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Lifestyle – Ice, ice baby: India scoops a surprise

Konchok Rabgias, 29, is impressive in neither stature nor demeanor. At 5’6″, and with a perennially downcast gaze, he is hardly the prototype of an international-level ice hockey player.

And yet, Rabgias is part of India’s first-ever ice-hockey team, all set to go to Abu Dhabi for the Asian Challenge Cup later this week. His is a story that epitomises the triumph of the human spirit.

“I remember playing my first game in 2002. We didn’t have proper equipment to practice with so we made hockey sticks out of wood and plastic, and our wives used to sew padding onto our clothes,” he says.

“We still don’t have good equipment but we managed to come second in the Shimla winter games last year”. Much like the rest of the team, Rabgias comes from a small village in Ladakh, where ice hockey has become a passion not because of government encouragement or private support, but rather, because of old-fashioned grit and enterprise.

“Few people know how popular ice hockey is in Ladakh,” says Akshay Kumar, General Secretary of the Ice Hockey Association of India. “Every village has a club, and each little boy wants his own hockey stick.

They will use boot polish boxes instead of pucks and use ropes to tie blades to their shoes,” says Kumar, who with the help of a Facebook group, has managed to raise funds and send the team to their first international fixture. With no artificial rinks, the game is played only during the winter months on frozen lakes and ponds.

Most of the money has come from individuals who want to support alternative sport in India. But help has come from other, more unexpected quarters: the team will accompanied in the UAE by Adam Sherlip, an American ex-NHL player, who has been coaching them free for several months.

“For the last nine years, every summer the Canadian embassy has sent people to train us. We’ve also managed to get secondhand equipment from an American junior team called LA Kings,” says the team’s manager, Gyal Wangyal.

India is expected to get its first artificial ice rink in May this year in Dehradun.

Riddhi Shah

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March 16, 2009 - Posted by | Uncategorized |

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