Team India hopes hockey game vs. ECHL can boost sport back home

India's ice hockey team coach Adam Sherlip (C) talks to players during a practice session inside an ice skating bar and café in a mall in Gurgaon on the outskirts of New Delhi on April 10, 2015. India's ice hockey players have resorted to crowdfunding to take part in an international tournament, saying they are struggling to make ends meet in the cricket-mad country. AFP PHOTO / Chandan KHANNA (Photo credit should read Chandan Khanna/AFP/Getty Images)

The hockey players practice on the natural ice they can find, such as ponds and lakes. Only they aren't skating in some small town in Canada or Minnesota; they're two miles above sea level in the Ladakh region of India.

In about a month, these players from the National Ice Hockey Team of India will take on the ECHL’s Brampton Beast, the first time the ECHL team will face off against a national squad of any country.

“Of course we want to win this game and I’m going to try to win this game,” coach Adam Sherlip said. “But we know we’re going to play against a professional team and we’re not at that level.”

The belief is that an event like this can continue to boost Team India’s overall profile.

“I have no doubt it’s going to elevate the level of hockey in India,” Sherlip said. “One of the big things we’ve been discussing the last few years is finding opportunity to connect Indians in North America to their national team.”

Win or lose, he hopes the Oct. 9 contest in Brampton sends some sort of positive reaction back to his team’s home country.

For the National Ice Hockey Team of India, it’s a chance to take on maybe its greatest challenge as a team – in possibly the nicest conditions it has ever played. For Brampton – an affiliate of the Montreal Canadiens – it’s an opportunity to appeal to a large local population with Indian heritage.

Beyond the obvious novelty of a hockey team from India playing North American professionals, the Indian team will add several players of Indian descent from the Brampton area for the exhibition.

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Team India is supposed to arrive in Canada in early October and tryouts for the local players will be held shortly after

“We felt like if we could pull something together and do an exhibition game, it would be great for a lot of South Asians who live in the area who may not have been to a hockey game or a Brampton Beast game,” Beast president and general manager Cary Kaplan said.

The game came together mostly through the vision of Sherlip, who has been Team India’s head coach since 2009. Due to Brampton’s large Indian population, he targeted that area and that team as a possible spot for an exhibition.

Sherlip is not Indian. He lives in Brooklyn, grew up on Long Island and used to work for the Islanders in a variety of roles. Sherlip came in contact with hockey in Asia while working with the Islanders’ Project Hope, an initiative to spread hockey in China.

Soon-to-be Hockey Hall of Famer Angela Ruggiero eventually guided Sherlip to the Himalayas area.

“She and I had coached in China together. So she informed me about some things going on in the Himalayas and I was immediately drawn to it. In some ways right place and right time and right circumstances,” Sherlip said.

Sherlip’s union with Team India came out of The Hockey Foundation, a non-profit he started that brings the sport to children in “less fortunate regions of the world.”

“We use hockey to help communities and we’ve been doing things in the Himalayas, like donating equipment, providing coaching and stuff like that,” Sherlip said.

Lately, trying to figure out how to push hockey in India has hit a bit of a rough patch. In order to compete in the most recent IIHF Ice Hockey Challenge Cup of Asia Division I in Kuwait, the team needed to start a social media campaign, which eventually proved successful.

The Hockey Foundation has coached roughly 1,500 players in India since 2009, which Sherlip says is the approximate total of registered players in the country. Currently, there are 20 people in the program. 

The squad is comprised of civilians and military, mainly from the northern part of the country.

Said The Indian Express from last April

In spite of being a national team, they are not paid by the Indian government for representing India in Kuwait. Most of their equipment has been gifted by friends or well wishers. In a cricket-crazy nation, Indian ice hockey has been crippled by a general lack of funds. Most of their equipment has been gifted by friends or well-wishers. In a cricket-crazy nation, Indian ice hockey has been crippled by a general lack of funds.

Because of some of these struggles, a portion of the ticket packages for the game against Brampton will go to Team India.

“We’re going to cover their cost. We’re going to donate a portion to try to build hockey there, which is part of the concept,” Kaplan said. “A lot of Canadians who are part of Indian descent that maybe haven’t seen hockey so we’re trying to bring those people to the arena and maybe this is a vehicle to do it.

The long-range goal isn’t to turn India into an Asian hockey power in the next few years. It’s more to just keep building the sport in the region and see where it goes from there.

“The players coming here, I don’t think any of them have traveled outside of Asia,” Kaplan said. “It’s going to be a big event and we hope it’s going to do something for the sport in that country.”

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Josh Cooper is an editor for Puck Daddy on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at puckdaddyblog@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

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