The Hockey Volunteer

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Friday, March 27, 2009

India Ice Hockey, Part 4: Even Closer to the Puck Drop

At this juncture in the journey, it's worth restating the mission of "The Hockey Volunteer": to share happiness through hockey and impart the values that the sport can impart onto others when fully understood, appreciated, and embraced.

That mission statement is not independent of hockey, though. In many ways, it is essential to becoming a better hockey player. If you play the game (now or in the past) at any competitive level, you have probably come across a player that just irks you when he (I'm going to use the masculine form, because I'm a guy, and that's 98% of the players I play against) is on the ice, on the bench, or in the locker room. He exudes an attitude that makes you hate playing with or against him. What makes matters worse is that he has skills.

I'm not sure if I would like to believe that this only exists in my home region, Long Island, NY. On one side, I'd like to believe that the rest of North America has less entitlement issues, and teach better manners to their children, reinforcing that there's hope elsewhere, and it's just a small community of these types of players.

On the other side, I know that there are people all over that disrespect the game and those around them when they behave in ways that counter the sport: cockiness, overt aggression (especially in non-checking leagues), taunting, and selfish play. While we'd like to believe our habitat is either the best or worst place in the world (we are a people that think in extremes), this seems to be the case everywhere.

The reason I write about this now, is that what bothers me the most is that these players could've gone so much farther in the sport (even as professionals), if they just upheld the values of the game. Their skills on the ice become enhanced when those around them respect the player. They'll pass more to the player (and expect some passes back), they'll defend their teammate more (and expect that treatment back, too), and the opposition will end up playing more evenly against this player, not too aggressive, not too passive.

Case in point, Sean Avery. The guy has had more than enough troubles with his teams because of his character. Even before he got dumped by the Dallas Stars due to his "sloppy seconds" comment (I was hysterically laughing when I heard that, just so you are aware), he wasn't resigned by the Rangers due to personality conflict. I can tell you that after some discussions I've had with some "tough-guy" NHL'ers is that even some of them were a bit wary of Avery. He's the type of player that is crazy enough to make you play crazy around him, and it can easily result in someone getting severely injured. The guy is a fast and talented player, and as long as he can keep his cool (to a certain extent, he is an agitator, and a damn good one at that!); he can really thrive in the NHL.

I wanted to instill this in the Indian (Ladakhi) team as best I could. It is more important to play with high character, than to just go through the motions. It may sound simple, but you need to truly understand the game before you can truly succeed, and part of that success is having mental strength.

Without mental toughness, it's easy to lose focus. When you get scored on, or you can't score goals, you start to feel hopeless and overpowered. When you get checked hard, the inevitable bruises can feel like a muscle strains/ligament sprains (tears). Physical intimidation overwhelms your performance on the ice.

Since the Indian team had never played in an arena, or against international teams (the Canadian High Commission team DOES NOT count), or with real checking, I knew it was going to be more important than ever to strengthen their mental toughness.

But what about the technical skills? What about their familiarity with an international rink? What about reinforcing their team-play (i.e. passing, covering open areas in the rink, or power-play & penalty-kill situations). What do we focus on?

There was only so much time available to me for our one and only practice the day before the tournament began. Akshay requested that we receive 2 hours of practice time, as opposed to the 60-90 minutes that other teams received, and the organizers agreed due to our circumstances.

They also agreed to supply our team with some proper equipment, as many of the guys were missing elbow pads, among many other articles of equipment. 1-2 weeks prior to our arrival, I had a serious of email conversations with the organizers, after Akshay had gotten them to agree to provide equipment. When we arrived to our locker room, there were huge boxes filled with 10+ sets of used equipment that local players allowed us to borrow.

What an act of hospitality! This was the type of environment that I was excited to have the team participate in, more about camaraderie and support, than about raw, ruthless competition.

Wrongly, I assumed that the pro-shop in Abu Dhabi would be cheaper than the equipment available in India. It was more expensive! A basic wood stick cost the equivalent of US$100 ($30 in the U.S.), and an average, 2+ year old composite stick was $275 ($75-100 in the U.S.). I told the team to hold off buying any of the equipment there, until I could find a better alternative. What I did demand was that they sharpen skates, but as practice was starting in a few minutes, only a handful could do it before we stepped onto the ice, the rest would have to wait until afterwards.

It was the first time I had stepped onto an artificial surface in over 2 months, or any sheet of ice in over 1 month. But just like riding a bike, you get your senses back quickly. Hockey players can attest to this, your feet develop their own set of senses when you're on the ice. Every minute detail is conveyed and stored through a 1 cm tall piece of steel, and some plastic, leather and cotton (if you're fancy, include graphite, Kevlar, or other nifty synthetics).

