Until a couple of days ago, it looked like only five of the six countries who signed up to play at the International Ice Hockey Federation’s Challenge Cup of Asia would actually be able to show up to play. That’s because Team India didn’t have all the money it needed to make the trip to Kuwait for the tournament that begins on April 18th.
And then they had an idea. Why not try to raise the money — and awareness for hockey in India at the same time — through crowdfunding?
It took five days to surpass their goal of raising the 3,50,000 Rupees (around $5K) they had fallen short on, on BitGiving. That’s partially because their Twitter campaign #SupportIceHockey was seen by the CEO of one of India’s most successful companies, and he agreed to help out, but if they get really lucky, though, the publicity of the team’s financial plight might even translate into a corporate sponsorship. A sponsorship would, at the very least, help them replace equipment that’s five years — or more — old and, at the most, get the team a dedicated practice facility.
The American Volunteer Coach
At the helm of Team India is its 31-year-old American head coach, Adam Sherlip, who has been volunteer coaching Team India since 2009. The New Yorker first became passionate about bringing hockey to remote areas of the world when working as a marketing assistant for the New York Islanders. “Project Hope” was an initiative to bring hockey to children in northeastern China. When Sherlip saw, firsthand, the difference that hockey brought to those children, he knew that was something he wanted to be involved with long term. He founded The Hockey Foundation, a non-profit charity whose mission is to use ice hockey to reinforce character strengths, improve the quality of life and empower children in less fortunate regions of the world — and give them an opportunity to have fun, playing hockey.
Sherlip grew up playing hockey on Long Island. At the beginning of his first Midget AAA season, the 16-year-old took a retaliation hit in a high school game that has impacted his mobility ever since.
“I drew the hit…I’d say I sorta deserved it. I’d crushed a player from behind and it was a retaliation hit after the whistle, with my head down,” he tells me via email. “I got a 2 and a 10 (minute penalty), and maybe a one game suspension…I don’t recall…but I couldn’t play anyway, due to injury.”
His back injury took him out of contact sports, but it didn’t take him out of hockey or lessen his love for the game. Today, Sherlip plays on 3 non-contact teams — two in New York City and one on Long Island, where he plays center and defense, depending on what his team needs, and considers himself a much better player now than when he was a 16-year-old kid.
“I wasn’t mentally tough at the time, and I really didn’t understand the game…At 31 –and way more out of shape — I’m a much better player because I not only know the game, but I love it and play without pressuring myself,” he says.
Hockey is Growing in India
India has been a member of the International Ice Hockey Federation since 1989, but Sherlip says many people are surprised to learn that hockey has been played in that country for over a century, especially in Ladakh, in the northern Himalaya region of the country. Once the winter snows come to Ladakh, the people tend to hibernate, coming outside when the weather permits to play on the ice. That’s where the majority of the Team India players are from, and that’s where most of the Hockey Foundation’s hockey camps are held.
The interest in ice hockey is beginning to really blossom, and a lot of that is due to Sherlip, the Hockey Foundation and its partners and volunteers. In 2012, Sherlip and his fellow volunteers, including Antoine Jouvet from Montreal, Canada held clinics for around 300 youth to learn how to skate and play hockey. This year, Canadian company Sun Life Financial donated $20,000 which really made a difference. With that money, roughly 1,000 pieces of donated equipment were distributed, and hockey camps, coached by certified coaches, were held to teach around 500 youngsters, both boys and girls, how to skate and play hockey.
For the past week, Team India has been practicing at iSkateIndia, on the 6th floor of India’s largest shopping center, the Ambience Mall. With its rink, cafe and karaoke room, it ranks 3rd in Trip Advisor’s must-see attractions in Gurgaon, the financial capital of India, just outside of New Delhi.
iSkateIndia may be a magnet for Bollywood stars, but its skating surface is not quite a third as large as a regulation hockey rink. It’s challenges like this that Sherlip and his assistant coaches need to overcome.
No Pee-Wees With Beards
Growing hockey in India has it’s challenges even at the sport level too — like making sure age limits for teams were respected, and enforced. Today there are around 1,200 players registered with the Ice Hockey Association of India, a number that’s doubled in three years. As well, since there is no government funding of hockey, taking financial responsibility is also something the players had to learn to participate at the international events. Each Team India player needed to help fund the upcoming trip to Kuwait City, at a cost totalling roughly $8,000. All the players contributed, but even so, there was a shortage, and therefore the crowdfunding efforts.
Sherlip didn’t pick the players for Team India this year, a job that was left to one of his assistant coaches due to unavoidable commitments he had in the US. But when he arrived, this year he brought with him a pair of gloves, designed in the tri-colors of the flag of India, which will rotate to the hardest-working player after each practice and game to encourage their play. Sherlip (right) is pictured with one of Team India’s assistant coaches, Ali Amir — who played for the team in 2009 and scored India’s first goal ever in international play.
In international play, t took until 2012 for Team India to win their first game. That was in a 5-1 win against Macau, on Sherlip’s 28th birthday.
Funding, and awareness, have been uphill battles for Ice Hockey India. Just last month, their Twitter feed was bemoaning the fact that sponsorships are quickly lost to cricket, India’s national sporting obsession:
Perhaps, through their crowdfunding request, hockey will become part of the consciousness of the Indian people and some day, they’ll be playing in the World Championships against powerhouse teams like Canada, USA and Russia.
Five Things You Can Do Now to Help Team India:
- Help fund the Indian Ice Hockey Team at BitGiving.com
- Buy an official Team India game-worn jersey at The Hockey Foundation
- Donate money or equipment to The Hockey Foundation – it’s a US public charity and your donation is tax deductible!
- Sponsor the team. Visit the Ice Hockey India’s website or follow them on Twitter @icehockeyindia
- Retweet #CANSupportIceHockey – for each retweet, @Micromax_Mobile will donate 1 Rupee to Team India and every Rupee counts!
The Team India crowdfunding campaign is certainly raising the awareness of hockey in India. In the past week, the BitGiving campaign has been featured on the evening news channels and newspapers throughout the country. Sherlip chuckles that it took him three calls into the country’s biggest newspaper to get them to finally understand that he never played hockey in the NHL, which might be hard to understand for someone who has never played the game, let along heard of the sport.
The Hockey Foundation has had requests to bring hockey to other remote areas of the world, most notably the Philippines, but for the time being, their focus is largely on India. With 1.252 billion people living in a country roughly half as big as the USA, the Hockey Foundation certainly has a lot of potential to grow the love for hockey.
Which they’re doing, one puck at a time.