on them for alternate/assistant (it’s referred to as either interchangeably) captains, even though I specifically said which number would get the jersey, what size that jersey can be, and the fact that there are rules that prohibit the goalies from being captains.
For the time being though, we had to hurry to The Press Club in the track suits, with sticks in hand, and some equipment bags in stowage (when I see that word, I picture someone saying “storage” with a lisp, like in Monty Python, Life of Brian). We arrived 45 minutes late (partially my fault, partially the teams fault, partially someone else’s fault - all for different reasons).
Before the conference officially began, all of the photographers in attendance took photos of the team with their sticks, holding them out, or in a face-off like arrangement. I have to admit, my only main problems with this were that, 1) I have sensitive eyes and ALWAYS squint in pictures, 2) we were outside, and I have sensitive skin, which transforms me from “Powder” to a stocky flamingo, 3) we were outside, I was in a dark suit, it was 80 degrees out, therefore, I was sweating a lot, and 4) my guys lined up awkwardly for their face-off and they didn’t even hold their sticks properly.
After what felt like an eternity taking pictures, we went inside and the conference began with myself, the manager of the team - a member of the Ladakh Winter Sports Club, the Presiding Officer of the Ice Hockey Association of India - Colonel Kumar, and the Treasurer, all on stage, with microphones and bottles of water. Akshay couldn’t attend, as he had a business trip in Europe.
Colonel Kumar began, discussing the brief history of hockey in Ladakh, and the work we did in our brief training. Then the team manager spoke, pausing in his speech after every second or third word, like he had to formulate the pronunciation of each syllable. He made sure to talk about how great and important the Ladakh Winter Sports Club is to hockey in India, which is true to an extent, while being equally false.
I was introduced as the “coaching consultant” due to technicalities, and began my ad-hoc speech (that’s the only way I know how to operate, although my speeches are usually thought out in advance) with one of those deafening screeches the emanate from the microphone when someone thinks he’s cool, but looks like a fool instead…yeah, that’s me.
My speech was short & sweet (or just short), as I discussed the work I did in Ladakh with the team, and saying that the team would do their country and region proud. I acknowledged and thanked the support we had received from Ladakh, and the promise from the Chief Minister to construct a rink, as well as reiterated ad nauseum the importance of the rink in Dehra Dun being completed properly, as it is imperative to the success of hockey in India.
After I spoke, we fielded questions, many of them directed to me, with the pervading question of “how will the team do?” There was no way for me to know this answer, not because it’s a hockey game, and any team can win, but because we were the Indian hockey team, with no experience in international play - that is, playing in an international size arena (100ft X 200ft/30m X 60m), against other teams, and I had no idea what the caliber of those other teams would be.
The press conference ended and then the interviews began. A handful of local media outlets reiterated the same questions I had answered on stage, but this time with a camera and microphone. Being a naturally talented comedian, I made some amusing remarks (in my humble opinion) in one of the interviews, which was going smoothly until they ran out of tape (why aren’t they digitally recording?). During the intermission, the interviewer told me he was going to ask me how I expected the team to fare in the tournament, and suggested I make the response funny because people in India needed something funny or ironic to keep their attention.
To his dismay, my response to the question was, “It’s hard to say,” since it was obviously hard to predict, as I mentioned, and he gave me this stern look of disappointment. It was afterwards that I started to realize that this was nothing more than a freak show to “proper Indians”, whatever that means. As I have mentioned, Ladakhis are more like Tibetans than they are like Indians, no matter where in the subcontinent they are from. The cultures are very different, the people look very different, and although having different languages in India is a common occurrence, that was different as well. Add in a sport that isn’t even close to being recognized, being played by a group of “foreigners” and coached by an American, and we must’ve looked like Barnum & Bailey’s Circus.
Nonetheless, the coverage was pretty impressive. We took the team to India Gate, a WWI memorial arch, and took pictures of the team again, with some players in full equipment. I didn’t notice until we were nearly done with our pictures that the goalie even wore his skates! I couldn’t help but get hysterical, as even NHL players don’t wear skates in their team picture unless they’re in the front row of the shot, and that’s on the ice!
I returned to the home I was staying in that evening, and we watched the news to catch one of the interviews. I should’ve known better (great Beatles song!) than to watch the program, as it would just get me frustrated. And it did.
