Ice hockey in India is not completely new but India will play its first international games when the IIHF Challenge Cup of Asia begins on Sunday in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates.
India has been an IIHF member since 1989 and the country’s Winter Games Federation was founded ten years earlier. It is believed that the sport started in 1985 when Indian soldiers played the game in the northern cold region, using field hockey sticks and tins as a puck.
The majority of hockey games were played by ice skating clubs, in Kashmir, in Shimla in the Himalayan Mountains, and by the team from Ladakh in Leh, close to the border of Tibet. There, the national championships took place at a demanding altitude of 3,484 metres.
Currently, India has seven teams that played the national championship in January at the Karzoo Ice Rink in Leh. The title was won by the Ladakh Scouts in front of about 4000 fans. Ladakh beat the Indo-Tibetan Border Police in a shootout in the semi-finals with a temperature of -14°C at the outdoor rink. They also celebrated a shootout win in the final game against Jammu & Kashmir Blue.
Akshay Kumar, the General Secretary of the Ice Hockey Association of India, spoke about the construction of the first Olympic-size indoor rink in Dehradun.
After the performance in the league, an Indian national team was formed for the first time with 20 players aged 19 to 40.
The 2009 IIHF Challenge Cup of Asia will take place at the Zayed Sports City Ice Rink in Abu Dhabi. India, Malaysia, Mongolia and Thailand are in Group A. Hong Kong, Macau, Singapore and the United Arab Emirates will play in Group B.
The first edition of the tournament was held in Hong Kong last year with six nations and was won by Chinese Taipei. The tournament gives an event for Asian countries that do not take part in the World Championship program.
Besides India, Mongolia, Thailand and the United Arab Emirates are participating for the first time in the tournament. The Emirates hosted the inaugural Arab Cup last year at the same venue which was won by the UAE team thanks to victories against Algeria, Kuwait and Morocco.
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