Hockey in Ladakh

Ice Hockey in Ladakh, Part 10: Saying My Part


Before I departed Ladakh, the LWSC hosted a couple of parties in my honor. I brought a guest from VIS for the first one, and although I had been adhering to the nutrition plan I laid out for the team, I decided this was worthy of drinking. Who doesn’t drink when they’re the guest of honor?


I also decided this was my chance to really speak my mind. With some liquid courage in me (although I didn’t need any to say what I wanted to say), I tried to reinforce that we need to uphold the best interest of the game. The moment people start letting emotions and politics get in the way of hockey, the game suffers. When the game suffers, everyone loses. If we wanted hockey in Ladakh and in India to grow and improve, we had to behave in a manner that was conducive of it.

Points of interest regarding what I tried to prevent/change included the selection of the team, how to operate and grow the LWSC, how to coexist with the Ice Hockey Association of India (and by extension, their leadership) and even how to select captains.

When it came to the team itself, I was not given the team that I wanted. There’s no other way to put it. Although I had assisted in scouting, the participants of the national tournament held some weeks prior organized a selection committee to select the national team, of which the IHAI was only to vote if there was a tie. If I had the authority to change this, I would’ve scrapped that whole concept. What ensued was negotiations over who would get selected from each team, and people that weren’t even on the committee ended up voting. I have heard reliable statements regarding the fact that there were deals for certain players to make it, and complaints when others didn’t. The end result was that a team was compiled where almost half of them were not even close to qualified, and I mean that with consideration for local levels of play! This had to stop, and it will in the future.

I also spoke to them about coordinating their efforts in developing hockey. They needed to focus more on the kids, and with the assistance of someone like Henk, they had just laid a great foundation. Now it needed to grow. Ending the barrage of self-serving tournaments and holding more developmet camps would also enhance the level of play in Ladakh, especially as the rink in Dehra Dun (6 hours north of Delhi) was slated to open prior to next winter, increasing competition.

The LWSC had become complacent and took solace in the fact that they were the driving force of hockey in India, which is true. But that’s like saying you’re the best political candidate in a military dictatorship. You’re the only option. That will change once the Dehra Dun rink opens, and I vowed to the LWSC that I am not only there to help them. My mission is to help hockey grow, wherever that may be. They specifically asked me to favor them, and my response was phrased as carefully as possible that I would help everyone, but that Ladakh is where I will help the most. For now.

What they needed to understand is that at the end of the day, being the best at ice hockey in India is not going to get them very far (I resisted making another lame metaphor). It’s about being able to play at the international level.

I received complaints about how it’s only the LWSC that hosts tournaments, and that the army never does anything like that. All they do is participate in the tournaments that the LWSC hosts. Hockey began in Ladakh with the army, and while they used to be the best players in the region, the level of play is starting to balance out with the civilians. I thought this was one of the most unreasonable and selfish statements yet. I told the members there, with more gusto and enthusiasm, verbatim:
“The mission of the Ladakh Winter Sports Club is to hold hockey events (among other Winter sports). The mission of the army is to fight Pakistan. For you to expect them to hold a hockey tournament, and get upset when they don’t, is unreasonable on your part. They’re not required to do that. You are.”
I think it sunk in.

Their sentiment regarding how to choose captains was just as frustrating. They had asked me when I was going to select captains (1 captain, 2 alternates/assistants), to which I responded that I would have the team vote and see if they chose the right players. They said Akshay wanted me to choose the captain. My response was that just because Akshay wants me to pick captains, doesn’t mean I am going to pick them. The best thing for the team was for them to understand who their leaders were, and to give them a collective vote of confidence. They countered with the fact that since they were the Ladakh Winter Sports Club, and they are the ones doing all of the hockey, the only fair thing to do was have the captain be from one of the civilian (J&K) teams.

I controlled my disgust, and delicately informed them that this is the worst possible attitude to exude if we’re trying to do the best thing for the team and the program. At the same time, I agreed on a techinicality. In my opinion, the best candidate for captain was a civilian player, and a good candidate for assistant captain was from the army. I said that if the team didn’t select these players, I would make an executive decision and over-rule them, but I was confident that they’d do the right thing.

I was proven right. When we took the vote, the players first requested that they discuss who to vote for. I vetoed that motion immediately. This wasn’t a political campaign or a popularity contest. This was meant to be their gut instinct on who the best person to lead them was. In overwhelming numbers, they voted for the captain and assistant captain that we all had wanted anyway, and a controversy was avoided.

Their collective opinions of the Ice Hockey Association of India, were also construed. I set out to correct their views, and take a more cooperative stance. I can’t speak for the past, being that I was never in India, but I do know that my experience these past few months have been pretty damn good. The IHAI only received government recognition recently, so everything they tried to do prior to that was probably next to impossible. Promises that may have been made, most likely couldn’t have been upheld, because there was no footing to stand on. That has started to chang. Now that they have support from the International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) and the India Sports Ministry, as well as someone with experience to play the hero (tada!), there is a much better forecast on the horizon.

That horizon depends on the rink in Dehra Dun. Upon my return to Delhi, I scheduled some time to visit the rink, and see how construction was progressing. The success of ice hockey in India, including Ladakh (whether they know it or not), depends on this rink getting up and skating from the moment it opens.

And with that, I leave Ladakh.


Ice Hockey in Ladakh, Part 9: "I Shall Return"

I spent a lot of time thinking about this, and I know you will recognize the immense amount of thought that went into this philosophical analogy:

Ladakh is like a Manhattan cocktail…the tall, dark, attractive alcoholic beverage.

Think about it, the ingredients for a Manhattan (traditionally) are:
• Rye
• Sweet red vermouth
• Dash Angostura bitters
• Maraschino cherry (Garnish)

When I look at these ingredients, my first instinct is to back away slowly. Rye is not the friendliest of whiskeys, with a more peppery and dry taste, and vermouth is the equivalent of drinking vomit, in my humble opinion. If that isn’t nauseating enough, add in some bitters for good measure. And just when you thought you had the drink figured out, it goes and surprises you with a cherry on top. Somehow it comes out tasting refined, distinguished, and well put together.

The comparison to Ladakh is like this:
[taking a deep breath]
You arrive in Ladakh with grandeur, as you well know, weaving in and out of the mountains. You step out into a tiny airport, with minimal amenities, but you ignore them. You then get harassed by a handful of taxi drivers shouting in Ladakhi, but you’re OK with that, because they’re taxi drivers. You arrive in Leh, and it’s dirty. Garbage is everywhere, which usually includes raw sewage. You don’t mind the people walking everywhere in the streets like a bunch of headless chickens, but are more concerned about the wounded canines, the fattened bovines, and the subtle asses (the donkeys). The people show you one face in public, and another in private, souring your impression of them. Nonetheless, they’re friendly and hospitable, and marked with an interesting history and culture, that in many ways appears timeless, or rather static.

When you analyze any of these ingredients that make up Ladakh, you find that the cocktail is made with ingredients that don’t seem too appealing, yet when all combined, they make up something unique, and even addictive.