This ice was not great, and neither was the skate sharpening I received. I pitched way too forward, more than I usually do, and cut into the ice way too easily. I can only imagine how this felt to guys only used to skating on the surfaces available in Ladakh, whether it is a rink with potholes, speed bumps, or shards of broken ice. As I gave a last inspection to their skates, I noticed that many of them had about 1/4 cm of steel left. What this translates to is that every time they will try to turn, the plastic of the blade holder will hit the ice, and they'll lose their feet from beneath them.

Falling aside, I began practice with some casual skating around the whole rink. In between the blue lines (neutral zone) they'd skate at full speed, and skate normally in the attack zones. Apparently this was too complicated. Even though I had them follow me, players would skate in the wrong direction in the attack zone.

At that point, I knew we were going to have problems. I tried to do a few more full ice skating drills, just so they can get acquainted with the size of the surface, and the ways it feels, and even after a brief demonstration and translation, they still were making the simplest of mistakes.

Now I started to get annoyed.

As I have probably stated a few times, a player said to me on the very first day of training in Ladakh that, "we're not basic." While they didn't fully convince me otherwise, I tried to give them the benefit of the doubt and increase the difficulty of the drills, if only mildly. This was in Ladakh, where I left without full confidence in their abilities, but left them with a practice plan nonetheless, hoping to see a noticeable improvement when we reconvened.

Now that we were back together, it was clear that while I was away, they didn't practice as much as I had hoped, or they just weren't learning the basics as fast as I had expected. This, combined with a major lack in critical thinking and the politicking that went into the team selection, as outlined in the prior post, were already proving to me that this was going to be a disaster on the ice.

Now, I know it's important to exude confidence, trust, and belief in others, coupled with positive reinforcement. And believe me, I tried that. Many times. Even before the tournament started, I had many bouts of over-confidence, believing that the team was well capable of greatly improving. They were simple drills. Why couldn't they do them?

Over time, the plan changed from positive reinforcement ("You're representing your home, and I believe you can prove to everyone that your passion will succeed on the ice") to frustration ("C on! This is easy. Kids can do these drills.") to begging ("I need you to pay attention to me. If you can't pay attention to me when I try to teach you, there's no way you will be able to succeed in a game situation").

There's a point about the mental toughness that I think needs to be stated, as it's been on my mind for quite some time now. I've had the opportunity (if you want to call it that) to take not only a stroll, but a sprint and a marathon (or a speed skate) down memory lane, in regards to my own life on and off the ice.

On the ice, there were many times that I lacked the mental toughness to take me farther in the game. I'd like to believe that wasn't the case, but I'd just be lying to myself, and to you by extension. I can recall training sessions where I'd get a migraine, which I'm sure was in my head (literally and figuratively). I had coaches that in retrospect were trying to make me tougher, and I balked at the occasion. I didn't even like to compete against other players, when I probably had as much talent as them.

This begs a few questions. First and foremost, have I grown? Have I changed? Am I mentally strong now? I guess I can't really answer that; I can only analyze it years down the road or get outside consulting. I'd like to believe I am. I know I'm more aware, but to what extent?

Also, more relevant to the team, am I just passing along my past (repressed?) frustrations out them? Am I actually doing things that make them tougher mentally, or am I just giving them a hard time? On this point, it's an emphatic: NO. I am not taking out my frustrations on them. In all of my pre-tournament practices and off-ice sessions, I utilized many different strategies. I made it a point early on, to suffer if they suffered. I spoke frankly, and honestly, but I also pleaded for the most out of them, and explained everything I could. I was diplomatic with them, begging for their feedback, especially from their leaders, and tried to act with as much humility as I could. They are the team, not me. I argued with anyone that tried to say I was more important (it happened), because at the end of the day, I will be on the bench, the rest of them will be on the ice, and there's no paycheck or contract to even prove I did anything. And I tried to remind the team of that. Even as the tournament progresses, you'll find that I try to change my strategy as much as possible, as I find that what I'm doing didn't work.

