Thursday, March 10, 2016

Hockey Night in Mongolia

You know you're far from a hockey hotbed when the closest sporting goods store is a 15-hour train ride away in Siberia.

That's what brothers Nate and Boe Leslie, who grew up in Carman, discovered when they hosted a nine-day hockey camp in Mongolia in February 2015. The co-owners of Leslie Global Sports are experienced travellers, but the conditions in Mongolia were still far more spartan than they expected.

Mongolia, a landlocked country between China and Russia known for its vast emptiness, only has a handful of outdoor rinks that were built by the Soviets in the 1970s -- at least what's left of them.

"The rinks had boards with no gates where there should be doors, there was just open spaces," Nate Leslie said from his home in Vancouver. "Those are the rinks the men play in their league that qualify them as an official IIHF sanctioned country.

"We thought it would be basic and rough ... but we didn't anticipate the fact they had no gear and were sharing it. It's like going back 80 or 90 years in hockey in Canada."

The most common sports in Mongolia are wrestling, soccer, archery and archery on horseback, Leslie said, but it's clear they have a love for hockey.

"Those kids were tough," he said. "It was often -28 C. They were playing with no toques, no mitts, no helmets, no gear, skates six sizes too big ... but they played for hours.

"One morning we got up and there was 105 kids on the ice waiting for us. They found skates somewhere."

The camp toured several communities, finishing 80 kilometres from the Russian border.

"It was four hours off the highway in the frozen tundra, just following tracks in the snow," Leslie said. "We came upon a former Soviet-run mining town of about 2,000 people with a rink outside the school.

"There was ice on the walls and the ceiling inside our room that night. I slept in all my clothes."

Growing up with their mom, Barbara, being a teacher and their dad, Bob, being a hockey coach, teaching hockey was a natural path for the Leslie brothers to take.

The Leslies spent time in Switzerland in the late 1980s where Bob had a three-year coaching stint under fellow Manitoban Andy Murray. They returned to Carman for a few years where Boe and Nate played high school hockey for the Cougars.

Nate, 38, spent four years in New York building a hockey program at a Manhattan boarding school, before landing in Vancouver in 2008. Boe, 40, played eight years of pro hockey in Europe before settling in Baltimore, Md., where he is the owner and CEO of Leslie Global Sports America.

Leslie Global Sports is a hockey development company with an emphasis on coaching mentorship and training.

"We work with minor hockey associations in the season, running skills clinics and helping develop the coaches," Leslie said. "Then we have an online training program."

It was through their online program, How To Play Hockey, that Leslie was contacted by people in Mongolia. CBC journalist Karin Larsen, whose son is coached by Leslie in Vancouver, filmed a 40-minute documentary on the tour.

The film had a screening in Vancouver and the Leslies are applying to a film festivals, including the Manitoba Sport Film Festival.

"We believe it deserves some kind of network coverage (rather than) throwing it up on YouTube and being done with it," Leslie said.

For more details on the Leslie's Mongolian tour, go to lgsports.ca.

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