By Peter Schwartz
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They are sounds familiar to anyone who loves hockey: players skating up and down a sheet of ice, stickhandling the puck and a slap shot that finds its way into the back of the net.
The coaches are instructing the players on technique and strategy, and the crowd looks on and cheers what they are watching.
What is taking place is a youth ice hockey development camp. It’s an event that is commonplace in many communities throughout the United States and Canada, but this camp is taking place in a country that you would never think would have any association with hockey.
Believe it or not, they are playing ice hockey in India.
“To this day, people don’t necessarily feel that it makes sense, but it’s grown dramatically,” said Adam Sherlip, founder and executive director of The Hockey Foundation.
Sherlip is a former employee of the New York Islanders whose organization has been conducting hockey camps in India since 2011. His first experience with hockey was when he served as a coach during the Islanders’ visit to China in 2007.
Then, in 2008, he received an email from former Team USA women’s player Angela Ruggiero, who accompanied the Islanders on that trip to China. Ruggiero’s email included information about an organization in India called SECMOL, which stands for Students’ Educational and Cultural Movement of Ladakah.
The school, with a hockey rink that overlooks the Indus River, was looking for hockey coaches.
“I never thought about ice hockey in India,” Sherlip said. “The whole thing just sounded too good to be true. I never thought about it at all, even though I had been very close by in China. I just didn’t think of India and ice hockey.”
So, in 2009, Sherlip made a voluntary trip to Ladakah, and that excursion resulted in the birth of The Hockey Foundation. The organization collects donations that fund the camps in India. The money goes toward equipment shipments, transportation for coaches, living expenses, operating expenses and the sustaining and growing of the organization.
The Hockey Foundation runs the camps in partnership with Hockey Tutorial, a Cambridge, England-based organization that creates instructional videos and brings the camps to life.
The reality is that ice hockey in India dates back to the 1920s, when it was introduced by the British living in the town of Shimla. Then, in the 1970s, Indian soldiers were introduced to the game as a way of keeping fit in the winter. The participation was very small, and the game didn’t really show any significant growth until the early 2000s.
That’s when a friendly tournament was staged every January.
“We are now a part of that tournament as well as we field our own team,” said Sherlip, who now serves as coach of India’s national team.
The current camp in India began Jan. 12, but there was a time when Sherlip didn’t think this year’s trip to the Himalayas was going to happen. He was actually thinking about taking this year off in order to focus on rebuilding the organization.
But that’s when Toronto-based Sun Life Financial made a substantial donation to ensure the camp would take place.
“They’re critical to the success this year,” Sherlip said. “Sun Life was really excited about what we did last season and the impact that we made. We’ve been able to finance 10 coaches, which is a big record for us.”
Those 10 coaches will come in handy because the popularity of hockey in India has grown tremendously in many ways.
“There are thousands of more participants because my organization and others have donated a lot of equipment and a lot of coaching,” Sherlip said. “That access to the game has created more interest. People are excited that ice hockey exists in India.”
Hockey is commonly referred to as “Canada’s Game,” but has also grown to be one of the four major sports in the United States. The popularity of hockey can also be seen in many other countries such as Russia, Sweden, Finland, Slovakia and the Czech Republic.
But now, the game is growing in other countries, such as India, where the camps take place on an outdoor sheet of ice. There is an indoor ice arena that was used for a 2012 tournament but has not been operational since that time. Given the way the game has grown, thanks to the efforts of Sherlip and others, it’s only a matter of time before they’ll have to gas up a Zamboni in that arena.
For information on how you can donate to The Hockey Foundation, including the purchase of Team Hockey Foundation jerseys and pucks, you can visit their website at HockeyFoundation.org/donate.
Follow Peter on Twitter at @pschwartzcbsfan.