It's fast , furious and… dangerous.
The pace at which this sport is played, all it takes is just a second to make, or break, a man. Trapped within a 200x85 feet enclosure, you have nowhere to hide — no matter how hard you crash in to the board, no matter how the bones crack under the weight of a marauding player attacking you at speeds over 100kmph!
Welcome to the world of one of the most dangerous contact sports in the world — ice hockey.
Imagine this back home: you are almost on top of the world, skating at minus 20 degrees trying to swivel and swerve your way out of harm’s way even as five people try their best to knock you out.
‘Ice hockey in Leh at 3484 metres, you have to play it to believe it’, read a banner at the 4th National Ice hockey championship that was held recently in Leh.
More than the players, it was the crowd who made the game memorable. With tourism during the winter months being close to zero, ice hockey is the only medium of entertainment for the people here. With that in mind, it wasn’t surprising to see a 5000-strong crowd braving the bone-chilling cold for hours.
Teams from the Army have traditionally been the dominant force in ice hockey in India, but the trend has started to change as civilian teams are now challenging them.
One major reason for this change is Canadian help. The Indian Ice Hockey Association annually organizes an Indo - Canadian friendship meet, in which members of the Canada embassy travel to Leh to compete.
They also provide training and equipment.
Adam Sherlip, a former NHL player, has also been part of this delegation to Leh, where he has trained youngsters and helped bring about a sense of professionalism to the game. Sherlip is also being considered for the post of India’s national ice hockey coach.
“Before coming to India, I was in China, but I must say that the passion for the game in this country is unparallel. There is a lot a talent and motivation which needs to be channelised and that’s why I am here”, said Sherlip.
But the only aspect that is harming the game is the lack of rinks to practice.
“We know it is a problem, but we are now building an indoor ice rink in Dehradun to practice even in summers,” said Akshay Kumar, secretary Indian Ice hockey association. The Jammu and Kashmir government has also issued land for ice rinks in Leh but the finances are being delayed.
“This is for the first time I have seen an ice hockey match and the support that it has, I am just overwhelmed. I will talk to the central government to raise funds for rinks in our state”, said Omar Abdullah, chief minister J & K.
The talent is unlimited, the passion is unparallel and the support, unbelievable. As another banner wisely suggested: ‘Ice hockey in Leh, naturally’.