Practice continued difficultly. We ended up doing some basic drills, with the plan of moving through each drill every 10-15 minutes, at most. At one point, I attempted to explain to the team how to do a basic 3-on-0 drill, skating down the rink, passing to one another. I have been told that I speak fast, and it's an acknowledged fault (not really a fault, but for a team that barely speaks English, I can see how that would be tough), but I've still tried to use simple words. In particular, before the drill even started, I instructed the team to line up in three lines; one in the middle, and one in each corner. I pointed, spoke with simple words "Line up here, here and here," and then had it translated. Apparently this was way too complicated, and by the time 30 seconds had passed and they were standing around, fuddling, I lined them up to do a skating drill. This time around, it was their own fault, and I wasn't skating for their lack of attention. They may have had altitude to their advantage, but there's nothing more tiring than skating up and down an ice rink, over and over again. Either way, they needed it, as it was another reminder of just how big the rink is. Again, I pleaded with them to pay attention and work hard (a common theme in this practice) and after a dismal failure in the 3-on-0 drill, we proceeded into our breakout-fore-check drill.

The drill was a combination of two drills we had already done incessantly in Ladakh. In the breakout drill, the center dumps the puck into the corner. The defense retrieves the puck (or the goalie saves it, if he's not paying attention and the shot comes on net), and then make a pass behind the net. This pass is not something I wanted set in stone, but they ended up doing it that way almost every time. The purpose of the pass to the defensive partner was to get used to using your teammate and also familiarize the players with getting into positions that would support each other.

As that was going on, the forwards would come into the zone, and get ready for the pass from the defense. The wingers would come to the face-off circles along the boards, and the center would come down low, near his net. Depending on which way the puck would go, the center would criss-cross with the strong side winger. This is not necessarily what every team would do in hockey, but it was simple enough for them to do, and was just advanced enough to help them get the puck out of the zone effectively.

The pass could go to any player, but preferably the center on the strong side, as he will be in the least vulnerable position. He'd make a short pass to his teammate, follow his pass, and the puck carrier would go to his proper wing. Now begins the fore-check.

The moment the puck carrier crossed the red line (center line), they were instructed to dump the puck into the opposite corner (the zone they are attacking). This is called "dump and chase". The premise is quite simple, dump the puck in the corner in two ways, 1) shoot it lightly behind the goal line, but in a spot where the puck dies, and sits right by where you shot it, or 2) shoot it a bit harder along the side boards so that it rings around the rink, just hard enough to make it to the other side without the goalie stopping it in the process. From there, you chase after the puck like you are running from the police, hence the phrase. If you weren't huffing and puffing after the drill, you weren't skating hard enough.

I'm not the biggest fan of a dump and chase strategy, but there was a method to the madness. When the team did their SWOT Analysis is Ladakh, we agreed that their stamina would be a major strength, as their lungs were used to the lack of oxygen (about that...didn't help so much!), and I had hoped their training would make them even more prepared for intense skating. Also, since they weren't great puck-handlers or passers, the only option left to get any offensive pressure was to shoot the puck in, and then skate after it hard.

One forward would go after the player with the puck, the 2nd forward would go after the puck itself, and the 3rd player would hover around the top of the offensive zone, analyzing the situation and going where he thinks the puck is about to go, or attacking the moment the puck gets there. If the puck does move to another player on the opposing team, then the 3rd & 2nd players would apply the pressure, and the 1st would drop back.

This can be highly effective, especially if you play at a level where players aren't used to such intense pressure. It was our own "shock and awe" strategy.

Picture how this goes. I shoot the puck into my defensive zone, my defense retrieves it, exchanges it, passes back to me. I pass to my winger, who dumps it into the corner. He and the other winger go after the puck, as I stay high watching the play carefully. It's not only the 3 of us vs. the 2 defenders; our defenders that passed the puck out of our zone have now joined us. It's 5-on-2.

This is an impossible situation, as the minimum number of skaters allowed on the ice for any given team is 3, even if you get 10 players in the penalty box. That means that the offensive team should have no difficulty scoring, let alone retrieving the puck from the defense. It should be the type of scenario where the defensive team is so over-matched, that they just want to start hitting people out of frustration.

That wasn't the case for us. For the first 5-10 attempts, the defense cleared the puck successfully, and that's when we got the puck into the zone properly. What this signified was that they weren't skating hard. They weren't giving 100% of their energy and effort, because if they were, that puck would be taken away within seconds of it going into the zone.

We ended up doing this drill for over 45 minutes, executing it properly less than 5 times in total. For a bunch of guys that weren't basic, they sure weren't understanding or executing an essential component to the game, breaking out of the defensive zone, and attacking the offensive zone.

At this point, I was traveling independently of the team. I had arrived to the rink earlier than the team to watch some of the other teams practice, which proved to be irrelevant, as scouting the opposition wouldn't help us in any way. I spoke with the guys, and then let them go on their merry way.