Ladakh has a way of overtaking you. It has obvious drawbacks, like the lack of running, hot water, heated/insulated buildings or western toilets, among the other mentioned characteristics, yet somehow that’s what you love about it. That’s the addiction. Rarely would you consume the individual ingredients of a Manhattan, but when they’re shaken (not stirred) together, you learn to not only appreciate and enjoy it fully, but you learn to love every component.

For your information, I’ve never consumed Manhattan before, but all this talk of one has made me interested.

As a secondary note, not to get too side-tracked, ‘s apparently an episode of Sex in the City that mentions the cocktail. Episode 90, last scene. I’ve never seen it. I swear.

We now return to our regularly scheduled hockey blog…

Not even a week after leaving Ladakh, I was back on a plane heading to Leh. This time, my mission was even more focused: train the Indian ice hockey team and prepare them for the 2009 IIHF Challenge Cup of Asia in Abu Dhabi, the capital of the United Arab Emirates.

It was a bit surreal, stepping off the plane after that incredible descent, retracing all of my steps. The first time around, I was lost, confused, and naive. Now I was entirely prepared, comfortable, and a hell of a lot more knowledgable about Ladakhi culture (although by no means an expert). Getting through the airport was quick, although my luggage wasn’t, and I was able to instruct my taxi driver where to take me, although the price was not to my liking. This time around, though, I wasn’t staying at SECMOL. The experience was very unique there, but since it was a major diversion in the opposite direction of Leh. My training would be focused strictly in the immediate area around Leh, and if I had my way, at the rink within the town.

That was my first point of business. After I dropped off my bags at the guest house I had previously stayed (where Tashi Angchok lives), I walked the 2km back into the center of town and to the office of the Ladakh Winter Sports Club. With obvious awareness to the difference in situations, importance, and ego, I felt a bit like General MacArthur upon his return to the Philippines during WWII. I wanted to come to the rescue of hockey in Ladakh - and India as an extension - and I felt like a hero just by returning. But like all ego trips, that only lasted for about a day.

The following day, practice began at Karzu/Karzoo (you choose) ice rink, located somewhat in the center of Leh, if you could geographically figure such a thing out in a town with chaotic roads and scattered hills. The rink is on a pond that is submerged in comparison to the road that encircles it, with stone walls about 6-7 feet high surrounding the full rink. In a few spots, there are some major hazards, in particular, the stairway when entering the rink, which would be partially submerged under thin ice (I punched through at the bottom and had a freezing foot), and the corner of the rink where the running water would enter the pond. This constant stream of water collected and made it nearly impossible for that section of the pond to freeze, which then broke down the stability of the entire rink at time.


We agreed to start practice at approximately 8:00 am so that the ice would be as firm as possible, and we could get off in time for the children’s clinic that was being run by my friend and resident of Ladakh, Henk, which began at 10:00 am.

Henk held this clinic for 15 days, donating his own time as a volunteer coach, teaching children between the ages of 5 and 15 (approximately). It was an extraordinary sight to see, all of these kids on the ice, day in, day out, and I’m positive his instruction was invaluable to everyone on the ice! I look forward to coaching some of these kids as well, as the Indian ice hockey program develops.

In terms of the India ice hockey team, we began day one a little late, with one of the military groups being delayed through no fault of their own. My policy for team practices was that any time players were late, they had to do “suicides”, which would reinforce their determination to arrive on time, something that’s not as common in Ladakhi (or Indian) culture.

For your reference, “suicide” is a skating drill that is fantastically exhausting. You start on the goal line, at one of the ends of the rink, and proceed to skate to the nearest blue line. Then stop, and skate back to the goal line and stop. You’re not done. Now do this to the red line, in the center of the rink, then back to the goal line. Tired yet? Too bad. Skate to the far blue line and back this time. Do you need some water? You can’t have any. Not until you proceed to skate to the opposite goal line, at the far end of the rink, and return to where you started. Ok, feel free to get some air now. Only problem is that you’re skating at an altitude of nearly 12,000 feet (3,300 meters), and the oxygen in the air is scarce.

When you live at low altitudes, you can’t comprehend what that means, but I can assure you that when your lungs are gasping for every last bit of available air, you learn very quickly the seriousness and intensity of high altitude training.

The clincher to the “suicide” drill is that there was an additional caveat to what happened when I made them do the drill: I had to do it too.

I always hated the drill when I training as a teeneger. I think the term came about because half way through the drill, you start to consider suicide as a better option than skating. At some point, the brilliant idea came to me that I should punish myself when I punish them, being that I’m responsible for the team as their coach. Since Indians and Ladakhis have a (slightly) greater level of respect and reverance for the person in charge, especially since half of my team is from the military, I figured I would add extra motivation to prevent them from screwing up if they saw me suffer as well. Let me assure you, I suffered.

Even though I agreed that the players had a good reason for being late that first day, I still made them skate, and kept my word by skating with them. I thought I was going to die.

Five minutes later, when blood finally returned to my brain, we began with some of the basic drills that we had done prior to my first departure from Ladakh. They had not really improved.

Happy Adam quickly stepped aside, and made way for frustrated Adam. (I’ll use 3rd person sparingly). After my first day working with the team the first time around, a group of player told me, “we’re not basic”. I placated them at the time and told them, “I o, but we need to start from scratch”. Unfortunately, in regards to hockey skills and understanding, they were and are basic. I hoped that with the foundation I was providing, that they’d have improved at least mildly to this point in time, and have a greater understanding of the game, but I was proven wrong.

The team couldn’t do the basics that we had worked on initially, 2-on-0, 2-on-1, etc. They were still unable to skate strong, pass accurately, or shoot to a spot on the net of their choosing, that is, if they were able to hit the net. For ten days, I watched them miss the net from 10 feet away. For ten days, they lined up improperly for faceoffs. For ten days, players would collide into each other in a drill that explicitly explained who went in front, who went behind. For ten days, shots would go out of the rink, and nobody bothered to get them (we only had 6-8 pucks to practice with!). For ten days, players shot at the net when the goalie wasn’t looking, often hitting him in a tender spot. For ten days, players would screw up simple tasks for 45 minutes, even after it was explained to them in English and Ladakhi…TEN times! For ten days, I ended up yelling way more than I am comfortable doing.

That’s not to say we didn’t have fun and didn’t improve, but I was dealing with a team that was not contributing the attention, effort and brain-power required to be a successful hockey team. I wasn’t seeing the determination and character that a national hockey team should have. At the same time, what could I expect? These guys were in a tough position. For years, they had been playing a style of hockey unique to their corner of the world. They didn’t know anything otherwise. Then the best players got selected to represent their country in an international competition. How would you feel? Proud, maybe even cocky? How about equally scared and insecure? Add in an international coach that is more talented than you (there’s no other way to put it) and is obviously not happy with your progress, and you can include embarassment and shame to the list.

I tried to counter-act that with on-ice games, like skating, passing and shooting competitions (the losers did suicides, including myself…again), and humility on my part. The only reason I went back to Ladakh was to help them get better. They are the team. They are the ones representing their region and their country. I’m not even getting paid! My disappointement was an expression of what I felt they owed to each other and those they were playing for.

