While ice hockey can be traced to close to 100 years ago, most of the action in India is still rather fresh in the international hockey world. During the 1970’s, a team of Indian army members known as the Ladakh Scouts took up the sport for the first time in the frozen waters around the Changthang Plateau. It wasn’t much, but it was definetly a start for a country where cricket dominates the land and ice hockey is pretty much an after thought.
Equipment was almost impossible to get. The many volunteers involved would try everything they could to get any donations from around the world, but it’s easier said than done. Without a lot of luck, army members began strapping metal blades to the bottom of their boots. Goalie pads were made from some of the most crude products around, forcing goalies to stop the rubber pucks made out of boot-heels with little protection. Helmets didn’t exist, either.
In 1989, the Indian Ice Hockey Association was granted membership to the IIHF, something many countries have tried and failed to achieve so far to this day. Despite the approval of the governing body, it took India 20 years to actually hit the ice as a national team, but sometimes patience is key.
The team made it’s national debut at the 2009 Challenge Cup of Asia, a new event aimed at supporting the smaller Asian nations in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. In it’s second year at that point, Chinese Taipei and UAE were easily the best teams in the tournament, with UAE already competing at World Championship events.
As expected for a rookie team, their international debut wasn’t exactly a fantastic one. After just three games of action, India allowed 34 goals and only scored one for themselves, potting their lone marker in a game against Malaysia. The team took a year off in 2010, but in 2011, their luck didn’t get better. In fact, they allowed 101 goals in five games, with 68 of them coming in the first two games against Thailand and Kuwait.
In 2012, the moment they’d all worked very hard for finally became a reality. Led by the only coach the team has ever had, American ex-pat Adam Sherlip, India managed to defeat Macau by a score of 5-1, giving the team their first ever victory on the ice. Ranchen Tundup was the big star for India, recording the first two point performance by any Indian player at the Challenge Cup of Asia.
Home to some of the highest hockey arenas in the world thanks to playing in the Himalayas, India’s success from their first win hasn’t transitioned in the long term, unfortunately. To this day, the Indian national team still only has one win in their 30 game history, but they did tie a team of Canadian ex-pats, known as the New Delhi Sacred Bulls, before the 2015 Challenge Cup of Asia this year.
Hockey may not still be a major sport in the country, but it’s definetly growing. There have been times when thousands of people have show up to watch games involving Canadian and Indian based teams. Each year, the Ladakh Winter Sports Club hosts a tournament with teams coming from the two nations, with teams from Canada traveling over to help assist and challenge the budding hockey country. Taking place every year at a rink called Karzoo, a pond near the famous Leh Palace with an elevation of 11,500 feet, to play in thin air and cold conditions. It’s a spectacular event for those involved, and the support helps build a solid foundation for the future.
Now, it’s time to see what India can do when they travel to Canada for the first time to face a team outside of Asia. When India takes to the ice for their game in Brampton, Ontario on October 9th, it’ll be the first time that an ECHL team, the Brampton Beast, had ever played against an international squad. For India, it’ll be their first chance to really show the world what they can do and what they hope to accomplish. It will surely be a historic moment for everyone involved, and with some local Canadians taking part to fill out the roster, it should help them give a boost for the future.
With just three indoor arenas and very limited funding, the road to success is still far away, but it’s definetly headed towards the right path.
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