By George Da Silva – National Teams of Ice Hockey
Adam Sherlip is the first head coach of the India National Ice Hockey Team. He started coaching ice hockey in India as part of an initiative he started, called “The Hockey Volunteer”.
Sherlip discovered hockey in India while coaching in China. As a result of “The Hockey Volunteer” initiative, Sherlip founded The Hockey Foundation, a non-profit that uses ice hockey to help improve life in the communities The Hockey Foundation’s pilot program operates in Ladakh, in the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir. The Hockey Foundation has donated over 4,000 pieces equipment since 2009.
We had a great pleasure to talk to him and ask him a few question about the foundation and Ice hockey in India.
Can you talk about the Hockey Foundation. When did it first start and who does it help?
The Hockey Foundation began after my 2009 trip to India. I found out about ice hockey in the Himalayas in late 2008 from U.S. Olympian Angela Ruggiero, whom I’d coached with in China the previous year for the New York Islanders. I spent a month fundraising under the banner “The Hockey Volunteer” and arrived in January 2009. That trip was a great success and made such an impact on my life that I wanted to do it as something bigger than myself, and so I founded The Hockey Foundation. Our mission is to change lives around the world via ice hockey, focusing on under-served communities.
Can you speak about some of the other volunteer coaches that have traveled to India under the Hockey Foundation and what they brought to the table?
We’ve had some awesome volunteer coaches over the years, many who have had such an incredible experience that they’ve returned on subsequent trips. Alex Harney from northwestern Connecticut was the first volunteer to come along in 2011, and has been the main camera man & video producer over the years, including 2012, 2013, 2014 & 2016. We met Paul Kozowyck from Calgary in Ladakh in 2011, and he came back to assist in 2013, the same year we met Antoine Jouvet from Montreal, who has become a major part of The Hockey Foundation since then, as he’s returned every single year and has brought in a team of volunteers as well, including Alex Touzel from Quebec City and Brayden Taekema from northern British Columbia. They’ve all brought a ton of energy, enthusiasm, experience and passion to the program and have built their own relationships with hockey players around India.
When you first got to India you face many challenges in coaching the Indian ice hockey players, can you talk about some of those challenges?
Language is the most obvious challenge. For many of the players on Team India, from 2009 through today, English is a third language. For a few players it’s a second language. Conveying details and nuance can be challenging in that setting, and even more difficult if I’m talking fast, as New Yorkers do, especially if we’re on the ice or on the bench and I’m speaking more intensely. Beyond the language issues, I’ve had to teach/re-teach the basic concepts of the game, especially when I first started coaching the team. At that time, there was really very little understanding of how the game is typically played, as there was less access to see games, and less technical instruction received at that time.
What is the biggest improvement you have seen from the day you started coaching in India to know?
I’m very proud to say that through the support of The Hockey Foundation and other organizations/volunteers, in partnership with the Ice Hockey Association of India, the level of ice hockey in India has improved dramatically. First off, there is more equipment in the country after many years of donations, and so more players have the ability to get on the ice to learn and play. Beyond that, we’ve been able to coach more players each season, and reach more young players, and so some of those players that may have been children when I first arrived in 2009 are young adults and leaders in the hockey community in India. They have learned the game at a higher level than the previous generation that had very little instruction, and didn’t have a chance to watch hockey games (we’ve held private screenings of NHL and international games to help them understand the game at the highest level). Social media is also helping, as players can now watch highlights from the NHL or IIHF competitions on Facebook and/or YouTube. They can also watch some of the great instructional YouTube channels, like Hockey Tutorial and How To Hockey. All of this combined has resulted in players that play a better team game than in 2009, shoot better, pass better, play at both ends of the ice, and understand the rules better. I’m really proud of everyone involved that has helped get hockey in India to this point!
Can you talk about the 2012 Challenge Cup of Asia which was hosted by India, this must of been a huge accomplishment for India ice hockey?
Holding that event was a huge deal for ice hockey in India, and in many ways really helped ensure the program can continue to grow. The facility in Dehra Dun was only open for 1-2 years at that time, but was lacking in technical expertise. I brought in an ice technician from New York to help prepare the facility for all-day games, and he did a great job mostly on his own. Beyond that, the event wouldn’t have been possible if not for the hard work of the Ice Hockey Association of India officials, in partnership with the local Uttarakhand government, which oversees the facility and the power. Dehra Dun is not exactly a tourist hub, but it’s an interesting town in a beautiful part of the country. I’d love to see that facility operating at full capacity year-round, and becoming the training center for the national teams.
During the 2012 Challenge Cup of Asia India got their first and only win in International competition over Macao, can you describe the emotion in that game?
That was such a special event for me, and for everyone involved in the program: players and officials. We actually had a chance to win 2 games in that tournament, but weren’t able to keep the pace for all three periods in that other game. The game against Macau (which was on my 28th birthday) was one of the best games the team has played to date, but in actuality, Team India is better today than it ever was. We’ve received great compliments and feedback from our opponents, the referees and others involved in the Challenge Cup of Asia over the years who have noticed the improvement the team makes every year. Unfortunately for us, the other programs are improving as well!
In 2015 India Men Ice hockey team made a trip to Canada and played the Brampton Beast. Will there be future trips?
We’d love to organize future trips, but will need to figure out funding options. The trip to Brampton cost the Ice Hockey Association of India (and all involved) a lot of money, which we were hoping to make back (and then some) from door sales and jersey sales. Beyond the finances, the program itself was a huge success, and has made a tremendous difference on all of the players involved. It was just over 1 year ago, and many players involved still talk about how much the event meant to them. For the players from India, many said that they had no idea how good hockey players could be until they played with/against the Beast players.
Do you think Ice hockey can grow in India?
Absolutely! It continues to grow every year and I believe it will continue to grow as more equipment gets donated, more players have an opportunity to play, and more regions build ice rinks, whether big or small. As they say in Field of Dreams, “if you build it, he will come.” That is true for both players and coaches. Earlier this year we held our first ever coaching programs in Mumbai and Cochin, which is in the southern state of Kerala. If there’s a rink in a mall somewhere in the country, we’re happy to go there and help them start a hockey program and help see it grow over the years. That being said, there needs to be investment from public and private entities within India in order for it to gain popularity on a wide-scale. Without that level of support, it will always remain a tiny niche. There’s a need for more facilities and for importers/distributors of equipment to help outfit the players at the respective facilities.
How long have you coach India’s national team?
I was the Head Coach in 2009 and from 2012-2015. The team didn’t compete in 2010 and my assistant coach extraordinaire: Hakim Giri, gave it a go behind the bench in 2011. In 2016, I handed off the head coaching duties to Shomit Datta, whom I invited to be a part of the event in Brampton and did a great job with the team. He’s a very experienced coach, and I was happy to hand the reins over to him. For the future, who knows…
What are your future plans now that you are no longer coaching India?
Beyond the national team, there’s always coaching going on in India through The Hockey Foundation. We’ll keep on doing that program for as long as we can, as we look to expand to other countries, and also focus some efforts at home in the US and Canada, as there are many communities we can help via hockey here. I am currently assisting a junior college program in Quebec City, CEGEP Saint Lawrence Champlain.
Will India be at the 2017 Asian Winter Games?
India wants to participate in the Asian Winter Games in Japan in 2017, but is in need of funding to ensure the players, coaches and officials can make the trip.
What is your favorite NHL team and player?
As a child I was a die-hard New York Islanders fan, and Pierre Turgeon was my favorite player. Today, I don’t consider myself a die-hard fan of any team, but I do follow the Islanders, Rangers and Canadiens closer than the other 27 teams.