I wanted to borrowed Miracle from SECMOL so that I could not only familiarize the team with the incredible and inspiring story of the 1980 US Olympic team, but also show them the potential parallels if we could band together and prove everyone wrong. Also, this was the first opportunity for them to watch people play hockey. Even though it’s a movie, it’s possibly the best hockey movie in regards to the hcoeky skills on display (if not the best hockey movie overall…don’t attack me for that!).

Speaking of SECMOL…whatever my frustration at the level of performance out of the team during the week and a half of practice, multiply that by another ten when it came to SECMOL. If you can recall from the first time around, the SECMOL players were passive in how they approached attending the 3-day clinic, and although it wasn’t entirely their fault at that time, they showed early signs of not having the mental toughness and passion required to represent their country. This time around, things were no different.

My announced return came only 2-3 days before I arrived. I won’t say that’s an eternity, but it’s certainly enough time for word to spread. I am confident that the Ladakh Winter Sports Club DID NOT reach out to the SECMOL players, and they kept up their rhetoric regarding the SECMOL players not reaching out to them. Other than that, how would they know I was coming back? I give them a pass on that one, but not to the LWSC. After day one of practice, there were some announcements on the local news regarding the team. At that point, SECMOL was assured practice was on, and I received a call that night. In my chat, I instructed the two players to be ready for the army bus at 7:00 am, to ensure they would all arrive on time, and was guaranteed that would be the case. The next morning, no SECMOL players.

Obviously, I was annoyed. These guys were hurting the chemistry of the team by not being there, and insulted the work that was being put into developing the program. I received a call 3/4 of the way through practice, in the middle of running a drill, notifying me that one player didn’t come because he couldn’t get out of work…at SECMOL. He was responsible for teaching a class that day on campus, and didn’t have enough time (from the previous evening) to reschedule it. If he really wanted to, he could have…I’m positive of that. In response to his last minute decision not to go, the other player decided he wasn’t going either, as he would have to walk 3km (1.5 miles) to the road, at dawn, and await the arrival of the army bus. Since nobody communicated any of this to myself or the army players, they were left waiting for 20 minutes for players that never showed.

I called SECMOL a few hours later, and discussed the importance of showing up, to which the response was that since the players couldn’t afford to pay to participate, they didn’t have the motivation to play. I can understand the frustraion of having to pay to play for a tournament of this nature, but unfortunately the India hockey program is at its infancy, and there are no funds available. I explained that the players should still show up to show their support, but to also improve their own hockey skills. I also enquired into whether SECMOL could pay for the players to participate, as it seemed like a great way to give their students a chance to really move up in the world (I perceive a school as trying to help its students any way possible, but maybe that’s my idealism coming out once again), as well as great recognition for SECMOL itself (they could put it on their website, touting that two SECMOL students are on the national team, and use that to solicit more donations, support and volunteer), and was quickly met with a curt, “we don’t have any money!” I decided it was time to go to SECMOL and present my case.

I returned to SECMOL that evening with Tashi and his new group of fifteen VIS students, replacing the half-dozen or so that had been there a few weeks prior. I felt like the resident Ladakhi expert when I met these (mostly) high school kids. Earlier that day I had shared with them some of the good and bad of Ladakh, but knew that most of it wouldn’t set in until a month or so into their stay. Fortunately, their trip started as Winter was winding down, and as the season changes, Leh opens up to the outside world. I was there for the Winter, and we already discussed those hardships.

When I arrived at SECMOL, I had a few points of business to take care of. Firstly, I needed to speak to the players to explain why their presence is so important. Secondly, I wanted to speak to one of the folks in charge, to explain why I felt SECMOL should support them. Third(ly?), I wanted to grab a few hockey movies that they had in their posession (like Miracle) so that I could show it to the team, and lastly, I wanted to get my skates sharpened by one of the departing VIS students that sharpens skates when he’s in Vermont. All of those were accomplished.

As expected, the players showed up the next day with the army, and for a week or so, practices progressed, if at a tortoise’s pace. I tried my hardest to improve the basics, while implementing the most beginner of strategy. Off the ice, we discussed the concepts and reasoning behind how you position yourself on the ice, and how to work together as a team. I showed them Miracle, which they were absolutely loving, but we had to stop the movie in the middle because the DVD player started to smoke…really. Two days we concluded the movie, and the guys were on the edge of their seats as USA defeated USSR and Finland.

I spoke with them at length regarding my frustraion with their lack of focus and mental discpline, and went into a SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats) Analysis. Needless to say, Strengths were not our prominent category, but we found a few, and agree to magnify those aspects of our game, and obviously improve the contrary.

I also drafted up a document entitled, “So you want to be a hockey player…”, reviewing and outlining all of the things that only partially lay out the things one would have to do to support their hockey career, such as cutting out certain foods, alcohol and tobacco, doing relevant exercises (like yoga), and carrying themselves in a manner that honors the traditions of the game.

It was relative smooth sailing, although frustrating nonetheless, until we started to run into a few unfortunate events. Among the most significant was the weather. Every evening, the temperature would make it down below the freezing point, but during the day, it would rise a few degrees over. We kept our practices early to combat this, but the problem intensifies with time. At high altitude, the sun is much closer and stronger, and when the ice melts a little on day one, it accumulates a little bit every day (when the weather is consistent). This was the pattern for almost the entire duration, with the ice becoming worse every day.

Because of the weather conditions, the playing surface of the rink suffered. In many damaged areas, I used cones to detour to the team so that they wouldn’t fall in. There were holes in some spots as well, which I surrounded with cones, although that didn’t stop a handful of pucks from going into the pond through those tiny holes. At one point, when 2 players collided on the drill that should be collission-less, they both fell, lost the puck, and it went scurrying into one of the holes on the surface, like it had an instinctive desire to go swimming. I was more pissed about the puck than I was about the players colliding stupidly.

When the team stood in one spot, the ice would begin to crack, sounding like a whip. The prospect of falling into the cold, dirty pond, in chest high water (I assume), was not on the top of my to do list. If for anything, I was more freightened about the garbage than I was about getting out of the water or catching hypothermia.

It drama came to a climax near the end of my stay in Ladakh, when we were doing a skating/passing drill (something we still hadn’t perfected). One of the SECMOL players fell, and was in obvious pain. I skated over to him, and his mouth was open and he was writhing on the ice like a snake. I knew immediately, this was a seizure. Players came over and held is body, stabilizing his head and taking off his skates. Some massaged his feet (to this day, I’m not really sure why, although I assume it was increase blood flow). His eyes went into the back of his head, and he was foaming from the mouth, until he lost consciousness.

As the team stood around, the ice began to crack, to which I shouted to clear the area, and call a doctor. Nobody did anything. I repeated my request/command, and just now do I recall that I may have told people to “call 911!”, which would explain their lack of response, since 911 is not the emergency line in India. Eventually, a player pulled his car near the rink, and a group of players picked up their teammate and hoisted him over there head, 7 feet high, to get him over the wall surrounding the rink and into the car, and to the hospital.