For me, I had to stay at the rink for a meeting with all of the team officials. It was actually pretty interesting, as we reviewed the basic rules of the tournament, discussed some jersey colors, and checked the passports to make sure all players were proper citizens of their respective teams. I had to check Thailand, which if you didn't know, they have one of the most complex languages in the world, and one of the hardest to pronunciate, especially for language-stunted Americans.

Some Examples (these are not any of the players' last names): Nathabhakdi, Punyaratabandhu, Sadhanabongse, Simnkim

$5 to anyone that pronounces all of these properly and submits them to me through email

Interesting fact: Thais do not have the same last name, the way Americans/Canadians/British have Smith, Brown, Jones; Chinese have Wang, Li, Yi; the Indians have Kumar, Patel, Gandhi. It is actually part of recent Thai law (1913, I believe), that each family must have a unique surname, which can be registered with a bureaucracy that handles allocation. The newer immigrants tend to have longer names, as the shorter ones have already been claimed.

Snap back to reality.

The most interesting point came from the gentleman (originally from New Jersey) running/coaching/managing the Singapore association (their ice rink closed, the team had to practice through inline hockey), requesting that the Challenge Cup of Asia become a qualifying tournament for IIHF Division III (lowest level) World Championships. As of now, it's nothing more than a development tournament, and this would increase legitimacy to the tournament, and provide it with greater strength for future success. I thought it was a great idea, and I hope it gets ratified.

Once the meeting was over, I left for the hotel on my own, leaving the manager in charge of the team. There were cars available for officials and coaches, and buses for the teams, and staying consistent with my philosophy, I wanted the team to be independent minded.

Still, later that evening in the hotel, the players asked me if they could go out to dinner that night. "You're adults," I responded with a chuckle, "of course you can, do whatever you want!"

"Make sure you're all up early for breakfast, we have the first game tomorrow."

There is no more that I can talk about leading up to the puck drop, so I guarantee you, the next post will be about the games!

India Ice Hockey, Part 3: Being True

A conscious decision was made prior to departing for Abu Dhabi for the 2nd IIHF (International Ice Hockey Federation) Challenge Cup of Asia (the 1st was in Hong Kong last year) that I was going to live by and promote the ideals of ice hockey - fun, hard-work, accountability, toughness, etc. - but still keep a distance between myself and the players. I was friendly, or at least in my opinion I was (sometimes I come off colder than I realize), but kept myself at arms length.

There were a few major reasons why I made this decision (from least to most important). I wanted to ensure that the team manager from the Ladakh Winter Sports Club was actively involved in managing the team during this trip, and didn't just take this as a vacation to the UAE. As the coach, my primary job is to worry about the team on the ice and support what they're doing off the ice, if it's related to hockey (although when you move up in ranks, there are usually trainers and managers and assistant coaches that do things like that, but we're not exactly the Montreal Canadiens here...maybe I should pick a winner...but we're not exactly the Detroit Red Wings here). Of course, I care about how they behave and conduct themselves at all times, and would love to instruct each and every person on how they should carry themselves.

Just imagine it! A world according to Adam, where everyone is single, plays hockey for 12 hours a day, drinks massive quantities of expensive tea, The Beatles play on satellite speakers orbiting the Earth, and the utopia that is the Star Trek universe becomes a reality.

Did I just admit to all of that?!

Coming back to reality...the point is that I can't be the team parent, especially since some players are 10-20 years older than me. With that in mind, I have made more than enough references to the way of life in Ladakh, and suffice it to say that they have a lot of development needed, in particular when it comes to analytical thinking and mental toughness.

Above all else, this was my primary motivation.

If, when all is said and done, these guys truly broadened their horizons, took some initiative, developed some toughness and determination, and maybe even learned some new things about life, then I can walk away elated. My experiences with them in Ladakh proved that this was not only important to their development as citizens of Earth, but also essential to their success in hockey.

I decided, though, that I would stay somewhat close to the captain and one of the goalies from the team, as they were the ones I used as team liaisons and translators. It was also important for them in their own hockey development, as this reaffirmed their leadership roles, and gave them a greater understanding of their responsibilities.

In the airport, I left the group mostly on their own to figure out how to get through. Out of 21 players on the team (a typical hockey roster can carry as many as 20 players, including the goalies, but one army player got added in because of politicking done by the army commander responsible for the team), nearly every single one of them had never left India before, save for 1 or 2. I wanted to see how they handled being fish out of water, as it was going to be a recurring theme over the upcoming week.

