SkateGuard logo

Follow us on:

Oh The Places You Will Go

Share on Social Media

Oh The Places You Will Go | Young man in jeans and white tee holds passport and backpack - SkateGuard

There are lots of great things about growing up in Canada. If you’re reading this from the Great White North, then healthcare, education, and a strong and stable democracy are all things that we should be thankful for. And for the most part, we are. We should also be grateful for the resources that we have access to when it comes to athletics. Whether it’s facilities, equipment, coaching or competition infrastructure, we have advantages in Canada that often don’t exist elsewhere.  

I just returned from the World Hockey Championships – Division 3B – in Sarajevo, Bosnia & Herzegovina, where I was fulfilling my role as head coach of the Singapore National Men’s Hockey team. Over the course of 7 days, the team played 5 games against the following opponents:

  • Bosnia and Herzegovina
  • Hong Kong – China
  • Iran
  • The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (a.k.a. North Korea)
  • The Philippines

Over the course of the week, I got to speak with players and coaches from each of these teams, and it was a great reminder for me to never allow my gratitude to wane when it comes to having grown up where I did.

Many of these teams, players and coaches are battling a number of the same issues. Some have very limited access to ice time. For example, the lone hockey rink in Singapore closed last year, forcing the Singaporeans to cross the border into Malaysia to practise. Of the six teams in the tournament, I believe only the DPRK had a homegrown head coach; the access to quality coaching at the youth level is an issue across the board. In contrast, my youth hockey coach, Bob McGill, spent over a decade in the NHL as a defenceman. In some of these countries, places with precarious political structures like Iran and the DPRK, teams must get equipment from abroad, which due to various economic sanctions can prove to be a challenge.

I’m raising these issues by no means as a commentary on the validity of sanctions or to comment on the legitimacy (or lack thereof) of the political structures in these places, but simply to highlight to young (and old) players how we can often take things for granted in a highly developed country.

Even in many more globally integrated centres, there just aren’t a lot of people or businesses willing to inventory any kind of meaningful amount of hockey equipment. Additionally, in many of these countries, there are not enough people with sufficient resources to access a sport like ice hockey. The youth programs there do what they can, but players often end up competing against the same groups of kids every time they hit the ice.

For you young North American players out there, it might not be a bad idea to give your parents a “thank you” every once in a while for the opportunities that you have been afforded. I know it’s something I wish I’d done more of!

Given these challenges, I regularly find myself commending the players and coaches at events like the World Hockey Championships on their dedication to the game, their drive to get better, and the level of resourcefulness they consistently demonstrate.

If the first theme of this post is gratitude, the second is opportunity. 

One of the things we don’t realize growing up in North America is the opportunity that exists in and around the game of hockey in places outside of North America. If you are playing any level of college, major junior or professional hockey, trust me when I say that if you want to see the world, teach others a little bit (or a lot!) about the game, and probably even make a little bit of money along the way – certainly enough to cover your bills – then have a look abroad.

I have been involved in advancing the game in a number of non-traditional hockey markets, such as Singapore, the Philippines, Taiwan, North Korea and Pakistan. You’re starting to see some former NHLers do this type of thing as well. When I lived in Singapore, from 2013 to 2018, there was a group of Montreal Canadiens alumni who went to mainland China to run hockey schools for youth players. Former NHLer Rob Schremp is now directing the youth program in Hong Kong.

There are also some excellent organizations, such as Hockey Without Borders, that facilitate this type of “hockey development” work for those who demonstrate an interest. You can reach out to me here at SkateGuard if this is something that you think would be of interest for you at some point in your life.

Another point to keep in mind is that hockey can be a great equalizer. It doesn’t matter whether you are a senior executive at a multinational corporation or just starting out your career like I was during my time in Singapore. Once everyone hits the ice, the opportunity to demonstrate your ability to work within a team environment, make others around you better and communicate effectively applies equally to everyone.

For those of you playing elite level hockey (major junior, NCAA, NHL/high-level professional hockey), I can’t overstate the importance of the paragraph you have just read. You can set yourself up to be as successful in the next phase of your life as you were in the first, if not more so. Figure out who the key players are in the areas that interest you and do whatever you can to get out on the ice with them!

Lastly, for those who may not be blessed with the talent to make a true career out of hockey, don’t underestimate the number of opportunities out there to play “professional” hockey. I put that in quotations, because there is a connotation associated with the term that implies a level of glamour and economic gain that doesn’t align with what I’m referring to here. But if you are a junior or university hockey player of any consequence at basically any level in North America, if you want to spend six to eight months months playing pro hockey and seeing the world (maybe even using that time to study for professional exams in an unrelated work field), there are plenty of opportunities in lower divisions of many European professional leagues.

At SkateGuard, we always say “Get the most out of your time in the game.” Hopefully this post has enlightened you as to some of the ways that you can expand the lens through which you might be able to improve yourself and enrich your life, whether that’s culturally, economically or from a networking perspective, through the amazing game of hockey.

Keep your stick on the ice!

Subscribe to our blog

Your personal information will remain confidential and it won’t be sold to third parties.

Get your copy today!