THE ICE AT THE END OF THE EARTH
That hockey happens at all in Mongolia is a miracle.
To start with, the country is poor, isolated and remote. Were it not for the Soviet occupation of the 1960s and ‘70s it’s almost certain the game would never have gained a toe hold. But it did, and it’s all thanks to the rinks the communists left behind.
There are 900 hockey players in Mongolia but not nearly as many pairs of skates. Getting equipment is next to impossible, especially youth sizes. Young players have no option but to wear senior skates, usually hand-me-downs with a long lineage of previous owners. The bitter cold mid season prevents the youngest players from being able to lace up their oversized skates at all. And those old Soviet rinks? All outdoors, all natural ice subjected to the whims of weather. Reliant on consistently cold temperatures, a working hose and a small army of crazy-dedicated players to shovel and scrape. Click to see Dave Bidini's Tropic of Hockey clip in Mongolia, the same group we will visit in February.
In the greater universe of hockey, Mongolia is notable for one reason – being the worst. They sit dead last in the world rankings, 49th out of 49. The Mongolian National Team once lost to Kazakhstan by a score of 42 - 0. Wipe-outs don't get any harsher than that. But there was a silver lining. At least Team Mongolia got to play. More often than not the nation declines tournament invitations citing a lack of equipment and a lack of funds.
By Karin Larsen, CBC Vancouver
"In February of 2015 Nate and Boe Leslie will embark on a hockey adventure of a lifetime. The Canadian brothers have been invited to bring their highly respected hockey program to Mongolia. There, the brothers will encounter an exotic hockey culture unlike anything they've encountered in their world travels. The Leslies are working on a plan to deliver equipment to Mongolia as part of their journey.
I profiled Nate Leslie and Pujee in a CBC Vancouver news story May 2014: www.lgsports.ca/leslie-hockey-project-mongolia-cbc-news/ (clip shows geography of Mongolia and interview with Pujee)
Leslie Global Sports is a family business with a unique story: www.lgsports.ca/our-family-story/"
Karin Larsen, CBC Vancouver
The Driving Force:
Purevdavaa Choijiljav (‘Pujee’ for short) is a man who dreams of better days, probably because he played in that 42 – 0 game. Piecing together Pujee’s background you soon realize that he’s the Father David Bauer of Mongolian Hockey: an ordained minister, a player, a coach, an organizer, an inductee to the International Hockey Hall of Fame. He may also have been Mongolia’s first ever 'rink rat'. As a child, Pujee spent hours watching the Soviet workers scrimmage, collecting their broken sticks and taping them back together so he could learn.
This past spring Pujee connected with Vancouver hockey development coach mentor, Nate Leslie, through the Leslies’ online hockey learning platform, How to Play Hockey. Pujee inquired about resources, and one thing led to another, a friendship was formed, a deal was struck. The Leslie family has sponsored the Mongolian Hockey Federation with all of its online learning products.
Now, instead of sending training tips over the internet, Nate and his brother, Boe, are giving their own time to bring their hockey mentorship program and donated equipment to the coaches and kids on the outdoor ice of Mongolia’s capital, Ulan Bator.
It promises to be an adventure all around. Who goes to Mongolia in February anyway? The Leslies have run camps all over the world, but only ever in developed countries and on perfect ice. Mongolian players and coaches have developed in a vacuum, with little exposure to the latest trends and teaching techniques. Now they'll finally get to learn first-hand from experts at no cost to the local families. We will also be taking a large amount of donated equipment with us for the kids in Mongolia who desperately need it.
The Existence of Hockey in Mongolia:
Here’s hoping it’s not too late. Because just as Pujee and his friends set a path to a brighter future, the very existence of hockey in Mongolia is under threat. What used to be a certain five month season, now lasts just three months. Of course there are dreams of building an indoor rink, but who knows if it will ever happen.
Playing hockey in Mongolia has always been an exercise in overcoming obstacles. It is this story Nate and Boe intend to tell in the Ice at the End of the Earth. Two cultures, one shared passion, and the precarious present and uncertain future of hockey in Mongolia.
The goal is to share this adventure with the world by creating a stunning documentary of a cultural and hockey exchange, adversities the Mongolians face, and unexpected triumphs in a land little understood by Westerners. Nate and Boe dream of this documentary being aired by a major television network in the United States and Canada. Pledge today to make this documentary a reality and join Canadian/Mongolian Hockey History.
Nate Leslie's Account of the adventure as it has unfolded:
Last spring, I woke to find an email opt-in on our membership website, www.howtoplayhockey.ca. The email address had the words 'hockey' and 'Mongolia' in it, and the IP address was verified with a small Mongolian flag (I looked it up). Frankly I couldn’t believe my eyes! We have since sponsored their federation with full access to How to Play Hockey, and all of our coaching products at www.lgsports.ca. I finally caught up with the General Secretary of the Mongolian Hockey Federation, Purevdavaa Choijiljav, aka ‘Pujee.’ We even Skyped live from the CBC Studio in Vancouver! It was incredibly inspiring and refreshing to speak with him, and to see his passion for hockey at the most amateur and pure level, for the true love of the game.
In 2001 Pujee set a goal to help his strongest players develop their skills. Hearing about a camp they could attend in the Czech Republic, they put the wheels in motion, literally. Far too expensive to fly, Pujee and his players boarded the Siberian Railroad for 7 straight days to get to their destination, trained for one week, and headed back, another 7 days. It took 5 days to get to Moscow, and another 2 to get to their destination near Prague. Pujee says that today one of these players is the best in Mongolia, and 5 players and a goalie from Ulan Bator are currently on the National Team. He credits their trip with laying the foundation for these players. This inspires us to make a trip to Mongolia to teach them the game in the coming year, and Pujee has the full support of their 100% volunteer Federation to make our mutual dream a reality. We will train their kids, but most importantly, help develop the local coaches so that we can leave a legacy. The cultural exchange will be something to cherish forever, and we want to share it with the world.
A Last Frontier:
The 'Federation' in Mongolia is driven completely by volunteers. Their passion is deep, and we want to help. By documenting our trip, we will capture a part of history. Although once visited by Canadian writer, musician, and hockey enthusiast Dave Bidini, no Canadian hockey development experts have ever done anything like this before. As the outdoor season shrinks, and globalization brings the people of Mongolia further in touch with Western culture, this documentary will capture an innocence and and purity rare in any hockey nation on the planet. Be a part of history by pledging today.
Please join us.
Nate & Boe Leslie
Risks and challenges
If we don't raise the funds for this project, this incredible story will not be recorded for the world to share. The chance to make, and capture history, will be lost. The juxtaposition of growing their game, against the shrinking winter season needs to be shared. We will be taking a lot of donated hockey equipment for the kids in Mongolia with us. We'd hate for it not to make it there!
Arriving in Mongolia in mid February means weather could significantly influence our experience. Who goes to Mongolia in February?! Being 2 brothers from the Canadian Prairies who can handle the cold, we promise the harsh climate will only bring colour and flavour to the project. We have approval to visit Mongolia in the last week of February 2015.
Karin Larsen, the CBC sports reporter who has covered 8 Olympics, and has rarely, if ever, seen a unique opportunity as this to document a human story that has never been done before.
We are raising funds to get our group (2 coaches and 2 film professionals) to Mongolia, and to fund editing and producing the documentary back in Vancouver. We are working pro bono and taking with us a large amount of donated equipment. We have the support of the Mongolian Hockey Federation, a volunteer group with no development budget. The pleasure will be in telling this amazing story to the rest of the world, sharing our expertise, and leaving a legacy of coach development and equipment. Your pledge will fund our transportation and film editing.
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