An hour or so later later, we got confirmation that it was indeed a seizure, but that he was ok, albeit dazed and confused. Initially, my assumption was that he had caught a rut in the ice, fallen, hit his head, and gone into a seizure. What actually happened was that he went into a seizure while skating and fell, but didn’t hit his head (or hit it lightly). They were keeping him for 72 hours for observation and more tests.

Because of this happening, and my concern for safety (a foreign concept in India - and China for that matter, but you’ll have to request those stories from me another time), I ended practice early, and instructed the players to remove the nets (which were usually left on the rink 24/7), and shut down the rink for the day (if not for the season). I spoke to Henk, and suggested that they cancel their youth clinic for the day, and he agreed. Apparently, the LWSC didn’t.

I voiced my concerns (forcefully at times, sarcastically at others) that it’s not worth risking a serious injury for one of the kids, and was met with disregard. The parents had paid, so the feeling was that the kids should skate. I suggested that they return the money for one day. Even if all went well, it’s not worth taking a chance, because if tragedy does strike, it would be catastrophic.

This became a pattern.


Ice Hockey in Ladakh, Part 7: Training the Indian National Hockey Team

At the end of the 4th National Ice Hockey Championship, I had agreed to train the selected players that were to participate in the 2009 IIHF Asia Challenge Tournament, being held in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, in mid-March. I had already been familiar with the players after watching them play in the National Tournament, and my scouting report was provided to Akshay Kumar of the Ice Hockey Association of India for his selection committee meeting. I had been watching these players for a solid week, and knew that there was a passion, and a potential to vastly improve. If only for three days before my departure back to Delhi (and around India) I was given the opportunity to lay the foundation of an international style of hockey.

Although I had spent a lot of time talking to the members of the Ladakh Winter Sports Club about my departure date, and my desire to train the team, it was incredibly last minute when I was notified we’d begin training just a few hours later in the day.

Our first session was scheduled at 4pm, the same day I had begun my intensive training at SECMOL in the morning, and classroom instruction in the evening. SECMOL is 20 km outside of Leh in one direction, and this rink is about 10 km outside of Leh in the other direction. As a result, a ride was arranged on day one to bring me to SECMOL to get my equipment, to the rink, and later back to SECMOL. The rink was on the banks of a river, although I’m not sure if it was the Indus or the Sindhu, and was the practice rink for one of the military teams. In order to make it to the rink, you had climb over a stone wall, and then navigate down AND up some rocky dirt paths. The players’ bench - and I use that term very liberally - was a couple of boulders and trees, although most people just got changed on the ice immediately outside of the rink.

The team was comprised of about 12 players from the military teams, and the remaining roster was filled by players from the local teams, two being from SECMOL (including “formerly selfish”). 6 players were placed on reserve. A couple of players were in Jammu, the winter capital of Jammu & Kashmir, studying in school, and were not able to attend. Only a couple others were also absent.

The surface was brutal. There were speed bumps all over the rink, and they were damn effective, because very often people would come to a complete halt and face-plant into the rink. I speak from experience. On day one of training, I fell four times, twice without my gloves, which are relatively imperative to alleviating the impact of falls. No matter, I had the team (sans a few players – including those from SECMOL that were unaware they had made the team and that there was even a practice that) work on skating drills – in particular, their stopping, cross-overs and backwards skating.

Pond hockey has a yin-yang relationship. Using this analogy, there’s a “good” and an “evil”. On the side of the good guys, you have freedom: free ice, freedom to play how you like, freedom to have fun. This is obviously great for harnessing passion, and learning how to have fun in the game. You play because you love it and you can. On the (New Jersey) Devil(s) side, you have a pond, with no boards, uneven surfaces, the risk of falling in, and no rules. You lose pucks twice as fast as you would in an arena (pucks are like socks…even when you know the full schedule of where your socks have been, somehow you lose them all the time. Same thing with pucks…even in an arena, you shoot pucks out of the rink and tend to lose them regularly), and the risks of playing on an unreliable surface, with no rules, no referees and no support has not only life-impacting ramifications, but more importantly, it can stunt your hockey growth!

Playing hockey in an arena may be expensive, limited in time, restrictive in its rules and the way it’s played, etc, but at the end of the day hockey is played in an arena. Nothing can replace that training.


Long story short, the pond severely handicapped the Ladakhi ability to power skate. As you have learned in earlier posts (you better have read each one!), ice conditions can sometimes be like skating on broken glass, or in this case, with the speedbumps. These hindrances affect the natural skating style, forcing players to skate timidly and focus on their feet. Obviously hockey is a sport that runs on an alternative mode of transportation (has anyone researched ice skating as a source for alternative energy?), but the skating must become second-nature so players can focus on the game going on around them. Being a mediocre ice skater will end up getting you injured, as you tend to spend more time looking down and can get your ass handed to you in one of those moments. Needless to say, nobody wants to see that happen. Neither do I, but there is no alternative in India currently. Outdoor pond hockey is the only way to go. So we fought through the detours and continued training.

After our skating drills, we got into shooting. Immediately I set out to change the mind-set when the players took a shot. I put a moratorium on slap shots until a wrist shot not only became second nature, but became adequate enough to score on a comatose goalie. If you know an obsessive hockey player, and I’m no exception, then you know that they are very emotional and protective about their sticks. The hockey stick is an extension of the body, and it must operate as such. A player should take the utmost care of their stick, because mistreatment can result in breakage on the ice in the middle of a game, always when you’re about to take an important shot. Karmic retribution.

After 20 minutes or so of continuous shooting, we got into face-off alignment. In an attempt to radically change hockey in Ladakh, I showed every player specifically where they needed to be on a face-off at each dot on the rink. Once the centers got to see their wingers lined up properly next to them, and their defensemen behind them, they quickly understood the logic of trying to win the puck backwards on a face-off. Mission accomplished! (Hey, I’ll take it…beggars can’t be choosers).

After the on-ice training, I had the army drop me off at SECMOL so I could teach my off-ice hockey class (see previous post).

Day 2 began mid-day this time, instead of 4pm in an attempt to get better ice. The army players picked me and the two SECMOL players up from campus, and brought us to the rink on the opposite side of Leh. Although we tried to outsmart the weather, we failed. If anyone spent too much time in one particular spot for too long, they’d find that there skate was an inch into the ice, and partially submerged in water. Skating drills? I think not. As a result, more time was spent shooting from different angles quickly to train the goalies to move laterally in the net, play their angles, and practice going down and getting back up.


Needless to say, without formal training for the players, there was no formal training for the goalies. The butterfly (a particular style of goaltending that relies upon speed and flexibility in covering as much of the net as possible, while covering your angles) was completely foreign to them. Not being a goalie, I tried my best to explain what a butterfly position looks like and why it’s effective. The trouble is that with no equipment and average flexibility (on a good day, after yoga and a massage), I can’t get into a butterfly position. I thought I was going to tear my groin. It was worth the sacrifice though, if I could at least make a slight improvement in their abilities in net, especially since my groin is out of commission while in India as it is (too much information?).


