Monday, 16 January 2017

Discovering Hockey

I have been doing a lot of reading lately on a number of sites that often don't pertain to hockey. One of these sites is Vice as I am discovering that they have been featuring a number of excellent articles. Admittedly, I'm not into every article found on the site, but I usually discover a story that catches my attention. Today, though, Vice featured an amazing story that brought memories of a book I read as the site featured an incredible photo collection by Andreas Bruhn about the journey taken by former NHL and AHL coach Ian Andersen.

Andersen's journey is similar to the one that Dave Bidini took for his book Tropic of Hockey, but Andersen's story is different. Instead of observing the various ways that ice hockey is played throughout the Middle East and Far East, Andersen has found a new love for the game in the Himalayan mountains where the thought of hockey might be foreign to most. The game, however, is thriving with the help of a few organizations. I'll let Mr. Bruhn describe the setting.
It was through a previous season coaching in Serbia with Hockey Without Borders that Ian first heard of the North American NGO named HELP Inc Fund, an organization that works with marginalized people in the western Himalayas. Every year they collect donated hockey gear from Canada and the US and invite North American hockey players, coaches and youth leaders to volunteer as a way to democratize a sport previously only available to a lucky few on well funded rinks in the capital city of Leh. Now, a truly communal and possibly the most extreme hockey movement in the world is starting to spread far beyond the administrative capital. It was here, among ancient buddhist temples, Shia Muslim villages and semi nomadic yak herders that Ian spent several months as a travelling hockey coach, sharing his love for the game in its purest form with the people of Ladakh.
It's this discovery of the love of the game that seems to bring Andersen back each year, and I can only imagine how incredible his journey has been. This is the kind of adventure that would open the eyes of many, and I am thankful that Andreas Bruhn has been capturing it through his lens to post both on Vice and on his website.

How beautiful is this photo of Andersen lacing up the skates?
Let me be the first to say that Bruhn's eye for photography is second-to-none. I went through the photos on his website, and his work is outstanding. The key in all of his work, though, is that he works with a charity to capture the images of people receiving the benefits of each charity's work. Whether it be the HELP Inc Fund bringing skates and sticks to the people of Ladakh, India to play hockey, protecting children in the golden triangle in Thailand with DEPDC/GMS, or civilian peacekeeping in South Sudan with Nonviolent Peaceforce, Bruhn's photos have captured moments that very few of us will ever get to see.

Getting back to the Vice piece for a moment, hockey has a way of tearing down borders and bringing people together. It doesn't have to be a big, faceless business. It's about kids in India learning how to skate and figuring out the technique for taking a slap shot. It's about watching a tournament game in the middle of a Hong Kong mall or seeing smiling faces emerge from a rink into 45C weather in Abu Dhabi. It's about taking your kids out to an outdoor rink or pond on a cold, crisp day and letting them be kids. It's about opening up the backyard rink to everyone regardless of skill, age, or gender.

Most of us won't have the experiences that Ian Andersen has had. Most of us won't even leave this continent to do charity work in another culture in another country. That doesn't mean that hockey can't bring us closer together, though. The camaraderie and joy of sport should bring us closer together.

A prime example happened tonight in Edmonton as rookie Jujhar Khaira scored his first NHL goal. He grew up in Surrey, BC where he and his friends played street and ice hockey, but who would have thought some 22 years ago when he was born that he'd be only the third player of Punjabi descent to play in the NHL? With the work that Andersen and HELP Inc Fund are doing in these remote parts of the world, that number will hopefully increase in the future. It won't happen overnight or even in the next decade, but the fact that these kids in some of the most remote locations on the planet are creating new dreams by playing hockey is something we should get behind with every fiber in our bodies.

Ian Andersen, by all measures and criteria, is a hero. On skates.

If you have the means, please donate to a great cause like the HELP Inc Fund. As you can see, they're doing some amazing work in bringing the game of hockey to the most remote lands on the planet for the people who truly love just being out on the ice. HELP Inc Fund is looking for skates, sticks, street hockey sticks, sledges, helmets, shin guards, and interactive games for their Himalayan project. If you have any of these items, please contact the HELP Inc Fund here. I guarantee you'll change a life with your donation!

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

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