I waited for 15 minutes as they unloaded luggage off the bus and arranged themselves in groups of 4-6, based upon the reservation ticket. My ticket had 3 players, including the goalie that I kept in contact with, and even that was difficult.

I decided then that I couldn't budge, this was going to be about personal development first. It was the only way to succeed. The impaired education system in Ladakh was now rearing its head, and I was going to prove to them how important intelligence and critical thinking was, on the ice, and off.

I wouldn't have any reason to talk about a flight, if it was normal, but it wasn't. The team was booked on a budget Middle Eastern airline, which is not a concern to me, as the funds are and were very limited. Prior to the team arriving in Delhi for the press conference and departure, the other military branch's administration played hardball with the Ice Hockey Association of India, and ended up getting their flights paid for by the association as part of their condition for participating on the team, whereas the rest of the players either got funding, paid out of pocket, or had their division pay for the flight.

This infuriated me. I try my best to talk about character, and the ideals that the sport upholds, and this went against all of it. As it is, it's an honor and a privilege for these players to be on the team, as the only thing it does is boost their potential for better careers, better positions, and ultimately better lives. That should have no value! Plus, any branch of the Indian military has enough money to pay for 6 players to participate in an ice hockey tournament. I don't need to be an accountant to know that much.

I said it then when I found out about this, and I reiterate this point now, I would rather not have those players on the team at all if that's how it's going to be. I don't believe any of them were involved in what transpired, but they were the bargaining tools in this power struggle, and the only body that looses is the hockey team. A precedent of selfishness had been set, and now I had another battle to fight, reintroducing selflessness and teamwork.

Because of this ongoing negotiation, the rest of the team had been booked in economy class. By the time an agreement had been reached, economy had been sold out, so those players were confirmed in business class, along with the manager. I was booked in coach.

There's two tangents I need to take here. This situation happened to me once before. When I went to China, Angela and I flew coach on a 13 hour flight. It was brutal. I held a grudge for a long time about that, because it seemed like a terrible way to treat employees that were traveling to the opposite side of the world to help others. The least you could do was get them there comfortably, especially when the cost was a speck on the organization's operating budget.

When I was scheduled to return to China, something that never happened for me, I was again booked in coach, whereas my director at the time was booked in business class. This really ticked me off (apparently, it still does!), as it again showed a cheapness and lack of respect for people trying to help others, and I was a bit vocal about my disdain. For me, that was the beginning of the end.

In regards to this trip, the situation is entirely different, and while I wasn't offended about being in coach for a few hours, I wasn't thrilled about it either, considering the circumstances that led to some of the team (and the manager) being booked in business class (he was late with his passport, so it delayed his booking as well). I made sure that when I got to the airport, I would get myself upgraded, and I did. For free. I don't know which player, if any, got sent to coach as a result, but I do know that a handful of players, including the manager, sat in business class.

The budget flight flew into Dubai, which is not Abu Dhabi. Two and a half hours later, we arrived at our gorgeous hotel, tired (we were a few hours behind Indian time), and starving. Checking in was a nightmare, as the team would hover every once in a while, confusing everyone trying to check us in, myself included. There weren't enough rooms booked for the team, but the hotel graciously gave me the single I required, as I wanted to make sure I was free of distractions and disturbances from the team, and force them to take some responsibility for themselves, manager included. I didn't tell anyone where my room was, even when they asked.

My last act of babysitting was getting dinner for the team. One of the local volunteers drove me to a popular Middle Eastern restaurant (I love Middle Eastern food, but then again, I love food from everywhere!), something I had requested to enhance the culture shock for the team. I went alone, even after the goalie volunteering (rather, requested) to join. I declined. I ordered a massive hummus platter and falafel sandwiches for everyone, and arrived back at the hotel around 1:30am.

They were noticeably not thrilled with my food selection, which made it all the more important. They were in a foreign country, and they needed to be tolerant and understanding of the culture of that country, as they are the guests. Since they haven't traveled outside India (and maybe even if they had), this was not a natural philosophy for them. Not everyone ate, and some looked upset that they had to pay, but that was also part of the arrangement that everyone was notified of, with ample time to protest, drop out, or raise the funds required.

It was the last time I'd arrange anything for the team. It was up to them now.

The next morning, we'd have our first and only practice prior to the tournament officially starting, and it'd be the first time that they'd skate on an international rink, let alone an indoor one.

What type of practice would you plan?