After shooting for a solid 35 minutes, we worked on screens and deflections, something they have never utilized. I wanted to lay the foundations of how to position oneself in front of the end and cause absolute chaos. As a center, I got more pleasure in helping a teammate score a goal due to my screening the goalie than when I scored the goals myself. Sure, you take a few shots to the spine or calf, but even that is part of the fun. We ran a drill for the full team where all players would fight for positioning in front of the net, and either I or a defenseman would shoot at the perfect moment for a screen, deflection or rebound. Some did this perfectly and stood their ground in front, others did it perfectly by clearing their man in front, and others took themselves 8 or 9 feet out of position in an attempt to get open. Obviously since this is a drill to fight for positioning in front of the net, they failed.

For day 3, my final day with the team before my departure to Delhi, we decided to hold a morning practice. 9am. This effectively meant I couldn’t coach the SECMOL group that night, something I wasn’t happy about, but in the grand scheme of things, training this newly formed Indian team is obviously an honor and incredibly important.

The ice was a bit better, although still nothing to rave about, so skating drills returned. After some brief shooting, passing and stick-handling drills, we got into the real meat. We started with a 2-on-0 drill. If it sounds simple, it is. For those of you that don’t play hockey, here’s the brief-over: two players start from opposing corners on the same side of the ice and leave the zone, criss-crossing as they return back into the zone. They make a short pass as they approach each other, with the player receiving the puck crossing in front of the player passing the puck. Other than the obvious reason for doing this, not running into each other, the logic behind this is that you want the player with the puck to enter the offensive zone immediately so as to not go off-sides. Granted, this is a drill that requires players to go back into the zone they started from; a situation that is unrealistic in a game, but it reinforces the concept of pass and go behind, and stay onsides. Also, it’s hockey. You never know where the puck will take you on the ice. Sometimes you skate laterally. In that case, this drill is perfect practice.

It should still sound like an easy drill. Apparently not for Ladakhis. The players consistently failed to pass properly, and to make matters worse, they were going off-sides and running into each other! Communicate! I tried to reinforce that the drill isn’t about skating to the top of the zone and just giving the player the puck. You can pass as much as you want before and after, but make sure that you pass at the top of the zone about 10 feet from each other. We attempted this drill for about 30 minutes, and would’ve done it longer until we consistently got it right, but the tea was getting cold. So we took a break.

When tea time was over, I really complicated things by making it a 2-on-1 drill. Now the defenseman would start near the net and pass to one of the players leaving the zone, then they’d criss-cross, just as before, and come back into the zone against the defenseman. Although it was filled with countless mistakes, mostly going off-sides or making an ill-advised pass, they managed to run this drill more efficiently than when there was no defensive opponent. Go figure.


Other than day three’s tea break, there were no water breaks throughout these two-hour long practices. It’s not that I was overworking or punishing them, quite the opposite. I felt that with the level of drills we were running, and the limited time available, there was no point in wasting a water break when everyone appeared fresh. But maybe that was just their cultural tendency of respecting authority that kicked in. Either way, being the last practice, I didn’t want to leave without getting into some sort of team situation.

I attempted to introduce a 3-on-2 drill that would develop multiple skills at once: defensive pair passing to one another, offensive players coming back into the zone, all 5 players breaking out in unison, the forwards coming in on attack with a 1-man advantage, hence 3-on-2. Before I could really get this drill up and running, we ended practice. Time had run out, and this drill would require another hour that was unavailable.


For now, my training with the Indian hockey team had come to an end. They needed to be ready to play for the Asia Challenge Cup, and I was leaving Ladakh with a strong feeling that more training was imperative.

We needed to work on skating, shooting, passing and positioning. Minor details in a game reliant upon skating, shooting, passing and positioning. Or as they say in Miracle: “Pass, shoot, score.” But hey…we have passion! Hopefully we can work on some of these things before time runs out.

Ice Hockey in Ladakh, Part 6: Coaching at SECMOL/Founding “The Hockey Volunteer”

You may or may not know, but my original motivation for coming all the way to Ladakh for hockey was to work with the students at SECMOL (Students’ Educational and Cultural Movement of Ladakh). This had come about after a random email sent my way from my friend and former colleague Angela Ruggiero of Team U.S.A. Hockey involved SECMOL, and I decided to research a bit what it was about. The more I read, the more I was compelled to help.

SECMOL is a non-profit that has a campus about 20km outside of Leh, in the middle of a mountainous desert, on a cliff overlooking the Indus River. It is in an absolutely gorgeous scene. These days, SECMOL exists to provide children from around Ladakh, mostly those from less fortunate families (in an area that is already very humble compared to life in the West – “Things we take for granted…”), and provides them with a rounded education, teaches them practical responsibilities, and allows more than enough opportunity for fun and constructive interpersonal interaction.

Throughout the year, high school students from VIS (Vermont Intercultural Semesters) come to Ladakh and spend some time at SECMOL teaching the students English, working on school-work for credit, and providing the SECMOL students and staff with an opportunity to learn about life and culture in America – in particular, Vermont.

The campus is solar powered, and after a handful of ventures into educational services, liberal magazine printing, and childrens’ books, solar paneling is among the few remaining business that allows SECMOL to make revenue independent of donations and the fees collected from students and volunteers. On their website, there was a request for a hockey coach, and like a slap shot to the temple, I was overtaken with a swelling of emotion by the calling that had come out of nowhere, or had it?

Around the world, there are handfuls of people that believe in fate, or the edict that “things happen for a reason”, and others in the philosophy of karma – that what we do has a direct impact on what happens to us (simply: cause and effect). For many, The Secret was powerful source of inspiration to really focus on our dreams. Malcolm Gladwell would argue that it’s the situation unto which we were afforded in life, mixed with a fair degree of randomness, hard-work, and luck, that lead to our outcome in life. Others take the “more practical” route that we make our own opportunities, and that randomness has nothing over good ‘ol sweat, blood and tears.

For some time now, many of these philosophies have resonated for me, some of them conflicting or harmonizing with each other, and when my tenure with the Islanders ended, I knew that the time to test my character and put my dreams into motion had arrived. All of my life’s experiences to that point had provided me with a foundation to grow upon, and when this email came my way from Angela, I had already identified many of the things important to me to live a happy life: traveling, playing hockey, drinking tea, doing good for others/generating good karma, meeting interesting people, forming lasting connections/friendships, never working a “9-to-5” again, being my own boss, finding a path to enlightenment (seriously). These are things I consider passions that define me, some are simple, some are complex, but all are important. With the pursuit of passion, there is still a business plan, and a desire to make money, but never the motivation to put money before happiness. The opportunity to travel to Ladakh, a Buddhist (Buddhism is based upon compassion, doing good for others, and the pursuit of enlightenment) region in the Himalayas of India, one of the world’s most unique countries, where ice forms naturally and hockey is played with passion, where I could drink endless amounts of tea, and do things the way I feel are important in life and in business was too much to resist. This email regarding SECMOL opened my eyes and provided me with the path to follow through on my pursuit of happiness, and so became “The Hockey Volunteer” initiative.