The clip began with video of brutal hockey fights, and while I’m a believer that fighting is essential to professional hockey, it was unnecessary - if not unhelpful and unprofessional - to use clips of fights to set up a story about a bunch of players from Ladakh, that play comparatively passive hockey, representing India in an international tournament.
If that wasn’t bad enough, I thought I looked pudgy (I have gained weight on this trip) and sounded goofy (do I always talk that way?) on TV. The first time I watched myself on TV, I was 16, on MTV, and it resulted in veneers for my teeth, so drastic responses are highly possible!
Why was I on MTV? It was because of Britney Spears. She was on the program that day. I ended up beating 2 girls in a Britney Spears trivia contest live on TRL, and received the lamest prize in their history: a doll that she signed, “To Adam, ♥ Britney”. I still have the doll.
As if the video side of it wasn’t enough, the paper press was no better. Just like the original article (link) that was posted in the Hindustan Times (same link), the newer article (new link) also stated that I am a former NHL player. They also quoted the team manager as saying that the L.A. Kings, an American junior hockey team, had assisted them with equipment donations. First of all, it was the junior team affiliate of the L.A. Kings, second of all, as a high-ranking member of the Ladakh Winter Sports Club, he should’ve known that, and finally, the paper still should’ve fact checked! It’s one thing to make a mistake, which the first writer acknowledged (to me, personally), like someone’s position. It’s another thing to post the same error a 2nd time, and then pile onto that completely screwing up facts about a professional hockey team, albeit one that plays like a junior team these days. Either way, it ruins the legitimacy of the paper when they don’t do their research.
Go to NHL.com (do you need a link?), and search for “Sherlip”. Nothing comes up. Hey, why is that? I’ve done things! Point is, I’m not now, nor have I ever been in the NHL, and it only takes 3 seconds and a little bit of investigative journalism to confirm something like that. In less than 3 seconds, you can easily find enough proof to see that the Kings are indeed an NHL team. In total, you could spend 10 seconds on the site, convincing the entire English-reading population in India that you know what the hell you’re talking about.
It reinforced, rather it convinced me, that this was all a big joke to them.
I only wish we had a talented enough team to prove them wrong, but that’s just not the case. I couldn’t tell the press what was going to transpire, and I still had no idea what the competition looked like, but I was sure that the team was a long way from being proficient at understanding hockey, let alone playing the game.
I had given out the link to this site to all of the journalists that interviewed me, as I was hoping they would learn a bit about hockey, if not remark about my experiences, from what’s been posted. The fact that I am a volunteer is no secret if you visit the website, and it was mentioned on TV and in the papers. I don’t know why, but I wasn’t expecting them to report it.
I was annoyed at first, but as I thought about it, there was nothing to be annoyed about. In the moment, I felt it made me look like an amateur. When all is said and done, this is a volunteer initiative. It’s in the title! I didn’t start this to make money, and it’s not the motivating factor for the continuation and growth of “The Hockey Volunteer”.
At the same time, the desire to make enough money to sustain myself (at the least), is important, and anybody that thinks otherwise is naive, and if they behave otherwise they’re taking advantage of the goodwill. This is not an accusation, and it’s not targeted at anyone, it’s just a statement. I’ve been fortunate enough to have some expenses covered while here, and some incredible hospitality.
Would I like to be paid for this? Of course. Is it possible? I think so. At the same time, it defeats the purpose of why this all started, and that’s what I need to keep in mind. This is “The Hockey Volunteer” for a reason, and it has succeeded specifically because of that reason. Why fix it if it ain’t broke? Then again, maybe it could do even better!
For the record, any income earned that relates to “The Hockey Volunteer” is 100% independent of donations. It will come from other projects related to the initiative, but primarily from sponsorships. Grants & donations will be entirely used to help people through hockey, whether it be for equipment, for outfitting a team, or even getting international players/teams to go abroad and enhance their own global hockey experiences.
I want to hear from you! If you think I should keep or change “The Hockey Volunteer” name, please submit your comments/suggestions in the form on the right side of the page. Every submission goes right to my email, and I will read & respond to each submission.
With that in mind, I end this post. Next up is the 2009 IIHF Challenge Cup of Asia in Abu Dhabi, UAE!
LINKS TO SOME ARTICLES: