I found out about ice hockey in India at the end of 2008 from US Olympian Angela Ruggiero, whom I’d coached hockey with in China when we were colleagues at the New York Islanders. Angela’s email, while unexpected, came at a perfect time in my life, and made me aware of the region of Ladakh in the Indian Himalayas. I was captivated immediately, and after a month of fundraising, arrived in Ladakh in January 2009. Little did I know just how much my life
would be changed from this initial trip. Now, after 8 trips to India for ice hockey, it’s become my home away from home, and a testament to the impact
of The Hockey Foundation in the country. The Hockey Foundation was established in 2010 after that maiden voyage to the Indian Himalayas. Our objective is simple: to change the lives
of people around the world via ice hockey. First and foremost, we focus on access to hockey in under-served regions, donating equipment and providing coaches to the communities in need. How we coach is critically important. We have the utmost respect for the history and culture of ice hockey. We believe that it’s through teaching these ideals that we build not only strong hockey players, but strong individuals, no matter their age, gender, sexual orientation, physical limitations and abilities, race or religion. Sports has the ability to empower youth while
fostering international understanding and cooperation, and we do our best to coach in a way
that is respectful to people of all cultures so that we can deepen our bonds off the ice. From there we look to address additional
areas of need within the community. Our coaches are on the front line of what we do and become immediate representatives
of The Hockey Foundation. It takes a special person to coach hockey in countries very foreign from their homes. They are the ambassadors
for the great game of ice hockey and for the cultures they represent. Our coaches come from a variety
of countries and hockey backgrounds. Some have many years of
coaching and playing experience some are relatively new. But they all share a positive attitude
in the face of adversity, a passion for teaching the game, and an intrinsic desire to
positively impact the lives of others. A successful coach of
The Hockey Foundation quickly realizes that he or she benefits
just as much from their experience as do the players they coach. We are always looking for volunteers interested in becoming a coach for The Hockey Foundation. As volunteers, coaches must be prepared
to cover their costs, be willing and able to adapt
to ever-changing circumstances, and be looking to develop as a hockey coach. Beyond that, the most important thing is that
all coaches remember we’re all here to have fun. In 2015, I met up with The Hockey Foundation. I just couldn’t believe that this pocket, this micro-climate in India, was somewhere where hockey was so popular. Everything these kids do seems to surprise me, because the moment you come on the ice,
and you try to coach them, and you just help them improve, they’re like sponges, they soak up every little bit, and it makes you want to keep giving more. I don’t think I can nail it to one thing that surprises me, because this place, it keeps on giving. They can teach you something,
you can teach them something. At the end of the day, everyone goes
away so much richer for the experience. When we go in a village we spend pretty much the whole day on the ice, and we start with the kids; most of the kids are beginners,
so we do beginner groups; we just do skating exercises and stick-handling with pucks, a little bit of passing. Then before lunch we have an intermediate group, so we do a little bit more advanced stuff, and then after lunch we have usually the advanced group, and then we do a lot of positioning, a lot of strategy, shooting, passing – everything, basically, for any skilled hockey players. Everybody’s super happy, you know, the day’s gone and we’re just having fun coaching and playing on the ice. What I like to see is a lot of people I was coaching on the first year they really improved themselves, and they are becoming the next coaches. They are becoming the guys who will coach the next kids and the next generation. So basically a small seed that we planted a couple of years ago is growing, and it’s making a garden, and this garden is just expanding, and it’s becoming HUGE, man! [crowd cheers “Jullay!”] Our objective from the beginning has been to help Indian ice hockey become self sufficient, and we’ve worked closely with the Ice Hockey Association of India along with local schools, clubs and associations, to support this objective. One of the challenges of operating any philanthropic charity, is striking a balance between the powerful desire to give, while simultaneously encouraging an environment where people don’t become complacent and expect to receive. It’s critical for any community to take responsibility for their own growth and progress, and we’re perfectly positioned
to help through ice hockey. Our partnership with the
Ice Hockey Association of India has enabled them to improve their men’s national team, develop a women’s national team, and run more national
development camps and competitions. At the same time, the players we’ve coached are graduating in to