I want to take a moment to step back a little bit to say thank you. As I was reflecting on this experience, and what transpired in whole with the team, I made sure to stick to a plan that I believed in, develop mental toughness, character, responsibility, teamwork, and foster critical thinking. In times of frustration and stress, I felt that maybe I wasn't focusing enough on developing skills, and that we'd fare better if I had (is this too much foreshadowing?), but it felt wrong to think that way.

It was only after a conversation with my mother, that I was reminded that this is exactly why I set out to do this mission, and it's exactly what I said I'd do. One of my earliest posts (Who I am and why do I love hockey?) describes why I love hockey (redundant), and why I believe it's more than just the best sport on Earth, but a powerful tool for improving the lives of people around the world.

As I got caught up in the heat of the moment, I forgot that mantra, even while living by it, and my mother, so often my conscience, reminded me of that exact point, single-handedly reassuring me that I'd kept my promise to myself, and the people that donated, while staying true to and honoring the game.

So thank you, Mom. I love you.

I thought this post was going to be about the tournament, but after seeing how much I wrote about the pre-cursors, the post on the tournament will come next.

A quick note...

After a few discussions, it came to my attention that what I wrote in my previous post regarding money was a bit confusing. To clarify...

  • All money donated by a person to "The Hockey Volunteer" is only used for hockey related expenses, whether it be providing/shipping equipment to communities, training expenses, necessary gear, general expenses when volunteering
  • Personally donated money will never be used for administrative expenses, whether it be a business computer, office rent, etc.
  • Sponsorships, Foundation grants, and corporate donations will be the source of operating expenses, although excess revenue from these sources can also be for use on missions around the world
  • Tourism expenses not relating to a particular mission fall under my own personal budget, not that of the individual donors
ALL of these practices are what responsible organizations already do, and I just wanted to reiterate them to you.

I hope this helps.

New post is already under construction!


Wednesday, March 25, 2009

India Ice Hockey, Part 2: When Business is Fun

A few days before we were scheduled to leave for Abu Dhabi, the capital of the United Arab Emirates, the team arrived in Delhi. They were put up in a hotel in the Pahar Ganj area of Delhi, which if it's a city unknown to you (about 1% of my readers are from India, so I know it is a mystery), it is one of the seediest, dirtiest, grimiest, and hippie-infested areas in Delhi, but it's cheap and accessible, and this hotel was pretty nice. Plus the team is from Ladakh, so in terms of amenities, this is still a big step up.

For myself, I visited the team at the hotel that afternoon, in a suit I had scrambled to buy the day before. I bought the suit for a variety of reasons. The day of purchase, I got a last minute invite to an uber fancy wedding at the Taj Palace in New Delhi of the same family I didn't know whose sangeet - a pre-wedding party - I attended a few days earlier at a beautiful farm house (which is the equivalent of an estate in the U.S.). For the tournament itself, I assumed there would be a few occasions to wear the suit, if I didn't wear it behind the bench - something I was debating about in my mind, as the team had never seen me in the suit.

When I was packing before departure in New York, I consciously decided to leave my suit and dress shoes behind, as my suitcase was already tightly packed, and I was traveling with extra hockey equipment. As it is, I'm historically an over packer, but in this case, I had to cut back on everything because I was packing for two seasons: freezing and scorching. That forced me to frantically buy a full suit outfit (suit, 2 shirts, 2 ties, socks, belt, shoes), on a budget trip...not the happiest day. At home, I have a half dozen suits, more belts and shoes than I know what to do with, and plenty of socks. If only I had brought 1-2 sets, things would've been a whole lot more convenient.

Anyway, I greeted the team at their hotel, in full business dress, because the day before departure for the UAE we had a press conference and photo session planned for that afternoon. They were accustomed to seeing me in 4-5 layers of shirts/coats, 2-3 layers of pantaloons, a wool cap with utterly pointless tassels, and a scruffy tri-color beard (black, white, drives me that I think about it though, it's 2 of the 3 colors of the Indian flag...if only my black hair was green!),. Now I showed up (relatively) clean shaven, with gel in my hair (I put gel in my hair once in Ladakh), and in a business suit. This was their first sign that they weren't in Kansas anymore, and I wouldn't let up.

The team received their black and red colored (the alternate universe colors of India) track suits with India Ice Hockey on the backs, as well as their plain green and plain orange jerseys, with "INDIA" on the front and their jersey number on the back. My first issue with these jerseys was that even though I spoke to the printer face-to-face regarding what he was to do with the jerseys, I got back three green "13" jerseys, and my XL/XXL jerseys meant to go to the goalies, had an "A" printed on them for alternate/assistant (it's referred to as either interchangeably) captains, even though I specifically said which number would get the jersey, what size that jersey can be, and the fact that there are rules that prohibit the goalies from being captains.

