Almost all of us would have realized that India had an Ice Hockey team sometime last month. That is when they cried out for funding through Twitter so that they could make it to the Challenge Cup of Asia Division 1 in Kuwait. The usual questions started to swirl around. Since when did we have an ice hockey team? Are they professional sportsmen? Why spend money on a sport which is not even remotely popular in India? But then, something gave way.
The #ISupportIceHockey hashtag became a trend on Twitter as personalities like Anand Mahindra, Gautam Gambhir, the CEO of Micromax and others chipped in. More than 285 donors from over 52 cities came together to fund their trip to this tournament. #ChakDeBarfPe became a clarion call. The team is made of mostly policemen from the Indo-Tibetan Border police, a few servicemen and civilians. Ice Hockey is quite popular in Shimla and Ladakh. But it suffers from basic problems like lack of availability of protective gear, pucks etc. The only international level rink in India which is situated in Dehradun has been lying closed since 2012.
The Indian team has played only about 20 internationals with 1 solitary win in the 6 years it has participated in international tournaments. Considering the difficulties they have had to keep the sport running, the fact that they were able to even make this trip by crowdfunding their campaign is the stuff of movies. Their coach Adam Sherlip doesn’t take any money and spends for his own ticket to come from the US and coach in India.
Since this tournament was taking place in Kuwait, I wanted to go for at least one game to cheer up the guys who had braved all odds to make this trip. The chance finally came during the India’s last game against Malaysia. An ice hockey game consists of three periods of 20 minutes of play each. Each period is separated by a break of about 10-15 minutes.
Malaysia has a better record and are way more experienced than India. As expected, they exhibited a superb level of play throughout the first two periods with scores of 6-1 and 7-1. India’s inexperience showed during these periods where brilliant flashes of play were accompanied with sloppy passes and a poor defense. A number of shots on goal went begging. Despite the number of goals, the Indian goalkeeper was upto the task saving a huge number of hits thus winning the Indian player of the match.
The last period of play which ended 3-2 in Malaysia’s favour was India’s best since they were able to maintain a high level of consistency throughout the 20 minutes. While the final score of 16-4 looks like an annihilation, it must be said that the Indians performed creditably despite all the odds they had to face.
They could have surely done with some more crowd support considering the tickets were free and that it was a weekend. But all of us who were there did make a noise each time the puck was in an Indian player’s control.
Ice Hockey is a professional sport which requires a great deal of agility and skill. I sincerely hope that these athletes are able to secure the future of their sport and this crowdfunding campaign is the beginning of good things. From having at least one international rink to practice in to player kits and gear, these players need all forms of support.
Chak De India!
Linking to NaBloPoMo (National Blog Post Month – April – My post no 8 for this month.