coaching and official roles themselves, and have done a wonderful job of spreading their love and knowledge of the game. Indian ice hockey needs to be run
and supported by Indians in order for the game to succeed in the country, and we’ve been tirelessly working towards that goal. If there’s a point in time where
The Hockey Foundation is no longer needed, then we’ve done our job really well. Hockey lovers know that it’s a special game. Nothing comes close. You learn all about yourself as a player, an individual, and most importantly, as a teammate. When we take responsibility for our actions on the ice, it has a profound impact
on how we conduct ourselves off the ice. Accountability, integrity, critical thinking. These are the traits of a true hockey player. It’s unlike any sport. When things get tough, hockey players find a way to persevere. Grit, determination, resilience. These are defining characteristics. When we get hit by a slap shot, or take a stick to the face, or are playing with broken steel, we find ways to fight through it because we’re part of something bigger than ourselves: a team. If you’re not a team player,
you don’t succeed as a hockey player. That’s a powerful message, and it’s central to our coaching philosophy. In Ladakh, winters are harsh, and before ice hockey became the seasonal pastime it is now, there wasn’t much to do. By being able to bring hockey to these communities, you’re seeing so many different things. It’s galvanizing communities, it’s helping kids get away from things like drugs and drink. It gives them something to do, and the power of sport in that regard is simply unbelievable. But I think the other thing is simply access. You know, when you’re out coaching kids and you see little kids in skates that are too big, or sticks that are too long, at the end of the day, just being able to continue doing what we’re doing, bringing gear from hockey enthusiasts around the world that have donated it to support The Hockey Foundation, I think if we can build the bottom of, you know, the pyramid, if you will, grassroots hockey in Ladakh can really make sure that every kid that wants to skate has the right gear, we’re going to be making a life-changing difference to this community for generations. We are always looking for hockey equipment to donate to our programs around the world, because without equipment, the game can never grow. There’s a great need for gear in countries that may have restrictive import tariffs, or may not have domestic distributors yet. Buying equipment in these countries can cost triple or quadruple of the cost as it would in the U.S. or Canada. What we’ve learned over our years of experience, is that while we’re fortunate to always have equipment coming in, to then in turn donate to communities in need, we often receive equipment that is not ideal based on the needs of the community. Managing equipment is becoming labor intensive and has become one of our
highest sources of expenditure. Typically, an over-stuffed bag of equipment can cost up to $300 [USD] over its life-span, from receiving it to donating it. We’ve donated nearly 10,000 pieces
of hockey equipment over our years in India, and we’re seeing a critical mass on the horizon. We’re encouraged that at some point
in the not-too-distant future an economy around ice hockey will take hold. That is just one of the many ways
ice hockey can change lives, and we’re excited to see our success in India replicated to other in-need
communities around the world. But we don’t stop with hockey equipment. As part of our mission to support
community development, we’ve donated solar panels when energy was an issue, and then shifted to education
once a power plant was constructed. To date, we’ve donated hundreds of books
to schools around Ladakh in collaboration with our partner ILSC, a global language school based in Vancouver, to encourage reading and support English literacy in a country where English is critical to education and socio-economic development. [ADAM:] “How much enthusiasm do you think
the kids feel reading ice hockey books?” My expectation for this year it’s probably going to be the best year of The Hockey Foundation yet. We are donating the most equipment we’ve ever donated, we’re bringing the most coaches we’ve ever brought, and we’re bringing the most passion we’ve ever brought. As a charity, it’s necessary for us
to raise funds to operate. We need these funds to cover basic expenses, and to ensure that our programs grow and succeed. In 2015 and ’16, Sun Life Financial supported The Hockey Foundation’s India program, and without their support we wouldn’t have been able to achieve so much. We’re always in need of additional support, whether it be from individuals, organizations, corporations or governments, donations enable The Hockey Foundation to expand to communities around the world and to do some special programming in North America that we’re excited to share with you. Companies like Sun Life care deeply about supporting the communities they do business in. Sun Life’s philanthropic focus in North America & Asia is on encouraging an active life-style and combating diabetes, and by supporting The Hockey Foundation they’re able to get that message across in an innovative way. That’s what it means to change lives via ice hockey.