Ice Hockey in India
It took me a while to compile the information needed for this briefing, but I think it was worthwhile...
It may come as no surprise that hockey in India is very underdeveloped. And you have to go to a very remote area to watch it. Leh, far up in the Himalayas to be exactly.
India basically has two organized hockey clubs, namely Ladakh Winter Sports Club, situated in Leh in the Ladakh district, and Shimla Ice Skating Club in the Himachal Pradesh region.
Shimla Ice Skating Club has existed since 1920 when an open air rink was created. To my knowledge, playing organized hockey is far more recent. Besides, since there's only 10 days when it's cold enough to produce ice in Simla, it is limited how much hockey can actually be played. Nevertheless, the IIHF considers Shimla Ice Skating Club as a hockey club, and it has recently donated 42 pair of skates and 30 hockey sticks (+ a hockey video so the club members can actually get a sense of how hockey is played :claphands, source: Department of Public Relation, Himachal Pradesh).
Ladakh Winter Sports Club is considered the first real hockey club in India. It was established in 1995 by a group of local hockey fans (some sort of hockey has been played in Ladakh for more than 30 years).Most of the players were gathered from the Army teams who plays hockey in the Winter (there is a large contigent of Indian soldiers in J&K, bordering Pakistan and Tibet). The club couldn't afford any equipment, but the locals improvised and made hockey sticks and pucks carved out of army ammo boot heels and using handmade blades screwed to the soles of heavy army boots. The skates were provided to them by tourists. In 2002, the NHL Player Association stepped in and equipped the team with 50 sets of hockey equipment.
Ladakh Winter Sports Club organizes the National Ice Hockey Championship. It has taken place three times since 2001 - every time in the last week of January - and its a big local event (about 3,000 spectators). The tournament takes place at Leh Karzoo Ice Hockey Rink, an open air ice rink (India doesn't have any indoor rinks) which is situated no less than 3,474 m (11,500 feet) above the sea level. The games last 2x20 min, and this is very demanding at this altitude. As the team captain of Shimla Ice Skating Club said after his team was beaten 8-1 by the local B-team a couple of years ago: "We can't breathe in this thin air". :claphands
The only team from outside the J&K province that participate in the tournaments is the Sacred Bulls from Delhi. The Sacred Bulls often won the CM Cup (see below) in the early years - no wonder since the team consist of Canadian and American diplomates and businessmen from Delhi - to be specific: 8 older guys in the range of 35-50 years. The Sacred Bulls has also represented India in international tournaments. With 8 veteran players, basically only one line, you can imagine that this doesn't happen very often, and when it does, it is very, very low key. However, it is only a matter of time before the Ladakhi players start to represent India at the international level. To be honest, I don't know whether the Sacred Bulls exists any more. Moreover, I am not sure whether it has been allowed to play in the national championships or only the CM Cup.
Picture from the Leh Karzoo Ice Hockey Rink (can't hotlink since its copyrighted).
In gross total, 14 teams participated in this year's national tournament. 7 teams in the men's section, 3 teams in the women's section and 4 in the sub-junior section. The tournaments have a knock-out format and they end within a week (2 games daily).
The 3rd national tournament opened on 24 Jan 2005 when theJammu and Kashmir Blue (an army team) took on the Indo-Tibetan Border Police in the opening game. In the end, the Army Red won the men's championship after beating J&K Blue 2-0 in the final. The Indo-Tibetan Border Police won the bronze medal. The women's section was won by J&K Pink (yes, another army team) after defeating the Ex-Servicemen (etc. etc) 3-1 in the final.
http://webjk.nic.in/newsline/news_item.asp?NewsID=5770 (news link)
(Here is some sort of report.
The National Championship is not the only ice hockey tournament that takes place in India (read: Leh). The Chief Minister's Ice Hockey Cup tournament has been played since 1998 (6 times). The number of teams participating is roughly the same which makes sense since the tournament is played shortly before the national championship. Apart from the trophy the winner claims a Rs 30,000 cash prize (RS 20,000 for the runners up).
This year, the Army Red won the cup after beating Rimo Club 3-2 in the final. Army Red also won the Cup last year after beating the Sputnik Sports Club 7-1 in the final. 12 teams participated this year, incl. 3 womens teams.
Pictures from this year's CM Ice Hockey Cup Tournament
ALL IN ALL, the outlook for Indian ice hockey is pretty good. Indian Ice hockey get increased support from abroad and there is a keen interest from the local authorities to lift the sport. During the National Championship in January 2004, the local governor said that he would look for funding to create an international ice hockey rink in Leh. I don't know the status of this project, but the interest is certainly there.
Last word: I have actually watched a game from the CM Cup tournament. I think it was on Indian television. I must admit, that I have never - repeat never - in my life watched a game that was so slow. But still, it was fun to watch. :003:
Take a look at these breathtaking pictures from Leh.