In my first day of emails with SECMOL, on December 8, 2008, I had enquired into how much my trip would cost, and promised that I would make it to Ladakh the moment I had raised the appropriate funds. The cost to make it to India and survive for 1 month on meager conditions was $2000. The cost to stay longer and still live pretty modest, $3000. If I was to bring hockey equipment, $4000. My goal was to raise the money before the ball dropped and 2008 had ended, and I set out on utilizing the digital world as my primary resource for fundraising. Being a card-holding member of Generation Y, and someone that has always been keen on utilizing computers and new technology, this was something I had a passion for, and had experience with when I could say “I’m Adam Sherlip, and I’m an ‘Islander’”. Unknown to everyone, up until now, is that I vowed to myself that I would plaster the internet with this program for the sheer point of proving that it could be done, and that technology could be used to make a difference in peoples’ lives if we truly allow it. I was never given the opportunity to utilize new media/digital marketing the way I wanted previously, and this was my opportunity to prove my old bosses wrong. I wouldn’t call it vengeance, or anything of similar harshness, but rather the opportunity to prove to myself and to those that had doubted my expertise and/or idealism that both could succeed, simultaneously.

Now at this point, you may be thinking this is about ego, and I want to vow to you that my only boost in ego is when I see the difference I have made in the lives of countless people to date, using hockey as my tool. That’s it. I feel good, when I’ve done good*. The rest is fluff. Yes, it’s important to have motivation. Yes, it’s important to have dreams and goals. But none of that compares to knowing that your services are not only needed, but they are requested and appreciated.

On January 12, 2009, just over 1 month from deciding the path my life would take herein, I departed for Ladakh, by way of Frankfurt, Germany and Delhi, India. I differentiate between Delhi, India and Ladakh because this is truly a world unto itself. During the Winter, Ladakh is cut off from the rest of the world, including it’s neighboring regions: Zanskar, Jammu and Kashmir (the name of the state). With me on this initial voyage was a bundle of 14 hockey sticks, 2 pairs of skates, some pucks, my gloves, and 2 sets of netting. I was told that lefty sticks were called “righty” and righty sticks were called “lefty”, and that what I know as lefty sticks was in high demand. As a result, I brought a half-dozen of my old lefty sticks, and received donations of another half-dozen sticks from a local Play it Again Sports on Long Island, of which only 3 were righty, and two of those were for children. Originally, my plan was to receive a donation or purchase two sets of hockey goals that came with large backstop-netting, so that wide shots would stay in the rink. In the meantime, I had discussed with SECMOL the proper size of the nets, and when they notified me they had welded some pipe to regulation size, I was able to purchase netting to line the pipes. The morning of my departure, I rushed out to a sporting goods store the moment they opened, and purchased lacrosse-style netting, against the recommendation of the people in the store. I then went into the neighboring hardware store and purchased 1 large bag of industrial strength ties.

Both pairs of skates were mine from the past, and along with the rest of my equipment, the plan was to leave everything behind. It’s very Buddhist not to hold on to possessions, and since everything is replaceable for me, and difficult to get for the Ladakhis, it seemed like the best option. That, and I would be able to lighten my load for when I began my travel around India.

As you know from my first post here in Ladakh, my child-like tendencies took over and I had jumped onto the rink within a couple of hours of arriving, stupidly taunting the altitude to prove that it could debilitate me. Prior to the headache that REALLY felt like a slap-shot to the temple, I was told that the sticks I called lefty are also called lefty in Ladakh (shocker, I know), and that they had actually needed righty sticks, as over 90% of the players shoot from the right side. Damn.

In that first session on the ice, the mid-level players, many female, were on the ice playing around with one of the instructors from Vermont. She quickly deferred to me, and I showed everyone how to take a proper wrist shot (naturally, I missed the net on one of my first attempts, but no matter), and then worked on some puck-handling drills before getting into a scrimmage. This was my only lesson for the better part of two weeks.

The oldest boys’ team was participating in a local tournament, the same tournament I identified as having a SECMOL player dominating his competition on selfish play, and while they were competing in the late rounds of the tournament, the rest of us traveled to the opposite side of Ladakh to participate in a tournament in Chiktan/Kargil, co-sponsored by SECMOL. At this point, I was made aware that there was more tournament play upcoming when we returned to the Leh area (the capital of Ladakh), and that many of the top players would be involved in that tournament too. We agreed that my instruction should begin after the tournament ended. The only other interaction with hockey at SECMOL was in the scrimmage we organized between our American team and the top boys’ team, in which we absolutely demolished our better conditioned/acclimated opponents on the backs of our superior passing (and speed and shot accuracy). As we played out our drubbing, I made a point to call out the selfish play of the “all-star”, and noticed his game (along with the rest of his teammates) morphing into a cone-like strategy of stand and wait for the puck to come.

Again, based on earlier posts, you know that the tournament I speak of was the national tournament, and I had become heavily involved in everything around this event, including the drama, unfortunately. In the middle of the national tournament, was the Canadian tournament, and when all was said and done, 7-8 days were devoted to these two conjoined hockey happenings. During this period, I was practically unseen at SECMOL, waking up early to head into Leh, staying in town all day, and returning late at night, if I returned at all. Although we had discussed that my lessons would begin when all of this ended, I was starting to feel like a man who wasn’t living up to his word. I had come to Leh for SECMOL, and was seen dealing with an organization that has had strained relations with the embattled NGO: the Ladakh Winter Sports Club.

I had to be repeatedly reminded by my friend Henk that I was in Ladakh for hockey, and based on my discussions with SECMOL and my contribution to the rest of Ladakhi hockey, I was upholding my initial goal: to share happiness one puck at a time. Phew, I was getting worried.

As the tournament was winding down, I organized an off-ice hockey class at SECMOL to go over the basics of hockey. Just like with the local referees, this class was focused on discussing penalties, off-sides, and icing. The group was engaged for an hour, working through my English, a translator, and “Slap Shot”-like demonstrations of how to commit the penalties, as well as the signals for them.

At the same time, I began working with the most advanced players from SECMOL in private sessions (which ended up quickly becoming public, because many of the other students would force their way in), including the player previously identified as selfish. He had performed relatively miserably in his earliest matches in the national tournament, and I attempted to reinforce what constitutes quality hockey in North America. Our time together wasn’t as productive as I would have liked, as he had a hard time understanding the concept of a snap-shot (something I didn’t want to get into, but one of the Vermont students had introduced it), as well as how to break out of the defensive zone and find the puck. People used to say that Wayne Gretzky would always “have the puck find his stick”, but in reality that means that Gretzky was smart enough to understand where the puck was going, and make sure he was there. These were the things I was trying to teach him, as well as how to make close passes while moving in all directions.

The conditions of the ice at this point in the training was less than forgiving, and at one point I caught my skate in a deep rut, and fell backwards on my lower back, an area I severely injured in a hockey when I was a teenager, that gets easily aggravated and affects all movement in my body when it flares up. Fortunately, this pain subsided quickly, and without any intense spasms.

