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Bringing Ice Hockey To A Land With No Ice


Feel the rhythm, feel the rhyme. Get on up, it's ice hockey time. Jamaica is hoping for a Miracle on Ice. The Caribbean nation has some of the best sprinters in the world, and notably put together a Jamaican bobsled team for the 1988 Winter Olympics. They'd now like to add ice hockey to their roster of national sports. Graeme Townshend was the first Jamaican to play in the NHL for the Boston Bruins. This week, he's been recruiting athletes for the future team Jamaica. But when we reached him in Portland, Maine, he confessed that getting a team ready for the next Winter Olympics in 2018 might be a tall order.

GRAEME TOWNSHEND: We don't have an ice rink yet. So we're looking at maybe 8, 12, maybe even 20 years from now. I mean, it's going to take a while. We have to build a rink. And we have to build a youth hockey and men's program - grassroots program in Jamaica. You know, it's funny, years ago when I was playing hockey in Houston, I'd actually trained some kids from Mexico. They have hockey live and well in Mexico. So, you know, if we can have hockey in Mexico we can certainly have hockey in Jamaica. It's just a matter of having some people of like minds to get together and get the project done.

SIMON: But I guess the kids who will be on the first Jamaican Olympic hockey team probably haven't been born yet?

TOWNSHEND: You know, you look at that - the U.S. World Cup team, they had, I think it was five Germans who had never even been to the United States. They had parents went to Germany as servicemembers, and they were born and trained there.

SIMON: So you'll get Canadian players who've changed planes in Jamaica?

TOWNSHEND: Canadian and American players, the European players. As long as they've got family ties to Jamaica, they can gain citizenship. We'll build our team around those guys, and then start adding Jamaicans as they become better at the game.

SIMON: It sounds like it's less that you're trying to put together a Jamaican national hockey team so much as you're trying to make hockey a sport in Jamaica.

TOWNSHEND: Well, yeah. We want to make it - we want to give the kids and the people in that country other options. You know, I've got relatives down there now. And if you want to be educated in Jamaica, there's basically three ways - you can be wealthy and pay for school, you can have relatives who can help you by sending you money or you can be able to run really, really fast and get a scholarship. So hockey will be another opportunity, as well as other sports like soccer, basketball and other sports we can bring down there.

SIMON: So somebody's got to put a hockey stick in Usain Bolt's hands.

TOWNSHEND: Wouldn't that be amazing? Can you imagine a guy that big that can skate that fast? I mean... (Laughter)

SIMON: My guess would be that he can get over the ice pretty quickly.

TOWNSHEND: Can you imagine a Jamaican-born player bringing the Stanley Cup back to Kingston one day?

SIMON: It's kind of exciting. You're absolutely right.

TOWNSHEND: Oh, yeah. You know, who knows what can happen 20 or 30 years from now? You just never know.

SIMON: Graeme Townshend who's head coach of the Jamaican National Hockey program. Thanks very much for being with us.

TOWNSHEND: Thank you very much, Scott. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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