Khelo India Winter Games: India’s first natural ice hockey arena warms up

The Union territory of Ladakh, in the Himalayas, looks to open up a new horizon for visitors of sporting disposition

Ice hockey action at the NDS Sports Complex ice rink in Leh during the Khelo India Winter Games last week (photo: SAI)
Ice hockey action at the NDS Sports Complex ice rink in Leh during the Khelo India Winter Games last week (photo: SAI)
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NH Sports Bureau

It was festive time in the snowcapped union territory of Ladakh in Himalayas last week when it hosted the first leg of the second edition of Khelo India Winter Games (KIWG). The Nawang Dorjay Stobdan Sports Complex ice rink in Leh, India’s first natural ice hockey arena built to international standards, was a centrepiece of action for five days as the UT hosted two of the disciplines – ice hockey and speed skating.

After a two-week gap, the second leg of KIWG will be held in Gulmarg, Jammu and Kashmir from 21to 25 February. It’s the second edition of the ambitious Games, launched by Sports Authority of India (SAI) under the aegis of Union Sports Ministry, with Jammu and Kashmir hosting it last year.

“Leh is known for ice hockey and ice skating and since this is our debut, we wanted to justify the faith that the Union sports ministry reposed on us,” Ravinder Kumar, Sports Secretary of Ladakh said. Maharashtra finished on top of the medal standings after the first leg, winning 20 skating medals that included six golds. Karnataka also finished with six golds but their total count of eight as against Maharashtra’s 20 pushed them to second position in the standings. Hosts Ladakh, who won a pair of historic Khelo India golds in speed skating, finished third with a combined haul of 13 medals.

On a sunny day in Leh, all roads led to the NDS sports complex. The KIYG saw a memorable finish with more than 3,000 vociferous fans braving icy conditions to witness the two ice-hockey finals last Tuesday. While Army won the men’s title 3-1 after a shootout, ITBP won the women’s title taming hosts Ladakh 4-0.

Having established a foothold during this event, there are bigger plans around the NDS rink. Moses Kunzang, director, District Youth Services and Sports, UT Ladakh, told SAI media: ‘’We are looking ahead to organizing similar championships in the future. In fact, within the next 2-3 years, we aim to incorporate snowskiing alongside ice hockey and ice skating. Undoubtedly, such championships will play a pivotal role in promoting winter tourism and winter sports in Ladakh.”

The Ladakh administration is also in the process of constructing 20-30 ice hockey rinks of international standards across Ladakh. One such rink is already under construction in Kargil.

Sonam Chhering, the captain of Himachal Pradesh men’s ice hockey team says, “It was a great experience for all of us. We've participated in numerous tournaments, but this one stands out as the best, owing to Ladakh's provision of a proper ice hockey rink and excellent ice conditions.”

The NDS rink is still not complete but the basic requirements to stage matches are up and running. A dasher board, a crucial component for the safety of players around the perimeter of the rink, has been gifted by the American Ice Hockey Association and the Canadian High Commission.

Stanzin Angchuk, Ladakh men’s ice hockey captain said: “Previously, we have played in Gulmarg which lacks proper facilities such as changing rooms and bench for the players and we had to sit on snow. Recently, we were in Kaza to participate in the national championships, there’s a huge difference in both the championship in terms of management, rink, maintenance of ice and overall.”

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