By Shuvro Ghoshal – Stree News

While many of us may not be aware, but Indian Women’s Ice Hockey team is all set to participate in the IIHF Ice Hockey Women’s Challenge Cup of Asia to be held In Bangkok, Thailand from 7-15 March, 2017. The 19 member team headed by Captain Rinchen Dolma will be competing with six other countries in the neck to neck competition.

Most of the members in the Indian Ice hockey team are from Ladakh, where the sport is played during winter on frozen lakes before the ice begins to melt. However, lack of infrastructure continues to pose the biggest challenge for the women, but this has not deterred the morale of the team players. The girls have proved they love this sport too much to give up. For them, ice hockey is what gully cricket is for the rest of the country.

With an aim to promote the sport and uplift the stature of women players in the region, the women formed the Ladakh Women Ice Hockey Foundation (LWIKF). Since Ladakh experiences winter for about two and half months, last year, the girls prepared an ice rink on their own which was certainly not an easy task.

They started with a bunch of shovels to get water but later applied to the Public Health Engineering Department for a regular supply of water. Soon, they had a tanker which used to deliver 3000 litres of water every evening. They would fill buckets and pool from 8 in the evening to 3 in the morning in groups of four girls.

However, the task was not as easy as it sounds. The moment a small amount of water splashed on their clothes, even that would freeze.

Difficulties were many but the ice rink was a big hit. It was so cold that even waterproof gloves weren’t of much help.
“We would almost freeze in cold but that did not kill our spirit. To keep our spirits high we would
turn on some music, and continue the task,” says Noor Jahan, who was awarded Asia’s best goaltender recently.
Further, while the boys used to get donation, the girls had to borrow equipment from the boys, which meant waiting until they finished off with their practice.

Newly created Ladakh Women Ice Hockey Federation

However, now thanks to some donations, the team got few equipment and skates last year. “We got few equipment and skates last year which we gave to the players so that they can concentrate on the game and improve their skills. We don’t have to worry about borrowing equipment from the men’s team any more before playing,” said the ecstatic General Secretary of the Ladakh Women Ice Hockey Foundation.

There are already some impressive feats that the women have accomplished. Last year, these girls went on to participate for the first time in an international competition in Chinese Taipei. Even though the team returned from the 2016 IIHF Challenge Cup of Asia without a win, there were many positives. A relatively young Indian team almost came close to beating Malaysia in the group stages and Noor, fondly called Noori by the team, was awarded the tournament’s Best Goaltender Award after saving 193 shots from a possible 229.

However, despite great will and determination, the girls continue to face financial crunch. “With our future at stake, the LWIHF has been trying to build an ice hockey culture amongst the next generation. It is important to build the winter sports future in our country, however, there continues to be lack of support, encouragement and even awareness,” says Dolma.

Nonetheless, the team is very hopeful and is positive to bring good results for the country. With Women’s Day just round the corner, the least we can do from our end is to wish the team the very best and boost their morale and enthusiasm.

Rinchen Dolma – Captain of Indian Women’s Ice-Hockey team