By Josh Brown – Waterloo Region Record
Jamaica has produced the world’s best sprinters.
Now, the Caribbean hot spot is trying to ice a hockey team at the Olympics.
And Kitchener Rangers defenceman Elijah Roberts hopes to be there if it happens.
“Being the first to play on the team and making history would be great,” he said. “It would mean the world.”
To be clear, the chances of Jamaica sending a team to the Winter Games any time soon are about as likely as snow falling on the white sandy beaches of Montego Bay.
The tiny island nation — population
2.7 million — doesn’t even have an arena and only became an associate member of the International Ice Hockey Federation five years ago.
To gain full status, the country needs a barn and a development program in place.
But the sunny destination has produced winter miracles before.
Jamaica — seemingly against all odds — first qualified a bobsled team for the 1988 Winter Games in Calgary. The underdog story resonated with spectators and went on to inspire the movie “Cool Runnings” years later.
This is different.
Unlike the bobsled entry, Jamaica’s shinny stars — currently an Under-20 team — are trained hockey players that skate in credible outfits such as the Ontario Hockey League. Most players are Canadian or American, but all have Jamaican heritage.
Roberts was recruited by associate coach C.J. Bollers about a year ago. The Brampton native’s dad, Shelton, is from Trinidad and his mom, Vivene, hails from England; but her parents are Jamaican.
“I was pretty interested right away and wanted to get involved,” said Roberts, who has also represented Canada at the U17 World Hockey Challenge.
And he wasn’t alone.
Other up-and-comers, including five-year OHL veteran Jaden Lindo, also joined the club that is coached by Graeme Townshend, who was the first Jamaican-born player to reach the NHL.
The team plays reggae music in the dressing room and brings an easygoing attitude to the rink; but takes things seriously on the ice.
The U20 bunch headed east to Dartmouth, N.S., recently for a game against a squad made up of players from the QMJHL’s Halifax Mooseheads and other area standouts and won 5-1.
“I think people are really surprised about the caliber and that’s good for the future and getting a rink in Jamaica,” said Roberts, 18.
And the team’s success has hockey fever heating up on the island.
“They’ve showed us examples of little kids back in Jamaica watching the game,” said Roberts. “We saw kids with Jamaican flags and that’s pretty cool. Before, they never really looked at hockey. They have embraced what we’re doing.”
Growing the game is the main goal.
“It’s important for us to get the opportunity to open the gates for Jamaicans to play hockey,” said Roberts.
If all goes right, one day that might mean a chance to play in the Olympics.