Immigrant song: Expatriate Indian community is driving surge of hockey in Canada and New Zealand

Junior Hockey World CupEight players in the Junior World Cup Canadian team have their roots in Punjab

The expatriate Indian community is driving the surge of hockey in countries as far flung as Canada and New Zealand.

Nitin Sharma and Jonathan Selvaraj explore how the new settlers kept in touch with their roots through the sport.

The delicate boti kebabs sizzling on open charcoal fires of faraway Punjab have long morphed into chunks of redder meats grilling on skewers in Vancouver's garden barbeques. The milieu has changed so much for that typical migrant who flew to the northern-most corners of America that the green fields, narrow lanes and pinds of home now remain as distant memories from yonder.

In Canada, even the hockey gets played on ice, not grass blades or synthetic greens. But as the very geography of 'home' altered and pin-codes changed to zip-codes, the first wave of homesickness struck. It was then that the Indo-Canadians tried reconnecting with their roots and reached out for the familiar grip of the hockey stick, setting out in search of grass turfs.

In a land, where field hockey is not as big as its frigid cousin, the India Field Hockey Club based out of Vancouver is acting as a conveyor belt of talent to the various Canadian field hockey teams. At least 10 members of the short-listed squad at the Canadian U-21 Junior World Cup in New Delhi are Indo-Canadians with eight of them tracing their roots to Punjab, including Sukhi Panesar and Balraj Panesar, cousins Manvir Kingra and Justin Dhaliwal, Gurteg Gill, Iqwinder Gill, Gagandep Thind and Harsimranjit Mahal.

"We came to Canada to earn a living but never knew hockey will become such an important part of our lives here," says former Canadian international Pritpal Kular.

Such is hockey's pull that several men volunteer to rush from their day-jobs to take up coaching at the Tamanawis Park in Vancouver, where one pays $60 per hour to play at one of the seven facilities. It's a routine which 18-year-old Gurteg Gill follows everyday. Apart from attending high school, the youngster shuttles between practice in the morning and evening for the Canadian U-21 team, sandwiching a 1 hour period twice a week guiding U-14s a mix of ethnic Canadians and Asian origin schoolboys at IFHC. With Gurteg India-bound, his brother Akashdeep quickly stepped in to ensure continuity.

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