When the tournament ended, I was able to really get to work with the SECMOL players. In the late afternoons, as the sun was setting, I dragged “formerly selfish” out onto the ice, along with a few of his teammates, and we worked on honing some of the intermediate skills, like deflections and breakouts. In the mornings (yes, I’m going backwards), I spent a couple of days instructing the less advanced groups, working on passing, skating (in particular, backwards), shooting, and 2-on-1 drills. In the evening, we went back into the classroom for a few more lessons. You already know day one. Day two discussed face-off positioning, and day three was about zone-play, including break-outs. Afterwards, I gave the group an overview of the NHL, including listing all of the teams and showing where they were on the map. To my disappointment, these so-called hockey fanatics knew nothing about the NHL, or about North American geography. To my further disappointment, I forgot one NHL team, and not until 4 days later did I remember which team I had left off out of the hockey geography lesson: sorry Colorado Avalanche fans!

All of this training with the players at SECMOL was in my final scheduled days in Ladakh, but as you will soon find out, this intense period of hockey overload and instruction at SECMOL was only a sliver of what was going on.

It only gets better!


*I have made a conscious decision to ignore the foundations of proper grammar here, and use “good” instead of “well”. I think the term “I’ve done good” is much more representative of something that feels inherently decent and morally right, whereas “I’ve done well” seems mediocre and impersonal.

Ice Hockey in Ladakh, Part 5: The Red Coats are coming! Er, uh, I mean the Canadians are coming!

This posting is in conformity with the rest of this blog, but the post is easily modifiable for a newspaper article. Pictures will not be posted to this article until at least February 19, due to poor internet in Ladakh. In the meantime, you can check out pictures on my Flickr account: Anyway…enjoy…

In my apparent ego-centrism, narcissism and ignorance, I wrongly assumed that I was the Christopher Columbus of ice hockey in Ladakh. “I have discovered hockey in Ladakh,” I said to myself in my head, but like Columbus in regards to America, many had come before me. Obviously, hockey was being played in Ladakh, and has been for some time. It became logical, seeing as all you needed was some ice and hockey equipment. People that came here for hockey over the years brought it with them, which solved that riddle.

So many sports stories begin with who beat whom and which player performed the best. We hear about the rivalry of sports and see the behavior of fans as crude, ignorant or violent. But what gets lost in the shuffle is how sports can bring people together.

For almost a decade now, members of the Canadian High Commission (Embassy) in Delhi have been coming up to Leh, Ladakh in the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir. They have been participating in a friendly tournament, the Indo-Canadian Friendship Cup, with local hockey teams, and have been bonding over the sport of ice hockey in the only region in India where ice forms naturally.

This was news to me. At the onset of the 4th National Ice Hockey Tournament, I was informed that a team of Canadians was coming. I had seen a sign around the rink thanking the NHLPA for their support of Ladakhi hockey, but was completely stunned to learn that a bunch of players would come up from Delhi when it’s a beautiful 70°F (approx 23°C), year in and year out, tough out altitude sickness, and share their happiness as well!

Furthermore, the national tournament stopped. Completely. Play would resume once the Canadian team left.

Tony Kretzschmar, who used to work for an engineering company in Delhi, has been participating in the tournament since its inception. He now works in Shanghai, but set aside time in his schedule every year to visit one of the most remote regions in the world.

For your benefit, here is a full quote from Tony:

“I have had the distinct privilege of seeing the game of hockey develop in Leh since 2001. When I think back to the way they use to play back then, using field hockey sticks, old rusty skates, very little equipment, and even less understanding of the rules of the game, I feel a great sense of pride in seeing the teams play today. The progress has been heartwarming, and it was nice to see the games against Canadian teams not only resulting in Canadian domination…they actually beat us a few times in the championship over the years. However the goal of our annual Canadian team visits is not to win, it’s more about hockey diplomacy and developing the game for the benefit of the children. The social aspect has grown out of what started out as a high adventure pure sporting initiative. I must say this is truly what brings me back and drives me to work on connecting the many folks around the world who want to help.”

The games are always close in these competitions. The Canadian (and a few American) players don’t have much opportunity to play hockey while stationed in India, and their brief trip into an altitude of nearly 12,000 feet (about twice that of Denver, or three times that of Calgary) make it nearly impossible for the players to over-exert themselves. Air is thin, and breath becomes short.

Manitoba native Casey Guenther, a teacher at Woodstock International School in a relatively nearby state of Uttarakhand (nothing is nearby Ladakh in the Winter), was one of the top players on the Canadian team. He and his wife had visited Leh in the Summer of 2008 and “…fell in love with the place, but it’s the first time [coming here] in Winter.” A tall, lean player who looked to be in good shape, Casey, like so many others, had a hard time with the altitude. “Besides not being able to breath, it’s good. [My coming back now. It’s great. Hard to breath, but it’s fun.”

Over the years, the relationship between the Canadian High Commission team - only partially comprised of High Commission staff - has intensified. Each year, the team has donated equipment, and has increased awareness in Canada that has resulted in more equipment and resources to the Ladakh Winter Sports Club, including a skate sharpener, although I was informed that it took years to get this up and running, as it was a 110V North American style plug, and the converter needed was in Delhi. For a long time, nobody ever bothered to purchase it and bring it back to Leh.

Ego aside, I was delighted to hear about the Canadian team coming, and I made it a priority to meet the folks involved and get some good pictures, video and interviews. As usual, I quickly got absorbed into everything, and had met one of the members of the High Commission prior to the full team arriving and we had a nice chat over lunch. Once the tournament had begun, I made it over to the rink and struck up some conversation with family members of the team. They informed me that this was far and away the largest group to come up for the tournament, 47 – most being family & friends of the team.

The fans are active participants in these games. The crowd, expectant of fun hockey matches, was large and loud. No matter which team was with the puck, a deep roar would sweep the sunken, stone-lined rink whenever a top player on either team would touch the puck. Envision Alex Ovechkin on a shorthanded breakaway with 1 minute left in the 3rd period, in a tied playoff game 7.

Although many of them were admittedly out of shape, and all of them were having difficulty breathing, the High Commission team was able to hold off the J&K teams in consecutive competitions on Day 1, a Saturday. This was when I got most of my interviews with the team, and a handful of their players, including, Ken Macartney, the Deputy High Commissioner. “This is my third year in Ladakh,” said Ken, “and it’s fantastic…one of the most beautiful rinks in the world.” For Ken, it brought back nostalgic sentiments. “It’s a reminder of small town Canada. It’s a great experience and we look forward to it at the High Commission and in the [participating] Canadian community.”

The temperature had become increasingly warm during the days of these matches this year, with mid-day temperatures reaching about 1-2°C/33-35°F. As you know from your science classes from the days when you received some variety of education, ice melts at 0°C/32°F. The same is true at high altitude, where the sun shining down on a pond that continues to receive running water and is surrounded by heat-absorbing rocks brings the temperature above freezing. As the ice gets cut up in these conditions, it becomes increasingly dangerous. This is similar to what our American team dealt with in Kargil (Ice Hockey in Ladakh, Part 2 - Kargil Tournament).

Just like when the Chief Minister of Jammu and Kashmir attended the finals of the 4th National Ice Hockey Tournament, the Karzoo Ice Rink just a quarter mile away from the Main Bazaar (Main Street) of Leh began to sink under the weight of 2-3 times the normal capacity. Often times, a whole group of people had to pick up all of their gear and belongings, and shuffle off to a different portion of the rink. That is, until that section started to sink.

