Jamaica’ and ‘hockey’ aren’t often coupled in the same sentence just as the sport isn’t familiar to the tropical country. But that is all looking to change with the Jamaican Olympic International Hockey Federation (JOIHF).
Backed by NHLers including former Boston Bruin Graeme Towsnhead, the first Jamaican-born player to play in the NHL, leading the federation’s coaching staff, the JOIHF isn’t trying to throw together just any kind of hockey team.
JOIHF Advisory Board member Donovan Tait has hit some bumps along the road recruiting as a scout for Team Jamaica in western Canada.
“One coach in Alberta laughed at me when I asked about players on his team or around the league that might be eligible for Team Jamaica,” he says. “It’s tough to get past that initial hurdle.”
There are over 250,000 Jamaican-Canadians according to the Canadian Census in 2011, and that number is growing each year.
Tait explains that the reason it’s so tough to scout isn’t about just being taken seriously. He gets calls on players from the wrong background or receives skepticism, even from Jamaican parents about joining Team Jamaica. But all it takes to get citizenship is for the parent to have their Jamaican citizenship and then the child is eligible.
The JOIHF has engaged a strong core of people to run the organization so it will be taken seriously. They recognize that being ‘Team Jamaica’ in hockey runs the risk of becoming a novelty if it’s not managed properly.
“It was tough for me to get in,” says Tait who has been in the program for three years. “They want a real foundation of hockey people with a reputable background.”
“I am a Jamaican citizen, played and coached at the junior level but it also took that I was in the RCMP for over 20 years in Nanaimo, B.C.,” he said. “That made me reputable and I’m in the west coast so I could have an effective contribution.”
It comes as no surprise that people have an initial reaction of ‘really?’ but that’s what the recruiters need to push through. However, the more presence JOIHF gets in high-level hockey, the more weight the name ‘Team Jamaica’ will hold.
The JOIHF is currently putting together two development teams: an under 20 team and an under 16 team to showcase around the country and attract new skaters.
The U20 team was invited to Nova Scotia in May as part of a fundraiser for celebrating diversity in sport. They played a charity game against some local celebrities, capping the weekend with a showcase game against a U20 Nova Scotia select team. Now with some more traction, Team Jamaica is starting to get noticed for the right reasons.
“When we were in Nova Scotia, there were scouts out to watch and they said they’ve never seen a team of all black faces competing at this calibre and skill of hockey,” says Tait.
The exposure gained from the weekend has garnered interest from other parts of Canada as well. On June 21, there will be an exhibition evaluation camp for the U20 team for players who play at the Midget AAA level or under major junior level, while the U16 camp is actively looking for high-performance participants before the June 27 registration deadline.
After the evaluation camps, players will be participating in the Team Elite Prospect (TEP) showcase in Toronto. Teams come from all over Ontario to play in front of scouts and this year, a German select team will also be attending due to the attention Team Jamaica got last year.
Team Jamaica will play the opening game of the tournament against the German select team. It’s the exposure at tournaments like these that often leads to other opportunities.
“We are actively accepting invitations to showcase our teams and get more people to notice,” says Tait. He added the federation is looking to be part of similar events as the Nova Scotia event on the west coast with some of the universities in Alberta and B.C., as well as exploring opportunities in Europe.
“Right now we’re exploring options to hold something in the west coast possibly with one of the universities. We are also looking at events in Europe to try and get our teams to.”
The JOIHF’s ultimate goal is to make it to the Olympics. They are currently affiliated with the IIHF and are hoping to officially join the governing body in the near future. Their U20 squad is made up of junior level players and the U16 team is progressively growing their core.
An IIHF study shows Canada has the most registered hockey players age 20 and under, at nearly 500,000. The next step is to find out how many of those players are eligible to play for Team Jamaica, which is any one who is of Jamaican, Caribbean or West Indies descent.
The opportunity of making the jump to the international tournament looks like it will happen sooner rather than later. This affects high-level young Canadian hockey players, who could have the chance to play on the international stage as a Jamaican-Canadian. Acknowledging a culture throughout the country and the sport it loves.Back to Top
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