When winter visits Ladakh, it brings energy and joy with it. Do you know what is the most loving thing for Ladakhis to do in winters? Is is playing Ice Hockey. Children in regions like Gupuks, Karzoo and outside Leh, where ponds and lakes freeze to form a mini skating rink, take to ice hockey with much enthusiasm and passion.
Do you know that India’s Women Ice Hockey Team comes entirely from Ladakh?
Yes, though lesser known, India has one of the strongest women ice hockey teams, who belong entirely to the beautiful valley of Ladakh in Jammu and Kashmir. With their utter passion and sheer hard work, the team has come a long way in the popular affairs of international sports.
Let us take you down to their roller coaster ride to success and the stature they have achieved today!
Short and Crisp- Origin of Ice hockey in Ladakh
Ice hockey was introduced to Ladakh in one of the most uncommon way. It was in 1970’s that a local, who was enlisted with army during the time, found a pair of bladed skates in the storage. And soon, the curious and passionate Ladakhis were onto ice hockey. Using some conventional field balls and hockey sticks, the first local tournament was held in 1972.
Neither the Ladakh Winter Sports Club and the teams that were formed to play ice hockey knew the professional rules of the game. In some cases the goalkeeper would wear cricket batting pads as protective gears. It was in only in 2006 that the authorities made it necessary to wear proper head gears.
With emerging craze of the game and interest of locals, local teams began to be formed by the end of 1980’s.
The Problem of Gender
Despite the fact that Ladakh enjoys a higher percentage of gender equality as compared to other parts of India, the Ladakhi women were yet not immune from the idea of femininity. They were initially reduced to the more feminine sport, i.e., figure skating.
Disket Angmo, who is now the official team spokesperson and defence player of India’s women Ice Hockey team, began her career as a figure skater. She, along with other girls would skate during the intervals between men ice hockey matches.
The Initial Struggle
“There is no better teacher than adversity”. -Malcolm X
Most of the women players of ice hockey team began as figure skaters and borrowed hockey equipment to try their hand at the game. And since most of the players of Men Ice hockey team of India are from Ladakh, skaters and passionate women like Disket were motivated to want to represent India one day.
The dream was not far from being achieved with such positive and challenging attitude. Therefore, in 2008, the Ladakh Winter Sports Club addressed the applaud able transition of women from skaters to players and gave them a chance to prove their worth introducing them into the professional game. It took five years to form a strong team, due to lack of funds and resources to practice, before the Ice Hockey Association of India could conduct its first National Championship in 2013.
A Cheer to Self- Driven Women
With time the number of women player grew and seeing the affirmed, self- driven and motivated women ice hockey players, the Ice Hockey Association of India decided to send the women’s team for the Ice Hockey Federation’s (IIHF) Challenge Cup of Asia in Taipei 2016. The training for the match took place at Iskate, Ambience Mall, Gurugram.
Iskate is barely 1/4th size of the international ice hockey arena. The players could only hone their basic skills at the ring. They lost the Challenge Cup.
Despite the barriers that came in the form of lack of practice and resources, the team kept struggling and never gave up hope.
The Happy Tears of Success
It is to learn from our women ice hockey players that defeat can sometimes work wonders for us. It depends on us that whether we learn from it or cry over it!
Soon, thanks to the team’s hard work and fund generated by crowd funding, Women Ice Hockey Team got a chance to play at the seven-nation Challenge Cup of Asia 2017.
In this Challenge Cup, the team secured two wins. One in their second match with Philippines (4-3) and second in their last, with Malaysia (5-4).
As soon as the whistle blew and marked the win of Indian team, the joy among players was witnessed by everyone in the arena. The tears of joy rolled down their cheeks as the national anthem played on speakers. The silence in the arena during the anthem was evident of their hard work and the fruit they had received after all these years. Even the referees had tears in their eyes, the moment was blissful.
This is the story of our brave Women Ice Hockey Team of India. They marked the biggest victory in the history of women ice hockey by winning at Asia’s largest ice hockey tournament. Their win caught the eye of international media and were highly praised by the Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on his visit to India in 2018.
Later in 2018, Hayley Wickenheiser, the four-time ice hockey Olympic gold medalist from Canada, visited the team and offered IHAI to bring the team for a Hockey Coaching program in Canada and to participate in WICKFEST – Wickenheiser Female World Hockey Festival in Calgary.
The Women’s team went for the match and won one of the four exhibition matches. Moreover, the experience and the training the team went through while their visit was beyond any win.
The enthusiasm these women bring to the game of ice hockey is incredible. A big applause for their wins, falls and struggle that has brought them to the stage of popularity and perfection.
Recently, the Women Ice Hockey Team of India has played at the 8th IHAI National Ice Hockey Championship that began on 16th January and ended on 25th January, 2019 at Karzoo Rink, Leh, Jammu & Kashmir. It’s time for more achievements!