Last year, it was quite the opposite. Depending on your point of view, the weather was either great for hockey, or way too cold for civilization. Canadian goalie Sarah Finall, an employee of the Canadian High Commission, participated in her first tournament last year upon her posting to Delhi. According to Sarah, “this whole experience is fabulous, even though it was minus 30°C (about -25°F) last year and I nearly died!” Her sentiment regarding the experience of hockey in Leh and the hospitality of the Ladakhis was consistent throughout the group. “It’s something you don’t want to miss,” stated Sarah, “it’s so amazing. The Ladakhi people are so great and welcoming.” The altitude was just part of the experience for Sarah, “What an experience to come up and play hockey at this altitude!”

Rumor had come my way that there would be a banquet at the “Only star hotel in Ladakh” (think about that for a second), and while I had assumed that I would be able to attend that event, I was never given a formal invite, so a local friend, Henk Thoma (no, he’s not Ladakhi…he’s a Dutch transplant that I’ll tell you about in a future post) and I went back to SECMOL and watched their “State of the Campus” address. Each student was responsible for a particular responsibility at SECMOL, including management of the library, collecting money, ice-rink maintenance, and milking the cows. The judges of their presentations critiqued their poor presentation skills, and although most of what I said was under my breath to Henk, I was very disappointed when the winning presentation had endless typos and poor grammar. Especially since one of the presenters was a European that was there teaching English. Nonetheless, afterwards, the group got to relax and get to one of their favorite activities: singing along with Ladakhi music and dancing in a way reminiscent of MTV’s, “The Grind”, circa 1994.

The next day, the final match between the Canadians and an All-Star J&K team commenced. But due to continued poor weather (in hockey terms), the game was called at the end of the second period with a tie-game. The fans in attendance were disappointed at the outcome, but when safety is concerned, I err on the side of being conservative (well, sometimes I do), and after a few injuries sustained to the players on the Canadian team, they felt it was in the best interest of self-preservation to stop the game.

After the game, I went into the office where the Ladakh Winter Sports Club camps out, and on one of the tables was my formal invitation to the banquet that was held the night before. As I spoke to the LWSC members during the day, they had asked why I wasn’t in attendance. “I didn’t know I was invited,” I replied. One of them told me that when he saw me walking in the Main Bazaar, he assumed I was heading to the hotel, even though they apparently had a car to take me. Oh well. That evening, it was more than made up for, and entirely on accident.

The previous week, when Akshay Kumar of the Ice Hockey Association of India had come to Leh, Henk and I met him at the same hotel for dinner, and we were both very impressed, as we were both accustomed to the traditional amenities of Leh and throughout Ladakh. Granted, I’ve only been here for a handful of weeks, but Henk has been living in Leh for over a decade. We had decided that we were going to treat ourselves to a nice dinner at the hotel and enjoy something different than rice and daal (lentils).

I guess in the back of our minds we knew there was a chance things would play out as they did. Upon our arrival at the hotel, we immediately ran into some of the folks from the Canadian entourage and the Ladakh Winter Sports Club. We were quickly invited into their banquet that was about to begin, and while I’m sure a handful of people were wondering how and when we got ourselves into this dinner, it was an innocent coincidence.

Fortunately, Henk and I already being familiar with the Ladakh Winter Sports Club and my previous interaction with the Canadian group, we easily interacted with everyone at the party. For me, this was one of the most significant and impactful moments of my trip to date. Everybody from this group was incredibly warm and kind-hearted, which immediately cancelled whatever apprehension was in the back of my mind, being a stranger and an American (it’s easy to feel judged on a hockey-level by Canadians). The hockey talk was enlightening!

I heard stories from all different people about the prior support that Ladakh has received in ice hockey, and it’s plenty! The first Canadian team played in Leh in 2001, opening the eyes of the population to the North American style of the game. Within a few years, Canadian press had covered hockey in Ladakh and India in a handful of specials, and a couple from Canada produced an award-winning documentary: “Hockey Night in Ladakh” to showcase the passion for the game in Ladakh.

In 2003, the NHLPA Goals and Dreams Foundation donated 50 sets of equipment to the Ladakh Winter Sports Club. Coaches from New Zealand came in 2004 and spent a month teaching ice hockey and figure skating. In 2005, money was set aside to start the construction of an indoor ice hockey rink in Leh. That rink has yet to break ground, but after this year’s national tournament, the Chief Minister f Jammu & Kashmir pledged twice as much money and vowed that the rink would be completed.

The Los Angeles Kings Junior coach also came in 2005 to coach, the same year a skate sharpener arrived, and the following year the Kings brought a Ladakhi team to Los Angeles. The coach of the team Ladakhi team was initially denied his visa to America, but after some maneuvering was able to get his visa and accompany his team to the States. He never returned to India. He’s somewhere in California, most likely the Los Angeles area, and is married to an American woman.

Beginning in 2007, the Montreal Canadiens have been supporting Health, Inc., a non-profit operating in rural Ladakh. They held coaching clinics in Ladakh, as well as donating equipment.

To find out all of this was overwhelming, but in the best of ways. I could not be more delighted to see how much support has been given to Ladakhis to improve their hockey, but there’s a flip side.

The longer I stay in Ladakh, and the more people I talk to about Ladakh, the more I have learned about the negative aspects of Ladakh. Sure, the people are very welcoming, and I have been treated with nothing but the utmost respect. At the same time, there is a pattern of staggered support - usually one season of coaching or donations - given to a culture that has their palms wide-open, and as a result, very little progress has been made. For nearly a decade now, people with the best of intentions come to Ladakh, fall in love with initial impressions and gorgeous scenery, and do what they can to help the people. The fact of the matter is that Ladakh is an area that receives a disproportional amount of government support because it’s a border territory, so the people need to be kept happy…or at least content. It has a large population that is uneducated and out of work, corruption is prevalent, and because tourism is the staple industry, Westerners are relied upon for their good graces and deep pockets.

At the end of the day, I am not here to fix a culture, nor do I want to. I’m also not blaming anyone, as I have also developed a love for Ladakh. That being said, I DO want to change the hockey culture here. The passion and love of the game that I felt from the Canadian group was as palpable as that of the Ladakhis, and I vowed to all of them that my only goal here is to tap into the passion for the game and help it grow. I voiced my desire to work with the Canadians next year, and hopefully join their team, and I know they are interested in holding their own hockey clinic here next winter, something that would break with a pattern of coming up for a couple of days, playing a few games, throwing some parties, and going back to life in Delhi or abroad.

I would like to see everyone involved in Ladakhi hockey to have a more focused, cooperative plan, this way we don’t take baby steps each winter, and see all of our work done for naught. Instead, with our sustained support, we can take giant leaps year-round. If we work together and strategize, we can do so much more to improve the quality of hockey in Ladakh, like training local coaches to train the local population.

Since my passion is hockey, I would do a disservice to myself, and everyone involved in the sport, if I didn’t share my concern and ideas for how we can share our mutual love for the game. The promising part is that I know everyone I’ve met here feels the same way about the game as I do, and with our mutual passion, anything can be accomplished! I can’t wait to get to work!