For the time being though, we had to hurry to The Press Club in the track suits, with sticks in hand, and some equipment bags in stowage (when I see that word, I picture someone saying "storage" with a lisp, like in Monty Python, Life of Brian). We arrived 45 minutes late (partially my fault, partially the teams fault, partially someone else's fault - all for different reasons).

Before the conference officially began, all of the photographers in attendance took photos of the team with their sticks, holding them out, or in a face-off like arrangement. I have to admit, my only main problems with this were that, 1) I have sensitive eyes and ALWAYS squint in pictures, 2) we were outside, and I have sensitive skin, which transforms me from "Powder" to a stocky flamingo, 3) we were outside, I was in a dark suit, it was 80 degrees out, therefore, I was sweating a lot, and 4) my guys lined up awkwardly for their face-off and they didn't even hold their sticks properly.

After what felt like an eternity taking pictures, we went inside and the conference began with myself, the manager of the team - a member of the Ladakh Winter Sports Club, the Presiding Officer of the Ice Hockey Association of India - Colonel Kumar, and the Treasurer, all on stage, with microphones and bottles of water. Akshay couldn't attend, as he had a business trip in Europe.

Colonel Kumar began, discussing the brief history of hockey in Ladakh, and the work we did in our brief training. Then the team manager spoke, pausing in his speech after every second or third word, like he had to formulate the pronunciation of each syllable. He made sure to talk about how great and important the Ladakh Winter Sports Club is to hockey in India, which is true to an extent, while being equally false.

I was introduced as the "coaching consultant" due to technicalities, and began my ad-hoc speech (that's the only way I know how to operate, although my speeches are usually thought out in advance) with one of those deafening screeches the emanate from the microphone when someone thinks he's cool, but looks like a fool instead...yeah, that's me.

My speech was short & sweet (or just short), as I discussed the work I did in Ladakh with the team, and saying that the team would do their country and region proud. I acknowledged and thanked the support we had received from Ladakh, and the promise from the Chief Minister to construct a rink, as well as reiterated ad nauseum the importance of the rink in Dehra Dun being completed properly, as it is imperative to the success of hockey in India.

After I spoke, we fielded questions, many of them directed to me, with the pervading question of "how will the team do?" There was no way for me to know this answer, not because it's a hockey game, and any team can win, but because we were the Indian hockey team, with no experience in international play - that is, playing in an international size arena (100ft X 200ft/30m X 60m), against other teams, and I had no idea what the caliber of those other teams would be.

The press conference ended and then the interviews began. A handful of local media outlets reiterated the same questions I had answered on stage, but this time with a camera and microphone. Being a naturally talented comedian, I made some amusing remarks (in my humble opinion) in one of the interviews, which was going smoothly until they ran out of tape (why aren't they digitally recording?). During the intermission, the interviewer told me he was going to ask me how I expected the team to fare in the tournament, and suggested I make the response funny because people in India needed something funny or ironic to keep their attention.

To his dismay, my response to the question was, "It's hard to say," since it was obviously hard to predict, as I mentioned, and he gave me this stern look of disappointment. It was afterwards that I started to realize that this was nothing more than a freak show to "proper Indians", whatever that means. As I have mentioned, Ladakhis are more like Tibetans than they are like Indians, no matter where in the subcontinent they are from. The cultures are very different, the people look very different, and although having different languages in India is a common occurrence, that was different as well. Add in a sport that isn't even close to being recognized, being played by a group of "foreigners" and coached by an American, and we must've looked like Barnum & Bailey's Circus.

Nonetheless, the coverage was pretty impressive. We took the team to India Gate, a WWI memorial arch, and took pictures of the team again, with some players in full equipment. I didn't notice until we were nearly done with our pictures that the goalie even wore his skates! I couldn't help but get hysterical, as even NHL players don't wear skates in their team picture unless they're in the front row of the shot, and that's on the ice!

I returned to the home I was staying in that evening, and we watched the news to catch one of the interviews. I should've known better (great Beatles song!) than to watch the program, as it would just get me frustrated. And it did.

The clip began with video of brutal hockey fights, and while I'm a believer that fighting is essential to professional hockey, it was unnecessary - if not unhelpful and unprofessional - to use clips of fights to set up a story about a bunch of players from Ladakh, that play comparatively passive hockey, representing India in an international tournament.


