Even though it snowed, we made it out of Bodhkharboo safely. The guarantee was that the weather would hold and we would make it back to Leh safely. Sure enough, the guarantee was right, and we did.
When we got back to Leh, the final matches of the CEC Cup (CEC is Chief Executive Counselor, the head of a group of Counselors representing the Ladakh Autonomous Hill Council, a semi-independent government within the state of Jammu & Kashmir…there’s a CEC for Kargil District too), an adult tournament that closed out the hockey season in 2011, were underway.
Watching the matches, I couldn’t help but get frustrated at the way the game was going. Players were slashing each other in the calf, tripping was going uncalled…the game was lawless. The part that frustrated me most was that the referees were two of the players that trained on the Indian Ice Hockey Team I coached in Abu Dhabi in 2009, including the captain, who I view as extremely capable of leading hockey in Ladakh in a positive direction.
Throughout the game, I’d run down from the dais (that’s a tougher word to spell than I expected) and call the referee off the ice and find out why he didn’t call a blatant penalty. I couldn’t help myself. His response was “I forgot”. Unacceptable.
I went over to the President & General Secretary of the Ladakh Winter Sports Club and informed them that the following day I will run a referee training clinic for a few hours to give anybody that will be officiating ice hockey in Ladakh a crash course on rules, penalties, demeanor, and how to drop a puck properly. Within the period, they made an announcement on the loud-speaker that the clinic would be held the following day at 11am. I am always glad to see when things move quickly in life, but when they move quickly in Ladakh (and India in general), I am particularly pleased.
The next morning, the referee clinic began with little fanfare (I don’t like fanfare, just saying). Two dozen people or so showed up, including the aforementioned referee/captain, and we began by going over the big issues with Ladakhi ice hockey: face-offs.
As I’ve described before, the concept of face-offs is not exactly understood or practicised, so even though there is a puck drop, it frequently includes throwing (as opposed to dropping) the puck into a loosely defined face-off circle, if at all even on the same side of the ice, and usually only has 1 center at the face-off dot, if the dot is painted and being used, and there are usually players offsides. So yeah, this needed some work. In order to grasp the concept, they had to line up at every face-off circle and understand that the referee controls the game in this moment. They didn’t know they could call a penalty on the face-off, so I had to reinforce the delay-of-game penalty, and recommend that there no longer be running time.
From there, we moved on to offsides and icing, which took about half the clinic to explain every scenario that is ok (like skating backwards into the zone with control of the puck while another player straddles the blue line with their skates) and not ok (like scoring from outside the zone while your teammate is in the zone). Since icing isn’t being called, this was an area of focus where I urged that they make changes for next year, as well as with delay-of-game as a whole, since it’s common for players to take a slapshot to the side boards in their defensive zone because the boards are only 3 inches high.
Penalties came next. With a language barrier, a different culture, and a style of hockey that has been played vastly different from the norm for quite some time, it took a lot of effort to reiterate the minutae of what contact qualifies as a penalty, and what is legal, but I think the point was made by the end. The part that boggles & frustrates is that most players don’t play with full equipment, and yet intentional contact seems to happen more often than incidental contact.
There were a lot of questions on fighting. As their comprehension of the game is still in development stages, it was important to reiterate that fighting is not a part of international hockey. Even though I believe in the concept in North America, we have an understanding of how it fits into the game. For Ladakh, it’s important for them to continue to improve their knowledge of the international version of the game, as opposed to allow fighting to happen. As it is, they are more violent than aggressive, which is counter to the development of the game. Bottom line for hockey in Ladakh: don’t fight. There’s enough verbal fighting that exists in the region as it is, if they use the ice as a forum, it’ll get out of control. Once they learn how to work together better in general, a primary goal of The Hockey Foundation.
I left Ladakh feeling satisfied that the referees will demand better control over the game and enforce the rules more accurately, but with the understanding that there’s a long way to go until it’s on par with the rest of the world.