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A rink-side view

The Indian ice hockey team consists of 22 members, of whom six members are jawans from the Indian Army, four members hail from the Indo-Tibetan Border Police and the rest are mostly civilians and students.

Written by Vishal Menon | Gurgaon |
April 9, 2015 12:58:28 am
ice hockey, indian ice hockey team, ice hockey india, ambience mall gurgaon, ambience mall ice skating, ambience mall ice hockey, ice hockey team, gurgaon news, sports news A typical ice skating arena measures 60 metres by 30 metres but the team is training on a 30×15 rink at a mall in Gurgaon. (Source: Express Photo by Tashi Tobgyal)

Apart from the usual super-speciality and retail stores, the Ambience Mall in Gurgaon also boasts of a one-of-its kind indoor ice-skating rink. Although it was inaugurated three years ago, this facility has seen a metamorphosis in terms of the profile of its visitors over the last few weeks.

Instead of the teens enjoying the usual round of ice-skating, this vicinity has turned into an intense training camp of sorts, with heavily padded men armed with hockey sticks, all vying for a rubber puck.

Unlike the teens, these grown-up men, most of whom are in their twenties, harbour a desire to represent a sub-tropical country in the middle of the Middle-East desert at ice hockey. This little-known Indian ice hockey team is practising here ahead of their departure to Kuwait on April 17 where they will participate in the IIHF Challenge Cup of Asia Division 1.

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Not many are aware that India has an ice-hockey team. However, Ice Hockey Association of India (IHAI) director Akshay Kumar is making an all-out attempt to bring the sport out of its obscurity in the country. The first toe-step in this direction, he hopes, will be a good showing in Kuwait.

Pitted against stronger teams such as the hosts, Singapore and Malaysia, Kumar requires a stable team headed by a supportive coach and sufficient time for practice at his disposal.

However, practicing in Ladakh, considered the Indian epicentre for this alien sport, was out of the question. “Historically, Leh has been considered the hot bed for ice hockey in India. However, there are no rinks there. During winters, people play on frozen ponds, which melt by February,” says Kumar. “It was imperative that we got time for practise, so we zeroed in on this suburban mall.”

The mall’s rink, though, does not prescribe to international standards. A typical ice skating arena hosting international matches would measure 60 metres by 30 metres. Here, the dimension are exactly half — 30×15. “It’s not an ideal scenario,” shrugs Kumar. “But that’s what we have got and we are not complaining.”

The Indian ice hockey team consists of 22 members, of whom six members are jawans from the Indian Army, four members hail from the Indo-Tibetan Border Police and the rest are mostly civilians and students.

From China to India

Adam Sherlip, a former ice hockey player from Long Island in New York, is the head coach. Sherlip, who had previously trained the Chinese national team in 2007 shifted base to India in 2009. Why?

“I was amazed by the passion I saw for ice hockey during my visit to Leh five years ago. This, despite the lack of facilities. It was then that I decided to stay back and help develop ice hockey in India,” he says.

Having passion is one thing, but the ability to do something substantial with that passion is another. During Sherlip’s five year reign, India unfortunately has managed to register just one international win — against Macau three years ago. But bring up that match and Sherlip can only count the positives.

“I have fond memories of that match. It’s our solitary win so far. The win was also special because it took place on my birthday,” he says with a smile.

Citing Ali Amir and Amit Belwal as the players to watch out for, Sherlip exudes confidence, promising a good show in Kuwait later this month. “Unlike previous years, this time we have managed to assemble a decent side and have got time to practice, which is great. I know most of the players well, know their strengths, and had a chance to work on their weaknesses as well.”

Amit Belwal, the team’s forward winger, feels his side is primed for a top-three finish in Kuwait City. And for that, Belwal credits his coach for chalking out an intensive workout programme. This, he believes, will allow the team to settle into a composed unit for the challenges ahead. “Last year, we did not have time to practice so intensely. Apart from that we lost around 6-7 key players because their visas were not ready,” the 23-year old from Nainital says. “This time around, the team is far more confident.”

Team India’s past bane, according to the coach, was the fact that they leaked too many goals in the final half of the game. This, says Sherlip, was due to their lack of fitness for the sport. But that has been rectified with open-air workouts in Damdamma, a suburb of Gurgaon. And, of course, also during their practice sessions in a suburban mall.

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