If that wasn't bad enough, I thought I looked pudgy (I have gained weight on this trip) and sounded goofy (do I always talk that way?) on TV. The first time I watched myself on TV, I was 16, on MTV, and it resulted in veneers for my teeth, so drastic responses are highly possible!

Why was I on MTV? It was because of Britney Spears. She was on the program that day. I ended up beating 2 girls in a Britney Spears trivia contest live on TRL, and received the lamest prize in their history: a doll that she signed, "To Adam, ♥ Britney". I still have the doll.

As if the video side of it wasn't enough, the paper press was no better. Just like the original article (link) that was posted in the Hindustan Times (same link), the newer article (new link) also stated that I am a former NHL player. They also quoted the team manager as saying that the L.A. Kings, an American junior hockey team, had assisted them with equipment donations. First of all, it was the junior team affiliate of the L.A. Kings, second of all, as a high-ranking member of the Ladakh Winter Sports Club, he should've known that, and finally, the paper still should've fact checked! It's one thing to make a mistake, which the first writer acknowledged (to me, personally), like someone's position. It's another thing to post the same error a 2nd time, and then pile onto that completely screwing up facts about a professional hockey team, albeit one that plays like a junior team these days. Either way, it ruins the legitimacy of the paper when they don't do their research.

Go to (do you need a link?), and search for "Sherlip". Nothing comes up. Hey, why is that? I've done things! Point is, I'm not now, nor have I ever been in the NHL, and it only takes 3 seconds and a little bit of investigative journalism to confirm something like that. In less than 3 seconds, you can easily find enough proof to see that the Kings are indeed an NHL team. In total, you could spend 10 seconds on the site, convincing the entire English-reading population in India that you know what the hell you're talking about.

It reinforced, rather it convinced me, that this was all a big joke to them.

I only wish we had a talented enough team to prove them wrong, but that's just not the case. I couldn't tell the press what was going to transpire, and I still had no idea what the competition looked like, but I was sure that the team was a long way from being proficient at understanding hockey, let alone playing the game.

I had given out the link to this site to all of the journalists that interviewed me, as I was hoping they would learn a bit about hockey, if not remark about my experiences, from what's been posted. The fact that I am a volunteer is no secret if you visit the website, and it was mentioned on TV and in the papers. I don't know why, but I wasn't expecting them to report it.

I was annoyed at first, but as I thought about it, there was nothing to be annoyed about. In the moment, I felt it made me look like an amateur. When all is said and done, this is a volunteer initiative. It's in the title! I didn't start this to make money, and it's not the motivating factor for the continuation and growth of "The Hockey Volunteer".

At the same time, the desire to make enough money to sustain myself (at the least), is important, and anybody that thinks otherwise is naive, and if they behave otherwise they're taking advantage of the goodwill. This is not an accusation, and it's not targeted at anyone, it's just a statement. I've been fortunate enough to have some expenses covered while here, and some incredible hospitality.

Would I like to be paid for this? Of course. Is it possible? I think so. At the same time, it defeats the purpose of why this all started, and that's what I need to keep in mind. This is "The Hockey Volunteer" for a reason, and it has succeeded specifically because of that reason. Why fix it if it ain't broke? Then again, maybe it could do even better!

For the record, any income earned that relates to "The Hockey Volunteer" is 100% independent of donations. It will come from other projects related to the initiative, but primarily from sponsorships. Grants & donations will be entirely used to help people through hockey, whether it be for equipment, for outfitting a team, or even getting international players/teams to go abroad and enhance their own global hockey experiences.

I want to hear from you! If you think I should keep or change "The Hockey Volunteer" name, please submit your comments/suggestions in the form on the right side of the page. Every submission goes right to my email, and I will read & respond to each submission.

With that in mind, I end this post. Next up is the 2009 IIHF Challenge Cup of Asia in Abu Dhabi, UAE!



Listen to my broadcast from  Saturday, 1/10 with the guys from Hockey Night on Long Island: 
Listen to Hockey Night on Long Island on internet talk radio

Special thanks to the Allan and Rolly at Nasty Hockey Show for being strong advocates for this program, and putting together this broadcast. Please check it out!
Awesome quote from their website: "I’ll match your contributions up to a total of $200. Just leave a comment on this blog with what you have donated."
Thank you guys!
Special thanks to Sarah Elizabeth Foster of for doing this interview, supporting the cause, and donating! (NOTE: I mention in the video I'll be leaving by the New Year. My departure date is now set at 1/12/09!)